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Relief pitching is like refereeing and third base coaches – when it’s great you hardly notice it, and when it stinks it’s all you can talk about. When Red Sox GM Theo Epstein announced that relief pitching would be Boston’s No. 1 offseason priority, it wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the scrapheap left behind in the 2010 Red Sox bullpen.
This report card will contain more Incompletes than a teenage hypochondriac in what was one of the most injury-riddled seasons in years for Boston. Jonathan Papelbon proved to be fallible and many are wondering if that was his final season with the Red Sox.
Papelbon experienced a precipitous drop-off in 2010. It wasn’t that Papelbon was bad, but his results were wildly unpredictable, ranging from lights-out to awful. Papelbon’s ERA in his career-high eight blown saves was 21.13. His ERA in every other appearance was 1.67. Though a higher ERA is expected in blown saves, his five previous seasons saw a 10.89 ERA in blown saves, a 1.97 ERA otherwise. In Gordon Edes’ interactive Red Sox report card, 38% of voters gave Papelbon a D grade, the highest tally, indicative of the closer’s standing with Red Sox nation.
While Papelbon still boasts some of the best talent among big league closers, his consistency has become a lot to swallow. With Daniel Bard groomed to succeed, and Papelbon looking for big dollars, his days in Boston could be over.
The 25 year-old righty from Houston saw his star rise considerably this season as one of the elite setup men in baseball. With an ERA of 1.93 and a WHIP of 1.oo, Bard was nearly unhittable. At 6’4″ with a live arm and fastball that approaches 100 mph, Bard will likely fill Papelbon’s seat in 2011. There isn’t much else to say because he was that good.
Okajima was as close to a failure as possible, particularly when considering how well we’ve seen him pitch at times. This season Epstein continually discussed the need for a third pitcher to step up within the bullpen to support Papelbon and Bard. In theory Okajima was that arm, but between injuries and runs allowed, he never answered the call. His ERA hovered around 6.00 for much of the season and he never achieved the results he had been used to in seasons past. Okajima also saw his strikeout total dip to 33, a career-worst.
It’s tough to expect a lot out of a guy who seems to only make a big-league club every other year. Atchison was okay, his 4.50 ERA somewhat falsely inflated when he allowed 8 runs in last 3 2/3 innings of work. As Edes noted, he was “forced out of the role [he was] best suited for.”
Manny Delcarmen was finally shipped out after failing to fully reach his potential and Ramon Ramirez was rewarded with a ticket to San Francisco for his inconsistencies.
Epstein needs to fulfill his promise and reload this offseason. With all of the injuries the Sox suffered in 2010, Epstein was able to withstand this year’s mediocrity. It never made sense to add anyone else. Next year will be different and the Sox have never missed the playoffs in consecutive years under the current ownership.