As difficult as it is to believe, last season Red Sox relievers pitched among the fewest innings in the American League. Even though Sox' starters went deep into games, the bullpen was still overmatched far too often.
So, the Sox' relievers' troubles cannot be blamed on being overworked. The relatively light workload should have been a benefit, and yet it wasn't. That's why Theo Epstein was so determined so rectify those bullpen issues entering this offseason.
In signing former Rays' reliever Dan Wheeler, the reworking of the Sox' bullpen seems to be complete. The Sox operated with caution, only giving Wheeler a one-year deal, not the three-year pact that other set-up men have gotten this offseason.
Though Wheeler ended up with an option that vests in 2012 if he makes 65 appearances next season, the Sox have to be satisfied. If Wheeler is pitching consistently, obviously it will indicate he's having success.
The fact that Wheeler's workload has declined in each of the last three years (70, 69 and 64 appearances) has to be viewed positively. Hopefully, it means he’ll have a fresh arm in 2011.
Wheeler struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings last season, a fantastic rate. And his WHIP was a lowly 1.075. Yet, in the two previous years it was an even better 0.995 and 0.87, which are simply outstanding numbers. That means less than one batter per inning, on average, reached base when Wheeler pitched.
Apparently, the Sox still have an offer out to Brain Fuentes. However, the lefty wants a multi-year deal as a closer.
At present, the Sox have lefties Rich Hill and Andrew Miller on their roster, both of whom will be given an opportunity to earn a spot in the pen.
Regardless, the Sox may do all right against lefties as presently constructed.
Last season, Jenks held lefthanded batters to a .648 OPS; for his career, the number is .617. Bard, meanwhile, ranked second in the American League among all qualifying righthanders by holding lefthanded batters to just a .462 OPS. And during his career, Papelbon has been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball against lefthanders, holding them to a .585 OPS.
Red Sox fans have to feel good about this bullpen going into 2011. On paper, at least, it is a marked improvement over last year's relief squad.