Establishing a bullpen has been Dave Dombrowski’s greatest weakness in building successful teams -- look back at his Detroit Tigers in 2013 if you don’t agree. So, in his first full season in as Red Sox president of baseball operations, he left no room for error and brought in one of the game’s best closers, Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel, however, had his share of troubles in his first season with Boston. Walks were an issue (30 in 53 innings, his most since 32 in 77 innings in 2011). Even when he didn’t walk batters, he still went deep into counts, raising his pitch count. Furthermore, he struggled in non-save appearances and in extended save appearances (four or more outs).
And if there are two things the baseball world learned in the 2016 postseason it’s that good relievers can pitch at any point in the game and they can stretch out well past three outs.
Andrew Miller was the big story in the postseason, lifting an ailing Cleveland staff to Game 7 of the World Series -- where he finally ran out of gas. Then there’s Cleveland’s closer, Cody Allen, who was asked to get four or more outs in six of his 10 postseason outings. The Cubs’ Aroldis Chapman did the same in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series.
Sensing a trend?
Boston’s bullpen is built so Kimbrel shouldn’t have to get four or more outs often in the regular season. That’s fine. Help reserve his stamina for the long haul and make him available on back-to-back days frequently. (Perhaps he’ll adjust in his second season with Boston as Rick Porcello did.)
However, if the Red Sox reach the postseason again - if they don’t there needs to be some serious reassessing - then Kimbrel needs extend himself and be available on back-to-back days frequently.
The Red Sox 2017 bullpen will likely be built similarly to the 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals, with arms designated for specific innings with the hopes of shortening the game -- a proven business model. With the way Dombrowski built the starting rotation, that could work for Boston.
Still, injuries happen. You need to be prepared with some level of a contingency plan.
Miller’s dominance against Boston, Toronto and the Cubs in the postseason gave managers a new option: have your best reliever enter the to disrupt the flow of the game, instead of shortening it by using multiple relievers. Terry Francona milked Miller in that role and it led to nine of Cleveland’s postseason wins.
Allen’s ability to extend himself in games also played big in Francona’s game plan. In fact, after Corey Kluber’s 34.1 innings, Cleveland’s highest inning totals in the playoffs came from Miller (19.1), righty reliever Bryan Shaw (17.2) and Allen (13.2).
At the ALDS in Boston, Allen told CSNNE.com that it’s something he is capable of, as is any other good reliever.
“As long as we’re aware that it could happen, you’re going to prepare yourself,” Cleveland’s closer said. “And as long as you prepare yourself accordingly you’re not going to be caught off guard.”