Red Sox

Assessing the Red Sox bullpen for 2022 and beyond

Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox bullpen might be the team's biggest question mark heading into the 2022 season.

Matt Barnes went from earning his first career All-Star selection to being borderline unplayable in the second half of 2021. Garrett Whitlock picked up the slack with a terrific rookie season and Josh Taylor was tremendous down the stretch, but the rest of Boston's relievers left plenty to be desired.

Now, with Adam Ottavino and Hansel Robles hitting free agency, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom needs to find a way to bolster the 'pen for next year. With so many uncertainties surrounding the current group, improving it should be a priority once the MLB lockout concludes.

More positions: 1B/3B/C | 2B/SS | OF | SP

Until then, here's a look at Boston's bullpen situation for 2022 and beyond.

Ryan Brasier, RHP

2021 stats: 1-1, 1.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9 SO, 4 BB (13 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $1.4 million in Nov. 2021. Arbitration-eligible through 2023.

Outlook for 2022: Brasier had tough luck with injuries in 2021. The right-hander dealt with a calf issue to start the campaign and was hit in the head with a line drive while rehabbing the injury in June. 

It wasn't until September that Brasier finally returned to the Red Sox' bullpen. He allowed only two runs in 12 innings of work, but didn't have the same success in the postseason when he allowed four runs on eight hits in four innings.

Assuming Brasier can stay healthy in 2022, he'll once again be counted on to be one of Boston's key relievers. The organization gave him a vote of confidence by re-signing him and avoiding arbitration this offseason.

 

Hirokazu Sawamura, RHP

2021 stats: 5-1, 3.06 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 61 SO, 32 BB (55 games)

Contract status: Signed for two years, $3 million in 2021. Club option for 2023.

Outlook for 2022: Sawamura's first MLB season had its fair share of ups and downs, but overall it was a success for the 33-year-old out of Japan. He posted a 3.06 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 53 innings and was one of the Red Sox' more reliable options out of the 'pen. Control is the one area he'll look to improve on in 2022 as he walked 5.4 batters per nine innings in his debut Red Sox campaign.

Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP

2021 stats: 2-2, 3.38 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 54 SO, 31 BB (48 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $578,500 in 2021. Arbitration-eligible through 2025.

Outlook for 2022: When he's on, Hernandez is a serious weapon out of the bullpen for Boston. The issue so far in the 25-year-old's career is his command, or lack thereof. Hernandez walked an alarming 31 batters in 40 innings (7.0 BB/9) and plunked another five hitters. He'll have to start finding the plate more in 2022 if he hopes to be leaned on in more high-leverage situations.

Josh Taylor, LHP

2021 stats: 1-0, 3.40 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 60 SO, 23 BB (61 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $580,500 in 2021. Arbitration-eligible through 2025.

Outlook for 2022: Taylor's 2021 season got off to an abysmal start. The southpaw allowed nine runs in 9 1/3 innings for an 8.68 ERA in April. He made up for that by not allowing an earned run from May 1 to July 5.

From there, Taylor turned into one of Boston's most dominant relievers. He allowed more than one run in only one appearance for the remainder of the season. He followed that up by allowing only one run and not walking a batter in four innings during the postseason.

Taylor should resume his role as a reliable late-inning, high-leverage option for Boston in 2022.

Austin Davis, LHP

2021 stats: 1-2, 5.13 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 28 SO, 12 BB (29 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $310,000 in 2021. Arbitration-eligible through 2025.

Outlook for 2022: Davis came over to Boston at the 2021 trade deadline in the deal that sent Michael Chavis to Pittsburgh. From there, he posted a 4.86 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 19 games with the Red Sox. Those numbers aren't going to inspire much optimism heading into the 2022 season, but Davis did provide some glimpses of his ability to be a serviceable middle reliever. Boston will hope to see more of that with Davis under team control through 2025.

Garrett Whitlock, RHP

2021 stats: 8-4, 1.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 81 SO, 17 BB (46 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $570,500 in 2021. Under team control through 2023.

Outlook for 2022: Whitlock came out of nowhere to be one of the Red Sox' most important players as a rookie in 2021. The 25-year-old, taken from the New York Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, was by far Boston's most reliable bullpen arm.

The question now is whether the Red Sox will put Whitlock in the 2022 starting rotation or keep him where he shined last season. With Boston signing three free-agent starting pitchers already this offseason, the latter appears to be more likely. Either way, Whitlock suddenly has become one of the organization's most important players entering the new campaign.

 

Matt Barnes, RHP

2021 stats: 6-5, 3.79 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 84 SO, 20 BB (60 games)

Contract status: Signed two-year, $18.75 million contract extension in 2021. Club option for 2024.

Outlook for 2022: Barnes arguably was the game's most dominant closer for the first half of the 2021 season. With a 2.57 ERA through June, the veteran righty earned his first All-Star nod and was rewarded with a two-year contract extension.

Barnes' season took a turn for the worst in August, when the 31-year-old allowed 10 runs on 12 hits in 6 1/3 innings. He couldn't quite find his footing from that point on, leading to him only making one postseason appearance.

If Barnes' struggles carry over into 2022, it likely won't take long before Boston leans on Whitlock or another more dependable option as its primary closer. That makes the closer spot one of the biggest question marks heading into the new season. We can expect the complicated bullpen situation to be addressed shortly after the MLB lockout comes to an end.