Red Sox

What Alex Cora asks of Matt Barnes is insane, and how Barnes has responded is even crazier

matt_barnes.jpg
USA Today Sports Photo

What Alex Cora asks of Matt Barnes is insane, and how Barnes has responded is even crazier

The life of a reliever is all about routine, or so we've been told. Know your inning, know your role, get out there and do the job.

Then there's Matt Barnes.

By far the best reliever on the Red Sox, and by every metric one of the best relievers in baseball, Barnes operates in a unique space. In the old days -- say, three years ago -- someone with Barnes' stuff and pedigree would've followed a natural career progression: seventh inning, eighth inning, closer, All-Star, multimillion dollar contract.

But a game-wide reliance on late-inning relievers combined with Red Sox manager Alex Cora's aggressive targeting of matchups has made Barnes a singular weapon.

It's no accident that the team is 14-4 in his 18 appearances, which is easily the best winning percentage (.778) on the club. Name your closer, and Barnes's numbers are every bit as eye-popping, whether it's his 1.42 ERA, 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings, or 35-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The only reliever with similar numbers is San Diego's Kirby Yates, who leads baseball with 18 saves.

The fact that Barnes has only recorded three saves shows just how worthless that statistic actually is, because his value is immeasurable. If you're wondering why the Red Sox never showed any interest in re-signing closer Craig Kimbrel, Barnes is it.

Kimbrel put himself in a small box: ninth inning or later, save situation. Barnes has embraced the idea that the most important outs of a game might not technically merit an (S) in the box score.

"We saw this coming last year, the situations he pitched in," Cora said. "Obviously we had Craig, locking him in in the ninth inning. From the get-go from early (last) season whenever all those righties, the middle of the order guys, would come up in the seventh or the eighth it was Barnes and Joe (Kelly) had the lefties. He's been good. He's been good in the clubhouse with that group as far as preparation. His routine after games he learned a lot from Craig. So far, so good. He's been amazing for us."

Thirteen of Barnes' 18 appearances have come either in tied or one-run games, and he has pitched just twice with the Red Sox trailing. He has appeared four times in the seventh, seven in the eighth, and seven in the ninth.

His usage is actually straightforward, once you know the signals. When the heart of the order is due after the sixth inning of a tight game, Barnes gets the call, which makes his numbers even more impressive.

"Part of the order," Barnes said when asked what he prepares for. "I know it's going to be narrowed down to two, maybe three innings. It will be the seventh to the ninth, and more times than not, the eighth or the ninth. I just try and focus on a specific part of the lineup. I go through an entire scouting report on my own based on what I've done against them, what we've seen this year from them, and kind of go from there."

Barnes has faced 72 batters this season, and nearly 65 percent of them have come from the heart of the order. He has faced the No. 3 hitter 11 times, the cleanup man 14 times, the fifth spot 10 times, and the sixth spot 11 times. He has only drawn the No. 9 and leadoff hitters three times each.

Compare that to a closer pitching only the ninth, who could draw the 7-8-9 hitters on a nightly basis if he's lucky. Kimbrel, for example, had nearly as many plate appearances against the ninth spot (27) as the third (29) and fourth (30) last year. Out west, Yates has seen an almost perfect distribution of batters across the order, with 10 plate appearances against every spot except first (9), second (11), and third (8). Indomitable Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman has faced the No. 9 hitter more than any other.

Barnes is afforded no such luxury, and it's too bad, because the bottom four spots are a combined 1-for-26 against him. His nights instead provide a steady diet of Khris Davis, Nolan Arenado, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Abreu, and Carlos Correa, to name a few, which makes his .149 batting average against even more ludicrous.

"It's easy now, because I've developed a routine in how I do it, what I'm looking for, and I've accumulated a lot of ABs against a lot of these guys now, so I know what works and what doesn't work," Barnes said. "Once you get into it, it's not terrible."

That's an understatement. The Red Sox have weaponized Barnes at the back of their bullpen, and the absolute best hitters in opposing lineups are paying the price.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Highlights from the Red Sox' 7-4 win over the Rays

usatsi_13397877.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Highlights from the Red Sox' 7-4 win over the Rays

FINAL SCORE:  Red Sox 7, Rays 4

IN BRIEF: Christian Vazquez's three-run home run in the first inning proved to be the big knock of the game for the Red Sox as they avoided a 3-0 hole in their series with the Rays Sunday. 

BOX SCORE

RED SOX RECORD: 81-74

HIGHLIGHTS

1st inning

J.D. Martinez singled to right, Devers scored (1-0 BOS)
Christian Vazquez smacked a three-run home run to left, Martinez and Bogaerts scored (4-0 BOS)

Tommy Pham grounded into a double play, Wendle came around to score (4-1 BOS)

2nd inning

Kevin Kiermaier singled to center, Lowe scored (4-2 BOS)

THE BEST KIND OF DOUBLE PLAY

3rd inning

Joey Wendle hit a solo home run to left (4-3 BOS)

4th inning

Martinez walked, Bradley Jr. scored (5-3 BOS)
Rafael Devers scored on a wild pitch from Andrew Kittredge (6-3 BOS)

7th inning

Martinez scored on throwing error by Wendle (7-3 BOS)

9th inning

McKay blasted a solo home run (7-4 BOS)

UP NEXT:
@Rangers, Tuesday, 8:05 p.m., NESN
@Rangers, Wednesday, 8:05 p.m., NESN
@Rangers, Thursday, 2:05 p.m., NESN

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Report: Red Sox front office perceived as 'miserable place to work'

Report: Red Sox front office perceived as 'miserable place to work'

With Dave Dombrowski out as Red Sox president of baseball operations, who will be the team's next general manager? 

It seems like a desirable job: the team consistently has one of the top payrolls in the league, and the franchise has won four World Series titles in the last 16 seasons. But it's not that simple. Not even close.

The last two men in charge of baseball operations — Ben Cherington and Dombrowski — were shown the door quickly after winning championships, and those moves are painting the Red Sox in a very bad light, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

These decisions loosely frame the industry perception of the Red Sox as a chaotic company, a miserable place to work. Boston owner John Henry needs to understand this, because it is why some of the people he'd probably love to consider as possible replacements for Dombrowski privately dismiss the idea out of hand.

Olney writes that some potential candidates have no interest in working for Henry, because they "doubt he'd have the patience to back his next general manager through the difficult crossroads ahead." That includes the impending free agency of Mookie Betts, a potential opt-out from J.D. Martinez, and an expensive rotation fraught with injuries, among other issues.

The key to a successful leadership transition in the front office might be Sam Kennedy, who has been the team's president for four years following the departure of Larry Lucchino. As Olney explains:  

A wide-held view in other front offices is that the highly respected and well-liked Red Sox president Sam Kennedy stands as a thin buffer between the team devolving to the level of the Mets, the team generally regarded by rival executives as baseball's model for dysfunction. "If Sam ever walked away," said one official, "the whole thing would be a complete mess."

From a 108-win season and a World Series to the possibility of becoming a complete mess, it's amazing how quickly the tide has turned for the Red Sox.

TOMASE: Why Theo Epstein could be the man for the job>>>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.