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The surprisingly remarkable Boston bullpen

Despite a leading narrative questioning the Red Sox bullpen entering this year’s World Series, it was the relief corps that pushed Boston to their fourth World Series victory in 14 years.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

On Sunday night, the Boston Red Sox celebrated their fourth World Series of the 21st century, closing out the Dodgers fairly handily in five games. Leading baseball from pole-to-pole, Boston amassed a total 119 wins, and end 2018 as one of the most dominant teams in recent memory.

Coming into the playoffs, and specifically into the World Series, the biggest weakness appeared to be Boston’s bullpen. However, despite some stumbles in low-leverage situations (Kimbrel’s game four home run in a five-run game), and Nathan Eovaldi’s epic game three call to duty in innings 12 to 18 , it was terrific performances and creative thinking from first-year manager Alex Cora that shutdown the Dodgers, and propelled the Red Sox to their five-game series win.

In total, the Red Sox bullpen threw 25 ⅔ of the total 53 innings (a remarkable 48 percent of the total World Series innings). Of those 25 ⅔ innings, 10 ⅓ were from starters Eduardo Rodriguez, who also started game four, David Price, who started game five, Chris Sale, who started game one, and Nathan Eovaldi, who served as the ultimate innings eater in that torturous game three.

The Boston bullpen final line was 25 ⅔ innings, 16 hits, 4 earned runs (five in total), and a 27:7 strikeout to walk rate. Their ERA for the series was a puny 1.40, and the relievers averaged more than one strikeout per inning.

Red Sox Bullpen

Pitcher Innings Hits ER R Walks Strikeouts
Pitcher Innings Hits ER R Walks Strikeouts
Bullpen Totals 25 2/3 16 4 5 7 27
Starters' Bullpen Totals 10 1/3 4 1 2 2 10

The starters who were called out of the pen were equally as remarkable as the entire cast’s aggregate. E-Rod, Price, Sale, and Eovaldi (who had the lion’s share) combined for 10 ⅓ total innings and only one earned run. Of the 23 total baserunners the relievers allowed, only six were from the starters who were called from the pen. With 10 strikeouts and only two walks, it seemed Alex Cora could make no wrong move when it came to pitcher utilization.

The pitching breakdown is really remarkable to see when it’s put in black-and-white. What many thought of as the weakness for Boston, ended up being the major asset that delivered them a championship.

Red Sox World Series Pitching

Pitcher Game Innings Hits ER R Walks Strikeouts
Pitcher Game Innings Hits ER R Walks Strikeouts
Chris Sale One 4 5 3 3 2 7
Matt Barnes One 1 1 0 0 0 1
Joe Kelly One 1 0 0 0 0 2
Ryan Brasier One 2/3 2 1 1 1 0
Eduardo Rodriguez One 1/3 0 0 0 0 0
Nathan Eovaldi One 1 0 0 0 0 0
Craig Kimbrel One 1 0 0 0 0 2
Game One Pen 5 3 1 1 1 5
David Price Two 6 3 2 2 3 5
Joe Kelly Two 1 0 0 0 0 1
Nathan Eovaldo Two 1 0 0 0 0 1
Craig Kimbrel Two 1 0 0 0 0 0
Game Two Pen 3 0 0 0 0 2
Rick Porcello Three 4 2/3 3 1 1 1 5
Eduardo Rodriguez Three 1/3 0 0 0 0 1
Joe Kelly Three 1 1 0 0 0 0
Ryan Brasier Three 1 1 0 0 0 1
Matt Barnes Three 1 1 0 0 0 2
David Price Three 2/3 1 0 0 1 0
Craig Kimbrel Three 1 1/3 1 0 0 1 0
Heath Hembree Three 1 0 0 0 1 1
Nathan Eovaldi Three 6 3 1 2 1 5
Game Three Pen 12 1/3 8 1 2 4 10
Eduardo Rodriguez Four 5 2/3 4 4 4 2 6
Matt Barnes Four 1/3 0 0 0 1 1
Joe Kelly Four 2 3 0 0 0 3
Craig Kimbrel Four 1 2 2 2 1 0
Game Four Pen 3 1/3 5 2 2 2 4
David Price Five 7 3 1 1 2 5
Joe Kelly Five 1 0 0 0 0 3
Chris Sale Five 1 0 0 0 0 3
Game Five Pen 2 0 0 0 0 6
Italics = Starting Pitcher in Relief

For all the talk about the instability of the Red Sox pen, their (classic) relief pitchers stepped up to the challenge in the World Series. Joe Kelly is the only pitcher to appear in all five World Series games, and over the course of the series, contributed six scoreless innings, in which he struck out ten batters and allowed only four hits and no walks. Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree also tossed scoreless innings, contributing 2 13 innings and one shutout inning, respectively.

Despite Craig Kimbrel’s shakiness throughout the entirety of the playoffs, he never blew a save (perhaps despite his best efforts) and he closed out two of Boston’s four wins.

All in all, it was a dominant season, by a dominant team. David Price managed to change his entire narrative in one-fell-swoop, while Craig Kimbrel raised more questions than he intended, as he enters free agency. Alex Cora pressed all the right buttons at the right time, and helped navigate a bullpen in an unconventional way. Whether he called on a starter or reliever to come out of the pen, the players executed, and what was previously considered a weakness, quickly became a strength. A combination of great strategy, and near flawless execution delivered Boston a World Championship.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano