Baseball Notes/Drellich: Matt Barnes’ finish bodes well for Red Sox relief effort – Boston Herald

The Red Sox will have some sort of outside help in their bullpen next season. They need it. Perhaps Brad Ziegler — technically on the outside now as a free agent — comes back and is part of the plan, at least against righties.

No matter the signings ahead for president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, right-hander Matt Barnes should have no shortage of important innings in 2017. He just has to avoid falling in love with his fastball.

Barnes had an encouraging but mixed 2016 season in which manager John Farrell relied on him in many roles. Varying usage is no easy task for pitchers, no matter how well Andrew Miller pitched in the postseason for the Cleveland Indians.

“I didn’t finish up with necessarily the numbers that I would have liked, but I think the numbers can be misconstrued a little bit based on a couple of outings,” Barnes said after the Sox were knocked out of the playoffs last month. “As a whole, I felt pretty good about how I threw the ball this year. I think I was put into a lot of situations that I had never been in before, and I think that’s going to be crucial moving forward in trying to help this team win next year.”

Presumably, Barnes this year is in position to find a little more stability toward the back-end.

Per FanGraphs’ measurement of leverage, Barnes could be considered the fourth-most trusted Sox reliever in 2016. Craig Kimbrel, Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa came into tighter situations on average. (Barnes slightly edged out Koji Uehara, although Uehara had an odd season because of injury.)

In September and October, Barnes allowed just one earned run in seven innings. That’s important considering what preceded the home stretch.

When the Sox bullpen was struggling en masse in August, Barnes was as lost as anyone. He allowed 12 runs in 102⁄3 innings, a 10.13 ERA.

The highest ERA he had in any other month was 4.05, in June. That number is coincidentally the overall ERA he finished with.

“August was the rough month for me,” Barnes said. “I really didn’t throw the ball that well, maybe a couple of tough breaks. I think it was the league had made an adjustment to me, and I didn’t execute as well as I would have liked.”

Pitching coach Carl Willis, bullpen coach Dana LeVangie and director of pitching analysis and development Brian Bannister all contributed as Barnes looked for his countermove.

Like Joe Kelly at times, Barnes had started to become too velocity dependent and the heater was getting ambushed.

“You learn the hitters, they learn you. They make an adjustment then you have to adjust back,” Barnes said. “You’re facing certain guys 15 or 20 times a year, eventually between the video and the scouting reports, guys are going to make adjustments to you. So I think, yeah, after that August month I had sat down with Dana, Carl, ‘Banny’ (and) kind of looked at August and was like, ‘All right, this is what you did, this is what happened, and this is how we can better utilize — or this is how you can adjust back.’”

Looking at, the issue clearly came back to Barnes’ fastball usage. Opponents hit just .125 against it in May. Every month through August, the average climbed: first to .216, then to .241 and up to .290 in that awful month.

In September? A drop to .077.

The first three months of the season, Barnes threw the fastball roughly 68-69 percent of the time. He started to taper off slightly as the year wore on, and was down to about 60 percent in August. Then came the real dip, to about 48 percent in September.

In turn, Barnes used both his curveball and slider more — although those pitches weren’t as effective in September, no one was touching the fastball.

“Then I thought I threw the ball pretty well in September coming out of August,” Barnes said. “It was one of those learning experiences that you can’t predict; you can’t do anything other than go through it. I think that helped a lot, and learn from it moving into next year.”

The best for Willis

Willis said before the playoffs began he thought he had another Cy Young winner on the way, and he was right.

Rick Porcello is Willis’ fourth such honored pupil, although Willis doesn’t care to take much credit for Felix Hernandez’ 2010 award because Willis wasn’t with King Felix the whole season with the Seattle Mariners.

Previous winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee pitched for Willis in 2007 and 2008, respectively, with the Cleveland Indians.

No hedging on Betts

Oh, what could have been.

From Red Sox media relations guru Justin Long: If Mookie Betts, 24, had won the American League MVP, the Red Sox outfielder would have become the youngest player in history to win an MVP award, Gold Glove award and Silver Slugger in the same season. The only player in either league to notch all three and also be under the age of 25 at the time the MVP was awarded was Don Mattingly, in 1985. He was also 24 years old, but slightly older than Betts.

Dustin Pedroia had already turned 25 by the time the final, crowning piece of hardware — the MVP — was awarded to him in 2008.

Did overuse tax Taz?

It’s hard to imagine the Sox bringing back Tazawa after disappointing endings to his 2015 and 2016 seasons. One has to wonder how much the Sox attributed Tazawa’s drop-off to nature vs. nurture. Is Tazawa just not built as strong as others? Did the Sox overuse him?

The righty threw 321⁄3 innings in the first half this season, six fewer innings than 2015, when he was eventually shut down early due to fatigue.

From 2013-15, Tazawa’s 1971⁄3 innings as a reliever were the 19th most in the majors, including the regular season and postseason. Trevor Rosenthal of the St. Louis Cardinals led with 2312⁄3 innings, and it just so happened Rosenthal ran into poor results and injuries this year.

Current free agent Mark Melancon, fourth in that stretch with 2241⁄3 innings, didn’t have any trouble and is in line for a big payday.

Youkin’ it up

All the usual ex-Red Sox figures were in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse when they celebrated their World Series championship. There was one you may have forgotten is part of the organization: Kevin Youkilis is a Cubs baseball operations assistant.

“We won Game 4 every time, so it was a lot easier,” Youkilis said of his two Red Sox championships.

He didn’t come to any conclusion outside of that, though, about comparisons.

“No, because each fan base is — whatever their stories, traditions, whatever losses, they’re all different stories,” Youkilis said. “The bottom line is now the suffering is over for a lot of people who just really, really enjoyed Chicago Cubs baseball and Boston Red Sox baseball.” . . .

David Price gave $2.5 million to a baseball facilities project at his alma mater, Vanderbilt, on Friday.


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