About a month into the 2016 season, there have been a lot of things that have gone right for the Red Sox – Hanley Ramirez’s play at first base, Rick Porcello performing well on the mound, Xander Bogaerts’ terrific defense at shortstop, among other things.
While those players have been great, the unsung heroes for the team this year have been their bullpen members. While their team ERA is 13th in baseball at 3.55, they’ve been much better than the numbers indicate, partly because of the number of innings they’ve been forced to throw. Overall, Red Sox relievers have thrown 99 innings, which is the 15th-most in the game, but they’ve played 30 games while some teams have played 32 and 33.
In 10 games this season Red Sox starters have pitched five innings or less, putting tremendous pressure on the bullpen, but they’ve actually thrived in these situations. In fact, it earned Heath Hembree a spot in the Red Sox' bullpen. On the day he was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket, Joe Kelly left the game in the first inning with a shoulder injury and Hembree went 3 1/3 scoreless innings and showed enough that he was kept on the roster the next day when the team made some roster moves to get fresh arms from Pawtucket. Overall, in five outings he’s gone 10 1/3 innings and has allowed only one run while striking out 11. He’s been a pitcher John Farrell can count on for multi-inning stints.
Another pitcher who has made the most of long relief appearances is left-hander Robbie Ross Jr.. In nine appearances totaling 13 innings, he’s allowed four earned runs for a 2.77 ERA.
This isn’t even mentioning the best pitchers in the bullpen in Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Carson Smith (who rejoined the team last week) and closer Craig Kimbrel. When everyone is healthy and in their accustomed roles, the Sox can truly say they have one of the best bullpens in baseball.
The state of the 'pen will also likely improve with starters going deeper into games. To this point, they have had 19 pitchers appear in games this season and it’s only early May.
It’s been a great start to the season for a number of different players in Boston, but the most underrated part of the season so far has been the performance of the bullpen. Without them, there’s no question the team would not be where they are in the standings.