What To Expect from Red Sox Reliever Matt Barnes in 2017

Matt Barnes appeared in 62 games (66 ⅔ innings) for the Red Sox in 2016, the most games of any pitcher on the staff. The right-hander finished the season with a 4.05 ERA (113 ERA+), 3.72 FIP, and a mediocre 1.395 WHIP, worst on the Boston staff. He seemed to wear down somewhat over the course of the season; before the All-Star break, his WHIP was 1.28, while in the second half it was 1.61. Much of the damage was done through walks; his 4.2 BB/9 was second-worst on the team (to Craig Kimbrel, who was much better at suppressing hits than Barnes). He had a modest platoon split, with right-handed batters having a .690 OPS against him while lefties had a .741 OPS.

Although he was increasingly used in higher-leverage situations as the season progressed (average leverage index before the break: 0.82; after: 1.69), much of that was probably by default, with Junichi Tazawa looking shaky and no one else in the bullpen stepping up as a better choice. In 2017, Barnes is likely to be a medium-leverage middle-inning reliever, a role he seems well suited for.

What he throws. Barnes has a fairly high-speed four-seam fastball (“FF”), averaging 97.4 mph. He also throws a curve (“CU”), slider (“SL”), and changeup (“CH”):

Matt BarnesPitch usage and trends: Barnes’s fastball is his main pitch (65.1%), with his curve in second (23.9%). He essentially only used his slider against right-handed batters, but went to it equally when ahead or behind in the count. When behind, he cut back on his curve usage and was much more likely to throw fastballs:

Matt BarnesIn the beginning of the season, he threw the changeup, but abandoned the pitch within a month or so. Toward the end of the season, he moved to using his slider instead, using it about as often as his curve in his last 20 games or so:

Matt BarnesPitch value. Overall, Barnes’s fastball was comfortably above average, based on total bases per 100 pitches, and was just about average in terms of balls per 100 pitches. His slider was very good as far as suppressing total bases, but bad as far as throwing strikes, and his curve was just about average across the board. We can see why he abandoned his changeup by looking at the total bases per 100 pitches it yielded.   In this chart, I cut the Y-axis off at 15 to limit the awfulness, but his changeup actually gave up a horrifying 18.0 total bases per 100 pitches on average — 28 TB/100 against right-handed batters:

Matt BarnesHis pre- and post-All-Star break pitch values show him losing effectiveness as well, whether through better scouting reports or wearing down. His fastball went from good to just about average. His curve seemed to improve in the second half, and his slider remained about constant:

Matt BarnesPitch location: Barnes’s fastball was mostly thrown outside to both right- and left-handed batters. His slider — thrown only to RHB — ended up outside the zone most of the time, explaining both the low total bases and the high ball rates it yielded. His curve was more likely to be a strike to left-handed batters, often falling out of the zone for RHB. His changeup location seemed to be pretty good, nicely targeting the bottom and (for lefties) outside edge of the zone, so location probably wasn’t the reason for giving up the pitch:

Matt Barnes

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Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.