Red Sox Pitcher Matt Barnes Made His First MLB Start

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The Boston Red Sox have had a few high profile debuts this year. However, when Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes made his first MLB start, there was not much fanfare. Ian York takes at Barnes’s stuff to see if he should be sent back to the bullpen or not.

Although Matt Barnes has mainly been a starting pitcher during his rise through the minors, he had only appeared in relief during his short major-league career. As a reliever, he has been acceptable ‒ especially considering his age (25 years old) and the shambles that has been the Red Sox bullpen ‒ but unspectacular. However, after being sent back to the minors in mid-June, he was stretched out and started games in August, albeit only up to pitching 4 2/3 innings by August 10.

It was a sign of desperation ‒ as has happened so many times for the Red Sox this year ‒ that he was needed to start for the major league team against Cleveland on August 17. The scheduled starter, Steven Wright (who was himself an earlier desperation move for the Sox) was knocked out of his start by a freak concussion sustained during batting practice, and Barnes was the only remotely plausible starter available.

All that means that Barnes needs to be given a lot of leeway for his performance. What’s more, his final line (5.0 innings pitched, 6 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks) can also be partially ascribed to the hideous fielding of Hanley Ramirez in left field.

Barnes throws three pitches: a good four-seam fastball in the mid-90s, with gusts to the high-90s as needed; a decent to good curve; and a changeup that is still a work in progress. His fastball has some movement, but is on the lower side for fastball break length, and he does not throw a two-seam fastball to complement the four-seam. This repertoire is probably more suited to a reliever in the majors, since until he develops better secondary stuff he will have a hard time getting through major league rotations two or three times:

In his start against Cleveland, Barnes had one of his lowest fastball average velocities of the year (93.8-mph, according to PITCHf/x data), compared to his 21 relief appearances in the big leagues, which were generally in the 95- to 96-mph range. However, rather than starting fast and losing velocity, he did the reverse; his slower fastballs were mainly in the first inning (average speed 92.9-mph), after which he sustained his velocity at around 94-mph through the end of his outing:

It is interesting that he mixed in his secondary pitches well in all but the disastrous 5-run fourth inning, where (whether because of his comfort level with the pitch, because of runners on base, or other reasons) he threw more fastballs as the situation deteriorated. 

His fastball location was not great, especially to left-handed batters, with many of the pitches near the center of the plate. It is probably a tribute to the quality of his fastball (as well as luck) that he got several called strikes on these pitches, but several were also hit hard:

He placed his fastball better against right-handed batters, often catching the outside edge of the strike zone and with few pitches in the heart of the plate.

His curve also did well against right-handed batters; although he only threw a half-dozen to them, they had good deception, as shown by the swinging strikes on pitches far below the zone. To left-handed batters, he seemed again to have more trouble locating the pitch, with most being up in the zone or high and outside:  

His changeup showed signs that it may be a more useful secondary pitch against left-handers, yielding weak contact for outs and fouls, and swinging strikes:

In all, Barnes probably neither hurt nor helped himself with this outing. While he didn’t show himself to be a sure-fire starter, he also had many factors working against him, and showed a number of good points. While his future is more likely to be in the pen than as a starter, he showed signs that he does have a major-league career ahead of him.

Ian York has written about Koji Uehara, an impressive start by Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly’s fastballs, the effect of better bullpens on offensive strategy, a look at how Blake Swihart has been doing this season.

Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork.

Check out This Week in Baseball Writing and our takes on the hiring of Dave Dombrowski.

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