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What the Red Sox bullpen looks like after an extreme offseason makeover

Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom (right) got to work early in the offseason to fix the Red Sox bullpen, which included signing closer Kenley Jansen.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

After a 2022 yearlong bullpen tire fire, the Red Sox faced an offseason mandate for change. Yet even against that backdrop, the late-innings overhaul has been strikingly far reaching.

On Opening Day last year, the Sox featured 10 relievers: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Kutter Crawford, Austin Davis, Jake Diekman, Hansel Robles, Hirokazu Sawamura, Matt Strahm, Phillips Valdez, and Garrett Whitlock. Just three — Brasier, Crawford, and Whitlock — remain in the organization, and with Whitlock ticketed for the rotation and Crawford a strong candidate to open the year as a Triple A depth starter, it’s possible Brasier may emerge as the only Opening Day relief holdover in 2023.


It’s not hard to figure out why the Red Sox wanted to pursue an extreme makeover. While the team went 26-50 against the AL East — a franchise-worst .342 winning percentage in the division — the bullpen played a pivotal role in that struggle. Of those 50 losses, 19 were by one run. The Sox led in the sixth inning or later in 11 of their divisional losses, and the team’s 16 blown saves against the AL East were tied for their most ever.

Red Sox relievers had a 4.67 ERA when facing divisional opponents. They had the lowest strikeout rate (21.4 percent), highest walk rate (10.5 percent), and allowed the most homers (36) of any AL East bullpen while playing against divisional rivals.

The Sox thus overhauled not only their bullpen personnel but also their late-innings structure. Instead of a return to the matchup-based bullpens that characterized much of the 2019-22 seasons, the Sox signed Kenley Jansen to a two-year, $32 million deal.

The three-time All-Star remains one of the most prominent closers in baseball. Last year for Atlanta, Jansen had a solid 3.38 ERA but, according to Statcast, a 2.34 expected ERA (12th best in MLB) based on his strikeout and walk rates as well as the quality of contact against him. He led the NL in saves (41) and games finished (54) while running his career saves total to 391 (eighth all-time).


He’ll serve as the late-innings anchor. In front of him, the Sox will feature 2022 revelation John Schreiber (2.22 ERA, 2.57 xERA in 65 innings) as well as newcomer Chris Martin (3.05 ERA, 2.55 xERA). Martin agreed to a two-year, $13.5 million deal after posting the lowest walk rate (2.2 percent) along with an excellent 32.9 percent strikeout rate (18th highest) among relievers.

John Schreiber, seen here finishing off an inning last season, is one of the few holdovers from last year's bullpen crew.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Richard Bleier, acquired last Monday from the Marlins in a deal sending Barnes to Miami, had the second-lowest walk rate (4.1 percent) of any lefthanded reliever who threw at least 50 innings last year, pointing to an area of offseason emphasis for the Sox.

“[Walks] are probably the number one thing that will drive you nuts watching a game and especially watching the late innings,” said chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “[Strike-throwing] is definitely something we valued. It wasn’t something where we said, ‘Hey, everybody we bring in has to be able to do this.’ At the end of the day, there’s a lot of different ways to get outs effectively and it doesn’t have to start with a history of extreme strike-throwing, but it certainly helps. There’s almost nothing you can do to help a pitcher more than getting him in favorable counts. And the only way to do that is to throw strikes.”


Another southpaw addition, Joely Rodriguez, had a 53.8 percent groundball rate, 19th among relievers.

The club was also encouraged by the late-season showing of 27-year-old Zack Kelly, who showed a swing-and-miss changeup while working in the strike zone in his big league debut. He and Brasier seem likely to work in the middle innings.

The bullpen is also likely to feature one or more pitchers who will be stretched out as starters but could enter the relief mix depending on who lands in the rotation.

Tanner Houck, whose low arm slot and sinker/slider combination are nightmares for righties, has been sharp out of the bullpen in his career and could certainly be a late-innings contributor. While the team wants to proceed carefully with lefthander James Paxton, particularly given that he’s a career-long starter, it hasn’t ruled him out as a bullpen consideration as he looks to contribute in the big leagues for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery in early 2021.

The Triple A WooSox rotation is also likely to feature pitchers who will open the year in the rotation but who could contribute as multi-innings bullpen options.

Bryan Mata, now two years removed from Tommy John, has the power mix — a high-90s to triple digits fastball and swing-and-miss slider — to contribute out of the bullpen if his strike-throwing doesn’t improve enough for him to stay in the rotation. Crawford, who impressed as a starter, could also emerge as a multi-innings bullpen option. And southpaw Brandon Walter could offer a funky look with his sinker/slider/changeup combination from a low three-quarters arm slot.


In terms of pure relievers, Ryan Fernandez, a 2018 23rd round draft pick, merits notice after his stuff made leaps in improvement last year, with a high-90s fastball complemented by a cutter and slider.

What role could a healthy Tanner Houck have in 2023?John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

It remains to be seen exactly what form the bullpen will take, but the Sox hope that it is both more varied and much more effective than the group that became a liability in 2022.

“You have a combination of different looks and different types of pitchers who get outs in different ways,” said Bloom. “And you have a group that, on the whole is pretty experienced and has demonstrated the ability to throw strikes and to attack hitters.”


Primary 2022 contributors: John Schreiber, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura, Austin Davis, Matt Strahm, Matt Barnes, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock

Projected 2023 contributors: Kenley Jansen, Schreiber, Chris Martin, Houck, Richard Bleier, Joely Rodriguez, Brasier, Zack Kelly

Major league depth: James Paxton, Kutter Crawford, Wyatt Mills, Kaleb Ort

Prospects to watch: Bryan Mata, Brandon Walter

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.