By: Noah Wright
When you look at some of the best relief pitchers of 2019, multiple names show up, and most are no surprise. Kirby Yates, Felipe Vazqez, Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader, etc. But one of the best relievers of 2019 is currently on probably one of the worst relief staff of the American League. That being the Red Sox’ Brandon Workman.
Workman was originally a prospect starter for the Sox back in the early-to-mid 2010’s. Fangraphs ranked him as the organization's 10th best prospect before the 2013 season. He wasn’t projected to be any sort of ace level pitcher, but he was still seen as a big league arm who could provide a lot of solid innings. Workman was mainly used as a bullpen piece in his debut 2013 season, seeing only 3 starts, but was used mostly out of the rotation in the following season. However, his results were lackluster, to say the least, evident by a 5.11 ERA and 4.12 FIP. Heading into the 2015 season, Workman would need Tommy John surgery and missed all of the next 2 seasons. By 2017, Workman made it back to the majors, albeit in a lesser role. And that was Workman’s role for the next 2 seasons. Most of his playing time came in low leverage situations. Workman still provided solid results, having a 3.22 ERA, 1.210 WHIP, and solid strikeout and walk numbers (8.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9).
Entering the 2019 season, Brandon wasn’t really in line for the closing role. That belonged to Matt Barnes, and Ryan Brasier. However, Workman started off 2019 blazing hot. Through his first 18 innings, he gave up just 3 earned runs, and 2 hits. He has worked himself into being the team’s best high leverage relief pitcher. Through 51 and two thirds innings, Workman has a 1.92 ERA, 2.64 FIP, and 1.006 WHIP. His ERA and WHIP are much lower than Aroldis Chapman’s, and his FIP is extremely comparable to the Yankees’ fireballer. Workman has given up just 1 home run this year, while striking out 71 batters. Sure walks have been a bit of an issue for the right hander (5.5 BB/9), but it also hasn’t really been a strong point for Adam Ottavino (5.5 BB/9), Aroldis Chapman (4.2 BB/9). Plus, his groundball percentage sits at a strong 52%. After the Sox saw struggling from Brasier and Barnes out of the closer role, Workman as stepped up as the team’s closer. A lot of Brandon’s success can be attributed to his curveball. His usage of the pitch has jumped by over 10% compared to last year (36.7% to 47.5%). Batters have just 12 hits against the pitch. He has added about an inch of horizontal movement to the pitch as well.
Many of his stats are comparable to some of the biggest relief aces. His ERA is lower than Ryan Pressley, who didn’t give up a single run until May 24th. Workman leads the entire MLB in HR/9, and his FIP is comparable to lefty closers Brad Hand (2.46) and Will Smith (2.63). His bWAR 2.3 is higher than Felipe Vazquez’s (2.1), and matches Kirby Yates, the relief pitching ERA leader.
Depending on how the Red Sox’ 2019-2020 off season goes, Workman could return as the team’s closer if they don’t sign one of the higher priced relievers on the market. But that isn’t a bad thing. Kirby Yates’ breakout 2018 season came at age 31, and he is one of MLB’s most dominant relievers. Plus since his repertoire doesn’t rely on a blazing fastball, or 95+ cutter, the Sox might not need to worry too much about his velocity impacting his performance.