All Red Sox fans know that the bullpen, or lack thereof, was a huge factor in the failure of the 2015 season. Once hired, Dave Dombrowski recognized this problem and moved a few prospects to San Diego in exchange for elite closer Craig Kimbrel. The move caused a big stir throughout the city between those who agreed with the move, and those who think the Dombrowski overpaid.
No matter how you analyze the deal, the Red Sox bullpen became immensely better with just that one move; not to mention to deal with Seattle adding Carson Smith and Roenis Elias. However, the Red Sox weren't the only ones in the AL East looking to upgrade their bullpen. A few weeks later, the Yankees traded for the hard-throwing Aroldis Chapman, sending, 4 minor league prospects to Cincinnati.
So, whose bullpen is better?
Simply stated, any team that goes into the late innings versus either of these teams is going to have a tough time putting up runs. Former Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller will most likely play the role of setup guy, while the Red Sox have the choice between Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. Although Koji has proven that he can be brilliant, he is older and fans aren't exactly sure what they're going to get with Tazawa on the mound.
Tazawa was forced into the closer role last season when Uehara was injured, and proved unable to handle the task. Miller is coming off an excellent year with the Yankees, posting a 2.04 ERA and a .0859 WHIP. The wildcard in this situation is Carson Smith, depending on how the Red Sox decide to use him. Although it seems he will be the long relief guy out of the pen, we could see him as a setup guy if Uehara and/or Tazawa are struggling. If Miller has another year even similar to the one he had last season, the Yankees have the edge with the setup guy.
Now onto the big names; Kimbrel versus Chapman. Kimbrel is coming off another solid season with San Diego, with a 2.58 ERA, 1.045 WHIP and 87 strikeouts. Chapman is coming off an even better season with Cincinnati, posting a 1.63 ERA, 1.146 WHIP and 116 strikeouts.
Both relievers are going into their 7th season in the MLB and have very similar stats. Although Chapman is coming off the better season, Kimbrel has the better overall stats for the 6 years he has been in the league. Kimbrel's career includes a 1.63 ERA, .927 WHIP and 563 strikeouts. Chapman's 6 year career includes a 2.17 ERA, 1.016 WHIP and 546 strikeouts.
Both pitchers are capable of throwing into triple digits, which should make for a fun 9th inning when these two face each other. In 2015, Kimbrel's average pitch speed was 98 mph, while Chapman's was 99.6, so it should be of no surprise if not a lot of runs are scored in the late innings.
With the similarity in age and stats, this matchup could come down to a coin flip. A few advantages the Red Sox have is that Chapman is only signed for 1 year, and he still may be facing a suspension for the domestic violence incident. While the length of his contract doesn't affect next season, a suspension could give the Red Sox time to get out in front and stay there.
While we will have to wait and see which bullpen ends up being the better of the two, no team wants to face either of these bullpens if they're down a few runs in the 9th.
By Matt Watts