Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 8/14/12

Andrew Bailey is set to make his Red Sox debut this week. After being sidelined with a thumb injury for the entire season, the Red Sox are expected to activate Bailey on Tuesday. Bailey was acquired to take over the closer role after Jonathan Papelbon left for Philadelphia. And while his injury has certainly hurt the Sox, they’ve performed pretty well without him.

The Red Sox were supposed to be set in the late innings after last offseason. The team acquired Bailey and Houston Astros’ closer Mark Melancon to bring stability in the eighth and ninth innings. Bailey, of course, immediately suffered an injury and has yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox. Melancon, on the other hand, has been downright awful in his 28.0 innings pitched. If you had known these two things would happen heading into the season, you probably would have predicted a lot of failure from the Red Sox bullpen.

But that hasn’t been the case. While the Sox have had their fair share of issues, particularly early in the season, the team’s bullpen has been valuable. As a team, the Red Sox bullpen has accumulated 3.5 WAR this year, good for ninth in all of baseball. That number would actually improve if you took out Melancon’s contributions. Melancon has taken value away from the team this year, with a -0.2 WAR.

Boston has basically been able to succeed by cobbling together a bullpen by targeting cheap, unwanted players.

Player IP Acquired 2012 Salary WAR Scott Atchison 46.0 Signed as a FA in 2009 $510,000 0.9 Alfredo Aceves 58.2 Signed as a FA in 2011 $1,200,000 0.7 Vicente Padilla 39.0 Signed as a FA in 2012 $1,500,000 0.6 Andrew Miller 29.2 Traded to Boston in Nov 2010 $1,040,000 0.6 Franklin Morales 30.2 Traded to Boston in May 2011 $850,000 0.4 Junichi Tazawa 21.2 Signed as a FA in 2008 $920,000 0.4 Rich Hill 13.2 Signed as a FA in June 2010 $725,000 0.3 Clay Mortensen 27.1 Trade to Boston in Jan 2012 $486,500 0.1 Andrew Bailey 0.0 Offseason trade with Oakland $3,900,000 - Mark Melancon 28.0 Offseason trade with Houston $521,000 -0.2

Nearly every player contributing to Boston’s success in the bullpen this season was either eligible to be signed by every major league team at one point in their career, or acquired for next to nothing. Miller was acquired for pitcher Dustin Richardson, Morales was acquired for cash and a player to be named later and Mortensen was involved in the Marco Scutaro trade. Every other player on the list, with the exception of Bailey and Melancon, were acquired cheaply through free agency.

A closer look reveals some similarities between the players Boston likes to take chances on in their pen. Miller, Morales and Hill were all considered strong prospects at one point in their careers before falling out of favor with their original teams. And though Mortensen never reached that status, he was a first round draft pick in 2007. What the Red Sox are doing is still considered dumpster diving, but they are targeting guys that once had strong pedigrees. Flaws kept these pitchers from reaching their potential as starters, but they’ve all turned into decent bullpen pitchers. The jury is still out on Morales, actually, as the team has been so encouraged with his performance that they’ve moved him to the rotation. It’s also important to note that while Bailey makes close to $4 million, the next highest salary in the Red Sox’s bullpen is just $1.5 million.

The Red Sox approach this season really highlights why giving up good talent to acquire relievers is often a poor decision. Relievers are too volatile and get hurt way too often to be counted on for consecutive seasons. While Bailey is likely to add value to the Red Sox going forward, and Melancon will hopefully figure things out, the team has already shown that it can get by without their contributions.


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