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The Boston Red Sox are officially good again. After taking two of three against the red-hot Minnesota Twins, this team proved it is capable of beating good teams and making a serious push for the World Series. However, they’ll need to upgrade their bullpen if they’re to repeat as champions. Former Cleveland Indians star reliever Cody Allen just hit the market, and he’s a tempting signing for a struggling Red Sox team. While there’s probably nothing left in his tank, the Red Sox should sign him to a minimum deal and see if he has any good baseball left in him.
As a whole, the bullpen ranks fifth in ERA (3.88), sixth in FIP (4.00), and seventh in xFIP (4.17). However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story, as great performances by Matt Barnes and Marcus Walden help cover up the bad early-inning arms. The Red Sox don’t have a third high-leverage arm, as Brandon Workman typically wears down as the season goes on. Even trusting Walden to continue this run is risky, as the reliever has minimal MLB experience and has never pitched this well in the minors. Barnes can’t do it alone, and Allen has the track record to suggest he could solve Boston’s late-inning woes.
There weren’t too many relievers better than Cody Allen from 2012-2017. During that six-year stretch with the Indians, Allen pitched 373.2 innings to the tune of a 2.67 ERA, 2.92 FIP, and a 3.23 xFIP. While he walked more batters than you’d like (3.4 BB/9), he easily made up for it with his 11.7 K/9 rate. He induced ground balls at a solid 35.7% clip and only allowed hard contact on 38.7% of his at-bats, per Fangraphs.
However, the wheels have fallen off the wagon in the past two seasons. Over the past two seasons, Allen has pitched 90 innings to the tune of an ugly 5.10 ERA and a 5.53 FIP. He’s still striking out an impressive 10.9 batters per nine innings, but he’s now walking 5.3 batters per nine innings. His ground ball rate has fallen to 27.1% while his fly ball rate has skyrocketed to 54.7%. Additionally, batters are seeing the ball better and making hard contact 42.9% of the time.
Cody Allen probably won’t ever find his old form, as his pitch velocity suggests he’s lost something on his fastball. According to Fangraphs, Allen’s fastball sat between 94.6 and 96.1 from 2012 to 2017. However, that number dropped to 94.0 in 2018 and 92.9 in 2019. Allen’s only other pitch is a curveball, and it hasn’t been good enough to work as a main offering.
A potential signing probably wouldn’t go anywhere, but it’s worth a shot. The Angels signed Allen to a one-year, $8.5 million contract at the beginning of the season. Despite releasing him, they are still on the books for his salary. The Red Sox could sign Allen to a vet minimum contract and still have the Angels pay the grand majority of his salary. If Allen can find his old form, then the Red Sox get a great reliever without having to give up prospect capital. If he can’t, then the Red Sox can freely shop the open market.
At the end of the day, signing Allen is a low-risk, high-reward move the Red Sox should think about taking. While his best days are probably behind him, there is a chance he finds his old form. If it doesn’t work out, the Red Sox have no financial reason to stick with him and can part ways at any time.