One of the biggest revelations in the 2022 Red Sox season was the success of John Schreiber, who heading into 2022 had only pitched 31.2 innings in the big leagues with a 5.97 ERA. In 2022, Schreiber was the Red Sox’ best and most consistent reliever, pitching 65 innings with a 2.22 ERA. Schreiber was essentially a shot in the dark for Chaim Bloom when the Red Sox claimed him off waivers in February of 2021 after the Tigers DFA’d him. He had an MLB ERA over 6.00, and although he showed signs of talent in Triple-A, it didn’t seem to translate to the big leagues until 2022.
The thing with guys like Schreiber is that, even if they only seem like depth options, teams will pursue them because they have upside. Even when Schreiber was struggling with Detroit in the majors in 2019 and 2020, his slider was a really good pitch. Once he got to the Red Sox, there were significant changes from his time with Detroit. His fastball velo was up, and he was throwing a sinker to go with it, replacing about a third of the fastballs he threw with sinkers. There were changes made to his repertoire, and they worked out for Schreiber. Wherever you look around the league, you can find relievers with upside.
Here are three underrated relievers the Red Sox should take a shot in the dark on.
At 33 years old, Wily Peralta has been in the big leagues for 10 seasons now. However, he has only been a full time reliever for three of those seasons. In 2022, he did have a 2.58 ERA in 38.1 innings for the Tigers, but that covers up his xERA and FIP, which were both over 4.00. So why target Wily Peralta? Because I don’t think he has fully been maximized in a bullpen role. In 2022, the standout pitch for Peralta was his slider, which became his primary pitch for the first time in his career. It was a righty killer, and he mostly stayed away from it against lefties. In 2021, his slider didn’t stand out because he threw it too much to lefties. His standout pitch in 2021 was the splitter, which he threw mainly to lefties. However, he threw it too much to righties in 2022. His sinker, all in all, should essentially be scrapped.
He should throw a fastball and slider against righties, and stick with the fastball and splitter versus lefties. He needs to scrap the sinker, and hope he has his splitter from 2021 and his slider and fastball from 2022. That pitch mix should make for a solid reliever. If hitters hit .150 against his slider and splitter, then all he needs is for the fastball to not get crushed, which he showed he could do in 2022.Thats a good bullpen piece to lead into the backend of the pen, and is someone who would be cheap to acquire as a free agent this offseason.
Moving onto a former Red Sox draft pick, J.B. Wendelken has carved out a solid MLB career so far. However, 2022 was his worst season so far. He put up a 5.28 ERA and a 5.01 FIP in 29 innings this season. If you look at his career numbers, he has a 4.00 ERA and a 3.95 FIP. In a three-year stretch from 2018-2020, he had a 2.30 ERA and a 3.03 FIP over 74.1 innings. There is definitely an arm there, the only question is whether or not the Red Sox can find it. The biggest questions with Wendelken are rediscovering the fastball he had from 2018-2020, as well as figuring out which secondary pitches he will throw. In 2018 and 2019, he threw a fastball, curveball, and changeup. In 2019, he started to mix in a sinker and slider. In 2020, he threw mostly fastballs and sliders, with the changeup, curveball, and sinker occasionally mixed in. In 2022, Wendelken threw his fastball almost 50% of the time, mixing in the slider, changeup, and sinker.
If I am a team acquiring Wendelken, who is currently a free agent, I would start by scrapping his sinker. Then, I would keep the changeup as the main secondary pitch against lefties and either keep the slider or try to resurrect his curveball against lefties (I’d prefer the slider). Similar to Peralta, you are looking for a middle reliever that can get the ball to the back end of the bullpen. If you can get Wendelken back on the right track, you might have a solid reliever on your hands.
Next up is the 4th place finisher in the 2020 NL Cy Young voting, Dinelson Lamet. Lamet would be considered a true reclamation project by some, but I don’t see it that way. I think that if you go after Lamet, you get him strictly as a reliever without trying to move him back into the rotation. His 2022 may not look good, but I see massive upside, especially considering that he went to Colorado and had a 4.00 ERA. If you take out his horrific penultimate outing of the season, his ERA with the Rockies changes to 2.70. There is some risk with Lamet, especially injury wise, but if you are taking a shot in the dark on someone, Lamet may be the guy with the most upside that will be available. In 2022, Lamet moved to throwing only fastballs and sliders, discarding his sinker and changeup.
To me, scrapping the sinker made sense. Even if you look at 2020, hitters struggled with a low average and slugging against it, but the expected numbers were much higher than the results. He rarely used his sinker in 2021, and it was rarely effective when it was used. Becoming a two-pitch pitcher in 2022, especially with a permanent move to the bullpen, made total sense for Lamet. Heading into 2023, Lamet should stick with just the fastball and slider, but I think he should throw his slider even more than he already does. I think he could get away with throwing his slider 60-65% of the time.
Think of a guy like Andres Munoz, who is Seattle’s best reliever. He throws his slider 65% of the time. Munoz was clearly better than Lamet in 2022, but the point I’m getting to is Munoz’ fastball is definitely his secondary pitch. I feel the same way about Lamet. His slider is clearly his best pitch, and he should lean on it more. Once again, Lamet could be another guy that can get the game to the back end of the pen, and he has the upside of a guy who can fit into the back end if he pans out. Also, Lamet will be a non-tender candidate, meaning he would be a free agent this offseason. And even if he isn’t non-tendered, he wouldn’t cost much in a trade.
That wraps up the three relievers that I think the Red Sox should take a shot in the dark on. They obviously aren’t the guys who will slot into the back end, but any of these guys could fit into the middle relief picture, which clearly needs to be revamped heading into 2023.