Matthew David Barnes is very good at pitching for the 2021 Red Sox and the Red Sox are a very good baseball team 50 games into the season. A good reason for that is the 2021 Red Sox team has a lockdown closer. Something they lacked in 2019 and 2020. Why is that, you ask? Matt Barnes was on the Red Sox in both 2019 and 2020, in fact, he’s been with the big club since 2014.
Why didn’t the Red Sox have a lockdown closer? Well, it’s because simply Matt Barnes hadn’t quite stepped up to the mound in a big way yet, or they didn’t trust him. Well, the 2021 Red Sox organization trusts him in the closer role, and his 6’4″ frame stands high on the mound at Fenway.
2021 Red Sox: A Kid From Connecticut
Barnes grew up in the town of Bethel, Connecticut, and played college baseball at the University of Connecticut. Barnes’ junior year was when he truly began to shine. He pitched to an 11-3 record, with a 1.11 ERA, and 93 strikeouts in fourteen games started for the Huskies. Barnes was named twice to the All-Big East team and was named Big East Pitcher of the Year in 2011. Barnes was drafted by the Red Sox in 2011 with the 19th overall selection.
Barnes began his minor league career as a starter. During his first professional season, Barnes split the season between Salem and Greenville, where he amassed a 7-5 record, 2.86 ERA, and 133 strikeouts in 119.2 innings pitched every inning as a starter. He was also named to the 2012 All-Star Futures Games. Barnes began to struggle in the minors and was transitioned into the bullpen. He was initially promoted in 2014 to the Red Sox, and pitched some between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston in 2015, and pitched the entire 2016 season as a full-time member of the Red Sox bullpen.
2021 Red Sox: The Major League Grind
Coming into the 2021 Red Sox season, Matt Barnes wasn’t on everyone’s radar as someone with the makings of an elite closer. In fact, a good deal of Red Sox fans was desperate for Chaim Bloom to sign a legit closer, something the team hadn’t had since Craig Kimbrel left after the 2018 Championship season. Instead of doing so, Chaim Bloom made a rare trade with the New York Yankees, acquiring Adam Ottavino, and prospect Frank German for a PTBNL or cash. Barnes and Ottavino went into 2021 Red Sox spring training battling for the ninth-inning role. Barnes won out, and as they say, the rest is history.
Just how good has Matt Barnes been in 2021? Well, he’s been this good…
The only truly worrisome aspect to Barnes’ game in 2021 has been his hard-hit rate. But, again, when you prove that you possess swing and miss stuff, like Barnes has, getting hit hard is much less of an actual issue. Over the course of Barnes’ career, walks have been an issue, and he went from the fifth percentile in 2019, to the tenth percentile in walks in 2020 to the 77th percentile in 2021. That’s a major improvement. It’s never been if Matt Barnes has the nasty stuff, it’s always been if he could harness his talent.
Barnes is harnessing that talent to a 1.17 xERA, 1.44 FIP, 1.3 fWAR, and a 15.65 K/9 and is 11 for 12 in save opportunities in 2021. Barnes has been quite literally one of the most elite closers in baseball for the 2021 season.
If Matt Barnes can continue this type of success for the rest of 2021, it’s not only great news for the 2021 Red Sox, it’s wonderful news for Matt Barnes and his piggy bank. The 2021 Red Sox bullpen features, Barnes, Adam Ottavino, Hirokazu Sawamura, Darwinzon Hernandez, Garrett Whitlock, and the resurgence of Josh Taylor, and the potential of Brandon Workman waiting at Triple-A Worcester, the 2021 Red Sox pen might just be pretty, pretty good.
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