As the Boston Red Sox have remodeled their bullpen this offseason, the LOOGY ((L)eft-handed (O)ne (O)ut (G)u(Y)) role has not yet been filled. It’s a small role, but one every successful bullpen needs to fill if they hope to hold leads and limit baserunners late in games. The truth is though, the role should already be filled with someone who has been around since the start of 2014. Who might that be? The answer to that is 31-year-old Tommy Layne.
Now a quick glance at Tommy Layne’s stats from 2015 will tell you that he wasn’t even close to dominant throughout the season. The lefty posted an unimpressive 3.97 ERA with a 5.1 BB/9 and 7.7 H/9. As the Red Sox’ bullpen continued to put the team in deeper and deeper holes, Layne was a part of it. The truth is though, Layne’s struggles were not all his fault. While 2015 wound down, Boston’s bullpen was just throwing anyone out there to get outs. Situational baseball was not a serious focus once the club fell out of contention. It was all about just making it to the end of another ugly season.
A constant complaint throughout last season was manager John Farrell’s use of the bullpen. There were definitely a handful of instances in which Farrell cost the Red Sox a win because of questionable decisions. One issue that really plagued the Red Sox, starting in June, was the over usage of set-up man Junichi Tazawa early in the season. Once Tazawa’s health degenerated, there were not many other solid options out of the bullpen. At the time, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara, Robbie Ross and Craig Breslow were all struggling for consistency. Eventually Boston was forced to constantly call up different pitching options in order to have usable bodies at the ready.
At that point, Tommy Layne became one of the arms forced to get outs because of Tazawa’s absence. Layne would be used consistently against both lefties and righties in different parts of games. It started to seem as if Tommy’s splits were possibly being ignored. In Farrell’s last two months before leaving the team for cancer treatment in August, Layne faced 41 batters in back to back months. For any left handed specialist, that’s a large order to fill on a consistent basis.
In parts of the past three seasons, he has allowed right handed hitters to post a .319 batting average with a .427 OBP. Numbers like that are going to leave any pitcher getting booed off the mound. But against lefties, Layne was a force while out on the field. In the same sample size, he left batters hitting .176 with just a .278 OBP. A weapon like that out of the bullpen, when used correctly, has the potential to make a significant impact across an entire season. The Red Sox cannot be mishandling talent like this again if they hope to get back to the playoffs in 2016.
Farrell needs to work on his usage of different relievers throughout a season. In his three years as manager of the Boston Red Sox, there have been multiple stretches in which he has overused Junichi. Some guys bounce back quickly, while others just don’t. An unhealthy pitcher is never a good thing. The slightest mechanical change to compensate soreness or pain can lead to a pitcher going from dominant to terrible in an instant. As different arms go down, pitchers are thrown into different and unfit roles. Layne fell victim to this, and was forced to go from a left-handed specialist to someone depended on later in games.
But once bench coach Torey Lovullo took the reigns, Tommy started to be used differently. Torey seemed to notice Layne wasn’t succeeding in his “new” role, and let the lefty only face 27 batters in his last 14 appearances of 2016. After this happened, Layne’s stuff started to play up again while his ERA fell from 4.10 to 3.97 on the season. Keeping Tommy away from his weaknesses allowed the lefty to focus on getting back to his strengths, and getting the most out of what he has to offer at the major league level.
This upcoming season will give manager John Farrell all the tools necessary to make sure he doesn’t run down and misuse his pitching staff. The likes of Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, and hopefully a healthy Uehara, should allow Tazawa to get the proper rest needed to stay dominant later in the season. If this can happen, hopefully it will keep Layne in a role more suitable for his strengths. Bullpens are now one of the biggest components of winning in the postseason. Having great arms waiting in the ‘pen is the first key towards success. The second is making sure those arms are still fresh and properly used come October. If Farrell is still unable to do that with this group full of talented and healthy arms, fans will be calling for his job once again very soon.