Matt Barnes is fresh off winning Al Reliever of the Month for April. After posting a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 innings with 6 saves and 25 SO, he was clearly very deserving. However, my question is: can he keep it up?
The History of Matt Barnes
Since coming into the MLB in 2014, Barnes has been a pretty consistent presence in the bullpen, despite spending most of his time in the minors as a starter. The 19th overall pick from 2011 has shown some steady improvement throughout his time in the big leagues, as his 5.44 ERA from his first “full” season in 2015 dropped to 3.78 in 2019. He has been solidly above average in his career thus far, with an ERA+ above 100 each year save for his 2015 season.
The knock on Barnes, at least from my perspective, is his seeming inability to deliver in high leverage situations. In his career, he does have a 27-21 record, but in his 339 games he only has had 21 saves and 18 blown saves, according to Fangraphs. But he also has 95 holds in his career, showing he’s mostly been utilized as a setup man (and a pretty effective one at that), which makes sense as the Red Sox had Craig Kimbrel from 2016-18 and had a sort of closer by committee in 2019, with Brandon Workman getting the majority of save opportunities. But, since the shortened season last year, it seems that Matt Barnes has taken over the closing role.
The Stats Behind the Story
While my personal opinion of Barnes has typically been as an only moderately effective player, the stats don’t always back that up. When looking at FIP, which accounts for only situations a pitcher can control (basically walks, strikeouts, and home runs), Barnes has been much better than some of his ERA numbers might suggest. Outside of 2020, he has had a lower FIP than ERA each year and is averaging .50 less FIP compared to ERA for his career. And his xFIP, which goes even deeper, had performed even better than his FIP each year save for 2016. In short, Barnes has been a very good pitcher since 2015.
Matt Barnes and 2021
With all this in mind, it seems pretty clear that Matt Barnes had consistently become a better pitcher each year, but just how good has he been so far? Well, his 2.51 ERA is good enough for a 174 ERA+ (meaning his ERA is 74% better than the average this year), but his FIP has been even better at 1.12. His xFIP is 1.60, but that’s still almost a full run better than his ERA. All signs point to the fact that this might be sustainable for the 31-year-old, especially has he’s been even better when looking at just his save opportunities:
Congrats to Matt Barnes on his AL Reliever of the Month award. Hoping he gets some consideration for his first All-Star Game selection as well.
In his 6 save opportunities:
.053 AVG (1-for-19)
11 K, 1 BB
69% strikes (58 of 84)
— Red Sox Notes (@SoxNotes) May 3, 2021
He’ll eventually give up a run (no one is perfect), but it seems to me Barnes has stepped up to a whole new level this year. I’m not sure how long he’ll be in a form like this since he’s now on the other side of 30, but it definitely looks like he’ll carry it through this season at the very least. I’ll certainly take it for as long as I can.