Hall of Fame pitcher and TBS MLB analyst Dennis Eckersley joined us for a quick Q&A the other day where we discussed bullpens and his expectations for the division.
Eckersley – who also works as a studio analyst for NESN, the regional cable network that carries Red Sox games – also gave a brief scouting report of Boston's team as the Orioles begin a three-game series at Fenway Park this afternoon.
I know you’ve been keeping a close eye on the AL East. Can you break down what you see in the division?
What I see is everybody bunched more than any other year. Obviously this is one of the first years the Yankees and Red Soxs aren’t picked 1 and 2. Just with what Baltimore did last year, I mean, they’re for real. And with the turnover with Toronto, everybody’s expecting them to win the thing.
To me, it’s easier said than done to come together.
And then there’s Tampa, which probably has the best pitching. That’s a club that nobody ever picks, but they’re always there.
So, to me, it’s Tampa, Baltimore, Toronto. And if I had to, I’d pick Tampa.
You mentioned the Orioles being for real. There are obviously some people out there who think they’re going to fade back and others who do think they’re for real. What makes you say that you think they’re in that second category?
After winning last year, I think they expect to win now. I really do.
If you look at their lineup, it’s deep. You’ve got [Chris] Davis, [Manny] Machado all year. Adam Jones is probably one of the best players in the game. They’ve got a nice lineup. They hit a lot of home runs last year.
But the magic was in the bullpen with the close one-run games, the extra innings. … You can’t expect the bullpen to do what they did last year. But they’re going to be there.
People say that bullpens, from year to year, are one of the factors that fluctuate most, and it’s tough to replicate a good season from an entire bullpen. Why do you see that happening?
Sometimes guys just sort of find themselves. It’s such a small part of the game. Not to say that you can get lucky, but you can get hot. And guys can feed off one another, sort of a domino kind of thing, you know?
The next year somebody doesn’t do as well and it throws things out of whack. [Jim] Johnson at the end, he was incredible. You can’t expect your closer to have those sorts of years every year. You’re going to fall off a little bit. And guys physically, there’s lots of change year in and year out.
Did you ever have an experience where one of the bullpens you were in, you had a good year and then most of the same guys came back the next year and struggled?
There’s always one guy. There’s always somebody who doesn’t do what they did the year before – including myself. It’s the law of averages, man. Unless you’re [Mariano] Rivera.
And if you have your closer fall off, you’re in trouble.
Is there something about Jim Johnson that stands out that you like as a former closer?
He’s not a strikeout guy, [but] he’s got great stuff. He gets it done with the kind of stuff he has.
But once again, the more balls he puts in play, the more chances of blowing a save. But he was just overpowering last year.
Can you give me a little bit of a breakdown of this year’s Red Sox. A lot of people said they were going to be down this season and they started out playing pretty well.
But what I think is the key for the Red Sox is their rotation. If [Jon] Lester and [Clay] Buchholz can come back and be what they were, and you add [Ryan] Dempster, and the big question mark obviously is [John] Lackey.
But the bullpen may be one of the best. You’re talking about four guys at the end: [Joel] Hanrahan and [Andrew] Bailey and [Junichi] Tazawa and [Koji] Uehara. And they’ve got a kid [Andrew] Miller that throws hard. They’ve got a nice bullpen. I really believe they can surprise some people.
Tell me a little bit about [22-year-old left fielder] Jackie Bradley Jr.? He sounds like he’s the new star coming up.
Yeah, a kid like that, he knows the strike zone. The kid plays a great outfield, has great instincts.
He’s what the Red Sox needed – to focus on some young players. But he’s not somebody who’s going to hit 20 home runs and drive in 100. He’s just sort of an all-around type player. He gets on base. He’s a new-age moneyball player, you know?
Do you think it’s easier these days for teams to call up the younger guys? The Orioles did it in the middle of the season last year with Machado, who’s only 20. Do you think it’s different from 10-15 years ago when maybe teams were reluctant to call up a guy that young.
They made a big deal about [whether they should] wait 9 or 10 days to call up Bradley. It’s a big deal nowadays so the [service time] clock doesn’t start. I think a team like the Red Sox can’t be acting like, “Well, we need to be in good shape with the contract status of some player.” We’ve got to put the best team on the field.
I think that’s the way it should be anyway. You shouldn’t be concerned about somebody’s free agency or their arbitration before they even get there.