Keeping up with Matt Barnes

The Gray Eagle

SoSH Member
Aug 1, 2001
Chad Jennings in the Athletic has an article on Matt Barnes, his effectiveness and his approach.

"The go-to reliever for the Red Sox has become one of the top strikeout pitchers in all of baseball, in some part because he decided to be. He’s hunting strikeouts every single at-bat...

Don’t believe that Barnes is a dominant reliever? He is, and it isn’t just about this year.

Entering Tuesday’s game, Barnes had struck out 51 percent of the hitters he’s seeing, second-best in MLB. Only two relievers — ever — have finished a season striking out over half of the batters they saw. Aroldis Chapman did it in 2014 and Craig Kimbrel in 2012...

The philosophy is essentially this: Barnes is betting he can strike out three before he walks four. A walk puts a runner at first base. He can live with that. Contact might be a single, or it might be a double, or a home run. With today’s hitters and their launch angles and exit velocities, Barnes can’t take that chance.

“When one swing of the bat can change it,” he said, “you have to be willing to go extremes and play punchouts...
“Pitchers are facing all kinds of challenges nowadays, and it’s requiring more pitch quality on every pitch,” Red Sox assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister said. “Everybody talks about the strikeout rates, but the reality is that hitters are getting better at damaging pitches when you throw a bad pitch.”

It’s not that Barnes is opposed to quick innings and easy outs. He just can’t trust those outcomes the way he trusts a strikeout, and while he’s fairly extreme in his approach to a leadoff hitter in a three-run game, he gets even more radical when it’s a one-run game or the decisive run is in scoring position.

“Like, a man at third and less than two outs,” Barnes said. “I can promise you he’s either striking out or walking. I’m just going to go extremes, and I have no problem with that. Or man in scoring position, less than two outs. Or even in a one-run game with nobody on where one swing of the bat changes it.”

Barnes thinks back to the three-game series in Tampa earlier this season. Two nights in a row, he entered with a one-run lead. Five of his six outs were strikeouts, but he also allowed a tying home run in each game. He’s allowed just two hits since.

“If I don’t let anybody put the ball in play, I can’t give up homers,” he said. “I would rather walk guys – I know I said earlier this year that I want to cut down on dumb walks, and I still do, I’m still going to do that – but after giving up those two homers in Tampa, one of which was on a good pitch to (Yandy) Diaz, I thought, it’s just – they both got barrel on the ball, but the way the game is right now, you can make a good pitch and still give up a homer more likely than I think in recent years. So, if that’s the case, you just start going to extremes and plan for punchouts or walks. That’s kind of the way the game has gone.”

For the first time in his career, Barnes is actually throwing the curveball more than his fastball, and it’s working. He throws a 97 mph heater, but he’s throwing his breaking ball 58 percent of the time this year, and it’s remarkable to see the slow march of the yakker over the course of his career."​

"Barnes throws his curveball harder than anyone in baseball, and it also has great drop. If your curveball is in the same conversation as the ones thrown by Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow, you throw it more."
Barnes has already said earlier this year that he is trying to strike out every hitter.

“Am I trying to strike guys out? Yeah. Absolutely. I want to strike everybody out.”

There used to be a weird thing about pitchers talking about strikeouts. It was almost looked at as a statistic that didn’t matter, something used by baseball writers for awards voting and maybe in contract negotiations. But for a while, pitchers would rarely say they were trying to strike guys out.

That seems to have to changed.

Reliever Brandon Workman was standing nearby when Barnes said he wants to strike everybody out. When told guys used to be shy about admitting that, Workman said, “That’s before every piece of contact went over the fence for a homer.”

Barnes nodded his head.

“Fact,” he said. “That’s why. I’m trying to strike guys out because there are more home runs now than there have ever been in the game.”
It definitely drives me crazy when Barnes comes in and walks people, especially the leadoff hitter in a close game. But it's good to see that he's doing it for a reason and it seems to make him very effective.


goalpost mover
SoSH Member
Oct 1, 2015
Barnes' k/9 number has increased every season he's been in the majors.

2014: 8.0
2015: 8.2
2016: 9.6
2017: 10.7
2018: 14.0
2019: 17.0

Other Sox' pitchers with career high k/9 numbers in 2019:

Workman: 12.4 (previous best: 10.2 in 2013)
Walden: 10.2 (previous best: 8.6 in 2018 in an admittedly small sample size)
Rodriguez: 10.1 (tied for previous best: 10.1 in 2018)
Price: 10.5 (previous best: 9.8 in 2014)
Velazquez: 7.7 (previous best: 6.9 in 2017)
Brasier: 8.0 (previous best: 7.8 in 2018)

Porcello is two strikeouts away from being at 9.0 k/9, which would be his career best.

So this is pretty much a team philosophy at work here, I think. Of course, not many people have Barnes' raw stuff.

By the way, I think this is something Cora either brought to the Astros or took from his time there, because a couple of years ago, every single team in the Astro organization, at every single level, led their respective leagues in strikeouts. Some of that was the arms they were drafting, but much of it was their organizational philosophy.


SoSH Member
Jun 4, 2011
I seem to recall the relievers having a similar game plan last October. Try to be perfect and if you walk the guy, then oh well but it’s better than a homer.


SoSH Member
Jul 23, 2005
A well it ball in play can range from an out to a home run. A walk can only ever be just a walk. It makes a ton of sense to try and be perfect to limit damage rather than just throw a ball and let it play out

Lose Remerswaal

Leaves after the 8th inning. Brings the noise.
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Everybody's talking 'bout him, in the Globe today it mentions where he learned his curveball

The pitch that could land Matt Barnes on the All-Star team this season was taught to him in the outfield before a minor league game six years ago.

Barnes and then Double A teammates Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo were in Trenton, N.J., waiting for batting practice to end and got to discussing curveballs. Workman showed him the grip he used and when Barnes tried it, the ball danced in a way he had not seen before.

“I threw it the next game I pitched,” Barnes said. “I’ve had it ever since.”

Opponents are 1 for 30 against that curveball this season with 18 strikeouts. Barnes has 27 strikeouts in 14⅓ innings overall and the Sox are 11-3 in games he has pitched.


SoSH Member
Mar 15, 2004
This mind set makes even more sense given the 'juiced ball era' we are in. I felt like Workman was alluding to that by his quote - “That’s before every piece of contact went over the fence for a homer.”


goalpost mover
SoSH Member
Oct 1, 2015
Great strategy, but the payment for that is more pitches and stress over several months. Requires more depth.
I think this is one reason why they have an extra bullpen arm instead of an extra position player on the bench.

Sandy Leon Trotsky

SoSH Member
Mar 11, 2007
Barnes seems like a smart guy. Maybe I missed something on that graph... but he's really been up since 2012?!!? I don't really have any recollection of him on the ML team prior to 2016. I know he was develped as a starter but never really seemed to be able to excel there.
I do want to give the Sox props though... he is EXACTLY how the Sox should be develping their bullpen. Stay the hell away from overly expensive free agents!!!*

*I guess you could say that with any position really... but there's something that feels like wasting bullets signing a guy like Kimbrell.