The trade deadline is tomorrow and for weeks the Red Sox have been rumored to be in the thick of things, especially in pursuing more bullpen help. But before they possibly make a deal for someone like Joe Nathan, Greg Holland or even Jonathan Papelbon, it’s time to ask: Where would the Red Sox be without Koji Uehara? The veteran righthander from Japan by way of Texas and Baltimore has done yeoman’s work stabilizing the back end of a bullpen that earlier in the season looked to be the Achilles’ heel of an otherwise strong squad. Entering the season Uehara was at best third on Boston’s depth chart for closers, and when the top two, Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey each went down with injuries, it was Junichi Tazawa and not Uehara who received the first crack at getting saves.
Since taking over ninth inning duties on June 26 Uehara is tied for fourth in the AL with eight saves in nine attempts and has done so with typical Uehara efficiency. He’s struck out 25 batters in 17 ⅓ innings while walking just one. Only David Price, who stifled the Sox last night, has had a better ratio (35:1) among those with at least 15 innings pitched over that span. He also ranks among the league leaders in strikeouts per nine innings at 12.74 which also coincidentally is the highest for any hurler with at least 40 innings pitched in his Red Sox career.
But the main point here is that Uehara is a phenomenon when it comes to strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nobody who’s pitched at least 100 big league innings has a better career rate than his 8.05:1. That’s right. We’re not just just comparing him to active players or even modern players. That’s compared to everyone who has regularly toed the rubber in the big leagues. In fact the next on the list, James Burke, who pitched for the Buffalo Bisons and Boston Reds in the early 1880s, stands a half strikeout behind Uehara at 7.53. Among active players, the best rates belong to Sergio Romo of the Giants (5.77) and St. Louis’ Edward Mujica (5.26 career, and the only one ahead of Uehara this season with 38 K’s and just two walks).
To put Uehara’s 2013 season into perspective, he’s Boston’s franchise career leader by a mile over the rest of those who threw at least 40 innings (granted it’s a small sample but given the rest of his career, not an unreasonable comparison). The second and third pitchers on the list, Pedro Martinez (5.45) and Curt Schilling (5.31) were constantly lauded for their command and efficiency and rank among the best in modern baseball history. Despite the fact that Uehara’s rate in his Boston debut season is also his lowest in four years, his Boston debut currently places him sixth in terms of single-season stats.
These are the best single-season strikeout-to-walk ratios in Red Sox history
(minimum 40 innings pitched)
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.