The Boston Red Sox starting pitching is wildly unstable right now because of injuries and the poor performances of veterans. This means there is immense pressure on others to take on a bigger load in the rotation. Specifically, 24-year-old Brayan Bello.
The Dominican Republican native pitched one of his best games of the season against the New York Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball. He tossed seven innings of two-run baseball while striking out three. It was the second time in his last four starts that he’s gone at least seven innings. This is proving that he is starting to find his footing in the MLB after a rocky start to his 2023 tenure. One in which he posted an ERA over nine in his first two starts.
In one of my prior articles, I said Bello will most likely be the Red Sox ace within the next couple of years. But a crippling Chris Sale injury as well as underperforming veterans like Nick Pivetta and Corey Kluber has forced Bello to prematurely embrace a larger role.
It’s unfair to expect him to excel or to turn into Pedro Martinez overnight. But during a year mired with instability, Bello looks like he’ll hold his own for years to come.
Brayan Bello’s numbers excluding his first two starts:
45 IP – 8 Starts
2.80 ERA/3.89 FIP
Just like last season, he’s getting better with every start. No homers over his last 3 outings.pic.twitter.com/fOZerQDREJ
— Tyler Milliken ⚾️ (@tylermilliken_) June 12, 2023
Evaluating the Performance of Brayan Bello
The stats show an improvement
A common (and positive) thread in Bello’s young career so far is his ability to improve his output as the year goes on. His first month of starts in 2022 in 2023 resulted in a ghastly 7.69 ERA. Subsequent months, however, show significant improvement (a cumulative 3.34 ERA in those other months).
Since May 1, Bello’s ERA has been 2.93. This ranks in the top 20 in MLB amongst qualified pitchers during that span.
Statistically, a big reason for this stark improvement to the first month of the season is because of Bello’s highly touted changeup. It has drawn comparisons to the one thrown by the great Pedro Martinez.
In general, Bello uses his 95-mph sinker the most at 33% of the time. It’s his changeup, however, that turns heads and causes those comparisons. According to Baseball Savant, Bello’s whiff rate with his changeup is 41% and his put-away rate is 24%. Comparatively, his whiff rate is between 15 and 23% with his other pitches. The put-away rate is under 20 percent with pitches that aren’t changeups. Meanwhile, the opponent’s batting average against that changeup is a measly .212.
Because of his changeup and sinker, Baseball Savant compares Bello to pitchers like the Seattle Mariners‘ ace Luis Castillo based on velocity and movement. A possible future Cy Young contender is pretty good company to be in this early in one’s career.
A common problem with younger pitchers is control and surrendering too many walks. Bello does struggle to get ahead in the count at times, with a lot of 3-2 counts. His walk rate, however, went from the 20th percentile in 2022 to the 64th percentile this year. Concurrently, his chase rate looks better this year too. This is a good indicator that he is painting the corners better.
Why has Brayan Bello shown this improvement?
From the eye test, Bello’s resiliency and composure are big reasons why he’s looked much better, along with the changeup as mentioned above. The month-to-month improvements reflect that notion as do many specific game situations. Like going toe-to-toe with Cy Young candidate Shane McClanahan in a pitcher’s duel last week or escaping in-game adversity.
Other specific games
The Cincinnati Reds contest on May 30, for example, is a microcosm of Bello’s improvement over the course of May and June this year. Runs came in bunches during the month of April, but Bello has developed a recent resiliency that allows him to get out of trouble and settle into games.
After two straight walks in the first inning of that game, Bello forced Spencer Steer to ground out to end the inning. After two singles and a fielder’s choice in the second inning, Bello escaped with a strikeout and only one run given up. Later, Bello went unscathed in the fourth after striking out two in a row following a leadoff triple. He gave up five hits and two walks in four innings but left only surrendering that one run.
The Sox eventually lost that game 9-8. But Bello, for as young as he is, showed fans that he can keep his composure under high-pressure situations.
Similarly, Bello could’ve folded against the Yankees after giving up a ground-rule-double and an unlucky two-run single in the second to give New York a 2-1 lead, but Bello forced Oswaldo Cabrera to fly out to center to end the inning and would only give up one hit the rest of the game. His stellar performance allowed the Sox to force extras and win a crucial series in New York.
And after a putrid start to the season against the Los Angeles Angels, where he gave up 5 runs in 2 2/3 innings on Marathon Monday, Bello came back with a vengeance on May 23, where he pitched seven and struck out six against that same lineup on the road.
While some young starters fall into an elongated slump after a slow start, the precocious Bello exudes mental toughness in many situations.
There’s always room to improve
Despite already taking large steps in his early career, Brayan Bello is still far from perfect-which is expected at this point in his tenure.
As good as his changeup is, hitters still bat .283 against Bello’s other pitches and .350 against his slider alone (which he uses the least). My hope is that he trusts his changeup even more than he does now since he currently only uses it 23 % of the time, less than his sinker and fastball (the latter’s spin rate hasn’t been impressive at all).
Although Bello is stellar in the first three innings of games (3.03 ERA), he has a tendency to fizzle as the game goes on. According to Baseball Reference, Bello’s ERA balloons to a 5.23 ERA in innings four through six, and opponents are hitting a whopping .389 against him in the fifth, in particular.
Those stats indicate that Bello needs to mix his pitches better when he faces the order a second time around to keep hitters off balance. Something like that will hopefully come with time as the young pitcher adjusts to the MLB’s strenuous expectations.
While not quite an ace yet, Bello is showing promising signs in his second year in the big leagues. If he shores up minor control issues and pitches better later into games, he could be Boston’s best pitcher sooner rather than later. But don’t expect that quite yet.
Main photo credits:
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports