Recently promoted from Boston Red Sox advance scout to bullpen coach, Dana Levangie has two positives on his side: he has a great deal of experience in the Fenway 'pen, and he has a great relief staff to begin his debut coaching season.
Levangie, who has been with the Sox organization since he was drafted 22 years ago, worked as bullpen catcher from 1997 until 2004. He leads a powerful list of arms both new and old into spring training, this time hoping to help reverse Boston's cataclysmic 93-loss 2012 season.
With the addition of All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan, GM Ben Cherington has already put Levangie and his bullpen at a distinct advantage to do just that. Coming off two great years in Pittsburgh with a combined 76 saves, Hanrahan offers newfound insurance in the late innings. The Sox 'pen only recorded 35 saves total last season, due to an Andrew Bailey torn ulnar collateral ligament in spring training and a disastrous second half for Alfredo Aceves (who finished with a 4.66 ERA, eight blown saves, and nine losses).
So, even though Hanrahan's WHIP and fly ball ratios inflated a bit from August on, the man with the crazy goatee was a much-needed acquisition. If Levangie and his staff can work to harness the control of his fastball, look for Hanrahan to have a monster year with the many save chances Boston's mediocre offense will undoubtedly give him.
Another positive of the Hanrahan trade involves the aforementioned Bailey. A former stud closer himself, Bailey (2.47 career ERA, 81 saves) will likely battle a healthy Koji Uehara, the righty formerly of Baltimore and Texas with a sub-3.00 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in his four-year career.
There's an old saying in football that if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback. In baseball, however, two set-up men means a welcomed set of riches. Think of when the Yankees touted Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano before Mariano Rivera's season-ending knee injury—depth is a bullpen coach's best friend.
Reinforcing such depth was Cherington's important re-signing of lefty Craig Breslow. After he was acquired from Arizona last July, Breslow posted an impressive 2.70 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with the Sox. He and fellow southpaw Andrew Miller (3.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 11.4 SO/9) were two shiny silver linings in an otherwise dismal 2012.
Another bright spot was Junichi Tazawa, who donned a 1.43 ERA, struck out 45, and amazingly only walked five in 44 innings last season. Even after the Hanrahan acquisition, many believed Tazawa was worthy of the closer role in Boston. Again, this is a good problem to have, and his continued dominance will not only keep opposing batters off the base paths, it will keep the pressure on Hanrahan.
Of course, with confidence comes a few concerns. Will Alfredo Aceves put some of his quirkiness and spunk (to put it nicely) to rest this season, and work with Levangie and the staff to regain some consistency with runners on base? Will Daniel Bard ever return to his former role as a dominant set-up man with scorching arm speed? Will Chris Carpenter pitch more than six innings at the Major League level this year?
At least Levangie has a few question marks to go along with his plethora of plus signs. After all, even rookie coaches deserve a few challenges.