Guardians Can't Afford to Ignore Scott Barlow's Struggles

Mar 31, 2024; Oakland, California, USA; Cleveland Guardians pitcher Scott Barlow (58) throws a pitch against the Oakland A's
Mar 31, 2024; Oakland, California, USA; Cleveland Guardians pitcher Scott Barlow (58) throws a pitch against the Oakland A's / Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

In 337 innings pitched in his major league career, Scott Barlow has walked 139 batters. That's 3.7 walks per nine innings, which is a lot. By comparison, Emmanuel Clase has walked 1.8 men per nine innings in his career.

In other words, the struggles we have seen from Barlow thus far in 2024 are not an anomaly. They are who he is. The good news is that Barlow has made sixty or more appearances every non-Covid season since 2019, so he will be available. With the current state of the bullpen, that is not nothing. Over the course of the season, Barlow will be effective more often than not. But the "not" times will happen often enough to make Guardians' fans reach for the antacid.

In some ways you can judge a closer by how you feel when they come into the game. When Mariano Rivera took the mound, you could go mow the yard, because your team wasn't coming back. When Pete Fairbanks comes in for Tampa, you know nobody is going to make solid contact, but if he walks the first guy he will likely walk one or two more.

When Barlow was with Kansas City, the Guardians saw a lot of him, and I always felt like when he came in we still had a shot. Barlow reminds me of Cody Allen: throws a ton of pitches, almost never has a 1-2-3 inning, but generally seems to be able to get out of it. When Allen got in a real jam, at least at his peak, he could break off a killer curveball to get out of it. So far we haven't seen that ability from Barlow, at least consistently.

The other hazard of pitching like Barlow does is that it creates more opportunities for fluky things to happen. Barlow has thrown at least eighteen pitches in four of his five appearances and allowed multiple baserunners in three of them. Every pitch thrown is another chance to make a mistake, and mistakes are magnified if you are cluttering the bases with walks.

Tuesday's loss to the White Sox is a perfect example. Barlow went to a full count on Korey Lee before surrendering a broken-bat infield hit. Then he walked Andrew Benintendi, who sports a .386 OPS. That brought Dominic Fletcher to the plate. Again Barlow fell behind 2-0, which forced him to keep the ball in the strike zone, and Fletcher found a pitch he could drive for a game-winning double.

None of these at-bats was awful on its own. But Barlow threw a total of twenty pitches to three hitters, got two strikes on all three, and couldn't put any of them away. Bear in mind that this was the White Sox, who have spent the month of April looking for ways to lose. None of these three hitters is on a hot streak, and the one with the most impressive track record, Benintendi, is in a horrendous slump. But Barlow threw enough sloppy pitches to get into trouble, then he didn't have the killer pitch he needed to get out of it.

In the best-case scenario, Barlow handles the eighth inning and enough save opportunities to keep Clase from wearing down by September. But there are other guys, like Hunter Gaddis and Cade Smith, who have shown enough so far to think they can handle the primary set-up role if needed. In five years in Kansas City, Barlow never threw a pitch that mattered in a pennant race. The Guardians cannot afford to fool themselves into thinking that his current struggles are a blip.

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