The Lone Red Sox’s Starter Who’s Taken a Step Back

After signing a six-year, $55 million contract extension with the Boston Red Sox this offseason, Brayan Bello has struggled in 2024.

Brayan Bello of the Boston Red Sox pitches during live batting practice during a spring training team workout on February 15, 2024 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South.
FT. MYERS, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 15: Brayan Bello #66 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during live batting practice during a spring training team workout on February 15, 2024 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

One of the biggest surprises in baseball this season has been the Boston Red Sox pitching staff. While many in Red Sox Nation bemoaned the lack of free agent signings to bolster the starting rotation, the addition of Andrew Bailey as pitching coach has helped many in the Red Sox staff reach new heights. 

However, the one pitcher who seems to have taken a step backwards is Brayan Bello, who was viewed by many as the only potential bright spot in the rotation entering the season.

After a strong start to his campaign a year ago, and fresh off signing an extension this offseason, Bello represented a new hope and the beginning of a new era in Boston.

Many saw him as the first piece, and only pitcher, of the new core, with Triston Casas, Ceddanne Rafaela, Jarren Duran, and top 100 prospects Marcelo Mayer, Kyle Teel, and Roman Anthony.

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Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned in 2024 for Bello.

Brayan Bello’s Stats Have Declined in 2024

After pitching to a 4.24 ERA in 28 starts last year, Bello has posted a 4.83 ERA and a 1.4 WHIP. He has allowed 10 home runs already this season, posting a 1.3 HR/9. He has also struggled with command, walking 26, and posting a K/BB ratio of less than 3.

Last year, Bello was able to work deep in games, pitching 157 innings to lead the Red Sox. This year, Bello has struggled to work deep into games, posting quality starts in just three of his 13 appearances.

Bello’s advanced metrics are not much better. His pitching run value of -10 is in the bottom 6% of baseball, as he does not have a single pitch category ranked in the top 70% of MLB. Bello isn’t missing bats, as his K% and whiff % are both below the 50% mark in baseball, and he is allowing hard contact 42% of the time.

Even Bello’s expected statistics have been below league average this year, with his expected ERA over 4.00, a FIP of 4.58, and an expected batting average against of .249. 

Bello’s Struggles Are Getting to Him

Just watching Bello it becomes apparent that he is struggling, and his frustrations have begun to boil over. In a June start against the Chicago White Sox, Bello slammed his glove on the mound after allowing a grand slam as part of a “blow up” fifth inning.

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In another June start, Bello spiked the baseball as he walked off the field in Toronto. His body language has oftentimes made his frustrations towards the defense behind him clear. These incidents have not ingratiated him to Red Sox fans, who have slowly but surely begun to sour on their once prized prospect.

All of this begs the question, what has caused Bello to struggle this season?

There are many theories about why Bello has struggled, and one of the most prominent is that he needs to do a better job varying his velocities. His sinker, changeup, and slider all sit within 10 miles per hour of each other, reducing the effectiveness of each pitch.

Bello Has to Mix Speeds Better

Bello’s changeup has always been his best pitch, and many, including Red Sox broadcaster Lou Merloni, believe it would be even more effective if he were able to drop the velocity a bit more below his sinker’s speed, which is his primary fastball. The pitches are simply too similar, as they are also within 1.4 inches of horizontal movement of each other; a hitter could guess sinker and get a changeup and still be in a great position to hit, and vice versa.

Another issue for Bello has been his sinker, which is getting hit at an alarming rate for a primary pitch. Last season, opponents hit .278 against the pitch, which while not great, is significantly better than the .344 clip they are hitting the pitch at this season.

Going back to the velocity issue, a drop in changeup velocity would also benefit the sinker, making it appear harder to hitters, who would have a more difficult time adjusting between the two offerings that make up over 70% of the pitches he throws.

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One area of hope, though, is that the expected statistics around Bello’s sinker are all significantly better than the actual numbers, which suggest he has been unlucky thus far in 2024.

Bello has also completely abandoned his four-seam fastball, which has been one of Andrew Bailey’s biggest adjustments not just with Bello, but across the staff. On the surface, this does not seem like an overly significant change, as it was Bello’s second-least used pitch, and opponents hit .310 against the pitch last year, the worst for any of Bello’s offerings. However, it may be worth reintroducing the pitch just to show hitters something different.

All of that being said, another thing that needs to be adjusted for Bello are the expectations.

Setting Proper Expectations for Brayan Bello

The Red Sox have not had a pitching prospect that garnered this much hype this early in his career since Clay Bucholz and Jon Lester, and placing the 24-year-old Bello in the same conversation is unfair to him. As an undersized starter from the Dominican Republic, he was drawing comparisons to Pedro Martinez, one of the best pitchers to ever play the game.

The nickname “Little Pedro” has only led to unrealistic expectations for Bello. 

In the end, if the Red Sox are going to make a playoff push, Brayan Bello is going to have to play a big part. While the team has survived thus far thanks to other members of the rotation stepping up, the young Bello is too talented to continue to perform poorly, and some of his expected statistics suggest a second half bounce back may be in the cards.

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