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It’s no secret that the biggest weakness with the 2018 Boston Red Sox is their bullpen. While it’s still a good unit, ranking top-ten or better in just about every significant statistic, it could certainly use some improvement. Fortunately, the Red Sox might already have an unconventional fix to their problems waiting in the minors. Bobby Poyner was fantastic early with Boston and has continued to play well with Pawtucket for the majority of the year. What really makes him important to this group is how his pitches perfectly complement the rest of the Red Sox bullpen.
First off, let’s recap how Poyner’s 2018 season has gone. After coming out of nowhere to earn a major league spot, Poyner pitched well with Boston, throwing to the tune of a 1.69 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 8.44 K/9, and a 0.84 BB/9. Granted, those stats come in just 10.2 innings, but manager Alex Coraused him in several high-leverage situations. Really, the only reason he’s down in the minors is that he’s one of the few Red Sox relievers left with minor league options.
Poyner has had a good year with Pawtucket, albeit not quite as good as he was in the majors. In 38.1 innings, Poyner owns a 2.58 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 7.75 K/9, and a 2.35 BB/9. These are solid numbers for the young lefty, and on their own justify a major league roster spot.
However, it’s more than just Poyner’s numbers which make him a good fit in this bullpen. Poyner offers a skill set that most of the other Red Sox pitchers don’t have, making him the perfect complement and exactly what the Red Sox need.
The Boston Red Sox bullpen, as currently assembled, featured a series of relievers with a 95+ mph fastball and either a curveball or slider as their secondary pitch. Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Ryan Brasier, Joe Kelly, and Tyler Thornburg all fit this mold.
While each pitcher has moments of greatness, the redundant skill set reduces their collective effectiveness. The opposing offense can sit on essentially the same type of pitches once the bullpen takes over, which obviously isn’t good. Batters perform better the more times they see a pitcher, and right now there isn’t much of a difference in style between most of the relievers.
This is where Poyner comes in. Unlike the aforementioned arms, his fastball sits at 90 miles per hour. He has great control, so the lack of velocity doesn’t really come back to hurt him. If a batter is expecting to see a fastball in the mid to high 90’s, Poyner’s low 90 fastball will mess up their timing. Not only does this make Poyner more effective, but it indirectly helps the relievers taking over after Poyner departs the game.
Additionally, Poyner’s secondary pitch is a changeup. All of the aforementioned pitchers and even Brandon Workman primarily use either a slider or a curveball as their secondary offering. Once again, this redundancy makes it easier for hitters to pick up on the breaking balls, which once more reduces each pitchers effectiveness.
Again, adding Poyner to the mix goes a long way toward fixing this problem. Poyner only throws his slider 11.7% of the time, and his curveball a minuscule 3.3%. Meanwhile, he throws his changeup 20.6% of the time, more than his slider and curveball combined.
Once again, Poyner’s ability to mix things up will help not only himself but the rest of the bullpen. Outside of the multi-inning guys, nobody else in the bullpen regularly uses a changeup, which will only help keep hitters unbalanced when facing Poyner. Additionally, seeing Poyner throwing changeups will give the opposing offense less time to get comfortable facing the rest of the bullpens breaking balls.
While it may not sound like much, Bobby Poyner’s unique presence in the bullpen could be exactly what the Red Sox need. Not only is he a capable pitcher in his own right, but he offers something nobody else in the bullpen does. With a finesse fastball and a deceptive changeup, Poyner’s skillset is completely unique to the Red Sox bullpen. Poyner’s presence will be mutually beneficial, as the drastic difference in pitch type will keep opposing hitters uncomfortable and less able to adjust to the Sox bullpen.