Featured Image courtesy of Zimbio.com (February 19, 2018 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)
One of the biggest surprises to come out of spring training is the emergence of left-handed reliever Bobby Poyner. After initially coming to spring training as a non-roster invitee, Poyner managed to beat out Robby Scott and Roenis Elias as the top lefty reliever in the Red Sox organization. Poyner’s never played above the AA level, so what should the Red Sox expect from Bobby Poyner?
What Should the Red Sox Expect from Bobby Poyner
As the only lefty in the Red Sox bullpen, Poyner should fit the role as the lefty specialist. Scott held the role for all of 2017, and was considered the favorite for the job heading into spring training. However, an abysmal spring led to his demotion to AAA Pawtucket.
While Poyner has never pitched above the AA level, he’s been strong against lefties throughout his minor league career. Poyner began 2017 with the High A Salem Red Sox, and posted a 1.09 WHIP, .267 BAA, and only two earned runs in 7.1 innings of work against lefties.
The Red Sox promoted Poyner to AA early into 2017, and the results were even better. Poyner pitched 9.2 innings against lefties, allowing just a .237 BAA, 1.03 WHIP, an astonishingly low 0.93 ERA. It was this performance that put Poyner on the Red Sox radar, and what ultimately earned him the non-roster invite to camp.
Obviously, the jump from AA to the majors is a big one, but all signs point to Poyner being ready to handle the jump. Spring training stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but through 10.1 innings of spring training, Poyner holds a 0.90 ERA with nine strikeouts to just one walk. While spring training doesn’t feature players at their best, he’s still consistently getting major league batters out.
Why Poyner over Robby Scott?
Regardless of Poyner’s strong spring training, the safe bet would have still been to go with Scott. He’s had a rough spring training, but he does have the major league experience. What is it that Cora sees in Poyner that makes him the better choice?
That answer lies in modernized baseball. Teams are embracing analytics now more than ever, and analytics show that starting pitchers have tend to fare poorly the third time through the batting order. Because of this, teams are turning to their bullpens earlier than ever before.
This trend of trusting the bullpen means that specialized roles are starting to disappear. The typical bullpen carries around seven arms, and if one of those arms can only go one batter at a time, then they’re basically stealing away a depth spot.
It’s important to have a guy that can consistently get lefties out, but if that’s all they can do, then in a sense they’re forcing the rest of the bullpen to pull their weight. In 2017, Robby Scott was a one-trick ponies. He performed well against lefties, holding them to an .119/.224/.303 slash line in 20.2 innings.
However, he struggled mightily against righties. In 15 innings pitched, Scott allowed a .241/.323/.491 slash line to right-handed hitters. Essentially, Scott was only good if he was pitching against lefties, which limited him to one or two batters per appearance.
The Upside of Bobby Poyner
While Poyner has shown the ability to get lefties out, he’s also performed admirably against righties. Last year in Portland, the southpaw posted a .104 BAA and a 0.92 WHIP against right-handed hitters. These numbers came in 28.2 innings of relief, which is a decent sample size for a reliever.
He’s done well in spring training against righties, too. I couldn’t find a site that broke down spring training splits, so I don’t have exact numbers. However, from watching the games, Poyner has faced both righties and lefties en route to posting his strong numbers. Cora hasn’t been hiding him from right-handed hitters, and Poyner has responded well to the challenge.
While Poyner will probably be used as a lefty specialist, that’s not all he is. When he’s put into games, he’ll have the ability to finish an inning, instead of just facing one or two batters. This will lessen the strain on the rest of the bullpen, meaning that the unit as a whole will stay fresher, longer. Scott is fine for what he is, but Poyner offers significantly more upside.