The Boston Red Sox have gone without a go-to southpaw out of the bullpen so far. It’s worked well enough to suggest there’s no need for a lefty specialist.
Bobby Poyner and Brian Johnson. When the Boston Red Sox are facing a bases-loaded jam in the late innings of a game, and a dangerous lefty bat awaits in the box, these are the names that would normally make sense as options to bring in to pitch.
Poyner and Johnson are the only two lefties to appear out of the bullpen this year – and sure their numbers aren’t bad – but those aren’t names that inspire too much confidence with the game on the line.
It would appear that the Red Sox should be in the market come July for a high-quality lefty fireman. Think Tony Watson or Brad Hand. But manager Alex Cora has already begun the trend of using his better right-handed options against opposing lefties – and to great success.
26251823Opp. slash line.080/.115/.080.111/.320/.111.133/.278/.267
When Kimbrel is the worst performer of the group, it’s usually a good sign. The top four relievers in the Red Sox bullpen have been remarkably effective at getting lefties out, despite throwing from the right side. How have they done it?
Joe KellyMatt BarnesCarson SmithCraig Kimbrel
Changeup % 2017
Changeup % 20188.4%5.4%3.4%
Increased changeup usage has been the major catalyst for Kelly and Barnes. Kelly has thrown the pitch 20 times in six plate appearances – all six ended in punch-outs. Barnes didn’t throw the pitch at all in 2017 and is now beginning to work it in regularly against lefties.
The results? Compare the aforementioned opponent slash lines to their career numbers versus left-handed batters. Kelly owns a career .254/.340/.392 line and Barnes sits at .250/.343/.423. It’s not even close. It appears as if the changeup added a different dynamic to their approach.
As for Smith and Kimbrel, dominance against lefties is nothing new. Smith has held lefties to a ridiculous .192/.287/.241 line over his career with Seattle and Boston, relying on the natural fading, diving movement of his sinker to act instead of a changeup. And Kimbrel’s opponent batting line of .166/.256/.252 also speaks for itself. Nobody touches him.
This is all to say, the Red Sox don’t need southpaws in the bullpen. The prevailing stigma around the league that lefties have to come in to face lefties in high leverage spots is being disproven in Boston.
A good reliever is a good reliever, and righties can get lefties out – all it takes is the right approach.