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April 2, 2009 at 10:49 AM

No lefties in pen? Done before

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Geoff Baker Live has been postponed for a bit. The team is meeting right now and we’re waiting to hear more from manager Don Wakamatsu about final cuts before the team heads to Las Vegas. Right now, we’re aiming for 11:30 a.m. for the show. Might be 11:45 a.m.
Lots of buzz about the fact the Mariners will be carrying zero lefties in their bullpen to start the season. It won’t be for long. Tyler Johnson is recovering from that shoulder surgery, but could be ready this month. Cesar Jimenez is on the 15-day DL with biceps tendinits, but is expected to be ready by mid-April or so.
So, for now, that’s where things sit.
But the no-lefties thing has been done before. The 1994 Montreal Expos bullpen, led by closer John Wetteland — now the M’s bullpen coach seen in the photo above — did it for an entire season. All that club managed to do was go 74-40, putting up the best record in all of baseball before the players’ strike scuttled the season. That Braves record of winning their division a dozen or so years in a row? Wetteland’s crew would have stopped it before it even got started, running up a six-game lead by Aug. 12 of that year.
Wetteland has told me the key to that bullpen was an ability of the right handers to get lefties out. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. Believe me, it isn’t just Bill James and well-attuned fans in the blogosphere who think the whole bullpen specialization thing has gotten out of hand. Some players, former players, coaches and executives think so too.
The big reason for it? Money, of course. Used to be a middle reliever was just a middle reliever. Bottom of the food chain stuff. Nowadays, you have righthanded set-up men, situational lefties, lefty long guys, righty long guys, seventh-inning specialists. And their agents all keep asking for bigger bucks.
Anyhow, let’s look at Wetteland’s crew from 1994.
You of course, had Wetteland, a closer entering his prime.
Mel Rojas was probably the best set-up man in baseball for a two-year period.
Jeff Shaw, one of the best relievers in history, was a middle-innings guy.
Tim Scott was another of those middle-innings types.
Gil Heredia was the long man.
Now, let’s look at their lefty-righty splits. We’ll use OPS+ as the measuring stat. Remember, anything above 100 is an above average number for the opposing hitter. Anything below 100 means a below average number and that the pitcher did something right.
Wetteland: 49 (vs. RHB); 60 (vs. LHB)
Rojas: 65 (vs. RHB); 70 (vs. LHB)
Shaw: 77 (vs. RHB); 94 (vs. LHB)
Scott: 105 (vs. RHB); 26 (vs. LHB)
Heredia: 117 (vs. RHB); 75 (vs. LHB)
So, there you go. Not a single Expos reliever allowed lefties to get the better of them (above 100) despite the fact they were all righties. No need to specialize.
How might the Mariners stack up for a few weeks? Let’s look at last some career numbers:
Mark Lowe: 61 (vs. RHB); 145 (vs. LHB)
Brandon Morrow: 72 (vs. RHB); 132 (vs. LHB)
Roy Corcoran: 79 (vs. RHB); 123 (vs. LHB)
Miguel Batista: 88 (vs. RHB); 112 (vs. LHB)
David Aardsma: 105 (vs. RHB); 92 (vs. LHB)
Jesus Delgado: 88 (vs. RHB); 44 (vs. LHB)
This list screams out “Yikes!” for a no-lefty pen.
Only Aardsma and Delgado put up above average numbers, but that’s over a limited sample size. Not counting Chris Jakubauskas, because he’d be the long guy.
i don’t have minor league OPS+ splits for Shawn Kelley, but can tell you that in Class AA last season, where he spent the bulk of his time, he had an OPS against of:
.635 vs RHB
.543 vs. LHB
So, anyone wondering why those two are still kicking around might contemplate these numbers. Yes, there is a big difference between the majors and minors. And yes, we don’t have a ton to go off of with Aardsma or Delgado just yet. But compared to the rest of the bullpen, somebody is going to have to get lefties out these next few weeks.
Let’s look at how the pitchers fared just last season alone:
Lowe: 63 (vs. RHB); 139 (vs. LHB)
Morrow: 64 (vs. RHB); 135 (vs. LHB)
Corcoran: 86 (vs. RHB); 115 (vs. LHB)
Batista: 88 (vs. RHB); 110 (vs. LHB)
Aardsma: 107 (vs. RHB); 92 (vs. LHB)
Delgado: 88 (vs. RHB); 44 (vs. LHB)
So, not much of a difference. The M’s will have to hope somebody figures out southpaws, or else just cross their fingers the next two weeks. These ain’t the 1994 Expos. But over a small period of time, the need for specialization might not matter all that much. I guess we’ll see more of that theory — that specialization is indeed overrated — put to the test right off the bat in 2009.

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