FanPost

Left-Handed Relievers vs. LOOGYs and Projecting a Current Redbird Minor Leaguer

Today's post is about left-handed relief pitchers. In today's day and age of Major League Baseball, most (if not all) MLB General Managers keep 2 or more left-handed relief pitchers on the 25-man roster - usable every day by the manager. That is largely due to the invent of the LOOGY - the "lefty one-out guy" in the past few decades. Oftentimes, LOOGYs can be recognized by throwing in more games than they do innings pitched - while they may not always literally stay in for "one out" they usually do not complete an entire inning.

Tony LaRussa was a huge fan of having a LOOGY on his rosters throughout the years. In LaRussa's 16 years with the Cardinals, he employed quite a few. By my count, here are the 16 main left-handed relievers the Cardinals had from 1996-2011 that threw less innings than games pitched:

  1. Rick Honeycutt (61 games, 47 1/3 innings in 1996)
  2. Tony Fossas (136 games, 98 2/3 innings in 1996-1997)
  3. Lance Painter (87 games, 65 1/3 innings in 1998 and 2003 - still relieved in 1999, but not in a LOOGY role)
  4. Scott Radinsky (43 games, 27 2/3 innings in 1999)
  5. Mike Mohler (70 games, 68 1/3 innings in 1999-2000)
  6. Jason Christiansen (51 games, 29 1/3 innings in 2000-2001)
  7. Mike Matthews (57 games, 51 innings in 2000 and 2002 - relieved in 2001 not as a LOOGY)
  8. Steve Kline (300 games, 247 1/3 innings in 2001-2004)
  9. Ray King (163 games, 102 innings in 2004)
  10. Randy Flores (237 games, 178 innings in 2004-2008)
  11. Tyler Johnson (116 games, 77 innings in 2005-2007)
  12. Ron Villone (74 games, 50 innings in 2008)
  13. Trever Miller (166 games, 95 1/3 innings in 2009-2011)
  14. Dennys Reyes (134 games, 79 innings in 2009-2010)
  15. Marc Rzepczynski (109 games, 79 2/3 innings in 2011-2013 - not all in the TLR era, but acquired then.)
  16. Arthur Rhodes (27 games, 11 1/3 innings in 2011 - including playoffs)

There were many more lefties who threw less innings than games pitched, but many of them were like Arthur Rhodes in terms of innings pitched and games played - or less. I included Rhodes only because 1) he was a LOOGY throughout his entire career, basically; and 2) because his acquisition was part of what won the Cardinals the World Series in 2011 - LaRussa's last year as a manager in baseball.

So what's different between a LOOGY and a left-handed reliever? Well, LOOGYs are usually specialists that oftentimes give up a lot more hits and baserunners and runs to right-handed hitters, thus they are forced to come in and face a majority of left-handed hitters.

Let's go more in depth:

In 1996, Rick Honeycutt faced 116 right-handed batters and 71 left-handed batters. He faced righties in 51 of his appearances and lefties in 50 of his appearances. He was a left-handed reliever. More proof that he was not a LOOGY specialist in that year was that his OPS against vs. RHH was just .538 while his OPS against vs. LHH was .660. While neither is good, making him a good reliever that year, he was wicked against right-handers in 1996. LaRussa learned this was the case early in the year as he used Honeycutt for more than one inning 12 times in those 61 games and for at least a full inning in 27 of those 61 games.

In 1996 and 1997, Tony "The Fossil" Fossas (I don't know if anyone really called him that except for me and my friends) was used in 136 games. He faced RHH in 112 of them and LHH in 117 of them. He faced a total of 244 right-handers and 204 left-handers. In 1996, he was equally good against lefties and righties with an OPS against of .682 and .686, respectively. However, in 1997, Fossas kept lefties to a .645 OPS while righties crushed him for a .953 OPS. After having 15 multiple inning appearances in 1996, when he pitched better, Fossas started 1997 with at least 1 inning pitched in 19 of his first 35 appearances. LaRussa may have seen that Fossas was not pitching as well against RHH as the year before because in his last 36 appearances in 1997, Fossas went 1+ innings only 11 times. In those last 36 appearances, he only faced 1-3 batters 21 times!

One feature often seen in a LOOGY is a wipeout slider matched with a fastball. The slider is a hard-breaking pitch that goes down and away from an opposing batter who hits with the same handed-ness that a pitcher throws (righty v. righty and lefty v. lefty). With Pitch F/X data being accessible from 2007 onward, let's look a little bit later in TLR's coaching career with the Cardinals, skipping from his first season or two to his last season. In 2011, the Cardinals made a mid-late season trade for both Arthur Rhodes and Marc "Scrabble" Rzepczynski.

Scrabble pitched 22 2/3 innings in 28 games after coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays. He faced 3 or less batters on 15 of those 28 occasions - more than 1/2 of the time. In those 22 2/3 innings, Scrabble threw a total of 475 pitches. 259 of his pitches were either a 4-seam or 2-seam (sinker) fastball. However, 32.21% of the pitches (153 by count) were also sliders. When facing lefties, however, 46.34% of the pitches thrown were sliders. He threw just 1 less slider than he threw sinkers (with 14 4-seamers or change ups thrown as well.)

Arthur Rhodes pitched 8 2/3 innings in 19 regular season appearances after coming over from Toronto as well. He faced 3 or less batters in all 19 appearances, 8 times facing the minimum one batter. Rhodes threw 22.42% sliders during those appearances.

Let's look at 2 more, just for fun. Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes were in STL at the same time (2009-2010). Miller stuck around for part of 2011 before departing to Toronto in the same trade that brought over the previous two men listed.

Trever Miller may be the pitcher I have discussed thus far who has spent the longest time in his career solely as a LOOGY. In his time in STL, Miller threw four different pitches: a 4-seam fastball, a sinker, a change up, and a slider. He threw his slider most often, on 566 of his 1,527 pitches (37.07% of the time.) Against lefties, he threw it nearly 50% of the time - on 472 of his 992 pitches v. lefties (47.58%).

In 2009 and 2010, Dennys Reyes also pitched quite a few games for the Cards. He threw sliders 34.37% of the time - his second most commonly thrown pitch. To lefties, he threw it 39.86% of the time. Against righties, it dropped to 26.46% of the time while his change up jumped up over 23% as well.

Tim Collins for the Kansas City Royals has pitched 3 seasons. He is a true left-handed reliever. He actually has been better over his 3 years against righties than lefties - just barely, holding lefties to a .669 and righties to a .702. Predictably enough, Collins' repertoire doesn't even contain a slider or cutter. He throws over 57% fastballs, near 1/4 curve balls, and about 18% change ups. He tries to neutralize lefties by throwing his fastball and curve more often and dropping his change up percentage to 11.51%.

In 2013, Kevin Siegrist of the St. Louis Cardinals was used as a LOOGY, for the most part. I don't believe he should be in the future - at least to start 2014. Siegrist came up in June and was dazzling, as one of the best relievers in the league, period. Not just for a lefty. Siegrist throws a fastball, change up, and curve ball. However, mainly he throws a fastball - over 84% of the time in 2013. He threw the change 6.5% of the time and curve almost 9% of the time. Against lefties (52% of the batters he faced!), he threw slightly MORE fastballs and didn't throw a single change up, bumping up his curve ball percentage to 14%. He held lefties to a .388 OPS against, which is probably the reason 52% of his batters faced were same-handed. However, against righties, he held them to a .479 OPS against!

The other LOOGY on the Cardinals' roster last year was Randy Choate. He has been a LOOGY for almost as long as every kid in middle school or younger has been alive. Last year, Choate threw 69% fastballs and 30% sliders. Against lefties, that slider number jumped to 35%. He faced 70% lefties last year and held them to a .492 OPS against. Choate did allow a below-average .635 OPS against right-handers as well.

For you Cardinals fans, one left-handed reliever to keep an eye on in the minors is Lee Stoppelman. If his minor league numbers steer him true in the majors, he will NOT be a LOOGY, but a left-handed reliever, capable of facing players for a full inning or more, whether right- or left-handed. Stoppelman has faced 120 lefties in the minors and has struck out 23.3% of them but walked only 2.5%. He has faced 277 righties in the minors and has struck out 35.7% of them while walking 10.8%. The ratio is better vs. lefties, but the ratio against righties is good enough to keep his numbers healthy. More numbers: Lee has a 0.92 WHIP v. lefties, but a quite good 1.03 WHIP v. righties. His OPS against v. righties is actually better (.493) than against lefties (.536). According to MLB.com, he throws a fastball, curveball, and change - all of which project to be league average - with league average control. In an interview here at Viva El Birdos, here is what Stoppelman had to say about his pitch set:

VEB: In a nutshell, describe your repertoire: what's your best, most comfortable pitch and which pitch do you feel needs the most work?
LS: I have a fastball, change-up, and curveball. My fastball is my most comfortable pitch. The pitch I have been working hard on since being drafted is my curveball which towards the end of last year, I started becoming more confident with it and using it more.

Combining the success the left-handed Stoppelman has had in the minors against righties and lefties, and the fact that he doesn't have the prototypical wipeout slider present in repertoires of LOOGYs, I would definitely project him for a full-inning type reliever in the majors. With Lee's last name, somehow it all seems to fit.
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