Mathenaging: Why are the St. Louis Cardinals using LOOGY Randy Choate more often vs. righthanded batters?

LOOGY no more? - Elsa

The Cardinals signed Randy Choate during the 2012-13 offseason to be the club's LOOGY. Now, manager Mike Matheny apparently has an eye on using the veteran more often against righthanded batters. Why?

The St. Louis Cardinals currently have a middle-relief problem. As Craig advised last week, manager Mike Matheny would be wise to avoid the middle relievers, but avoiding middle relief every game is an impossibility in today's game. And Matheny has taken a drastic and bizarre approach to filling the club's current middle-relief void: allow lefty sidewinder Randy Choate to face more righthanded batters.

During spring training, there were rumblings that the Cardinals would carry two One-Out Guys or, as they are more enjoyably referred to, OOGYs. Before Matheny made the decision to carry both Pat Neshek, a sidewinding ROOGY, and Randy Choate, a sidewinding lefty, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Matheny on the problem such a bullpen composition would generate for the club:

"If we’re looking at the possibility of having (Neshek) on our club, you’d be very hand-tied if you had a lefty like Choate who can only face lefties and a righty who can only face righties," Matheny said. "It doesn’t work. You’d end up killing the rest of the bullpen. You’d end up using three guys in one inning."

Matheny said he’d like to see Choate face righties this spring and Neshek handle lefties before adding the righty specialist to the bullpen.

Apparently Matheny liked what he saw from Choate. Because the third-year manager is deploying the 38-year-old sidewinder in a way that would make Tony La Russa's head explode. It began last week in Cincinnati, when Matheny allowed Choate to face only righthanders. Goold was once again on the OOGY case:

Choate, who has built a career on retiring lefties and pitching often in short-burst appearances, had two unusual assignments in one evening Thursday at Cincinnati. He faced all righties and had his position in the order not come up the next inning, Choate would have thrown multiple innings. Manager Mike Matheny explained that Choate cannot be just a lefty specialist for them right now.

"I think he was that kind of guy before he got here," Matheny said. "That’s not how we’re using him. We can’t afford to. When he’s continuing to make good pitches to righthanded batters when we need him to, it’s not using him wisely. If things change, we change. Right now, if we hold on to him to run through a righty or two to get to a big part of their lefthanded lineup, we know that he’ll be careful."

Given Choate's career splits, it's odd that Matheny is so open to him facing righthanded batters this season.

Choate Career Splits

Split

PA

LD%

GB%

FB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

vs. LHB

854

15.9

59.2

24.9

.267

.198

.277

.278

.555

.080

.249

Total

1485

17.2

59.5

23.3

.283

.231

.329

.326

.654

.095

.289

vs. RHB

631

18.8

60.0

21.2

.326

.278

.398

.395

.793

.117

.352

Split

PA

K%

BB%

HR/9

FIP

xFIP

vs. LHB

854

26.4%

7.6%

0.30

2.52

2.93

Total

1485

19.8%

10.6%

0.42

3.62

3.76

vs. RHB

631

11.6%

14.1%

0.64

5.22

5.29

Last season, Matheny did a good job of limiting Choate's exposure to righthanded batters and the LOOGY thrived. For his career, Choate has faced lefthanded batters 57.4% of the time. Last season, lefty hitters made up a 70.2% share of the opposing batsmen Choate faced. This indicates that Matheny recognized Choate's strength as a pitcher and deployed him accordingly. So why would Matheny seem to be so open to exposing Choate to more righthanded batters this season? It likely has as much to do with Keith Butler as anything else. But it also seems that Choate's performance against righthanded batters last season as a Cardinal may be a factor.

Choate 2013 Splits

Split

PA

LD%

GB%

FB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

vs. LHB

99

14.3

65.1

20.6

.224

.171

.268

.224

.492

.053

.232

Total

141

11.6

68.4

20.0

.260

.203

.281

.256

.537

.053

.248

vs. RHB

42

6.3

75.0

18.8

.333

.275

.310

.325

.635

.050

.284

Split

PA

K%

BB%

HR/9

FIP

xFIP

vs. LHB

99

21.2%

9.1%

0.00

2.69

3.40

Total

141

19.9%

7.8%

0.00

2.57

3.30

vs. RHB

42

16.7%

4.8%

0.00

2.27

3.07

As a Cardinal, Choate has experienced success against righthanded batters. But this stands in stark contrast to his career. It's around 50 PAs vs. nearly 650. Choate's success is the embodiment of the usual concepts: small sample size and regression.

Things don't end if they don't end badly. So it appears that Matheny will continue to expand his Choate usage to include more righthanded batters than he probably should. At least until the experiment blows up a time or three. Hopefully Jason Motte makes his triumphant return to the St. Louis bullpen before then.

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