Since signing a three-year, $7.5 million deal with the Cardinals prior to last season, Randy Choate has been absolutely terrific when used correctly out of the bullpen. When tasked with left-handed hitters, he has proven he will get the job done way more often than not (see table below). When he faces righties, however, he is not very good, at all. This should not come as much of a surprise given the fact that the 39-year-old reliever should be used exclusively as a LOOGY, especially at this stage in his career. Below, you will find Choate's regular season statistics versus left-handed hitters over the last two seasons:
With 20 innings as the qualifier, Choate held opposing lefties to the lowest batting average (.091) and the second lowest wOBA (.171) in all of baseball this season. If Matheny follows 2013's game plan this time around, Choate will thankfully not face a single right-handed bat. It helps that postseason bullpen management is much different than regular season bullpen management, where Matheny will be able to rely on specialists (like Choate) to do no more than "specialist" things. It also helps that the Dodgers have a decent amount of left-handed bats on their probable postseason roster in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Dee Gordon, and Andre Ethier.
In nine 2013 postseason appearances (3 & 1/3 IP), Choate faced 11 hitters (all left-handed), allowed zero runs, and gave up only one hit (a single)—to David Ortiz, who just happened to hit .688/.760/1.188 in the World Series, so a mere single was the least of the Cardinals' worries. Choate threw a total of 33 pitches (18 sinkers, 15 sliders), with an average sinker velocity of 86.42 MPH (roughly equal to his 2013 velocity on the pitch) and an average horizontal movement of -6.35 inches on his slider (nearly an inch more than his 2013 season average).
So far in 2014, Choate's sinker velocity has lost just over 1 MPH (down to 85.37 MPH), and the horizontal movement on his slider has seen a slight decrease (down to -5.63 inches) as well. However, given his role will be to "throw nasty breaking balls" to left-handed Dodgers in the NLDS, I would not be surprised if we see an uptick in his slider's horizontal movement this postseason, just like we saw last year. Statistics might not be able to quantify this notion, but it is not unreasonable to think that there is something about pitching to one hitter in a playoff atmosphere that amplifies a reliever's individual repertoire.
If the Cardinals intend on advancing past the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, middle-to-late inning management of the LA's left-handed bats will be a crucial complement to solid starting pitching. With Kevin Siegrist nowhere near his 2013 self and his inclusion on the postseason roster in question, Choate's importance out of the bullpen increases exponentially. Sure, Sam Freeman has a chance at making the roster (especially if Mike Matheny shies away from selecting rookie Marco Gonzales), but in his still small big league sample size, he has actually had more success against righties than lefties (for what it's worth).
In the 2013 NLCS, Choate faced, and subsequently retired, Crawford twice (two pop outs), Gonzalez twice (two ground outs), and Ethier twice (one strikeout, one lineout). The Cardinals hope to see more of the same starting Friday evening.