On December 5th, 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals made a curious move in signing free agent left-handed relief pitcher Randy Choate. In itself, the choice of signing Choate was not what made the move curious because he had proven to be an effective reliever against left-handed hitters over the course of his career. Rather, the head-scratching part was that the Cardinals were giving a 37-year-old, one-dimensional reliever a three-year contract (worth $7.5 million). The situation seemed to call for one of those one year, $2-3 million deals where, if all goes well, the team will bring the player back the next season with a slight pay raise as a token of appreciation.
Yet, all things considered, Choate did a pretty good job at living up to this "curious" three-year contract. In fact, using Fangraphs value (which ranges from $6-8 million per one fWAR), Choate was actually on pace to outperform his contract through his first two seasons with St. Louis, which is uniquely impressive for a lefty reserved for situational use only (read: LOOGY spots). Then, 2015 happened, and for whatever reason, Choate found himself very ordinary against lefties, just one season removed from being one of the very best in the league.
For those interested, I have included a table showing Choate's lefty splits below, but as a whole, the 40-year-old lefty put up 0.9 fWAR in three seasons as a Cardinal. Given his age, role, and the volatility of relief pitchers, one should, at the very least, consider Choate's signing a "push." And in a league littered with bad signings, I will most definitely take a "push" involving a relief pitcher over a three-year period.
Choate's Statistics versus Left-handed Hitters
It is time to move on, though, so who will take Choate's role in 2016 and beyond? Honestly, this depends on how Mozeliak and Matheny want to approach bullpen construction and use going forward. Will they do what they did this season and reserve one of the seven bullpen spots for strictly LOOGY purposes (only to give up on it come playoff time)? Or will they turn to a lefty that can be trusted to throw against right-handed hitters as well?
If they choose the latter, I expect we will see Tyler Lyons, who had a terrific second half (yet was inexplicably MIA in the NLDS). With 2015 being a lost season for Marco Gonzales, it does not seem likely that he starts 2016 with the big league club. Plus, I am fairly certain the Cardinals still view him as a starting pitcher (unless persisting shoulder issues prove to be detrimental to his overall repertoire), so, given the projected depth of the 2016 rotation, Gonzales will start 2016 with Triple-A Memphis.
If the Cardinals choose to return to the LOOGY method, a name I don't want anyone to forget about is Dean Kiekhefer, who is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League. Sure, Kiekhefer is not currently on the 40-man roster, but given the fact that numerous moves will be made over the offseason, his addition should not be considered a major obstacle. Per Minor League Central, Kiekhefer has faced 361 left-handed hitters in his minor league career and has held them to a slash of .195/.228/.259 with 78 strikeouts and only nine walks.
If you have never seen Kiekhefer pitch, fear not, because YouTube provides us with video of his one-inning outing in the Triple-A All-Star Game this season. His repertoire is what you'd expect from a left-handed specialist: an 88-89 MPH fastball with downward and horizontal movement, an 80-82 MPH changeup, and a 76-78 MPH slider/breaking ball. His mechanics aid in his effectiveness as he does a good job hiding his pitching arm behind his body throughout his move to home.
Finally, a discussion question: Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but would you have liked to have seen Choate in the NLDS bullpen, reserved solely for slinging sliders to hitters like Anthony Rizzo?