The No Lefty Pen

Dave · April 2, 2009 at 8:43 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Don Wakamatsu confirmed last night that the Mariners would open the season without a single left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. Tyler Johnson will eventually join the team and take over the LH setup role, but until then, Wak’s got an abundance of right-handers to choose from when he needs a relief pitcher.

Honestly, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Late game match-up pitching has been taken to the absurd extreme in baseball over the last ten years, and while having a variety of options to choose from is a benefit, the real key to managing a bullpen is to give your best pitchers as many high leverage innings as possible. What we saw from Mike Hargrove and John McLaren over the past few years was a slave mentality to decision making by handedness – an LHB coming to the plate? Bring me John Parrish!

Wakamatsu said early in camp that he wasn’t big on the late game bullpen shuffle, and this backs it up as much as anything else. It seems apparent that the Mariners are going to ask their relievers to pitch full innings – it’s doubtful we see nearly as many mid-inning pitching changes as we have in years past. That’s just fine with me. There’s a time to exploit platoon splits, but in general, the over-specialization of the bullpens hasn’t given teams a real advantage.

It willl be refreshing to see a manager make decisions for himself, rather than going by what small sample size matchups tell him he should do.

Comments

42 Responses to “The No Lefty Pen”

  1. argh on April 2nd, 2009 8:46 am

    I could learn to live without the 8th and 9th innings taking 45 minutes to complete.

  2. Soonerman22 on April 2nd, 2009 8:55 am

    So do you think RRS will get the short end of the stick being on the back end of back to back lefties in the rotation? Do you think he will get knocked around because Washburn pitched the day before?

    And I agree I an tired of seeing a pitching change for every batter. Then god forbid we go to extra innings we are screwed, and Jamie Burke comes in to pitch.

  3. DMZ on April 2nd, 2009 9:07 am

    The Angels did this a while back, and it worked out fine.

  4. Dave on April 2nd, 2009 9:13 am

    The back to back lefty thing is a myth. We should probably do a post on that. I don’t know why these people are so willing to believe stupid cliches without any supporting evidence.

  5. JWay on April 2nd, 2009 9:16 am

    Psychologically speaking humans tend to believe anything they learn that is new to them from an authority or respected teacher. Then humans tend to defend that persons position based on that bit of information alone.

    While I assume that’s not news, its good to remember that from time to time, to help all of us keep an open mind more often. :)

    Go Mariners!

  6. RaoulDuke37 on April 2nd, 2009 9:24 am

    I’ve been seeing this 2nd lefty thing mentioned quite a few times recently, and I just don’t get it either. Is Randy Johnson going to suck if Jarrod Washburn pitches the day before???

    Maybe Jarrod Washburn sucks when pitching after a lefty, because Jarrod Washburn sucks at pitching?

    Sorry, Dave. I’d love to see a post with some analysis.

  7. Evan on April 2nd, 2009 9:32 am

    Psychologically speaking humans tend to believe anything they learn that is new to them from an authority or respected teacher.

    That humans tend to do it doesn’t stop it from being irrational.

    Then humans tend to defend that persons position based on that bit of information alone.

    A classic confirmation bias, and all the more reason not to hold the belief in the first place.

  8. Mariner Melee on April 2nd, 2009 9:36 am

    Awesome. Wak has said a lot to impress me even before he got the job as manager but, I think this is my favorite. I can’t stand seeing a right hander come in for 2 pitches, and lefty come in for 12, then another right hander come in to finish off the inning. It’s unnecessary, right handers are capable of getting lefties out and lefties are capable of getting righties out. Now when a batter has extreme splits, then cool switch it up.

  9. Philly M's fan on April 2nd, 2009 9:48 am

    I agree Dave–I always hated switching pitchers every batter, but your closer faces everybody. I understand pitchers have better stuff against left or right handed batters, but it has got out of control. Let the pitchers pitch, and if they cant handle the job find somebody who will!

  10. joealb1 on April 2nd, 2009 9:49 am

    Where oh where has George Sherrill gone…. Oh yeah, Never mind.

  11. terry on April 2nd, 2009 9:53 am

    Here’s the thing…. The ’09 Ms may not have a winning record, but they will be fun to watch and a heck of lot more interesting.

  12. Steve Nelson on April 2nd, 2009 10:21 am

    IIRC – the Mariners did a similar thing a few years ago with Hasegawa. Hasegawa’s record against lefties and righties was almost identical, so Hargrove used him at times against left handed hitters.

  13. Soonerman22 on April 2nd, 2009 10:42 am

    I have no opinion won way or the other of back to back lefties, but I know it is a belief out there whether true or false by many

    And Derek and Dave, that is why I usually stop by your site. For your opinions and incite, but also you guys proving or blowing up myths with the stats.

    Your the baseball mythbusters

  14. Mat on April 2nd, 2009 10:43 am

    My major beef with the back-to-back lefties in the rotation thing is: why should back-to-back righties be any better? Teams with only one lefty starter have this all the time, but no one ever really mentions it.

    Back to the issue of bullpen lefties, it’s not only that the Angels ran a good ‘pen without any lefties for a while, it’s also that other teams have run good bullpens without making their left-handed pitchers complete specialists. Looking back to the early part of the decade, when the Twins had Romero-Hawkins-Guardado at the back end of the bullpen, Guardado was obviously allowed to face right-handed batters since he was the closer. And Romero was generally allowed to face more RHB than LHB and his innings total was usually pretty close to his appearances total. (Unlike more strict LOOGYs who sometimes have many more appearances than innings pitched.)

    Platoon advantage is real and it matters, but it’s not as big as the difference in talent between many pitchers. The Mariners don’t have a great lefty option at the moment, so not bringing a lefty north makes all the sense in the world.

  15. Breadbaker on April 2nd, 2009 10:45 am

    This will also allow the manager, instead of using one data point–handedness–to consider match-ups in a more specific sense when facing the tough players in the opposing team’s line-up. Not based on small sample size “he got him out last time” stuff, but putting the pitcher who can best deliver the low slider against the guy who can’t hit the low slider.

  16. wabbles on April 2nd, 2009 10:47 am

    This is soooo refreshing. When we had that Charlton-Rhodes-Sasaki-Game Over! bullpen, we didn’t worry about handedness, we just sent them up there to get outs. The Yankees did the same thing with Rivera. He was right-handed but he could get anybody out. Another benefit to fewer pitching changes, besides shorter games and fewer commercial breaks, is that more bullpen pitchers will be available the next day since we won’t use six in one game.

    “The back to back lefty thing is a myth. We should probably do a post on that. I don’t know why these people are so willing to believe stupid cliches without any supporting evidence.”

    This is one thing about this organization that always infuriated me. In 1997, we had Randy Johnson, Jeff Fassero, Jamie Moyer and Sterling Hitchcock (plus…fifth pitcher’s name escapes me…Derek Lowe? Bob Wolcott?). That was four lefties and one rightie! Oh the inhumanity! So we traded Hitchcock for he-whose-name-must-never-be-spoken (Scott Sanders) and Dennis Martinez, two righties! Yeah, that worked out so well we felt compelled to acquire Solcumb, Timlin and Spoljaric at the trade deadline. ARGH! Let’s hope we don’t repeat that insanity this time around.

  17. wabbles on April 2nd, 2009 10:48 am

    Traded Hitchcock for Sanders and picked up Martinez, free agent or something.

  18. robbbbbb on April 2nd, 2009 11:19 am

    There’s a couple names in that bullpen that I don’t recognize at all. Perhaps, when the 25 man roster is finalized, we can appeal to Dave to provide a scouting report on some of the lesser-known names?

  19. Soonerman22 on April 2nd, 2009 11:37 am

    Actually it was Nelson-Rhodes-Sasaki game over bullpen.

  20. philosofool on April 2nd, 2009 12:04 pm

    I think this is evidence that Wak’s going to do a good job managing the pen. So often in baseball a guy comes out, pitches one out and then gets replaced. That guy is now unavailable the next game. Getting two or three outs from each guy means that you have a different set of fresh arms the next game and makes for a much better situation.

  21. philosofool on April 2nd, 2009 12:11 pm

    I also really like that this shows that the management isn’t afraid to be creative.

  22. dchappelle on April 2nd, 2009 12:42 pm

    Wow, actually kind of surprised to see this. I completely disagree. So many players, especially left-handed mashers, have such gigantic platoon splits that not having the option of a lefty seems very limiting to me. I mean Grady Sizemore turns from A-Rod to Yuni against lefties.

    Sure, lefties are overused and usually shouldn’t automatically be removed after 1 batter, and you wouldn’t take a Zito over a Felix. But to not have a lefty is a severe potential disadvantage.

  23. Tek Jansen on April 2nd, 2009 12:56 pm

    But to not have a lefty is a severe potential disadvantage.

    Sure, but that assumes that a lefty on the Mariners’ roster was capable of providing an advantage. Wakamatsu and Zduriencik obviously decided that Lugo was not going to that.

  24. JoeGeema on April 2nd, 2009 12:59 pm

    If it takes no lefties in the bullpen to finally get away from the absurdity that is the lefty-righty matchup BS, I’m all for it.

    The only advantage I see to having some sub-par lefty in the bullpen is that it may cause the other “by the book” mind numb manager to make some stupid pinch hitting move that trumps the stupidity of bringing in the bum from the pen.

  25. JI on April 2nd, 2009 1:02 pm

    Neat!

  26. MKT on April 2nd, 2009 1:13 pm

    But to not have a lefty is a severe potential disadvantage.

    Sure, but that assumes that a lefty on the Mariners’ roster was capable of providing an advantage. Wakamatsu and Zduriencik obviously decided that Lugo was not going to that.

    That part is fine, they selected what they thought are the best pitchers for the roster.

    But what is not so fine is that there were no decent lefthanders to choose from. That seems to me to be a weakness in the construction of the club. As a couple of people have already pointed out, there are some batters with large platoon splits, and not every pitcher in the bullpen is JJ Putz — when the manager’s got a couple of okay-but-not-great arms to choose from in the bullpen, and a couple of dangerous (but high platoon splitting) lefthanded batters coming up with two men on base, it’d be nice if one of those okay-but-not-great arms was a lefty.

  27. jordan on April 2nd, 2009 1:35 pm

    I still think we should have an effective lefty for when there is 2 outs, bases loaded, with David Ortiz at the plate in a close ball game.

  28. Dave on April 2nd, 2009 1:40 pm

    This isn’t a season long thing. Tyler Johnson will be off the DL in a few weeks. The team is starting with a no lefty pen, not adhering to it as the new organizational philosophy.

    The M’s don’t play the Red Sox or Indians in April, by the way, so no worries about Sizemore or Ortiz.

  29. JI on April 2nd, 2009 1:54 pm

    Devil’s advocate but, we do have to worry about Mauer/Morneau, Giambi/Cust and Carlos Pena– That said, I’m happy they’re taking the best possible guys instead of taking a mediocre pitcher solely because he’s lefthanded.

  30. Dave on April 2nd, 2009 1:58 pm

    Mauer’s on the DL.

    The A’s would pinch hit for Cust if you brought in a LOOGY.

    So, really, we’re talking about Morneau, Giambi, and Pena. In reality, we’re looking at ~10 PA where you’d consider bringing in a lefty to face those guys. The total run value difference is going to be in the fractions of a run.

  31. Breadbaker on April 2nd, 2009 2:45 pm

    This will also encourage the relievers all to study and prep for all batters on the opposing teams, not just the ones who bat their way. They won’t be expecting to be pulled when Morneau or Giambi or Pena comes to the plate, and so they’ll have to work out (with the catcher) how to pitch to them in tough spots. I still think this is all to the good.

  32. JI on April 2nd, 2009 3:22 pm

    Mauer’s on the DL.

    Forgot about that.

  33. ppl on April 2nd, 2009 3:43 pm

    I certainly prefer this arrangement, if the alternative is to go out and pick-up one of many “specialists” that always seem to be available. Because there is a reason why they are available, and anyone that you waive now off the 40 man roster to make room for them or anyone passed over for any open spot you use, can’t help but be a more valuable player. Then you get a guy whose not as good as the your AAA lefties, only more experienced, causing you to probably loose a guy, who lands in K.C. and hits 11 home runs and everone acts as though the M’s let a HOF guy get away. better for all this way.

  34. dchappelle on April 2nd, 2009 4:02 pm

    Well, I concede. It isn’t as big a difference as I thought. Even if we were talking 1 PA per day, and a larger than average platoon split (say .035 wOBA), it’d have to be a full month before you even equaled a run, even without compensating for a slightly lower quality pitcher overall.

  35. thinkingfan on April 2nd, 2009 4:59 pm

    It seems like they could solve the problem easily by moving Washburn to the bullpen and giving either Jakubauskus or another RHP a shot at the rotation. I have nothing against Washburn, but he’s clearly not a long-term solution and he might thrive in a one-inning environment. Any thoughts?

  36. hoponpop01 on April 2nd, 2009 7:36 pm

    In reality, we’re looking at ~10 PA where you’d consider bringing in a lefty to face those guys. The total run value difference is going to be in the fractions of a run.

    Fractions of a run over the course of the month, but if you have a lefty with a slider or sinker in the pen and Giambi/Morneau is up with a runner on first and one out in the top of the eighth while the M’s are up one, fractions of a run don’t happen.

    I love the stats and cybermatrics you guys provide on this site, but there are pure baseball situations where even if you have a guy on your roster you don’t use very often (usually end up being Rule V picks, but don’t have to be) when used in the right situations they can be a key piece of the club.

    But then again, none of the left-handed options were really viable, so good move Wak.

  37. unholycow on April 2nd, 2009 8:21 pm

    Scott Baker’s on the DL now, too. So the M’s open against a lefty (Liriano). Will Griffey sit out opening day? Or pinch hit?

  38. Sidi on April 2nd, 2009 10:50 pm

    It seems like they could solve the problem easily by moving Washburn to the bullpen and giving either Jakubauskus or another RHP a shot at the rotation. I have nothing against Washburn, but he’s clearly not a long-term solution and he might thrive in a one-inning environment. Any thoughts?

    If he goes to the bullpen we absolutely destroy his value. If someone was stupid enough to take his entire salary on last year, there’s a slight chance he can “rebound” with a great outfield defense and we’ll find another sucker this year.

    I think the chance of shifting him, even for nothing in return, is worth shooting for. Plus, Washburn isn’t that bad of a starter, probably better than any of the other options we could put in his place.

  39. Teej on April 2nd, 2009 11:24 pm

    Scott Baker’s on the DL now, too. So the M’s open against a lefty (Liriano). Will Griffey sit out opening day? Or pinch hit?

    The new regime is promising and all, but no one’s going to bench Junior on opening day unless he’s hurt.

  40. Refuses to take hints about changing nickname on April 3rd, 2009 12:04 am

    You guys are acting like the idea of not having a lefty in the pen is a good one, and wakamatsu made a smart decision by doing so. I’m sure this is something he’d rather not have to do, but it’s something that kind of came to this conclusion in a roundabout way.

    There’s no one ready to join the pen who’s left handed at this time, and when the time comes where Johnson is ready in a few weeks tops, Wakamatsu will want him on the team no doubt, because he’s left- handed, and that is an important position in a bullpen. Loogies are like security blankets, they make you feel better knowing they’re out there screwin around in the pen, and you can call em up and make em throw junk to one lefty hitter for one AB and have a good shot of getting that guy out. Without a loogy, your pen looks weird and naked, especially when none of the righties are all that good at gettin out lefties. Think about it, I mean Mark Lowe’s changeup, Batista’s cutter and Aardsma’s splitter are the only 3 pitches in that pen that “might” neutralize a lefty. So in summation, we’ll be alright hopefully, with this ‘pen for a little while, but don’t go actin like rockin a righty bullpen all season long is a good idea. It ain’t.

  41. DaveValleDrinkNight on April 3rd, 2009 1:39 am

    In the 20′s through the 60′s, you didn’t have set-up men and closers, what you had were guys trying to crack the rotation.

    What the M’s are doing with Morrow is ridiculous. Any pitcher with any stuff growing through little league to the minors or college is a starter.

    Period.

    If you’ve been a starting pitcher for god knows how long, then why can’t you keep that mentality.

    Nobody coaches closers in Junior High or High School ball. Get out there and Pitch!

  42. DMZ on April 3rd, 2009 2:02 am

    you didn’t have set-up men and closers, what you had were guys trying to crack the rotation.

    or starters on their way out of baseball, injured guys… but yeah, your point’s well-taken.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.