M’s Acquire Aaron Laffey
Not satisfied with their current crop of left-handed pitchers whose fastballs average 87 MPH, the Mariners added another one to what the guys at LL call “The Pile” by acquiring Aaron Laffey. The team is certainly taking a quantity approach to stockpiling southpaws, as Laffey joins the likes of Nate Robertson, Garrett Olson, Cesar Jimenez, Luke French, Royce Ring, and Chris Seddon as options for either the fifth spot in the rotation or a job as a left-handed arm out of the bullpen. While his velocity isn’t going to impress, Laffey does offer a couple of skills that set him apart from most of this crew:
1. He’s a sinkerball guy who gets grounders in decent quantites. While the M’s have had no shortage of fly ball lefties over the last few years, Laffey offers something a bit different, in that 51.6% of his careers balls in play have been hit on the ground. While this means that he won’t get as big of a boost from Safeco as someone like Jason Vargas, it does mean that he’s more likely to be able to induce a double play when its called for, and that does have its advantages. Especially if he ends up as a reliever, where he would be called upon to enter situations with men on base.
2. Speaking of being a reliever, Laffey has some pretty significant platoon splits. Here are his career marks against hitters from each side:
Vs LHB: 2.86 BB/9, 6.39 K/9, 0.57 HR/9, 46.9% GB%, 3.77 FIP, 4.38 xFIP
Vs RHB: 3.90 BB/9, 3.50 K/9, 0.64 HR/9, 53.4% GB%, 4.68 FIP, 5.04 xFIP
While he gets ground balls against hitters from either side, the big difference is the strikeout rate. Laffey’s slider gives him a pitch he can use to get whiffs against left-handed bats, but his change-up isn’t very good and the slider doesn’t work against right-handed hitters. The lack of any kind of out pitch means that he has to nibble on the corners, and that drives up the walk rate. Laffey is not much use against RHBs, but because the Indians have used him primarily as a starter, he’s faced 1,000 of those in his career compared to just 408 left-handed batters.
If used as a reliever, the team could get a far more favorable distribution of batters faced, and Laffey’s numbers would look quite a bit better simply from not facing the same proportion of right-handed bats. Without significant improvement from his change-up, he’s probably not cut out to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues, but his repertoire has shown that it’s at least somewhat effective against lefties. Given that the M’s have a bunch of southpaws who aren’t that great against lefties, Laffey actually gives the team another option as a lefty specialist. It’s not the sexiest role on a roster, but as we saw quite a bit the last few years, it can be important to have that kind of guy on the roster who can go after a tough lefty or get a ground ball when you need it.
He’s not a great pitcher by any stretch of the imagination, but Laffey is useful in the right role. If the team doesn’t like what they see from Robertson or Ring, Laffey could be a better option as a left-on-left reliever than many of the other incumbents. On the surface, he might look like a nothing acquisition, but he’s got a chance to actually help the team.
To acquire Laffey, the M’s surrendered Matt Lawson, the infielder they received from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal. Lawson was a utility infielder in the making, so this isn’t much of a loss. In order to make room for Laffey on the 40 man roster, the team has placed Shawn Kelley on the 60 day DL.