Pirates Notebook: How important are left handed relievers?

With the recent trades of Sean Burnett, John Grabow, and Tom Gorzelanny leaving the Pittsburgh Pirates short on left handers, a lot of focus has been on the value of left handed pitching out of the bullpen.

The Pirates currently are short on left handed pitching out of the bullpen, not just in the majors, but in the minors as well. Donald Veal is the only lefty reliever on the major league roster, although the only reason he’s there is because he’s a Rule 5 pick. Chances are he’ll be a starter in AAA next season.

At AAA the Pirates have Phil Dumatrait rehabbing, and no other left handers on the roster. Dumatrait has mostly been a starter in the majors, and has a .263 BAA against left handers, versus a .323 BAA against right handers. However, he had a .206 BAA last year against left handers, which is more in line with his .215 minor league BAA versus lefties.

At AA the Pirates have Daniel Moskos, Kyle Bloom, and Tony Watson, all starters. Watson has been injured most of the season, and is currently on the DL. Bloom is probably most effective against left handers this season, with a .165 BAA, although he does have some control problems. Moskos hasn’t been as effective against left handers this year, with a .286 BAA, but was solid in 2008 with a .224 BAA.

Going down to A ball, the Pirates have Jeff Locke, Paul Mildren, Rudy Owens, and Justin Wilson. Locke and Owens are both starters, and will be developed as starters. Considering them for the bullpen is foolish at this point. Mildren is an organizational guy, merely a filler in Lynchburg at the age of 25. Wilson is a starter, but doesn’t exactly have a rotation spot waiting on him in the future. However, he’s a long ways from the majors, and has a .289 BAA versus left handers.

The Pirates are short on left handed help, which means next year they’re either looking at a bullpen with Dumatrait, Bloom, and/or Moskos, or maybe a free agent. This past year saw left handed relievers signing for around $2 M, something the Pirates could easily afford. Of course, there’s the question of whether left handed pitching is important at all out of the bullpen.

To examine this, let’s look at the theory behind having a left handed reliever in the bullpen. The idea is that it gives you an advantage against left handed batters, that you wouldn’t normally have with a right handed reliever.

That theory really applies to LOOGYs (Left Handed One Out Guys), aka left handed specialists. These are guys who come in to face a big left handed hitter, then get taken out when a right hander comes up, mostly because they only do well against left handers. My question is, what’s the difference between a LOOGY, and a right handed pitcher like Jesse Chavez who is good against left handers?

Chavez has been mentioned as the Pirates’ answer against left handed pitching, mostly because of his career .220 BAA versus lefties, including a .221 BAA this year. Let’s compare that to Sean Burnett, who posted a .179 BAA versus lefties last year, and a .171 BAA this year. Now I’m not calling Burnett a LOOGY, as he certainly took great strides against right handers this year. However, since our focus is on left handers, and since Burnett is solid against left handers, we’ll examine the difference.

Using this year’s numbers (.171 BAA for Burnett, .221 BAA for Chavez), let’s look at the difference in hits over 100 at-bats. In 100 at-bats, Burnett would allow 17 hits against left handed batters, while Chavez would allow 22 hits against left handed batters. How important are those five extra hits?

Let’s assume three things. First, we’ll assume that a reliever only pitches one inning per outing on average. Second, we’ll assume a reliever sees one left hander for every two right handers. Third, we’ll assume a reliever averages 4.25 plate appearances per inning pitched. Using these assumptions, it would take 71.1 innings pitched for a reliever to see 100 left handed at-bats (it would be more, since we’re counting at-bats, and not plate appearances, but that only further proves what I’m about to say).

So basically, the difference between a .171 BAA guy like Burnett, and a .221 BAA guy like Chavez, comes out to be five hits in 71.1 innings. Most relievers are lucky to pitch 71.1 innings, although that’s a full workload for a set up guy. So the question on left handers becomes: is it a big deal that the Pirates traded guys like Sean Burnett (.171 BAA) and John Grabow (.259 BAA) when they’ve got right handers who can do the job, like Jesse Chavez (.220 BAA) and Evan Meek (.239 BAA) who can do a similar job against left handers? In the end, if five extra hits over the course of a season is the only thing that separates a left hander like Burnett and a right hander like Chavez, then the need for left handed pitching isn’t really a priority.

The MVP Tracker

The MVP Tracker is updated through the 8/4 loss. Here are the big impacts for tonight’s loss:

1. Evan Meek: -.480 WPA
2. Joel Hanrahan: -.145
3. Delwyn Young: -.108
4. Lastings Milledge: -.069
5. Steve Pearce: -.063

Other Stuff

-The Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch for 8/5 is up.

-Jonathan Mayo has a rundown on the Miguel Angel Sano situation.

-I did my Post Trade Deadline Top 10 Prospects list yesterday. Some other lists from WHYGAVS and North Side Notch.

-Jim at North Side Notch looks at Charlie Morton’s problems after the first time through the order.

-Pat at WHYGAVS looks at the trade returns, including the “quality vs quantity” issue, and how prospect rankings leave out key returns like Milledge and Clement.

-Charlie at Bucs Dugout wonders if Ronny Cedeno is better than we thought.

-Jon at The “Mc” Effect has a prospect depth chart of all of the prospects in the Pirates system after the trades.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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