A lack of southpaw relievers

Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek at minicamp earlier this month - Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette

The Pirates’ bullpen is nearly set, and it seems likely that Javier Lopez will be the only left-handed reliever on the opening day roster. After Neal Huntington’s comments set off a firestorm last season, some fans will surely be upset at the lack of southpaws again this year. But to what degree will the righty-heavy bullpen hurt the Pirates?

Below is my best guess at the bullpen that will break camp with the Pirates in early April. Kevin Hart may end up starting in either Pittsburgh or Indianapolis and there is always the chance of an injury, but for the most part, this seems accurate. I have also listed each pitcher’s career split against right-handed and left-handed batters. I included John Grabow’s career stats as well, as it was his departure that brought the focus to this aspect of the roster.

vs. RHB vs. LHB
Octavio Dotel .208/.282/.378 .232/.343/.392
Brendan Donnelly .225/.286/.341 .231/.323/.338
Evan Meek .205/.359/.402 .227/.324/.361
Joel Hanrahan .273/.349/.424 .253/.367/.396
Javier Lopez .295/.381/.440 .247/.338/.350
D.J. Carrasco .264/.323/.369 .289/.383/.419
Kevin Hart .284/.378/.440 .321/.406/.509
John Grabow .254/.345/.395 .263/.329/.378

It seems likely that Lopez will sufficiently replace Grabow’s production against left-handers, and is likely a slight upgrade. But the reality is that Lopez is not the best option against lefties. Meek and Donnelly have both been better over their careers, with Meek’s numbers obviously coming in a smaller sample. Hanrahan has also shown a pretty limited split, and may be better against left-handed batters than righties.

That is what Huntington meant by the following quote:

We feel the left-handed specialist role is drastically overrated in the game. We’d rather have seven pitchers who can get right and left-handed hitters out.

It is not that important to have left-handed pitchers available. It is important to have pitchers that are capable of retiring left-handed hitters. The Pirates have that in the bullpen right now. If Grabow was still with the team, he would be no better than the fourth best relief option against lefties. Looking at the numbers, the bullpen currently has about three or four solid options against left-handers. They may actually have more issues when facing right-handed batters.

Analysis
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