Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Looking at LOOGYs

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 5, 2010

James Russell - MiLB

Cubs rookie, loogy James Russell. I'd provide a better picture, but none exist. While there is no reason not to record a LOOGY for posterity, even in a digital age, photographers would hate to waste the film. At least that's what they tell the poor kids.

Today we’ll be taking a look at the LOOGY, one of the most specialized positions in MLB.

The LOOGY, for those who don’t know, is the Left-Handed One-Out Guy. He’s a relief pitcher who averages less than an inning per appearance and is expected to come in for a specific hitter or two in the late innings. Used correctly, he’ll have something like twice as many appearances as innings pitches. The only situations he’ll usually see are the crucial short-relief situations and the occasional mop-up duty where ERAs get blown up and any stat imaginable gets blown to hell. Which certainly makes any sort of analysis of a pitcher you can miss by blinking all the more fun a month in.

Let’s see who falls where.


I’ve separated the NL’s LOOGY’s from the short lefties in the AL for one primary reason: the different underlying strategies of the two leagues cause the short lefty role to be treated somewhat differently. Bench construction and late game strategy, especially with the pitcher’s spot in the order, allows NL managers to use their whole pen differently than the AL. And so, we check out an interesting slate of the role-iest of role players.

1. Pedro Feliciano, New York Mets
Fourteen appearances, seven back-to-backs, and a stellar 93.8% LOB rate (stranded 15 of 16 inherited runners). It’s hard to argue that anyone has been more crucial to his team than the much-abused Feliciano. Used to high usage, his funky delivery and solid stuff keep him atop any ranking of middle relievers. His control has been pretty poor so far – only 45% of his pitches are in the zone – but he’s been able to keep all of his numbers other than his pitch count and walk rate low. Just over 41% of the batters he’s face as of midday Tuesday have been lefties, and the lefty OPS against is a fine .348.

2. Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta Braves
Another reliever who has been used like a Chevy truck, it’s pretty clear that Bobby Cox has forgotten that it’s only himself, not his players, who are planning on retirement after 2010. Coming off of 56 innings in 78 games in 2009, O’Flaherty already has 12 games under his belt in 2010. He’s stranded over 80% of inherited runners. His .321 OPS against lefties is outstanding, and his current high ground ball rate is comparable to career levels. Just like any Bobby Cox reliever, he’s always at risk of exploding at any moment, but enjoy him while his ligaments and tendons last.

3. Joe Beimel, Colorado Rockies
Maybe he should be #1 because of what he’s done so far. But looking at his career numbers, just too much appears to be related to random fortunate happenings. His overall BABIP against is under .150, half his career rate, and he has yet to allow an inherited runner to score. Having thrown in 71 games in each of 2008 and 2009, Beimel’s 9.2 IP in 10 appearances put him well on his way, whether or not he does slide back to his career norms.

4. Randy Flores, Colorado Rockies
I list Flores here not because of what the advanced metrics say about his splits. Rather, his 100% LOB rate is hard to ignore, while the numbers that don’t look great now appear much more sustainable than the strong early numbers others have amassed. He has a 50/50 split against lefties and righties. He keeps the ball on the ground and has a better strike-to-ball rate than his walk rate suggests. Add in the extra challenge of Coors Field, and he merits some consideration.

5. Cesar Ramos, San Diego
6. Mitch Stetter, Milwaukee
These two young lefties have faced a combined 11 batters in 2010, and it’s a lot easier to reward absence of evidence than it is to analyze the vagaries of an occasional hanging curve. Brought into their teams’ respective bullpens with the express intent of being young LOOGYs, there is always room for hope and good intentions until they have to face a lefty bopper like their own teams’ first basemen.

Chewbacca - First Pitch

An incredibly rare color photograph of legendary American Association LOOGY Chewbacca "Falcon Ball" Jones. He was ostracized from the league when his attempt to pass as human became public. He was outed by an abandoned mistress in a sad story that would repeat itself for so many athletes in the ensuing decades. Banned from the official game, it is believed that he plied his trade barnstorming the Carolinas, following around an illiterate lefty hitter who couldn't find a comfortable pair of cletes to save his life.

7. ______________ (name here) ______________ (SSN here), Arizona
I didn’t initially intend for this entry to be a joke about the new Arizona immigration law, but I recognize it works that way as well. The Diamondbacks, it appears, have no lefthander in their bullpen. They instead have a heaping, steaming pile of terrible right-handers. Given what we know about bullpens (assume they are bad until proven otherwise for a short period of time), maybe the best LOOGY is no LOOGY. Good; bad…they realize that it’s better not to have something just because you’re supposed to. Hats off, D-Backs!

8. Antonio Bastardo, Philadelphia
9. George Sherrill, Los Angeles
10. Tim Byrdak, Houston
Among the remaining lefties in the NL who fit under the LOOGY umbrella, these are the only three with OPS against lefties under .600. Sure, they’ve largely been pretty bad. Sure, they aren’t stranding runners. Sure, they can’t find the strike zone. None of it matters. In a one-plate appearance job, the numbers themselves are goofy. Don’t walk ‘em and don’t let ‘em hit the ball out of the park. Problems in those two areas are in the pitcher’s control and are reflected in OPS. Hence the rating.

11. James Russell, Chicago
12. Dennys Reyes, St. Louis
13. Renyel Pinto, Florida
14. Danny Herrera, Cincinnati
15. Trever Miller, St. Louis
16. Sean Burnett, Washington
17. Javier Lopez, Pittsburgh
A pile of veterans and the Cubs’ kid Russell, all of whom have less-than-inspiring numbers. I’ve seen enough of Russell to know that he has MLB stuff. He’s twice gotten Prince Fielder in high-stress situations, once in a sequence where he got Jim Edmonds looking, allowed a single to Braun, and then got Prince swinging. The numbers of the two Cards and Burnett are likely to improve, at least at the sabermetric levels, as they have a decent track record of usefulness.

Russell - 88 Topps

Jeff Russell's 1988 Topps bubblegum card. Why is he here? He's a righty! Well, he's the father of Cubs rookie James Russell. Who doesn't yet have a bubble gum card. Let's wait 'til Series Two!

18. Dan Meyer, Florida
His numbers so far are kind of like an American Idol show where it’s early in the talent search and the person who doesn’t know who bad he is starts shrieking and thinks he’s doing opera. Facing 40% lefties of 25 batters, his batting average allowed against lefties is over .600 and his OPS against lefties is a tidy 1.700. High BABIP? Check – .575. Allowing inherited runners to score? Check – 66% LOB. Ridiculous rates of homers and walks? 2.7 HR/9 and 10+ BB/9 – Check. Control problems? Check – 45% in the zone and 48% on the first pitch.

With this set of uninspiring names tagged and labeled like yet another moonshot from a failed hold opportunity, I think it’s time to leave LOOGYs behind for now. Relief pitching is based, again, on the premise that starters don’t quite go so far as they used to. Nobody’s thrown 300+ innings since Steve Carlton’s 304 in 1980, and the number of starters to pass 200 innings has plunged from 60 in 1977 to only 36 in 2009. The more innings you need to fill, the more filler you need to call “pitching” to fill them. Maybe Doug Glanville is on to something in his most recent column over at ESPN, that “to stay in this game that player must become a tortoise, or be prepared to watch Livan and his other shell-wearing friends from the bench…”

It’s an interesting proposition, given the longevity and success of Livan, Jamie Moyer and other pitchers who aren’t relying on anything all that close to 90. And it also provides a segue into further study, largely of the changes in starting pitching and the concurrent changes in bullpens and, thus, roster construction. That, however, will be for another day.

In addition to Baseball-Reference.com, which possessed most of the data I needed, I found a few additional pieces of info (particularly LOB rates and zone%) at FanGraphs.

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