Dodgers win(?) the Hanley regatta
ESPN reports that Miami has traded 3B Hanley Ramirez and RP Randy Choate to the Dodgers for SP Nathan Eovaldi and minor-league RP Scott McGough. No cash was reported in the transaction. Ramirez is signed through 2014, with $31.5 million coming in those next 2 years.
How the mighty are fallen, eh?
Ramirez began the 2011 season as one of the brightest stars in the game, with a career .313 BA and 136 OPS+. In 5 full years, he had averaged 112 Runs, 25 HRs and 39 steals. He had been Rookie of the Year, won a batting title, and placed 2nd in the 2009 MVP vote. He ranked 6th in B-R Wins Above Replacement for position players in 2006-10; the five players ranked ahead of him won 4 MVPs in that span.
Despite a public clash with his manager in 2010 about his hustle and attitude, Ramirez was considered one of the most valuable assets in the game. He eventually apologized to the team, and finished the year strong, hitting .344/.983 from August 1. Who could have dreamed that, less than 2 years later, the Marlins would deal him without getting back even one impact player?
But last year was racked by injuries: Ramirez played just 92 games, 60 fewer than his 2006-10 average, with across-the-board declines in production. This year, his first one playing 3B, he started 91 of 97 games but hit just as poorly. His .198 BA with men in scoring position was part of a team-wide problem.
He departs the Marlins as their career leader in WAR, 2nd in Times On Base, 3rd in BA and OBP, 4th in OPS and Games. He holds the club season marks in WAR (he holds the top 2 spots), BA, Runs (top 2), and Total Bases.
The Dodgers have a crying need — a screeching, wailing need — for production at both 3B and SS, where their OPS from each is in the bottom 1/4 of the NL. The hot corner has produced a .249 BA, .681 OPS and 4 HRs, while their shortstops have hit .232 with .285 OBP and .604 OPS. LA is last in the league with 60 HRs. So even if Hanley keeps up his mediocre pace, he should provide offensive improvement wherever they put him, and they’ll worry about the finances later.
At this point, the best quality of the pitchers Eovaldi and McGough is that they’re just 22 years old. Eovaldi, picked in the 2008 11th round out of Nolan Ryan, er, Alvin, TX, has pitched for the Dodgers in parts of the last 2 years, logging a 3.96 ERA and 96 ERA+ in 91 innings (16 starts). His strikeout and walk rates are below average, and are in line with his ordinary minor-league stats.
McGough was picked in the 5th round last year after playing for the University of Oregon. His minor-league resume — 73 IP at class A or lower — is too skimpy to draw real conclusions, but he’s walked a lot of guys this year without making up for it with scintillating K or Hit rates.
Randy Choate, of course, is a pure lefty specialist, with 244 games since 2009 (11th in MLB) but just 131 innings. His average of 2.2 batters faced is by far the lowest of anyone with 100+ IP in that span. (Trever Miller is next at 2.43 BF/G.) Almost half his appearances since 2009 have lasted exactly one batter (111 of 244); no one else has more than 83 such games. He’s reasonably good at that role, with a career .203 BA against lefties and just 6 HRs in 704 PAs.
But what is the value of a pitcher used in such a limited role, even when he does it well? Out of 17 games this year facing just 1 batter, Choate’s highest Win Probability Added is 0.084. That’s about the same value earned by a closer who starts the 9th fresh with a 2-run lead and gets the save. Out of 25 games facing 1 or 2 batters, Choate has 1 game worth more than 0.084 WPA: a 0.164 earned in his only Save this year, as he entered with the tying run on 1st and 1 out.
Taking a broader view of the LOOGY phenomenon:
This year, there have been 364 one-batter appearances by a lefty reliever. Only 2 of those resulted in a WPA of at least 0.2, which is about the value of a 1-inning save with a 1-run lead and no inherited runners. Those 2 both induced a DP grounder. There just aren’t enough critical situations for a one-out specialist to make a significant impact on a team’s season.
About half of all teams have employed a lefty specialist this year (defined here as 20+ games pitched and an average of 0.8 IP per game or less). Those 16 pitchers have a combined average of 27.1 IP, a 3.17 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. The Dodgers already have one of the more successful ones in Scott Elbert. But perhaps they’re troubled that, while he’s been used more against lefties, his results this year have been better against righties, and his career splits are almost identical.
Lastly, a historical peek at LOOGY value: In MLB history, there have been 278 seasons by a lefty with 40+ games and an average of 0.8 IP/G or less. All but one* occurred since 1991. Just 4 of those registered at least 2 Wins Above Replacement (B-R formula), with a high of 2.6 WAR by Mike Myers with Colorado in 2000. Four of 278, that’s less than 1.5%. Only 19% rated at least 1.0 WAR. The top 1/3 of this group averaged less than 1.2 WAR; by comparison, last year 51 relievers notched at least 1.2 WAR.
Is a LOOGY vital to postseason success? Let’s look at recent champions:
– The 2011 Cards didn’t use a LOOGY.
– The 2010 Giants sort of had one in Dan Runzler, but he didn’t pitch in the postseason.
– The 2009 Yankees used Phil Coke somewhat in that role, but he was lousy during the season (4.50 ERA) and especially in the World Series. In game 5, Coke came into the 7th for a stretch of 3-out-of-4 lefties. He gave up HRs to Utley and Ibanez, pushing the deficit to 8-2; New York came back to lose 8-6. He also pitched in game 1 when it was out of hand, retiring Utley but serving an RBI double to Ryan Howard. In all, he retired 3 batters and allowed 2 runs plus an inherited run. No value there.
– The 2008 Phillies used J.C. Romero. He was phenomenal against lefties during the year and was brilliant in the postseason, allowing 2 hits in 8 games and no runs of any kind. He earned 2 WS wins; chalk one up for the LOOGies.
– The 2007 Red Sox used Javier Lopez, and he had a pretty good year — but not against lefties, who clipped him for a .293 BA and .805 SLG. He was terrible in the postseason. No value.
– The 2006 Cards used Randy Flores, who was just awful (5.62 ERA, 1.70 WHIP). He did pitch well in the postseason, no runs and stranded all 5 in 7 games, but he pitched just 1 WS game. Was that worth the games he cost them during the year, as they eked into the tourney with just 83 wins?
– The 2005 White Sox used Damaso Marte. (Remember him?) So-so regular season, and did worse against lefties. Pitched twice in the postseason. One was a near-disaster: Marte came on with a 2-run lead and no outs, let 3 straight men reach base, but El Duque rode to the rescue and completely saved that game for the ChiSox — earning the 4th-best WPA for any postseason relief appearance. The other was pretty good, 1.2 scoreless IP near the end of the 14-inning game 3; however, with a 2-run lead and none on in the final inning, he issued a foolish walk, and was eventually bailed out by Mark Buehrle with the tying runs aboard. Also, that wasn’t at all a lefty-specialist appearance; it was an all-hands-on-deck situation — he was the 7th reliever used. In all, I can’t see any LOOGY value in Marte that year.
– The 2004 Red Sox used Alan Embree in that role, plus Mike Myers came in an August trade. Embree was nothing special in the regular year (4.11 ERA) and his platoon splits were balanced. He pitched poorly in general during the postseason (12 baserunners in 7.1 IP, charged with 3 runs and let in 2 of 8 inherited), but had a big moment in ALCS game 4, getting 5 outs in extra innings. Myers contributed little during the regular year and stank in the playoffs; he didn’t pitch in the WS. How you score this probably turns on your view of LOOGies in general: if you think that ALCS game 4 was everything ’cause that’s when the BoSox turned it all around, that’s fine. But even there, Embree didn’t exactly dominate: Lineout, flyout, single, flyout; single, sac bunt, lineout, IBB. Curt Leskanic got them out of the 11th and through the 12th, and had by far the best WPA for that game. To me, Embree’s contribution to the championship season is meh.
– The 2003 Marlins didn’t use a LOOGY.
– The 2002 Angels didn’t use a LOOGY.
So, of the last 10 championships in the LOOGY era, there was one in which a lefty specialist made a significant impact — Romero, ’08. Four didn’t use a LOOGY at all. In one or two others, a LOOGY had a minor impact; I’ll bet I could find 5 bench players who played a bigger role than any postseason LOOGY except Romero.
What’s all the fuss about? A good left-handed reliever is an asset, but not if you have to hide him from every righty hitter in a big spot. If you use a lefty specialist, he has to be really outstanding against lefties to be worth the roster spot. There aren’t many who fill the bill.
* Joe Hoerner was a lefty, and he did average 0.76 IP/G in 1973. But he wasn’t being used as a specialist; he averaged 3.7 batters per game. He just couldn’t get anybody out that year, allowing a .331 BA and .405 OBP.
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