Addressing the Left-Handed Problem

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Joaquin Benoit fits the same mold as Brad Penny. He IS a righty, but he’s no Galarraga. Over his 10-year career, his L-R split is .692 to .746 – better against lefties than righties. He does throw a slider, but he has a good changeup – so he’s not reduced to a one-pitch pitcher against lefties. He’s a move in the right direction, given how the Tigers use relievers and are going to continue to use relievers. Brad Thomas saw a lot of righties, despite an appalling .632 to .885 L-R split. It’s a good bet that he’ll be our primary lefty out of the ‘pen next year. Here’s hoping he never sees a right-handed bat. The same goes for Fu-Te Ni, with an equally bad .622 to .834 split. Daniel Schlereth doesn’t have much of a major league record to go on, but given how he pitched in Toledo last year we can expect his L-R split to be something like Wild Thing with vs. without glasses. So… the reason that our bullpen lefties look like a weak group isn’t the pitchers themselves, it’s how we use them. If we signed someone like Will Ohman and made him throw to righties 60+% of the time, he’d look awful. If we use Brad Thomas like other teams use their LOOGYs, he’ll look fantastic. Will we? Time will tell. For the rest, what the Tigers need is relievers that are so good that a significant L-R split doesn’t mean that they simply can’t get the other side out. Zumaya is near unhittable for righties, but lefties only put up a .730 OPS against him. He doesn’t need to be pulled for someone like Brad Thomas. The same goes for Jose Valverde – a .664 OPS allowed to lefties, which is more or less a prerequisite for a legit closer. Ryan Perry is a question mark. He was awful against lefties as a rookie in 2010 and then saw fewer lefties than anyone else in the pen in 2011. But he was much better against those lefties in 2011 than against righties, not just a little better but MUCH better. So much, in fact, that he inverted his career splits to make it show that he’s harder for lefties to hit. This is a little odd, because he’s a fastball/slider guy – you would expect him to be a lot harder on righties. Maybe he rarely pitched against quality left-handed hitters in 2011. Either way, despite last years numbers I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling him a righty that gets lefties out.

The gist of all this, if you haven’t gotten it already, is this: we haven’t signed any lefties, but we are definitely making offseason moves to address the need to do a better job getting lefties out. Part of this is addition by subtraction, we are dumping the two starters least able to do that. And though we have only signed righties, we are signing righties that do not have any trouble with left-handed hitters. In the bullpen, problems remain – and they are made worse by the loss of Coke – but we can probably change things just by making better use of the personnel that we have.