About a month into baseball’s offseason, things have been pretty quiet in Cardinal Nation. David Freese got into yet another offseason car accident trying not to hit a deer and instead hit a tree, Kolten Wong was named to the Arizona Fall League’s top prospect team (head pat for a disappointing prospect), and Lance Berkman decided to take a crack at going back to school or something. Oh, and of course, the topic of today’s post: John Mozeliak has already made it very well known that one of the offseason’s top priorities involves obtaining a quality left-handed reliever to pair with incumbent lefty vanquisher Marc Rzepczynski.
The problem with having such an item on your offseason shopping list is that it’s a product that hardly exists at all — the supply is far, far lower than the demand. Another problem is that relief pitchers are the most volatile commodities in baseball, and finding one that had a good season the year before may mean absolutely nothing going forward, more so than with any other player type. That’s why big free agent splashes for a reliever are almost always ludicrous, even (especially) in the case of big name closers who get paid like $15 million to pitch 60 innings a season. Mozeliak has done a fine job of building the current Cardinal bullpen almost exclusively from within, and we like his general philosophy. That said, this insistence to have a second left-handed reliever may well result in a contract we don’t care much for.
What are his other options, you might ask? Well, we thought you might ask that, so we’ve taken the liberty of jotting down a few alternatives the Cardinals might benefit from looking into this offseason. Yes, they could go out and throw a three-year, $12 million dollar deal at some sub-par lefty specialist and hope for the best, but that’s by no means the best way to approach this thing. Consider the following.
Trade for Aroldis Chapman (who departs in the trade is not important) and convert him into a LOOGY
Do you have any idea how left-handed hitters fared against the Big Somersault in 2012? Well, they were only allowed to face him 82 times in total, but in that sample size they managed just a cumulative .108/.195/.135 triple slash line, and 43 of them struck out — that’s over half of the total hitters he even faced from that side of the plate! Against right-handers, Chapman was much worse. They clobbered him to the tune of .154/.237/.264, which is good for a .228 wOBA. Can you imagine what kind of season Chapman would have had if the Reds had used him against left-handers only? Even if the Reds won’t trade him (they would; he’s still an undiscovered gem at the time of this writing), it’s doubtful Aroldis speaks much English and the two teams have very similarly colored uniforms; that’s just an innocent mix-up waiting to happen. We’d love to see what Joey Votto could do against his former teammate, who would likely be very confused on the mound as he pitched to him.
Use Jason Motte against everyone all the time
The Cardinals don’t need a second left-hander, because they already have someone on their roster who shuts down opposing lefties better than, well, everyone on the team, Rzepczynski included. In fact, if you look a look at the Cardinal pitcher statistics against left-handers in 2012 (we did), you’ll find that only Trevor Rosenthal managed to dominate left-handers as well as Motte — the two tied by holding opposite batting opponents to a .175 wOBA. Even more reason to love Trevor Rosenthal, as if StanGraphs hasn’t already given you enough of those already. Motte doesn’t like left-handers, and it shows in his statistics; he held them to a .122/.194/.187 line, and if that doesn’t point to an improved cutter, I don’t know what does. Rosenthal’s success is also impressive, but he faced nearly four times fewer left-handers than did Motte, so the sample size is tiny. Regardless, that success in a limited dose indicates he may well be a very good starting pitcher in the future.
Bring back J.C. Romero for another try
Okay, you got us. We thought we might have you fooled about our level of seriousness before, but you’re onto us now. No one in his right mind would ever suggest subjecting Cardinal fans to more of the Romero treatment, i.e. please step up to the plate and collect your complimentary meatball. We jest; it’s actually Brian Fuentes we’re stumping for a return from.
In all seriousness, look around the Cardinal bullpen. It’s filled with super nasty arms, and I’m not just talking about Jason Motte and Trevor Rosenthal. There are several guys in that bullpen already who can get left-handers out; what’s the big deal about importing a player who can do what so many already present on the roster can already do just because he throws from the other side of the mound?
Let’s revisit the versus lefties wOBA totals in 2012. Rzepczynski was solid enough against the 103 left-handers he faced (.304 wOBA) with one very important caveat: that ranked 12th on the team behind guys like Motte, Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, Barret Browning, Eduardo Sanchez, and Mark Mulder. Even Kyle Lohse did a better job of shutting down left-handers, and he pitched the whole season as a starter throwing right handed. There’s no question the Cardinals already have the right personnel to answer the bell whenever a left-hander steps up in a big situation late in games next season; it’s just a matter of utilizing the right resources and not bringing in J.C. Romero.
On the other hand, signing a potential mediocre reliever from the free agent market who just so happens to be left-handed may well bump a more-than-capable right-handed reliever off the team’s roster, a right-handed reliever who can get hitters from sides of the plate out. Unless the Cardinals are planning on bringing in Aroldis Chapman, perhaps they’d better stick with what they already have in the bullpen and just know that if they go with the right personnel in the right situations, opposing lefties will make plenty of outs — just as the righties will as well.