Joe Maddon & The Left-Handed Specialist

"But overall, just continue to work on getting better against righties, because he's going to need to face some as the season gets going along." --Joe Maddon on Randy Choate

 

Just what you all wanted to read, I'm sure. At this point, some do not want to Randy Choate face any batters, regardless of hand. However, I don't expect the lefty-on-lefty crime to continue, so back to the quote. 

There are two ways to take Maddon's comments: 1) you can take them at face value and Choate will be used in situations that ultimately slant the bar in the opposition's favor. Or 2) Knowing Maddon won't publicly trash a player and say "Randy Choate sucks verses right-handers", he is just giving his player a public vote of confidence without really planning on using him that way.

The practice makes perfect approach works in plenty other examples of everyday life. My daughter is practicing writing lower-case letters, and each day she gets better. However, the chances of Randy Choate facing more right-handed batters at the major league level and actually becoming successful against them are not very high. At the very least it's not an experiment I want to see attempted; not during the franchise's most important season.

Either way, Choate's usage has been the hot topic of the early season. With that in mind, here is a look at how Maddon has used the lefties in his bullpen since becoming the Rays manager.

Going back to Maddon's first season of 2006, six lefties (seven occurrences) have pitched at least 20 relief innings for Maddon. Jon Switzer was Maddon's inaugural left-handed specialist - although he wasn't really used as one.

Switzer

% Used

AVG

OBP

SLG

vs RHB

63

.321

.412

.500

vs LHB

37

.220

.310

.340

Despite the .262 point OPS differential from lefties to righties, nearly two-thirds of Switzer's plate appearances were against right-handed batters. In Maddon's defense the 2006 team wasn't that good, and just 34 of Switzer's 157 plate appearances against came in high-leverage situations.

The historically bad Rays' bullpen of 2007 did not have a lefty specialist, per se. However, left-handed Casey Fossum did toss 30 games in relief that season.

Fossum

% Used

AVG

OBP

SLG

vs RHB

62.5

.322

.387

.545

vs LHB

37.5

.369

.403

.550

*note numbers include 10 starts*

Ok, I'm willing to give Maddon a pass on Fossum, who was just flat out terrible. I know that's not a valid argument on this site, but a quick glance of the numbers above back that statement.

In 2008, Maddon was awarded two lefties in the bullpen. The Rays transitioned J.P. Howell from failed starter to reliever with great success. In 2008, J.P. was fantastic against both sides of the plate. To this day he continues to be the key cog of the Rays' pen even in his absence. The other lefty was former Devil Ray, Trever Miller, who was brought back to serve as the traditional LOOGY.

Howell

% Used

AVG

OBP

SLG

vs RHB

63

.197

.290

.315

vs LHB

37

.188

.286

.248

Miller

% Used

AVG

OBP

SLG

vs RHB

43

.286

.383

.400

vs LHB

57

.209

.305

.308

Once again, how good was J.P. Howell in 2008? The answer: Simply magnificent. Trever Miller wasn't too shabby either. More often than not he was used in the right situation. The 81 plate appearances against righties is a bit much, but that includes some garbage time appearances.

Last season the Rays employed two lefties for most of the season, however, during the final six weeks or so there were three lefties in the bullpen. Brian Shouse was signed to be the traditional lefty-specialist, but battled elbow issues early on. Randy Choate took his place and became a fixture in the Rays pen. J.P. Howell continued to throw with his left arm, but was used as a late inning reliever regardless of the batters preference.

Howell

% Used

AVG

OBP

SLG

vs RHB

69

.159

.293

.315

vs LHB

31

.280

.372

.400

Shouse

% Used

AVG

OBP

SLG

vs RHB

43

.356

.442

.622

vs LHB

57

.224

.246

.373

Choate

% Used

AVG

OBP

SLG

vs RHB

42

.321

.390

.491

vs LHB

58

.141

.193

.192

Both Shouse and Choate were very good at their job. They minimized left-handed batters (Choate especially), while getting lit-up by the opposite hand. Also remember that sometimes a LOOGY will have to bite the bullet in a blow out and toss multiple innings regardless of the batter so that could skew the numbers.

All in all, Maddon has used the traditional lefty in the right way around 60% of the time which brings us to 2010.

There is nothing in Choate's career numbers against righties (.276/.387/.402, 4.85 FIP) that suggests he will improve against them at age 34. That said, hopefully Maddon's comments were just lip service. Even if he was serious, the Rays pen at full strength with J.P. Howell and Joaquin Benoit would give Maddon four or five options with better platoon splits to use before Choate. Until then, try not to hate the player, although Choate is not making that easy.

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