clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right, and Seven Righties Don't Make a Lefty

I'm really trying to give Joe Maddon the benefit of the doubt. I'm really trying to buy into the "Rays Way" of putting together a baseball team. But when I hear what I heard Wednesday morning, I start having doubts all over again.

The sticking point today is the Rays' insistence on not having a left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. In Wednesday's edition of the Tampa Tribune, Maddon says he'd like to have a lefty but he doesn't have to. Then he throws out one of the most baffling comments I've ever heard, even from Maddon; "Sometimes your best lefty is your best righty."

WAH?!? And sometimes your best quarterback is your best offensive lineman? Your best hockey goaltender is the fourth-line center? Excuse me? It sounds like Maddon is trying to bang a square peg into a round hole. I'm all for creative and different ways of approaching the game, but the fact is if you want to have a winning team in baseball you need a lefty in the bullpen.

There's no one explanation as to why left-handed hitters typically have trouble hitting against left-handed pitchers. My former radio show co-host Fred McGriff couldn't even explain why that was. As a left-handed hitter himself, McGriff couldn't see the release of the ball from a left-handed pitcher as easily as from a right-hander. On top of the tougher vision of the release point, the ball approaches you from a different angle. With the majority of pitchers being right-handed, the majority of pitches you see come from the third-base side of the mound. So a lefty will usually have some difficulty picking up the ball and adjusting his swing to the new angle of the pitch.

Even Maddon admits to this a bit, in the exact same article where he imagines a righty really being a lefty. "You only keep a lefty in the bullpen, for me, because he does get lefties out." Well someone get that man a cigar, I believe he's figured this whole "winning baseball" thing out.

With the dawn of Moneyball, Sabermetrics, and every other exact science applied to baseball in the past 20 or so years, there is still a simplicity to winning a baseball game: if you stop the other guys from scoring runs, you have a better chance of winning a game. So if you're a manager who wants to win games, and having a lefty in the bullpen will help you win games, why don't you want to have a lefty in the bullpen?

Dan Miceli and Ruddy Lugo did have more success against lefties than righties last season, but Miceli was injured most of the season and Lugo really didn't come around into being a decent pitcher until late in the season. Other relievers eligible for the magical transition from righty to lefty were horrible against left-handed hitters last year based on opponants batting average and earned run average. Brian Stokes (.302/4.85), Shawn Camp (.370/6.14), Seth McClung (.299/5.58), and Chad Orvella (.275/4.35) hardly have the numbers to support the no-lefty theory. Al Reyes had great numbers against lefties (.111/2.88) but that was in pre-surgery 2005 when he pitched 25 innings in 54 games. Juan Salas also had some good numbers (.200/2.70) but that was only in 6 2/3 innings pitched.

Jon Switzer is the only lefty up for this season's squad who had some experience last season. His numbers are similar to Salas' (.235/2.51 in 14 1/3 innings pitched), and they could be better if Maddon used him correctly. Often Maddon wouldn't call on Switzer to face a lefty in a crucial point in the game, and when he did he'd leave him in for several hitters when a righty should have been put in.

While there is an "i" in "Miceli" and "Switzer", there is still no "i" in "team". There's no secret the bullpen was a major letdown last season, and the entire pitching staff was ranked 27th against lefties. So why keep the status quo from last season when last season's bullpen structure didn't work?

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing that didn't work before over and over again, I'm willing to bet it will be another insane season when it comes to counting on the bullpen. Maddon knows a lefty or two can only help the bullpen, and if he doesn't want to be known as the next former Rays manager with a losing record it would be best for him to either use the lefties he has or beg management to get some he can use.

Oh, McGriff told me another thing about an all-right-handed pitching staff. When he saw a right-handed starter and/or a bullpen full of righties, as a left-handed hitter he would get a huge grin on his face while thinking, "We're gonna kill them!". If there isn't a change in thinking about the importance of a lefty in the bullpen, there could be some blood on the new carpet at Tropicana Field as left-handed hitters prepare to do some killing.