Thursday, April 5, 2012

O's lack left-handed relief options

The Orioles made the interesting decision yesterday to put Darren O'Day on the roster instead of Zach Phillips, who will start the season in Triple-A Norfolk. Without Phillips in the bullpen, Troy Patton will be the team's only left-handed reliever. On top of that, Patton may end up as the long man in the bullpen, meaning the O's could be forced to use a lot of right-handed pitching to get opposing lefties out.

Dan Duquette, though, doesn't seem to think that's a problem. Here's a quick comment, courtesy of The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly:
All right, well let's see if that's accurate. Besides Patton, here's what the rest of the bullpen will look like on opening day: Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, Pedro Strop, O'Day, and Luis Ayala. Let's look at their abilities when facing lefties (listed as FIP/xFIP -- ERA is not available for R/L splits):

Johnson: 3.47/3.98 (128.2 innings)
Gregg: 3.70/4.16 (282.1 innings)
Lindstrom: 4.18/4.33 (122.1 innings)
Strop: 4.05/4.22 (19 innings)
O'Day: 4.25/3.89 (64.2 innings)
Ayala: 4.71/4.55 (183.1 innings)

That's actually not as bad as I was expecting. It's not surprising that Johnson has decent numbers against lefties since he's the O's best reliever, but besides Ayala, no one in the group is particularly terrible. I expected at least a couple of them being in the high-4s, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Still, none of these guys is overly adept at retiring lefties, which is something every good bullpen needs.

Just because a guy is a lefty doesn't mean he's effective against left-handed hitters, but lefties do have a natural advantage over other lefties. In 18 innings against lefties, Patton has a 2.40/4.56 line. But neither Patton (43.1 career innings) nor Phillips (8 career innings) has extended major-league experience, and those seem to be the best two lefty relief options right now. And that's also why the O's scooped up Dontrelle Willis when he was released by the Phillies a few weeks ago. In 225.1 career innings against lefties, Willis has a line of 2.50/2.88. So if he can demonstrate some amount of control in Norfolk while the O's struggle to retire lefties, Willis could very well be in Baltimore in a matter of weeks.

Coincidentally, former Orioles reliever Clay Rapada made the Yankees' 25-man roster. Rapada, a lefty one-out guy, has a 2.28/2.59 line in 34.2 innings against lefties. While it's a luxury to be able to carry a guy like that in the bullpen, the O's also don't have anyone on their active roster who's even close to being that effective against lefties. So when the game is on the line and an opposing left-handed hitter steps to the plate, the O's may be in some trouble.

For what it's worth, Andy MacPhail deserves some criticism. He was the guy who not only signed Gregg, but signed him to a two-year deal when it absolutely wasn't necessary. The only thing keeping Gregg on this team is his contract, and if not for that, Phillips would probably be on the team right now. So thanks for that, Andy.