Lefties who are not Lefties

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When most people think of a lefty reliever they think of a match-up pitcher
that trots out of the bullpen to pitch to one better and then to disappear
never to be seen from again in the game. Last season the Nationals had three
left handed relievers, but only one of them was occasionally used as a match-up
pitcher and that was Mike Gonzalez. In 21 of his 47 outings he pitched less
than one inning, but that still means in most of them he was not used as a
match-up pitcher. In fact Mike Gonzalez faced one more right handed batter on
the season than he did left handed batters meaning that he essentially was not
a match-up pitcher even though his splits of an .836 OPS against to right
handers vs. .525 to left handers indicates that he should have been.    

Coming into this season the Nationals
didn’t think they were going to need a match-up pitcher. They did win 98 games
in 2012 without one and by signing Soriano basically replaced Burnett in the
set-up or seventh inning role with Clippard and/or Storen, and had Zach Duke
taking Tom Gorzelanny’s place as a long reliever. Mike Gonzalez’s role was
going to be filled by Ryan Mattheus. If the Nats needed someone to pitch the
sixth he was going to be the man and then they would use Storen, Clippard,
Soriano to finish the game out.  

A few things have gone wrong with this
plan. First Drew Storen has waged war with the BABIP gods all season. His 2013
BABIP is .361 compared to a career average of .281. This has led him to have an
unsightly 4.18 ERA. That should come down as his luck adjusts, but it doesn’t
change the fact that Storen has blown saves so far this season, and Clippard
has taken over as the main set-up man which brings us to our next issue. Tyler
Clippard has always been a high pitch reliever averaging 19 pitches per
appearance for his career and 18 this season. Often Clippard needs upwards of
25-30 pitches to get through an inning which makes him an every other day
reliever and not an ideal pitcher for a set-up role.   

With those two issues at the back of the
bullpen, the injury to Ryan Mattheus, and the complete ineffectiveness of Henry
Rodriguez and Zach Duke the Nats bullpen was reshuffled. Enter Erik Davis,
Fernando Abad, and Ian Krol. Two of the three are left handed and the other,
Erik Davis, has held left handed batters to a .594 OPS in the minors this
season. All three are effective against left handed batters, but they are also
effective against all batters. Both Abad and Krol have thrown in the high 90s
in their limited time in the majors and lefties that do that are rare and offer
a different look to right handers causing them to be just as effective to right
handed batters as left.  

Krol in his one outing averaged 94.5 on his fastball and in his seven
outings Abad has averaged 92.8. There were 62 relievers in baseball that
finished with a velocity higher than Abad’s averaged and 27 higher than Krol’s.
Few of them were left handers, and the ones that were set-up men or closers
like Pedro Strop, Jonny Venters, Matt Thornton, and Aroldis Chapman. Having two
left handers in the bullpen that can amp it up that fast is a valuable weapon
and one that will limit right handers as much as it does left handers. Abad
with the Astros had a fastball that averaged around 90. The extra two MPH he
was able to add have made him far more effective and before coming to the
majors this season he held AAA right handers to a .419 OPS which is actually
better than the .610 left handers hit off of him. Krol in AA held right handers
to a .625 OPS against which is good, but he held left handers to a .311 OPS
which is phenomenal.  

Both Krol and Abad look like they may be left
handed, but not left handed relievers. They have both shown effectiveness
against left handers and right handers this season in the majors and minors, and
if the glimpses we’ve seen from either turn out to be true then the Nationals
have much more than a simple match-up pitcher on their hands. This would give
the Nationals the ability to play match-up without using match-up pitchers. If
more left handers are due up in the sixth inning in comes Krol, and in the
seventh enter Abad. Having them be effective versus batters from both sides of
the plate allows the Nationals to still seek the platoon advantage in an inning
that contains two or more left handed batters while keeping them from using two
or even three relievers to play match-ups and get through just one inning. The fewer
pitchers a team can use a night the better the chance that one of them doesn’t
have a meltdown. If Abad and Krol can continue what they have done so far this
season the Nationals appear to have two left handed relievers who are not left
handed specialists.

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