Tuesday, April 26, 2005


When do you need a LOOGY, and when do you need a pitcher?

Yesterday, I mulled for a moment what it means to be a lefty relief specialist. This moment of contemplation was inspired by an excellent apologia for Joe Horgan by Chris. The main thrust of Chris's post (or at least that portion of it) was---and correct me if I'm oversimplifying:

a) Horgan's been crunked up by righties; but,
b) has been pretty darned fine versus lefties; and when you consider,
c) his job was to get lefties out; then,
c) while he wasn't stellar by any means, he was largely doing his job.

I think it's a very good defense, and it goes toward a larger concern, which is the (often shoddy) way Frank Robinson utilizes his resources. And Robinson certainly did let Horgan tay ina win on Saturday.

But the whole thing got me thinking about what it means to be a LOOGY. What is precisely the LOOGY's role? Yesterday, I theorized that Steve Treder of the Hardball Times would have some valuable input on the subject.

Today, in Part II of his "LOOGY" series, Treder provides just that: valuable input. Read the article for a better understanding of that to which he refers, especially some of his definitions, with which you might or might not agree; regardless, it's worth a read.

Here's one of his final "factual observations" near the end of Part II:

A basic precept of the rules of baseball has a huge bearing here: a relief pitcher entering the game is required to face at least one batter to the conclusion of the at-bat, but the offensive team is allowed to pinch-hit at will. What this means is that, while a LOOGY is almost
always brought in to face a left-handed batter, the offense frequently responds by pinch-hitting a right-handed batter. (Another basic fact of life is relevant here too: most batters, like most people, are right-handed.) What this means is that LOOGYs in practice don't actually face only left-handed batters. Even the most extreme of hard-core LOOGYs face a significant proportion of righties, and overall, most LOOGYs face right-handed batters most of the time. (Mike Myers,
the hardest of Hard-Core LOOGYs, with 0.61 innings/appearance over his 684-game career through 2004, has faced 48% right-handed batters, and the percentage is much higher than that for nearly every other LOOGY.) It is the case that no category of southpaw pitchers enjoys the platoon advantage more frequently than LOOGYs. But it must be acknowledged that even though the LOOGY is a role designed entirely as a means of exploiting the platoon advantage, it does not do so, to a very great extent of the time.

(emphasis added)

Now, this is valuable research. I've long wondering exactly what percentage of time a given LOOGY is handed the platoon advantage. I suppose I could do the work myself or pay for the info, but you know, that's why the Steve Treders of the world exist.

One cannot presume too much based on one study (even if it's pretty long and looks competently done), but I'd say it's safe to say that:

* a LOOGY is a guy whose role, as a factual matter, is most tied to the platoon advantage; but,
* a LOOGY, by circumstance, must be a viable pitcher against the platoon advantage in order to be an asset to a team.

But these observations in no way obviate Chris's larger point that Frankie Boy just wasn't putting Horgan in opportunities to succeed. Combine that with Horgan's obvious mechanical problems, and we've got a big pot of Disaster brewing.

One more thing: Treder also makes the (somewhat obvious) case that LOOGYs nowadays are not anything special as pitchers; if they were, they sure wouldn't be protected with the platoon advantage to an artificial extent. To that end, Josh of Nationals Review sees nothing exemplary about Horgan. He's got a point. I've looked at Horgan's career numbers previously, but to summarize: there's not much there. In fact, it's fairly miraculous he got a shot last year. And his work in Montreal was a bit shakier than the 3.15 ERA might imply. Check out the walk rate, for instance.

Still, Horgan wouldn't be the first reliever to put it together after an uneven minor league career. He'll probably get another chance, and that won't hurt anybody---might even help poor old Joey Eischen's left arm.

But, correct deployment of a LOOGY doesn't bring him in just to face, say, Brian Schneider -- you pinch hit for Schneider.

A correctly deployed LOOGY will face people like Bob Abreu, Jim Thome or Eric Chavez -- lefty mashers who are markedly worse against righties but who are either too good (or too high in stature) to be lifted for a pinch hitter.
Yuda beat me to it.

Horgan's a LOOGY. Whereas Eischen's a left-handed pitcher.

Their roles are slightly different.

And, if you look at his career splits, he's been moderately effective against righties-- enough so that you'd leave him in against weaker righties.

The problem I had with his usage was that Frank was leaving him out there for long stretches of righties, with nary a lefty in sight.

A managers job is to put his players in a position to maximize their skills. Frank failed in that with his usage of Horgan.

You're also right in that his stats indicate he's nothing extraordinary and that his ERA was artificially low. But...

He has had success in getting the opposing team's top left-handed hitters out. And, because he's probably facing better lefties, he's probably facing hitters more likely to walk, or at least to be pitched around, depending on the situation.

That's all conjecture, based on how Frank used Horgan early in the season, which I would assume was the way he was used last year, leading to those stats.
Just a random thought (unsupported by data or research, which makes me a card-carrying Washingtonian) ...

Any chance that guys like Horgan and Ohka aren't FRobby's "guys" - as opposed to Bowden's guys - meaning that when they begin to crisp he lets them burn?
That begs the question of whether there is a standard, correct deployment of a LOOGY, though, and, if so, whether that is acted upon generally by major league managers.

When Mike Myers faces 48% RH batters over the course of his LOOGY-laden career, I'm guessing there's a good bit of pinch-hitting for Brian Schneider going on, too.

But, yes, a LOOGY's best use would appear to be to knock out the opposition's lefty slugger(s). See, e.g., Jesse Orosco v. Barry Bonds a few years ago. That also contributes to worse-than-expected numbers, considering you're going to face an elite hitter more often than normal.

Treder's look is definitely worth a read, at any rate.
Connatstant Lurker: That's a good question. Presumably, there's a greater connection between Frank and the bulk of the players, considering he's managed many/most of them. Maybe the two you cite are "Omar's guys," though; I don't really know.
Playing armchair psychologist here....

If you watch Ohka pitch you could understand why Frank wouldn't like him.

He has the worst body language I've ever seen from a pitcher... Just very timid and unconfident. He fidgeted a lot on the mound too --not the way David Wells does when he tries to readjust his loose skin.

Older guys like Frank can't stand that sorta stuff.

Plus, he's probably still pissed about WWII.
Okha or Frank. What are you implying? ;-)

Seriously, from past observations (i.e., Screw you, Angelos!), I'd say Okha looks "dour" out there. This question isn't meant to be insensitive, but could that be a "cultural" thing? I don't remember Hideo Nomo doing kick-stands, even when he was throwing no-hitters in Colorado and crap like that.
I was thinking the same sort of thing too.

He just looks indifferent and that matters to managers, for some reason.

But, Ohka also has a look of hesitation. If we ever see him again, watch for that big suck of breath he takes while on the mound. And his nervous tics.

It's sometimes hard to see on TV bc they're too busy cutting to shorts of the batter's nosehairs, but if you're in person you'll see what I mean.
Yeah, you're right. I recall he's a "gusty breather" out there.

But the important question, Chris, is if you were implying Frank was a Nazi!
No... not a nazi... Membership in Hitler's Youth was compulsory.

OH! You meant FRANK! Not the Pope!
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