When I was learning to play the game of golf, my grandpa used to always tell me that each shot counts the same, whether it was a 300-yard drive or an 18-inch putt. The idea was that if you don’t focus and make that 18-inch putt, it still counts as another stroke on the scorecard, regardless of how seemingly insignificant it is. This logic makes perfect sense in golf, and was especially helpful to a young man who liked to hit the ball really far without worrying so much about the little things.
So why is it so important for the Texas Rangers to find a quality LOOGY? Let me stop here and clarify what a LOOGY is. According to Baseball Prospectus’s glossary, a LOOGY is:
“Lefty One Out GuY – a left handed reliever specializing in getting one out, often in game critical situations”.
So this is essentially one player out of 25, stored on the roster with the specific intention of getting one, or possibly two, outs in a game. Unlike my grandpa’s logic about golf, sometimes these one or two outs are worth more than the remainder of the 27 in a baseball game.
Texas Rangers fans who were paying attention during the 2010 and 2011 World Series fully understand the value of a good LOOGY. Javier Lopez of the San Francisco Giants, and Marc Rzepczynski (or “Scrabble”) of the St. Louis Cardinals filled and completed their roles as a LOOGY to near perfection.
2010 World Series Game 2 – The Rangers had fallen behind 2-0, and were in the top of the 8th inning with Elvis Andrus at 2nd base and AL MVP Josh Hamilton representing the tying run at the plate. The Giants made the move to pull starting pitcher Matt Cain and bring in Javier Lopez to face Hamilton. Lopez induced a fly out from Hamilton, getting the Giants out of the late inning jam. According to Fangraphs WPA (Win Probability Added), this one out improved the Giants odds of winning that game from 90.5% to 94.5%. Lopez did more in terms of WPA to contribute to the Giants victory than all but three players on their team, and he only threw two pitches.
2011 World Series Game 1 – Once again, the Rangers were behind, but this time it was a 3-2 deficit to the St. Louis Cardinals and in the top of the 7th inning. After an Adrian Beltre ground out, Nelson Cruz singled and Mike Napoli walked to put runners at 1st and 2nd base with just one out, and David Murphy coming up to bat. Tony La Russa brought in Mark Rzepczynski to face Murphy, leveraging the left-on-left matchup. Ron Washington responded by pinch-hitting for Murphy with Craig Gentry, who looked entirely overmatched in a strikeout. Rzepczynski then quickly dispatched of the pinch-hitting Esteban German, safely breaking the Cardinals free from what could have been a pivotal inning in the game. According to Fangraphs, Rzepcynski did more in terms of WPA than any other pitcher in this game, increasing the Cardinals odds of victory 17%. He faced two batters, and threw 7 pitches.
There is no clear candidate on the Texas Rangers for a LOOGY, currently. According to TR Sullivan, the Rangers have all but locked in six spots in their bullpen for right-handers Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Mark Lowe, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara and Scott Feldman. In what will likely be a 7-man bullpen, that leaves one remaining spot for a left-handed reliever, or, if one does not present a convincing case in Spring Training, that spot will be likely be filled by sidearm right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama (who is not successful in getting left-handed hitters out).
The feeling for most of the offseason was that the Rangers would bring back Mike Gonzalez, who was effective in his short stint as the Rangers LOOGY in 2011. As Mark Hock of Rant Sports wrote recently, the Rangers only offered Gonzalez a minor league deal in 2012, which he justifiably refused. The good news for the Rangers is that Adams (career .537 OPS against by LH) and Uehara (career .649 OPS against by LH) have track records of success against left-handed hitters, despite being right-handed pitchers.
The Rangers have nine potential candidates in camp to fill the LOOGY role. The current leader in the clubhouse for the role is Michael Kirkman, followed by Mitch Stetter, Joe Beimel, Ben Snyder, Neal Cotts, and minor leaguers Kelvin De La Cruz, Robbie Ross, Miguel De Los Santos, and Martin Perez. Each of these lefties will have a shot at a role in the bullpen with the big league club, and depending on their success through the season, we may see a revolving door of left-handers throughout the year.
The LOOGY role has a funny name and limited usage opportunities. However, if the Texas Rangers plan to make another extended run into the playoffs, whoever fills that role will be a critical piece to the success of the club’s 2012 endeavor. The road to the World Series will be littered with dangerous left-handed hitters such as Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, David Ortiz, and the new masher to the AL: Prince Fielder.