Scouting The Trade Market: LOOGY’s

Derek Jeter claims his place atop the lineup
The Great What If?

The Yankees’ perpetual search for a reliable left-handed reliever continues right before the trade deadline despite the millions and millions of dollars they’ve poured into players they thought were the solution. Part of the problem is that they’re chasing a unicorn, consistent and reliable relief specialists just don’t exist. By nature, their job is a small sample, and weird stuff can happen in small samples. Relievers are volatile, it’s just the way it is.

But still, that won’t stop them from scouring the trade market for a LOOGY before Sunday’s deadline. George King wrote today that the Orioles and Cubs had scouts at Yankee Stadium for last night’s game, fueling speculation about interest in Mike Gonzalez and John Grabow. This doesn’t pass the sniff test though, it seems very unlikely that the Yankees (or any team) would give up someone off their big league roster for those two relievers. Let’s explore them anything just because they’re very much available and appear to fill a need. King throws the names of Will Ohman and Randy Choate into the ring as well, so let’s tackle them too…

Randy Choate, Marlins

Another lefty batters meets his demise.

Here’s the guy the Yankees needed to sign this past offseason, not Pedro Feliciano. Even if Feliciano didn’t get hurt and was able to pitch this year, Choate is still straight up better. He’s faced 62 left-handed batters this year and ten have reached base. Seven have gotten hits (just two extra-base hits, both doubles), two have walked, and one was hit by a pitch. That works out to a .121/.164/.155 batting line, and he also has 23 strikeouts and a 64.7% ground ball rate against same-side hitters. It’s not a total fluke, Choate’s been doing this since he resurfaced in 2009. Because he’s signed through next year for dirt cheap (two-year deal worth $2.5M total), the Marlins aren’t desperate to give him away. It’ll take a decent prospect to pry Choate from Florida.

Mike Gonzalez, Orioles

The Orioles’ fail at a lot of things, but giving Gonzalez two years and $12M was as bad as decisions get. He was hurt and ineffective last year, though at least this season he’s provided some value as a situational lefty. He’s held left-handed batters to a .229/.280/.357 batting line with 18 strikeouts and 51% ground balls in 75 plate appearances. The Yankees (or any team, really) could probably get him for next to nothing, just some salary relief and a Grade-C prospect, if that. It’s worth nothing that Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano are very close friends from their days with the Braves, so perhaps having a buddy around lightens Soriano up and helps him pitch better.

John Grabow, Cubs

Another ill-advised multi-year deal for a lefty reliever, Grabow is making $4.8M this season, the second year of his two-year, $7.5M deal. In return for that investment, the Cubbies have gotten a 6.00 ERA in 69 IP since the start of 2010. Grabow’s value comes as a pure LOOGY since he can’t get righties out. He’s held same-side hitters to a .238/.314/.365 batting line with just 11 strikeouts and 41.2% grounders in 71 plate appearances. He’s another guy the Yankees could probably acquire for little more than salary relief, but there’s a reason he’d come some cheap. He’s just not very good.

Will Oh(tobeleft-handed)man

Will Ohman, White Sox

The White Sox are a bad week away from blowing up the team, and Ohman is one of their few marketable pieces. He’s holding lefties to a .204/.283/.315 batting line with 20 strikeouts and 41.2% grounders in 61 plate appearances this year, but his contract is a bit of red flag. Ohman is making just $1.5M this year but is under contract for $2.5M next season as well. He’s not a rental, and although that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s less than ideal. The Yankees have enough money tied up in lefties as it is, even with Kei Igawa and Damaso Marte coming off the books after the season.

Since I know people are going to ask, yes there’s also Matt Thornton. He’s been one of the game’s best relievers over the last few seasons regardless of handedness, and he’s managed to regain that form somewhat after an early season hiccup. Left-handers are hitting .302/.333/.377 off him this year, but they’ve had sub-.600 OPSes off him the last two years. Thornton is owed $5.5M in 2012 and 2013 before a $1M buyout of his $6M option for 2014 comes into play. He’s not young remember, that contract will take him through his age 37 season assuming the option is declined. It’s easy to forget that you’re not trading for 2008-2010 Matt Thornton, you’re trading for the 2011-2013 version.

* * *

The Yankees still have J.C. Romero tucked away in Triple-A, and he’s performed well in limited action. He’s faced 13 lefties for Scranton and just two have reached base (a hit and a walk) against three strikeouts and eight ground outs (that means zero fly balls). Romero has been effective against lefties in recent years, in between DL stints that is. I’m kinda surprised they haven’t called him up yet just to see what they have before deciding to pull the trigger on a trade, but it’s entirely possible his stuff and command are awful and the numbers against lefties in Triple-A are the function of a small sample size. Either way, I expect their to be a new lefty reliever on the roster one week from today.

Derek Jeter claims his place atop the lineup
The Great What If?
  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    Because he’s signed through next year for dirt cheap (two-year deal worth $2.5M total), the Marlins aren’t desperate to give him away. It’ll take a decent prospect to pry Choate from Florida.

    D.J. Mitchell? He’s got the upside of possibly sticking in the rotation, but he’s not so surefire of a thing that it would be a traveshamockery to trade him for just a reliever.

    •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      Considering Choate’s effectiveness and contract, I’d be down with that.

  • Andy

    Mike, there’s also a guy named Aaron Laffey on the Mariners with good numbers versus lefties I believe. And also there is Sergio Escalona of the Astros- they should be cheap.

    • Rick in Boston

      But neither team has reason to move either of them. They are both dirt cheap and still under team control.

    • Crime Dog

      Yeah I cant see the Yanks choosing Laffet or Escalona over Romero, who comes a lot cheaper (just salary)

  • Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost

    Maybe Girardi will call Chad Gaudin to see if he will pitch left handed for the rest of the season.

  • Oscar Gamble’s Fro

    What’s Marte’s status? Any chance he’s back this year?

    Surprised Romero hasn’t been up given what he’s done in the minors and his history. Odd that they picked him up, if they don’t plan on using him.

    Pet peeve: Hate “LOOGY.” Wish people could just say “lefty specialist.” Carry on, don’t mind me.

  • Deadhorse25

    I’d try and get Matt Thornton along with Edwin Jackson, but if That didnt work out then I’d try and get Choate since he shuts lefties down

  • Mister Delaware

    Rather just bring up Romero as a true specialist than give anything (short of Igawa, I guess) for an outside lefty.

  • YankeesJunkie

    LOOGYs are at best sixth relievers on a team and I am sick of the Yankees wasting money on a type of reliever that is not necessary considering most of them of lack the ability to get opposite handed hitters out.

    •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      When you have a good one, like Choate, they can be a valuable weapon in any pen. You never know. That one guy they face could be the biggest out of the ballgame.

      • Mike Axisa

        Sure, when you have a good one they can be a great weapon. But we see managers bring in inferior pitchers to face good batters just because they happen to be left-handed.

        Big spot in the seventh inning with Adrian Gonzalez at the plate? David Robertson is the man for the job, not Boone Logan or J.C. Romero.

        • Mike D.

          Or the 2009 WS Damaso Marte…

          •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

            Or the 1996 Graeme Lloyd. I’m not necessarily condoning throwing a Felix Heredia out there in a big spot, just because he happens to be lefty, but the effective ones can really be useful in a certain spot. At least have the option there.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Big spot in the seventh inning with Adrian Gonzalez at the plate? David Robertson is the man for the job, not Boone Logan or J.C. Romero.

          Sure, but what if the big spot in the 7th inning comes with Carl Crawford or J.D. Drew at the plate? Both those lefties have pretty significant platoon splits; if you use Logan or Romero to retire one of them, you can save DRob for the 8th when Gonzalez comes up to bat again.

          We do see managers bring in inferior lefties to face good batters just because they happen to be left handed, but it’s primarily because several good hitters who happen to be left-handed struggle mightily against lefty pitchers (good ones, bad ones, and in-between ones).

          Having a decent LOOGY doesn’t preclude Girardi from bringing in David Robertson in a big spot to pitch to a tough lefty, but it does give him more options to maybe not have to bring in David Robertson in a big spot to pitch to a not-so-tough lefty who has a demonstrable platoon split and will likely struggle to make good contact against an inferior pitcher simply because that pitcher throws left handed.

          • YankeesJunkie

            Honestly, unless you have a high end LOOGY who has a sub 2 FIP then you put your best reliever even if that means using Robertson for 4 or 5 outs.

            •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

              Sub 2 FIPs are for chumps. Choate’s rocking a sub 1 FIP to lefties.

          •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

            This. All of this.

        • CP

          Robertson Career vs Lefties: .240/.335/.364/.699
          Logan Career vs Lefties: .248/.321/.368/.688

          Gonzalez Career vs Righties: .303/.387/.550/.938
          Gonzalez Career vs Lefties: .265/.340/.434/.775

          The data suggest that Boone Logan is the right person to face Gonzalez in a big situation.

      • YankeesJunkie

        Even at their best especially on a playoff contender at best their usefulness is 4th or 5th behind the closer and two set up men. However, teams act like they need a LOOGY, when they are probably better off getting another set up man.

        • Cris Pengiuci

          Right. You don’t need a LOOGY, but you do need a guy you can count on to retire that hot lefty coming to the plate. Could be a lefty reliever, or someone like Robertson. Somewhat depends on the inning.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            And since LOOGYs that can retire a hot lefty at the plate are generally more available on the open market and/or cost less via trade than stud relievers like David Robertson who can retire both hot lefties and hot righties, it makes sense to target a LOOGY addition to the bullpen instead of trying to find another David Robertson addition to the pen.

            • YankeesJunkie

              While elite relievers are hard to find I’d still rather have Noesi than Logan in tough spot and even if the Yanks got someone like Choate he would be useful

              a. 1 tough at bat versus a lefty
              b. 2 or 3 lefties stacked together that are not going to get pulled

              The fact of the matter is a LOOGY is only going to be extremely valuable in these couple of situations where you could easily replace with a good set up man.However, if the LOOGY is decent against right handers say sub 4 FIP then that lefty reliever actually becomes a threat to come in and face 5 batters that have 2 or 3 tough lefties in that part. Although at this time it seems who the Yankees are pursuing don’t have the ability. The who idea of getting one player for what it seems a handful of games seems completely contrived and waste of a roster spot especially considering that is not overly difficult to find someone in the minors that could pitch effectively in the pen.

              •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

                “…considering that is not overly difficult to find someone in the minors that could pitch effectively in the pen.”

                When’s the last time the Yanks brought up a lefty that could pitch effectively out of the pen?

                • YankeesJunkie

                  Any pitcher regardless of handedness into a relief role.

                  •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

                    Handedness is a key component to a LOOGY.

                  • CP

                    Except the original premise isn’t true. There are tons of mediocre to bad relievers in the majors. That wouldn’t happen if they were so easy to find. Specifically, it’s very, very hard to find a right handed reliever better against lefties than a typical LOOGY – just look at the splits between Robertson and Logan.

                    Is a team better with a LOOGY that can get out the one (or maybe two) tough lefties in a game, or have some random, crappy righthanded reliever that can pitch in blowouts? I don’t think anyone would argue that a LOOGY is more important than a quality reliever, but they’re certainly more useful than someone like Luis Ayala – which is the type of pitcher they’d likely replace on the roster.

            • Cris Pengiuci

              However, if the entire bullpen were healthy and performing to expectations (Soriano and Chamberlain), we wouldn’t necessarily need to add a LOOGY. That ‘pen looked awesome at the beginning of the season. Logan could have been used on a very occasional basis and we probably weouldn’t be having this discussion, even with Felciano going down.

        • CP

          at best their usefulness is 4th or 5th behind the closer and two set up men.

          Agree, although it does depend somewhat on the specific pitchers involved.

          However, teams act like they need a LOOGY, when they are probably better off getting another set up man.

          They act like they need a LOOGY more than a mediocre back of the pen right handed reliever. Which agrees with the premise that they’re the 4th or 5th most important reliever.

  • Mike D.

    Andy brought up Aaron Laffey and Sergio Escalona. Here are some write-ups on them from my blog:

    Although Laffey is no big-name reliever, he is quietly having himself a very strong season with the Mariners. This year, lefties are hitting a mere .190 against him, compared to righties hitting .322. Therefore, Laffey is your typical lefty specialist. Laffey primarily throws an 88 mph sinker, and is a ground-ball pitcher, with a 1.10 Ground Ball/Fly Ball ratio. His secondary pitches include an above average slider and change-up. Considering how well Laffey has done this year versus lefties, he would be very helpful indeed to the Yankees. CONTRACT: Signed through 2011, 1 yr/432K, Arb. Eligible in 2012, Free Agent in 2015

    Escalona has only been in the majors for 2 years, but his numbers against lefties have been fantastic. They hit only .170 against him, and get this: he’s only given up 1 lefty extra-base hit in 2 years. As a result, lefties only have a .226 SLG against Escalona. He had a 4?s ERA last year, but its done to 2.43 this year. I doubt many people have heard of Sergio Escalona, but he looks like a viable option to get lefties out, and I can’t imagine the price tag of a trade being very high. CONTRACT: Pre-Arb Eligible, Arb Eligible in 2013, Free Agent in 2016

    I prefer Choate, but these guys seem like very cheap alternatives (but are good).

    • Rick in Boston

      While I agree both look good, neither team is really going to want to trade either guys. They both are under team control, and in Laffey’s case, it wouldn’t surprise me if his raise is still below $1 million.

  • http://none Favrest

    Brandon Laird for Randy Choate. I like it.

    • Mike D.

      Is that legit or just speculation?

      •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        “…the Marlins aren’t desperate to give him away. It’ll take a decent prospect to pry Choate from Florida.”

        Take a wild guess.

        • ADam

          I wouldn’t part with anything higher than Noesi for any LOOGY

          • CS Yankee

            I would not trade Noesi for a LOOGY, unless such LOOGY was “95 randy Johnson” out of the pen-like.

      • http://none Favrest

        I’m sorry, I’d like to see that happen. No trade has been made.

  • Preston

    A healthy and affective Soriano would render our Loogy much less important. I don’t condone trading prospects for relievers. If Gonzalez can really be had for only money and his medicals look alright than take a flier. If not we have enough arms for the pen. Especially considering that in the post-season Nova and one of our other starters will probably be available out there. What we need is a 1A starter to complement CC. But I don’t think anyone like that is available in a trade. In house Colon has been that the majority of the season. Hopefully at some point Phil could start approximating that kind of production.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Healthy/effective Soriano plus DRob with a changeup to lefties. Nothing else needed.

    No need for a loogy unless it means Cervelli is gone in a trade and Montero is up.

    • CS Yankee

      Agree that nothing else is needed, however wants trump needs in our lives…
      9) Mo
      8) So
      7) Ro (or high leverage)
      MRP 1) Wade
      MRP 2) Noesi
      MRP 3) Ayala
      SP) The current five

      Still have another spot (assuming a 12-man staff) so a LOOGY for the sake of having one is no big deal, but a good luxary with the “3” healthy and effective.

      If they can get a better “Boone”, they should do it but not give up a top 20 prospect in doing so, IMHO.

      I’m just about “there” on Montero as well. Cashman should call him and tell him that he needs to continue to perform for another week and he’ll call him up for a chance as long as he is not traded before then. Add a little pre-MLB pressure and see if he is mature to put the noise behind him and rake.

      • CS Yankee

        The happy face on number eight is kind of ironic, as he has only made Boras smile this year.

  • http://none Favrest

    Soriano had a great contract year, and we handed out one of the worst free agents in Yankee history. Danny Tartabull, Kenny Rogers, Kei Igawa and Rafael Soriano. If we trade anyone, please let it be Soriano.