How often do LOOGYs get matchup edge?

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
12:39
PM ET
In this era of bullpen specialization and rising salaries, it's perhaps no surprise that even LOOGYs -- shorthand for left-handed one-out guys -- are starting to get handsomely rewarded. The Rockies just signed Boone Logan to a three-year, $16.5 million contract; earlier, the Giants re-signed Javier Lopez to a three-year, $13 million contract.

Those two are pretty close to meeting the definition of a LOOGY. Over the past three seasons, Logan has faced 583 batters while pitching 136 innings in 205 appearances; Lopez has faced 536 batters while pitching 128.1 innings in 209 games.

On a per-inning basis, consider that Cliff Lee -- the highest-paid starting pitcher at $25 million (well, Johan Santana made more but was injured) faced 876 batters while pitching 222.2 innings. Lee made just over $112,000 per inning; if Logan pitches 136 innings again over the next three seasons, he'll make $121,000 per inning.

So teams -- or at least the Rockies and Giants -- are arguably showing that on the free-agent market they value a good LOOGY similarly to an elite starting pitcher. The money is spread out over more years but a reliever like Logan or Lopez doesn't come close to facing the number of batters in three years that a 200-inning starter faces in one. The justification with the money is that their outs are generally more important than Lee's, coming in the late innings of close games, often to get an important platoon matchup that the starting pitcher or a right-handed reliever wouldn't have.

First off, it's important to establish that the platoon advantage does exist. Totals from 2013:

All relievers vs. all batters: .243/.316/.375
Lefty relievers vs. all batters: .238/.315/.365
Lefty relievers vs. righty batters: .249/.333/.390
Lefty relievers vs. lefty batters: .225/.292/.335
Righty relievers vs. lefty batters: .248/.327/.390

In general, it does pay to go for the platoon advantage, and the biggest edge to be gained -- no surprise -- is left-handed relievers versus left-handed batters.

On an individual basis, of course, the matchups can be even more extreme. But how often do you get that matchup?

Over the past three seasons, 49 left-handed relievers have thrown at least 80 innings. Those 49 pitchers had the platoon advantage, on average, 44.3 percent of the time. Here are the lefty relievers (among our group of 49) who faced the highest percentage of left-handed batters over the past three seasons:

Randy Choate: 70.1 percent
Boone Logan: 57.6 percent
Wesley Wright: 57.3 percent
Javier Lopez: 55.8 percent
Joe Thatcher: 54.7 percent

Phil Coke was the only other guy over 50 percent. Not too surprisingly, the reliever who faced the lowest percentage of left-handed batters was Aroldis Chapman at 27.4 percent.

Choate is the outlier here -- his splits are so extreme that his managers use him primarily when they know a pinch-hitter won't be used. Otherwise, you can see that even relievers like Logan and Lopez who are spotted carefully still face a large percentage of right-handed batters. In Logan's case, he's faced 336 left-handed batters over the past three years -- 112 per season, or about four per week.

Considering you're not really paying him for his ability to get out right-handed batters, that $5.5 million annual salary is earned by his production against those 112 left-handed batters. He better do a good job of it, especially since not all of those appearances are going to come in potential game-deciding situations.

In Logan's case, here's the catch: He's not really anything special as a LOOGY. Of those 49 relievers, he was 40th in OPS allowed against left-handed batters over the three seasons. (Lopez was fifth.) It's possible that the Rockies do envision a larger role for Logan -- he's allowed a .250/.344/.409 line against right-handers, not awful -- so maybe he'll end up pitching more innings and extracting more value out of his contract.

There is obvious value in having a solid LOOGY in the pen, but it seems the Rockies overpaid for their new one.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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