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Monday, July 20, 2009
Do the Red Sox need a LOOGY?

Tony Massarotti on how to make a great team better: First, if Lopez is healthy, there's no reason to think he's any worse this year than he was last year. As you know, relievers are subject to the terrible vagaries of the small sample size, and of course specialists like Lopez are particularly vulnerable. That .429 average he gave up against left-handed hitters before getting sent down? As you also know, Bill James works for the Boston Red Sox. In 1994, the Montreal Expos, managed by Felipe Alou, finished with the best record in the major leagues. Somewhat amazingly, for most of the season the Expos had only five relief pitchers: closer John Wetteland, semi-closer Mel Rojas, Gil Heredia, Jeff Shaw, and Tim Scott. Aside from pitching effectively, what did those five have in common? Each of them was (and is, last I checked) right-handed. For most of the season, the best team in baseball had five relievers and zero lefty relievers.

Somehow, it worked. Here's what James wrote about that, shortly afterward:

This overstates the case a little bit, I think. The platoon advantage might be 30 points, generally, but it's larger than that for a significant number of relief pitchers, right? Then again, maybe not. I just checked a bunch of left-handed "specialists" and was more than a little surprised to find platoon splits that really aren't all that big. Ron Mahay? Darren Oliver? Jeremy Affeldt? Alan Embree? They all fall right in line, career-wise, with that 30-point edge.

Of course, the Red Sox aren't the Expos. While I will maintain that there's little reason for the seven-man bullpen, it's certainly true that Francona doesn't have much use for an extra hitter or two. Not with that lineup. It's not that Francona couldn't use a second southpaw, or that he doesn't have room on the roster for one. It's just not worth obsessing over until the right lefty comes along.