The Angels have been trying to find some left-handers to bolster their bullpen with for two years now. They traded Ervin Santana and got Brandon Sisk in return… but he needed Tommy John surgery. They also signed Sean Burnett that same offseason, but his elbow decided that it didn’t much care for Anaheim and has since gone on strike. They picked up Brian Moran in the Rule 5 draft this offseason and now he needs Tommy John surgery.
At this point, I wouldn’t blame Jose Alvarez‘s left elbow if it tried to enter the Witness Relocation Program. Let’s hope it doesn’t though because it is attached to the lone southpaw that the Angels have in their bullpen. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the bullpen needs all the help it can get.
But does it actually need left-handed help? I believe Alvarez can be useful, but he’s really more of a long reliever than a situational option right now. The options after Alvarez aren’t much better though. Nick Maronde failed to impress in his early season chance. Same goes for Buddy Boshers in the latter part of 2013. Robert Carson and Clay Rapada are journeymen. Brandon Sisk is still working his way back. Wade LeBlanc is better suited for starting as he lacks the profile of being death on left-handed batters.
Given the abundance of uninspiring talent, perhaps the Halos are better off eschewing the conventional wisdom and going sans-southpaws in their bullpen. Scioscia has done it before to great success. Why not give it another try?
Let’s take a look back at that bullpen and what made it work to see if we can apply that same strategy to the current crop relievers.
It was the 2004 Angels that went without from the left side in relief (well, something called a Dusty Bergman made one two-innings appearance, but otherwise, that was it). That bullpen led the AL in bullpen ERA and bullpen FIP. They were also second in ERA- and WAR. It was a really, really good bullpen.
What made them so good though was that their relievers could be deployed against just about anyone. Take a look at their individual RH/LH OPS splits that season:
Of top five relievers, Percival and K-Rod had the biggest splits, but both were still pretty good. Meanwhile, Donnelly and Gregg were just about even and Shields was actually better against lefties. Nobody was a particular lefty killer, but none of the main guys got bombed by them either. There wasn’t even much luck involved as those splits were good representations of how each of those pitchers performed for their whole career.
More to the point, it wasn’t just a one-man show. There is some revisionist history that remembers back to that year and how Shields was sort of the de facto lefty-killer, but it was really a group effort.
So can this current crop of relievers do the same?
Believe it or not, they might have that same profile to pull it off. Take a look now at how the current bullpen splits their OPS in their careers:
Now, there is some small sample size issues since some of these guys haven’t been in the league very long, but really the only guy who struggles with lefties is Jepsen. Smith isn’t even as bad as his splits suggest as he has made adjustments to close that gap in the last three years.
The one split that stands out though is Dane De La Rosa. Again, it is only one season, but he actually was death on lefties last year. While Kohn and Salas can hold their own, De La Rosa is a real weapon. If the Halos are going to go forward without a lefty in the pen, it would seem imperative that De La Rosa be a big part of it. Unfortunately, he is going through something either mechanical or physical or both and is in the minors trying to work that out. Until he does, the Angels might want to give Alvarez a chance to prove himself as a specialist or start auditioning Carson, Boshers, Rapada and Maronde.
Considering how many of their divisional rivals are stacked with big left-handed bats, I’m still not entirely convinced that they can get away with having De La Rosa and, to a lesser extent, Kohn doubling as pseudo-lefties. There is evidence to suggest it would work, but I don’t know that I wouldn’t be more comfortable if a southpaw was on the mound instead with the likes of Prince Fielder, Brandon Moss, Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo at the plate.
What I’d really like to see is a deeper look at 21st century teams that have gone the “no lefty” route. I tried looking, but my B-R Play Index skills weren’t good enough to unearth anyone than the 2004 Angels who did just fine, albeit with a more talented crop of arms. If anyone can come up with such a list, I’d gladly revisit this topic in greater detail.