Jim Leyland was quoted in a David Mayo MLive.com article last night saying that having four left-handed relief pitchers in the bullpen was “too many”.
While four lefties may well be “too many” in some situations, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case for the Tigers right now. Of the four left-handers (David Purcey, Charlie Furbush, Daniel Schlereth, and Adam Wilk), only Schlereth is being used as a situational pitcher with much regularity.
Furbush has been the go-to guy for long-relief situations since his recall from the minor leagues. Half of his (eight) big-league appearances have lasted 2.2 innings or more, and he’s completed at least one full inning in two other games. So he’s only been called into action as a situational guy twice this year. (I’m using games with less than one full-inning as a proxy for ‘situational’). It doesn’t really matter which side your long relievers throw from (he’s faced a right-handed hitter 57% of the time), but it also happens that Furbush can be used as a situational lefty (or LOOGY, Lefty One Out GuY) if needed.
Wilk has been used in a mop-up role in his three appearances as a Tiger this season. He pitched three early innings in a game against Boston when Tigers were trailing by seven runs, he pitched two middle innings in Texas after the Rangers claimed a five-run lead, and he entered for the final inning against Seattle with the team down by two. In each case he was being called on to eat innings, and in none of the cases did it matter which arm he threw with. 61% of the batters he’s faced have been right handed.
Purcey has appeared in six games for the Tigers since he was acquired from the Oakland Athletics. All six outings have lasted at least one full inning, all have come in the seventh inning or later, and five of the six have come with the Tigers either tied or ahead on the scoreboard. It seems clear that Purcey is being treated as a setup man (not a LOOGY). Perhaps he’s being asked to pitch in the late innings that contain prominent left handed hitters, but he’s still being asked to retire an even number of lefties and righties (52% of hitters have faced him from the right side of the plate).
Schlereth is the only guy in the group that has more appearances than innings pitched (25 games and 20.2 innings pitched). That’s a decent indicator that he’s often being called into the game to get one or two outs (although he also has his fair share of full-inning appearances). 53% of the batters that Schlereth have faced have hit from the right side.
The numbers indicate that Schlereth and Purcey are being used in a more lefty-oriented fashion than the other two, but still neither are near the mark of LOOGY-style pitchers such as Jamie Walker(he faced only 43% right-handers in 2006).
You could try to argue that Jim is being forced to go with a more neutral approach with his left-handers because of the lack of extra right-handers, but Al Alburquerque(who faces 61% right-handed hitters) hasn’t been called upon in back-to-back days since May 31-June 1, so it doesn’t appear that that there’s a desperate need for more righties.
Sure, the Tigers might be slightly better off with another right hander in the bullpen instead of one of the current lefties (such as an effective Ryan Perry), but I don’t see how it would make much of a difference in practice, because none of the current crop of left-handers are being used as LOOGYs anyway. The benefit to having another right-hander would come from the addition of a generally effective pitcher, and not purely from his handedness.