Do the Indians need a left-handed starter?
With an all right-handed rotation, Tribe should add a lefty
The 1984 Detroit Tigers did something no other team in the history of baseball has ever done.
Win a World Series without a left-handed starter.
We’re not talking just the Fall Classic either, but an entire regular season without one.
Fast forward 30 years and the Indians also head into the 2014 season without a southpaw in their rotation. As it stands today (barring injury), four of the five spots in the rotation are locked up, which include Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister.
You will find only one left-handed starter in spring training, and on the Tribe's 40-man roster. Making 24 starts in Columbus last year, T.J. House is the only lefty in big league camp.
It's a far cry to where the team was at just five months ago, as former All-Star Scott Kazmir revived his career in Cleveland going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts last year. It marked the first time an Indians lefty started at least 25 games since Cliff Lee’s 22-win season back in 2008.
Kazmir has since moved out west to Oakland, signing a 2-year, $22 million deal with the Athletics earlier this winter. Without the likes of the southpaw this season, a projected all right-handed rotation doesn’t seem to worry Tribe manager Terry Francona much.
“I’d rather have all righties that can get people out,” he said, meeting with the media before heading to Goodyear, Arizona.
But here’s something Francona doesn’t know.
Forget winning a World Series without a left-handed starter for a second and instead focus on just making the playoffs.
How many teams have made the postseason without starting a southpaw during a season?
Since 1903, just seven teams have made the postseason without starting a lefty.
- 1922 New York Yankees
- 1932 Chicago Cubs
- 1984 Detroit Tigers* (Won World Series)
- 1992 Oakland A’s
- 1996 L.A. Dodgers
- 2009 St. Louis Cardinals
- 2012 Cincinnati Reds
That's only seven of the last 390 teams over the last 111 years to have qualified for a playoff spot. Or if you're into math, less than two percent.
Not good odds to be dealt heading into a season where expectations are the highest since 2008.
Think of it this way, that’s like not having a left-hander in the bullpen for matchups and situations late in the game.
It doesn’t work.
Lefties are meant to break up lineups in a three or four game series. They allow for change, make mangers and players think about strategy and different batter vs. pitcher matchups. It's what the game of baseball is all about.
A perfect example of this was the move made by the Indians Central Division rivals back in December. Detroit traded right-hander Doug Fister to Washington in order to make room left-hander Drew Smyly who is set to join the Tigers rotation this year after pitching out of the bullpen in 2013. This came after having just one lefty in Jose Alvarez start six times last year.
As good as the Motor City Kitties were, it's safe to say they realize the benefits of having a lefty in their rotation.
There was one notable team within the last decade that came close to going a full season without a left-handed starter. Ten years ago, this club started a lefty only one time during the regular season before going onto win the World Series.
That team was the 2004 Boston Red Sox, led by Francona himself. Maybe the 2013 American League Manager of the Year is simply trying to duplicate history once again.
With pitchers and catchers officially reporting to camp Tuesday, there are very few free agent options left. Yes, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are still the two biggest names out on the market, but those two have realistically priced themselves out of Cleveland.
A better option is to sign a lower tier free agent southpaw, much like how the Tribe did last year with Kazmir. Former Dodgers starter Chris Capuano is a possible option. Better yet, two-time Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star Johan Santana may make the most sense. The injury prone southpaw would be welcomed back to the same division he dominated for several years with Minnesota.
If not the free agent route, the Tribe could instead choose to make a move before the July trade deadline if the team stays in contention. The biggest catch would be Rays ace David Price, who is set to become a free agent before the 2016 season. Two other possible lower tier left-handers are Lima, Ohio native Jonathan Niese of the New York Mets, and former Blue Jays All-Star Ricky Romero.
Everyone knows you can never have enough pitching, but the same could be said for having a balance of righties and lefties on a staff as well.
This season marks a decade since Francona led the Red Sox to their first World Championship in 86 years.
That was special.
Instead, Cleveland may be left wondering by season's end if lefties are that special.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at email@example.com.
What I think would be more relevant to if a LHP started during the season is, "How effective were these LHPs during those seasons these teams won the WS?" and "Did they really make a difference in their teams reaching the WS, or were they just used in the rotation, didn't make much noticeable difference to their teams, but three to other four starters helped to overcome those starts, and those teams went on to win the WS?"
It's almost certain that not all of those LHPs did so well that they were the main reason that all of those teams won the WS. It's likely that some of them were the fifth starters on their teams, didn't make much of a positive difference to their teams (I.e. Had a negligible WAR, etc.), but because they were in the rotation, and the team won the WS, that specific stat got increased.
However, you CANNOT say that having a lefty is the definitive reason, or even a reason, why those teams won the WS. I'm sure you can for some teams (Randy Johnson for the 2001 D'Backs, for example). But for other teams, it certainly was a coincidence and nothing more- that's why I said it's a luxury and not essential.
You cannot say that the LHP on all of those teams was the deciding factor or even a factor in those teams winning the WS. There is no correlative evidence to say that was the reason. We can speculate why it might be, but we can't say for certain, and it is very unlikely that all of those teams won the WS just because they had a LHP in the rotation. It just so happened they had a LHP, with minimal to no bearing for some of those WS-winning teams.
It's likely you could have substituted a RHP for some of those LHPs, and they still would have won the WS because those LHPs did little or nothing for their teams- they just happened to be part of those respective rotations. It was more the rest of the team (offense, defense, rotation, bullpen) that led to some of those WS teams winning the WS, not because they had a LHP in the rotation.
Oh, and I recall that RH-dominated 84 Tigers team started off with like a 35-5 record, one of the best, if not best, starts in ML history. Yes, they fell off later (did anyone expect them to keep winning at that clip?), but would someone try to imply that a LHP may have boosted that winning percentage further? That's my point on trying to read that having a LHP in your rotation is automatically going to add to your win total and is going to automatically lead to you spinning a WS, when all sorts of LHP with varying degrees of success were on those teams. They certainly weren't all like Randy Johnson and his pivotal role in the D'Backs beating the Yankees in the 2001 WS. Certainly, that Tigers' performance shows that having 5 solid RHPs can lead to great things if the pitching and the team are good enough.
But I do think there is something to be said about having some variation to your pitching staff. One way to change up the look a team sees in a series is to have a lefty which often results in teams have to make several changes to the lineup, sometimes sitting some good players as a result or having convenient timing to sit a guy.
So while I don't think there is no be all end all way to put a rotation together, I just like to have a lefty in there if the option exists. In the Indians current situation they have no lefties other than House, but I don't see it as a problem. And I am not sure Id both much with Capuano or Johan Santana.....not much upside with either and maybe not any better than the options they already have.
We need look no further than the Tribe's pen last season before 'Scrabble ' was traded for.......Rich Hill....yeesh
The bullpen going 33-16 last season with only one decent left hander in it(and for only half the season) was the real miracle on Carnegie.
If 2% of playoff teams never started a lefty, what percentage of all teams never started a lefty? 2%? 5%? That's a basic piece of information that we need. If only 2-3% of ALL major league teams ever never started a lefty, then there's no correlation between rotation balance and playoff odds at all. If it's 15%, then there's a correlation, but you still need to investigate causality. If you were analyzing this on the level that a team like Cleveland likely DOES look at things like this, then in this era of unbalanced schedules you'd also have to take into account your division opponents who you primarily face, and how those teams fare against left handed and right handed pitching.
'If there is some overall benefit of "balance" by having a mix of left and right-handed starters that improves everyone's performance, then that should be measurable."
"...That's only seven of the last 390 teams over the last 111 years to have qualified for a playoff spot. Or if you're into math, less than two percent."
Why do you need a Bill James/Baseball Prospectus mathematical basis to deal with simple historical example?
This is basic stuff. is it really better to close by committee or pay a closer? It is a is the sky really blue kind of trite argument.
We are in a bad place with no lefty - and just because there are other loser clubs in a similar situation doesn't make it any less bad.
He expects to open without one hence the brave deflection.
A 12-14 million qualifying offer to Kaz - which just about everyone viewed as money down a rat hole as a gross overpay - would be viewed as a brilliant move about now - given Billy Bean was willing to dish out 11.
I do think it makes a difference - and thank Jim for laying out a historical perspective.
It's interesting how Joe Chengery is factoid crazy when stumping for resigning Ubaldo but now its all about 'being nice' and some such nonsense.
Likewise two seasons ago the blog here was lit up about how we didn't have balance in our offense - and we didn't and it hurt us bad when the team collapsed.
Well, it does matter in the starting RO, but I doubt the front office is going to spend unless a deal falls in their lap.
And not because we have the answer in the pen. It's just the way it is. We don't have the money. But we do have the need.
If we finish 3rd or 4th behind KC and/or the Sox, then it will be a top priority next year, that's for certain.
If your going to have all RH pitchers its very very important to have lefties in the bullpen. We do have some decent options there so we could be ok.
It just breaks things up in so many ways.
Why not sign Johan Santana? I didn't even know he was available. He could be our Kazmir or Loriano this season. If he comes on strong he could form a fantastic 1-2 punch with Masterson.
I think Carrasco might be best as the long man. Maybe its what he needs to find himself. That way if one of our guys just does not seem to have it you can just switch him out for CC and still have a shot.
I just think we need one more starting option. Need to sign one of the Santana's, Jiminez or Capuno.
I think having a LHP is nice, but I don't think it's essential. I think it's more about mixing and matching styles of pitchers that can keep hitters from locking onto a certain type of pitcher (though regularly facing premium pitching doesn't guarantee you'd hit them any better no matter how many times you'd see him). Certainly, a lefty is a change of pace, but I don't think it's the only way to "change things up in your rotation," pardon the pun. :-)
Look at guys like Salazar, Masterson, and Tomlin (Granted, Tomlin isn't likely to make the rotation, but it will emphasize my point about different pitching styles). Salazar has the best pure stuff and will often ride it up in the zone, plus he has exquisite control. Masterson doesn't have the same level of stuff or command, but is more of a 3/4 arm slot and has most stuff going down, leading to an above-average GB rate. Tomlin has exquisite control, but only has a borderline average fastball. However, he mixes it up with solid offspeed stuff as a change of pace and keeps them off balance by hitting the corners. All three have distinctive styles, none similar, which can help to keep hitters off-balance and from locking onto a pattern, yet are all RHPs.
Therefore, I think a LHP can be helpful, but not essential, especially if you have a diverse group of pitchers, or five power pitchers with ace-like stuff. :-)
That being said, I would love to see the Tribe add Capuano. I think he will sign fairly cheap, has a moderate ceiling.
Whether House ends up being that guy due to injury for example, it's hard to argue against the numbers of teams that have not been successful over the years without a left-handed starter. I think this proves it's more of a risk and problem than some may think.
T.J. House will be in spring training, and is on the 40-man roster.