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In Search of the Elusive Quality Lefthanded Reliever: FaBIO Stats of Free Agents



With the Astros having gone a full two seasons with nary an effective lefthanded reliever, it seems no surprise that landing one this offseason would rank as a higher priority on their to do list. Here, I delve into how the free agent market for major league lefthanded pitching shapes up as of December 2 2017 with emphasis on how the candidates stack up per my Fielding- and Ballpark-Independent Outcomes (FaBIO) system.

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Brief Methodology Refresher on FaBIO

The number on any table parameter can range from 100 to 0 and represents the expected percentage of league peers (starters, or relievers otherwise) that the pitcher stood to beat on the stat that season. A rating of 97 is plus plus, 84 is plus, 50 is league-average, 16 is minus, and 3 is minus minus. Each particular rating is split further to show how the pitcher did versus opposite-handed batters ("Oh" in tables, which would be LHB for a RHP) and same-handed batters ("Sh" in tables).

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2017 FaBIO Results

Free Agent Lefthanded Starting Pitchers

Though Jaime Garcia sported performance ratings as a 2017 three-team starter that skewed in the direction of a prospective LOOGY candidate, he figures to command 3-year free agent deal to work as a mid-rotation to back-of-rotation starter based on his pre-2017 track record of being rather good against opposite-handed batters. CC Sabathia and associates have zero interest in him toiling as a reliever at this late stage of his rather accomplished and well-compensated career.

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Wade Miley may make for one of the more intriguing relief conversion projects this offseason; his recent season ratings will be reviewed a bit later as will those of fall 2017 Astro Francisco Liriano. As things look now, Brett Anderson just might be best cast as a strikethrowing/groundballing middleman who is capable of eating some innings. The Astros do not figure to have much interest in Anderson or the names below him in the table owing to that they all struggled to whiff the LHB that were penciled into 2017 starting lineups against them.

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Free Agent Lefthanded Relief Pitchers

In his first MLB work since 2014, Mike Minor posted the top 2017 Overall Rating among current lefthanded free agents. Not far behind him was Jake McGee, who also stands to garner interest from the Astros.

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All from the above table save for simply-a-strikethrower (and brief 2013 Astro) Wade LeBlanc will be passed through to the later multi-season analyses.

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From this second table of free agent relievers, only Jeff Beliveau and veteran 2017 second-half Tommy John returnee Zach Duke seem worthy of deeper analysis.

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2017-2014 Results of Potential Lefthanded Pitcher Free Agent Targets

Jake McGee

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McGee has rated plus or better overall in 3 of the last 4 campaigns, with the exception being the 2016 season when he nearly rated minus. He has not been especially durable over that interval in missing weeks to months of time due to a loose body in his throwing elbow (2015), left knee problems (2015, 2016), and a back strain (2017). He seldom throws breaking (or other offspeed) pitches, and that would explain why he typically rates better against opposite-handed batters than against same-handed batters. McGee should surely command a third guaranteed year this offseason.

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Mike Minor

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Minor showed strong K ability while working his way back to health as a 2016 minor league starter after missing all of 2015 in the aftermath of a surgical repair of a throwing shoulder labral tear that may have contributed to his 2014 MLB struggles. The 2016 MiLB K success translated over to MLB relief duty in 2017, and that his performance was so much better against same-handed batters should dispel any notion of repurposing Minor as a SP. While the shoulder history alone may be enough to limit several clubs' best offer to a two-year guaranteed pact with some generous option/buyout for a third year, to sign him in this particular open market probably requires a guaranteed third year.

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Tony Watson

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Watson attracted some national attention as a groundball-skewed weak-contact-inducing machine during his brief stint as a 2017 Dodger, but the corresponding and continuing decline in his K ability just does not have him setting up particularly well as a higher-leverage relief option for 2018 and beyond.

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Boone Logan

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Logan morphed from one of the game's better LOOGY options to an anti-RHB weapon with poorer LHB fundamentals in the early part of his early-ending 2017 campaign. One cannot be quite sure as to just which Logan will appear come the spring of 2018.

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Brian Duensing

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While Duensing may well have turned a proverbial corner during 2017, he pitched mostly as a strike-throwing weak contact inducer as opposed to the sort of bat-missing lefthanded reliever who would be pegged for higher-leverage duty.

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Oliver Perez

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The solid all-round but unspectacular Perez of today seems a far cry from the extreme LOOGY that the Astros employed during their 2015 playoff push and divisional series. Perez now seems best cast as 6th/7th one-inning sort.

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Fernando Abad

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Former Astro Abad presently falls short on the sorts of out-generation skills that the Astros are seeking this offseason, and likely lands either an MLB deal or spring invite with a rebuilding organization.

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Jorge De La Rosa

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2017 made for this longtime starter's first go as a full-time reliever since the 2005-2006 seasons. Though De La Rosa performed decently in that role there would not seem to be a number in the performance ratings that would attract much offseason interest from projected contenders aside from perhaps his most recent employer.

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Francisco Liriano

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Liriano's struggles at the LHB K as a 2017 Astro were surprising given his success at that as a spring/summer Toronto SP. One would suspect that Liriano did not fully buy in to his new role or just never got comfortable with his slider working in short spurts. His offseason camp figures to prefer a one-year rotation gig with a rebuilder of an organization who would later seek to move him for some measure of a prospect.

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Wade Miley

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Over his last 2 seasons as a MLB SP, Miley has been roughly average at the K against all comers but rather strong in the batted ball profile realms of GB generation and Pulled OFFB avoidance. Those out-generation skills should trend upward if a better MLB club could convince him to ink a 2-year deal to work as a reliever over the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the control almost a lock to improve in such a maneuver. The Louisiana roots of Miley just might make his camp open to such an offer from the Astros.

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Kevin Siegrist

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Luhnow and Siegrist are familiar with one another dating back to their early days in the Cardinals system, though Siegrist's 2017 struggles and consistent reverse splits bias do not figure to provoke much offseason interest from the Astros beyond a possible MiLB deal.

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Zach Duke

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The formerly reliable Duke worked his way back into health during the 2017 second half in the wake of a mid-2016 Tommy John surgery. The relative absence of the K then likely has contenders like the Astros looking elsewhere for free agent MLB-caliber relief.

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Eric O'Flaherty

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Oft-injured O'Flaherty does not project as a reliable enough MLB LOOGY option today to land anything more than a minor league deal with a spring invite and mid-season opt-out clause (if not added to the MLB roster by some deadline date).

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Jeff Beliveau

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Consistent success at the LHB K had Beliveau pegged as a preferred non-roster invitee to 2018 spring training with hopes of mid-season graduation to MLB LOOGY duty, and projected contender Cleveland wasted little time in inking him to such a pact before Thanksgiving.

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Exit Poll

Having hypothesized what it might take for the Astros to land a few of these free agents this offseason, I now challenge you to select a favored free agent lefthander pursuit among the listed options.

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