Monday, March 14, 2005

Left Handed Complements

I was thinking about writing a short article about the left handed pitching competition today when I ran across this little blurb on Rotoworld.com:

Cardinals lefty reliever Ray King won't pitch again until next weekend at the earliest. King experienced muscle soreness near his left shoulder after his only appearance of the spring, March 8th. With Rick Ankiel done as a pitcher and Mike Myers struggling early in camp, King is the only reliable lefty St. Louis has on the roster. Mar. 14 - 10:31 am etSource: St Louis Post-Dispatch

The non-bold portion of that paragraph was added by Rotoworld as commentary.

Obviously, injuries are the biggest potential problem for the Cardinals this year. And having 2 superb lefties available in relief last year was a huge help for the team. With Kline gone and Ankiel no longer an option, the loss of King for any length of time could be a problem. And, of course, King's workload over the past four seasons are reason to actually expect King to not be as sharp this year.

Take a look at Ray King over the past 4 seasons. I'm going to list games pitched, his rank in his league, and ERA+.

2001 - 82, 3rd, 122
2002 - 76, 10th, 131
2003 - 80, 3rd, 118
2004 - 86, 2nd, 160

"Big deal" you say. "He's a gamer". Well, take a look at another gamer with a similar pattern over a 4 year period.

1998, 78, 2nd, 149
1999, 82, 1st, 126
2000, 83, 1st, 133
2001, 89, 1st, 240

That list of statistics belongs to one Steve Kline. After the workloads listed, he was much less effective in 2002, pitching in 66 games with an ERA+ of 115. There are many similarities between Kline and King during their high workload runs. Both started out with three seasons very similar, followed by a very successful 4th season. Will the appearances have the same effect on King this year?

On the plus side, Kline pitched 298.2 innings during his 4 year span, while King pitched 241 innings, or roughly 14 fewer per season. On the negative side, Kline was 28 in the 4th season of his run, while King was 30. Obviously, comparing 2 left handed pitchers is the definition of small sample size. However, lots of games pitched does have a tendency to catch up to relief pitchers sooner or later. Let's hope it's not this year in the case of King.

OK, with that out of the way - who can the Cardinals count on this year? Supposedly, the Cardinals were going to send a few left handed pitchers to the minors today. Who are the likely candidates?

Mike Myers

Rotoworld already mentioned him, claiming he was struggling in camp.

Myers - 4 innings, 4.50 ERA, 4 K, 4 BB, 3 Hits allowed

Not glowing, but not horrible. We all knew that Myers is a one out specialist, who hasn't been able to get righties out for years. The walks are, of course, of the most concern in the line above.

As a 2nd option, he may still be fine. If, however, King is out, Myers is not the option to be the lone lefty in the pen should it come to that.

Carmon Cali

The comparisons to Billy Wagner have been spoken, but I'm not ready to say as much out of a 26 year old who started last season in AA ball. But still - any time you have a lefty hitting the mid-90's on his fastball, you have to be somewhat excited.

Cali - 2.2 innings, 3.38 ERA, 3 K, 2 BB, 1 Hit allowed

You can't exactly see a lot out of 2.2 innings pitched, but the K and BB numbers look great. Not shown here, however, are 2 wild pitches. It's early, but looks like he needs some time in AAA. He may be a great mid-season option, however.

Randy Flores

Flores was great with the Cardinals last year, posting a 1.93 ERA over 14 innings. He has the added benefit of the ability to both start and relieve, which is what Ankiel was supposed to be providing this year.

Flores - 4 innings, 4.50 ERA, 3 K, 0 BB, 4 Hits allowed

He's looking pretty good. All of his hits allowed have been singles, and he hasn't given up a free pass as of yet. Add in his limited major league experience, and he's in the mix.

Bill Pulsipher

Talk about a dark horse candidate. This guy was working as a grounds keeper just last Spring, and hasn't pitched in the majors since the 2001 season. For you youngsters out there, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen were supposed to be big for the Mets by the late 90's. Think Cardinal hopes for Rick Ankiel and Chad Hutchinson just 5 years ago. (Ouch).

Pulsipher - 5 innings, 0.00 ERA, 4 K, 0 BB, 4 Hits allowed

Not bad for a 31 year old pitcher with a career 5.13 ERA. As with Flores, all of his hits allowed have been singles. Anytime a left handed pitcher is allowing fewer baserunners than innings and has a K/BB ratio of infinity, he's in the running.

Hector Mercado

Technically, he's a starting pitcher, but do you honestly see him cracking the rotation?

Mercado - 1 inning, 0.00 ERA, 1 K, 1 BB, 1 Hit allowed

I don't know if Mercado is hurt, or if there is another reason he hasn't pitched much at this point. I do, however, know this. The Cardinals have had 10 Spring games, and he's only pitched 1 inning. Not exactly a ringing endorsement at this point.

Breakdown

Those are your candidates. For now, let's assume that King will be able to go come the beginning of the season. Looking at the early standings, you have to assume that Cali is going to the minors, with Mercado joining him if he isn't released. That leaves Myers, Flores, and Pulsipher.

Myers, as mentioned, is a one out guy. He can come in and punch out one lefty, but will get lit up like a Christmas tree if the other team pinch hits a right handed batter. The bullpen can handle that if he's the 2nd lefty. He's not an option, however, as the primary. We know that Tony likes veterans, so anything close to a tie will go to Myers. But the Cardinals have been known to cut veterans loose if they have a bad Spring, with the most recent comparable being Al Levine during the 2003 pre-season.

Flores is really hanging tough, and his ability to start games in a pinch could really make him a valuable part of the team. If nothing else, he'll be available down the river in Memphis should the Cardinals have injury problems. (Even Dan Haren and Kiko Calero didn't make the 2004 team out of Spring training, after all.)

Pulsipher is the interesting one in my book. To take 3 seasons off from baseball, then start off Spring training like he has is a great story. It's still early, but if he continues to be half as successful as he has been already, the Cardinals will probably try to find a spot for him on the 2005 roster. In fact, right now my guess is that he is possibly the current favorite to win the #2 left handed job out of the pen.

Addendum (2:17 pm)

It could be worse - we could be having injury problems to the starting staff instead of the bullpen.

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