The Yankees have had a difficult time finding quality left-handed relief pitchers over the past well...ever, and it hasn't been for lack of trying. Since the departure of Mike Stanton - one third of the dynasty era late-inning relief troika that birthed all subsequent troikas - after 2002, the Yankees have rummaged through a miscellany of lefty bullpen specialists who have ranged from the mediocre - Boone Logan, Chris Hammond, Damaso Marte - to the ineffective - Pedro Feliciano, Felix Heredia, Mike Myers - to the "are you serious?" - Jesse Orosco? Alan Embree? Buddy Groom?
This spring, you can't throw a rock at Yankee camp without hitting a lefty reliever. The team spent $36 million on could-be closer Andrew Miller, while trading decent assets in Francisco Cervelli and Manny Banuelos to get hard throwers Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve. Beyond their three acquisitions, they have in-house southpaws who became well-known last season - 2014 second round pick Jacob Lindgren and the also under-25 Tyler Webb and James Pazos. Every single one of those six pitchers had a strikeout rate of 9.0 or better at the highest level where he pitched.
If you ask Joel Sherman of the New York post, though, the Yankees' boon (no pun intended) of left-handed relievers is somehow a knock-able offense. Sherman writes:
...even if they have broken their post-Stanton curse, this might be the worst time in recent history to have strong lefty relievers in the AL East. The only team with a predominantly lefty lineup is the Yankees. Consider that four lefty swingers qualified for the batting title and had better than even a .720 OPS last year and play currently for an AL East team. Three are Yankees — Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Garrett Jones. The other is Boston's David Ortiz.
While the "LOOGY" role might not have much import in the AL East of 2015, that's not a problem, because the lefties the Yankees have in camp aren't LOOGYs - and if Joe Girardi tries to use them that way he's making a mistake. Andrew Miller was murder on lefty hitters last year, holding them to a .161/.206/.261 slash line and a .211 wOBA a year ago. But do you know who else Miller dominated in 2014? Righties. They hit an even more paltry .142/.245/.202. Wilson, too, fared better against right-handed hitters with a .623 OPS against as opposed to .681 vs. lefties, while Shreve, in his short stint in the majors, stymied the 25 righty batters he faced to a .167/.200/.208 line.
It's not often that I give Joe Torre credit for something, especially something bullpen-related, but Stanton's career presents a pretty good model on how to effectively use a left-handed reliever who can get outs against hitters from both sides. As a Yankee, he faced 1,905 hitters in 456 appearances, an average of just under 4.18 per game and for his career, 63.4 percent of the batters he saw were right-handed. Those are the kinds of numbers we should hopefully see from Miller, Wilson and Shreve this year.
The threat is always there for any left-handed reliever to get pigeonholed into a matchup role that he's not suited for. It's not that these guys wouldn't be effective facing mostly lefties - they would because they have the stuff to get any hitter out - but the Yankees would be artificially limiting their usefulness. LOOGYs - and ROOGYs, for that matter - are for teams with bad bullpens. If you don't have guys who can get three hitters out consistently, then it makes sense to play the match-ups to extract what value you can from a sub-par group. But the Yankees have spent much of this off-season ensuring that they have a plethora of quality options from both sides. Using them for full innings whenever possible will keep everyone fresher by keeping their appearance totals down, and it'll take some pressure off an embattled starting rotation that's trying to shake the "injury prone" label.