The LOOGY market and scraping the bottom of the barrel with Jeff Francis

LOOGYs, or Lefty One-Out GuYs, are essentially the luxury item of bullpens. Every team wants to want one, but not every team necessarily needs one. In other words, every team wants to be in a situation where the marginal value of 40 well-pitched, high-leverage innings is worth the premium the market places on high-leverage relievers. Naturally, however, very few teams are actually at that point. The only teams who are in the market are those who: (1) exhibit need for a LOOGY; (2) do not currently have a LOOGY; (3) have the money; and, (4) are willing to pay the market price for someone who will only pitch a few innings late in games.

What if we take the final two points out of the equation, and assume the first? We do that by looking at the teams who either do not have money, or do not want to spend it on a specialist, and assume they still want a LOOGY. How could they do it?

Relievers, in general, are failed starters and position players. The good relievers are often converted early in their development, to acclimate to the different manner by which they must warm up, craft their repertoires, and approach batters. However, there is strength to converting a starter later in his life cycle, perhaps one who has struggled as a starter largely due to a lack of tertiary pitches, which are generally unnecessary for a short-haul reliever, or a lack of stamina, which is again not a prerequisite for being a good reliever. To circle back, who are the 2014 free agents who may fit the bill?

Let’s take a gander at the best remaining free agent pitchers against lefties from 2011-2013. Jeff Francis is a name which pops up immediately. He had 371 lefties faced in the last 3 years, and held them to a .254/.277/.373 line, good for a .283 wOBA. This was not aided by BABIP, as hitters had a .299 Batting Average on Balls in Play against him. In fact, his success was largely derived of not walking anyone (1.8 BB%) while also preventing the ball from leaving the infield (54.4 GB% and 5.1 IFFB%). Weighted by the number of batters faced he had in each year, and adjusted for the fact that he pitched in both leagues, the league average wOBA for Francis over that period was .316. So his .283 wOBA against lefties compares very favorably. 

Furthermore, he spent two years in Colorado, which inflates hitting rather considerably. Let’s apply a combined park factor to that wOBA, and get a wRC+. The combined park factor for two years of Colorado and 2011 in Kansas City is 109, so the expected league average wRC+ in that span for where Francis played is .343. Thus, the wRC+ of lefties against him was a staggering 57.

57.

In other words, Francis turned the amalgam of lefties he faced into Adeiny Hechavarria (-1.9 WAR, 60 wRC+) or Yuniesky Betancourt (-1.8 WAR, 56 wRC+). That’s crazy!

And Francis may not get a major league deal this offseason (because he has been absolutely terrible against righties in this same sample). He may be the perfect type of player to attempt to convert to a reliever, and stash in AAA short term to see if it works. 

 

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