Thursday, April 10, 2008

Should RRS Relieve O'Flaherty?

Last season Seattle had one of the best LOOGYs in the game in George Sherrill, who also dabbled in setup duty. Sherrill, as we all know, was dealt to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard trade and is now excelling as their closer. He was deemed expendable because the Seattle Mariners organization thought guys like Eric O'Flaherty, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Cesar Jimenez and even Arthur Rhodes worthy of taking over the position.

O'Flaherty won the job out of Spring Training, as expected, but has not been able to shut down tough lefties the way Sherrill did last year. His ERA is currently sitting at an unsightly 20.25 after surrendering runs in five of his six outings thus far.

As the left-handed specialist, or LOOGY, O'Flaherty's job is to get the opposition's tough lefties out in close and late situations. On Opening Day he came in and got Texas' best lefy hitter, Josh Hamilton, out on a popup to end the 7th inning. He came back in the 8th to face lefty Hank Blalock and switch-hitting Milton Bradley. Blalock was hit by a pitch and Milton Bradley struck out swinging. I think it's safe to say O'Flaherty was overall successful in facing those first three hitters. That should've been the end of his outing, but manager John McLaren left him in the game. He didn't pitch horribly to Marlon Byrd and David Murphy, two righties. He was able to induce a groundout and he surrendered a single, but that was was enough to manufacture a run. He was replaced by righty Mark Lowe after that, a move that should have happened two batters prior. Either way, Opening Day was O'Flaherty's second most successful outing of the year so far.

He has been mostly unsuccessful in getting the tough lefties out since then, with the exception of April 5th when he retired Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff in his scoreless inning of work. On April 1st he gave up a single to Josh Hamilton and a double to Hank Blalock. On April 6th surrendered a double to Markakis and a single to Luke Scott, both of whom scored. On April 7th he gave up the go-ahead homer to Huff and walked Scott. Today, April 10th, O'Flaherty came in with two men on and Carlos Pena at the plate. Pena was hit by a pitch and O'Flaherty gave up a two run single to right-handed hitting B.J. Upton. You could try and pin some of O'Flaherty's runs to McLaren for misusing him, but I think he was only truly misused on Opening Day.

Why is O'Flaherty unsuccessful thus far? I had been defending O'Flaherty in Mariners discussion up until tonight using the "it's only April" argument, but now I think he may not be a good fit for the job.

While he has been slightly wild, overall he's been making good pitches. A lot of the hits that O'Flaherty has been giving up are groundouts that are finding holes. Typically grounders are good, and you can survive when a few slip through, but not in close and late situations. Eric O'Flaherty isn't a strikeout pitcher, something that George Sherrill was. Last season Sherrill struck out over 11 batters per 9 innings pitched. When he was in a tough situation he could strike out a hitter or two to retire the side, stranding runners. O'Flaherty only strikes out about 6 hitters per 9 innings since coming up to the big leagues. While that isn't an awful ratio, there are probably better options.

Enter Ryan Rowland-Smith. Up until this point I was totally opposed to pitching him in the later innings. I didn't think he had enough experience and I was still viewing him as a mid-to-long reliever, but after glancing at some stats I've had a change of heart. While O'Flaherty is better than Rowland-Smith at getting lefties out over the course of their careers (.232 batting average against vs .267), Rowland-Smith is a much better strikeout pitcher. Last season Rowland-Smith struck out nearly 10 hitters for every 9 innings he pitched, about 4 more than O'Flaherty, and had many double digit strikeout rates in the minor leagues. He has already showed that he can use the strikeout to get out of tough situations, striking out both Akinori Iwamura and Carlos Pena on his way to his first big league save.

Perhaps the most important stat to look at is this: hitters hit .396 against O'Flaherty in "close and late" situations, and only .214 against Rowland-Smith. One caveat is that O'Flaherty has faced 61 hitters in these situations while Rowland-Smith has only faced 15, but either way O'Flaherty hasn't been effective enough. In order to succeed in his current role he needs to be nearly unhittable with the game on the line, but O'Flaherty pitches much better historically earlier in the game.

I believe that Eric O'Flaherty and Ryan Rowland-Smith need to swap roles for the time being. As I mentioned before, this is a complete flip flop for me, but now that I've seen the stats I have very little faith in O'Flaherty. I do not think he needs to be sent to AAA as many people do, I just think he should do the majority of his pitching in the earlier innings where he has been more successful.


Quinn said...

I'm not one of those Mariners fans that hates on relievers in April, just like you Jon, but Potatoes really needs some rest/lower pressure situations.

I'm glad with how both of these guys will do in 2-3 years. Rowland-Smith will be George Sherrill momentarily, while Potatoes could be a good LR as opposed to a loogy. I think he needs to face more batters and get a groove, than to just hop into the game at his age. Loogies like George could do that. George had matured.

Rob T. said...

Greg Norton was called up. USSM is saying it but doesnt no if someone was put on DL or they sent someone down or cut someone.

Brandon said...

The first time I saw RRS pitch, I saw him strike someone out with a wicked curve...ever since then, i've been a big fan of Mr. Rowland Smith. He's got the endurance to be a great mid-long reliever, but he's got the skill set to be a solid LOOGY as well. I say give him the LOOGY job