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Updated: August 24th, 2010 11:25pm
Numbers Game: Looking at left-handed relief options

Numbers Game: Looking at left-handed relief options

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins didn't particularly need a left-handed reliever in Tuesday night's 4-3 loss to the Rangers. Carl Pavano pitched effectively and efficiently enough by himself to save the bullpen a night's work.

But at some point -- possibly even in Texas yet this week -- there will come a point where a guy such as MVP-candidate and left-hander Josh Hamilton will walk to the plate in a high leverage spot, and the Twins will be forced to improvise.

In fact, they've already done so this week.

On Sunday night, right-hander Jesse Crain pitched himself into an eighth-inning jam before eventually fanning lefty Hideki Matsui on a 84-mph slider. Then on Monday night, right-hander Matt Guerrier also pitched himself into an eighth-inning jam, only to induce a harmless fly ball (albeit, a sac fly) from Hamilton.

These are the late-inning situations manager Ron Gardenhire will run into until further notice -- a right-handed reliever facing a team's best left-handed hitter -- simply because there are no effective left-handed bullpen options on the 40-man roster.

Among relievers currently on the Twins' 40-man roster (i.e. guys who have a chance to be on the roster in September), nobody really stands out against lefties:

Career vs. lefties:

RHP Matt Capps: .273 avg., 3.95 FIP, 1.30 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 34% grounders
RHP Jesse Crain: .248 avg., 4.69 FIP, 1.43 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 52% grounders
RHP Matt Guerrier: .271 avg., 4.68 FIP, 1.47 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 55% grounders
RHP Jon Rauch: .261 avg., 4.68 FIP, 1.44 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 35% grounders
LHP Glen Perkins: .322 avg., 4.69 FIP, 1.80 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 50% grounders
RHP Pat Neshek: .205 avg., 4.92 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 28% grounders
*RHP Jeff Manship: .270 avg., 3.40 FIP, 1.24 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 52% grounders
*RHP Anthony Slama: .238 avg., 3.31 FIP, 1.38 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 4.7 BB/9, 42% grounders
*RHP Rob Delaney: .233 avg., 2.95 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 34% grounders
*RHP Alex Burnett: .227 avg., 3.51 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 47% grounders

* Indicates minor league numbers

The lone southpaw, Perkins, is probably the worst of the bunch statistically. Neshek owns the lowest opponent batting average against, but he has been prone to the long ball (eight home runs allowed against lefties in just 45 1/3 innings), and he has spent the last two-plus months in Rochester.

Patrick Reusse mentioned Class-AA lefty Tyler Robertson on the noon-2 show last week. Robertson must be placed on the 40-man roster this offseason, or he'll be exposed to the rule-5 draft. Robertson, a 6-5, 220-pound lefty, has a 5.55 ERA between Class-AA and Class-AAA, with 85 strikeouts, 56 walks and 14 home runs allowed in 129 2/3 innings. Over that span, lefties hit .285 off Robertson, while righties hit .326. Not exactly awe-inspiring.

With the bullpen's current construction, it likely makes sense to simply roll with the hottest right-hander at any given time, regardless of lefty/righty matchups. That happens to be Crain at the moment.

Outside help? Sherrill could be best available option

Three left-handed relievers have reportedly cleared waivers -- George Sherrill (Dodgers), Randy Flores (Rockies) and Brian Tallet (Blue Jays).

Career vs. lefties:

LHP George Sherrill: .167 avg., 2.45 FIP, 0.86 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 34% grounders
LHP Randy Flores: .267 avg., 4.19 FIP, 1.39 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 37% grounders
LHP Brian Tallet: .243 avg., 4.25 FIP, 1.32 WHIP, 7.21 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 44% grounders

In fairness to Tallet, his numbers against lefties in 2010 -- .143 avg., 3.70 FIP, 0.69 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 -- are a lot better than his overall career numbers.

But Sherrill, 33, is by far the most appealing option statistically. Overall, his numbers this season are not good at all -- a 6.44 ERA with more walks (18) than strikeouts (16) in 29 1/3 innings -- however, most of that carnage has come against right-handed hitters. Lefties are hitting just .191 off Sherrill this season.

Sherrill, who is still arbitration-eligible for one more season, is owed just under $1 million for the remainder of 2010, which is a steep, prorated price for any potential suitor.

The Dodgers are currently 7.5 games out of the wild card, and it's likely that with their current financial situation they will non-tender Sherrill this offseason. In other words, if they don't trade him in the next week, they are likely to let him walk this offseason without receiving anything in return.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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