Well, after 30 minutes of crying, holding my breath, and demanding that my parents fix Madson’s elbow immediately, I guess I’m ready to look at the situation in a more reasonable way. I mean, the bad news is that this unquestionably decreases the strength of the bullpen as a whole. The good news is that, probably, the closer position won’t suffer too much.
The former Cub is a lefty, but his splits aren’t that big. Last year, right handed batters hit a .599 OPS off of Marshall, compared to a .503 OPS for lefties (.585/.539 in 2010). Yes, that’s not really a small gap, but compare that last year, right handed batters hit .698 off of RHP Nick Masset. While it looks like Marshall used to have a changeup that he threw almost exclusively to righties, it looks like he dropped it once he moved to the bullpen, and he has had a lot of success. In 2011, he faced 307 batters, struck out 79, and got 115 groundballs, compared to 17 walks and 1 HR. For 63% of all plate appearances, Marshall got a strikeout or a ground ball – and given our defense, that’s going to be awesome.
Of course, over the years there simply haven’t been that many lefty closers. I mean, for one there aren’t as many lefty pitchers, and a lot of times they get restricted to LOOGY and other set up roles. But there have been some good ones. For the most part, I just looked at the leaders list for career saves, but feel free to point out other great lefty closers in the comments.
- John Franco is fourth on the career saves list with 424, and 3rd on the Reds franchise list with 148, as he started his career with the Reds in 1984 before getting traded to the Mets for another pitcher on this list, Randy Myers. He was said to have a “90 mph fastball and a changeup that breaks away from a right handed batter like a screwball.”
- A slightly more recent pitcher, Billy Wagner sits just behind Franco on the career saves list with 422. Wagner began his career in Houston, before moving on to the Mets, Phillies, and briefly the Red Sox and Braves. Unique for lefty, Wagner, was a flame throwing power pitcher, relying on a fastball that touched 100, and a darting slider to strikeout tons of batters, including in 1997 when he struck out 59 and walked only 6.
- Randy Myers: In addition to being one of the Nasty Boys, and the closer for that 1990 World Series Champion Reds team, Myers tops the single season saves as a lefty list by being tied on the overall list for fifth with Trevor Hoffman. He amassed 347 saves over a 14 year career with 6 different teams. This old Baseball Digest says that Myers once told a New York reporter that he threw eight pitches: fastball, curve, slider, change, side arm fastball, side arm curve, side arm slider, and knuckleball. Well Sean, you’ve got a lot of work to do. (And of course, fellow Nasty Boy Norm Charlton was also a lefty, and moved into closing after 1990).
- After Myers, you have to drop down pretty far on the list to find another lefty. This one goes back a bit, as Dave Righetti won rookie of the year in 1981 while starting for the Yankees, before switching to the pen and closing in New York for most of decade. Although Dave Righetti’s 46 saves in 1986 don’t seem awe-inspiring, they were a record that year, and would stand until 1990. Righetti has been the San Francisco Giants pitching coach for over a decade now.
- And now you’ve got a real throwback as far as closers go with Sparky Lyle. Lyle closed for Boston and New York in the 1970s, and was the second relief pitcher to win the Cy Young award, which he did in 1977. Wikipedia also tells us that his mother was a seamstress at a coffin factory, so there’s that. Wikipedia also tells us that he had a propensity for sitting naked on birthday cakes of other players to leave an assprint in the frosting. The story goes that Lyle worked hard to develop a slider, which became his best pitch, after Ted Williams described it and told him it was the hardest pitch for him to hit.
- Other lefty closers who won the Cy Young award include Mark Davis (1989) and Willie Hernandez (1984).
- More recent lefty closers include Brian Fuentes (Rockies and Angels), Eddie Guardado (Twins), BJ Ryan (Orioles and Blue Jays), but it seems like lefty closers may be something of a dying breed, as out of the top 50 active saves leaders, only four are lefties, and one of those is CJ Wilson, who as we know, doesn’t close many games anymore.
Hey, that’s good news: Marshall will probably lead MLB in lefty saves for 2012. Sounds like a winner!