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Do the Royals Need to Trade for a Left-Handed Reliever?

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The MLB trade deadline is just a couple of days away now, and the Royals are in need of some pieces. They’ve been rumored to be calling on several right fielders in an effort to upgrade that position, and they also appear to be looking for a left-handed reliever. A few weeks ago, David looked at a few names the Royals could be interested in, and they’ve also been connected to other pitchers, like the Phillies Antonio Bastardo.

Obviously rumors are no guarantee of a future deal, but at this point, I think I’ll be surprised if the Royals don’t trade for a lefty reliever before Thursday’s deadline. And I’ve got to say, I’m not sure they really need one.

The reason for having a left-handed reliever in a bullpen, typically, is for situations when a left-handed batter is at the plate. Having a platoon advantage is something most managers prefer, and that’s not a secret. However, the Royals haven’t been that bad against left-handed batters as a unit this season, allowing a .312 wOBA, which ranks 12th in baseball. They also rank 12th in WHIP, at 1.32, and their 3.40 ERA in those situations ranks 8th. It could be better, sure, but they’re far from hurting the team in that area.

Those rankings include starters, so let’s try to break it down a bit further by looking just at the current relievers. Here, the Royals have been decent enough against left-handed batters, as well.

Kelvin Herrera – .312 wOBA
Aaron Crow – .296 wOBA
Jason Frasor – .293 wOBA (has yet to face a LHB in KC)
Scott Downs – .277 wOBA (.198 while with KC)
Greg Holland – .265 wOBA
Wade Davis – .247 wOBA
Francisley Bueno – .182 wOBA

Once again, it could be better, but they’ve held their own. The two left-handers currently in the pen have been solid, with Bueno performing as well as many other pitchers in the league. Among all pitchers with at least 10 innings against lefties, Bueno has held opponents to the 13th lowest wOBA. (Just for fun, Danny Duffy checks in at 2nd, trailing only Sean Doolittle.)

Here’s the part where I’m obligated to point out that Downs has mostly done what he’s supposed to do against left-handed bats. As noted above, he’s done well with the Royals, as long as he’s not facing a righty. He’s a LOOGY in the truest sense of the word, and he’s performed more than adequately in that role. But a pitcher who can only face one batter at a time doesn’t offer very much value, particularly when righties clobber him to the tune of a .369 wOBA. Basically, every right-handed batter turns into Hanley Ramirez when facing Downs, and that’s kind of a problem.

So now I’m sure you’re asking yourself why I don’t think the Royals need another lefty reliever. I just spent several sentences talking about the limited utility of Downs, so it seems like there is a disconnect in my thought pattern. That does happen to me on occasion, but not in this instance.

I think the Royals don’t need to trade any kind of prospect for a left-handed reliever, because they likely already have guys in the organization who could perform in that role at an acceptable level. Tim Collins throws baseballs with his left hand, and lately, he’s been throwing them extremely well. Since being sent to Omaha in mid-June, Collins has pitched 23.1 innings, struck out 30, walked 8, and allowed a .558 OPS.

His numbers against lefties this season still aren’t spectacular, and he actually has a reverse platoon split in his career, but he’s proven before that he is capable of getting lefties out. Plus, as I literally just mentioned, he has a reverse platoon split in his career, so Ned Yost wouldn’t have to only use him against left-handed batters, as he should with Downs. Collins brings some versatility with his tiny frame.

If the Royals aren’t comfortable with Collins, they have another diminutive lefty in Omaha who I think could be a help as their LOOGY, in Buddy Baumann. As you know, I’m a bit of a Baumann fan, so this suggestion should come as no surprise. He has held lefties to a .604 OPS this season, and he held them to a .540 OPS last season. Like Collins, Baumann has a reverse platoon split this season, although I wouldn’t expect that to continue if he were promoted, since he relies more on a slider, which carries a significant split with it.

Even if the Royals don’t like Baumann as an option, Casey Coleman has been solid against lefties in Omaha, as has Clayton Mortensen. I don’t know if they’ll want to count on either guy for too many significant moments, but again, the rest of the relief corps haven’t been all that bad against lefties, so Yost would still have choices. Considering the best lefty relief arms on the market will likely have multiple suitors, the cost to acquire them will be higher than what the Royals should surrender.

I’d love to see the Royals steal the Red Sox’ Andrew Miller for a low-level prospect, but I just can’t see that happening, when so many teams are looking for bullpen help. It’s possible they can bring in someone without giving up something useful, but I don’t see a realistic upgrade that won’t come with a high cost. To me, it seems silly to trade anything of value for a left-handed reliever when several internal options are already available.

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