One-Batter Pitchers

I recently took a look at relievers who entered and left the game before you could settle back down with your beer. One-batter pitchers. The guys who appeared and disappeared before your eyes.

Did you know that six relievers entered and left a game in 2004 without even registering a full BFP (Batter Faced Pitching)? Five of those six pitchers recorded outs when an inherited baserunner was caught stealing. The other out (Scott Stewart on May 18th) came via a pickoff.

My favorite no-batter appearance was registered by Cleveland’s Jason Davis in a 5-4 loss to Oakland. Davis entered the game in the bottom of the eighth and threw four pickoff attempts to first and one pitch to the batter. It finally paid off when baserunner Mark Kotsay was out on the fourth pickoff attempt. I wonder how the Indians accounted for those pickoff throws in Davis’ pitch count.

Meanwhile, there were 1,028 occasions in which a reliever appeared for just one recorded plate appearance, an average of over thirty per team. During their brief appearances, these pitchers yielded:

  • 123 hits in 939 at bats for a .131 Batting Average
  • 68 walks (2 intentional) and 9 HBP’s for a .195 OBP
  • 16 home runs and 196 total bases for a Slugging Percentage of .209
  • 903 outs recorded, including 53 double plays, 13 caught stealings and 4 pickoffs (and 112 pickoff attempts)
  • 9 sacrifice flies and 3 sacrifice bunts
  • 24 stolen bases, 11 wild pitches and 0 balks

Overall, one-batter pitchers went 34-20, with 47 saves in 58 opportunities and a 1.94 ERA. Relievers gave up a total of 121 runs during these appearances (their runs or inherited runners), for an average of 3.6 runs allowed per nine innings. But keep in mind that over 80% of these appearances occurred with runners on base — in fact, ten percent of them occurred with the bases loaded — which makes that 3.6 RA an impressive number. Overall, one-batter pitchers (and the managers who called on them) were pretty successful.

Speaking of managers, there was a huge difference between them in their use of one-batter pitchers. Here’s a list, by team, of the number of one-batter appearances, the number of outs recorded in those appearances, and the ratio of outs to appearances. The outs include GIDP’s, caught stealing and pickoffs, which is why they sometimes outnumber the plate appearances.

Team                            PA   Outs     Out%
San Francisco Giants            95     69     0.73
St. Louis Cardinals             54     54     1.00
Arizona Diamondbacks            46     43     0.93
Los Angeles Dodgers             46     40     0.87
Oakland Athletics               46     40     0.87
Seattle Mariners                45     40     0.89
Montreal Expos                  41     33     0.80
Chicago Cubs                    39     33     0.85
Cleveland Indians               39     32     0.82
Boston Red Sox                  37     29     0.78
New York Yankees                36     22     0.61
Cincinnati Reds                 35     31     0.89
Houston Astros                  35     34     0.97
Detroit Tigers                  33     32     0.97
Texas Rangers                   33     32     0.97
Colorado Rockies                31     26     0.84
Florida Marlins                 31     32     1.03
Atlanta Braves                  29     28     0.97
Pittsburgh Pirates              29     25     0.86
Kansas City Royals              28     30     1.07
Baltimore Orioles               27     27     1.00
New York Mets                   27     26     0.96
Tampa Bay Devil Rays            27     20     0.74
Minnesota Twins                 26     21     0.81
Chicago White Sox               24     19     0.79
Philadelphia Phillies           24     22     0.92
San Diego Padres                23     20     0.87
Milwaukee Brewers               20     24     1.20
Toronto Blue Jays               17     13     0.76
Anaheim Angels                   5      6     1.20
                              ====   ====     ====
Grand Total                   1028    903     0.88

Wow. There really is a difference between Northern and Southern California. The Giants’ Felipe Alou (95 one-batter appearances) and the Angels’ Mike Scioscia (five) represented two extreme ends of the spectrum last year. Unfortunately, the Giants’ execution (0.73 Out Ratio) was worse than any team except the Yankees (0.61 — more about that in a minute). Poor execution was probably the reason a number of pitchers were pulled after only one batter, but Alou still blew away all other managers in his use of one-batter pitchers.

95 one-batter appearances is an extremely high number. The second-highest figure over the last three years is 57, which Alou reached in 2003. Thankfully, he achieved slightly better results that year, with 48 outs and a 0.84 Out Ratio. But in 2004, he used single-batter pitchers 67% more often than the next highest total over the past three years. That’s phenomenal.

On the other hand, Mike Scioscia showed complete disdain for the one-batter strategy in 2004, employing it only five times throughout the year. This is part of a larger trend for the former catcher, who has used one-batter pitchers less and less over time. In 2002, he brought in one-batter pitchers 43 times, with lefties Scott Schoeneweis and Dennis Cook available in the bullpen; in 2003 he employed the one-batter strategy 15 times, with Schoeneweis the sole lefty in the pen. This past year, with no lefty relievers, his use of the one-batter pitcher was less than any team over the past three years.

Yes, 2004 was the year of the one-batter pitcher extremes. Recognition should also go to Tony LaRussa (whom many credit with popularizing the one-batter pitcher strategy) for using the strategy often and well (54 times with a 1.00 Out Ratio). As you can probably tell from looking at the list, it’s hard to do both.

One-batter pitchers are primarily a left-handed pitcher vs. left-handed batter strategy, giving rise to the acronym LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY). Here’s a list of the top 25 one-batter pitchers last year; as you can see, it’s filled with LOOGY’s:

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Name                    Team       Hand   PA   Outs    Out%
Eyre, Scott             SFG        L      35     28    0.80
Myers, Mike             SEA/BOS    L      28     21    0.75
Christiansen, Jason     SFG        L      22     13    0.59
Choate, Randy           ARI        L      21     19    0.90
Martin, Tom             LAD/ATL    L      19     17    0.89
Lopez, Javier           COL        L      18     17    0.94
Perisho, Matt           FLA        L      18     17    0.94
Rincon, Ricardo         OAK        L      18     14    0.78
Gallo, Mike             HOU        L      17     15    0.88
King, Ray               STL        L      17     15    0.88
Shouse, Brian           TEX        L      15     14    0.93
Bradford, Chad          OAK        R      14     13    0.93
Gryboski, Kevin         ATL        R      14     14    1.00
Heredia, Felix          NYY        L      14      5    0.36
Mercker, Kent           CHC        L      14      9    0.64
Bartosh, Cliff          CLE        L      13      9    0.69
Brower, Jim             SFG        R      13     12    0.92
Miller, Trever          TBD        L      12      8    0.67
Tavarez, Julian         STL        R      12     14    1.17
Colyer, Steve           DET        L      11     11    1.00
Embree, Alan            BOS        L      11      9    0.82
Kline, Steve            STL        L      11     11    1.00
Harville, Chad          OAK/HOU    R      10     10    1.00
Hasegawa, Shigetoshi    SEA        R      10     10    1.00
Sanchez, Duaner         LAD        R      10      9    0.90

It appears that Jason Christiansen was at least partly responsible for the poor performance of the Giant one-batter strategy. In 2003, Christiansen had been dominant against lefty batters (.547 OPS vs. .920 OPS for righties), but 2004 was a different story. Lefties actually hit better against Christiansen than righties did (.736 OPS vs. .708 OPS).

But the absolute worst one-batter pitcher was Felix (“The Run Fairy”) Heredia of the Yankees, who appeared 14 times against single batters and only recorded five outs. In the other nine appearances, he gave up one single, four doubles, two walks, hit one batter and allowed a groundball that Jeter bobbled for an error. He is the reason the Yankees had the worst one-batter record in the majors last year.

Of course, the Yankees recently traded Heredia to the Mets for Mike Stanton, who recorded five outs in six one-batter appearances. In fact, the Mets had one of the best one-batter records in the majors last year. Think that will change?

References & Resources
Please note that this article is not a definitive study of the LOOGY strategy.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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