Which Lefty Will Fill the Void Left by Wesley Wright?
As the spring rolls on, one of the developing stories will be which lefty gets the spot in the pen to fill the role Wesley Wright — the only lefty out of the pen for most of the season — had last year. In total, Wright appeared in 58 games (48.1 innings) with a 3.17 ERA and a career low in K/9 (6.9).
Nothing special, but his departure does leave a question mark as to who will pick up those innings in 2015; let’s look at some of the options.
Britton was selected by the Cubs off of waivers from the Red Sox in early February and is just 25 years old. He was added to the 40-man roster, so there wouldn’t be much shuffling to have Britton added to the team.
Though he has a very small sample size in the majors, Britton has had some good results in his limited time (25 total games with 27.2 innings). He has a career ERA of 2.93 with 2.7 BB/9 and 5.4 K/9. He held left-handed hitters to a .238 average and has yet to give up a HR to a lefty in the majors.
Britton was used exclusively as a reliever in the big leagues but was a starter in the minors prior to last year. According to Fangraphs, he has a 3-pitch repertoire: fastball (average speed: 92 MPH), slider (80 MPH) and a changeup (86 MPH). The fastball and slider are right around average and his changeup is the weakest of his pitches.
This former Red Sox player was acquired by the front office last season at the trade deadline for Marco Hernandez. Once he made it to the Cubs, he sat out about a month so the they could work him into the rotation near the end of the season.
For the Cubs, Doubront was 2-1 with a 3.98 ERA in 20 IP with 7 BB and 8 Ks in a total of 4 games (all starts). In fact, Doubront has mostly started his entire career and that may be a role that he is more cut out for, but the rotation is crowded at this point and he may end up in that role of lefty out of the pen.
He isn’t terribly hard on left-handed hitters (career .270 avg against him in over 500 ABs), having given up 11 HRs and a .748 OPS against them.
Doubront has a 4-pitch mix with a fastball (89 MPH), a cutter (86 MPH), changeup (83 MPH) and a curveball (74 MPH) and most of those are below average with the only exception being his changeup which is just barely above average.
The 24 year old Joseph Ortiz was picked up from the Rangers right after the regular season ended. He spent the entire 2014 season coming back from a left foot injury and never did pitch in the majors after appearing in 32 games (44.2 innings) in 2013.
In 2013 he held left-handed hitters to a .257 avg and gave up 2 HRs with a .684 OPS. During his time working back from that injury in the minors, he gave up a .400 avg to lefties in 30 ABs (so pretty small sample size).
Ortiz has a fastball (90 MPH), slider (83 MPH), changeup (83 MPH) mixture to work with and has generally had decent control his entire career (2.09) BB/9. He is probably more of an organizational depth type of guy than actual contributor, but you never know.
Rosscup was acquired via the Matt Garza deal with the Rays in 2011 and got his first taste of the majors in 2013 with 10 games at the end of the season. In 2014, He got a bit of an extended run by appearing in 18 games.
The biggest knock on Rosscup is his extremely poor control (12 BB in 13.1 MLB innings pitched). He does have some eye-popping strikeout numbers though that help mask some of those control issues. To that end, he struck out 21 men last season, which translates into a 14.2 K/9 rate.
In a small sample size of 43 plate appearances, Rosscup has held left handed hitters to a .171 avg, .611 OPS and given up 1 HR. He is a two-pitch guy with fastball (92 MPH) and slider (82 MPH); both pitches are right around average, but lean towards below average.
I would love to see the wildness worked out because his K numbers are outstanding and he has held lefties to an extremely low avg, but I just don’t know if it is that easy for him. He has struggled with walks his entire career and I don’t see that changing.
Wada made his MLB debut in July of 2014 and made 13 solid starts for the Cubs. He finished with a 4-4 record, 3.25 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, and 7.4 K/9. All in all some pretty spectacular numbers for some 34 year old that had never pitched in the majors before.
Wada is another guy that, like Doubront, has mostly started his entire career. But unlike Doubront, Wada was absolutely lights-out against lefties. In 2014 he held them to a .184 avg, .429 OPS, with 0 HRs in 49 ABs against him.
Wada has a 4-pitch mix with a fastball (89 MPH), slider (81 MPH), curveball (73 MPH) and changeup (81 MPH). Of those, only his fastball is considered slightly below average. I know he had a pretty small sample size, but no one on this list has an extensive history and no one else has quite the success that Wada had in 2014 against lefties.
One last option on the 40-man roster is Eric Jokisch, who got a small cup of coffee last year where he appeared in 4 games during September and held his own to the tune of a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched.
In the minors he held lefties to a .239 avg, .603 OPS and gave up 4 HRs, only walking 6 of the 192 hitters he faced. Jokisch has 4 pitches at his disposal: fastball (88 MPH), slider (84 MPH), curveball (74 MPH) and changeup (80 MPH).
Jokisch is probably better served as either a swing man/long reliever or a guy that comes up for a spot start during the season instead of a lefty reliever that faces that tough lefty and gets him out consistently. I think the value is more in him starting in Iowa and being on the ready for the occasional emergency start.
Cervenka is not on the 40-man roster and has only pitched as high as AA Tennessee but has some impressive numbers against lefties in the minor leagues. Last year he pitched exclusively in AA and had a 3.79 ERA with just under 10 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9.
He held lefties to a .151 avg with a .477 OPS while giving up 0 HRs; in fact, he only gave up 1 HR the whole season in 61.2 innings.
Not being on the 40-man roster is an issue, as is the fact he hasn’t pitched at AAA yet. But Cervenka could be an intriguing option during the 2nd half of the season. You would like to see an improvement in his control, but he doesn’t give up the longball, so you can live with a couple walks here and there knowing they aren’t going to turn into a 3-run HR.
There are some good options on this list and some tough calls as well. I’m not sure whether Wada would be more valuable as a long reliever or a LOOGY role; same goes for Doubront and Jokisch. I’m in the camp that believes Rosscup will never get enough control of his stuff to be a viable option.
I like the last minute addition of Britton and I think he is probably the guy for this role of lefty reliever and I’m encouraged by Cervenka’s numbers and look forward to see what he can do in AAA. Joe Ortiz is a bit of a wild card and, if he can stay healthy, he could be another good option.
Doubront and Britton are out of options, as is Jacob Turner — who is not left handed, but could still have his role impacted by this decision. Will there be more interesting storylines this spring? Okay, yeah, but who ends up with this spot will also be something to watch for if for no other reason than the chain reaction it will cause.