Paco Rodriguez, LOOGY or full-inning reliever?

Paco Rodriguez holds the ball high and keeps batting averages low. - USA TODAY Sports

In scrutinizing Don Mattingly's management of the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen, a number of observers question the usage of portsider Paco Rodriguez and debate if he should be used as a left-handed, out-out, guy (LOOGY), or a more standard one-inning or so reliever.

When trying to evaluate the Dodgers southpaw reliever Paco Rodriguez by the numbers, one thing stands out above all else: small sample size (SSS). After all, the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the majors has all of 25 1/3 innings (across 37 appearances) of experience in the big leagues, which spans a mere 94 batters faced, totals that a starting pitcher could easily eclipse in four reasonable starts. (For example, John Ely's first four career starts encompassed 25 2/3 IP and 101 batters.) This probably invalidates any statistical evaluation of LOOGY or not, but let's take a somewhat closer look anyway.

Statistics such as opponent's hitting lines versus Rodriguez, split for handedness of batters, do garner a bit of attention, to whit:

Opponent's batting vs.
Paco Rodriguez (career)
Handedness BA OBP SLG OPS BABIP
Left .133 .235 .156 .391 .207
Right .135 .238 .216 .454 .154
Total .134 .237 .183 .419 .182

Virtually no difference between the performances of left and right-handed hitters! But how microscopically small are these sample sizes? 42 plate appearances for right-handed batters, 10 more than that for lefties. That difference in slugging, for example, is caused by one HR versus one double, and ten less PA.

This authors wonders if the Dodger on-field brain trust has tried to put Paco in positions to succeed. Exactly who are these right-handed batters he's been allowed to face so far in his young career? Thanks to baseball-reference.com, you can peruse the entire list yourself.

What jumps out at me from this small list is that the number of formidable right-handed hitters on it is quite small. (I am ignoring the switch-hitters as a bit of a skew because the decision to pitch to one boils down to choosing the handedness and match-up you prefer, not getting a handedness advantage.) The big impact bats there are limited to Matt Holliday, Justin Upton (remember how well that worked out?), Martin Prado (I guess) and Allen Craig. Sure, there's a couple purported lefty-mashers there (Matt Diaz perhaps?), but the list is otherwise primarily populated with the likes of Pete Kozma and Nick Hundley.

Another word that comes to mind is "unsustainable". Obviously a young man who was pitching college ball one year ago at this time, made his major-league debut with a September callup in the same year he was drafted, and made the opening day roster for the Dodgers this season has major-league caliber skills. But there is no way his career batting lines and his career BABIP allowed are going to hold up. However, his career marks of a 27.7% strikeout rate against a 10.6% walk rate are promising.

When Paco inevitably allows some more hits, potentially in crucial situations and possibly in bunches, I hope those that are bullish on him as a full inning reliever don't suddenly turn on him and call for an immediate option to Albuquerque. His throwing motion may be a bit quirky, but his general effectiveness does appear to be real. I don't know if Rodriguez is more of a LOOGY or a full-inning reliever or not. The SSS negates anything the numbers might tell us and I lack the scout's trained eye to make that judgment. There is some evidence that the Dodgers are still picking their spots to let the lefty face opposite-handed batters, but they are also increasing that exposure (the aforementioned impact righties were all faced in May of this year.)

A left-handed, full-inning reliever is a somewhat rare commodity in the major leagues, so let's hope the proponents are right and that Paco Rodriguez truly is one.

All statistics through June 2 and courtesy of baseball-reference.com.

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