The conventional wisdom suggests that Charlie Manuel is as much to blame for J.C. Romero's struggles this season as Romero himself. Manuel, the thinking goes, has used Romero far too often against right-handed hitters instead of using him exclusively against lefties. Of the 72 batters Romero has faced, 45 have hit from the right side of the plate.
Romero is still an effective pitcher against lefties: This season, he has allowed just five hits (all singles), in 22 at-bats with eight strikeouts and four walks against them. Against rightities, he has allowed 11 hits (with five doubles) in 36 at-bats with two strikeouts and eight walks.
All of that has begged the question: Why does Manuel insist on using Romero against righties?
But. . .
Maybe Manuel really hasn't insisted on using Romero against righties as much as we think, at least not in situations that have impacted the outcome of a game.
A few things to consider:
1) Of Romero's 45 plate appearances against righties this season, 14 took place in situations where the Phillies were leading or trailing by at least four runs in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning.
Of the remaining 31 plate appearances:
- Five came in the seventh or eighth inning of a game that the Phillies trailed by three runs.
- Eight came in the seventh or eighth of a game that the Phillies trailed by two runs.
- Three came in the sixth inning of a game that the Phillies led by three runs.
In other words, of Romero's 45 PAs against righties, only 14 came in situations where he was being asked to protect a tight lead or hold a small deficit in the later innings. These are the ones we remember: Lance Berkman's walk-off RBI single in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game in St. Louis. Adrian Beltre's double in the eighth inning of a game the Phillies trailed 1-0, etc.
2) Leverage Index is a metric that attempts to quantify the importance of a given situation in a game. A plate appearance with runners on base in a tie game in the ninth has a high Leverage Index. A plate appearance with nobody on in a five-run game has a low Leverage Index.
Baseball-Reference.com defines a "High Leverage" situation as one with a Leverage Index of 1.5 or greater. Medium leverage is 0.70-1.49. Low leverage is anything below 0.70.
Romero has faced a batter in a "High Leverage" situation 13 times this season. He has faced a pure right-handed batter in only three of those plate appearances. In three others, he has faced a switch-hitter: Berkman, who has a .779 career OPS as a right-handed batter compared to a 1.013 OPS as a left-handed batter, and Chipper Jones, who faced Romero twice (Jones has a career OPS of over .900 from both sides of the plate, although his OPS as a righty is slightly lower).
Even when you factor in the switch-hittes, Romero has faced lefties in seven of his 13 High Leverage plate appearances. In those seven plate appearances against lefties, he has recorded an out three times. In the other four, he has allowed three walks and an infield single.
In 12 medium leverage plate appearances, Romero has faced righties six times, lefties five times, and a switch-hitter once.
In the 5 medium leverage PAs against lefties, he has recorded three outs, with the other two batters reaching base on singles. Righties are 3/7 with two doubles and a double play ball.
So in 25 medium-to-high leverage situations, Manuel has used Romero against lefties in 12 plate appearances and against righties/switch-hitters in 13.
Romero has not recorded a strikeout in any of those 25 plate appearances. His highest-leverage strikeout came against Pittsburgh's Xavier Paul with a man on second base in the bottom of the seventh inning of a game the Phillies trailed 4-2 (.52 leverage index).
3) So while Manuel has used Romero against righties 45 times, 32 of those plate appearances came in low leverage situations. Of his 27 plate appearances against lefties, 13 have come in low leverage situations.
4) Of the 26 left-handed relievers with at least 16 appearances this season, only 11 have faced lefties more times than righties. Two of those pitchers are members of bullpens in which there are two other lefty relievers. And four others are paired with another lefty specialist.
Romero's numbers certainly suggest he should be deployed as a LOOGY. But situations that call for a LOOGY have been few and far between this season, with the starters pitching so deep into games and lefty Antonio Bastardo establishing himself as a viable set-up man. Unlike the Phillies, most teams do not have four left-handed hitters in the top seven spots in their line-up. And there are a lot of situations where a manager cannot afford to use a reliever to face one batter, particularly when his other lefty is a set-up man and not a lefty specialist.
The Cardinals' Trever Miller is the only lefty in his bullpen, and he has faced 18 righties compared with 38 lefties. So it can be done. And you can certainly find some situations where Manuel might have been better off using somebody other than Romero to face a righty.
But keep in mind the Phillies enter today with a 3.02 bullpen ERA that ranks fourth in the National League, despite injuries to two of their top arms (Lidge and Contreras). The Phillies have spent the bulk of the season with rookies as the top two options behind Ryan Madson. While the bullpen has logged fewer innings than any other NL team, Manuel also hasn't exactly had an enviable array of options to select from beyond Madson, Bastardo and Stutes.
Last season, Manuel used Romero against lefties in 97 of 181 plate appearances. But he also had Lidge, Contreras, Madson and Chad Durbin and, at times, Bastardo as a second option to face lefties.
Clearly, the ideal situation has Romero facing lefties. But I'm not sure that Manuel has mis-handled him to the extent that we think.
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