Zach Duke and the Free Agent LHP Options

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So far this off-season, the Crew has addressed one of the team’s biggest needs by bringing in a bona fide lefty bat at first base in Adam Lind, while also bringing back Aramis Ramirez and Yovani Gallardo on mutual and team options, respectively.

While these are all positive developments, it is my strong belief that the Brewers should bring in a lefty arm to bolster their bullpen. It is my hope that Brewers management agrees, though as recently as 2012 the Brewers ‘pen was essentially lefty-less, something I am no big fan of.

This last year, the team had three lefties, which is sometimes seen as too many, but that strongly depends on the pitchers’ individual abilities vs. right-handed batters. In 2014, the Crew made use of lefties Will Smith, Zach Duke, and Tom Gorzelanny, who combined to dominate left handed batters.

Combined, the three aforementioned pitchers posted a 2.79 ERA against lefties, with Duke and Smith performing especially well against them. Now Gorzelanny and Duke are free agents, leaving the Crew with just incumbent set-up man Smith.

While it is true that one lefty could be enough for a team, if Smith retains his set-up duties, he wouldn’t be available to specially face lefties in crucial situations.

I am a strong believer in carrying a pitcher that a team can count on to perform at a high level against lefties in the necessary situations. Should the Brewers agree, there are several lefty free agents that the Crew can reach out to, and I will detail them below, beginning with the former Brewers.

This list will be posted over two articles with two pages each. There is a fair amount of content here and I felt it quite cumbersome being displayed any other way. The follow-up article can be found here. I will also link to it at the end of this article.

Zach Duke (32):

Duke is my preferred option for the Crew, and was equally good against lefties and righties in 2014. It was his first full year as a reliever, and his first with varying arm slots, but he was a top reliever over the season. There should be skepticism about one year of reliever numbers, but to me, Duke’s floor is still as a very good lefty-specialist.

His ceiling, based on what Brewers fans saw out of him in 2014, seems to be that of a set-up man. If the Crew can pay him more like the former, he could be an outstanding pick-up for the team. Ideally, the other teams around the league see him as more of a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY), and won’t compete with the Crew for a contract.

EDIT: 11/18/14 The White Sox have signed Duke for three years, $15 million.

Tom Gorzelanny (32):

The other potential Brewers bullpen departure is Gorzelanny, who worked as a swingman for the Crew in 2013, but played more sparingly due to injury in 2014. As is the case with nearly every pitcher, Gorzelanny performs better against hitters of his same handedness, holding lefties to a career .661 OPS against him.

The issue with Gorzelanny is his history as a moderately successful swingman, and if a team wishes to use him in that capacity, he is not only likely to prefer that option, but also be paid more by those teams. With Jimmy Nelson, Tyler Thornburg and Co., the Crew has virtually no need for additional spot-starters, making Gorzelanny a long shot.

EDIT: 1/6/15 Gorzelanny has signed with the Tigers for one year, $1 million

Scott Downs (39):

The oldest player on our list, Scott Downs posted an uninspiring 4.97 ERA in 2014, playing poorly with the White Sox, before being released. He ended the year on a higher note after being picked up by the Royals, but his overall numbers leave something to be desired.

For our purposes, however, Downs has value. LHB’s have only hit for a .608 OPS against Downs in his career. The biggest problem here is how much Downs will be offered in the free agent market, given his previous pedigree for success. From ’07-’13, Downs posted a 2.33 ERA, mostly as a late-inning non-closer.

If this down year (pardon the pun) and his relative old age drop his value to all teams, the Crew could certainly use him as a lefty-specialist, preferably on a one-year deal. Again, I’m reluctant to believe the Brewers would want to pay what Downs may ask for his services, but his career success vs. lefties is quite favorable.

EDIT: 12/20/14 The Indians have signed Downs to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.