No team has used fewer lefty relievers than Ron Roenicke’s Milwaukee Brewers this season. Left-handed Brewer relievers have thrown a league-low 27 innings, and the 128 batters faced is also the lowest mark in the majors. Their 44 lefty relief appearances is the National League low. And right nowt, the Brewers don’t even have a lefty reliever on the staff. So this must be cause for panic in today’s age of situational hyperawareness, right?
Well, if history’s any guide, maybe, but we’ll get to that. However, the Brewers’ disdain for situational lefties this season definitely isn’t historic -- not for a big-league staff, not for a playoff team, and not even for a playoff team from within the last decade. And Roenicke's reasoning might owe plenty to where he spent 11 seasons coaching before landing the Brewers’ job -- with the Angels of Anaheim in the vicinity of Los Angeles.
First, here’s the all-time list of lefty-less pens:
TEAMS WITH THE FEWEST LEFTY RELIEVERS USED
So, this isn’t even a low-water mark for going lefty-less in Milwaukee, as Ned Yost’s ’04 squad managed a last-place finish. The 1969 Phillies were a fifth-place club out of six, and destined for worse things before things got better. The 1952 Philadelphia A’s fared better, finishing fourth in the AL, the franchise’s last winning season in Philly.
And then there are the two playoff teams: The ill-fated ’84 Cubs and Mike Scioscia’s 2004 Angels -- a club that just happened to employ one Ronald Jon Roenicke as its third-base coach.
While Jim Frey went to the postseason without a lefty in the Cubs’ pen in 1984, he did wind up throwing southpaw Steve Trout at the Pads in relief in the decisive seventh inning of Game 5 -- on three days’ rest after he’d started Game 2. The Pads had already built a 6-3 lead, but Trout retired the two lefty batters he faced, Graig Nettles and Terry Kennedy. So the Cubs weren’t entirely lefty-less in the postseason, just ill-starred as always.
The 2004 Angels were in much the same situation: The only lefty who appeared in the postseason for them was Jarrod Washburn in Game 3, after he’d already started Game 1 three days earlier. Even then, using him was less a matter of choice than need. Washburn came into the game with two outs, Pokey Reese in scoring position, and David Ortiz at the plate. Papi pounded Washburn’s first pitch out of the park, and that was the end of the 2004 Angels' season.
The 2004 Brewers and 1984 Cubs pointedly didn’t carry a designated lefty reliever in their bullpen, and that’s where their situations differ a bit from Roenicke’s Brewers. Roenicke has already proved willing to bump his fifth starter, lefty Chris Narveson to relief work when the schedule permits skipping Narveson in the rotation. It seems fairly likely that if the Brewers are going to carry a southpaw in the pen in October, it’ll be Narveson, and not some mystery man from the farm system.
That latter option is possible -- Mitch Stetter, Zach Braddock or Manny Parra could already be on the Brewers’ postseason roster despite their unavailability for October action, and via the rules dodge Keith Law explained a few years back Milwaukee could add someone from within the organization. However, the Brewers don’t have a left-handed K-Rod to slip onto the postseason roster. Because of injuries or ineffectiveness, the Brewers may have had to go without a southpaw reliever for much of the season, but Roenicke shouldn’t be without one in October.