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The Sad Misuse of Brian Fuentes

Much like any reliever who throws from a low arm angle, Brian Fuentes has a rather large platoon split. He's much, much better against lefties than he is against righties. So can anybody figure out why Oakland has been misusing him since day one? See for yourself.


Click to enlarge.

There's a lot of information here, but the part that sticks out the most, which simply blows me away, is that Brian Fuentes has pitched to a larger proportion of right-handed batters than any other reliever on the team. How in the world does that make any sense whatsoever?

I'm going to break down the graphic in parts.

  • Each chart in the graphic corresponds to every reliever that Oakland has used this year with at least 20 innings pitched.
  • Every half-circle is split in two, so that the area of each of the two pieces corresponds to the relative amounts of righties and lefties faced. You can guess which side is which.
  • The color of each circle section corresponds to the 2011 FIP against batters of that particular handedness. The scale is on the bottom right. I set league average (3.84) at pure white, with green corresponding to a FIP better than average, red worse than average. The intensity of the color becomes greater the further away you get from average, in both directions.

This blows me away so much, that I have to say it again. Brian Fuentes has pitched to a larger proportion of right-handed batters than any other reliever on the team. He's terrible against righties. His FIP against right-handed batters is an abysmal 4.27, well below replacement level. The reason why he's a valuable asset is his performance against lefties, which is a fantastic 2.24.

Fuentes' role is even more baffling when you look at his teammate Brad Ziegler. He's an equal opposite—Fuentes is a sidearming lefty with huge platoon splits, and Ziegler is a submarining right-handed pitcher with huge platoon splits in the other direction. Brad is fantastic against righties and terrible against lefties. And to their credit, Oakland has gotten it right with Brad. Only 32% of his opposition this year is left-handed, and when you consider that around 30% of baseball is left-handed in addition to the roughly 15% that can switch-hit (that bats left-handed against a RHP like Ziegler), the average right-handed pitcher should face around 45% lefties. Brad Ziegler has only faced 32% lefties, which is exactly what a manager should do with a pitcher with such enormous platoon splits like Ziegler.

So why, oh why, has Fuentes faced even more righties than Brad Ziegler? Fuentes is the opposite of Brad. He should face more left-handed batters than any other pitcher on the team, not the least. And while I understand that it's not possible for Fuentes to only face 32% opposite-handed batters like with Ziegler (due to there being around 55% RH vs. 30% LH batters in the league), 70% opposite-handed batters is just embarrassing. Brian Fuentes hasn't suddenly gotten worse, and he not worthless. He's just been misused.

  • Obviously, the handedness of a pitcher's opposition isn't entirely under his team's control, due to pinch hitters and such. But it doesn't seem to matter that much to Ziegler.
  • New manager Bob Melvin's arrival coincided with Andrew Bailey's return to the closer role, after Fuentes picked up an astounding seven losses and two blown saves in two months of work. (Yes, I know losses and saves aren't the greatest measure of talent. But come on, seven losses?) Fuentes has been more appropriately used since leaving the closer role, but not by as much as necessary. He's faced 40% lefties since then, which is around the same as fellow LHP Craig Breslow, who has a relatively neutral platoon split.
  • I'll never understand how a pitcher with that strong of a platoon split has been a closer for basically his entire career. Say what you will about the merits of having a designated "closer", but the notion gets rather silly when using a pitcher with such a huge split. Pitchers with heavy splits should be the ones deployed with matchups in mind, not blindly thrown out when it's "his inning".
  • Update: This may (sadly) hold some answers. Fuentes' OPS against RHB? .681. Fuentes' OPS against LHB? .681. Most of that is from a BABIP against lefties that is .361. So not only has he been used incorrectly, but he's been incredibly unlucky against lefties so far this year. Note to Bob Melvin: This does NOT mean he has a neutral platoon split.