Should the San Francisco Giants use Hunter Strickland primarily as a right-handed specialist in his relief appearances? Let’s discuss.
Terminology such as “left-handed specialist” and “LOOGY,” (Lefty One-Out Guy) have become ubiquitous in the age of relief pitching specialization. The San Francisco Giants, and Bruce Bochy relied heavily on Javier López and Jeremy Affeldt to shut down left-handed hitting late in ballgame, and Bochy imagined Will Smith in a similar role before his injury.
Yet the term “right-handed specialist” has seldom been used to describe a right-handed reliever. Managers more or less expect righties to face hitters from both sides of the plate, particularly those in the close role. However, Hunter Strickland’s lefty/righty splits raise the question of whether or not Bochy should match him up only against right-handed hitting.
While the San Francisco Giants have had a horrendous start to the year on all fronts Strickland pitching in his fourth season with the ballclub, has been excellent during his limited appearances on the mound.
Strickland has yet to allow a run this season in six innings of work with seven strikeouts to boot and he’s on pace to accumulate the highest WAR of his career if he keeps churning out quality appearances. Opponents aren’t exactly hitting the ball hard either as Strickland has induced “soft” contact 46.2% of the time and ground balls 61.5% of the time to kick off the season.
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Of the 22 batters Strickland has faced this season, four have found their way on base by way of two hits and two walks. That statement, while it does prove Strickland has retired ~80% of batters, isn’t noteworthy without a bit of context; the only batters who have reached base against Strickland are left-handed.
During San Francisco’s opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Strickland allowed a single and walk to Jake Lamb and Jeremy Hazelbaker, both of whom bat from the left-handed side of the plate.
This season for the San Francisco Giants, Strickland has faced 12 right-handed hitters and 10 left-handed hitters. Against the former, Strickland has struck out six and has yet to allow any hard contact. Against the latter, Strickland has only one strikeout and has been hit noticeably hard.
One should take such findings with a grain of salt due to the incredibly small sample size, but Strickland has faced enough hitters in his career to justify an analysis of his lefty/righty splits. Here is a table which document’s those splits:
While researching Strickland’s splits, I expected to find a noticeable difference between his performance against right-handed hitting and left-handed hitting, but not to such an extreme degree. In his career, Strickland has been undeniably better against righties than lefties by a large margin.
For those who still have a shred of doubt regarding Strickland’s splits, recollect on Strickland’s encounters against one Bryce Harper.
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Strickland can hold his own against left-handed hitting, but Bruce Bochy should play to Strickland’s strengths instead of simply sending him out for an inning. The San Francisco Giants have a pair of relievers in Steven Okert and Mark Melancon who have a proven track record of success against left-handed pitching, and Bochy should look to take advantage of these tools.