The Right Handed Specialist

LOOGY is by far the best acronym in sports. Lefty-One-Out-Guys are a special breed of professional athlete. Their role is to come in to face one left-handed batter and be expected to get him out before returning back to the clubhouse. There is literally no other position in sports, or the world for that matter, where you work roughly 20 minutes a week. LOOGYs appear in the 7th inning after commercial breaks and are gone before you realize they did exactly what was asked of them. Having an elite LOOGY is a sought after commodity in the MLB, but their unique talents are often taken for granite.

While LOOGYs are underappreciated, at least they are talked about. On the other hand, their much rarer right handed counterparts usually completely fly under the radar. Every team has a LOOGY, very few teams have a right handed specialist.

This article is dedicated to the guys with the most overlooked role in baseball. Guys who do their job night-in and night-out, but unlike the LOOGY, are not even appreciated enough to have their role described by a cool acronym. Here is to you, righty specialists, teams may not pay enough attention to you, but to me, the fact that there are fewer of you means you are more valuable. So without further adieu, here are the top 5 right handed specialists in baseball.

**Below is a list of the criteria used to make this list. As usual, all statistics are courtesy of fangraphs.com and baseballsavant.com: 

This list is based mainly on RHH Usage% (how often the relievers is employed specifically to get right handed hitters out), their Opp wOBA, K%, as well as Hard% against righties. I used RHH Usage% to determine which relievers were actually specialize at getting righties out as opposed to guys who dominate hitters regardless of what handedness they are. By using Opp wOBA, Hard% and K% we get a fuller picture of the guys who overpower righties versus the guys who rely on inducing weak contact from them.

When constructing this list, I realized just how rare the right handed specialist is in the MLB. Only twelve pitchers faced RHH over 65% whereas 34 LHP reached this number in 2016. I also excluded closers from this list as there are right handed closers who may dominate righties, but since they are used to pitch the 9th inning no matter what, they can not be called right handed specialists.

  1. Pat Neshek – Philadelphia Phillies

Pat Neshek is the epitome of a pitcher who relies on a funky delivery and deception in order to upset the timing of hitters. Perhaps no other MLB pitcher has a delivery and pitch repertoire that is so specifically tailored to retire right handed batters. Neshek was used 72.7 percent of the time against righties in 2016, which was second highest in the MLB. He also had the largest split between Opp wOBA v/ RHH compared to his Opp wOBA v/ LHB. While LHH more or less dominated Neshek in 2016 with a .379 wOBA, righties managed just a meager .188 wOBA against him. Perhaps more startling is that lefties slugged .646 against Neshek while he limited righties to just a .254 SLG%. Righties also made hard contact about half as much off Neshek as lefties did. Neshek has made an entire career off his unique ability to upset the timing of right handed hitters with a funky delivery in which he hides the ball until the last second and then slingshots the ball out of his right hip, making it so right handed batters cannot see the ball until it is too late.

2. Mychal Givens – Baltimore Orioles

With a side arm delivery and release point that comes from behind right handed batters, it is no mystery why righties struggle so much against Givens. After coming off a season in which Givens had the second best adjusted FIP in the MLB in 2015, he continued his dominance in 2016. Like many side-winding right-handers, Givens best pitch is a Frisbee slider that he will throw front door to righties early in the count in order to get ahead and then catch them lunging later in the count by starting the pitch in the middle of the zone, only to have it break away at the last second. Givens was used 74.7% of the time against righties and struck out righties 35.4% of the time in 2016. With an FIP nearly three full runs lower against righties than against lefties, it is clear that Buck Showalter knows where Given’s strengths lie, and is insistent on using him accordingly.

3. Dustin McGowan – Miami Marlins

Dustin McGowan ranks second only to Neshek in almost every statistical category I used to construct this list, however, since he was used just 64.4% against righties, he is not quite as much of specialist as Givens is. Despite not having the deception in his delivery that is common for most relief specialists, McGowan uses a tight, late-breaking slider to neutralize righties. McGowan was able to use his slide piece to induce grounders on 69% of batted balls against the pitch in 2016, which ranked third among all relievers. Opposing right handed hitters had a wOBA about .163 points lower than lefties and made hard contact just 16.7% of the time against McGowan. With such dominance over right handed hitters, it would benefit both McGowan and the Marlins if he utilized more to do what he does best in 2017.

4. Ryan Dull – Oakland A’s

Another right-hander that quietly emerged in 2016 was Ryan Dull of the Oakland A’s. Dull’s success story is similar to the other pitchers on this list as his devastating slider coupled with great fastball command helped him to establish himself as one of the go-to relievers out of the Oakland bullpen in 2016. Dull not only showed incredible control against righties (5 BB in 51.2 innings), but he also showed the ability to get righties to chase his slider. Dull proved that he did not necessarily need to throw his slider in the strike zone in order to have success with it in 2016. Dull threw his slider in the strike zone just 31.9% of the time in 2016, but induced swings nearly half the time. Dull’s ability to get ahead with his fastball and then get swings-and-misses or weak contact with his slider by throwing it down and away with two strikes was a big reason why righties hit just .154 off of him in 2016.

5. Hunter Strickland – San Francisco Giants

After once being the heir apparent as the Giants closer, Strickland’s inability to get left handed hitters out has made more of a specialized reliever. Traditionally, Strickland has been able to perform well against hitters from both sides of the plate, but he took a step back in 2016 as he gave up ten earned runs to lefties in just 18 innings of work. With the signing of closer Mark Melancon, Strickland should learn to embrace his role as more of a right handed specialist, because all evidence from 2016 shows he is pretty darn good at it. Righties had an OPS of just .512 in 2016 and managed only six extra base hits in 43 innings. His role as a right handed specialist also became more defined in the second half of last season as he pitched just 6 of his 18 innings against left-handers in the latter half of the year.

Unlike the other guys on this list who have deliveries and arsenals that are traditionally successful against righties, Strickland is more of an enigma. He lacks deception in his delivery, throws his fastball very hard and straight, and uses a sharp cutter as his off speed pitch rather than a slider with a lot of horizontal movement. Whatever the case, the signing of Melancon means that any possibility of Strickland ascending to the closer role will be put on hold for at least four years, so he better get comfortable in his new role, because all the numbers indicate that it suits him.

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