The 2019 season could be the final step for the well known role of a LOOGY. With Major League Baseball implementing the three batter minimum rule for a pitcher, there seems to be little way that teams can get around this new restriction to deploy a LOOGY. But as all stands at the moment, there’s one team that has an ideal pitcher to stick into this role in its final run in October.
Stephen Tarpley doesn’t appear to be a very useful major league pitcher. In 23 career appearances, he has a 5.16 ERA and 4.52 FIP, with most of the resulting from a career 11.3 percent walk-rate. He was never a huge prospect and his fastball isn’t wowing with velocity. Looking at just these facts, you wouldn’t be crazy to assume that he’s a fringe major league reliever. He’s spent most of the season burning a path between Triple-A and the majors, being optioned five times, most recently on Monday.
In Triple-A this year, Tarpley has performed admirably. In 29 1⁄3 innings spanning across 17 appearances, he has a 3.07 ERA and 3.95 FIP, inducing a fair amount of strikeouts and ground balls (important considering how the ball has been acting in Triple-A this season). Before his major league debut last season, he pitched in six minor league seasons, splitting time between the farm systems of the Orioles, Pirates, and Yankees. For most of his minor league career, he was developed as a starter. In 2017 though, the Yankees decided it was time for the transition into the bullpen, most likely a result of subpar command that couldn’t be corrected, as highlighted in this FanGraphs prospect blurb on him from 2016.
Though his control took a major step forward, his command isn’t where it needs to be to stick as a starter, and his stuff doesn’t project high enough to be able to just pump it into the zone. A back-end starter or mid- to late-inning reliever job is most likely in his future, but I would like to see him against better competition.
The problem with Tarpley in the bullpen though was that he couldn’t get righties out at a workable rate as he climbed the minor league ladder. Once he reached Triple-A, right-handed batters started to tag him at a higher rate. Once he reached the majors, his sinker/slider combination wouldn’t play against them, as his slashline against 60 total right-handed hitters has been .333/.433/.608. Back down in Triple-A this year, they’ve hit him at .283/.377/.525.
After addressing all the issues with Tarpley’s profile, his strengths can now be brought up. The value of Tarpley is all held in his splits. There’s the aforementioned struggles against right-handers, but when facing left-handers, he’s been near unhittable. For his major league career, lefties are 4-for-42 against him, logging only one extra-base hit. His K-BB-rate against left-handers almost quadruples his rate against righties. All-in-all, they’re slashing .108/.214/.135 when facing him. Among 742 pitchers with at least 10 innings accumulated against left-handed hitters, Tarpley’s wOBA against is the lowest, standing at .174. It’s all thanks to a strikeout-rate that ranks fourth and a hard hit-rate that ranks first by a considerable margin.
Examining a larger sample size, it’s been the same story for Tarpley in Triple-A, as left-handers are hitting a lowly .143/.206/.206 against him, striking out 29 times in 69 plate appearances.
Tarpley found a way to make it onto the Yankees postseason roster last season with only 10 career games under his belt, so barring an injury or a major trade, a repeat seems likely. Serving in a situational role, if the splits hold, he could be a legit weapon in an already stellar Yankees bullpen. Right in time before the LOOGY goes extinct.