In order to field the best team possible, it's imperative that each member performs his part well. Too often, rosters include players who not only do not improve the team's production, but rather detract from it. Such is the case with Blue Jays relief pitchers Vinnie Chulk, Brian Tallet, and Pete Walker. For this entry, I'll focus on the youngest pitcher among that trio, Vinnie Chulk.
Chulk originally came up as a starting pitcher. He wasn't overwhelming by any stretch, but his performance was adequate enough that he quickly made a name for himself within the organization. In the past three seasons, he's spent time in the Blue Jays' bullpen, usually working out of long relief and low-leverage situations against both lefties and righties. And that's a problem, because his results have demonstrated that he simply isn't suited for that role.
Consider his overall stats as a Blue Jay:
Age Year Team W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO
24 2003 Toronto-MLB 0 0 5.06 3 0 5.1 6 0 3 2
25 2004 Toronto-MLB 1 3 4.66 47 0 56 59 6 27 44
26 2005 Toronto-MLB 0 1 3.88 62 0 72 68 9 26 39
27 2006 Toronto-MLB 0 0 11.25 4 0 4 5 2 1 3
Not great, but not especially terrible.
Now consider his splits against lefties and righties as a Blue Jay:
Age Year Team AB vs. RHB AB vs. LHB RHB OPS LHB OPS
24 2003 Toronto-MLB 9 13 .788 .670
25 2004 Toronto-MLB 101 117 .618 .905
26 2005 Toronto-MLB 147 120 .595 .830
27 2006 Toronto-MLB 9 7 1.141 1.000
The samples from 2003 and 2006 are much too small to convey anything conclusive. In his two full seasons, 2004 and 2005, he was remarkably effective against right-handed batters. However, the manager didn't take advantage of this. In 2004, he actually faced more lefties than righties! Rather than using him as a long reliever in low-leverage situations, more value could be derived from using him as a Roogy (Right-handed One Out GuY) in high-leverage situations. He's proven to be more effective against righties than even the team's ace, Roy Halladay.
It's also important to keep in mind that, although he seemed to improve substantially against RHB last season -- a .075 decrease in OPS against in about the same amount of at-bats, to be exact -- it may have been due to good fortune more than anything else.
Year BABIP FIP ERA adjusted for FIP Actual ERA
2004 .315 1.32 4.52 4.66
2005 .269 1.67 4.87 3.88
Evidently, according to FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching), he was somewhat unlucky in 2004 but incredibly fortunate last season. Since last season's AL ERA was 4.35, Chulk's true valus is below average. Moreover, despite not supporting data, it seems reasonable to assume that the average ERA for relief pitchers is even lower. As a result, Chulk isn't all that valuable unless he's relegated to facing right-handed batters.
However, is it in the team's best interest to carry a ROOGY on its roster?
Here's how right-handed batters hit against each member of the Blue Jays' bullpen last season:
Player Pitching handedness RHB OPS
Vinnie Chulk Right .595
Scott Downs Left .784
Jason Frasor Right .809
B.J. Ryan Left .547
Scott Schoeneweis Left .794
Justin Speier Right .664
Brian Tallet Left .856 <-- In only 15 AB. Sample size is too small in this case.
Pete Walker Right .746
Okay, in a relative sense, Chulk's results indicate he could valuable. The main problem, of course, is that a ROOGY likely won't get all that much playing time. That is somewhat countered by the fact that he will pitch in very high-leverage situations, however. If the team could improve by displacing him from the roster in favour of a utility player, it should be done immediately. With that said, though, it's evident that Chulk's spot on the roster is not entirely based on foolhardy logic.
In the end, Chulk simply hasn't proven to be productive enough against left-handed hitters to merit his current role on the team. Unfortunately, as a result of his good 2005 totals -- which were a result of some very good fortune -- it likely won't change anytime soon.