Ruben Amaro suggested last week that Phillies fans might want to relax about the lack of lefties in the pen and further suggested that righty Jose Contreras and his splitter might be a big weapon against lefties this season. I actually feel pretty relaxed about the pen, but more because I feel confident that Amaro and the team can address the issues and less because I think that Contreras and his splitter are the answer to what ills the Phils.

Last week I mentioned that the Phillies have been improving steadily against left-handed batters over the past couple of years. In 2007, by OPS against for lefties, the Phillies were the worst pitching team in the NL. In 2008 they made it to the middle of the pack and last season only three teams in the league held lefties to a lower OPS. The table below compares how the OPS against for left-handed batters against Contreras and his new fellow righty Danys Baez stacks up against what the Phillies overall did against left-handed pitching over the past three seasons.


OPS by left-handed hitters
Year vs PHI vs
Contreras
vs Baez
2009 .735 .713 .707
2008 .772 .826 Did not play
2007 .825 .887 1.004
       
Total ’07-’09 .778 .821 .823
       
Career - .757 .766

Good news, bad news there, but I think there’s a little more bad news. The worst news is that in 2007, when the Phillies allowed the worst OPS to left-handed batters in the NL, Baez and Contreras were both getting hit even harder than the Phils. The other bad news is that overall for the three year period, both pitchers have allowed a higher OPS overall that the Phils have.

The good news is that both pitchers had very good results against lefties in 2009. Lefties have a career line of 272/352/413 against Baez, but hit just 248/312/395 against him in ’09. A tiny .232 BAbip for Baez last year adds a lot of question makes to his nifty 1.13 ratio for the season, but while his BAbip for righties was a paltry .198, lefties managed a more reasonable .269. Even if you’re a total non-believer in batting average for balls in play, Baez still lowered his walk rate against lefties in ’09 compared to his career levels. In 2009 he walked 7.8% of the 141 lefties he faced. Coming into the season he had walked about 10.8% of the lefties he faced.

I’m a little more wary of the success that Contreras had against lefties last year. First of all, it came off of the ’07 and ’08 seasons in which lefties combined to hit an ugly 316/376/488 against him. Second, despite the success against lefties, Contreras just didn’t pitch very well last year. Between Chicago and the Rockies his ERA was up near five with a 1.47 ratio. While he did hold lefties to a snazzy .713 OPS against him, righties pounded away to a 292/350/450 tune. It’s going to be a whole lot more important for him to be able to get out righties in 2010. So even if you could take his ’09 success against lefties, if it comes with that kind of line from right-handed batters he’s going to have some trouble being successful in 2010.

This says that JC Romero will throw off a mound on Saturday and that Bastardo is the front-runner for the job of lefty out of the pen. It also suggests that Rich Dubee thinks that Bastardo’s future may be at the back of the bullpen.

The Phillies signed 32-year-old lefty Brad Wilkerson to a minor league contract. Wilkerson was an everyday player for the Expos/Nationals from 2002 through 2005 and hit 32 home runs for Montreal in 2004. He has a career 247/350/440 line over about 3,700 at-bats but has hit 226/311/411 in 1,063 plate appearances since the end of the 2005 season.

Lidge’s prospects for being ready by opening day don’t seem particularly bright.