Ah, the LOOGY. Scourge of the modern era? Bizarre mutation metastasizing in today’s bloated, hyper-specialized bullpen?
Or perhaps … clever innovation by progressive managers? Sensible adaptation of resources to meet contemporary challenges?
Invented by Tony LaRussa? First embodied in Tony Fossas?
Before we deal with matters of opinion, first let’s get our LOOGY facts straight.
(L)eft-handed (O)ne (O)ut (G)u(Y)
First, how about we settle upon our definition. Just what is a LOOGY?
As the acronym indicates, we’re talking about a southpaw reliever brought in to get the nasty left-handed hitter out. The moniker specifies “one out,” and while sometimes in actuality these short-relief specialists indeed do only hang around for a solitary batter (whether they get him out or not), often — in fact usually — their stints are longer than that.
The “LOOGY” sobriquet must therefore properly be understood as a term of art. The more technically accurate description of this beast might be something more along the lines of “left-handed extreme short reliever.” But LOOGY is a whole lot more colorful. The name may well have been intended to be disparaging in its origin, and no doubt it sometimes still is, but for our purposes we’ll accept it as simply a commonly-understood name for a commonly-observed role.
The purpose of a LOOGY is straightforward: he’s brought in to face, if not a single dangerous left-handed hitter, then at least a part of the lineup containing a key lefty, or two or more lefties. Very often this is in a fairly high-leverage game circumstance, rarely before the fifth or sixth inning. Sometimes LOOGYs are deployed in the ninth, but rarely are they used in Save situations. Very rarely are they left in for much more than a single inning.
LOOGYs are selected for the role primarily on the basis of their particular effectiveness against left-handed batters — or, to be less kind, on the basis of their particular ineffectiveness against right-handed batters. They’re often long and lanky types, with snaky sidewinding deliveries.
There are differing intensities of LOOGYness, of course. But how about we come up with some broad criteria to capture the general idea. Let’s define a LOOGY season as any by a left-handed pitcher that meets the following conditions:
- At least 20 appearances
- Fewer than 1.20 innings per appearance
- Fewer than 20% Saves per appearance
It turns out that through 2004, there have been exactly 799 pitcher-seasons in major league history meeting these criteria.
The Primordial LOOGY Ooze
The first LOOGY season in major league history that meets our definition occurred in 1960. It was recorded by none other than Leo Kiely of the Kansas City A’s, managed by Bob Elliott, in his only year as a big league skipper. Granted, Kiely just squeaks in at the limit of the definition here, with exactly 20 appearances and 20 2/3 innings in the early months of that season. Kiely was rather effective in the role, in his soft-tossing control artist kind of way, but not enough to prevent the Athletics from letting him go in June, never to appear in the majors again. At least he went out in historic fashion.
The Angels were managed by Bill Rigney, and they were the surprise team of the year, startling everyone by winning 86 games and finishing in third place in just their second year of existence. Rigney handled the pitching staff in quite a novel manner, setting a new record for fewest complete games (23), while deploying six different starters in at least 22 starts, and seven different relievers with at least 26 appearances. The ’62 Angels also set a new record for team Saves, with 47, with eleven different pitchers recording at least one Save. All this was quite startling, and Rigney was named A.L. Manager of the Year.
In 1963, the Angels slid to a disappointing ninth place finish, but Rigney again used Spring in the LOOGY pattern. Spring thus became the first pitcher ever to record multiple LOOGY seasons. Moreover, Spring in 1963 could properly be considered the first hard-core LOOGY: he had more appearances (45) than innings pitched (38), becoming just the second pitcher in history to do so in a meaningful number of games (we’ll see who the first had been very shortly). Like Kiely, Spring wasn’t a hard thrower at all, but instead was a control-oriented junkballer.
A few additional pitchers had LOOGY seasons in 1964 and 1965. Then in 1966, Giants’ manager Herman Franks used 38-year-old veteran Bill Henry as the first-ever really hard-core LOOGY, in 35 games and just 22 innings, or 0.63 innings per appearance. (In the late 1970s, Franks would be managing the Cubs, and his innovative handling of Bruce Sutter would be a major step toward the eventual development of the modern Closer usage pattern.) To this day, among the 759 total LOOGY seasons, Henry’s 1966 holds the 53rd lowest innings-per-game rate.
Henry was a very fine pitcher, having been one of the better southpaw relief specialists in baseball since the late 1950s. While with the Cincinnati Reds, he teamed with righthander Jim Brosnan to form one of the most productive and celebrated bullpen duos of the era. Reds’ manager Fred Hutchinson used Henry in a short relief pattern, but he was quite often called upon to close out games, recording Saves in a quarter to a third of his appearances from 1960 through 1963. In 1962, Henry had been the very first reliever in a significant role to record more games (40) than innings (37), but his rather high Save total (11, or 27.5% of his appearances) eliminates that season from our listing of LOOGYs; Henry’s usage pattern with the Reds was something along the lines of a proto-Closer. But once traded to the Giants in 1965, Henry became a true LOOGY.
Several more LOOGYs appeared each year through the late 1960s, and in both 1970 and 1971 there were eight LOOGY seasons, the most yet seen.
The LOOGY in Winter
But across the decade of the 1970s and beyond, the LOOGY went into a long period of near-hiatus. Not until 1986 would there be as many LOOGYs deployed as there had been in 1971, and in one season (1975) the total dwindled to just two.
The 1970s are well-remembered as the decade in which the managerial fashion of handling starting pitchers went decidedly retro, with several starters (most notably Mickey Lolich, Wilbur Wood, and Phil Niekro) racking up Games Started, Complete Games, and Innings Pitched totals which hadn’t been seen in decades. This was also the period in which ace relievers were given workloads never approached before or since; led by ironman Mike Marshall, several top relievers were throwing 130 or 140 innings or even more per season. It was a time of reversing the trends that had been gathering momentum for several decades, of shorter pitching stints and more specialized roles.
It was in this environment that only a handful of LOOGY seasons appeared per year in the ‘70s. The only reliever who was used consistently in the LOOGY pattern through the decade was Joe Hoerner, and he was in the twilight phase of his career, and was generally quite ineffective in those years. An observer in the late 1970s might well have been tempted to conclude that the LOOGY had been a fringe innovation – almost as kooky as Charlie Finley’s pinch-running specialists – that had arisen in the 1960s, generated a bit of interest for a few years, but had never really caught on, and was teetering on the brink of extinction.
Come Back, Little LOOGY!
The LOOGY turned the corner very slowly. Down to just three specimens in 1978, it revived a bit to six in both 1979 and 1980, then four in the strike-shortened season of 1981.
Then in both 1982 and 1983 there were again six LOOGY manifestations. And a closer look at the 1982-83 class of LOOGYs revealed something else: the particular LOOGY with the most appearances each season (78 in ’82 and 68 in ’83) was both young and quite good. He was Ed Vande Berg of the Seattle Mariners, and his 1982-83 performance was novel in several ways:
- His 78 games in 1982 set the new record for LOOGY appearances. It also set a new ML record for most appearances by a rookie pitcher.
- In both ’82 and ’83, Vande Berg was a hard-core LOOGY, with fewer innings than games.
- Most previous LOOGYs had been nondescript journeymen (like Kiely and Spring), or veterans in their final phase (like Henry and Hoerner), or very marginal prospects (like Jack DiLauro or Mickey Scott). Vande Berg was none of these things; he was a prime prospect out of Arizona State who had blown through the minors in a season and a half, and been installed as a full-time LOOGY the moment he arrived in the majors.
The Seattle manager deploying Vande Berg in this bold manner was Rene Lachemann. Lachemann had once been a prized prospect himself, a power-hitting catcher in the Kansas City Athletics organization in the mid-1960s, where he was a teammate and became a close friend of fellow prospects Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan. After his managerial stint with the Mariners, Lachemann would be hired on by LaRussa in Oakland and spend several years as a coach there, along with Duncan, in the late 1980s.
The 1984 season would see seven LOOGYs deployed (Vande Berg wasn’t among them; new Mariners’ manager Del Crandall moved him into the starting rotation, and Vande Berg struggled). In 1985 there would also be seven (Vande Berg was among them, having been reconverted by another new Seattle manager, Chuck Cottier).
The Chicago White Sox – managed by LaRussa – contributed a LOOGY (Kevin Hickey) to the pool in 1981, and again in 1983 (Juan Agosto) and ’84 (Agosto). Then in 1985, two of the seven major league LOOGYs were deployed by LaRussa’s White Sox (Agosto and Jerry Don Gleaton) – the only team other than the 1971 White Sox (with Terry Forster and Don Eddy) to have yet done so.
In 1986, ten LOOGY seasons were recorded – a new record, finally surpassing the total that had occurred back in 1970 and 1971. LaRussa had a hand in three of them: one with the White Sox (Joel McKeon) before LaRussa was fired in June, and two with the Athletics (Dave Leiper and Dave Von Ohlen) where LaRussa landed in July. (LaRussa’s replacement in Chicago, Jim Fregosi, also deployed Ray Searage as a LOOGY over the second half).
The Looming LOOGY Boom
No one could have know it at the time, of course, but 1986 would be the last season yet recorded in which LOOGY deployment would be that rare. Indeed in 1987, the number of LOOGY seasons would double. But that’s for next week.
In fact, over the next few weeks, we’ll explore not only the LOOGY explosion of the 1990s, but the entire picture of the dramatic shift in major league bullpen use (including the Closer, of course) that has occurred in recent seasons – why it’s happened, its positives and negatives, and perhaps the most interesting question: what it suggests is yet to come.
1960-1986 LOOGY Fun Facts
Total LOOGY Seasons, 1960-1986: 131 (That leaves 668 to go, giving you a hint of what we’ll be dealing with next week!)
Most LOOGY Seasons Pitched, 1960-1986:
1. 6, Joe Hoerner (1972, 1973 ATL, 1973 KCR, 1974, 1975, 1976)
2T. 4, Grant Jackson (1975, 1979, 1980, 1981)
2T. 4, Ed Vande Berg (1982, 1983, 1985, 1986)
4T. 3, Juan Agosto (1983, 1984, 1985)
4T. 3, Dave Tomlin (1978, 1979, 1980)
Most LOOGY Seasons Managed, 1960-1986:
1T. 8, Tony LaRussa (1981 Hickey, 1983 Agosto, 1984 Agosto, 1985 Agosto, 1985 Gleaton, *1986 McKeon, *1986 Leiper, *1986 Von Ohlen)
1T. 8, Chuck Tanner (1971 Eddy, 1971 Forster, 1979 Jackson, 1980 Jackson, 1981 Jackson, 1983 Scurry, 1984 Scurry, 1986 Assenmacher)
3. 6, Bobby Cox (1979 Bradford, 1980 Bradford, 1981 Bradford, 1983 Geisel, 1984 Key, 1985 Lavelle)
4. 5, Alvin Dark (1966 Grzenda, 1970 Mingori, *1971 Mingori, *1971 Austin, 1974 Knowles)
5T. 4, Dave Bristol (1968 Davidson, 1969 Jackson, 1970 O’Donoghue, 1976 Beard)
5T. 4, Whitey Herzog (1976 Hall, 1979 Hrabosky, 1983 Rucker, 1985 Dayley)
5T. 4, John McNamara (1970 Lindblad, 1979 Tomlin, 1980 Tomlin, 1983 Hassler)
5T. 4, Harry Walker (1965 Carpin, *1968 Coombs, 1969 Guinn, 1970 DiLauro)
* Managed partial season
Most Total LOOGY Seasons Observed, 1960-1986:
1. 10, 1986
2T. 8, 1970
2T. 8, 1971
4T. 7, 1972
4T. 7, 1976
4T. 7, 1984
4T. 6, 1985
Most LOOGY Seasons Per Team, 1960-1986:
1. 0.38, 1986
2T. 0.33, 1970
2T. 0.33, 1971
4T. 0.29, 1972
4T. 0.29, 1976
Most Average Appearances Among LOOGYs, 1960-1986:
1. 50, 1982
2T. 49, 1979
2T. 49, 1983
2T. 49, 1984
2T. 49, 1985
Fewest Average Innings/Appearance Among LOOGYs, 1960-1986:
1. 0.88, 1973
2. 0.94, 1963
3. 0.98, 1970
4. 0.99, 1966
5. 1.01, 1972
Fewest Average Saves/Appearance Among LOOGYs, 1960-1986:
1. .035, 1968
2. .043, 1966
3. .045, 1986
4. .050, 1960
5. .056, 1974
Fewest Innings/Appearance, 1960-1986:
Fewest Innings/Appearance With At Least 40 Appearances, 1960-1986:
1. 0.81, Jack DiLauro 1970
2. 0.84, Jack Spring 1963
3. 0.85, Joe Hoerner 1976
4. 0.86, Andy Hassler 1983
5. 0.89, Ed Vande Berg 1985
Most Appearances, 1960-1986:
1. 78, Ed Vande Berg 1982
2. 76, Ed Vande Berg 1985
3. 75, Willie Hernandez 1982
4. 72, Grant Jackson 1979
5. 69, Gary Lavelle 1985
Most Appearances With Zero Saves, 1960-1986:
Most Starts in a LOOGY Season, 1960-1986:
1. 3, Terry Forster 1971 (45 Appearances)
2. 2, Danny Coombs, 1968 (40 Appearances)
3T. 1, Jack O’Connor 1985 (20 Appearances)
3T. 1, Bill Henry 1967 (28 Appearances)
3T. 1, Randy Niemann 1986 (31 Appearances)
3T. 1, Darold Knowles 1974 (45 Appearances)
3T. 1, Paul Lindblad 1968 (47 Appearances)
3T. 1, Mike Jeffcoat 1984 (63 Appearances)
References & Resources
His 1960 performance wasn’t the only one in which Leo Kiely achieved something notable in the history of relief pitching. In 1957, pitching for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, Kiely had a terrific year, leading the league in wins, going 21-6. And get this: 20 of those wins were in relief. Kiely is the only pitcher in PCL history to have a 20-win season as a reliever, and I’m pretty sure the only pitcher in the history of professional baseball to do so as well.
Here’s Kiely’s 1957 stat line:
G GS CG IP W L SV H BB SO ERA 59 3 1 146 21 6 10 119 24 38 2.22
Very special THANKS to BTF poster James Parinella (Jim P) for providing me with a more comprehensive listing of LOOGY seasons, and allowing me to make a few numerical detail corrections here.