Cardinals' Choate adds versatility to the left side of Cards bullpen

10:01 AM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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(KSDK Sports) -- Over the course of the off-season, the St. Louis Cardinals were thought to be in on several different left-handed relievers before they picked up free agent Randy Choate.
Choate, 37, was picked up to address one of the Cardinals main weaknesses in 2012 - a lack of left-handed bullpen depth.

Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny said he feels good about the versatility that Choate brings to the Cardinals bullpen.

"I don't think there's much question or secret to what he brings to the table," Matheny said. "He's a guy that comes in and he's going to be specifically effective against lefties."

In 2012, Choate held left-handed batters to a .158 average and a .243 OBP. When used appropriately, he can be a valuable tool.
He really struggles against right-handed batters, however, which means exposure should be kept to a minimum to maximize his effectiveness.

"We've just got to be smart about how we use him," Matheny said.
Right-handed batters hit .412 with a .471 OBP against Choate in 2012. While he faced 60 more left-handers than right-handers, he gave up almost as many runs and hits to righties. He also walked nine of the 40 right-handers he went up against - the same number of walks he had against 101 left-handed batters.

Simply put, he is lights out against lefties - exercise his strengths.

"We've got to effectively put him in positions where he can succeed and not put him in positions where he can have higher likelihood of having a tough time," Matheny said. "Righties have had a lot of success against him in the past."

With that said, he wasn't signed to pitch to right-handers.
"But, he's been as good as just about anybody in the league right now against lefties," Matheny said. "We have some lefties, especially in the [Central] division, where we could use a guy like him."

Choate, who the Cardinals have under control through 2015 for a total of $7.5 million, also broadens how left-hander Marc Rzepczynski will be used as the Cardinals move into 2013.

While Rzepczynski struggled through May and June of 2012, he remains rather consistent against batters on both sides of the plate.

"So, that gives us some flexibility to throw him a little bit more and have him extend his usage," Matheny said. "Then save that one spot for Randy [Choate] if we need him."

When it comes to the need for a lefty specialist, the Cardinals found themselves in a rather fortunate position late in 2012. While they have a need like any other team, the right side of their bullpen was strong enough to compensate in many instances.
Matheny says it all depend on the makeup of an individual club.

"We had three guys that we really didn't want to bring out of the game for the last three innings," he said. "We wanted to get through six innings and let [Edward] Mujica, [Mitchell] Boggs and [Jason] Motte do their thing without really even matching up."

In 2012, the Cardinals had the fourth lowest walk total (163) in the National League for inning seven through nine and the fifth best WHIP (1.26.)

"If your club doesn't necessarily come together like that and you don't have a recipe that's working, you certainly have situations where a big left-handed bat comes up in a big situation and it's nice to have that weapon," Matheny said.

One of the biggest struggles the Cardinals faced in the late innings last year was their home run total. The bullpen surrendered 54 long balls to lead the National League on the season.

The home run numbers were a group effort with Motte (9), Rzepczynski (7), Boggs (5), Fernando Salas (5) and Victor Marte (5) all serving up five or more from the seventh inning forward.
Mujica didn't give up a single home run in his two and a half months as a Cardinal. Randy Choate gave up one home run in 2012.

From 2010-2012 his home run total is seven. Between the improvements he brings from that angle as well as his long-term success against lefties, he fits right into the Cardinals plan.
Choate should be a welcome addition to an already strong bullpen.

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