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The Last Place You Look?
2003-03-24 09:18
by Jon Weisman

In SundayÕs exhibition against Houston, Kazuhisa Ishii gave a sample of what is essentially the mixed blessing of a good Kazuhisa Ishii outing. He threw shutout ball, but averaged one walk and 18 pitches per inning.

Ishii is like the poor manÕs vision of Jackson Pollock. Drip paint every which way, and hope that it comes out a masterpiece.

In 2002, Ishii averaged 17.58 pitches per inning. By comparison, Hideo Nomo Š also known for his wildness Š averaged 15.67 pitches per inning. Odalis Perez needed only 13.56 pitches per inning.

With the Ishii that we have seen so far, the best you hope for is that the end justifies the means. When that doesnÕt happen, which is often, you begin to have misgivings about sending him out as a starting pitcher.

Despite not throwing a complete game last year, Ishii allowed nine or more baserunners in a game 15 times. He walked five or more batters eight times. Whenever he pitches, you need to have all your relief corps at the ready.

Sending Ishii himself to the bullpen, however, has not seemed like a solution, because when you have a pitcher who canÕt find his command, the last place you want to make him search for it is in the late innings of a close game with runners on base. The thinking is that if Ishii is in such trouble that he has to tumble out of the rotation, he would immediately drop to Terry Mulholland-like mop-up status.

But hereÕs a new idea for Ishii Š one that might fit his strengths with the Dodger weaknesses.

How about left-handed short man?

Here are IshiiÕs stats against right-handed and left-handed batters last year:

vs. Righties: .245 BA, .375 OBP, .406 SLG, .781 OPS
vs. Lefties: .223 BA, .290 OBP, .308 SLG, .597 OPS

ThatÕs a big difference.

Facing 143 left-handed batters last year, Ishii allowed 24 singles, two doubles and three home runs Š and perhaps more amazingly, walked only 12 (plus a hit batsman).

He walked only one of every 11 left-handed batters, compared to one of every five right-handed batters. In an inning against a right-handed lineup, Ishii is almost guaranteed to walk someone.

Another characteristic that would make Ishii a good left-handed short reliever is that he can generate strikeouts. More than a third of his outs against left-handed batters came in that fashion.

Working against the argument of Ishii as a reliever is that his best innings in 2002 were the middle innings. He allowed only a .515 OPS in innings 4-6, as opposed to a .890 OPS in innings 1-3 Š an even bigger differential than the left-right discrepancy. So there is reason to continue trying Ishii as a starter, chewing your fingernails through the first third of the game.

Also, in very small samples, Ishii has had mixed results getting some of the bigger-name left-handed hitters out. Here is the record of some leading lefties against Ishii:

Mark Kotsay: 4 plate appearances, 2 hits (1 home run), 0 walks, 1 strikeout, 2.000 OPS
Darin Erstad: 6 plate appearances, 4 hits, 0 walks, 1 strikeout, 1.333 OPS
Larry Walker: 3 plate appearances, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 1.167 OPS
Luis Gonzalez: 9 plate appearances, 3 hits, 3 walks, 0 strikeouts, 1.167 OPS
Todd Helton: 10 plate appearances, 3 hits, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, 1.000 OPS
Cliff Floyd: 3 plate appearances, 1 hit, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts, .667 OPS
Garret Anderson: 4 plate appearances, 1 hit, 0 walks, 1 strikeout, .450 OPS
Barry Bonds: 3 plate appearances, 0 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, .333 OPS
Ryan Klesko: 3 plate appearances, 0 hits, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts, .000 OPS

I am in the camp that the Dodgers shouldnÕt have a left-handed reliever just for the sake of having one. If their best relievers are all righties, then thatÕs whom they should go with.

Still, until another starting pitcher goes down with an injury, ŅWild ThingÓ Ishii coming out of the bullpen might be an option for the Dodgers to consider. Assuming Andy Ashby can get his act together at all, the Dodgers might get much more out of having Ashby starting and Ishii helping to form the bridge to Eric Gagne.

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