Ron Roenicke made a mistake in the top of the 8th inning of Wednesday’s game against the Mets. The mistake was not leaving Kameron Loe in to face Ronny Paulino, who hit the three-run homer to give the Mets a 6-2 lead last night. Paulino is a right-handed batter whose homer off Loe was his only his 17th homer off a right-handed pitcher in over 1200 plate appearances — nearly two full seasons — in his career.
No, the mistake was letting Loe face switch-hitter after switch-hitter, putting him in a position to fail. Loe faced Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan, all hitting left-handed against him. The results? A ground ball single (admittedly not Loe’s fault, it was a patented leadoff-guy infield hit), a sharply hit double, and a sharply hit single.
We should not be surprised at all that lefties were able to square up on Loe. This year, he’s allowed a .255/.328/.436 line (62 batters faced) to lefties after surrendering a .274/.311/.429 line (90 batters faced) against them last year. Compare that to his performances against righties — .250/.318/.383 (66 batters faced) this year, and .228/.289/.324 (150 batters faced) last year. It’s quite that Loe has something against righties that he just doesn’t against lefties, and yet Roenicke insists on pigeonholing Loe into an eighth inning role. Loe’s defined role allows opposing managers to deploy lefty after lefty against him, which is why we see Loe doing so poorly. He’s faced nearly the same number of righties this year as lefties, which is just silly usage of a righty-killer. Last year, when Loe faced five righties for every three lefties he saw, Loe was effective, and could work around his flaws. This year, he’s been put in situations to fail.
Loe is the kind of pitcher who should be summoned when a team is bringing up their top two or three right-handed bats in an inning, not the kind of pitcher who should be blindly flung into the eighth solely because it’s the eighth. I understand it’s been difficult for Roenicke to play the matchups in the bullpen with every single left-hander in the system being injured, but with Zach Braddock’s return, Roenicke is running out of excuses. The break on Loe’s pitch makes it much harder for right-handers to hit but plays right into the hands of lefties. Braddock doesn’t have that problem, and neither does LaTroy Hawkins. Those are pitchers who can handle both sides of the plate. If Roenicke uses Kameron Loe for what he is — a right-handed, ground ball specialist — the Brewers bullpen will continue to be one of the better units in the league, capable of maintaining its current 3.34 ERA/3.53 FIP. If, instead, Roenicke continues to allow Loe to face lefties in important situations, we may see more blowups like last night’s, and the lineup won’t be there to bail him out every time.