Left-Handed Complement: Cubs Have Stockpile of Southpaw Slingers

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst INovember 22, 2009

MESA, AZ - MARCH 03:  Starting pitcher Sean Marshall #45 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the spring training game at HoHoKam Park on March 3, 2009 in Mesa, Arizona. The Cubs defeated the A's 6-4.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When it comes down to numbers, right-handed pitchers have an easier go of it in Major League Baseball.

Only about one-quarter of all batters in the league hit left-handed, meaning right-handed pitchers can expect to have the platoon advantage over 75 percent of the hitters they face (removing the admittedly estimable impact of tactical maneuvering).

Lefties, however, always seem to garner the most attention when it comes time to construct or evaluate a team's pitching staff.

Theory says (and the logic is sound) that having at least two or three southpaw pitchers on the Major League roster allows a manager to carefully maximize the team's advantage over opponent hitters, by making copious late-game switches to leverage platoon situations.

Most teams strive to have at least one left-handed arm in both their starting rotation and their bullpen.

Even by these well-established standards of lust for left-handedness, however, the 2010 Cubs project to have an embarrassment of riches in this respect.

Here, in order of their expected 2010 utility, are the pitchers manager Lou Piniella will be able to use to build a diversely talented pitching staff, from top to bottom.

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  1. Ted Lilly- Lilly will be out until mid- to late-April after having surgery on his throwing shoulder on Nov. 3. If he can return at full strength, however, the Cubs will be able to boast one of the NL's top three or four lefty starters.
  2. Tom Gorzelanny- I just devoted another article on this site to Gorzelanny, whose 40 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year left many Cubs fans hoping for big things in 2010.
  3. Sean Marshall- The once-reluctant swing-man embraced his role in 2009, appearing 46 times in relief and making nine starts for the Cubs. He has settled into the role of long reliever, and it suits him well: a 3.23 ERA out of the bullpen in 2009, fully two runs lower than his 5.24 figure as a starter. At 27, he is maturing as a pitcher, and may yet have room to improve.
  4. John Grabow- Here is another man to whom I have already given significant attention . Readers of those previous posts will understand my reticence about him for the purposes of this piece.
  5. John Gaub- Here, now, we reach the really fun part. Gaub is the most impressive of no fewer than three young hurlers, each under the age of 25, who stand to make meaningful contributions in 2010 and beyond. At 24, he split 2009 between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. In 60 combined innings, he struck out 80 and walked only 33. The Cubs rewarded Gaub, one of three pitchers procured in the Mark DeRosa trade last winter, by adding him to their 40-man roster Friday to protect him in the upcoming Rule Five Draft.
  6. James Russell- Russell, like Gaub, played in the Arizona Fall League after the end of the 2009 season. While not the strikeout ace Gaub can be, Russell did fan 14 in 14 1/3 innings of work in the AFL, a league generally reserved for teams' higher-end prospects. Russell will turn 23 years old in January, and pitched at Iowa last season with good success. He has both started and relieved in the Minors, but projects as a pen-man at the big-league level.
  7. Scott Maine- Hendry got Maine in his recent trade of right-handed hurler Aaron Heilman to Arizona. Maine has a low arm angle, a live fastball, and a track record of success at the higher levels of Minor League ball, where last year he whiffed 61 batters and walked just 22 in 62 innings. He, like Gaub, will be 25 when next season starts, and appears ready to be a viable option as a left-handed specialist sooner rather than later.

Obviously, having all seven on board at once would fly right by unorthodox on its way to inadvisable.

More likely, four of these will be full-time Major Leaguers in 2010, with the other three providing either insurance against injury and ineffectiveness or potential trade bait.

Still, Hendry must be pleased to have such versatility among his pitchers, and Lou Piniella can age a bit less slowly knowing he has such depth with which to work at a key position.

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