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Bernie Bytes: Cards gave more to get lefty

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Randy Choate

Randy Choate delievers a pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers in a July game against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. (Getty Images/Dilip Vishwanat photo)

The "Hello Randy Choate" Edition:

The Cardinals overpaid to secure the services of lefthanded reliever Randy Choate. Actually, the issue wasn’t money; Choate’s three-year salaries add up to $7.5 million. That’s reasonable. The Cardinals had to go the extra length and give Choate a third guaranteed year to win a multi-team auction. Choate is 37, so obviously the Cardinals believe (and hope) he’ll hold up physically from now until the end of the 2015 season.

Ideally, GM John Mozeliak preferred a two-year deal for Choate. But the Cardinals had Choate rated as the top available LH relief specialist on the free-agent market, and liked him so much that they were willing to take the risk of going three years with him.

If Choate maintains his performance standards, this will be a terrific signing. He’s been among the very best in his category. You need to get a tough out in a pressure situation with a lefthanded batter up? This is your man.

Do not, however, expose Choate to many righthanded batters. They’ll do some damage. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny undoubtedly knows this, so he’ll slot Choate into the traditional LOOGY role. If Choate is allowed to confront too many RH batters and gets punished, that’s on Matheny. Don’t blame the pitcher.

With information culled from STATS LLC and Brooks Baseball Net, let’s take a closer look at Choate’s performance record against LH batters.

Scouting report: 

• Choate is a two-pitch pitcher vs. LH hitters. He throws the sinker and the slider. He keeps them guessing on the first pitch, going 50-50 in his percentage of using the sinker and the slider. But when Choate is ahead in the count, he goes for the knockout with the slider. When the batter is ahead in the count, Choate goes heavy with the sinkers.

• That sinker does what it is supposed to do. Choate has a ground-ball rate of 74 percent in his career. (That number is according to STATS. Other statkeepers have a lower GB percentage for him, but either way, the GB rate is impressive.)

• Choate’s swing-and-miss rate has held up very well. Last season when he threw the slider and LH batters went for it, they whiffed on 53.4 percent of their swings.

• Choate’s velocity has pretty much remained intact. His sinker has clocked in at an average of 87 mph over the last three seasons. His slider, which emerges from a funky delivery, clocks in at nearly 77 mph. If you’re looking for any potential warning signs related to age, it would be this: in 2009 Choate averaged over 78.6 mph on the slider. That’s dropped by around two mph in subsequent seasons. But Choate’s motion in throwing the slider is the most important thing. He doesn’t need the premium gas; hitters really struggle to pick up the ball and the spin when it leaves Choate’s left hand.

• Since 2009, when an at-bat ends with Choate throwing the slider, LH hitters are batting .081 against that slider. The four-season batting average by LH batters against the sinker is .228.

• Last season, in 35 at-bats that ended with Choate throwing the slider to LH batters, they hit .029. The average against the sinker was .250.

• If you want to search for another possible concern, here you go: for some reason Choate’s walk rate jumped — it doubled — after he was traded by the Marlins to the Dodgers last July 25. Choate had a 4.09 ERA for the Dodgers, which isn’t good. Part of that can be attributed to luck and a much higher batting average (.300) on balls in play after he joined Los Angeles.

• Obviously, the Cardinals wanted to have Choate as a late-inning weapon in matchups against the superb LH batters. Small sample size warning, but here’s what he’s done against some notable LH batters over the last two seasons:

Joey Votto, 0 for 3 with a strikeout.

Jay Bruce, 0 for 2 with two Ks and a walk.

Pedro Alvarez, 1 for 3 with one K.

Garrett Jones, 0 for 1.

Travis Snider, 0 for 1.

Anthony Rizzo, 0 for 1.

David DeJesus, 0 for 1 with one K and a walk.

Ryan Howard, 0 for 4 with a K

Chase Utley, 0 for 3 with two Ks.

Bryce Harper, 1 for 3 with 2 Ks

Adam LaRoche, 0 for 4 with 2 Ks

Brian McCann, 1 for 2 with a K.

Michael Bourn, 3 for 8 with two Ks.

Freddie Freeman, 0 for 3.

Jason Heyward, 0-2 with two Ks

Carlos Gonzalez, 0 for 2 with a K.

The Arizona Diamondbacks beat Choate up a little, with LH batters Eric Hinske and Miguel Montero bopping him for a homer. But that’s rare. Last season, when an at-bat ended with a slider to a LH batter, they didn’t have an extra-base hit against Choate.

Choate should be exactly what the Cardinals need as long as (1) he stays healthy; (2) doesn’t suddenly lose his sorcery with the slider; (3) is utilized in an intelligent and responsible manner.

Thanks for reading …

— Bernie

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Bernie Miklasz is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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