There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and the need for left-handed pitching help. Being a lefty is recession-proof; if you’re a lefty reliever your lifespan in baseball can get extended well beyond what a similarly talented right-handed reliever would expect. Seriously, if my future son takes a liking to baseball I’m going to teach him to throw left-handed.
Enter Royce Ring. In addition to having a comical-sounding name, Ring is a lefty reliever. Ring was actually the first round draft pick of the White Sox in 2002, but was dealt a year later to the Mets along with Edwin Almonte and Andrew Salvo in exchange for Roberto Alomar. Ring didn’t do well in New York, and was left exposed to the Rule V draft after the 2004 season. There were no takers, and rumors of a bad attitude (much like Jesus Montero, amirite?) and lack of physical conditioning severely dimmed this prospect’s outlook. Over the next few years, Ring bounced back and forth between AAA and the bigs, never able to establish himself as a solid option out of the bullpen. After the 2006 season, the Royce Ring-New York Mets experiment ended when Ring was dealt to the Padres along with Heath Bell in exchange for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins.
No, seriously, the Mets gave away Heath Bell.
After another trade to Atlanta, Ring became a minor league free agent and signed with the Cardinals before the 2009 season. He cleared waivers, and spent the season pitching for the Memphis Redbirds, the Cardinals’ Triple A affiliate. Along came the Yankees. After the season, Ring signed a minor league deal with New York and was optioned to Triple A Scranton. Ring’s performance was noteworthy. He struck out 39 batters in 42 innings, walking only 9 and yielding only 2 home runs. His ERA was 1.93 and his FIP was 3.10, and his K/BB ratio of 3.5 represented his highest mark since notching a 4.0 over 31 innings with the Padres in 2007. When Damaso Marte went down for the season with yet more shoulder pain and the team relying heavily on Boone Logan to do the heavy-lifting out of the pen, the Yankees finally called up Ring to the bigs two days ago to be the second lefty out of the bullpen.
One of the best parts about Ring is his ability to generate ground balls. In his past two years, Ring has gotten ground balls at a 51.4% and 57.1% clip in a sample of around 90 innings.One of the weirder things about Ring, though, is the fact that he’s not exactly a platoon-type pitcher. From 2008 to 2010, he faced 202 left-handed batters and 207 right-handed batters. He posted a 3.57 FIP against the lefties and a 3.34 FIP against the righties. He struck out an identical amount of batters, 43, and walked 2 more left-handed batters than righties (18 vs. 16). In other words, he doesn’t profile as a LOOGY. You can see Ring pitch in this Spring Training video clip on MLB.com. He looks a bit like Boone Logan in his delivery, although he appears slightly quicker to the plate. You can see him throw a decent curveball and run a high-80s fastball up and in on a left-handed batter. It’s nothing too impressive, to be honest. There’s a reason he was a free agent this past winter.
As I detailed early this week, the final one or two spots in the bullpen are up for grabs. Javier Vazquez and Ivan Nova (or Chad Gaudin) have the best shot at grabbing them, but it’s possible that Ring could work his way into the mix over the next few weeks. If the Yankees are the Wild Card team, they will face the Twins in the first round. The Twins feature a lefty-heavy lineup with Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Jim Thome and possibly Justin Morneau, as well as switch-hitter Orlando Hudson. If the Yankees win the AL East, they’ll face the Rangers in the first round, and the Rangers have a fair amount of lefties themselves with Josh Hamilton, the seriously under-rated David Murphy, Chris Davis and Julio Borbon. Beyond that, the Rays feature Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena,Yankee-killer Dan Johnson, Matt Joyce and John Jaso. It’s no easier in the National League. The Phillies have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and the Braves have Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Melky “murder you from either side of the plate” Cabrera. Elsewhere, the Reds have Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, and the Padres feature Adrian Gonzalez and nobody. A second lefty isn’t a must, but it is certainly nice to have the option.
It’s true that David Robertson and Boone Logan can both handle lefties, and they’ve proven themselves to be very solid options out of the bullpen. But Royce Ring’s performance over the next few weeks may give the Yankees another left-handed option out of the pen come playoff time. Making the postseason roster would certainly be quite the career accomplishment for this burned out prospect with the funny name, and maybe he could end up contributing something to the Yankees’ October run.