When we picked up Brian Shouse midway through the 2006 season, it was a very low-key acquisition: I'd be willing to bet I made fun of it as a way of providing Ned with a lefty--any lefty!--while allowing Doug Melvin to acquire yet another player he used to have on the Rangers.
As it turned out, he has been pretty darn good.
Shouse appeared 73 times this season, and it probably would've been more had the Crew not acquired Ray King and weirdly relied on Mitch Stetter in September. While we tend to think of him as a generic ageless LOOGY (which is true), he's only been a regular since age 34, in 2003. 73 MLB appearances is a career high for him.
His ERA was just above 3.00 (second in the 'pen to Coco) and his FIP was a notch lower, also second in the bullpen to Cordero. He averaged almost exactly 2/3 of an inning per appearance, which makes him the epitome of a lefty specialist.
In evaluating Shouse's season, it isn't so much a question of whether he pitched well--he most certainly did, and we've reaped the benefits of Moustache's bargain bin shopping for nearly two seasons now. The bigger issue is his usage. For the first time in his career, Shouse faced more righties than lefties.
Granting the obvious fact that the Milwaukee bullpen wasn't overflowing with options against those right-handed hitters, one still wonders why. Shouse's career numbers against righties are a LOOGY-tastic 310/394/457, which is all the more dramatic when compared to the way he dominates lefties: 217/275/332.
What is particularly impressive (or perhaps breathtakingly lucky) is the way Shouse kept those right-handed bats at bay this year. He was even better than usual against lefties--214/264/262--and was considerably better than league average against righties as well, holding them to a 295/358/337 line. In over two hundred plate appearances total, Shouse gave up eight doubles, no triples, and no homers.
As usual, the concern is whether Shouse has legitimately improved against righties. It's unlikely, both because he's been around for a long time, and he's pushing 40. Lefty relievers do peak later than righties, but not that much later. It may have just been a string of bad luck, but the end of Shouse's season doesn't bode well. He allowed a baserunner in 10 of his last 13 outings, and didn't get an out in any of the last three. (That last bit is somewhat misleading for a LOOGY, as he probably wouldn't--and shouldn't--have gotten the chance.)
For 2008, we'll almost surely keep him (he is in his final year of arbitration) and we probably won't have to pay him all that much. How well he pitches depends in large part on how Ned deploys him: not only are his numbers against righties bound to return to something more like his career norms, but his stats as a whole are probably going to head downward a bit.
In fact, I just finished my pitcher projections this morning, so I can show you what I've got for Shouse. It's not that optimistic--I think it's a combination of aging, worrisome batted-ball trends, and a slightly bigger penalty for the poor Brewers defense:
Perc ERA W L G IP H R ER HR BB K 20 4.61 2 2 58 52 66 15 27 4 20 28 50 4.32 2 2 62 56 63 15 27 4 19 32 80 3.97 2 2 63 56 56 13 25 3 19 35"Perc" is percentile: like PECOTA, I'm offering multiple projections. I put a lot more stock in the median, 50% projection than in the others.
Like I said, this is pretty pessimistic. The G/IP relationship is obviously wrong because I don't treat specialists different than anyone else. (It's on the list for next year.) But regardless of how many innings he pitches per outing, the rates would stay the same.
If Shouse is going to turn into something resembling league average in 2008, it's all the more important that Ned uses him in a limited, LOOGY-like fashion. With all the righty mashers in the division, it's a little too easy to imagine a rough couple of months for Shouse until Yost remembers his specialist's limitations.