It is likelier than not that the least athletic Major League Baseball player is in fact more athletic than the author or a mean of the audience.
Still, if a snarky, tongue-in-cheek essay about the easiest job in professional baseball were to be written, it would look like this:
Few professions in the American economy are more handsomely rewarded for less tangible output than the bullpen reliever earning an MLB-level salary for literally minutes of work.
The above is not meant to include all relievers, set-up hurlers and closers, but to call out the “LOOGY,” a leaching class of southpaws overpaid for comparably little work.
The LOOGY is a Left-handed One-out Guy. As defined by Baseball Reference, a LOOGY “is a typical modern role for a left-handed relief pitcher, who comes in to face just one left-handed batter or two.”
This breed of pitcher usually enters the game in middle-to-late innings to face only a specific batter or two, and almost never throws more than 15-20 combined pitches at the very most per appearance.
“LOOGYs are selected for the role primarily on the basis of their particular effectiveness against left-handed batters — or, to be less kind, on the basis of their particular ineffectiveness against right-handed batters. They’re often long and lanky types, with snaky sidewinding deliveries,” according to a 2005 Fangraphs article, A History of the LOOGY: Part 1.
Consequently, a LOOGY’s appearances in a given season outnumber his combined innings pitched. A LOOGY will not record many decisions over the course of the season, either.
Usually, the only evidence he was ever in the game comes not from the box score, but from the collective groan audible from the crowd reckoning with the fact it is about to watch two pitching changes in a span of one, maybe two, outs. Let’s be clear, the only thing more exciting than watching an aging manager waddle like a penguin to the pitching rubber and summons a substitute reliever is watching that same manager do it twice in five-minutes time.
Did someone say beer run?
Perhaps the grandfather of the LOOGYs of today is Jesse Orasco.
Orasco holds the all-time MLB record for games pitched (1,252), but has “only” 1,295 big-league innings pitched to his credit. Of his 1,252 career appearances, all but four came pitching in relief for a combined 10 teams across four decades. Indeed, Orasco is the only player in MLB history to pitch in four different decades. Which of course begs the question: How is he able to stay fit in the face of such a rigorous workload? I mean, this guy had to heat his shoulder up for, seriously, like, 45 minutes per day, three to five times per week.
Over the last 13 years of his career, Orasco never averaged more than one inning per appearance, and in his last five seasons, Orasco averaged less than one-half-inning pitched per appearance, according to Baseball Reference.
In fairness, he was a two-time National League All-Star (’93, ’94) and was a member of the 1986 New York Mets and 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers World Series Championship teams.
So valuable was Orasco to that ’88 Dodgers club, he logged exactly zero appearances in that Fall Classic.
Bullpen specialization has provided the ecosystem for the LOOGY to grow and thrive. Especially in the last 30 years, teams have employed this strategy more and more.
According to a February 2017 article published by MLB researcher Andrew Simon, of the five pitchers to record the most one-out-and-done appearances in baseball history, each pitched into the 2000s.
Orasco ranks fourth all-time on that list with 169 one-out appearances. Mike Myers has logged the most one-and-done appearances in baseball history with 206 between 1995 and 2007. Javier Lopez (198), Randy Choate (185) and Dan Pleasac (130) round out the top-five for most one-out appearances in baseball history.
The number of one-out relief appearances numbered fewer than 100 in 1959, according to MLB.com research data. That number had tripled to over 300 by the 1989 season, and the combined number of LOOGYs responsible for only one of 27 necessary outs eclipsed 1,000 by 2015.
The standard bearer for modern LOOGYs is arguably Boone Logan. The 33-year-old southpaw has pitched 12 big-league seasons for five teams. Logan has pitched a total of 431.1 innings combined over 619 lifetime games.
In January, the Associated Press reported he agreed to terms with what will be his sixth team, the Milwaukee Brewers, on a one-year contract worth a base salary of about $1.8 million. Logan’s contract features incentives worth upwards of $3.2 million, according to the AP.
Not surprisingly, the more generous incentives are for innings pitched rather than games.
He has averaged 47 innings in 68 games per season over his career, which would mean a yearly salary closer to $3 million with performance bonuses included.
So, if Logan pitches in 68 games, and records, say, 100 combined outs all season long he will make approximately $30,000 per out recorded.
Broken down in another way, if the average MLB game is three hours long, then the average inning lasts about 20 minutes. Each half-inning will take about 10 minutes. If each half-inning takes 10 minutes, then it takes approximately three minutes and 33 seconds between recorded outs.
The Brewers are prepared to pay Logan roughly $10,000 per minute perched atop an MLB mound.
By comparison an average American worker making the federal minimum wage would have to work 40 hours per week from Jan. 1 through the month of September to earn what Logan stands to make per minute on the mound this season, based on the numbers on the back of his baseball card.
Now, far be it for me to begrudge anyone their fair share of what the market is willing to pay them.
However, it’s worth noting that some one-third of modern MLB clubs identify as “small market,” without the resources to spend on big-name free agent position players with homerun power, or “workhorse” starting pitchers capable of 200-plus inning seasons.
And yet, millions of dollars are doled out each year to professional relief pitchers that can only get out batters from one side of the plate.