Cardinals: With Lefty Relief Issues, Why is Tommy Layne Still in Memphis?

It has been an extremely active season with the Cardinals 40-man roster. By my count 10 players are currently on the 40-man that were not on Opening Day. But of all the players added to the roster during the course of this season, left-handed pitcher Tommy Layne is not one of them.

I have to ask…why?

Who the Heck is Tommy Layne?

That was probably your first thought. He’s not a touted prospect that you have heard of or someone acquired in a trade. You probably had no idea that he was in the organization. (Unless, of course, you read a post I did on the left-handed relief in late July.)

Tommy Layne is a left-handed reliever that debuted in 2012. After joining the Red Sox bullpen in August of 2014, he had a nice 2 1/2 year run with them and the Yankees. From 2014-16 he made 157 appearances, covering 111.1 innings. He held a 3.31 ERA with 97 K’s.

He struggled in 13 innings for the Yankees in 2017, was released and then picked up by the Dodgers. The Dodgers released him after 3 games in AAA (injury related).

In 2018, he did not sign with a team until joining the Cardinals organization on June 15th. After a brief, 2 game, stop in Springfield, he moved to Memphis where he has been ever since.

The Numbers

Layne tossed 2.1 innings, allowing 1 hit and striking out 2 for Springfield. For Memphis he has made 27 appearances, covering 26.2 innings. He has 34 strikeouts against just 4 walks. He has allowed just 4 ER’s, which puts his ERA at a sterling 1.35 for the season.

That 8.5 K/BB ratio is extremely impressive, as is his overall 30.4% K%. Considering that walks have been an issue for Layne in the past, the fact that he seems to have corralled the problem is encouraging.

His splits are solid.

Although Left-Handed batters are hitting .250 against him, he has a 35% K% against them. Right-Hander’s have hit just .152 against him this season.

Splits can be weird in a small sample, so I looked at his Major League career as a whole.

In his career, from 2012-16, LH held a slash line of just .184/.286/.230 against him. RH held a .282/.388/.452. Clearly, he fits more into the lefty specialist role and shouldn’t be facing RH, despite what his AAA numbers say.

Overall, his strong season in Memphis coupled with a solid Major League track record makes him an intriguing option for a bullpen that has been an issue all season and has shown cracks again lately.

What Cardinals Lefty’s Have Been Up To…

So here are the splits vs. LH batters by the Cardinals LH relievers this years.

Brett Cecil – 62 batters faced, .291/.371/.426, 9 K’s, 7 BB’s.
Ryan Sherriff – 10 batters faced, .200/.200/.300
Austin Gomber (as reliever) – 35 batters faced, .300/.400/.517, 5 K’s, 3 BB’s, 2 HBP
Chasen Shreve (with STL) – 26 batters faced, .304/.385/.636, 5 K’s, 3 BB’s
Tyler Webb (with STL) – 22 batter faced, .143/.190/.200, 3 K’s, 1 BB

Clearly, Brett Cecil hasn’t gotten the job done. That comes as a surprise to no one that has been paying attention.

Ryan Sherriff was fine in short-order, but he found himself needing Tommy John surgery and subsequently released to free up a roster spot.

Austin Gomber is pitching very well in the rotation. His numbers against LH have improved as a starter, but not to the level of a specialist. He is also, arguably, their Game 3 starter in a potential playoff series, so he is no longer an option in the bullpen.

Shreve has been a disappointment so far. He had some very good underlying numbers with the Yankees, but struggled at Yankee Stadium. I personally thought he would take off with the Cardinals, but it hasn’t been the case. It could still change, but the early returns haven’t been there.

Tyler Webb, picked up on waivers in June, is the one healthy lefty that has shown proficiency in retiring left-handed batters.

Outside of Webb, this has really been a season long issue for the Cardinals.

Which Leads Me Back To…

Why is Tommy Layne still in Memphis?

Yes, Webb has looked solid as a potential specialist, but he hasn’t quite found the same strikeout punch that he has had in his minor league career.

It is also September, a time of expanded rosters. And there is no crime against having 2 viable left-handed specialists available in the bullpen, especially when you consider that you will have to deal with lefty heavy lineups from Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Chicago before the season ends.

At this point, the only reason for Layne to still be in AAA is that the Cardinals are unwillingly to part ways with someone on their 40-man roster.

Currently, Matt Bowman and Derian Gonzalez both seem like they could be dispensable.

Bowman looked burnt out before being planted in AAA. He hasn’t pitched since August 12th. He is a non-tender candidate this offseason, meaning they may release him them. As was the case with Tyler Lyons, Bowman would likely clear waivers and end up staying in the organization anyway.

Gonzalez was a circumstantial addition to the 40-man roster over the winter as he was a pitcher the joined the organization at 18 and had made a slow climb to High-A. Gun shy from seeing the Padres pluck Single-A players in the Rule 5 draft, the Cardinals chose to protect him. He struggled in AAA before missing time with an injury. He came back to post solid numbers in AA, but he would appear to a replaceable piece.

I can’t see why hanging on to either should be holding them back.

Another reason for Layne to still be in Memphis to avoid completely wiping out their pitching staff during the minor league playoffs. That is not a good reason, though, and I doubt it has anything to do with why the Cardinals haven’t promoted Layne. Teams would gladly sacrifice a reliever from a minor league playoff run in order to improve the Major League team.

We could still see Layne in the coming weeks, but I don’t expect it. If the move were going to be made, it would have been made by now.

I just think that the Cardinals see minimal benefit in adding another lefty specialist to the roster compared to the cost of cutting a player from the 40-man roster.

I disagree with that.

I think Layne would serve a useful role down the stretch and gives you even more options when you build your bullpen for a (potential) Wild Card game or (potential) playoff series.

Thanks for Reading!

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Thanks to Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and for the stats!

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Last updated: 10/06/2022