If you asked most people what they disliked most about modern bullpen usage, the most common answer would be managing the game with the idea of maximizing saves for one pitcher. There is no doubt that is a sub-optimal way to do things. But to me there is something even more revolting and that is the idea that it is okay to carry pitchers who regularly have outings where they face just a batter or two.
As the number of innings from starters decline and the number of innings from relievers increase, it is a double whammy to carry a guy all season who contributes just 40 innings or so per year. That puts additional stress on the other relievers. Frequently, we see this usage patterns with lefties, which prompted minor league maven John Sickels to come up with the term LOOGY, which stands for Lefty One Out GuY.
The LOOGY is as much an abomination as the designated hitter. That is why the performance of Josh Edgin has been such a revelation. Here is a lefty reliever who in two appearances has faced 10 batters. It may not seem like much but these days it is a cause for celebration. Recall that earlier this year Tim Byrdak had a stretch of 12 straight appearances where he faced just one batter.
Proponents of the LOOGY strategy will point out that the Mets went 8-4 in that stretch of one-batter appearances for Byrdak. But in that same time frame, Jon Rauch had a 6.75 ERA, D.J. Carrasco had a 7.36 ERA, Frank Francisco had an 8.53 ERA and Manny Acosta had a 12.15 ERA. So, while Byrdak was doing his thing, four of the team’s other six relievers were lighting themselves on fire.
Sure, this could be a coincidence. It could also be a lack of talent with the other relievers, although all performed at least two runs better ERA-wise in 2011. However, it could also be a result of the other relievers having to pitch longer and more frequently because one member of the team contributed so little. If nothing else, Terry Collins has not used Byrdak for just one batter in consecutive appearances since, after deploying him in that role in 12 straight. And that’s not a coincidence.
This century, the Mets have had just two lefty relievers (non-closer) with at least 50 IP whose innings exceeded their games played in a single season — Raul Valdes in 2010 and Darren Oliver in 2006. Meanwhile, they’ve had 12 seasons by non-closer lefties with fewer innings than games since 2000 and that doesn’t count Byrdak in 2011, since he only pitched 37.1 innings. Every year there is a LOOGY or two on the roster. A plain lefty reliever happens about as often as a senatorial election.
Hopefully Josh Edgin breaks that pattern for the Mets.
Fortunately for us, Edgin is used to doing things backwards in his career. He started off his collegiate career pitching for a major Division I school – Ohio State. But he transferred to Division II Francis Marion to be a starter. He was drafted by the Braves following his junior season but he again bucked tradition by not signing and going back for his senior season.
The Mets took him on the 30th round in 2010 and Edgin showed his contrarian strain once again. Edgin told Bill Whitehead the following story about being drafted that season:
I wasn’t expecting to be drafted. I was working the day they called me. They said, ‘We drafted you in the 30th round. Do you want to sign?’ I said yes. I didn’t have to report for three more days, so I worked construction the next day.”
Two years after being drafted, Edgin was the breakout player in Spring Training as he had 13 Ks in 10.1 scoreless IP. But the fact that he split his time between two Single-A clubs last year eliminated him from making the team for Opening Day. Edgin went to Double-A, quickly earned a callup to Triple-A and finally a promotion to the majors.
In two appearances, Edgin has 2.1 IP. The gopher ball to Chipper Jones has led to an ugly 7.71 ERA but he has a 0.46 xFIP, thanks to six strikeouts in those 10 batters faced. Generally, home runs have not been a problem for Edgin in the minors. He allowed just 5 HR in 144 IP, including zero in 37 innings at Triple-A this season.
So while Collins and others are happy to have a second lefty in the bullpen, some of us are happy that we have a southpaw who can pitch a full inning regardless of which batters are due to come to the plate. Here’s hoping that Collins uses him whenever he needs to and not only when there are a bunch of LHB due up. Because the last thing the Mets need now is another LOOGY to further strain the pen.