Despite Scott Rice’s good fortune, Mets lefty relievers still stink

We all know how the current Mets regime loves the lefty relievers. Five weeks into the season, four different lefties have come out of the pen for the Mets and the club still has Tim Byrdak and Pedro Feliciano as candidates for later in the season. The top brass has also talked glowingly about Jack Leathersich, so don’t be surprised if he makes an appearance later in the year, too.

Predictably – the lefty relievers have been poor. Actually, three of the lefty relievers have been horrid and Scott Rice has pitched better than his peripherals. Let’s compare Rice to the other three lefty relievers – Josh Edgin, Robert Carson and Aaron Laffey. The chart will only include Laffey’s results out of the bullpen.

Rice 15 10 3 8 9
Others 14.2 22 20 7 13
Total 29.2 32 23 15 22

This is the hardly-surprising result when you are more concerned about having lefties in the bullpen rather than putting the best players on the team. Only the good fortune of Rice has elevated the performance of this group into the “pitiful” category. Unless somehow you think a 6.98 ERA and a 1.584 WHIP is production to be admired.

While the feel-good story about the 31-year-old rookie Rice cannot be denied, neither can the good fortune in his performance to date. Rice’s 1.13 K/BB ratio ranks 164th out of 177 qualified relievers to this point. He’s succeeding thanks to unsustainable marks in homers allowed (0), BABIP (.238) and strand rate (77.8). While he has a sparkling 1.80 ERA, his FIP checks in at 3.42 and he has a 4.09 xFIP.

Necessity has forced Terry Collins to use Rice against a fair number of righty batters. Unfortunately, his production versus RHB has been poor. His OPS split is 518 points higher against righty batters. Some will see this as a justification to employ Rice in a LOOGY role. But as long as 60 percent of the starting rotation is unable to complete five innings on a regular basis – there’s simply no way Collins can continue to use a pitcher for one or two batters per appearance.

And even if you do use Rice in this manner – how do you propose the club deploy Carson? In extremely limited action, Carson’s OPS against RHB is 1,075 points higher and you have to go back to Lo-A ball to find a place where he’s had success in any sample longer than 16 IP. And before you even think about suggesting that both of them be used as LOOGYs – keep in mind that there’s no way the math works out with a seven-man bullpen to carry two relievers all season who throw that few innings.

Here’s one last thing to throw into the mix – righty relievers for the Mets are doing just fine against lefty batters. Here’s how the five RH relievers the Mets currently have are doing against LHB:

Parnell 23 .095 .136 .143 .279
Lyon 16 .188 .188 .250 .438
Hawkins 22 .273 .273 .409 .682
Familia 15 .267 .267 .467 .733
Atchison 24 .286 .375 .381 .756

In 100 PA against these five relievers, lefties have a .221/.253/.326 line for a .579 OPS. Remind me again why we need lefty specialists?

Obviously, these results are due to outstanding performances from Parnell and Lyon and if there were no lefty relievers in the pen, then all righties would have to face more (and tougher) lefties in clutch situations. But the increased production by lefty batters would be more than negated by the need to micro-manage the lefty relievers, which forces the righty relievers into sub-optimal positions overall. We also need to factor in taking away the dreadful performance of our current LOOGYs versus RHB.

Imagine if we had seven relievers we could use at any time in the game, without having to worry who was coming up in the order for the other team? Imagine no more mindless mid-inning substitutions in the never-ending quest to get the platoon advantage – only to have an even worse matchup two and three batters later? Imagine not burning through a seven-man bullpen and having to contemplate using starters and position players in every extra-inning game?

It used to be this way and there’s absolutely no reason it cannot be that way again.

All it takes is one person in a position of power brave enough to say that the current bullpen deployment is terrible and needs to change. Unfortunately, we know that it’s not going to be from our current braintrust. Instead, they wait with baited breath for the return of Byrdak and Feliciano and the ascension of Leathersich.

But hey – who are we to argue with a bullpen that produced a 4.33 ERA in 2011, a 4.65 ERA in 2012 and a 4.76 ERA so far in 2013? Why mess with success and do anything different?

11 comments for “Despite Scott Rice’s good fortune, Mets lefty relievers still stink

  1. May 7, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Brian! What happened? You told me to be patient about the pen when I said it was awful. It’s only 5 weeks into the season. Yes the pen is very inconsistent. The amount of walks issued is not acceptable. I would rather see them bring up pitchers with some fortitude and cojones and build a pen for the future with kids. Why not? The team spends millions for this inept group of lefty specialists? We’ll be right back here again writing the same blogs next year. If Citifield is supposed to be a pitchers park then we need to continue to turnover the pen until the Mets can find some decent lefties.

    • May 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

      I do think the pen is going to be okay once it doesn’t have to pitch 20 or more innings every week.

      However, it would be better than “okay” if they utilized the seven best relievers rather than the five best plus two guys who throw with their left hands.

      • eric
        May 7, 2013 at 12:52 pm

        I think Rice’s BABIP should stay relatively consistent throughout the year. He’s a pitch to contact, ground ball out kind of a guy and it’s far more likely those grounders will continue to find gloves than holes. That being said, he needs to cut down on the walks for real.

        I am as excited about the prospect of Leathersich in the pen as I am about any pitcher in the system. We haven’t had a straight up, dominant strikeout guy in the pen since Randy Myers. Wagner and Rodriguez were past that point when they were with the mets. And if Familia can harness his potential, we’d have the 7th, 8th, and 9th locked up.

        • May 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm

          The National League average for BABIP on grounders in 2013 is .230 and Rice’s currently is .148 so I don’t think that’s going to continue. He’s also below average on line drives — .500 actual versus .668 league average (and historically, the league average on BABIP is in the low .700s for line drives).

        • Cjmulrain
          May 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm

          I know he had his troubles in really big spots, but how can you not consider Armando Benitez a straight up dominant strikeout guy? His K/9 rates as a Met:

          ’99: 14.8
          ’00: 12.6
          ’01: 11.0
          ’02: 10.6
          ’03: 9.1

          His ’99 was downright awesome, and he was still darn good the next few years. And he could rack up the K’s.

  2. Chris F
    May 7, 2013 at 11:06 am

    The pen is inexcusable. Sandy should be ashamed at what he’s given Collins, who clearly cant manage it anyway. Its a giant problem needing genuine attention before this team has any hope.

  3. Name
    May 7, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Call me crazy, but i’d like to give Justin Hampson another shot. He can’t possibly be much worse than what Edgin/Laffey/Carson has already done. And Gonzalez German is nothing special so who cares if we lose him.

  4. Metsense
    May 7, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    I agree Brian, the 7 best pitchers. If one is superior to the others he should close. The next best the 8th and the next best the 7th in a tie or tight game. Too simple isn’ t it? The other four go in pecking order but may get more than an inning because the team will be behind. Too simple isn’t it? Bullpen has some order, bullpen isn’t taxed as heavily, and the relievers have some defined roles. The hard part is assigning these roles and this is where TC and Wharthan are horrible and indecisive.There are enough veteran arms in this bullpen to make this work and enough newbies (Rice, Familia, Edgin and Carson) to push these vets or take their jobs. Warthan as a pitching coach is not getting maximum results from this group. TC as a manager should get a LOOGYotomy.

  5. Kyle
    May 10, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Don’t really know what you expect from Rice. He isn’t a power-pitcher, nor does he have great command. For a minor-league free-agent, he’s holding his own and is the least of my worries.

    Players who should be re-considered; Hawkins and Lyon. They suck.

    If the Mets are going to improve their bullpen, do it through the farm system. Look at the Braves (sort of). Buying bullpen pieces doesn’t work anymore (i.e: Red Sox, Mets, etc…). The promising dominican arm of Hansel Robles is a starting point.

    • May 10, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      Tonight aside, Rice’s results have been great so far. I’m just skeptical he’ll be able to keep it up.

      I disagree that Hawkins and Lyon are problems. They’ve both been solid relievers and are good set-up men for Parnell.

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