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.
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:
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?