Two down and two to go!
Yesterday the Mets cut ties with a couple of lefty relievers in Robert Carson and Sean Henn. Originally, the previous line said lousy lefty relievers but it was not fair to use that word to describe Henn in 2013. While he walked the ballpark – 32 BB in 57.2 IP – in Las Vegas, he had an impressive 2.81 ERA in Triple-A and followed that up with a similar deal in the majors, with 3 BB in 2.2 IP but a 3.38 ERA.
But the big addition by subtraction part of these transactions is the departure of Carson. I mean no disrespect but the only word that comes to mind is – Hallelujah! Carson isn’t the worst pitcher ever employed by the Mets but he’s in the conversation. In fact, he’s tied for the sixth-worst ERA for any pitcher in team history to throw at least 30 IP.
David Williams has the worst mark in team history with a 7.83 mark and he’s followed by Rich Rodriguez, Calvin Schiraldi, Vinegar Bend Mizell and Jeremy Griffiths. That’s not the company you want to keep. Next up is Carson, tied with Brent Strom with a 6.82 ERA as members of the Mets.
Yet, ERA doesn’t tell the full story of how awful Carson was. A gopher-prone flyball pitcher, Carson had a 7.88 FIP in his career, thanks to allowing 11 HR in 33 IP and his awful 1.18 K/BB ratio. Even worse was that he couldn’t even mimic success when the deck was stacked in his favor. Against LHB, Carson surrendered an .849 OPS and that’s even with a .250 BABIP.
The only people surprised by Carson’s utter lack of success were the people in charge of placing him on the major league roster and into regular season games. You have to go back to 2009 and Lo-A ball to find a stint longer than 16 IP in which Carson had any success at all.
Most people who post a 5.76 ERA and a 1.693 WHIP in Double-A get released. Instead, Carson got promoted to both Triple-A and the majors in 2012. In 15.2 IP in Buffalo, he had a 1.72 ERA – his one lone stretch of success in the past four years. But even that came with warning signs, as he had a FIP nearly twice as high and he allowed an uncharacteristic 1 HR in that stretch. If we had xFIP for the minors, it’s likely that his would have been north of 4.50 during this period of “success.”
Carson throws hard, with an average fastball velocity of 93.6 in the majors, and he’s a lefty. That explains why our braintrust gave him this opportunity despite numbers in the minors that would get a righty a pink slip. For reasons known mainly to mystics, shamans and Miss Cleo, the organization thinks lefty bullpen arms are the key to success.
Since the Sandy Alderson/Terry Collins regime came to power, there has been a desire to cater to lefty relievers, giving them the most advantageous matchups whenever possible, even if it meant creating worse matchups three batters later and even though it meant increased workloads for every righty pitcher in the pen. But, since this is a bottom-line business, how has it worked out?
The Mets have had below-average bullpens all three years. And the bullpen lefties, despite receiving preferential treatment, cannot even rise to the level of league average. Here’s the year-by year comparisons:
2011 – 53.2 IP and a 3.69 ERA. NL relievers had a 3.59 mark
2012 – 80.0 IP and a 4.61 ERA. NL relievers had a 3.77 mark
2013 – 119.2 IP and a 4.81 ERA. NL relievers had a 3.50 mark
All three years, the Mets’ lefty relievers have been below average. As their workload has increased, the results have gotten worse. Undeniably, one of the reasons for that is the insistence on pitching Carson. Lefty relievers for the Mets have a 4.73 ERA the past two years. If we just remove Carson from the equation, we see the other lefties have a 4.32 ERA.
So, getting rid of Carson is a great first step. But it’s not going to get better if his innings just go to the next lefty on the depth chart. The Mets need to divorce themselves of the notion that a successful pen revolves around lefty relievers. LOOGYs are a luxury item for a bullpen and the Mets need to focus on the essentials, first.
They need to employ the seven best relievers they have, regardless of handedness. It may very well be that the seven best the Mets have for Opening Day 2014 includes two lefties in Josh Edgin and Scott Rice. However, if one of those needs to be replaced, due either to injury or ineffectiveness, promote the best reliever available to take his spot. Insisting on a lefty is how we end up with sub replacement guys like Carson.
Once we master the idea of carrying the team’s seven best relievers, then we can have an honest discussion about the merits of the LOOGY strategy. And that discussion will have to include an ethical component. It’s hard not to notice that Tim Byrdak, Edgin, Pedro Feliciano, Danny Herrera and Rice have all spent time on the DL the past three years, with four of those being due to serious arm injuries.
Is there something about the LOOGY utilization that makes pitchers even more susceptible to injuries and should we as fans care? I don’t know the answer to either question but they seem like ones that deserve to be discussed further.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate Carson being another team’s problem and may Byrdak and Feliciano also be removed from the 40-man roster and any consideration for employment anywhere in the Mets organization in 2014.