Mets should prioritize Fernando Salas over Jerry Blevins

Fernando SalasTwo key pieces of the second-half 2016 Mets bullpen are now free agents. Jerry Blevins posted a 3.07 ERA with a 5.0 K/BB ratio from July 15 to September 18 while Fernando Salas had a 2.08 ERA, a 0.635 WHIP with 19 Ks and 0 BB in 17.2 IP after being acquired from the Angels. There’s been a whole lot of talk about re-signing Blevins but considerably less about re-upping with Salas. And in my opinion that’s backwards.

First, let’s look at the guys that will make up the Mets’ pen, regardless of which pitchers the team adds before Opening Day. The pen starts with the dynamic one-two tandem of Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, who were both terrific last year. Of course, the threat of a suspension hangs over the head of Familia. The court system has dropped the domestic violence charges against the Mets’ closer but MLB has yet to make a ruling.

Recall that last year, Aroldis Chapman was suspended 30 games and charges against him were dropped, too. It’s not completely clear if Chapman’s wife had the bruising that Familia’s wife did. However, a gun was fired – not near his wife – during Chapman’s incident. No guns were involved in Familia’s case but authorities did find knives, ones that were said to be wedged in the door when Familia locked himself in the bathroom.

Allegedly, MLB was going to give Chapman 40 days but when he declined to appeal, they knocked it down to 30, with the suspension being announced on March 1. It would be reasonable to assume that Familia will get the same punishment. So, the Mets need to have someone they feel comfortable pitching the eighth inning, with Reed sliding into the closer’s job, while Familia is not available.

In addition to those two, Hansel Robles returns. The bullpen will likely feature the two pitchers who don’t win the fifth starter’s job, possibly Seth Lugo and Zack Wheeler. Other contenders for a role include Josh Edgin, Sean Gilmartin, Erik Goeddel, Rafael Montero and Josh Smoker.

Included in that list are three lefties. Edgin has been used as a LOOGY in the past but that’s more due to the Alderson-Collins fascination with the role rather than any limitation of Edgin. Gilmartin had success in 2015 when used as a long man and struggled greatly last year when he was not. He allowed 9 ER in 7.1 IP in nine appearances when he was used for an inning or fewer. Smoker had a .594 OPS against RHB and a 1.048 OPS against LHB last year, which fits the LOOGY profile even worse than Alex Torres. May his usage be better.

We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that management’s preference is to have at least two lefties in the bullpen, ones that they will seek to get the platoon advantage as often as possible, even if, as in the case of a healthy Edgin, they don’t need it. Or in the case of Smoker, if the platoon advantage doesn’t actually help them.

If given the choice between a lefty who gets out LHB at a good rate but gets destroyed by righties or a lefty who is worse than average against LHB but better than average against righties – this Mets administration will pick the former every time, without batting an eye. Their overwhelming preference is for a Scott Rice type rather than a Smoker type.

Among all pitchers and batters combined, platoon advantages are real and it’s certainly possible for the LOOGY gambit to be a good play. The issue is there are so many innings that your bullpen has to provide and you put additional stress on your other relievers if one player is so limited when they can be deployed. If your starters consistently go deep in the game and you have a shutdown closer, the LOOGY gambit has a better chance of success.

It seemed like the 2016 Mets would be that club. However, the starters didn’t excel quite as much as hoped and the Mets were constantly in situations where their relievers had pitched in three of the last four games. Because of the LOOGY deployment, the Mets had to pitch guys who could have used a day off because they were unwilling to have their lefty reliever pitch against RHB unless absolutely necessary.

Blevins is a perfect example of this. He actually has a track record of being okay against RHB and last year he was very good against righties, holding them to a .611 OPS. Still, the Mets bent over backwards to optimize the number of lefty batters he faced. Last year in the National League, 53,253 of the 92,540 PA were by RHB. That’s 58% of the batters. Yet Blevins had 113 of his 178 PA by lefties. That’s 63% and that doesn’t happen by accident.

Most of Blevins’ appearances last year versus righty batters came either in blowouts or when they had no other choice. For an example of the former, three of the four batters he faced in his August 11 outing were righties but the Mets were losing, 9-0, when he entered the game. For an example of the latter, three of the four batters he faced in his August 10 outing were righties but it was the 12th inning.

If the Mets need someone to cover the late innings, especially early on when Familia likely won’t be available – why on earth would they sign a guy they have no interest pitching against the majority of batters unless it’s the lowest leverage situation or there’s no other choice? It’s important to note that it’s not that Blevins would be incapable of pitching effectively in these situations. Rather it’s that the Mets’ braintrust would bend over backwards from allowing him to even try.

When evaluating potential pitching moves, this absolutely has to be factored into the analysis.

Meanwhile, Salas was great last year in his brief time with the Mets, after being no so hot earlier in the year with the Angels. He’s been all over the map in his year-to-year effectiveness but overall he’s been a solid reliever, with a 3.64 ERA, a 3.53 FIP and a 1.156 WHIP in 388.1 innings in the majors. Perhaps the best thing about Salas is that throughout his career, he’s displayed no platoon differential.

In 895 PA against RHB, he has a .225/.284/.393 line for a .676 OPS against
In 708 PA against LHB, he has a .239/.294/.383 line for a .677 OPS against

What gets lost by so many people in the pursuit of the platoon advantage is that the Mets’ righty relievers generally do quite well against lefties. While management is plotting ways to get their lefty relievers to face lefty batters, here’s how the team’s main three relievers face against LHB

Familia – Lifetime .701 OPS but the past two seasons he’s had a .616 and a .629 OPS against
Reed – Lifetime .643 OPS against and a .577 mark since joining the Mets
Robles – Lifetime .577 OPS against

The average RHP in the NL in 2016 had a .767 OPS against LHB.

If the Mets sign Salas, they would have four relievers who are considerably better than average against lefty batters, which really negates the need to carry a LOOGY. Of course, what we really need to know is if these guys clean up against the run of the mill lefties but still have trouble against the elite LHB, which would be an argument in favor of carrying a LOOGY. Assuming the LOOGY handled the elite lefties that our righties couldn’t.

Since Robles and Reed joined the Mets in 2015 and Familia added to his repertoire the same season, let’s look at the best of the best lefty batters in the NL the past two years. There were 38 seasons where a lefty or switch-hitter qualified for the batting title and had an OPS+ of 110 or greater in the past two years. We’ll discard the five turned in by Mets players to give us a sample of 33 seasons. Here’s what those guys did, along with what they did against our three righty relievers and Blevins.

Name Year OPS+ OPS Familia Reed Robles Blevins
Bryce Harper 2015 198 1.109 1-4, 2B, BB,3 Ks 1-2, HR, K 0-2, 2 Ks 0-1
Joey Votto 2015 174 1.000 1-2, BB 1-1, BB
Joey Votto 2016 160 .985 1-1, 0-1 0-1, K 1-2, K
Daniel Murphy 2016 157 .985 2-3, 0-1, BB 1-8, 3 Ks
Freddie Freeman 2016 157 .968 0-2, BB, 2 Ks 1-3, BB, K 1-3, K 4-5, 2B
Anthony Rizzo 2016 146 .928 BB 1-1, 0-1, K 0-1
Anthony Rizzo 2015 146 .899 2-4, 2B BB 1-1, 2B
David Peralta 2015 137 .893 0-2 0-1
Corey Seager 2016 137 .877 0-2, BB, K 0-2, K 1-1,
Matt Carpenter 2016 135 .885 0-1 0-1 2-2,
Matt Carpenter 2015 135 .871 0-1, K 0-1, K
Christian Yelich 2016 133 .859 2-3, 2B 2-6, K 0-1, BB, K 2-4, BB, 2 Ks
Brandon Belt 2016 132 .868 0-1, BB BB 0-1, K
Adrian Gonzalez 2015 130 .830 1-3, 2B, 2 Ks 1-1, 2B, BB
Charlie Blackmon 2016 129 .933 0-1, BB, K 0-1 1-1,
Brandon Belt 2015 127 .834 1-2, 0-2, K
Dexter Fowler 2016 126 .840
Ben Zobrist 2016 124 .831 1-2, 2B
Adam Lind 2015 123 .820 0-1 0-1, K
Jonathan Villar 2016 118 .826 1-2, 2B 0-1, K
Christian Yelich 2015 118 .782 0-3, K 1-2, 1-2, 0-2
Jason Heyward 2015 117 .797 SF 0-2
Carlos Gonzalez 2015 116 .864 0-1 0-1, K
Jake Lamb 2016 116 .840 0-2, 2 Ks 0-1, K 0-2, 2 Ks
Bryce Harper 2016 116 .814 0-3, K 0-1 1-1, 2B 2-5, 2B, HR, BB
Dee Gordon 2015 116 .776 1-1, SH 1-2, 1-4, K 0-3
Chris Coghlan 2015 115 .784 0-2, 2 BB 0-1
Adrian Gonzalez 2016 113 .784 3-3, 2B 1-1, HR
Brandon Crawford 2015 113 .782 0-2 BB
Joc Pederson 2015 113 .763 0-2 0-1 0-1, K
Jay Bruce 2016 112 .815
Odubel Herrera 2016 111 .781 1-1, 1-3, 2 BB, K 0-1, K 0-6, BB, 3 Ks
Carlos Gonzalez 2016 110 .855 0-1 0-3, 2 Ks
        18-54, 7 2B, 10-36, 2B, HR, 6-28, 2 2B, HR, 14-46, 2 2B, HR,
        7 BB, 14 Ks, SF 7 BB, 6 Ks 2 BB, 15 Ks 3 BB, 13 Ks
        .333/.403/.463 .278/.395/.389 .214/.267/.393 .304/.347/.413

There’s an awful lot to digest here. This is sorted by OPS+ but since it’s easier to deal with OPS, we’ll use that. We have guys who ranged from a .763 OPS to a 1.109 rate, with an .840 median. Of the four pitchers that we are looking at, Familia had the worst results, with an .869 OPS against these top lefties. But the reality of the situation is that the Mets aren’t going to replace Familia with a LOOGY, even if Votto or the Dodgers’ Gonzalez is at the plate.

Blevins and Reed had similar results against these elite lefties. Blevins had a .760 OPS while Reed checked in with a .784 mark. But there weren’t many times when Reed was removed because a lefty was at the plate and those became fewer as the season progressed. Another thing we should note here is that Blevins’ numbers are boosted tremendously with his results against the bottom two guys on our list. He held Herrera and the Rockies’ Gonzalez hitless in nine at-bats. The other 31 elite lefties batted .378 against him.

But unquestionably the most amazing thing contained here are the results of Robles against these lefties. Who out there imagined that he held this elite group to a .660 OPS? Certainly not me. And he did it by overpowering them, as he racked up 15 strikeouts in 28 ABs. Are there five relievers in the league with better results against this group?

The only way it’s possible to look at these results and come to the conclusion that the Mets need a lefty reliever to team with Robles is by employing alternative facts.

The Mets need to add another reliever to the team. But unlike what conventional wisdom says, they do not need a lefty. That’s because their three primary righties are all better than average against LHB as a group and two of the three are better than average against the elite lefties, too. Robles, the reliever that management would most likely use a lefty instead of late in the game, has better numbers than Blevins the past two years against both LHB overall and elite lefties.

The team would be better served by adding a righty reliever that the team would use in all situations, rather than a lefty that they would hold back for the imagined platoon advantage. Fortunately for the Mets, such a reliever exists and he has the added benefit of having already performed successfully for them down the stretch in 2016. Salas, a guy with no platoon split and one who has pitched in the eighth inning more than any other inning in his career, should be the obvious choice for the team. And on top of all that, he’s likely to sign for considerably fewer dollars, making it a win all the way around.

And even if they adopt this strategy, the Mets can still employ two lefties in their pen. The Opening Day bullpen can be Reed, Salas, Robles, Lugo, Wheeler, Edgin and Gilmartin/Smoker. Shoot, they can even have three if they want Wheeler to open the year in the warm weather of the Florida State League rather than risk the elements and being overused early in the pen.

14 comments for “Mets should prioritize Fernando Salas over Jerry Blevins

  1. January 29, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Respectfully disagree….Mets better off with Blevins.
    Many RH options the team has going into the early part of the year. Robles is going to get more opptys, also Wheeler will get a chance to stretch it out in the pen vs early starts in cold April, Gsellman and Lugo both righties showed much last year as well.

    What do the Mets have as LH alternatives besides Smoker and Edgin ?
    Not much… Both of these cats together do not make up what Blevins can do.
    Picture bottom of the 8th inning, Mets up by one, first and third for the Nats, one out, and here comes Murphy and Harper. Yikes. Who do you want facing them of these three options ? In addition, Mr. Freeman of the Braves is a huge pain, Marlins’ Yelich is another whom the Mets will face a ton of. Without the right tools facing these guys in key moments, Mets could lose more than their share in the NL East and that will not bode well to wrestle the division away from Nats.

    That alone is worth the investment in Blevins, who has proven himself in NYC.

    • January 29, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Blevins has been a fine pitcher in his time with the Mets. It’s not his fault that management looks to minimize his role. Or that the Mets have the pitchers on hand to make his role unnecessary.

      As for your question, the article went into great detail about those specific individuals and the results for Blevins, despite his overall strong marks against lefites, are not stellar against the elite lefty batters. I certainly wouldn’t use Smoker. But I wouldn’t hesitate to use Robles. And Harper is 2-10 with 3 Ks against Edgin. In his career, Edgin has held all lefties to a .619 OPS. If he’s healthy, I would have no problems using him. But I don’t pretend to know how healthy he is.

  2. Eraff
    January 29, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    The statistics presented show that the Pitchers who faced the fewest of the best hitters did the best.

  3. Eraff
    January 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    i don’t see Blevins as a “weapon”, even as the stats show a lifetime .588 ops versus lefties…

  4. Metsense
    January 29, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Familia, Reed and Robles could make up the back end of the bullpen but with a possible one month suspension of Familia the Mets should acquire a relief pitcher that is equal to or better than Robles.
    Robles had a 3.48 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 1.352 WHIP, .8 HR9, and a 9.8 SO9
    Over the course of the 2016 season, Salas was not as good as Robles but Blevins was. Blevins should slot ahead of Robles in the relief depth chart.
    Robles will get many opportunities to further establish himself in 2017 and hopefully he will emerge as the heir apparent to free agent Addison Reed in 2018.
    My personal complaint is how TC uses his bullpen and his infatuation with the platoon advantage at all costs. Brian you once again have proven the point in this article. So even though I want Blevins and feel he is the relief pitcher we need, there is a strong possibility that TC will not use him properly.

    • January 29, 2017 at 11:34 pm

      It’s so disappointing to say this, but it’s irrelevant if Blevins is actually a better pitcher than Salas. I think you could make a case for either one but at the end of the day it just doesn’t matter.

      If the organization is going to use Blevins in a way where he faces lefties 150% compared to a normal reliever, they’re eliminating him from being what we traditionally think of as a 7th inning guy.

      The expected suspension of Familia makes having a true reliever, rather than a specialist, even more important. Because for a month or so, Player X is not going to be the 7th inning guy, he’s going to be the 8th inning guy.

      The Mets have displayed little or no willingness to allow Blevins to be the 7th inning guy. Why should they now all of a sudden view him as the 8th inning guy, even on a temporary basis?

      Also, if the Mets thought that Bastardo was worth 2/$12, is there any reason for Blevins not to expect at least that much? On the flip side, is there any reason to think that Salas would come anywhere close to that number? He’s not a closer, he was not very good for the majority of last year and most view righty relievers not on the fast track to becoming closers as fungible.

      Because of the way the Mets run their bullpen, they’ll get more work from Salas than they’ll get from Blevins. They were teammates for one month and in that span, Salas threw 17.1 IP while Blevins had 5.2 IP. And Salas will be considerably cheaper, too. I’d rather get 75 innings from Salas at $3-4 million than 45 inning from Blevins at $6-7 million.

      • Metsense
        January 30, 2017 at 6:09 am

        Brian, you are 100% correct in your response to me. If the Mets use Blevins as a LOOGY it is a poor use of the money.If that is the case, I too would rather see the Mets spend the designated funds of Blevins contract on Salas plus another relief pitcher for depth. They also should look into a minor league contract with opt out to two other relief pitchers to try to catch some lightening in a bottle similar to 2016 Henderson.

        • Jimmy P
          January 30, 2017 at 9:15 am

          These are strong points, well argued.

          Once we accept that this organization believes in and values the role of the “lefty specialist” — that it’s a fact of life — the solution is that the Mets need both Salas and Blevins (or similar pitchers for those two roles).

          It’s not either/or and I think it’s a false dichotomy to present it in that way. That it’s one guy or the other.

          Too bad they’ve chosen to mothball Conforto and Nimmo in favor of squandering $13 million on Jay Bruce. The Mets may not have the financial freedom to address the bullpen. A poor choice, IMO.

          • January 30, 2017 at 10:11 am

            False dichotomy, really? What part of the headline which included the word “prioritize” made it an either or choice? If there’s money in the budget for both, sure, sign both. But the first priority is Salas.

  5. MattyMets
    January 30, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Way to do your homework, Brian. One thing to consider, is that Edgin could easily revert to the effective pitcher he was in 2014 before TJ surgery. He clearly wasn’t quite himself last year. My biggest concern is depth. On paper we have 7 starters, but who’s next in line – Ynoa and Montero. Yikes. The bullpen is similarly constructed. Yes, production can vary from year to year and maybe Edgin and even Gilmartin or Goedell could bounce back, but it would be nice to see a little more depth and competition. If they don’t bring back Blevins, maybe they could at least sign Breslow. I’d love to see Salas back, or at least Joe Smith.

    I know Robles throws hard and at times looks overpowering, but he’s had some awful stretches and I just don’t trust this guy in high pressure spots. He had one stretch last year where he really looked like he did not belong in the majors.

    One more point that you alluded to – as important as the bullpen personnel is, it’s just as important how Collins handles them.

    • January 30, 2017 at 10:13 am

      Thanks, Matty.

      I do expect a guy capable of starting will be brought in on an NRI. Hopefully the start of ST will light a fire under this and other decisions that need to be made.

      FWIW, I used to blame Collins 100% for this. Now, I share the blame between the manager and the GM.

    • TJ
      January 30, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      I think it is important for Alderson to add both a lefty and a righty to the mix before camp begins. Brian makes some excellent points about prioritizing a righty over a lefty, and I agree with most of it. However, if the Mets go with only Edgin and Smoker from the left side, and both do not perform well in camp, they have a big problem. Adding a Blevins or similar veteran greatly reduces the risk of ending up with no effective lefty.

      The point of pen depth and Collins’ usage it critical. Alderson needs to provide enough depth hat the Mets break camp with 7 solid arms in the pen. Arms that can be trusted with the game on the line. This will not only protect the fragile starters, but it will protect the backend bullpen arms from overuse and burnout, especially Reed given the Familia situation. Bring in Salas and Blevins and I will begin to think the Wilpons are serious about 2016.

  6. TexasGusCC
    January 30, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    When the Mets come north (I’m in NYC presently), they need to have the best seven arms they can get for their bullpen. Can’t give away games in April, so I believe Wheeler should be available from the outset, but in the bullpen. I agree with the Smoltz approach, especially in light of having four ace potions and a Gsellman/Lugo combo with Gilmartin backing them up.

    • Jimmy P
      January 31, 2017 at 8:08 am

      Boy, I really didn’t like anything I saw in Gilmartin last year. Stuff was so unimpressive. It surprised me, I had thought he was better than that. Last season he had nothing.

      He has a lot to prove before I’d count on him again.

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