Every year you hear some variant of the theme that “Spring Training stats are useless.” Yet, each year countless jobs are determined by how well players perform in this period. The Mets this season are no different. Several bullpen jobs are up in the air, a situation made even more competitive with the last-minute addition of Jason Isringhausen to the mix.
With the loss of Pedro Feliciano, the Mets have no obvious LOOGY out of the bullpen. It’s not even a sure thing that the Mets will carry a lefty reliever on their Opening Day roster, a far cry from a few years ago when the team had Feliciano, Scott Schoeneweis and Billy Wagner as lefties out of the pen.
While there was thought from some corners that Chris Capuano was in the mix as a lefty reliever, he seems likely to be in the rotation. Which leaves four men vying for a job as a lefty out of the pen: Tim Byrdak, Pat Misch, Mike O’Connor and Taylor Tankersley.
Misch throws lefty but it is extremely unlikely that he makes the team in the sense of being a guy brought on to get lefty hitters out. In his career in the majors, LHB have an .806 OPS versus Misch while RHB have a .768 mark. If Misch makes the club, it is much more likely as a swing man/long reliever who is a lefty rather than as a LOOGY.
Of the remaining three candidates, Byrdak and O’Connor have yet to give up a run, while Tankersley sits with a 10.80 ERA. But here’s where we get to the part about not taking Spring Training stats at face value.
First off, the three pitchers have combined for a total of 9.1 IP, hardly a large enough sample to make any decisions. Just as importantly, the relievers are being used in a way to get innings more so than to maximize their effectiveness. During the season, the LOOGY would be brought on to face lefty hitters in key situations. But in Spring Training, they’re brought on to pitch a designated inning, regardless of who is due up for the other team.
Let’s take a look at Tankersley and his four outings so far this Grapefruit League season. In parentheses will be how the batter hits.
2/28 – IP, 3H, 3 ER, 3 Ks, HR
(L) Brown – K
(R) Bixler – 2B
(R) Frazier – 2B
(R) Morse – HR
(L) Harper – K
(R) Flores – K
3/6 – IP, H, ER, 2 Ks, HR
(R) Middlebrook – K
(R) Linares – P6
(R) Federowicz – HR
(L) Spears – K
3/8 – IP, H, 2 Ks
(R) Norris – E5
(L) Nix – K
(L) Bernadina – K
(L) Barker – 1B
(S) Lombardozzi – FC
3/10 – 0.1 IP, H, K
(L) Cora – 1B
(L) Morgan – HBP
(R) Desmond – K
Assuming Lombardozzi hit righty, that breaks down to the following splits for Tankersley:
vs RHB: .400/.400/1.200 — 1.600 OPS
vs LHB: .286/.375/.286 — .661 OPS
In eight plate appearances versus lefties, Tankersley has struck out five batters, allowed two singles and hit another. Righties meanwhile have four hits, all of which have gone for extra-bases, including two home runs.
As we learned with Schoeneweis, even a guy who should only face LHB will still face a fair number of righties. But if a player’s main value is what he does versus Howard, Utley, Ibanez and other lefty big bats, we should judge him mainly by what he does against lefties. And this leaves Tankersley still in the mix with the other lefties, who have much better looking numbers overall this Spring.
Regardless of who ends up being the team’s lefty out of the pen, we hope that Terry Collins will not handle him the way Jerry Manuel did with Schoeneweis, leaving him in to face a RHB with the playoffs on the line in the final game of 2008. Because that’s no place for a LOOGY.