When you are struggling to make ends meet, you don’t shop at Sky Mall. When you’re worried that they are going to turn off your power, you don’t go out and buy a Tripod Ladder System for $299.00, no matter how cool it seems. Which brings us to the Mets signing Tim Byrdak for 2012.
Last year the Mets signed Byrdak to a $900,000 + incentives deal for 2011 and Byrdak has had a better season than there was any right to expect. Here are Byrdak’s “Dollars Earned” values for 2008-2010, according to FanGraphs, with all figures in millions:
2008 – (-$2.7)
2009 – (-$3.0)
2010 – (-$0.5)
In the three previous seasons, Byrdak put up stats which essentially cost his team $6 million. With that as our backdrop, Byrdak has earned $1.8 million for the Mets in 2011. So, I think it is fair to say that Byrdak exceeded expectations this season.
One of the hallmarks of the Omar Minaya regime was that if a low-cost veteran came out and put up a nice year, Minaya would re-sign him the next year for a hefty raise. And almost without fail, the veteran who put up an unexpectedly good season would revert to form the following year, with the Mets stuck both with his lousy production and bloated salary. Here are three examples:
Jose Valentin put up the following OPS+ numbers before joining the Mets: 100, 92, 60. He signed with the Mets and put up a 109 OPS+ at age 36 and was rewarded with a salary 4.5X bigger the following season when his OPS+ fell to 75 and he was done in the majors.
Damion Easley put up the following OPS+ numbers before joining the Mets: 106, 95, 85. He signed with the Mets and put up a 113 OPS+ at age 37 and was rewarded with a modest salary increase. The next year his OPS+ fell to 82 and he was done in the majors.
Fernando Tatis amassed 64 PA in the majors combined in four seasons before joining the Mets. He signed for presumably a minimum-wage type contract and put up a 123 OPS+ at age 33. The Mets re-signed him to a $1.7 million contract, in the neighborhood of four times what they paid him the previous year, and his OPS+ dropped to 106 and then 60 the following year and he was done in the majors.
We don’t know yet how much Sandy Alderson gave Byrdak for 2012, although we can be pretty sure he won’t be getting a pay cut. Let’s give him a modest raise and assume that the Mets are on the hook for $1.3 million with Byrdak next year. It’s not a lot of money in the overall scheme of things but why waste money that you don’t have, especially when you’re trying to retain Jose Reyes?
In four of the last six seasons, Byrdak has posted a negative fWAR. The only year he was above replacement value was in 2007 (0.6 fWAR) and 2011 (0.4). In those two seasons there were two things that helped Byrdak to a good year and both of those things had more to do with luck than skill.
First up was that he had a depressed HR rate in both years. In 2007, Byrdak had a 6.5 HR/FB rate and this year it is 8.1 percent. The second thing in common in his good years is success versus RHB out of line with his career marks. Byrdak has a lifetime .879 OPS allowed to RHB but in 2007 that mark was .716 and it is .799 this year.
So, the Mets are banking on the fact that Byrdak can continue to suppress his HR rate and he can continue to outperform versus righties. Also, they are assuming that Terry Collins can repeat his usage pattern, having Byrdak face LHB in 66 percent of the time. For his career, Byrdak has 703 PA versus righties and 671 versus lefties, which points out what a tremendous job Collins has done in this regard.
The Mets are also risking that Byrdak just simply doesn’t fall apart at age 38.
There are two other things that make re-signing Byrdak a head-scratcher. First is that Danny Herrera seems capable of doing everything that Byrdak can for minimum wage. Herrera has retired 20 of the 24 batters he has faced for the Mets this season. And in his career, LHB have a .207/.274/.296 slash line in 194 PA. That’s a .570 OPS versus lefties, compared to a career .661 OPS versus lefties for Byrdak, although Byrdak has compiled that mark in 671 PA.
But the biggest thing that surprises me is that a team that is pinching pennies feels like it should pay a premium for a LOOGY. Byrdak has contributed 37.1 IP for the Mets this season. The Mets as a team have thrown 1,365.0 IP so far in 2011. That’s less than three percent of the innings pitched that Byrdak nails down for the team.
You cannot argue that Byrdak pitches in important situations that outweigh his puny IP total. Leverage Index was calculated for this very purpose and Byrdak’s 1.04 pLI trails that of four of the six relievers who have pitched more innings. Byrdak is pitching in less important situations than you think. And with the Mets starters not going deep into games, they need innings from their relievers and Byrdak falls woefully short in this category.
For the 2012 Mets, Byrdak is the equivalent of the Tripod Ladder System while Herrera is your basic five-step ladder. It’s crazy for the Mets to be paying extra for something they’re not going to use all that often and which they have a perfectly acceptable substitution already on hand.
It’s the type of move we would expect from Minaya, not Alderson.