Did Alderson strike a wrong note with Carrasco signing?

The stage was set perfectly for D.J. Carrasco Saturday night. Carrasco, who entered the game unscored upon in his last six outings, was called into action early after Mike Pelfrey had to leave the game after getting hit by a line drive. The Mets were up 4-2 with no outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the fifth. All Carrasco had to do was get out of the inning with the lead and he would be in line for an easy vulture win.

Instead, Carrasco hit a batter and then surrendered a first-pitch HR to Ryan Roberts so instead of a victory, Carrasco ended up taking the loss. It was the latest setback in what can only be described as a disappointing season for the veteran righty, who signed a two-year deal with the Mets in the offseason. In the three previous years, Carrasco posted a combined 9-3 record and a 3.77 ERA with 157 Ks in 210.1 IP. Last night’s defeat dropped his record to the Mets to 1-3 with a 4.86 ERA.

So, what’s gone wrong with Carrasco?

His velocity is down a not-insignificant amount, falling from 90.8 last year with Arizona to 89.1 this year in New York. But Carrasco relies less on his fastball than most pitchers, throwing it just 33.6 percent of the time according to FanGraphs. And their Pitch Type Values show his fastball as being an above-average pitch.

Instead, the problem seems to be with his cutter and curve ball. In 2010, those two offering were Carrasco’s best pitches. This year they’ve both been horrible. Only better results with his slider have helped this year from being even worse than it has been for the 34-year old, as it has a 5.98 runs above average per 100 pitches mark.

Last night Carrasco gave up a homer on his slider.

If you ever wondered what a hanging slider looked like, the following graph should give you a pretty good idea. This image comes courtesy of Dan Brooks’ PitchFX site and I think it’s fair to say that this one caught a little too much of the plate.

Sometimes you get beat and there’s certainly no shame in allowing a HR to Roberts, who has hit 16 homers this year. But the rate at which Carrasco has been getting beat is alarming and it’s enough to ask if he should be on the team next year, even with a guaranteed contract. Carrasco has already been sent to the minors this year, something not expected by anyone in the organization when he signed his free agent contract.

Sandy Alderson has done a very nice job in his first season as GM but one black mark in his book has been the Carrasco signing. It’s easy to look back with 20-20 vision and criticize this move, but few, if any, were complaining when he signed the deal. Relievers pitch limited innings and wacky results can and do happen in the small sample of a single season of a bullpen arm.

But let’s look at Carrasco’s peripherals.

K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% GB/FB
2008 6/98 3.26 2.14 0.47 19.0 8.9 1.83
2009 5.98 2.80 2.14 0.48 15.3 7.2 1.43
2010 7.47 3.91 1.91 0.57 19.7 10.3 1.50
2011 5.35 3.41 1.57 1.46 13.9 8.9 1.27
Career 5.78 3.71 1.56 0.79 14.8 9.5 1.71

His strikeouts are down, his K/BB are down and his HR rate is through the roof. That last point gets magnified when we see that Carrasco is allowing more fly balls this season than at any point in his career. Sure, we can say that he’s been unlucky with a 13.6 HR/FB rate, but as last night’s hanging slider implies – maybe it’s not all bad luck.

Before his trip to the minors, Carrasco allowed 19 FB compared to 14 GB. Since his return, those numbers are 25 and 42, respectively. Since he’s done better with getting grounders, let’s see how he’s done since his return versus his career numbers.

K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 GB/FB
Since Return 5.47 2.73 2.00 1.03 1.68
Career 5.78 3.71 1.56 0.79 1.71

The strikeouts are down, but we see his K/BB numbers are better than his career marks and right in line with what he’s done the past three seasons. His GB/FB numbers beat what he’s posted the past two years and are right in line with his lifetime numbers. It all comes down to the gopher balls. And even there he has a 12.0 HR/FB rate since the recall, elevated for Carrasco but not far off from what we would expect.

As frustrating as last night was, Carrasco has essentially been the pitcher we should have expected when he joined the Mets. At least he’s been that guy since his return from the minors. While his overall numbers this year do not look good, lately he has been the pitcher Alderson thought he was signing and there’s no reason at this point to not consider him part of the 2012 bullpen.

Mets Notes: Playing without Beltran, Pagan’s splits and April 21st

Now that a trade of Carlos Beltran seems imminent, people are coming out of the woodwork to defend him and his production in his time with the Mets. But where were these people at the beginning of the year? Mets fans pledged their allegiance to Jose Reyes and now it seems likely that the club will try to retain Reyes after his contract is up, due in some part to the support from the faithful.

Reyes is younger, plays a more important position and came up through the farm system – three pretty good reasons for fans to prefer him. But the deafening silence from most of the fan base (we felt differently) in regards to Beltran the first three-plus months of the year was inexcusable. Especially as Beltran was thought to be the most fragile Met at the beginning of the season and has instead turned into the team’s most durable player.

And of course there was the matter of production. While Reyes wowed the fans with all of his multiple-hit games, Beltran was simply leading the team in HR (15), RBIs (61), walks (52) and OPS (.917) while placing second in runs (56).

Also, the Mets missed Beltran more when he was out of the lineup than they did Reyes. While Reyes gets credit for igniting the team, the club is 7-8 when he does not play. Meanwhile the Mets are 1-4 when Beltran is out and is 2-7 in games he does not start. It could be ugly without his bat in the lineup the final two months of the season if Beltran is indeed traded.

ANGEL OF THE EVENING: Angel Pagan gave the Mets the win Wednesday night with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. So far this year, Pagan has a .750 OPS in night games (213 PA) compared to a .427 OPS in day games (82 PA). Additionally, 17 of his 18 extra-base hits have been under the lights, including all four of his home runs.

Pagan also has a big difference in his results based on where he bats in the order. When he’s in one of the top four spots in the lineup, Pagan has a .144 AVG (16-111) compared to a .289 AVG (46-159) when he bats fifth or lower. Obviously there is a lot of overlap in these two splits, as Pagan batted second in the order early in the season when the club played more day games.

However, when Pagan first returned from the DL, he played 34 games where he mostly batted fifth in the order. He had a .305/.379./.414 slash line in those games. Then he moved to the leadoff spot with Reyes out and in 12 games batting first he managed just a .192/.246/.288 line.

RAH RAH RAH FOR R.A.: Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey did not have his best stuff last night but he battled and gave the Mets a chance to win. Dickey’s record this year is just 4-8 but that’s not really indicative of how well he has pitched, especially here recently. Dickey got a no-decision last night in a game the Mets eventually won. In his last six starts, the Mets are 5-1. However, Dickey has recorded a 1-1 record in that span.

IZZY DURABLE ENOUGH FOR CLOSER?: Wednesday night Jason Isringhausen pitched two innings in the Mets’ extra-inning game and picked up the win. It was the first time all season he went for more than an inning and the first time in more than two years an outing extended into a second frame. He last pitched two innings on 5/27/09. Isringhausen appeared in just four more games after that multi-inning appearance in 2009 before being sidelined with an elbow injury, which kept him out of the majors until he resurfaced with the Mets this season.

DO YOU REMEMBER APRIL 21st?: That was the day the Mets came closest to fielding their expected lineup. The batting order that day was: Reyes, Pagan, Wright, Beltran, Bay, Davis, Turner and Nickeas. Doesn’t that look nice? They won that game, 9-1. Of course, Pagan got hurt in this one and ended up missing more than a month. By the time he came back, both Davis and Wright were sidelined.

Compare that to the lineup the Mets trotted out on July 18th, which was: Pagan, Harris, Murphy, Hairston, Duda, Bay, Thole and Tejada. Not surprisingly, the Mets lost that game, 4-1. Since then the Mets have gotten back Reyes and Beltran and Wright is expected back soon. However, it’s unlikely that Davis will return and Beltran could be traded any day, which means we will never get to see the expected 2011 Mets lineup.

I’M GONNA DJ AT THE END OF THE WORLD: Since being recalled in mid-June, D.J. Carrasco has made 14 appearances and 11 of those were games decided by three or more runs. The last time he was brought into a close game was July 10th, when he came on with the Mets losing 2-0. He promptly gave up two RBI singles to give the Giants a 4-0 lead in a game that ended up being 4-2. Here are the final scores in the games he has pitched since June 24th:

8-1, 14-5, 16-9, 5-2, 5-1, 6-0, 4-2, 7-2 and 8-5. That last game the score was 4-0 when Carrasco came on and he added a run to the deficit. Since the recall, Carrasco has a 4.50 ERA and has 5 BB and 6 Ks in 16 IP. Is there any wonder that Terry Collins has such little faith in him and uses him primarily in low leverage situations?

Mets bullpen: Analyzing NL LOOGY performance

Following up on yesterday’s piece asking if the Mets need a LOOGY, I decided that we needed to see what these lefty relievers contributed, both overall and then broken down versus LHB and RHB, to determine what others have gotten from these guys.

The first thing I did was do a Play Index search at Baseball-Reference, where I selected all lefties in the National League last year who made 80% of their appearances as relievers and who pitched in 40 games, sorted by ascending order of innings pitched.

1 Randy Flores 27.1 10 9 13 18 2.96 4 115 98 7 0 1 0 .224 .321 .418 .740
2 Dan Runzler 32.2 12 11 20 37 3.03 1 144 119 5 1 1 0 .244 .357 .328 .685
3 Zach Braddock 33.2 11 11 19 41 2.94 1 151 127 9 0 2 2 .228 .333 .323 .656
4 Joe Thatcher 35.0 5 5 7 45 1.29 1 137 124 3 0 1 2 .185 .231 .234 .465
5 Trever Miller 36.0 17 16 16 22 4.00 2 151 129 3 1 2 2 .233 .322 .318 .640
6 George Sherrill 36.1 28 27 24 25 6.69 4 180 148 12 2 1 2 .311 .406 .500 .906
7 J.C. Romero 36.2 17 15 29 28 3.68 3 171 135 3 0 5 0 .222 .379 .311 .690
8 Dennys Reyes 38.0 15 15 21 25 3.55 2 163 137 6 0 2 1 .248 .354 .336 .690
9 Gustavo Chacin 38.1 22 20 20 31 4.70 3 186 162 9 0 0 1 .315 .388 .426 .814
10 Tim Byrdak 38.2 15 15 20 29 3.49 4 170 147 9 2 0 3 .272 .353 .442 .795
11 Doug Slaten 40.2 18 14 19 36 3.10 2 174 151 5 0 4 0 .225 .328 .298 .626
12 Eric O’Flaherty 44.0 14 12 18 36 2.45 2 181 161 9 1 1 0 .230 .311 .335 .647
13 Joe Beimel 45.0 18 17 15 21 3.40 5 188 171 9 1 0 1 .269 .326 .421 .747
14 James Russell 49.0 37 27 11 42 4.96 11 219 197 8 1 4 4 .279 .324 .497 .822
15 Jeremy Affeldt 50.0 25 23 24 44 4.14 4 228 193 11 1 3 1 .290 .376 .420 .795
16 Arthur Rhodes 55.0 14 14 18 50 2.29 4 217 194 10 0 1 2 .196 .265 .309 .574
17 Javier Lopez 57.2 17 15 20 38 2.34 2 235 210 11 1 2 2 .238 .308 .329 .636
18 Hong-Chih Kuo 60.0 8 8 18 73 1.20 1 229 208 6 1 1 1 .139 .211 .192 .403
19 Pedro Feliciano 62.2 24 23 30 56 3.30 1 280 242 12 0 6 0 .273 .367 .335 .702
20 Sean Burnett 63.0 17 15 20 62 2.14 3 261 236 9 0 1 0 .220 .284 .297 .581
21 Billy Wagner 69.1 14 11 22 104 1.43 5 268 239 6 1 3 1 .159 .238 .255 .493
22 Sean Marshall 74.2 25 22 25 90 2.65 3 307 276 11 1 2 2 .210 .279 .290 .569
23 Jonny Venters 83.0 30 18 39 93 1.95 1 350 299 8 0 8 1 .204 .311 .241 .552
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/20/2011.

Clearly, not all of these guys are LOOGYs but where do you draw the line? Wagner certainly isn’t one but after that it gets tricky. Kuo and Venters probably aren’t specialists, either. Ultimately, I decided to just leave everyone in and include the data, so if you really object to Wagner and others being included, you can do the calculations without them to check the numbers that you get.

With everyone included, I came up with a .235/.317/.334 average pitching line overall for our lefties. Since this was inspired by Byrdak, we should point out that he had a .272/.353/.442 line last year. While the average lefty had a .651 OPS, Byrdak had a .795 OPS.

Now let’s see how they did versus LHB and RHB. Unfortunately, the Play Index does not let you sort this way. So, I went through each of our 23 pitchers and copied down their splits by hand, resulting in the following numbers:

BA v L OBP v L SLG v L BA v R OBP v R SLG v R
Flores .295 .380 .508 .246 .328 .474
Runzler .260 .339 .360 .232 .369 .304
Braddock .151 .270 .170 .284 .379 .432
Thatcher .197 .239 .288 .172 .222 .172
Miller .203 .294 .257 .273 .359 .400
Sherrill .192 .286 .288 .427 .516 .707
Romero .217 .323 .277 .231 .452 .365
Reyes .307 .409 .453 .177 .288 .194
Chacin .323 .403 .387 .310 .384 .450
Byrdak .213 .271 .373 .333 .435 .514
Slaten .151 .235 .151 .295 .409 .436
O’Flaherty .231 .277 .321 .229 .340 .349
Beimel .221 .275 .379 .329 .388 .474
Russell .238 .276 .450 .308 .357 .530
Affeldt .290 .395 .420 .290 .364 .419
Rhodes .214 .230 .393 .182 .289 .245
Lopez .162 .250 .242 .306 .361 .405
Kuo .095 .159 .111 .159 .233 .228
Feliciano .211 .297 .276 .336 .436 .395
Burnett .273 .327 .384 .182 .253 .234
Wagner .071 .175 .071 .186 .257 .311
Marshall .196 .255 .284 .218 .292 .293
Venters .198 .310 .260 .207 .312 .232

This was a lot of work by itself, so I did not expand to include the numbers necessary to figure out averages of the sample for our slash line numbers. Instead, let’s use the median, which is the middle number for each category in our sample. Since we have 23 players, whichever one is 12th in our sorted list would be the median, meaning 11 pitchers finished with a number better and 11 pitchers finished with a worse number.

The median slash line for our lefties works out to:

vs. LHB — .213/.277/.288
vs. RHB — .246/.359/.395

Byrdak was almost perfectly in the middle of our sample versus lefties in AVG (.213) and OBP (.271). But he was significantly worse in SLG (.373). Versus righties he was significantly worse across the board (.333/.435/.514).

There’s a reason he was available on a minor league deal prior to this season.

Now, let’s see how some Mets relievers fared last year in the same left/right splits that we used for our lefty relievers:

BA v L OBP v L SLG v L BA v R OBP v R SLG v R
Manny Acosta .163 .217 .256 .245 .345 .362
Taylor Buchholz .250 .250 .500 .227 .393 .455
D.J. Carrasco .260 .333 .375 .227 .324 .337
Bobby Parnell .327 .364 .442 .276 .315 .299

We know that Byrdak faced just as many RHB as LHB last year. Given that the differences in batters faced by left/right split for most LOOGYs is a similar rate, how many of the above pitchers would you prefer to see over Byrdak? I would suggest all of them, especially when you consider how high Parnell’s BABIP (.374) was last year.

Managers today do everything to minimize criticism. That means setting up roles for everyone and then no one can blame the manager when something goes awry. So, if a LHB, let’s call him Chase Utley, has no discernible split between LHP and RHP, you still bring in your LOOGY and if Utley gets a hit, it’s certainly not the manager’s fault.

Having a LOOGY on the staff is convention, it makes certain decisions automatic and it shields managers from criticism. No wonder every team has one. And it’s one thing if your LOOGY is really good. But when you have Byrdak, who by his slash lines was below-average for LOOGYs versus lefties and horrible versus righties last year and is now age 37, does it make sense to carry him over a better righty?

There was much made over the new Mets front office and how they were going to do things in a smart way. If Byrdak is kept over one of the four relievers listed above, I think it is right to question the decision and all people who had a hand in it.

Do the Mets need a long reliever?

When trying to figure out the makeup of the relievers on the staff, does it make sense for the Mets to have someone who can regularly pitch multiple innings in case a starter gets knocked out early? If the answer to that question is yes, that helps Dillon Gee and Pat Misch in their quests to make the Opening Day roster.

Last year, a Mets reliever pitched more than two innings in an appearance 22 times. However, most of the guys who did that are no longer on the club. Raul Valdes led the way with nine such appearances, while Hisanori Takahashi had five. Fernando Nieve (3), Elmer Dessens (1) and Tobi Stoner (1) are the other pitchers no longer around who had extended outings out of the pen.

Only Francisco Rodriguez, Manny Acosta and Oliver Perez, with one extended outing each, have a chance to return to the Mets bullpen in 2011.

The expectation is that with neither John Maine nor Perez in the starting rotation, the Mets will have fewer bullpen-killing outings from their starters this year. The flip side of that is with Chris Capuano and Chris Young coming back from major injuries, there is still a chance for a starter to go down on a regular basis and having someone who won’t blink if asked to pitch multiple innings is still a worthwhile thing for the Mets.

It’s likely that Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell and D.J. Carrasco have bullpen slots locked up. And it is almost unthinkable for a bullpen not to have a LOOGY in 2011. That leaves three slots remaining and multiple relievers vying for those positions, including Acosta, Pedro Beato, Taylor Buchholz, Gee and Misch.

Most assume that Buchholz has a slot. If Beato is impressive during Spring Training, he really forces the issue, as he is a Rule 5 pick who has to be offered back to Baltimore if he does not make the roster. In that case, Acosta, Gee and Misch are fighting for the final spot. Acosta went three innings in one appearance last year and could technically fill the long reliever role.

But what if Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins decide a long man is a necessity, a position to be filled first rather than last? Then they choose between Gee and Misch, with Acosta, Buchholz and Beato fighting with the long-man loser (and perhaps other LOOGY candidates) for the final two positions in the pen.

One other factor to consider is that Carrasco is also capable of going extended innings, having done so five times last year. Even Buchholz went 2.2 IP in one of his nine outings last season. Could the combination of Acosta, Buchholz and Carrasco be enough to forego a long man?

My guess is that the Mets will be flexible with having a long man in the bullpen. If Beato shows enough to merit a roster spot, they will do without a traditional long man. But if the Rule 5 pick is not worth keeping, they will opt for Misch instead. The veteran lefty being out of options has two advantages over the righty Gee, who can be sent down to Triple-A to continue working as a starter.

Only one thing is certain: Those that start the season in the minors are likely to make it to Citi at some point during the season. Last year the Mets used 20 pitchers and only four of those pitched exclusively as a starter. In 2010, the Mets bullpen had 182.1 IP thrown by relievers who were not on the Opening Day roster.

Alderson’s first moves make sense, not headlines

Prior to the Winter Meetings, general manager Sandy Alderson promised he would come home with some new players. Tuesday, he kept that promise by signing free agents Ronny Paulino and D.J. Carrasco. Paulino is a righty-hitting catcher while Carrasco is a rubber-armed reliever and both players do a nice job of filling roles on the 2011 Mets.

First off, Paulino is big. He is one of the few major league players I have actually stood next to and my first reaction was: Who is this guy? Paulino is listed at 6’3, 250 pounds and he is every bit that size, perhaps even a little bigger. Which brings us to the fact that Paulino will not be eligible until the second week of the 2011 season because he was suspended last August for using a banned substance.

The first thing people think of when they hear “suspended for a banned substance” is steroids. The first thing players say when the suspension hits is that it was some substance besides steroids. In Paulino’s case, he claimed he was using a diet pill that contained a banned substance. That claim at least seems possible and I trust that the Mets’ front office did their due diligence on this subject.

It would be hard to come up with a player who was more unlike current Mets catcher Josh Thole. Paulino is a righty with the ability to hit the ball out of any park. Thole is a lefty who chokes up on the bat and gets on base at a very nice rate for a catcher. They should complement each other very nicely. It’s possible new manager Terry Collins will adapt a strict platoon at catcher. Here are their lifetime stats with the platoon advantage:

Thole versus RHP – .309/.382/.401
Paulino vs. LHP – .338/.390/.491

It’s easy to read too much into these numbers, as Thole has compiled these in just 246 PA while Paulino has but 531 under his belt. But if they are able to do this for a full year, with Thole logging 400 PA and Paulino grabbing 200 – they could potentially put up a combined .315/.385/.435 line as the team’s catcher. A combined .820 OPS would give the Mets one of the best offensive catching tandems around, all for less than $2 million.

If Paulino comes back and approximates the player he has been previously, no sure thing given the suspension, this could be a fantastic signing. Even if the worst happens and Paulino’s offense disappears when he comes back, the Mets are only obligated for one season. It’s hard to imagine the Mets doing better with their backup catcher.

Meanwhile, Carrasco gives the team an experienced arm in the bullpen. Given that the Mets have only two relievers – Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell – as definites in the 2011 pen, this was a needed addition.

While not the lefty that many fans wanted to see for the bullpen, Carrasco does offer durability and the option for Collins to use him in back-to-back games. Last year Carrasco appeared in 63 games and made back-to-back appearances 12 times.

And while the righty Carrasco fares better against RHB he is not awful against lefties. Last year he limited LHB to a .260/.333/.375 line and for his career lefties have a .789 OPS against Carrasco. He is not someone to bring in to face Ryan Howard, but at least he does not turn the average lefty batter into Josh Hamilton, as some righties do.

Carrasco throws virtually every pitch in the book, with his cutter being his top weapon. He’s not overpowering, but he gets hitters to chase balls out of the strike zone. Carrasco had a career-best 7.47 K/9 last year. His main problem is control. He has a career 3.74 BB/9 and last year it was 3.91. If he can keep the walks under control, Carrasco will be an asset in middle relief. The Mets signed him to a two-year deal for $2.5 million or less money than Pedro Feliciano made last year.

So, as expected Alderson made two low-cost moves and as expected these moves on the surface seem to address specific needs. Not only did he sign a backup catcher, he got one that fit well with Thole. Not only did he get a reliever, he got one that could potentially get LHB out on a regular basis and limit the club’s need for a LOOGY.

These are not sexy moves like signing one of the top free agents on the market. Instead these are moves that barely register with the average fan. Welcome to the 2010-11 offseason. While these may be yawn-inducing during the cold winter months, they are the types of moves that could pay big dividends during the regular season. And even if they blow up, neither player will hamstring the club long-term.