Could Manny Acosta be Mets’ 2012 closer?

Shudder to just think of it a couple of months ago. After a horrible start,  Manny Acosta has been lights out lately.  Which begs the question: Can Acosta assume the role of closer for the 2012 Mets?

It goes without saying that Acosta has thoroughly been the Mets most consistent and reliable arm out of the bullpen for the better part of two months. In his last 29 outings (consisting of 29.2 innings) Acosta has only surrendered six runs (four earned) on 23 hits. In that span, Acosta also has an amazing 34 strikeouts to just seven walks allowed.

Clearly, Acosta is on top of his game. He has harnessed his stuff quite nicely and is commanding the strike zone like no other time in his time with the Mets. Acosta is just brimming with confidence.

In his first attempt as closer on Wednesday, Acosta came in with a 1-0 lead and made quick work of the Marlins, striking out two batters while hardly breaking a sweat.

Again, it begs the question, can Acosta really be the Mets closer in 2012?

Most will scoff at the notion, but can anyone really be satisfied with Bobby Parnell’s audition? Parnell, has and will be given every opportunity to cement his status as the Mets closer of the future. But the more and more we see Parnell struggle, one might be inclined to think that he just may not have the mental toughness to handle this job.

Sure, Acosta, in his two years with the Mets, has sporadically shown flashes of brilliance, but more times than not he has left Mets’ fans disappointed. I would be hard-pressed to argue with that notion.

However, maybe just maybe Acosta has figured how to trust his fastball and his secondary pitches enough that he now ‘gets’ it. Acosta’s poise and presence on the mound these days is very calming. Acosta hardly gets rattled and is now thriving in high leverage situations.

For a closer to be successful, one must have a great ability to make batters swing and miss, which Acosta has done in spades in the last two-plus months.

Acosta is no over-the-hill pitcher either. At age 30, he has plenty of gas in the tank. And with the Mets in a cost-cutting budget mode, the arbitration eligible Acosta will be quite the cheap investment.

Don’t expect Sandy Alderson to go spending any money on a closer, especially after fighting tooth and nail to free himself from a crippling contract that ex-closer Francisco Rodriguez was entitled too.

So, the quest to become the 2012 Mets closer will likely come down to Acosta and Parnell. While Jason Isringhausen has made for a good story, he will not be the closer for the Mets next year (or any team for that matter). Another option could be Pedro Beato. However, Beato has hit a wall and is just now coming out of his funk. It’s doubtful that the Mets will entrust Beato with that kind of pressure, at least not initially.

Parnell has to figure this game out and do it fast. His chances of being a major league closer are becoming slimmer and slimmer with each blown save (having blown four in nine chances).

Parnell may be the natural choice for closer. Acosta might just be the better choice.

Mets Notes: Acosta v. Parnell, Pagan’s 2012 status and Duda magic

Manny Acosta pitched two scoreless innings last night and struck out five of the seven batters he faced. After giving up 9 ER in his first 7.1 IP with the Mets this year, Acosta has allowed just 4 ER in his last 27.2 IP. He has a 1.30 ERA in that stretch with 7 BB and 31 Ks. Manager Terry Collins has finally allowed Acosta to pitch more meaningful innings but that seemingly has more to do with the implosion of other relievers than the success Acosta has achieved.

The Mets continue to give Bobby Parnell every chance to be a successful late-inning reliever despite a track record no better than Acosta’s. Parnell was gifted the eighth-inning role out of Spring Training this year while Acosta was exposed to waivers. Both pitched well in 2010 for the Mets but Acosta had a 1.69 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in ST while Parnell had a 4.09 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Parnell blew the save in last night’s game and picked up the loss. He has a 4.18 ERA on the year with a 1.54 WHIP. But because he can throw the ball 100 mph he gets every chance to perform in key situations. Acosta cannot reach triple-digits with his fastball, but with an average fastball velocity of 94.4 and a K/9 of 9.0 this year, it’s not like Acosta has anything for which to apologize.

In the last two seasons, here’s how Acosta and Parnell have produced for the Mets:

IP ERA WHIP K/9 HR BB K
Manny Acosta 74.2 3.13 1.232 9.3 10 28 77
Bobby Parnell 82.1 3.61 1.482 9.4 5 29 86

When he was struggling earlier this season, Acosta allowed 4 HR in his first 7.1 IP. He definitely has some gopher-ball tendencies, but even with that, he still has a better ERA than Parnell. It’s time for Mets fans to embrace Acosta and it’s time for management to make sure he is on the 2012 team. While he did not come up through the farm system like Parnell did (and is four years older, too), Acosta has earned the right to be used regularly in key situations.

HAS ANGEL EARNED HIS WINGS?: There has been a lot of speculation that the Mets will look to save money by non-tendering Angel Pagan in the offseason. Mets fans had high hopes for Pagan coming into the season and quite frankly he has not reached expectations. However, in his last 165 PA, Pagan has a .299/.323/.433 line. A .756 OPS would put him comfortably in the middle of the pack among full-time center fielders.

But it’s not his offense that may lead to the end of his Mets career. Baseball-Reference shows Pagan with a -0.9 dWAR this year. FanGraphs shows his RZR of .917 as ranking 15th among 20 full-time CF and his -17.8 UZR/150 ranks dead last. The Mets are 47-55 when Pagan starts in CF and are 16-9 when Jason Pridie starts there, despite Pridie’s inferior offensive numbers.

It should be pointed out that Pridie’s starts came while the team had Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy in the lineup and the Mets were playing their best ball of the season. But that does not take away from the fact that Pagan has had a poor defensive season. Under previous management, Pagan might be a cinch to return in 2012. But under Sandy Alderson, no one should take that for a given.

R.A. ROLLS ON: The Mets started R.A. Dickey on short rest Friday night and he responded with a Quality Start and picked up the win. It was the second straight victory for Dickey and the first time all year he had won consecutive decisions, much less back-to-back starts. Wins have been hard to come by for Dickey this season. After a rough beginning of the year, he has a 3.01 ERA in his last 20 starts but is just 6-6 in that span.

HOME SWEET HOME?: Of the remaining 25 games in the season, the Mets play 15 home games. For most teams that would be a welcome schedule; however, the 2011 Mets have played better on the road. This year they have a 37-34 road record, tied with the Diamondbacks for the fourth-best away record. But at Citi Field the Mets are 30-36, which ranks 13th in the 16-team NL. Last year the Mets were 47-34 at home and 32-49 on the road.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Lucas Duda’s RBI single in the seventh inning snapped a 2–2 tie and plated the decisive run in the Mets’ 3–2 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night. Duda had a .517 batting average from the seventh inning on in August, recording 15 hits in 29 late-inning at-bats and driving in 13 runs. That was the most late-inning RBIs for any major-league player in August and the only major-league player with a higher late-inning batting average in the month (minimum: 25 plate appearances) was Casey Kotchman (16 for 30, .533).

Mets Notes: Acosta’s LI, Wright’s K% & Niese’s QS

Since the All-Star break, Manny Acosta has been the Mets’ best reliever. Tim Byrdak has a better ERA (1.80 versus 2.19) but Acosta has faced more than twice as many batters (48-22) and has given up three runs overall to Byrdak’s four. No other reliever is close to their ERA.

Acosta’s effective stretch goes back further than the break. In his last 16 games, he has 17 IP, 3 BB and 16 Ks and has posted a 1.59 ERA. In his last 16 games, Pedro Beato has a 4.80 ERA with more walks (10) than strikeouts (8) and Bobby Parnell has a 6.06 ERA in his last 16 appearances.

Still, Terry Collins is hesitant to use Acosta in meaningful game situations. He has a Leverage Index (LI) of 0.44 – the lowest of any pitcher on the staff right now and lower than anyone who has pitched this year for the Mets besides Pat Misch. LI is a measure of how important the situation is that the player appears in. A normal LI is around 1.0 while 10% of all real game situations have a LI of 2.0 or greater. These usually happen in the late innings of close games. Acosta is generally used by Collins when the game is not close.

Beato and Parnell have essentially thrown gasoline on the fire when they have come into games recently. Hopefully, Acosta can work his way into more useful situations down the stretch. He was dealt a setback recently with an injured finger, but X-Rays showed no fracture and Acosta is listed as day-to-day.

WRIGHT’S RETURN A SMASHING SUCCESS – In 19 games since returning from the disabled list, David Wright has a .354/.395/.544 line in 86 PA. Compare that to the .226/.337/.404 line he had before being sidelined. Wright has a .385 BABIP in this stretch, which ordinarily would be a huge red flag. But he has a lifetime .342 BABIP and he posted a .394 BABIP in the 2009 season..

The most impressive thing about Wright since his return is what’s happening with his strikeout rate. Before the DL stint, he had a 25.0 K%. Since returning, his K% has dropped to 14.0 percent. Wright is standing even closer to the plate than before and he is not pulling out with his back side and the results speak for themselves.

METS ON HR SURGE – The Mets have hit 23 HR in 26 games since the All-Star break. If they kept that pace up over a 162-game season, they would finish with 143 HR and establish a HR record for the club since moving into Citi Field. Five different players have 3 HR each – Jason Bay, Lucas Duda, Scott Hairston, Angel Pagan and Wright – so far in the second half. Before the All-Star break, the Mets hit 58 HR in 91 games, a pace that would give them 103 HR over 162 games.

ZiPS FORECASTS TURNER PERFECTLY – The preseason forecast from ZiPS on Justin Turner saw a .267/.320/.377 line and a .697 OPS. So far this year, Turner has a .267/.332/.364 line for a .696 OPS. Many have acted like what Turner has given the Mets this year has been outstanding production from out of nowhere. Instead, he is performing exactly like we think he should be. The only difference is how the stats were accumulated. Turner got off to a hot start, which clinched his reputation in many minds. He followed that up with a sub-replacement stretch. And since the All-Star break, he has a .263/.336/.364 line. This is who he is.

NIESE QUALITY – In his last outing, Jonathon Niese tied a season high with 7.2 innings pitched. It was his 14th Quality Start of the season, as he allowed just 2 ER. A lot of people dismiss Quality Starts as a useful gauge of pitching because you can get one for allowing 3 ER in 6 IP. You can also get a Save for allowing 4 ER in 0.1 IP and you can allow any number of runs and get a win if you pitch five innings. You can’t look at the worst possible outcome and conclude a statistic is no good because of that. Of Niese’s 14 Quality Starts in 2011, only two were of the bare minimum standards.

Can Manny Acosta save the Mets’ bullpen?

Another day, another toss-up game and another loss as the Mets blew a 3-1 lead in the late innings against the Braves last night. The bullpen started out as a disaster but was a strong point for awhile after a couple of decisive moves by Sandy Alderson. But now it’s back to being a disaster due to overuse and the insistence by Terry Collins on using relievers in a matter that is eerily similar to Jerry Manuel.

Jason Isringhausen has pitched in seven of the team’s last nine games. He has a 6.75 ERA in that span and the Mets are 3-6. It’s probably not a good idea for any reliever to work that often and definitely not for a 38-year old with a recent history of arm injuries.

But Collins is in a quandary in regards to his relievers, with Bobby Parnell being more gas can than water, Taylor Buchholz on the disabled list and Pedro Beato sporting a 16.20 ERA over his last five appearances. And it’s not like bringing in Francisco Rodriguez earlier is going to help, as K-Rod has allowed runs in three of his last four appearances.

Ideally, Isringhausen pitches the eighth inning and Rodriguez the ninth. Also ideally is that you use the rest of your relievers in situations where you build their confidence, so that you can use them in higher-pressure situations to avoid burning out your top bullpen arms.

Does anyone have any confidence in Tim Byrdak or Dale Thayer at this point? I know I don’t, but at the same time if it’s a close game in the eighth inning today against the Braves, I really don’t want to see Isringhausen on the mound.

So, who should Collins use?

The same guy he found lacking in Spring Training. The same guy who put up a 2.95 ERA, a 1.210 WHIP and a 9.53 K/9 last year for the Mets. The guy who failed to make the team out of Spring Training despite a 1.69 ERA and a 1.031 WHIP so that the Mets could take gas can Parnell and TNT Blaine Boyer north with the club.

Yes, loyal readers know I am talking about Manny Acosta. Much to my surprise, I have found myself being the biggest Acosta fan in the world who is not directly related to the player. I never sought out this role; instead it has been thrust upon me.

Ask the average Mets fan about Acosta and seemingly seven out of 10 will tell you he stinks. Our own Mike Koehler proudly counts himself among the majority and has chided me more than once for backing such a stiff.

I don’t know why Acosta did not make the team out of Spring Training. Perhaps he made a pass at Terry Collins’ wife. Perhaps he made a pass at Terry Collins. Those make more sense than the obvious (insane) reason of veteran baseball men looking at the sum total of Boyer or Byrdak’s careers and coming up with the conclusion that they were better options to help a winning ball club than Acosta.

Byrdak was kept because he throws with his left arm and is middle of the pack among LOOGYs in retiring lefty batters. But he’s terrible against RHB. He has a lifetime .882 OPS allowed versus righties and we know that roughly half of the batters he will face this year will bat from the right side of the plate.

Meanwhile, Acosta had a .473 OPS against opposite-side hitters for the Mets in 2010, in this case LHB as he’s a righty. This year in Buffalo, he limited lefties to a .120 AVG, although that’s where his trouble with walks came in April.

Boyer was kept, uh, I don’t know why he was kept. Yes, he had a strong Spring Training, but the rest of his MLB career suggested a guy who was no good. You know, like the guy we saw in April before Alderson correctly cut ties with him.

But Acosta is here now and it’s Collins’ job to use him in a manner that he can turn to him in the eighth inning of a close game if the situation calls for it. Obviously not all relievers are created equally and some are simply better than others.

However, you just can’t keep trotting Isringhausen out nearly 80 percent of the time. This harkens back to Manuel and his usage of Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Nieve last year. Now Feliciano is on the DL and his new general manager says the Mets overused him and Nieve is struggling to revive his career with the Astros and currently has a 7.63 ERA at Triple-A.

So, hopefully Acosta does well the first few times that Collins calls his number. And if he does, hopefully Collins will pitch him in meaningful innings and not let him grow cobwebs. Because if the manager has no faith to use you except in the Pat Misch, lowest of low leverage situations, the Mets would be better off with another hitter on the bench.

C’mon Manny – make me proud!

It’s time to demote Pat Misch

This is Pat Misch’s third season with the Mets. In that time span, Misch has gone back and forth between starting and relieving and Buffalo and New York, doing everything that the organization has asked of him. In that way, he has been an asset to the organization. But is it time to cut ties with this loyal player?

Currently, Misch is the seventh man in the bullpen and he is held out for mop-up duty. In his last three appearances, the Mets lost those games by a combined 27-7 margin. According to FanGraphs, Misch has an average Leverage Index of 0.25 this year. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Leverage Index (LI) is a measure of how important the situation that a player performs in. A very important situation would carry a LI of 1.5 or above. An average situation would have an LI of around 1.0.

Francisco Rodriguez leads Mets pitchers with a 2.16 LI. That makes sense, as he pitches the ninth inning with the game on the line. Right behind him is Jason Isringhausen with a 1.93 LI. Every other pitcher on the staff has their LI fall between 1.26 and 0.75 except for one – Misch and his 0.25 LI.

In addition to pitching the least valuable innings by far of anyone on the staff, Misch checks in with a 7.50 ERA, having allowed runs in three of his six appearances. He’s the mop-up guy but has yet to have an appearance of more than 2.0 IP this season. Two of his appearances were for less than an inning.

What is he bringing to the table?

With Dillon Gee already in the rotation, Misch is next in line should one of the current starters get injured. Or he is until Johan Santana is ready to return from the DL. So the Mets are using a roster spot on a player who they refuse to use in anything resembling an important situation in case one of their starters gets hurt in the next six weeks.

This seems like a waste. Especially when you consider that Taylor Buchholz and Isringhausen, two pitchers coming off arm injuries, have already been used nine time each this month and may not be able to handle a heavy workload over the full season. It would be nice if there was another reliever that Terry Collins had confidence in to use in close games.

Throughout Spring Training, I beat the drum for Manny Acosta to be on the team. Despite pitching well for the Mets last year (2.95 ERA, 1.210 WHIP) and having a strong Grapefruit League season (1.69 ERA, 1.031 WHIP), Acosta was left off the roster for Blaine Boyer. That one didn’t work out too well.

Acosta compounded things by struggling with his command in Buffalo, as he allowed 10 BB in his first 7 IP. But since then, Acosta has been very effective. In nine May appearances, he has a 0.87 ERA with 15 Ks in 10.3 IP. He has allowed 6 BB in that same span, but three of those came in one outing.

Bringing up Acosta for Misch would give Collins another arm to use in the sixth and seventh innings of tight games. There would be nothing preventing Collins from using Acosta in blowout situations for which Misch is currently deployed. Acosta went 3.0 IP in an outing last year for the Mets and went more than 1.0 IP in 10 of his 41 appearances.

The Mets already put Misch through waivers twice this season, so it’s reasonable to think he would clear again. And if he doesn’t, then Chris Schwinden and his 2.36 ERA in 45.2 IP at Triple-A becomes next in line for an emergency start.

It may be less than ideal to have Schwinden start major league games in June but let’s not pretend that we would be doing cartwheels to see Misch on the mound in the first inning. In 13 starts for the Mets, Misch is 3-7 with a 4.50 ERA and peripherals that suggest he was lucky to have an ERA that low.

I like having Misch in the organization. But right now he is not helping the club by being on the major league roster. His value comes in his ability to fill in as a starter. Until the time he is needed to take the mound in that capacity, he should be in Buffalo, replaced by a pitcher who can get key outs with the game on the line.

The Mets need to promote Acosta for that role.

What’s the fascination with Blaine Boyer?

In a recent chat with Mets bloggers, Sandy Alderson was asked about Spring Training roster decisions, particularly the bullpen. Here was his response:

“I think the career body of work is normally what gets a player into camp who is under consideration for the first time or who is put into a competition. I think you have to keep in mind career numbers and trends and strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, you do take into account what goes on during spring training. It’s the nature of competition and the hope is that certain people will rise to that level of competition. But you cant let spring games dictate results entirely. You tend not to focus on the results in spring training but rather other things — mechanics, individual character, is there a reason to believe that a player is not pitching to past performance, is there some reason that he is not going to hit this year versus his career? So I think you do balance those things. But you’re right to point out that what goes on in spring training doesn’t always dictate the final outcome with those roster spots. We’ve got some close competitions here … in the bullpen for example, we’re trying to balance what we can reasonably expect based on history versus what we can reasonably expect or hope based on what we’ve seen in the past month.”

Which brings us to Blaine Boyer. The 29-year old is having a very nice Spring (0.90 ERA, 10 IP 1 ER) but that is completely out of line with what he has done in his six seasons in MLB. Lifetime in the majors, Boyer has a 4.63 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. How do the 10 Spring Training innings trump the 227.1 innings of previous work?

Yet people are going through hoops to try and get Boyer on the Opening Day roster. Why Boyer over Manny Acosta? This Spring has also gone well for Acosta, who has allowed 2 ER in 10.2 IP. Both lifetime and 2010, Acosta has been the better pitcher. Here are their respective numbers:

Lifetime
Acosta – 153.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.44 K/9
Boyer – 227.1 IP, 4.63 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 6.37 K/9

2010
Acosta – 39.2 IP, 2.95 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.53 K/9
Boyer – 57.0 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 4.58 K/9

Another thing upon which relievers are judged are inherited runners. Perhaps Boyer is better than Acosta in this department, which would certainly help his case. Last year, Boyer came on with 23 runners on base and 10 of those came around to score. That worked out to a 43 IS% (where the lower the number, the better).

Meanwhile, Acosta had 31 inherited runners and 13 scored for a 42 IS% or virtually identical to Boyer. For their careers, Acosta has an IS% of 31 while Boyer’s checks in at 43. If any edge should be granted in this category, it should go to Acosta.

If Boyer makes the club over Acosta, I”ll have to assume that his “mechanics or individual character” are superior to those of Acosta or that Boyer has taken some great leap forward with his stuff in the past month.

Regardless, it’s a question that should be asked by the mainstream media and answered by Alderson if the Mets lose Acosta to keep Boyer.

The A-B-C guide to the Mets bullpen

It’s often said that having too many good players is a nice problem to have. Judging strictly by Spring Training results, that is exactly the dilemma the Mets have in figuring out who makes their bullpen. Through games of Sunday, the Mets have three relievers who have not allowed an earned run, one with an ERA under 1.00 and two with marks under 2.00 ERA. Only the three with a scoreless ERA are guaranteed spots on the team.

Let’s examine two pitchers seemingly on the bubble, although one seems more likely to make the squad. Which one would you prefer?

Pitcher A – 8 games, 10.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 5 BB, 9 Ks
Pitcher B – 10 games, 11.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 10 H, 4 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 5 Ks

Pitcher A turns 30 this May and has 153.2 IP in the majors under his belt. Last year he was 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA and had 42 Ks in 39.2 IP in the National League.

Pitcher B turned 24 in the offseason. He has yet to pitch a game in the majors. Last year he was 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA and had 50 Ks in 59.2 IP in Double-A.

Both pitchers are likely to be lost to other teams if the Mets try to send them to the minors. So, which one would you pick?

Pitcher A is Manny Acosta while Pitcher B is Pedro Beato. Acosta is clearly having the better Spring and he has a major league track record while Beato does not. But speculation is that Beato has a better shot of making the club than Acosta.

We know Francisco Rodriguez is the closer. Tim Byrdak is the LOOGY while D.J. Carrasco is the long man. That leaves four spots up for grabs. Taylor Buchholz has yet to give up a run this Spring. Blaine Boyer has a 0.90 ERA. Bobby Parnell is thought to be the closer of the future. Jason Isringhausen has a 1.29 ERA and is thought to be on the team if his elbow is sound.

Parnell has had the worst Spring of any of the candidates and with an option remaining it makes sense to send him to the minors. But some in the organization want him in the majors learning from Rodriguez and Isringhausen.

Boyer has a 4.63 lifetime ERA in 227.1 IP in the majors but because of his strong Spring, many think he should make the club. Last year he had 29 BB and 29 Ks in 57 IP with the Braves. General manager Sandy Alderson has talked about taking a player’s entire career into account when making roster decisions and if that is the case than Boyer will not make the club. He has very limited upside.

With the information available as we head into the last week of Spring Training, I would set the bullpen as Rodriguez, Isringhausen, Acosta, Beato, Buchholz, Byrdak and Carrasco.

Parnell gets to work on his consistency in the minors while Boyer and Pat Misch move on to other organizations. Both of those guys are welcome to join Triple-A Buffalo if they are not overwhelmed with other offers.

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.

Rk Player IP R ER BB SO ERA HR BF AB 2B 3B HBP SF BA OBP SLG OPS
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.

Is Bobby Parnell’s roster spot in jeopardy?

This time last year, few expected Bobby Parnell to open the year with Triple-A, figuring he had a bullpen spot locked up. But a poor Spring led to an assignment to Buffalo, where he spent the first two-and-a-half months of the year. Could it be déjà vu all over again for Parnell here in 2011?

Once again, most people have written Parnell’s name onto the major league roster. He figures to be the team’s eighth inning man and primary setup man to Francisco Rodriguez. Plus, with the Mets likely to be careful about the usage of Rodriguez this year, Parnell figured to be the most likely pitcher to benefit, picking up some saves and games finished in lieu of Rodriguez.

Basically, Parnell was in this position almost by default. Yes, he could reach 100 mph on the radar gun but that was seemingly his main claim to the job. Well, that and the fact that there was no one else with closing experience. But now there is.

Jason Isringhausen has come out of nowhere and now has to be viewed as a legitimate threat to not only Parnell and his eighth-inning role, but also his spot on the roster. We know Rodriguez will be on the team. We figure that D.J. Carrasco also has a spot locked up, by virtue of the two-year contract he signed this offseason. It’s a reasonable guess that the Mets will employ both a LOOGY and a long man, meaning that four bullpen spots are locked up.

Taylor Buchholz also signed as a free agent this year with a major league contract. Manny Acosta had a similar ERA and better WHIP last year than Parnell and is out of options. Pedro Beato is a Rule 5 guy and would have to be offered back to Baltimore if he does not make the roster. Throw in Isringhausen and Parnell and it’s now a very crowded bullpen situation.

If Isringhausen is all the way back in his comeback from elbow surgery, he could fill the role of eighth inning man and be the backup closer for Rodriguez. While no one else had closer dust sprinkled on their resume, Isringhausen has 293 lifetime Saves. That could add up to big trouble for Parnell.

Because let’s face it, Parnell is a glorified ROOGY at this point in his career. Last year LHB had a .327/.364/.442 mark against him. It’s great that he can throw so hard and get lots of strikeouts. Those are extremely important for a short reliever. But it’s also important to be able to get out anyone who steps to the plate. Do you really want Parnell facing Ibanez, much less Howard or Utley if the game is on the line in the eighth inning?

If Isringhausen is productive, it seems likely that he will make the team. That makes five bullpen spots locked up for Opening Day. That would leave Parnell in with Acosta, Beato and Buchholz fighting for the last two spots.

So, Parnell cannot repeat his mistake from last year, thinking he has the team made in Spring Training. He has to go out and get results. He gave up four hits and a run in his first outing, which covered two innings. That outing is not horrible, but Parnell needs to improve if he wants to be with the major league club in Florida for Opening Day, rather than waiting a week to open against the Syracuse Chiefs with the Bisons again.

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.

Manny Acosta and the bullpen competition

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, the Mets seem set with the people they will bring to Spring Training to compete for jobs. There should be plenty of competition for a slot in the bullpen, as there should be no fewer than nine relievers vying for the final four spots. Earlier in the offseason, I thought Manny Acosta was likely to wind up with a place on the Opening Day roster. Let’s see if that’s still the case.

First, we know that three spots in the bullpen are set with Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell and D.J. Carrasco. All three of those are righties, so it is a reasonable guess to assume that the Mets would prefer one of the final four spots to be filled by a lefty. Here are the nine main contenders for the bullpen jobs, along with some stats from 2010. I used major league data whenever possible.

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Name L/R Avg FB SwStr% K/9 K/BB
Manny Acosta Right 94.1 9.6 9.53 2.33
Pedro Beato Right low 90s Unknown 7.54 2.63
Taylor Buchholz Right 89.0 10.2 6.75 1.50
Tim Byrdak Left 88.9 9.8 6.75 1.45
Dillon Gee Right 89.1 7.9 4.64 1.13
Pat Misch Left 85.7 7.7 5.5 5.75
Mike O’Connor Left 85.0 7.0 8.92 4.12
Oliver Perez Left 88.0 7.1 7.19 0.88
Taylor Tankersley Left 87.4 8.2 5.25 1.0

Acosta’s advantages are that he throws the hardest of our remaining candidates. He has the top fastball velocity and the most strikeouts. Acosta also is among the leaders in Swinging Strike percentage and K/BB. And while he is a righty, Acosta limited lefties to a .473 OPS last year.

Beato’s numbers are from Double-A, with an approximation on his fastball velocity. When he was in junior college, Beato regularly threw in the 90s and could dial it up to 96. His velocity had dropped his first few years in the minors, but reports had him throwing harder last year, his first in the bullpen. A Rule 5 selection, Beato has to make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to the Orioles.

Buchholz is not overpowering but he gets a lot of swings out of the strike zone, plus swings and misses, thanks to his curve ball and changeup. The Mets gave Buchholz a major league deal, one that includes a $400,000 bonus if he makes the Opening Day roster and is not on the DL.

Byrdak has not officially signed but I included his numbers here, anyway. If the Mets agree to terms with the 37-year old, he is more of a traditional LOOGY, a guy to bring on to face a tough lefty and get him out of the game if a righty steps into the box. In his nine-year career in the majors, Byrdak has limited lefties to a .677 OPS but righties smack him around to an .886 tune.

Gee is still in the mix for a starting job, but with the signing of Young, his best bet to make the team is probably as a reliever. Without having to pace himself, he probably could throw a little bit harder than the numbers above show, which are limited to his time in the majors last year.

Misch is in the same boat as Gee, perhaps slightly better situated because he throws lefty and is out of options. While he is a southpaw, Misch enjoys no platoon advantage, as lefties in the majors have an .804 OPS against him, compared to a .768 mark for righties.

O’Connor pitched very well at Buffalo last year. The K/9 and K/BB numbers above were taken from his time in Triple-A in 2010. The other numbers were from his major league trial with the Nationals in 2008 and probably are not a good reflection of his current talent level. O’Connor is now a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, but is a good bet to make it to the majors during the 2011 season.

Perez comes to camp with a chance to win a spot in the bullpen but virtually no one expects him to be with the club when it begins the regular season.

Tankersley is signed to a minor league deal but the lefty has a good shot to make the team. Tankersley is recovering from elbow surgery which kept him out of baseball during the 2009 season. Last year in Triple-A, he limited lefties to a .118 AVG and when he was promoted to the Marlins, LHB had a .200/.286/.433 line in 35 PA.

We know that Spring Training stats are meaningless but the Mets will probably make some bullpen decisions this year based on what the above pitchers do in Florida. Acosta and Misch are out of options, Beato is a Rule 5 guy and Buchholz gets extra money if he makes the team. I still like Acosta to make the team, but a strong Spring showing would certainly help his cause.

Sizing up the Mets’ 2011 Opening Day roster

While there are several jobs up in the air, the Opening Day roster is starting to take shape for the Mets. There are 17 positions which seem set and another four which seem likely. And the remaining four are possibly already on the team, it is just a matter of which direction Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson choose to go.

The definites
Pelfrey, Dickey, Niese, Capuano, Rodriguez, Parnell, Buchholz, Carrasco, Thole, Paulino, Davis, Wright, Reyes, Hu, Bay, Beltran, Pagan

The likely
Gee, Acosta, Murphy, Evans

For lack of a better option, Dillon Gee seems to be the club’s fifth starter. There also remains the possibility he becomes a long man/swing guy if the Mets sign another starter before the start of Spring Training.

Manny Acosta had 42 strikeouts in 39.2 IP for the Mets last year and a 2.95 ERA. He is not yet eligible for arbitration and seems like a good, low-cost reliever. One thing working in his favor is his success last year versus LHB, who posted a .163/.217/.256 mark, albeit in just 46 PA.

Daniel Murphy might be the starting second baseman on Opening Day. Even if he does not win the job, his ability to play multiple positions (he played third base in the minors and left field and first base for the Mets) seems like an obvious asset, unless the Mets want him to go to the minors to concentrate on playing second on a daily basis.

Nick Evans should benefit from the shift in management, having, for whatever reason, seemingly fallen out of favor with Manuel/Minaya. Evans’ ability to play first base, along with both corner outfield spots, seems to give him a leg up. Also, being a righty bat with some sock helps Evans’ chances.

That leaves two bullpen spots, a second baseman and one other reserve position, likely an outfielder, up for grabs. It makes sense that the two Rule 5 guys – Pedro Beato and Brad Emaus – get a long look to fill a reliever spot and the second base job.

Next, the question is if the Mets hold onto Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo because of their contracts or if they are willing to eat part of all of their salaries in trades/releases. If the Mets do get rid of Perez, how important is having a lefty in the bullpen? Southpaw Mike O’Connor was unimpressive in two short stints with the Nationals, but had 70 Ks in 70.2 IP in Buffalo last year with a 2.67 ERA. Pat Misch is a lefty but has displayed little ability to be a LOOGY. But he does have the ability to pitch multiple innings as a reliever and should not be discounted.

If Emaus makes it, it seems unlikely that Castillo will also be on the team. Justin Turner probably needs Emaus to fall flat and another team to show interest in Castillo to have a shot, especially since he can be sent to the minors without risk.

That leaves the outfield. Ordinarily, Lucas Duda would be an asset as a power lefty bat off the bench, but he is likely better served to get regular ABs in Triple-A. Plus, he looked stretched as a left fielder and the Mets probably want this reserve to be a good defensive outfielder. Jason Pridie could fill the bill, although there is a chance the Mets bring in a veteran who is willing to sign on the cheap. Recently, MLB Trade Rumors indicated Scott Podsednik might be an option here.

My guess is that both Rule 5 guys make the roster and both salary guys are elsewhere. O’Connor gets the other relief spot and Pridie is the final guy for Opening Day. If this is indeed the Opening Day roster, their will be just six players returning from the 2010 Opening Day roster (Niese, Pelfrey, Rodriguez, Wright, Bay and Pagan). There were 11 returnees on the 2010 roster and 13 on the 2009 Opening Day one.