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.

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.

Innings projections for the 2011 Mets

With the signing of Chris Young, the Mets rotation appears to be set in 2011. Young was not my first choice for a bargain-basement pitcher, but at least if I squint real hard I can imagine him being a useful pitcher this season, which is more than I can say for Kevin Millwood.

Now, we are left to wonder what the Mets can get from each member of their rotation. Last year’s staff overachieved, in part due to the dimensions of Citi Field. The pitching staff in general, and the rotation in particular, is not likely to reproduce 2010’s numbers. Just missing Johan Santana is bad enough but the fact that there are question marks, whether due to injuries or other factors, for each of the five players likely to begin the year in the rotation has fans holding their collective breaths.

First, let’s look at what the starting rotation gave the club last year.

Rk W L W-L% ERA GS IP ▾ H HR BB IBB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
1 Mike Pelfrey 15 9 .625 3.68 33 203.0 212 12 67 5 113 1.374 5.0 1.69
2 Johan Santana 11 9 .550 2.98 29 199.0 179 16 55 2 144 1.176 6.5 2.62
3 Jonathon Niese 9 10 .474 4.20 30 173.2 192 20 62 3 148 1.463 7.7 2.39
4 R.A. Dickey 11 9 .550 2.86 26 173.1 165 13 41 3 103 1.188 5.3 2.51
5 Hisanori Takahashi 4 4 .500 5.01 12 64.2 73 11 21 0 54 1.454 7.5 2.57
6 John Maine 1 3 .250 6.13 9 39.2 47 8 25 1 39 1.815 8.8 1.56
7 Pat Misch 0 4 .000 4.28 6 33.2 39 4 4 1 21 1.277 5.6 5.25
8 Oliver Perez 0 3 .000 5.94 7 33.1 36 5 28 1 27 1.920 7.3 0.96
9 Dillon Gee 2 2 .500 2.18 5 33.0 25 2 15 2 17 1.212 4.6 1.13
10 Jenrry Mejia 0 2 .000 7.94 3 11.1 17 1 4 1 5 1.853 4.0 1.25
11 Raul Valdes 0 0 1.69 1 5.1 3 1 4 0 5 1.313 8.4 1.25
12 Fernando Nieve 0 1 .000 22.50 1 2.0 3 2 3 0 5 3.000 22.5 1.67
Team Total 53 56 .486 3.80 162 972.0 991 95 329 19 681 1.358 6.3 2.07
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2011.

The Mets got 26 or more starts from four pitchers last year. We already know Santana will not pitch that much in 2011. What are the odds that either Capuano or Young can shoulder that load? Can Pelfrey avoid the stretches where he looks sub-replacement level? Can Dickey continue to throw that many strikes? Can the 24-year-old Niese survive the jump in innings, from 120 to 179.2, which make him a Verducci candidate?

Last year the Mets used 12 SP. We can figure on the above five, along with Santana (hopefully), Gee and Misch will make starts during the year. Plus it’s not unrealistic to expect Mejia to come up and make a start or two in September. Will those nine be enough for 162 games and 972 IP that the team’s starters gave in 2010?

Here are my guesses:

Dickey – 215
Pelfrey – 200
Niese – 150
Capuano – 150
Young – 90
Santana – 75
Gee – 50
Misch – 20
Mejia – 15

If Dickey and Pelfrey can go 30+ starts each, this rotation has a chance. The above numbers add up to 965 IP and none of the totals seem crazy to me. Perhaps no Mets starter reaches the IP totals projected above, but would you chomp at the bit to go to Vegas to bet against any one of them? Capuano is probably the most optimistic one – he threw just 66 IP in 2010.

The big question is if Capuano, Young, Santana and Gee can combine for roughly 350 IP, or what Niese and Dickey gave the club in 2010. I have them for 365.

It’s exceptionally rare for a pitching staff to use just five or six starters for an entire season. We know this year’s Mets staff will not be one of those. Sandy Alderson chose Capuano and Young to bring in this season. We should judge him by how well those two pitchers perform, both in innings and quality they deliver, along with what other pitchers in similar situations (and similar dollar amounts) did for other teams in 2011.

Manuel's bullpen decisions

During the middle of Spring Training, if you asked 10 different people to predict who would be in the Mets’ bullpen on Opening Day, you might have gotten 10 different answers. Manager Jerry Manuel did not go for either the popular or conventional way when he constructed his bullpen. Manuel opted to look elsewhere besides Nelson Figueroa, Pat Misch and Bobby Parnell, who each had some success for him in 2009.

Francisco Rodriguez and Pedro Feliciano were givens for the bullpen but a case could have been made for keeping numerous relievers besides the ones Manuel chose – Jenrry Mejia, Fernando Nieve, Ryota Igarashi, Hisanori Takahashi and Sean Green. The big concern was which reliever was going to step up and be the main bridge to Rodriguez in the eighth inning.

There was talk about Mejia eventually filling that role, while Feliciano actively campaigned for the job. Igarashi had just worked his way into the position when he landed on the disabled list. By that time Nieve had become a favorite of Manuel’s and the club opted for Manny Acosta, no threat to be used in a high-leverage situation if it could be avoided, to replace Igarashi.

Currently, Manuel mixes and matches Feliciano and Nieve in key spots prior to brining in Rodriguez. Acosta and Mejia are used in low pressure situations if at all possible, while Raul Valdes (called up when Green went on the DL) and Takahashi are the long men or used in shorter spurts when Manuel looks to give one of the other relievers a day off.

It seems like no one is happy with the way Manuel has handled the bullpen, but it is hard to argue with the group’s success so far in the 2010 season. After Wednesday’s loss by Rodriguez, the Mets relievers are 9-8 with a 2.67 ERA in 124.2 IP,

Still, did Manuel assemble the best bullpen for the 2010 Mets and were his personnel decisions in the best interests of the club’s long-term needs?

So much has been made of the Mejia situation that everything else gets lost in the shuffle. But did Manuel make the right choices in making relievers out of Nieve and Takahashi while cutting Figueroa, Misch and Parnell? Each of those latter three players filled starter and reliever roles for the 2009 Mets and were potentially more useful for the major league roster than Green, Mejia and Nieve.

As mentioned earlier, Rodriguez and Feliciano were locks for the bullpen. Igarashi’s contract probably clinched his spot even before he threw a pitch in Spring Training. A fair question would be if Manuel was left unconvinced that Igarashi could be his eighth inning guy after he saw him first hand in Florida or did he intentionally downplay Igarashi in order to justify keeping Mejia? Everyone says Spring Training stats are meaningless but Igarashi did not set the world on fire in his first exposure to hitters in this country. He had a 7.90 ERA with 10 BB and 8 Ks in 13.2 IP in Grapefruit League action.

Takahashi also was likely to make the team. He was nominally in the running for the fifth starter’s job but ended up in the bullpen as a long man. Since a bad outing against the Cubs on April 21, Takahashi has been extremely effective for the Mets. In his last eight games, he has a 1.80 ERA, with 2 BB and 20 Ks in 15 IP.

Keeping Takahashi as the long man apparently left no room for either Figueroa or Misch. The Phillies claimed Figueroa off waivers and he has pitched decently, with a 4.30 ERA in six games, including one start. Misch has been a starter at Triple-A and has been nothing special, with a 4.15 ERA in six games. He does have a noticeable home/road split, with a 5.87 ERA in three home games and a 2.79 ERA in three road games, all Quality Starts.

Many people were surprised that Green made the 25-man roster while Parnell was shipped out. Fans cringed when Green was brought into the game while Parnell at least had success early and late last year for the Mets. Green appeared to be a guy who could only pitch to RHB while Parnell at least showed flashes of being a good reliever against all hitters. But when in doubt, look at the money. Green avoided arbitration and had a deal just under $1 million. Parnell had a major league minimum salary.

With Green on the DL most of the year, we have been unable to see if could build on the end of 2009, when he posted a 3.15 ERA and gave up just 2 HR in his final 54.1 IP. But what we have seen of Parnell in Triple-A has not been encouraging. He has a 4.76 ERA in 11 games as a reliever. While he has 15 Ks in 17 IP, he also has allowed 13 BB.

Manuel seems to have made the right call in sending down Parnell and keeping Takahashi as the long man over Figueroa and Misch. But would one of those guys have been a better choice than either Mejia or Nieve?

Mejia belongs in the minors as a starter. That is a position with which most people agree. However, I think the same thing should be said about Nieve. Last year in the minors, Nieve showed very good peripherals in nine games split between Double and Triple-A. He had 42 Ks and 16 BB in 42.2 IP. In the majors, his peripherals were not nearly so good, he allowed 19 BB in 36.2 IP, but he had a nice 2.95 ERA.

It was a pretty successful year for Nieve last year and 15 of his 17 appearances were as a starter. In my opinion it was too soon to give up on him as a starting pitcher. Nieve should have been starting every five days in Buffalo, working on his command and waiting for an injury at the major league level for another chance at a rotation slot. Instead, he is a short reliever that Manuel has the Mets broadcasters calling “Nightly Nieve” with his league-leading 21 appearances.

If Manuel had Mejia in Double-A and Nieve in Triple-A as starters, he could have opened the season with both Figueroa and Misch in the bullpen. And if the eighth-inning role was really a concern, he could have easily kept either Kiko Calero or Elmer Dessens, both major league veterans who were in Spring Training, rather than the two unproven youngsters.

While there has been some outcry about Mejia, generally most fans have given Manuel a pass on this issue because he and Nieve have been effective. But while their ERAs look good, their peripherals suggest that those results carry a lot of good fortune. Mejia has a 2.35 ERA but a 4.63 xFIP, while Nieve’s numbers are 3.32 and 5.02, respectively. As a comparison, Takahashi has a 2.74 ERA and a 3.17 xFIP.

So, while Mejia and Nieve have produced good results in the bullpen for the 2010 Mets, I think both of them are pitching above their heads and would be better served working as starters in the minors. There has already been a cost, as keeping both of them meant cutting ties with Figueroa, a popular player who is now helping the first-place Phillies. The real cost comes if neither of them ever starts another game for the Mets.

Therefore Manuel gets kudos from me for his decision on Parnell and Takahashi and jeers for his decisions with Mejia and Nieve. That makes Manuel’s record .500 in the bullpen by my scorecard. In his career with the Mets, Manuel is 143-146 (.495) so a .500 record sounds about right. And I would prefer that a .500 manager not be allowed to turn two interesting starting pitchers into bullpen fodder.

Why Waive Pat Misch?

In a move that few will mourn, the Mets placed pitcher LHP Pat Misch on waivers, according to mlb.com. Misch was acquired on waivers from the Giants during the 2009 season and performed credibly in his brief time with the Mets. Used first as a reliever, Misch eventually worked his way into a starting role, where he spent the last six weeks of the season.

Let’s have some fun with some small sample size numbers. Here are the respective stats for Misch and Mike Pelfrey for the final seven starts of the 2009 season:

PM: 3-3, 4.69 ERA, 44 H, 9 BB, 10 Ks, 8 HR in 40.1 IP
MP: 1-4, 6.18 ERA, 57 H, 16 BB, 25 Ks, 9 HR in 43.2 IP

And here are the stats for the same two pitchers in Spring Training:

PM: 0-0, 1.38 ERA, 11 H, 7 BB, 8 Ks, 0 HR in 13 IP
MP: 0-3, 7.97 ERA, 34 H, 2 BB, 12 Ks, 8 HR in 20.1 IP

To be fair, Misch’s upside is probably what he did last season, when he posted a 4.12 ERA in 62.1 IP for the Mets. Misch is not overpowering, he’s not particularly effective versus LHB (.288/.341/.461 lifetime or virtually identical numbers to how he fared versus RHB) and what success he did enjoy last year came thanks to some good fortune, as he had a .270 BABIP and a 76.8 strand rate with the Mets.

Whether it was achieved with smoke and mirrors or not, I am surprised that the Mets are willing to cast away someone who enjoyed any kind of success last season. There was no room at Triple-A for Misch? He seems like the exact type of guy you want to have stashed away in the minors – a crafty veteran who won’t be fazed by pitching in the majors once one of the regular guys goes down with an injury or ineffectiveness.

One of the dirty secrets of the 2009 Mets is how well their replacement starters did. Most teams would be thrilled to get 5.00 ERA level performances from their reserve starting pitchers and the Mets did even better than that, with relatively strong performances from guys like Misch. I would have preferred him being a phone call away in Triple-A than being available for any club on the waiver wire.

Earlier I compared his stats with those of Pelfrey. The purpose of that was not to illustrate how great Misch is (because he’s not) but rather to show how dismal Pelfrey has been, and continues to be. The Mets are counting on Pelfrey to be one of the mainstays of their rotation, when the fact is that they should be preparing him for a move to the bullpen.

The reality is that Pelfrey has only one pitch, despite three years at a major college program, his first-round draft status and several years in the organization. Hoping that he will suddenly develop a useful, much less impact new pitch, is a case of wishful thinking.

Instead of converting Jenrry Mejia, a starting pitching prospect with a seemingly bright future, into a short reliever, the Mets would be better off moving Pelfrey, a player who seems to have stalled as a starter, into the new role. Perhaps only having to throw an inning at a time would allow Pelfrey to succeed with just one pitch and rediscover the strikeout numbers he had in the minors.

The bottom line is that there is very little reason to think Pelfrey is going to be a quality pitcher as a starter this season. Ideally, the Mets would have signed a free agent pitcher or two to accommodate more easily a move to the pen for Pelfrey. Given that they neglected to do that, the next best thing would be to have quality depth at Triple-A and that’s where Misch might have come in handy.

Maybe the Mets tried to do Misch a favor, releasing him now so that he could hook on with another club where he could compete for a starting job. I find that hard to believe, with the release coming here at the end of March. Either way, I hope fans join me in thanking Misch for the work he did last season and wish him well in his next stop.