Mets Would Benefit From Second Lefty In Bullpen
One of the few competitions in Mets camp this spring revolves around the bullpen. New acquisitions Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez appear set to join Manny Acosta and Tim Byrdak, but the remaining two spots are up for grabs. D.J. Carrasco is owed $1.2 million and Bobby Parnell has Major League experience under his belt, but the Amazins might benefit the most from adding a second lefty.
For much of last season, Tim Byrdak was the only lefty in the bullpen, and he excelled in that role. Byrdak held lefties to a .222/.271/.333 line over 110 plate appearances, with a 36 strikeouts against only six walks. Given the nature of today’s game, Byrdak was recorded only 1.6 out per game, and pitched more than one inning just seven times (he appeared in 72 games). That is par for the course, especially with lefties cemented into their LOOGY role, but it presents a problem: what if you need more than one lefty reliever per game?
There is a strong chance that Byrdak will again be the only lefty in the pen. Adam Rubin profiled the left-handed options in Mets camp and none of them are particularly appealing. Robert Carson has no Major League or relief experience. Chuck James has battled injuries and performs better against righties (.256/.327/.472) than lefties (.262/.342/.461). Olson profiles more as a starter who will provide insurance at Buffalo and hasn’t handled lefties (.283/.369/.372) much better than righties (.292/.372/.496). The most viable candidate might be Danny Herrera, who appeared in 16 games with the Mets last fall and owns a solid .215/.280/.308 batting line against left-handed batters, but as Rubin pointed out, some in the organization are concerned that he will become less effective as opponents figure out his screwball. So that begs the question, is it worth going with a mediocre lefty in the bullpen as opposed to something with more upside, such as Parnell or Pedro Beato? The answer may be yes.
The reasoning is that some players just don’t hit left-handed pitching and have a very pronounced split. And when you’re facing division opponents eighteen times a year, there will be certain hitters that the bullpen sees over and over. Here are some hitters in the National League East with pronounced career lefty/righty splits (lefty batting line listed first):
Brian McCann: .266/.333/.437 vs. .295/.369/.507
Freddie Freeman: .254/.309/.413 vs. .288/.354/.458
Jason Heyward: .227/.325/.365 vs. .268/.378/.454
Ryan Howard: .231/.311/.438 vs. .298/.397/.623
Jim Thome: .239/.341/.426 vs. .293/.428/.612
Chase Utley: .275/.384/.486 vs. .296/.373/.514
Adam LaRoche: .247/.303/.433 vs. .274/.347/.492
There are some big hitters on that list who struggle against lefties, and if they get two at bats against bullpen pitchers other than Francisco, it would be nice to have a second lefty option. It isn’t difficult to imagine a situation where Byrdak is called upon to retire Utley in a big spot in the seventh inning, only to see Byrdak’s spot come up in the batting order the next half inning before getting a chance to face Howard. While I like to believe that any pitcher should be able to retire any batter, that just isn’t the case or how Terry Collins will likely manage the game.
Out of the lefty options, I believe Herrerra has the best shot of breaking camp with the team, but by no means does that mean he’ll stick around the whole season. If he struggles, and Parnell is lighting things up in the minors or prospect Josh Edgin quickly advances up the ladder, Herrerra (or James or Olson) could be booted. Either way, having an additional lefty to begin the season will provide Collins with additional flexibility and the opportunity to give the Mets favorable matchups on the mound.