New York Mets: Left-Handed Pitching Options Prove Ineffective Against Righties
It's still early in spring training, so a lot can change, but we've seen a few games now and can finally start making some statements based on evidence rather than speculation.
In three games so far, the Mets are 1-1-1. We've seen some of the good and the bad from this team, and with a month to go before the start of the regular season, there's still plenty of time for things to tip in either direction.
The biggest questions remain who will win the second base job, which, by extension, includes what the club will do with Luis Castillo, and of course whether or not Oliver Perez has the stuff to make this team.
In Perez's case, after his performance on Sunday against the Atlanta Braves, he definitely doesn't appear able to pitch as a starter. Manager Terry Collins has said Perez will be given every chance to win that job, but he could find himself in the bullpen as a lefty reliever.
The Mets also have lefties Taylor Tankersley, Mike O'Connor and Tim Byrdak in camp with an eye on the bullpen.
All four players have now seen time in spring training games, and we can start getting idea of their strengths and weaknesses. One weakness in particular needs to change before the start of the regular season: The Mets need a lefty who can also get right-handed batters out.
Both Tankersley and O'Connor made their spring debuts yesterday against the Washington Nationals. Tankersley faced six batters, four righties and two lefties. He struck out both lefties, Corey Brown and uber-prospect, Bryce Harper. It was against the righties that Tankersley struggled, surrendering an RBI double to Jeff Frazier and a two-run home run to Michael Morse, one of his two yesterday.
O'Connor faced four batters, only one right-handed. He got lefty Michael Aubrey, a lefty, to pop out to third before giving up the only hit of the inning, a single to Alberto Gonzalez, who is, of course, right-handed.
O'Connor then got two more lefties, Jonathan Van Every and Corey Brown, on fly ball outs.
By now, we're all aware of Perez's ugly debut. He pitched two innings, coughing up four runs, all earned, on four hits and three walks.
All four hits and all three walks, which came against consecutive batters, were against right-handed hitters.
Perez's three strikeouts did come against right-handers, including Dan Uggla, but it's abundantly clear that Perez is dangerously ineffective.
Byrdak, who made his debut in an exhibition game against the University of Michigan on Sunday, threw a scoreless inning. Last season, for the Houston Astros, righties hit .333 against him.
Is this a problem for the Mets?
Out of the four lefties the Mets are looking at for the bullpen (I'm throwing Perez into that mix, because he has no shot at the rotation), only O'Connor seems to be able to pitch to both sides of the plate effectively so far.
Whichever lefty, or lefties, make the team, their role will instantly be to replace the ever-reliable Pedro Feliciano, whom the Mets lost to free agency. Feliciano was the Mets most-used reliever last season, making a league-high 92 appearances. He held left-handed batters to a .211 BAA, but righties crushed him to the tune of a .336 BAA.
In short, Feliciano wasn't any more effective against right-handers than any of his potential replacements seem to be. However, the Mets can't expect Tankersley, O'Connor or Perez to make as many appearances as Feliciano, so they're decidedly less useful, and the Mets also won't have Hisanori Takahashi, who was very effective against both lefties and righties last season.
Takahashi, a left-handed pitcher, made 41 appearances last season and held lefties to a .217 BAA and right-handers to a .264 BAA. He signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels during the offseason.
As far as right-handers who are effective enough against lefties, Manny Acosta (.163 BAA) and Elmer Dessens (.232 BAA) should be returning.
Another right-hander, offseason acquisition, D.J. Carrasco, who could fill the hole left by Takahashi's departure, as he has the stuff to be both a reliever and a spot-starter, held lefties to a .260 BA last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Mets still have exactly one month to develop their pitchers and build the best bullpen possible. Collins has already identified several pitchers as "locks" to make the bullpen—Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, Carrasco, Brydak and Taylor Buchholz.
In a lefty-heavy division like the NL East, with guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann lurking, effective left-handed pitching is an absolute must. But there are plenty of right-handers looking to take a lefty deep, and the Mets are going to need someone to step up against both and get some outs this season.
Right now, I don't see that guy.
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