Mets Bullpen Outlook
NOTE: this is a post by Matt Himelfarb; please direct your comments to him.
As expected, just about every pitcher this side of Ambiorix Burgos is getting the chance to spend a cup of coffee in big league spring training, before their inevitable release or assignment to minor league camp.
$12 million in due salary has delayed Oliver Perez’s negotiations with the Newark Bears by about three weeks. Guys like Manuel Alvarez and John Lujan, meanwhile, were cursed with several remaining option years, precluding them from seriously competing for a spot in the opening day bullpen.
The most intriguing underdog is Jason Isringhausen, who is making a somewhat romantic comeback attempt after pitching all of 8 innings in the big leagues since 2008. Izzy’s chance of making the big club appear slim, however. At the end of the day, Izzy’s best asset is nostalgia, and sentimentalism alone is not going to bring him north. In fact, as if barely pitching the last two years did not taint his prospects enough, Izzy has not really pitched that great, period, since 2004.
Hence, barring any injuries, the Mets bullpen will most likely include: Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, Taylor Buchholz, and. D.J. Carrasco. That leaves three spots open, at least one of which will go to a lefty, leaving the Mets essentially picking between the lesser of two evils:
1) Keeping both Pedro Beato and Manny Acosta, both of whom they would likely otherwise lose if either doesn’t making the opening day roster, and risk having just one lefty specialist, in a division littered with left-handed sluggers (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, etc.).
2) Carrying two lefties, and losing one of Beato or Acosta.
One way I’ve heard the Mets getting around the latter would be working out a deal with the Orioles where the Mets could stash Beato in AAA. I would imagine, however, if the Mets really like Beato, they would not have much leverage in such a trade. And who wants to lose a decent chip such as Sean Ratliff, Lucas Duda, Robert Carson, etc. when you don’t have to?
Also, I’d like to add that I don’t consider potentially losing Pat Misch — who will also be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the opening day roster — as an awfully compelling reason to go jump off a bridge. Nothing against Misch- who had a ridiculous 5.25 K/BB ratio in six starts last season- but insisting that the Mets must have a certified long-man in the bullpen is the result of some pretty unimaginative, dogmatic devotion to conventional wisdom. Regardless of the fact that D.J. Carrasco also played a swing-man role with the White Sox the last several seasons, or that Beato (if he sticks) was a starting pitcher as recently as two years ago, basically every relief pitcher was a starter at some point, and thus, likely capable of transitioning into a swingman role. It’s the same misguided, mindless close-mindedness that drives analysts to deem a select few pitchers “closers,” and many others merely middle relievers.
So the Mets bullpen conundrum boils down to options one and two. Frankly, I’m not sure which route they should take. There’s some statistical evidence that WAR undervalues LOOGYs, but the difference is fairly negligible.
The way I see it, it’s a matter of a personal preference. If you’re drinking the spring training kool-aid, and you think Manny Acosta can build upon his success from 2010, and there’s a good chance Pedro Beato can develop into a very good, if not excellent, middle reliever, than the Mets are probably best served keeping them. But if Alderson and co. have any significant reservations, they would be wise to carry a second lefty; even the best middle relievers are lucky to be worth even two wins over an entire season, so the risk likely outweighs the reward. In other words, it’s not worth punting whatever slim playoff prospects the Mets have this year by carrying Acosta and Beato at the expense of another lefty, if your not at least fairly confident that Acosta and Beato are capable of developing into top-flight relievers.
Again, personally, it’s a tough issue to grapple with. Acosta was undoubtedly very effective in 39.2 innings last season. While he still walked too many hitters, and he gave up his fair share of homers, he also posted a 2.95 era. (3.63 FIP), and his strikeout rate was excellent (9.53 K/9). Plus, he throws 94 mph. On the other hand, he has over 110 innings of prior relief work since 2007 suggesting he’s nothing more than a replacement level reliever. It’s hard to say if he’s made any improvements to his game indicating his newfound success is sustainable. His control was improved, and he scrapped his slider for a curveball in 2009, so maybe he’s finally coming into his own. Or not.
Beato, meanwhile, has no statistical track record whatsoever to suggest he’ll be anything more than a replacement level reliever next season. His performance last season in AA- 3.51 FIP 7.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9- while hardly shabby, is nothing to write home about for a 23 year-old in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League. His career minor league strikeout rate is just 6.25 K/9 in 504 innings pitched. The fact that the Orioles left him unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft says something as well. Now, however, he’s throwing his hardest since being drafted backed in 2006.
The last armchair-GM option I’ve pondered is if the Mets would consider trading D.J. Carrasco. I had nothing against the Mets signing Carrasco earlier in the winter for 2 years, $2.5 million, although I’m not quite sure exactly what the Mets have in him. His ERAs the last two seasons (3.76 and 3.68) have been very solid, despite the fact his strikeout and walk rates are merely average, and he does a decent, albeit unspectacular job of keeping the ball on the ground. He’s consistently outperformed his xFIP over the last three seasons — which typically hovers in the 4.15 range — by limiting his number of home runs rate in 210.1 innings over the last three years to 0.51 per nine. His average HR/FB rate over that time is 5.94%, which is well below the league average. I would expect his performance to regress to some extent, but perhaps Carrasco’s found a way to defy sabermetric law.
What we do know is that he’s reliable and has a rubber arm, the type of guy almost every bullpen sorely wishes they had at some point in the year, particularly when injuries hit. I get that. Even if Carrasco is simply a innings-eating, 4+ ERA pitcher, that’s still good value at just over $1M per season.
In light of the fact the Mets are unlikely to contend next season, though, isn’t it more important that the Mets see what they have in high-ceiling arms such as Acosta and Beato, rather than Carrasco?