Quality left-handed relief pitchers are hard to come by. Some teams are fortunate enough to have one dependable southpaw who can come out of the bullpen and neutralize the opponents’ left-handed hitters. In 2010, the Mets employed two such pitchers.
In Pedro Feliciano, the Mets had a seasoned veteran who had experienced highs (the 2006 division title) and lows (the Art Howe Era and anything that occurred after Yadier Molina). They also had a pitcher who could be called upon in any situation, be it as a lefty specialist, eighth inning set-up man or mop-up duty, and be effective far more often than not.
Most importantly, they had a pitcher who was always there, never landing on the disabled list and breaking the franchise record for appearances in each of the last three years. In fact, Feliciano led the National League in appearances in each season from 2008-2010. His 266 games pitched over those three seasons were the most registered by any major league pitcher in a three-year span, breaking the previous record of 263 held by Mike Marshall (1972-1974) and Kent Tekulve (1978-1980).
With Hisanori Takahashi, the Mets had a savvy veteran with starting pitching experience (nine years as a starter for the Yomiuri Giants) and bullpen experience (15 saves as Yomiuri’s closer in 2006). Both types of experience would prove helpful to the Mets in 2010 as Takahashi stepped into the rotation in May and shut down the potent offenses of the Yankees and Phillies. This came right on the heels of a surprisingly overpowering stint in the bullpen (26 innings pitched, 33 strikeouts, .234 batting average against).
When Francisco Rodriguez was lost for the season after letting his Frankie Knuckles persona take over, Takahashi was perfect as the fill-in closer, going 8-for-8 in save opportunities. His 10 wins were the most by a Mets rookie pitcher in the 21st century (the legendary Jae Seo went 9-12 as a rookie in 2003) and he became the first Mets pitcher since Roger McDowell in 1986 to record at least eight saves to go with a double-digit victory total (Mr. Hotfoot won 14 games and saved 22 in ’86). Takahashi was a workhorse and a jack-of-all-trades, and gave the Mets more than they could have expected when they signed him for the 2010 season.
But during this off-season, the Mets said adios to Pedro Feliciano and sayonara to Hisanori Takahashi. Feliciano signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the crosstown Yankees and Takahashi switched coasts to become a member of the Los Angeles/Anaheim/California/Orange County Angels for a similar two-year, $8 million deal.
Two quality lefties are now gone from the Mets bullpen, leaving Pat Misch (Oy!) and Oliver Perez (Vey!) as the sole southpaws on the Mets’ 40-man roster who can pitch in relief. With Misch being a potential starter and Perez being a potential disaster, the Mets don’t really have the type of left-handed arms they’ll need to silence the lefty bats in the division, especially those on the Phillies, who boast a predominantly left-handed lineup.
So who’s out there in the land of free agents that the Mets can bring on to bring left-handed balance to the bullpen? Not much. However, these are the top candidates:
- Joe Beimel (age 34): Beimel has appeared in exactly 71 games in each of the last three seasons. His 3.01 ERA over that period is quite acceptable. He also keeps the ball in the ballpark, as evidenced by the 11 home runs he’s given up since the beginning of the 2007 season (spanning 296 appearances).
- Will Ohman (age 32): Since coming up to the major leagues for good in 2005, Ohman has been the prototypical left-handed specialist, pitching in 375 games, but only amassing 258 innings of work. His ERA over those six seasons is 3.87. Unlike the other available left-handed relievers, Ohman is a strikeout pitcher, averaging nearly one per inning over his career (269 Ks in 273 innings pitched).
- Hideki Okajima (age 35): When he signed with the Red Sox in 2007, he was brought on to be Jonathan Papelbon’s set-up man. He went on to have three spectacular seasons in Boston, going 12-4 with a 2.72 ERA in 198 games. However, his 2010 season left a lot to be desired, as Okajima’s ERA jumped to 4.50 and for the first time in his major league career, he allowed more hits than innings pitched (59 hits in 46 innings).
- Dennys Reyes (age 34): Reyes has pitched for 10 teams in his 14-year career. His last five seasons have been his best. In that time, Reyes has won 13 of 17 decisions and registered a low 2.63 ERA. He does walk his share of batters, but keeps hitters off-balance more often than not (178 hits allowed in 205.1 innings since 2006).
One positive that all these pitchers have in common is that neither of them is represented by $cott Bora$. Therefore, the Mets won’t have to break their piggy banks to sign any of them, as they would if Bora$ was breathing down their necks. But which one of these non-Bora$ clients do I think suits the Mets the best?
Although Dennys Reyes might be the best of the bunch, especially considering the consistently good numbers he’s put up since 2006, and Joe Beimel might be the pitcher most linked to the Mets, Will Ohman is the lefty the Mets should be paying attention to. To see why, all you have to do is look at what these pitchers accomplish against the teams in the NL East.
In Dennys Reyes’ well-traveled career, he has failed miserably against the teams the Mets would face a minimum of 18 times per season. These are his numbers against the Mets’ divisional rivals, followed by the numbers of Beimel and Ohman.
vs. Atlanta: 4.10 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
vs. Florida: 4.64 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
vs. Philadelphia: 6.95 ERA, 2.23 WHIP
vs. Washington: 4.23 ERA, 1.55 WHIP
vs. Atlanta: 3.42 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
vs. Florida: 1.66 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
vs. Philadelphia: 5.76 ERA, 1.75 WHIP
vs. Washington: 6.53 ERA, 2.27 WHIP
vs. Atlanta: 3.09 ERA, 1.63 WHIP
vs. Florida: 1.29 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
vs. Philadelphia: 4.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
vs. Washington: 1.84 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
Note: Hideki Okajima has pitched exclusively in the American League and therefore does not have sufficient experience against the teams in the National League East to include in the above comparison of relief pitchers.
Clearly, Reyes and Beimel have difficulties against the teams in the NL East, especially against the hated Phillies. Ohman is the best of the three against Philadelphia and has also had a fair amount of success against the other three teams in the division.
If the Mets are going to make a play on one of the above left-handed relievers, there is no question that it should be Will Ohman. Not only is he the youngest of the group, but he is the most effective against the teams the Mets are going to see the most. The Mets should make an offer to Ohman sooner than later, so as not to lose his services to another team.
Regardless of whether or not the Mets sign Ohman, they have to fortify their bullpen from the left-hand side. If they fail to do so, then get your vocal cords ready. You’ll need them to boo Oliver Perez every time he comes into a game in a spot that used to be reserved for Pedro Feliciano or Hisanori Takahashi.