The Mets have played pretty poorly during their first week. This is probably not news to you. They have also been managed poorly, which probably isn’t news to you either. It hasn’t all been bad, though. The bullpen has been one of the bright spots, giving up only 3 runs in 21.1 innings, an ERA of 1.27
This is clearly unsustainable, but I actually think the Mets have enough arms in the bullpen that it could end up being a strength of the team. I am worried, however, that Jerry Manuel has the wrong ideas about his relievers and that the early success might be teaching him the wrong lessons. This actually speaks to one of the fundamental principles of sabermetrics – looking at the process and not the results. While the Mets have gotten good results from their bullpen, I don’t think that the process has been very good.
There are a number of issues in the way that Jerry has been using his relievers. Pitching Fernando Nieve in each of the first four games of the season seems silly at best. I’ve already written about how frustrating it was to watch Jerry bring Hisanori Takahashi in when five righties were due up (and then to take him out way too quickly, burning two additional arms in one inning of a game the Mets were not going to win – and STILL not getting very good platoon matchups.) There is one decision which Jerry has made a couple of times already and which I expect him to keep making. This decision has worked pretty well so far but I believe it will backfire in the long run.
The move I’m taking about is using Pedro Feliciano against right handed batters in important situations. Now I like Pedro Feliciano, and I think he is a useful pitcher. I know that he wants to be the set up man. However I just don’t think he is good enough against right handed batters to do that job. Pedro is a side arm throwing lefty which helps him greatly against other lefties. It also hurts him against righties. His career platoon splits are enormous. Let’s take a look, via fangraphs (click for full size).
We see that Pedro has been very good against lefties during his career. He has struck out over a batter per inning and has a K/BB ratio of just over 4. Combine that with only 0.58 HR/9 and you get a very nice FIP of 2.70. On the other hand he has walked righties at over twice the rate which he’s walked lefties and has allowed over 1 HR/9. This adds up to a FIP of 5.03. In short, Feliciano is well above average against lefties and below average against righties. There is a reason why most side arm pitchers are used exclusively against batters of the same handedness and this is exactly that reason.
I’m not saying that Pedro should never pitch to righties. In low leverage situations, or in lineups which are set up L-R-L it’s not a terrible idea to leave Pedro in to face righties. A set-up man, however, is going to be in pretty high leverage situations. A set-up man is also going to be used regardless of platoon match-up. I think the stats make it pretty clear that this is not the way to use Pedro Feliciano.
The season is only a week old but Jerry already has me worried. Feliciano has pitched to 12 batters and 8 (two thirds!) of them have been right handed. The scariest thing is that Jerry has been rewarded for his poor decisions so far. Feliciano has only given up 1 hit (to a lefty) and 3 walks (to righties) in the 2010 season so far. He has not given up a run.
Eventually this will catch up with Jerry. It will cost him runs (and games) if he continues to do this. I just hope that the combination of a bad idea with good luck does not lead to Jerry sticking with this plan through the ‘tough times.’ The sooner he learns that Feliciano is the very definition of a LOOGY the better off the Mets will be.