The injuries just keep coming. This time it's Tim Byrdak, who appears to be out at least through April with a torn meniscus in his left knee that requires surgery. Byrdak, as many of you know, was an effective relief pitcher last season, particularly vs left-handed batters. In fact, he was effective ONLY because of left-handed batters. Check out his splits and how Terry Collins used him after the jump.
Byrdak, 2011, vs LHB: 32.7 K%, 5.5 BB%, 2.06 FIP, 2.27 FIP
Byrdak, 2011, usage vs LHB (derived from total batters faced): 65.4%
Collins did a nice job of masking Byrdak's severe warts against righties by having him face a left-handed hitter for (nearly) 2 of every 3 batters he faced. This helped contribute to Byrdak's great (overall) 3.16 FIP performance last season in 37 innings.
But while losing Byrdak may seem like it will hurt the bullpen, it really may not be so hard to replace him. While current left-handed pitchers in camp like Robert Carson, Josh Edgin, Daniel Herrera, and others may get a look in that role, the best option appears to be outside the organization. And no, he's not C.J. Nitkowski, rest assured - he's Mike Gonzalez, who split his 2011 season with the Orioles and Rangers. Gonzalez's overall FIP and xFIP rates were not as good as Byrdak's last season, but that has a lot do to with how Buck Showalter utilized him out of his bullpen, foolishly using him more against righties than lefties:
Gonzalez, 2011, usage vs LHB: 47.8%
Gonzalez, 2011, usage vs RHB: 52.2%
Gonzalez, once upon a time, wasn't too bad vs righties, but that ability appears to have dissipated over the last few years. But let's not forget Tim Byrdak is as big of a liability vs right-handed batters as much as anyone, with a career FIP of 5.75 and xFIP of 5.36. Gonzalez has a more palatable career FIP and xFIP under 4 vs righties, and even using Gonzalez's split over the last three seasons (4.32 FIP, 4.28 xFIP), those rates are still better than what Byrdak can do against them.
So Gonzalez unsurprisingly gets the edge against righties, but can he replace Byrdak's LOOGY skills? Actually, yes he can, and he might be even better. Check our their career splits vs lefties:
Gonzalez career vs LHB: 29.3 K%, 8.0 BB%, 2.78 FIP, 2.82 xFIP
Byrdak career vs LHB: 26.3 K%, 10.1 BB%, 3.57 FIP, 3.69 xFIP
Well that's nice. Gonzalez is still very much an effective LOOGY as of today too, posting a dominant 2.78 FIP, 2.65 xFIP against southpaws in the most recent season.
Tim Byrdak is a cool character and a nice LOOGY, but him going down for a month plus won't really have a negative effect on the bullpen if Mike Gonzalez is brought in. He can replicate Byrdak's abilities vs lefties, and probably do it better, while not being as much of a batting practice machine versus righties. When Byrdak returns, he and Gonzalez at the back of the bullpen is almost certainly better than Byrdak with someone like Carrasco, Batista, or Herrera.
Unfortunately, there are some 40-man roster implications with this. Robert Carson is already on the 40-man and that could give him a leg up, especially with the Mets appearing as if they will need to already cut at least 2 roster spots to make room for some bench players, assuming Scott Hairston opens the season on the DL. Bringing in an outsider (or any non-40-man roster player for that matter) would require at least 3 cuts, and no, Carrasco wouldn't necessarily count since his spot is basically for the 7th bullpen spot, not for whoever replaces Byrdak. The Mets could get around that some by having a current 40-man roster player on the bench to start the season (until Hairston returns), such as Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Jeffrey Paternostro-favorite Josh Satin; that would lessen the needed cuts to just 2 - one for Byrdak's replacement and one for Adam Loewen, Vinny Rottino, or Mike Baxter. We'll see what shakes out, but Mike Gonzalez is definitely the top choice in my mind to replace Byrdak.