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Lookin’ for a Lefty Specialist

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Who will be facing lefties out of the Mets bullpen in 2011? (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Who will be facing lefties out of the Mets bullpen in 2011? (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Now that Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi are officially free agents, the New York Mets are lacking in left-handed relief pitchers.  There’s no doubt that the Mets will face some very good left-handed hitters in 2011, and they would be wise to have at least one pitcher in their bullpen who excels at getting those hitters out. 

Sandy Alderson will need to decide whether or not to offer Feliciano arbitration this winter.  He earned $2.9 million in 2010, and he would certainly receive a raise through arbitration.  If he were to accept, a mere 20% increase would pay Feliciano $3.48 million, while a more realistic 40% increase would pay $4.06 million.  If he were to decline arbitration, Feliciano would net the Mets a supplemental draft pick next year since he’s a Type B free agent.

Given the circumstances, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Mets offered arbitration, but it likewise wouldn’t be surprising if Feliciano turned it down in search of a multi-million, multi-year commitment from another team.  If he winds up signing elsewhere, there are plenty of experienced left-handed relievers on the market who could step into the role vacated by Perpetual Pedro.

Other Options
Let’s have a look at the splits on some left-handed relievers, sorted by Career Opponents OPS vs. left-handed batters.  It should be safe to assume that Alderson’s Mets won’t be snatching up relief pitchers of the "Type A free agent" variety, so Scott Downs and Arthur Rhodes are not included.

vs. L vs. R
Pitcher Career Opp. OPS K/9 BB/9 Career Opp. OPS K/9 BB/9 2010 Salary 2011 Age
Pedro Feliciano 0.580 10.07 2.54 0.796 6.38 5.17 $2,900,000 34
Randy Choate 0.598 9.56 2.88 0.800 4.48 5.57 $700,000 35
J.C. Romero 0.603 8.17 3.95 0.887 6.84 6.91 $4,250,000 35
Will Ohman 0.646 10.03 4.05 0.760 7.72 4.82 $1,350,000 33
Dennys Reyes 0.669 7.99 3.70 0.801 6.80 5.25 $2,000,000 34
Ron Mahay 0.689 7.88 2.89 0.768 7.21 4.98 - 40
Mark Hendrickson 0.702 5.94 2.55 0.823 4.85 2.66 $1,200,000 37
Joe Beimel 0.720 6.79 2.71 0.794 3.96 4.45 $1,150,000 34
Bobby Seay 0.721 7.55 3.35 0.730 7.71 3.94 $2,475,000 32

When it comes to getting left-handed hitters out, Pedro Feliciano is the cream of the crop.  In this group of pitchers, he ranks first in Opponents OPS, K/9 and BB/9 against lefties.  His anticipated salary for 2011, though, would also be near the top of the list.  When it comes to facing righties, Feliciano joins almost everyone in this group in walking them a ton and not pitching nearly as well to them. 

If the Mets end up searching for someone new, at least they have some decent options.  While past salaries in baseball don’t guarantee future salaries, it’s probably safe to assume those pitchers who have already been well compensated would seek more than those who were signed to more modest deals.  There would be no point in paying J.C. Romero the same money that could have been paid to Feliciano in the first place.

If any one of Choate, Ohman or Reyes is available for a salary at or below what they made in 2010, they could be a real bargain for the Mets.  None of them has dominated the same way that Feliciano has, but the drop off in production is not drastic.  Ron Mahay also falls into this category, but age, and therefore potential for injury, would have to be a concern as he will be 40 in June.  Hendrickson and Beimel could be very cheap, but neither is a strikeout artist vs. lefties.  Seay is unique amongst this group – he’s not the most dominating pitcher against lefties, but what he lacks against those hitters he makes up for against righties.  Given his age and 2010 salary, it’s no sure thing that he’d take a short-term deal from the Mets.

Conclusion
For starters, it makes sense for the Mets to offer arbitration to Feliciano.  If he accepts, the Mets will be paying more than they probably should for a relief pitcher, but this particular one is a known commodity and one of the best at his craft.  Under the more likely scenario in which Feliciano turns down arbitration, the Mets would pick up an extra draft pick and could find someone new and affordable to get out the extremely talented left-handed hitters they’ll face many times next season.