With much of the talk surrounding the Mets' offseason having to do with filling needs at shortstop and in the outfield, one need has garnered less attention: lefty relief pitching. With the Mets electing to cut Dana Eveland, the only lefty arm in the bullpen is Josh Edgin. Despite Edgin's excellent 2014 season, the Mets will undoubtedly look at other options, including one that hasn't garnered much attention in Zach Duke.
The 31-year-old Duke spent the first six seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, beginning in 2005 where he found himself pitching alongside another young Pirates star, Ian Snell. Duke finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting that season, and seemed to establish himself as a solid piece of the Pirates' rotation. Duke could never sustain the promise of that rookie season, however, as he found himself posting ERAs of 4.06 and higher for the rest of his time in Pittsburgh.
After a poor 2010 campaign with the Pirates, Duke was traded to the Diamondbacks where he began to work as a long-relief arm and a spot starter. He posted a 4.93 ERA in 2011 and was non-tendered in the offseason. He signed a minor league deal with the Astros in January 2012 but was released in spring training.
Duke found his way to Washington, where in eight relief appearances he posted a fantastic 1.32 ERA and 2.51 FIP. After a poor start to 2013, though, he was designated for assignment. Duke signed in Cincinnati where he posted a 0.84 ERA in 10 innings.
In 2014, Duke was offered a spring training invitation with the Brewers and he made the team as a reliever. He put up a solid 2.45 ERA and 2.14 FIP, while accumulating 1.3 fWAR. Duke held left-handed batters to .198/.267/.302 and his overall performance against all hitters, .223/.278/.300 in 58 innings, anchored the Brewers bullpen. Moreover, his 11.35 strikeouts-per-nine was easily a career best and opposing hitters batted just .122/.234/.146 in high-leverage situations.
A veteran bullpen arm like Duke would seemingly be a good fit for the Mets, especially since he likely won't cost very much. ESPN's Mark Simon believes that Duke is the best fit for the Mets in the free agent reliever market:
Duke changed things up prior to 2014 in two ways, dropping his arm slot to a siderarm delivery and increasing the use of his breaking pitches at the expense of his changeup.
That led to a sharp spike in his ground-ball rate and made him much tougher to hit home runs against. It also raised his strikeout rate to a level previously unseen in his career.
Simon astutely notes that Duke's ground ball percentage was the highest of his career at 57.7%. Duke also generated the lowest number of fly balls of his career at 20.4%, which was good enough for an excellent 2.83 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.
The Mets may have a more pressing hole to fill at shortstop, but they need to consider other roster shortcomings as well. Bringing in an experienced pitcher like Duke may help the younger pitchers on the staff while filling a direct need in the bullpen. Duke seems like an excellent free agent candidate for the Mets going into 2015 and, at the right price, may end up bringing considerable value.