When the Mets signed Jose Reyes in the offseason, they designated lefty reliever Josh Smoker for assignment, a bit of a surprising move. It was curious because he was the only other left-handed option besides Jerry Blevins in the Mets’ bullpen, and righty Anthony Swarzak as their only addition to the bullpen in free agency.
There has been a lot of chatter about how they are lacking another lefty weapon in the bullpen. Some theorized that Steven Matz would eventually wind up there when Jason Vargas returned, but instead it is Matt Harvey who got the bullpen assignment.
So the question remains, do the Mets need another southpaw in the bullpen? One of the accepted truisms in baseball is that lefties are tougher on left-handed batters. Even Mr. Burns “played the percentages” and pinch-hit for Darryl Strawberry when Shelbyville brought in a lefty reliever despite Strawberry having nine home runs that day.
By the looks of things this season, Blevins could use some help. In twelve appearances he has given up five runs and has not gotten his man in two critical spots in both of the bullpen blow-ups. First Bryce Harper and then Freddie Freeman got big hits that contributed to two Mets losses. Blevins has been a trusted LOOGY in his career with the Mets, and despite some unsightly early numbers he should be able to turn it around.
So with Blevins struggling a bit, who can Mickey Callaway turn to when the lefty sluggers in the NL East are due up in the lineup? Thankfully he does have options even if they are unconventional ones. Since Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo are both converted starters, they are used to getting batters out that bat from both sides of the plate. Gsellman especially has been tougher on lefties throughout his short career.
This year Gsellman has yet to give up a hit to a left-handed hitter. In eighteen at-bats lefties are hitting a paltry .000/.100/.000 with two walks and eight strikeouts. Obviously this year is a small sample, but over the course of his career lefties are hitting .249/.326/.394 with 71 strikeouts in 325 at-bats, whereas righties are hitting .286/.342/.427 with 71 strikeouts in 421 at bats.
Lugo is not that far behind Gsellman in effectiveness against lefties at the plate this year. He has allowed only one hit in 18 at-bats with three walks and five strikeouts. They are hitting .056/.190/.222, whereas against righties, the numbers jump significantly. With just two more at-bats, they’re hitting .400/.478/.550 with three walks and three strikeouts. For his career, the splits are far more even so this early in the season the numbers could just be an aberration for Lugo.
The problem with those two is not their effectiveness but their availability. When they enter the game they usually pitch multiple innings. As was the case against the Braves, when things start spiraling on Callaway, two of his most effective relievers might not be available because of the workload from the night before. Hopefully the starters will start going deeper into games and ease their burden a bit. Matt Harvey being moved out of the rotation should help a bit in that regard since he has routinely failed to go deep into games.
The next options are Paul Sewald and AJ Ramos, although caveats come with each. Sewald has been a bit of a revelation in the bullpen so far, but he has been used sparingly. He, too, has yet to give up a hit to a lefty, but they have only faced him eleven times. AJ Ramos certainly has had his issues this year but he has allowed only one hit to left handed batters. He has also walked four but that comes as no surprise since walks have been his issue this entire year so far. Both of these pitchers have faced a limited amount of lefties and haven’t been consistent enough to be fully trusted to get a tough lefty out just yet.
In 56 at-bats lefties have only gotten two hits against this quartet with ten walks and 21 strikeouts. Jerry Blevins himself has already given up six hits to lefties this season. So while a second southpaw in the bullpen might be a nice luxury to have, it might not be a necessity. The Mets have enough weapons to get them out, and in this case, playing the percentages may mean calling upon a righty. But the season is young and they still need to avoid the meltdowns that have already happened twice this season with a well-known left-handed hitters getting big hits.