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One Last Move: Pat Neshek

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Injuries have limited his time on the mound and effectiveness, but Neshek can be a low-cost/moderate-reward signing to fortify the bullpen.

Milwaukee Brewers v Philadelphia Phillies
Pat Neshek
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Throwing from a low-three-quarters arm slot, Edwin Diaz dominates opponents with a blazing fastball that sits in the high-90s and a devastating slider.

Throwing from a three-quarters arm slot, Jeurys Familia dominates opponents with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a mid-90s sinker, and a biting slider.

Throwing from a low-three-quarters arm slot, Dellin Betances dominates opponents with a blazing fastball that sits in the high-90s and a jaw-dropping curveball.

Throwing from a three-quarters arm slot, Seth Lugo dominates opponents with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a mid-90s sinker, and a filthy curveball.

While the Mets will have other players in the bullpen, Diaz, Familia, Betances, and Lugo are undoubtedly the core four, the most important cogs in the Mets relief corps.

Hall of Fame hurler Warren Spahn famously described his strategy on the mound as, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” The act of successfully hitting a ball is all about timing: picking up the pitch out of the pitcher’s hand, determining its break and path, and beginning your swing so that the ball is struck in the sweet spot at just the right moment.

While Diaz, Familia, Betances, and Lugo all have distinct and differing mechanics, release points, and breaks on their pitches, all four fit the basic archetype of right-handed power pitchers. The rotation is primarily composed of right-handed power pitchers, and in most cases, they will be relieved by a relief corps primarily composed of right-handed power pitchers. Research has shown that hitters gain a small advantage when facing a pitcher that they have seen multiple times in the past due to a variety of reasons, from seeing the ball out of their hand better, to picking up on their timing better, to reading the flight path of their pitches better. Conventional wisdom would dictate that while each pitcher is different, seeing similar stuff in an individual game, or over the course of a series, would allow them to adapt faster to it. That does not necessarily mean that they have an advantage over the relief pitcher from having faced a similar starter, but that they should be able to theoretically pick up on a pitcher’s pitches and adapt faster.

Enter Pat Neshek.

Neshek has one of the most unique deliveries not only in contemporary baseball, but in baseball history. He didn’t always use such unorthodox mechanics, using a conventional overhand arm slot until the end of his high school career. After being hit in the arm by a comebacker near the end of his senior year at Park Center Senior High School in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, he had to relearn how to pitch, as any attempt to throw with his former mechanics left him in pain. Committing to a new delivery developed that summer between his graduation and his freshman season at Butler University, Neshek initially struggled to adapt, but eventually blossomed as a sidearmer.

Making his debut for the Minnesota Twins in 2006, Neshek has pitched for the San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies, and the Philadelphia Phillies in two separate stints. His most recent stint with the Phillies was marred with injuries, limiting him to just 24.1 innings in 2018 and 18.0 in 2019, leading the team to decline their $7 million club option for the 2020 season and opt for the $750,000 buyout.

Given his advanced age and history of injury, should the Mets consider adding Neshek to the mix, he will likely be available for relatively little. That does not mean that he is unlikely to provide value to a major league ballclub. A late bloomer, Neshek has been 47% better than league average since turning 30 in 2011, earning a pair of All-Star Game nods and posting a cumulative 2.74 ERA in 358.1 innings, allowing 289 hits, walking 88, and striking out 320. Despite starting the 2018 season on the disabled list because of a shoulder strain and later suffering a forearm strain, the right-hander posted a 2.59 ERA in 24.1 innings, allowing 23 hits, walking 5, and striking out 15. He was not nearly as effective in 2019, when he was plagued with lingering shoulder pains and then had his season end prematurely due to a grade 2 hamstring tear that required surgery to fix, but up until he hurt himself, was still pitching effectively, posting a 3.24 ERA in 16.2 innings.

Despite possessing below-average stuff, primarily relying on a low-80s slider and a sinker that just scrapes 90 MPH, Neshek has excelled in preventing runs. The quirkiness of his delivery and his sidearm armslot have made his pitches difficult to square up on, resulting in positive weighed pitch values for his career, +10.3 for his sinker and +63.2 for his slider. Over the last five years, his sinker has been +8.1 and his slider +20.6; over the last two, his sinker has been -1.5 and his slider -0.7; last season, his sinker was -1.8 and his slider -1.7. Looking deeper as to why, the effectiveness of these pitches is undoubtedly due to how batters see the spin of each respective pitch; a sidearm right-hander has a sinker that spins and breaks with screwball-like movement and a slider that spins and breaks as if it were a fastball.

The veteran reliever is no sure thing. He will be turning 40 in September 2020 and will be coming off of a season marred by a lingering shoulder issue and a season-ending hamstring tear. As a replacement for one of the less-heralded bullpen arms who have not had the kind of major league success that Neshek has, the sidearmer represents an excellent low-cost/moderate reward gamble to fortify the bullpen.