That leaves the bullpen devoid of an experienced lefty, unless … dare we say it? OK, here goes.
The Mets should make Oliver Perez a lefty specialist next season. Or at least bring him to spring training with the hope that he earns the job, along with maybe Pat Misch (who might be needed at the back of the rotation). They should not — and, because Sandy Alderson and his men are rational types, probably will not — release him this winter to appease a bloodthirsty public.
Many of Martino’s points in the article are reasonable — especially the excerpted one about how there’s no sense cutting Perez without giving him the chance to succeed (or fail) in Spring Training. They’re paying him whether they cut him now, they cut him in March or they keep him on the team all season.
But citing batting average as evidence that Perez is effective against lefty hitters is silly. Yes, he held them to a .214 average in a tiny sample in 2010. He also yielded a miserable .411 on-base percentage because, as we know, he doesn’t often throw the ball over the plate.
That’s a tiny sample, though. Of course, it’s hard to find a reasonable-sized sample because Perez’s career stats don’t really reflect the type of pitcher he has been for the last two seasons. Perez faced lefties 91 times in 2009 and was legitimately effective, holding them to a .200/.278/.313 line.
Across his career, Perez has yielded a decent but hardly Felicianoesque .691 OPS to lefty hitters. As a point of reference, Feliciano’s career OPS against for lefties is .580. Scott Downs’ is .631. J.C. Romero’s is .603. Randy Choate’s is .598.
Martino’s article includes quotes from a scout that suggests Perez drop his arm angle to be better against lefties, so maybe there’s hope that with an adjustment he can become an effective specialist.
I’m skeptical, though. Even when Ollie’s pitching well he’s wild, a terrible quality if you’re coming into games with runners on base. And does anyone — anyone — like the idea of Perez coming into a close game to face Ryan Howard in the 7th inning?
And while Martino suggests there “are no obvious substitutes” for Feliciano or Hisanori Takahashi in the farm system, I’m not certain that’s true. Well, I guess I should say I’m almost certain they are not substitutes for Feliciano and Takahashi because both of those guys were great for the Mets. But I’m not certain Ollie Perez is the best internal option.
Skinny lefty Mike O’Connor pitched to a 2.67 ERA in 70 1/3 innings in relief for Triple-A Buffalo in 2010 while holding lefties to a .289 on-base percentage.
The Mets put out a press release yesterday to say they re-signed him. If you’re into conspiracy theories you might assume that means they see O’Connor in some Major League role next year, since Val Pascucci’s return did not merit a press release. Of course, O’Connor — whom you might remember from one excellent start against the Mets in early 2006 — did not fare any better than Perez against lefties in his Major League stint, and also proved pretty wild. But he’s got a full year working out of a Triple-A bullpen under his belt and always exhibited excellent control in the Minors, unlike Perez.
Further, Buffalo southpaw Adam Pettyjohn pitched mostly out of the bullpen for the first time in his career in 2010, and though he yielded a 4.94 ERA, he did manage to hold lefties to a .313 on-base percentage. He seems like a less impressive candidate for the Major League bullpen than O’Connor, but if the competition’s Oliver Perez, then, well, you know.
So while the Mets absolutely should consider Perez for any role they feel he can capably handle — including a lefty-specialist job — I’m skeptical that he really could perform any better in the job than other options in the system, or, for that matter, a bunch of guys who might be on the scrap heap. Just because he’s better against lefties than he is against righties does not mean he’s actually good against lefties.