Antonio Bastardo signed with the Mets today, and news came out that the Pirates made an offer of two years and $8 M. It seemed all along that $6 M per year was going to be needed to get something done with Bastardo, and that turned out to be the case as the Mets got him for two years and $12 M.
What this tells us is that the Pirates were still looking for a lefty reliever, and still have some room left in the budget for more additions. Their current bullpen includes Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the late innings, plus Jared Hughes, Arquimedes Caminero, Juan Nicasio, and Neftali Feliz in the middle innings. That leaves one more spot for either one of the remaining right-handed relievers, or for a second left-hander.
The current left-handed relief options leave a lot to be desired, at least in comparison to Bastardo. Kyle Lobstein is an option, but looks more like starting depth out of Triple-A. Robert Zarate, Jim Fuller, and Kelvin Marte are all non-roster invitees with no MLB experience. So you can see why the Pirates were going after Bastardo.
Lobstein is the only guy with MLB experience, and has a .280 wOBA against lefties, along with a .358 wOBA against right-handers. By comparison, Bastardo has a career .270 wOBA in his career against lefties, and a .285 wOBA against right-handers. So using those numbers, Lobstein doesn’t look like a bad replacement as a LOOGY option.
There are two problems with this. One is that the Pirates opt for relievers who can get both sides out, so it’s unlikely Lobstein is their answer. The other is that when Bastardo is at his best, he shuts down left-handers. We saw that last year with his .211 wOBA against lefties. That might have been a bit of a career year, since his next best in recent years was a .254 wOBA in 2011-12. Still, for a guy who can also get right-handers out, those are some good numbers, and Lobstein doesn’t come close. The NRI guys don’t have much of a shot either.
To give a further comparison here, Tony Watson is one of the best left-handers in the game, and has a career .248 wOBA against lefties, with a .272 wOBA against right-handers. The last three years he has posted .234, .245, and .216 wOBAs against lefties, respectively. The Pirates don’t need someone as good as Watson, but they could use someone as good as Bastardo.
There aren’t many solid lefties remaining on the market. Franklin Morales had a .251 wOBA last year against lefties, and a .276 in his career, but he’s more of a LOOGY option. Manny Parra is a young lefty, but has a career .321 wOBA against left-handers. Sean Marshall has good career numbers vs lefties, and isn’t horrible vs right-handers, but the problem is he might not have a shoulder at this point. It’s possible the trade market could produce something, but it’s impossible to make any predictions there (especially when no one saw it coming that Bastardo would be acquired last year).
So what about the right-handers? The Pirates prefer guys who can get both sides out. So does it really matter if they’ve got a right-hander or a left-hander in the final bullpen spot? Let’s take a look at the bullpen to see what type of need there is for a lefty reliever.
Juan Nicasio – He has struggled in his career against left-handers, but has done well against right-handers. Last year, in his best season, he had a .277 wOBA against right-handers, and a .412 wOBA against lefties. So he’s not exactly an option against left-handers.
Neftali Feliz – It’s hard to say what you’re going to get from Feliz, due to his injury history. However, he’s had reverse splits in his career, doing better against lefties. He has a career .290 wOBA against right-handers, and a .253 against lefties. Last year he struggled against right-handers with a .371 wOBA, but did better against lefties in the same amount of playing time, with a .321 wOBA. If his career trends hold up, he could be a stronger option against left-handers than Bastardo
Jared Hughes – Sinkerball pitchers generally struggle against left-handers, although the struggles haven’t been that big for Hughes. He has a career .293 wOBA against right-handers and a .312 wOBA against left-handers. Last year he was actually better against left-handers, with a .304 wOBA vs a .322 wOBA against right-handers. So he’s not exactly a guy you could throw out there as a lefty specialist, but he’s also not a guy you have to remove for every left-hander.
Arquimedes Caminero – Just like Hughes, Caminero hasn’t been horrible against left-handers. He’s got a .292 wOBA in his career against right-handers, and a .311 wOBA against lefties. Last year he had a .287/.302 righty/lefty split. Another guy who doesn’t have to be removed for every left-hander.
The biggest problem here is Nicasio, who shuts down right-handers, but struggles against lefties. Feliz is a bit of a surprise, and a guy you might be able to count on to take on some lefties, even though he throws with his right arm. Hughes and Caminero don’t necessarily need to be removed against left-handers, although they’re not on the same level as Feliz.
The Pirates don’t necessarily need a second lefty with their current bullpen. It’s not like they used Bastardo as a LOOGY option, and if Feliz can put up his career numbers or something close to that, then there won’t be a difference between him and Bastardo from a stats perspective. They’d just need to make sure the final bullpen spot went to a guy who didn’t struggle against lefties like Nicasio, since I don’t think they can afford two guys in the bullpen like that.
Looking at the limited career numbers, Rob Scahill wouldn’t be that guy, since he has been crushed by lefties in his career in the majors. John Holdzkom has outstanding results against lefties in the minors, and in his very limited time in the majors, but it’s hard to count on his numbers the last two years as being legit. Trey Haley doesn’t shut lefties down, but isn’t horrible against them, with a minor league OPS in the .750-.800 range (wOBA is hard to get for the minors). New waiver claim A.J. Schugel has had some success against lefties in the past, although not in 2015. Out of this group, Holdzkom looks to be the best option, gambling on his small sample size and hoping for a guy who can shut everyone down. Haley and Schugel look interesting as final spot guys who wouldn’t get crushed by lefties.
It’s possible that the Pirates don’t need a second lefty with the success rate of their current bullpen options, and the possibility of Neftali Feliz having good career numbers against lefties. If they go with the “no set roles” bullpen, then they could use Tony Watson outside of the eighth inning when they need a LOOGY situation, or even use Feliz in that role.
This doesn’t mean they should stop looking for a left-hander. But with the way they use their second left-handed reliever, and with the lack of solid options available, they might be better off with a right-hander who does well against lefties, rather than finding a lower quality left-hander just to say there are two left-handers in the bullpen.
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