Prior to their signing of Yoenis Cespedes several weeks back, the New York Mets were having a rather quiet off-season. Despite losing postseason hero Daniel Murphy, their only moves were several depth signing pieces for guys like Asdrubal Cabrera and Alejandro De Aza. Another move that may have flown under the radar was their signing of left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo. It what became a trend this off-season, Bastardo received a rather large contract-two years $12 million-despite the fact he has never been a closer. The major question surrounding Bastardo is; what role will he fill?
In order to figure that out, it is important to evaluate the type of pitcher that Bastardo is. First of all, the throws left-handed, which in many people’s eyes makes him destined to be a lefty specialist. However, Bastardo has interesting career splits that may bring the viability of that role into question. For his career, lefties have posted a .270 wOBA, while righties have put up a .285 wOBA. The split was more pronounced last season, with lefties posting a paltry .211 wOBA against Bastardo. While lefties do struggle against him more than righites do, Bastardo has still shown the ability to dominate hitters from both sides of the plate. This means that pigeon-holing Bastardo into the lefty-specialist role is limiting his value to the team. Based on the contract he signed, and his profile, it seems as though the Mets are looking for Bastardo to be a major part of their bullpen, possibly replacing free agent Tyler Clippard as their set-up man.
Relief pitching is arguably the hardest thing to predict in all of baseball, and Bastardo has been a glowing example of that thus far in his career. Since 2011 — his first season with over 50 innings pitched — Bastardo has alternated good seasons and bad, posting an ERA below three in every odd season, and an ERA near four in every even one (talk about reverse Even Year Magic). However, he has pitched to a FIP of 3.33 in his career. The massive fluctuations in ERA are hard to pinpoint for Bastardo, as in 2014 he did not see a spike in HR/9 or BABIP — indicators of bad luck for a pitcher. However, one reason could be the spike in BB/9 he saw in each of his poor seasons. While Bastardo does not have pinpoint control, career 4.3 BB/9, his BB/9 spiked up closer to five in those poor seasons and hovered much closer to four in his more successful seasons.
Looking at Bastardo’s 2015 season, he was worth just under half a win earning a 0.3 RWAR rating, my metric for evaluating the impact of relievers. His relatively low value can likely be attributed to the fact that he did not pitch “significant” innings with his leverage index being below one. This means he typically pitched in lower-pressure situations. This will likely change in 2016, so it is important to see if he projects to perform well in higher-leverage situations. Based off simple correlations, the three most significant statistics for reliever success, as determined by RWAR, in descending order are: contact percentage, HR/9, and BB/9.
Bastardo strikes out a ton of people as evidence by his career 11.04 K/9, a value way above average. His Pitch f/x contact percentage of 71-percent was good for 40th best among the sample of 214 pitchers who threw over 30 innings out of the bullpen. Over the past three seasons Bastardo has posted HR/9 values between 0.4 and 0.6, showing an ability to suppress the long ball spanning both a hitter-friendly park, Citizen’s Bank Ballpark, and a pitcher-friendly park in PNC Park. Now, he moves to another pitcher friend park in Citi Field, which bodes extremely well for his ability to continue his homer suppressing trends. However, the elephant in the room is his erratic control. Bastardo has shown that he is extremely prone to the free pass. BB/9 has the most significant correlation with RWAR, an unsettling fact for a team looking to accrue significant value out of the lefty.
Bastardo passes the elite reliever test on two of three fronts, showcasing above-average bat-missing skills and coupling that with the ability to suppress the long ball, all while boasting spotty control. That formula has been followed by a number of successful relievers, Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are the most glowing examples, as both posted BB/9 over four in 2015 while going on to be two of the most valuable relievers in the game. The concern for Met fans however, is that both of these examples strike out more hitters than Bastardo did and feature contact rates around ten percentage points better than him. While, I think Bastardo has the profile to be a successful late-inning reliever, his walk numbers concern me, and I think that he will be very prone to the blow-up similar to Fernando Rodney. Come this time next season we could be applauding the Mets for one the best signings of the off-season or vilifying them for wasting money that could have been saved for the young studs.