|NEW YORK METS
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With three of the Mets four most active relievers exiting through free agency, Sandy Alderson’s first offseason with the franchise coincided with an effort to rebuild the bullpen. If all holds steady, the unit will finish with the league’s third-worst bullpen earned run average, and yet in some ways this was a successful effort, as the Mets found a few arms of intrigue while avoiding the pitfalls of lucrative bullpen contracts. The Mets have announced the Byrdak extension to end a season that began with a piebald group consisting of crusty vets, up-and-comers, and non-entities fighting for innings.
Back in spring, Byrdak sat in the last group. Non-tendered by the future-value seeking Astros last November, Byrdak landed with the Mets on a minor league deal and worked his way into the majors by May. The Mets became his fifth major league home and he became the Mets most commonly used pitcher, as his next appearance will be the 70th of his season. Although 2011 is the fifth-straight season that Byrdak has completed 30 or more innings, his strikeouts and walks per nine rates have never been better. It isn’t often you see 37-year-old southpaws work their way from the scrapheap to contract extensions, but here we are.
The upswing in Byrdak’s career has less to do with redefining himself and more to do with his manager reading his definition correctly. Terry Collins has used Byrdak like a left-handed specialist throughout the season, and while it may read funny, the reality is that no other manager has placed Byrdak in as many opportunities to succeed as Collins. From 2008-2010, Byrdak’s Astros managers allowed him to face more than 50 percent right-handed batters. Under Collins, Byrdak has faced 65 percent lefties, a more logical split given the respective career numbers against Byrdak by righties (.286/.403/.476) and lefties (.203/.290/.371).
In spite of the fungible nature of relievers, re-signing Byrdak for another season makes sense. It shouldn’t cost much (he made just $900 thousand in 2011) and has the track record to rival the alternatives. Add in the duration of the deal and qualitative reasons (familiarity with the organization, etc.) and there is no reason to pan Alderson for re-signing one of his better Mets acquisitions.
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