Here’s a quick question for you to consider. Who is the longest tenured Mets player currently on the 25-man roster who has not played in the majors for any other franchise during his time with the team? Although you might think the answer is Jose Reyes, he’s only been with the team since June 2003.
The last person you would think of is Pedro Feliciano, but he is the correct answer. Why would anyone think of him? After all, he’s a middle reliever, signed basically as a lefty specialist. That’s not one of the glamour positions on the team. However, other than a one-year stint in 2005 with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League after being a career minor leaguer with the Dodgers and Reds, Feliciano has been with the Mets since the 2002 season. He’s been around so long that he actually played for the Mets during the Bobby Valentine era. That’s right. Our favorite mustachioed ejected official used to send Feliciano out to the mound. So did Art Howe. So did Willie Randolph.
Now Jerry Manuel is responsible for when and how often Feliciano appears in games. However, a funny thing happened on the way on the pitcher’s mound. Feliciano is now being left in games to pitch full innings and occasionally more than an inning. That’s a testament to his effectiveness against all batters, not just the lefthanded ones.
Feliciano is arguably having his best season as a Met. He picked up his fourth win of the season in last night’s victory over the Diamondbacks and now has a 2.72 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Considering that he comes into games so often in the middle of an inning with men on base, that low WHIP is all the more important. Any pitcher who allows less than one baserunner per inning will be quite valuable in those situations and will therefore be an integral part of the relief corps.
He led the league in appearances in 2008 with 86 and is currently the league leader again this season with 58. However, since he does not face many batters, his pitch count remains low (over his last 15 appearances, he has thrown more than 15 pitches only twice) and can be used more often than most relievers. Unfortunately, the Mets have had to use him quite often in 2009 because their other lefty relievers have not been particularly effective. In addition to Feliciano, the Mets have employed Jon Switzer, Casey Fossum, Ken Takahashi and Pat Misch as lefties in the bullpen. Collectively, those four pitchers have a 1.57 WHIP. When a pitcher comes into a game with men on base and has a WHIP that high, opposing runs are sure to follow. Now you know why Jerry Manuel has gone to Feliciano as much as he has.
The return of Billy Wagner will give Jerry Manuel more opportunities to rest Feliciano. However, should Wagner not pitch to the standards the team has come to expect from him, Feliciano will be more than ready and willing to continue to accept the ball day after day. He has truly become more than just a situational lefty specialist. He is now a full-fledged special player to have and will be key to any success the Mets have for the remainder of this season and hopefully beyond.