With Marcum signed will Collin McHugh fit best in the bullpen?

As of a week ago it looked as though Mets fans were going to see an open battle between Collin McHugh, Jenrry Mejia, and Jeremy Hefner for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Since the Mets just signed right-hander Shaun Marcum to a one-year deal, it seems as though that void has been filled. Although the rotation is all squared away, another main pitching hole remains in the bullpen. However, the Mets may have some options internally that could lend some value. Looking at the statistical analysis from last year, the bullpen could really use some help.

When looking at a bullpen’s performance, it’s very important not to focus too much on primordial stats like saves and blown saves. Saves don’t really measure how a player contributed to the odds of a player improving the chance for a player to win a game. I like to use stats from Fangraphs.com called shutdowns and meltdowns. Shutdowns and meltdowns are the same basic idea as Saves and Blown Saves, but they’re a little more accurate. A player accumulates a shutdown when he increases the team’s win probability average by 0.6% or more. A meltdown is just the opposite. That would be when a player decreases his team’s win probability average by 0.6% or more. The MLB Average is twenty-five shutdowns and six meltdowns. In the below table are the Mets relievers’ ERA-/FIP-/Shutdowns/Meltdowns/WAR for Mets those who have had 30 IP or more.

Player ERA- FIP- Showdown Meltdown WAR
Bobby Parnell 65 80 24 14 1.0
Tim Byrdak 116 95 13 7 0.2
*Jon Rauch 94 103 15 13 0.1
Frank Francisco 145 103 18 8 0.1
Ramon Ramirez 111 104 6 7 0.1
*Manny Acosta 170 128 5 7 -0.4

*Indicates that the player is a free agent or has signed elsewhere.

The major problems with the Mets bullpen are pretty obvious. There’s a lack of pitchers who can perform when the game is on the line, with the highest number of shutdowns coming from Bobby Parnell, at 24. However, keep in mind he still had 14 meltdowns, which is below the league average. Frank Francisco is listed as the Mets closer right now, but he’s clearly not the best reliever in the bullpen. Bill James once said that the best reliever in your bullpen shouldn’t be used for getting a save, but rather when the leverage is highest in the game. Right now the person Terry Collins should be calling on in that situation, save situation or not, is not the closer Francisco but rather Parnell because he has proved via shutdowns/meltdowns that he’s the one who can perform best out of the group of relievers they have when the game is at its most pivotal moment.

The Mets can’t only rely on Parnell for those situations. They need another arm in that bullpen who can also perform in that situation, and since there’s talk of signing Michael Bourn to an expensive contract, it’s probably unlikely that the Mets will sign a good reliever. The Mets do have three guys — McHugh, Mejia, and Hefner — who are probably not going to be competing for a starting spot anymore. The question is which one the Mets should rely on. Mejia and Hefner could be a possibility in these situations, but their strikeout rates in the minors have always been a little low, indicating that they’re probably not the best fit for high-leverage situations, because you don’t want a reliever who’s going to be relying on contact … although they could have some other value.

That leaves us with McHugh. Collins should consider using McHugh in a high-leverage situation because of his tendency to have high strikeout rates in the minors. McHugh, in his minor league career, has always posted a K/9 between 7.90-9.80. He’s clearly a guy who has some high strikeout potential that would be nice for a high-leverage situation. It would give the Mets some options other than just Parnell for when those situations arise, and he would probably not have too much of a problem accumulating some shutdowns.

There could be some skepticism about only using him in the bullpen, and that it may be hindering his development in the minors. McHugh has already proved that he can pitch at the Triple-A level, and he probably is ready for a Major-League rotation. It’s just that there isn’t any space for him right now. Getting some Major League experience out of the bullpen could really help him develop. Some time in the bullpen never hurt Lance Lynn or Neftali Feliz, in fact, it aided their development. Thus, some time in the bullpen for McHugh could aid his development into a nice four or five starter, and provide a quality reliever when the Mets can’t rely on Parnell.

4 comments for “With Marcum signed will Collin McHugh fit best in the bullpen?

  1. NormE
    January 27, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    It’s a funny thing about projecting the success of switching a starter to the BP. Some guys can do it, but some guys can’t make the physical/mental adjustment. The whole process of warming up is very different, not to mention the strategic approach needed.
    Whether McHugh/Hefner/etc. can do the job is merely speculation until they are given a fair shot at it.

    Spencer, I think most Mets fans would agree that over the last few years the BP has been less than successful. Going outside the organization for help is a crapshoot. If the projected five starters are healthy come opening day, the Mets might as well look to the youngsters to show what they can do in the pen.

  2. David Groveman
    January 27, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    McHugh is an emergency starter to bridge the time between Santana’s inevitable injury and Wheeler being ready.

  3. January 27, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    I would agree that in the event that Santana comes down with an injury and Wheeler is not ready that McHugh would be the best choice. However, I think that until that happens the Mets Should probably use him as an effective reliever.

  4. January 27, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    You’re either insane or blind. You don’t need statistics to look into a players eyes when the game is on the line. Parnell reminds me of a deer looking into the headlights of an oncoming car. The fear you can sense is real. Forget about confidence. He just doesn’t have the mental fortitude on the inside to be a closer. Try signing Brian Wilson if he’s healthy or do a closer by committee if Francisco falters. Quite a few us expect to see Santana faltering some time during the upcoming season. Why don’t the Mets just reduce the number of starts and insert McHugh as an alternate 5th starter. I would rather see Johan pitch 25-26 quality starts than have him on the DL for 2 weeks or a month.

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