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.
*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.