The Mets’ bullpen is still a work in progress

Bobby ParnellNow that the Mets have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the team is ready to conclude their seventh straight season without meaningful October baseball.  They are also on their way to a fifth straight losing season.  As there are many shortcomings that stand out the past few years, the bullpen’s instability has become an annual – and almost predictable – disappointment, and this year is no exception.

At the start of Thursday’s game, the Mets ranked 26th in bullpen ERA at 4.13.  This season Terry Collins has used 22 pitchers in relief, which included 17 extra-inning games.  It has not been easy for Collins due to the streaky productivity of a group with seemingly undefined roles.

Therein lies the rub for general manager Sandy Alderson and the Mets going forward.  If the team plans to contend next year, the bullpen is a factor that could put a hitch in that strategy due to the cloudiness in the future of its components.  If the 2007 and 2008 seasons have taught Mets fans anything, it’s that a bad bullpen can damper any teams postseason hopes, regardless of how much talent the rest of the roster holds.  So how will the 2014 Mets construct their relief pitching corps?

Well, first off is the closer.  Bobby Parnell has had a fine season before he incurred a herniated disc in his neck which has required surgery.  Alderson has said he will be ready for the start of next season, so if you take him at his word, the Mets should slot Parnell for that ninth inning role.  Parnell converted 22 out of 24 save opportunities in his first season as Mets closer.  He appeared to take a big step in his career and development, and deserves the job. So, one down, and six to go.

The remaining six slots for next season’s bullpen will have to be earned in spring training or merit presence based on potential and performance this season.  Based on the latter criteria, I would have to say Carlos Torres has produced enough in relief this year to warrant a spot.  He has pitched well as a starter, but has proved to be more of a solid asset in relief.  In 34.2 innings this year out of the bullpen, Torres has pitched to a 1.56 ERA and .894 WHIP, easily the best on the team.  Other than Torres, I cannot see anyone’s performance solidifying a spot next year.

Scott Rice has been a reliable left-handed specialist, but has no track record at the major league level to guarantee a slot.  David Aardsma, after signing in mid-May, has been shaky the past two months after a strong start.  LaTroy Hawkins has had a resurgent season with the Mets, but will be turning 41 years old in December.  It’s hard to say if the team will go forward another year with him, however I could envision a return based on how consistent he pitched at an older age.   The rest of the bunch would presumably have to prove their value in spring training.

The remaining five spots in the bullpen next season most likely are tentative. Most teams throughout the season see a high turnover due to many factors, mainly injuries and high ERAs. Alderson’s main task going forward is to find a group that can project consistent production beyond potential.  It’s a challenge no doubt, but one every GM must take on after cementing the offense and starting pitching.  Free agency is an option, and it appears they will strongly consider many candidates.  Two pitchers they should entertain are Scott Downs and Joe Smith.  Both are having excellent seasons but will be pursued heavily by teams looking to contend.

Downs, in 61 games for the Angels and Braves, has pitched to a 1.98 ERA this year while giving up only one HR.  Now 37, the lefty has been a consistent contributor throughout his career in late inning situations.

Smith, 29, has come into his own the past few seasons in Cleveland. This year, in 56.2 innings, he has a 2.38 ERA while giving up only four HR.   As Mets fans can recall from his days here, the sinkerballer is a groundball specialist and has been responsible for many late-inning successes as his career has progressed with the Indians.

As far as prospects within the organization, Jeff Walters, Jeurys Familia, and Vic Black are likely to have an upper hand to make the squad based on their minor league resumes and projected potential.   It’s a work in process and should be an interesting off-season subplot worth keeping an eye on.

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10 comments for “The Mets’ bullpen is still a work in progress

  1. September 13, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Unless a reliever is starting an inning E.R.A. for a bull pen pitcher is meaningless. Better to quantify his abilities in runners inherited and runners allowed to score. Sandy said the Mets would equal or surpass their payroll from the previous season. Alderson hopes Parnell will be ready but can’t say that because it weakens his ability to make a trade for the bull pen if Parnell is not ready.

    • Sean F
      September 13, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Well most relief pitcher appearances are full innings outside of specialists. To say Bullpen ERA is “meaningless” is pretty inaccurate. If you were to look at the bullpen rankings in MLB, I would say the ERAs coincide with the caliber of productivity.

  2. steevy
    September 13, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Any bullpenthey have will be mishandled if Terry Collins is still the manager.Fire Terry Collins!

  3. September 13, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I guess meaningless was not the right word I was looking for. But rather how to determine just how effective a relief pitcher is when the runners he inherits score are not reflected in his E.R.A. A more complete picture of a bull pen pitcher with those stats included would be a better gauge for evaluating them.

    • September 13, 2013 at 11:37 am

      But let’s not pretend inherited runners is perfect, either.

      Let’s say the leadoff guy gets a walk and a lefty is coming to the plate. We all know TC is going to the bullpen to bring in the LOOGY. That LOOGY can allow a double and then be removed from the game because a righty is coming to the plate. He gets credited with stranding an inherited runner — even though he left things worse off than he inherited them.

      Pedro Feliciano has inherited 17 runners and only one of them has scored. It seems like he’s doing a pretty good job but that’s not really the case if you’ve watched the games.

      The stat you want to be looking at is WPA, which shows Feliciano with a (-0.31) a truly bad number given how little he’s pitched.

      The issue with WPA is that it tells you what happened – not what’s likely to happen in the future. And it doesn’t take into account the cost of carrying a guy like Feliciano, who cannot pitch to more than a batter or two per appearance and the strain that puts on the rest of the pen.

  4. September 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks Brian for the info. Then again you need to have the presumption that we are using a competent manager who can “manage” a bull pen.

  5. Metsense
    September 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Terry Collins is poor at managing a bullpen as pointed out by Brian in numerous articles. His quest for the perfect righty-lefty switch usually results in the bullpen getting burned out, his overmanaging, and then being outmaneuvered and out managed. He has a compulsion for LOOGYS . The first step to a better bullpen is better bullpen management.
    The only locks for the bullpen should be Parnell and Torres.
    Familia, Germen, Rice, Edgin, Black, and Burke are all team controlled and along with Walters should be competing for spots. German and Rice are sub 3.40 FIP but have command issues that need to be corrected if they are going to be relied on in late inning situations. Familia and Edgin need to rebound from injury and begin to pitch to their potential. None of these 7 seem a shoo-in to make the team out of Spring Training.
    None of the veterans, including Hawkins should be signed to a major league contract. Veteran relievers can easily be found in February willing to sign minor league deals.
    Going into 2014, the Mets have some sizeable offensive holes to fill and that should be the focus of their spending. Internally the Mets should be able to put together a better bullpen.

  6. Chris F
    September 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Bull pens in general are works in progress. I think you pretty much need to work on them every season. Its a strange lot to do that job, and I think its simplistic to think its like building an outfield. Earlier this year, I sat a stat that noted only 3 (or so) closers this year were closers in the previous 2. The Pirates trade Hanrahan, who was awesome last year, who ends up DOA this season…and replace him with Jason Grilli…who???????? St Louis is a classic example showing the constant pen building struggle. Yet, it gets done. The odds are that Parnell wont be one of the closers with a long shelf life (Rivera, Chapman, Kimbrel). Regular pen reconstruction is the “normal” state. Our problem is that Alderson and Co. are not competent at identifying good pen arms.

  7. Jim OMalley
    September 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Well Vic Black is a definite.

    • NormE
      September 14, 2013 at 7:30 am

      My only problem with Vic Black is that, based on a very short sample, he seems to be more in the category of a “thrower” rather than a “pitcher.” That can be corrected, as was done with Parnell.

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