Vic Black is an intriguing character. When the Mets received him as the Player to be Named Later from the Marlon Byrd/John Buck trade, he immediately stepped into the New York bullpen where he put up a 3.46 ERA in 13 IP, struck out 12 and walked only 4. It was a nice sign from a guy who had an average fastball velocity of 95.5, and who can ratchet that up when needed. He appears to be a future setup man or closer, but a detailed look shows that there are some questions marks about this new Met sensation.
Black has dealt with injuries since his first minor league days with Pittsburgh. In 2010 he had shoulder and biceps issues, and then had bouts of tendonitis in 2011. Since then Black has 106.2 IP between Double-A and Triple-A with a combined 2.08 ERA and 2.97 K/BB ratio. Those numbers look great, but when you look a little closer over those two years he averaged a 12.45 K/9, but a 4.2 BB/9. All three projections on FanGraphs have his K/9 receding, while two of the three have his BB/9 increasing for his full major league season in 2014. Unless Black posts another high LOB%, and curtails those walks with constant Ks, projections state he might suffer with continued control issues.
There is plenty of good news though, and we’ll start with his pitches. In addition to a straight four seam, Black also throws a two seam, a cutter, a slider and a curveball. Most relievers rely on one or two pitches to get guys out. If Black can improve his command over even just his fastball variants, he’ll have plenty of options to throws hitters inside and outside with heat before even touching his off-speed stuff. Over his 17 IP last year he was better against lefties, keeping them to a .185 AVG and .313 OBP versus a .293 AVG and .341 OBP versus righties. If Dan Warthen can teach Black how to ride that two seamer inside to righties, we may even have someone who can give Bobby Parnell a run for his money.
This is important because Bobby Parnell is still not a guarantee to be fully recovered from his neck surgery. We all hope he will come back as the closer and put up his strong strikeouts with the improved command and low walk rate we’ve seen over the past two years. Having two velocity arms at the back of the pen who can shut the game down from the 8th inning on, might just catapult the Mets into being a contending team.
If Parnell isn’t ready at the beginning of the year, at least the Mets can let Black take over the ninth occasionally and see what they have before Parnell’s eventual return. Either way Black is still as intriguing as he was last summer, and fits right into the mold of Ruben Tejada, Juan Lagares and Ike Davis as guys whose future is still a little blurry. The question with the other three is can they hit? With Black, the question is can he keep his walks under control and let that heater shine for a full season? 2014 will be important to see just what all four guys will do, and what that means for the team in the coming months and years ahead. Hopefully, it means moving forward at around 95-98 mph.