Warning aside, something interesting is happening with the 2014 New York Mets. A seemingly terrible omen in the form of an opening series sweep at the hands of the Washington Nationals has been settled for now with an 8-7 season record.
In those first three games the starting pitching had a combined ERA just under 5, Mets batters hit just .179/.243/.337 and the bullpen’s 13.33 ERA made it one of the league’s worst. But when the stitching on the jerseys in the away dugout gave up that curly W for the big C, the switch flipped. Since then, the team has a collective 3.72 ERA and an on-base percentage that’s more than 50 points higher.
It’s still too early to say what exactly caused their luck to shift or if it’ll even continue, but one change does stand out in New York – the back end of their bullpen. Projected closer Bobby Parnell threw just 1 inning on Opening Day before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Bullpens are a crapshoot to begin with and suddenly Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson were missing one of the few dependables.
Enter Jose Valverde. Also known as Papa Grande, Valverde appeared as the setup man for that 9-7 loss to the Nationals. He was dominant, striking out 3 and allowing no base runners in 1.1 innings. He assumed the closer role by default four days later, picking up his first save against the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 on April 4. He wasn’t perfect, allowing a hit and walk, but no runners crossed the plate on his watch.
Meanwhile, Alderson called up fellow veteran Kyle Farnsworth from Triple-A Las Vegas on April 1. His first pitch of the 2014 season came the following day when he allowed a run to score in the Mets 5-1 loss to Washington. But just two days later on April 4, Farnsworth threw a scoreless eighth inning against the Reds to earn his first hold.
Both pitchers have seen 7.1 innings of work in the early goings of 2014, and Farnsworth has faired better for now. The hard-throwing righty sports a 1.23 ERA, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks and 3 holds. The veteran closer has a 6.14 ERA, 9 strikeouts, 2 saves and a blown save.
But ever since Farnsworth and Valverde commandeered the end of games, the rest of the bullpen has shaped up nicely. After giving up 12 runs in three losses to Washington, New York relievers have yielded 14 runs in 12 subsequent games. That even includes the 7 runs and 15.75 ERA of demoted pitcher John Lannan. There are no obvious trends among guys like Carlos Torres, Gonzalez Germen and Jeurys Familia who have pitched in and seen varying levels of success at different parts of the game.
It’s still hard to believe a trend can occur in such a short stretch, but whether the other relievers find comfort in having two veterans to fall back on or the cosmos simply will it , the Mets record suggests they’re better with than without them. Valverde’s speed and command deteriorated from a 35-save 2012 campaign for Detroit to his 9 saves of 2013 with the Tigers. His career home runs per game average sits at 1, but it spike from 0.4 to 2.8 between 2012 and 2013, and currently sits at a career high 3.7 home runs per nine innings. His 1.500 WHIP is also the worst in his career, confirming some control issues. If he can’t figure his game out, Collins will hard-pressed to get his new closer off the bench, but can his nine years of experience keep the rest of the bullpen stabilized?