More late-inning arms a must for playoff hunt

Bullpen82115Carlos Torres, the Mets reliever who continued the bullpen’s recent struggles allowing a walk-off home run against Baltimore Wednesday night, said location wasn’t a problem on Henry Urrutia’s first career home run.

“We called for a fastball up. I threw the fastball up. These guys, unfortunately, they’ve been seeing [Noah] Syndergaard and [Jacob] deGrom, so my fastball up probably didn’t seem like their fastball up,” Torres said.

Factually, he’s not wrong. Torres’ average fastball comes in almost 5 MPH slower than the Big Three he protects leads for. In professional baseball, a low-90’s fastball is significantly easier to hit than a high-90’s fastball darting around a bit more.

Too bad he’s still wrong.

Less than a day later, new teammate Tyler Clippard also touched on the relief corps. With New York flying into the hitter’s haven that is Coors Field, Clippard said he felt like everyone was throwing the ball well and it’s just how the games have been going.

He’s not exactly barking up the right tree.

As a fledgling idea in my head, this piece was focused on the amount of rest relievers were getting with the stellar starting pitching and how that triggered the post-All-Star bullpen woes.

Yeah, so much for me being right either.

The simple fact of the matter is the Mets have limited options late in games, a fact obscured by superb starting pitching and off-season expectations that haven’t happened. Jeurys Familia earned credibility as a setup man to 2014 closer Jenrry Mejia, who was expected to return from a PED suspension for the second-half. Mejia ended up earning a second, longer suspension, while former closer Bobby Parnell has struggled both at healing and pitching and young fireballer Vic Black languishes in the minors after aches and pains of his own. Even 24-year-old Rafael Montero saw just 10 innings of 2015 before mysterious shoulder pain locked him out of Citi Field.

What seemed like a bounty of options for the bullpen in March has morphed into a dearth of options in August.

Familia is human after all. There’s no indication the club will bump him from the closer role, but his 1.85 ERA and 1.011 WHIP include six earned runs two weeks after the Mid-Summer Classic. The fireballing righty settled down a little in August, but he’s allowed all three inherited runners to score this month compared to one of 16 earlier this season. Statistics agree Familia has little problem pitching on short rest.

If Familia hadn’t been so dominant in the spring, veteran Clippard would be a strong candidate to handle save chances now. Now in his ninth year of Major League Baseball, Clippard has a misleading 2.70 ERA and 1.140 WHIP through 50 innings in 49 games. A two-time All-Star and collector of 32 saves in a season, the 30-year-old wasn’t living quite up to expectations in Oakland. His numbers have improved since joining New York, especially his walk rate. Clippard also pitches frequently, rarely getting an extended break.

At age 32, Torres is something of a veteran amid the greener relief corps. Pitching in his Major League season, the right-hander sports a 3.83 ERA and 1.277 WHIP. Management isn’t reluctant to call his numbers, as Torres has thrown 50 innings in 49 games. He hasn’t been asked to pitch as swingman this season; he’s maxed out at three consecutive innings in 2015. He can pitch to both sides of the plate, although a .281 batting average and .738 OPS to right-handed batters hardly inspires fear. Torres’ results, however, are substantially better when pitching on no rest. Statistically, he profiles best this season pitching before the eighth inning – he’s yielded just a single earned run in 14.1 innings before the eighth and 15 earned runs in 23 innings after.

The best fireman for a high-pressure, late-inning situation with Clippard and Familia unavailable surprisingly could be a rookie. Wednesday night’s loss to Baltimore notwithstanding, Hansel Robles looks like a possible find for New York. The 25-year-old fireballer began the season with a gaudy 10.80 ERA, an ERA that dropped to an even 4 after Wednesday. Pitching 36 innings in 38 games, Robles is plenty capable of picking up a full inning or two, even if he’s seen limited action in back-to-back games. Considering he’s effective against both sides of the plate, although a .383 slugging percentage to righties is concerning, Robles better be ready for heavy use.

Like his teammate, Logan Verrett is 25-years-old and a fireballer in the Mets pen. Despite taking an ill-fated detour in Arlington as a Rule V pick, Verrett has returned to the Mets organization and looks to be a mainstay. Capable of starting or relieving, Verrett’s pitched 22.1 innings in 11 games to the tune of a 2.82 ERA and 1.030 WHIP. Trapped in the minors for part of the season, Verrett has impressed during his tenure with New York, including a six-pitch inning in Wednesday’s loss. Batters on neither side of the plate seem to hit him well, but sample size is a consideration. He’s also pitched most effectively and most often with two days off, possibly limiting his use as a bullpen staple.

Sean Gilmartin also happens to be 25-years-old, but as a southpaw common logic would depict him as tough on left-handed batters. But with 32.2 innings in 37 games, along with a 2.45 ERA and 1.200 WHIP, Gilmartin is noticeably better against righties. Lefty batters are sporting a .653 OBP compared to .576 from the other side. And fortunately for New York, he has something of a resilient arm, showing the ability to pitch a full inning and return to action the following day with positive results. Leverage Index indicates Gilmartin is better in low- and medium-leverage situations.

The other lefty on the team joined the Mets just a few weeks ago. And unlike his colleague, veteran Eric O’Flaherty is absolutely a LOOGY. Oakland and New York seemed determined to throw him against multiple batters, despite the fact righties carry a whopping 1.124 OPS against him compared to a .594 OPS by left-handed hitters. If used more appropriately, his 6.93 ERA and 2.027 WHIP on the season should drop.

At the moment, that constitutes the Mets relief corps. Familiar faces like Erik Goeddel, Bobby Parnell and Alex Torres could join them when rosters expand Sept. 1, but only Goeddel has shown hints of being trustworthy late in games, and that’s an opinion based on just 23 innings. Black is another likely call up, despite walking six batters in 9.1 innings at Triple-A, and veteran LOOGYJerry Blevins is desperately trying to rehab a twice-broken arm in time for postseason play.

Knee jerk reactions are often wild overreactions fueled by emotion. Is the Mets’ bullpen really as bad as it was in Baltimore? Probably not. This may or may not have been why GM Sandy Alderson publicly said a trade is unlikely in a very “limited” market. But Alderson can’t really believe his team is ready for September baseball with a closer getting playoff jitters and raw, unproven arms the only insurance his starters don’t get the ball directly to Clippard or Familia. Something has to happen.

8 comments for “More late-inning arms a must for playoff hunt

  1. Matt Netter
    August 21, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I believe it will get easier in September with more fresh arms to choose from. Until then what the bullpen really needs is a complete game shutout or a blowout so Familia and Clippard can get a night off.

    • Patrick Albanesius
      August 21, 2015 at 4:52 pm

      I agree. I’m concerned, but it’s not panic time yet. They still have arms to bring up to replace those struggling in NY. But we can’t take too many more series of bullpen issues.

    • August 21, 2015 at 6:50 pm

      Which young arms are you looking at? I’d like to see one established arm to pick up a seventh or eighth inning.

  2. Chris F
    August 21, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    More important than ever to resolve this. The Nats just promoted killer SS Trea Turner to the bigs. They are not going down without a fight.

  3. Chris F
    August 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Well the missing speed guy has been solved by bringing back EY Jr. I did not imagine him for Sept but a utility defender with pinch runner signifies Alderson is planning for October.

    How the pen plays out very much intrigues me.

    The other day in “Inside Pitch” Jim Bowden said he felt it was a requirement to go to the playoffs with a speedster on the team.

    • August 22, 2015 at 6:14 pm

      What do you think of Dario Alvarez? I’ll admit I don’t know much about him, but read some fans were raving about him on other websites.

      • Chris F
        August 22, 2015 at 6:44 pm

        I don’t know either. Maybe David will be able to give us more info.

  4. August 23, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Couple of old veterans are hitting the market early. I’m not interested in Rodney with his control issues, but Betancourt may have some life in him yet, especially outside of Coors Field. Cheap, experienced arm who may have enough stuff to get through November and help season the kids a bit could be perfect.

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