In the beginning of June, the Mets trotted out a lineup without either Yoenis Cespedes or Todd Frazier. Just as damningly, they were using a clearly-injured Jay Bruce and over-the-hill Adrian Gonzalez and Jason Vargas. And the bullpen, which had been so brilliant the first two weeks of the season, had turned back into a pumpkin. But recently, things have started to get better.
First, Frazier returned from the disabled list. Now, it took him awhile to find his swing but here in early July, he’s added a power bat to the lineup that was sorely missing. Through most of May, Gonzalez was doing his best James Loney impersonation. He reached base safely in 16 out of 19 games, yet had just a .684 OPS despite a .313 BABIP in this stretch. But he followed that up with a 3-28 stretch and was finally sent packing the second week of June.
Bruce was finally put on the DL after an 11-game stretch where he put up a .378 OPS. Vargas joined him there a couple of days later, after allowing 7 ER in 2.1 IP but not before making life miserable for the team an additional time. He hurt his calf during a conditioning drill prior to his next start. Yes, they were going to start him again despite an 8.60 ERA through nine starts. His last-minute scratch led to a bullpen game, which went about exactly as you would expect, as the relievers allowed 7 HR in 11 IP.
Wilmer Flores, who himself was on the DL at the beginning of June, got regular playing time once Gonzalez was cut and responded with an .848 OPS in 71 PA. And with Bruce not being forced into the lineup, there was room for Jose Bautista, who did well in a part-time role (.782 OPS in his first 69 PA) and then hit like a monster (1.073 OPS) in 12 consecutive complete game starts.
Starting on June 16, the Mets have scored 91 runs in 18 games, for a 5.1 rpg. Early Saturday, faithful reader Eraff made a comment about Bautista’s production, saying:
The Mets have still lost lots of games, even over the last 15-20 games… with Bautista as a Cespedes Substitute, you can almost say that you know how this team looks with Cespedes
With Bautista doing his Cespedes impersonation, Flores providing a good bat and Frazier delivering, too, the Mets offense has been everything you want it to be. Now, you can nitpick this in several different ways. It’s a small sample size. It includes games in Arizona and Colorado. Neither Bautista nor Flores is going to hit like this moving forward. And so on. But to Eraff’s point – if this is how the team would look with a healthy Cespedes, then offense isn’t really the problem. And that’s with Michael Conforto scuffling, Brandon Nimmo hitting a rough patch – 3-30 with a .404 OPS – and Amed Rosario drawing a few walks but not being much of a threat otherwise. So, while some guys are having hot stretches, others are floundering. Or basically what you would expect.
So, it’s the pitching letting the club down. Let’s look at the starters and we’ll use June 1 as our beginning mark, even if the offense wasn’t clicking at this point.
There’s been no solid fifth starter. Seth Lugo got some starts, Corey Oswalt has gotten one and there was the please-never-mention-again bullpen game. And with a double header coming up, it’s likely Chris Flexen and possibly someone else will join the ranks. But essentially the Mets have received good outings from three starters and garbage from two other slots. So, the starting has been decent, perhaps even good if you squint. And there’s an upgrade looming once Noah Syndergaard, allegedly set for a rehab assignment, rejoins the club.
Which brings us to the bullpen. Again, all numbers from the beginning of June:
Jeurys Familia – 10.2 IP, 5.91 ERA, 2.063 WHIP
Lugo (reliever only) – 7.2 IP, 1.17 ERA, 0.652 WHIP
Robert Gsellman – 14.1 IP, 6.91 ERA, 1.326 WHIP
Tim Peterson – 11.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 0.794 WHIP
Jerry Blevins – 8.1 IP, 3.24 ERA, 1.200 WHIP
Anthony Swarzak – 12 IP, 6.75 ERA, 2.000 WHIP
Chris Beck – 7.1 IP, 4.91 ERA, 1.773 WHIP
There’s been other relievers used, but you get the point. The relievers have been awful. For the year, Mets relievers have a 4.83 ERA and a 1.415 WHIP, both figures near the bottom of the league, with WHIP placing 13th and ERA 14th in the NL. And that includes the tremendous start that the bullpen got off to, meaning the numbers are even worse that that here lately.
And it’s not like the Mets skimped on the pen. Four relievers – Familia, Blevins, Swarzak and AJ Ramos – are pulling down nearly $30 million combined. The Mets simply need to get more bang for the buck here. But that’s easier said than done. Relievers are fickle. For the most part, if they were better, they’d be starters (apologies to Lugo) and just because you were good in one 60-inning sample doesn’t mean you’re going to be good in the next one.
The Mets in the last three weeks have had great hitting, decent-to-good starting pitching and yet they’re 7-11. Some have argued that this is the reason that they should tear everything down and start anew. My take is that a lousy bullpen is blinding people to the talent on the team.
At varying points of the year, the starters have been bad and the hitters have been bad. My view is that in the long run both of these units are good, possibly better, if everyone is healthy. But the bullpen has been consistently bad since late April.
Sandy Alderson tried to address the bullpen last year at the trade deadline when he imported seven righty relievers. He spent money in the offseason, both retaining relievers and importing a free agent. And they essentially all failed.
Maybe one or two of the seven relievers he traded for will turn out. But perhaps what they need to do is try to create more Lugos. Instead of chasing last year’s success with free agent relievers, create your own reliever from guys who grew up in the minors as starters. Maybe that plan won’t work, either. But if it doesn’t, at least you haven’t wasted $30 million dollars.
The new front office, regardless of who ends up staffing it, will have to do a better job of constructing a bullpen. But if they can succeed in that task, there’s no reason to blow everything up and go on a path of 100-loss seasons and trying for top-three draft picks.
Editor’s Note – All stats through Friday’s games