Bazooka. Flamethrower. Cannon. “He can throw a marshmallow through a battleship.” There’s no shortage of military metaphors for the hard throwing strikeout pitcher. Over the past five years the Mets have had plenty of them in the rotation but not one reliable, classic rocket arm since Bobby Parnell and not a really lights out guy since Billy Wagner.
Sure Jeurys Familia can light up a radar gun, but like every other closer and setup man the Mets have had since 2013, he’s a gimmick pitcher who relies on a fickle secondary pitch to get people out. In his case, it’s a devastating sinker/splitter that about every third game he can’t control. For Robert Gsellman, it’s a sinker that sometimes eludes him. Likewise for Jerry Blevins and his sweeping curve and Anthony Swarzak and his biting slider. Addison Reed, who only tops out at about 92 or 93 mph, relies on a slider that can be hittable at times. For Seth Lugo, it’s a tight spin curveball. Jenry Mejia relied on a slider, as did Frankie Rodriguez, Pedro Feliciano, Scott Rice and Carlos Torres.
The classic closer – think Lee Smith and the soon-to-be-free agent Craig Kimbrel – relies on a blazing fastball to challenge hitters and uses a secondary pitch to keep them off-balance. Using a secondary pitch as, well, a primary out pitch is problematic because a pitcher is more likely to lose their feel of a breaking pitch than a fastball or even a cutter (Mariano Rivera, Kenley Jansen) or change up (Trevor Hoffman). There are exceptions of course as Yankees Delin Betances and Aroldis Chapman sometimes will lose control of their fastball, but this is not common among veteran relievers.
It’s fine to have guys like Gsellman and Blevins in the bullpen, but they need to complement a few guys who can throw a ball through a brick wall. Maybe one of many hard-throwing Mets kids will step up to play a critical role, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Job number one for the Mets new general manager will be rebuilding a very weak bullpen. Their 35 losses leads the National League and their peripheral numbers are downright ugly. Adding some big strikeout arms is where they should start. The free agent market will offer plenty of options to consider beyond Kimbrel, who’s averaged a ridiculous 14.7 K/9 for his career, such as Cody Allen, (11.5), Andrew Miller (10.6), David Robertson (12.0), Greg Holland (11.7), Kelvin Herrera (8.9), and Adam Ottavino (10.1). Zach Britton is no longer the strikeout pitcher he used to be, but may also be worth a look as a hard-throwing lefty with a sinker would certainly give this pen a new look.