Does the Mets’ bullpen get a bad rap?

On Tuesday, Charlie Hangley took a look at the revamped Mets’ bullpen. He pointed to all of the blown leads by the 2011 relievers and speculated that “a quality bullpen could have been the difference between a 77-win year and an 89-win, contending-for-the-wildcard year.” On first reading, that seemed optimistic to me and I wanted to do a little digging.

But first I think it’s important to note that Charlie is not the only one to feel this way about the bullpen. In early December, Sandy Alderson appeared on “Inside Pitch” on Sirius XM radio and in a wide-ranging interview said the Mets, “would have finished above .500” if they were able to keep Francisco Rodriguez. Of course, Rodriguez was dealt last year at the All-Star break as Alderson successfully escaped the former closer’s $17.5 million option for 2012.

So, why do Alderson and Hangley put so much blame on the Mets falling apart in 2011 on the bullpen? The non-Rodriguez relievers combined for 19 Blown Saves and 10 additional losses last year. Things only got worse when Jason Isringhausen was out of the picture, as Bobby Parnell proved not ready for prime time, as he blew three saves in one week alone down the stretch last year.

Let’s look at some overall numbers for 2011 and compare the Mets’ performance against those of their NL East rivals.

When holding a lead after eight innings last year, the Mets had a .918 winning percentage, basically the same as the Braves (.913) and the Marlins (.922). The Phillies were better (.967) and the Nationals (.985) were the best in the division. The big difference is the Nationals had 65 leads heading into the 9th inning and the Phillies had 90. The Mets had 73.

Where you see the big difference is in leads after six innings. Here’s how many leads the NL East teams had and their records when ahead after six:

Marlins – 62 – .806
Nationals – 66 – .833
Mets – 69 – .812
Braves – 72 – .875
Phillies – 81 – .901

This seems to support the “improve the bullpen” idea but I would suggest this is at least as much of a SP issue as it is a bullpen one. The Mets had 46 outings where their SP went seven or more innings last year. The Phillies had 89. And while the Phillies nearly doubled up the Mets in this department, they also blew them out of the water in winning percentage, too.

The Phillies were 68-21(.764) when SP threw at least 7 IP
The Mets were 27-19 (.586) when SP threw at least 7 IP

If we drop it to six innings, we get the following numbers:

The Phillies were 92-36 (.719) when SP threw at least 6 IP
The Mets were 57-48 (.543) when SP threw at least 6 IP

The Phillies enjoyed a .176 winning percentage edge over the Mets when starters for both teams went at least 6 IP. When starters for both teams extended to at least 7 IP, that margin was nearly identical at a .178 winning percentage edge.

That indicates to me that the bullpen is not the issue that many are making it out to be. If the bullpen was the problem, wouldn’t we expect the winning percentage deficit to increase as the innings pitched by the starters went down?

If we take it a step further, here are the numbers in all games when the starting pitcher failed to go 6 IP, with the team’s winning percentage at the end:

29-40 – Nationals (.420)
20-37 – Mets (.351)
20-39 – Braves (.338)
20-45 – Marlins (.308)
10-24 – Phillies (.294)

The Mets’ bullpen looks to be solid in games when they were asked to pitch the most innings.

Of course, it’s difficult to separate out how much credit/blame goes to the offense, defense or relief pitching in these games. But it does not scream out “blame the bullpen” to me.

We all remember the high-profile meltdowns and extrapolate that the bullpen needs an overhaul. But when the starters have nearly half the games with 7 IP that the division-winners do, they need to take their fair part of the blame, too. And it would be nice if those starters would win more of the games when they pitched into the seventh, as well.

9 comments for “Does the Mets’ bullpen get a bad rap?

  1. J. Wynne
    February 27, 2012 at 3:10 am

    This whole analysis seems flawed. The Mets ranked near the bottom of the major leagues in reliever E.R.A. and blown saves and losses. Apart from F. Rodriguez scrambling for a good stretch in the first half of the season, before faltering and then being traded, and Manny Acosta pitching generally very well after a rough start, the bullpen was occasionally tolerable but usually terrible. For one thing, the Mets had the best offense in the NL East (scored the most runs) and it seemed that they scored a lot in late innings, so a lot of the wins were in spite of the relievers, and a lot of the losses were despite the batters’ (often heroic) efforts. Even an average relief staff would have given up about 30 fewer runs, and the Mets would probably have had at least 5 more wins.

    • Brian Joura
      February 27, 2012 at 8:18 am

      Hi J. Wynne – thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m not saying the bullpen was great. I’m saying the starters were every bit as bad as the bullpen. The Mets spent $11.65 million to add new relievers and not a penny on the rotation. And they have to replace the 210 IP that Capuano and Young gave them as starters last year.

      Seemingly all of the blame for the bad pitching goes to the relievers and I think that’s not fair at all. I think Alderson and others are holding the relievers to an unfair standard and not using any standard for the starters.

      Dillon Gee had a 5.51 ERA in his final 17 starts of the year and not only is he not being replaced, no one is being brought in to challenge him for a spot in the rotation. That was 94.2 IP of lousy pitching. Compare that to the 88 IP of DJ Carrasco (6.02 ERA) and Ryota Igarashi (4.66). Those two combined for a 5.42 ERA. Iggy has already been cut and no one will be surprised when Carrasco’s not on the Opening Day roster. But we’re ok with having a pitcher worse than their combined output starting every 5 days?

      The Mets needed a closer so I don’t have any problem with signing Francisco. Ramirez looks like a fine reliever and I think that will be money well spent. But the $3.5 million they gave to Rauch should have gone to a SP, instead.

      • J. Wynne
        February 28, 2012 at 3:38 am

        I’m not saying the Mets starting pitching was great, and I agree that ideally they shouldn’t have tried (harder) to get a quality or decent starting pitcher in the off season, if they had the money. But their starting pitching last year was at least close to average, whereas their relief was overall bad. The Mets’ starting staff was of course far behind the Phillies’ and Braves’, which were among the best in the majors, but it was better than the Nationals’ and the Marlins’. So I think spending money on relievers as a priority was correct; and $3.5 million wouldn’t have gotten the Mets much of a starting pitcher, who are more expensive. Also, I don’t think that relievers’ ERA is directly comparable to starters’ ERA; relievers generally should have lower ERAs than starters. Anyway, by all reports the Mets did try to sign a SP free agent, but were outbid. If one of the current starters goes down, or gets tired like Gee did last year, they have Schwinden, Harvey and Batista to try to fill in.

        • J. Wynne
          February 28, 2012 at 3:42 am

          I meant “ideally they should have tried harder to get an SP.”

        • Brian Joura
          February 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

          But I think we have to look at the reasons the Mets SP was as “good” as it was and how likely that is to repeat going forward. The Mets got 149 starts from their 5 SP who made the most starts. In 2010 that number was 130 and in 2009 it was 111.

          And if Batista and Schwinden are the team’s main source to make up those starts – the Mets are in trouble. Counting on Harvey for anything more than a couple of September starts is asking too much of a guy who has thrown all of 59.2 innings above A-ball.

          Capuano is gone, replaced by Santana – who I think everyone agrees will be fortunate to pitch 150 innings. So, that’s a 36 IP shortfall right there. Gee is no longer depth – he’s a rotation guy, despite his crappy pitching from mid-June on.

          And outside of Dickey, the other starters were much worse in the 2nd half. Pelfrey’s ERA went from 4.55 to 5.00; Niese went from 3.88 to 5.67 and Gee went from 3.17 to 5.74

          You say the Mets were outbid for starters – can you please provide a link for that? I think Alderson was monitoring the SP market but never planned to make a serious offer. Here’s a quote from him on December 6th:

          “Starting pitching hasn’t been a focus for us yet,” he explained. “It’s not to say it’s not important. We’ve just been looking at other things.”
          http://www.metsblog.com/2011/12/06/mets-mark-buehrle-have-mutual-interest/

          Here’s another Alderson quote on starting pitching:

          “If we stick someone in, who’s the logical person to go down? We don’t really have a logical candidate to go down,” Alderson said. “But we do have some question marks, of course, with Santana being one of them. We think he’s going to be ready, but he might not be. That’s where the depth becomes important.

          “The problem with rotation depth is you have to hit the sweet spot. You have to find somebody who could be a swingman — because if everything goes right, we don’t have a spot in that rotation.
          http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/mets/post/_/id/37196/alderson-mets-need-pitching-safety-net

          That quote was published on 12/13 – and Alderson considered the rotation set. He wanted depth, not upgrades and that’s what I don’t agree with.

          Bartolo Colon signed for $2 million with the A’s in mid-January. I’d much rather have him in our rotation and Gee being the team’s 6th SP. Now you can point out that Colon was worse in the second half, too. But he was still better than Gee in ERA and he maintained a 3.11 K/BB ratio after the break. Plus if he signed with the Mets he would have gotten away from Yankee Stadium and gotten to face pitchers instead of a DH.

          • J. Wynne
            February 29, 2012 at 12:58 am

            As I’ve said, I agree that the Mets should have tried harder to get a decent starting pitcher. Even the articles you cite indicate that the Alderson thought getting starting pitching was “important” and that they had “question marks” and needed more depth. Obviously they didn’t do much to improve quality or depth as they were making the biggest payroll cut in history. They are relying on Santana pitching the 150 innings, and they are trying to fast-track Harvey. (I do think Schwinden will be servicable). Maybe they’ll see what they get from their “Big 5″ and make a trade for an SP if necessary. But nevertheless, I disagree with the central theme of your post: that the Mets relievers got a “bum rap” and that the starting pitching was “every bit as bad as the bullpen.” In fact, the Mets starting pitchers’ ERA was 0.17 higher than the NL average (4.12 vs. 3.95), whereas the Mets bullpen ERA was 0.74 runs higher than the NL average (4.33 vs. 3.59). By almost every statistical measure the Mets SP was just a little below the league averages for SP, while the bullpen was far worse than league averages for relief pitching and only better than the wretched Astros.

            • Brian Joura
              February 29, 2012 at 7:57 am

              The starters had unusually good health last year
              The starting pitchers did not pitch deep enough into games
              The starters had an inferior record when they did manage to pitch at least 7 IP
              The starters, with the exception of Dickey, faded miserably in the second half of the season

              Alderson approached the offseason as if the bullpen was 100 percent of the problem. Sure, he paid lip service to starters being “important.” But when push came to shove, he considered the rotation set and did not spend one penny to upgrade the team’s starters. Instead, he spent nearly all of his offseason budget on the bullpen. The only newly-spent money on the offense was Ronny Cedeno, their new backup middle infielder.

              If Alderson or anyone else thinks the bullpen was 91 percent of the problem last year (the percent of offseason money spent on relievers), then the bullpen *is* getting a bad rap.

          • J. Wynne
            March 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm

            Mets starters pitched more than the league average per start. They had 84 quality starts, just about the league average. If the relievers had pitched as well as the starters, the Mets would have won 5 or 6 more games. If the starters pitched as bad as the relievers, Mets would have lost 10 more games than they did. But you don’t seem to care about facts, making the blog site worthless. Sayonara.

            • Brian Joura
              March 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm

              It would be nice if you used numbers and not broad generalizations. Mets SP pitched almost exactly as many innings as the NL average. NL starters averaged 6.0027 IP while Mets starters averaged 6.0123 innings. You’re not really pretending that .0096 of an inning is meaningful, are you?

              Your speculation about how many games the team might have won with better relievers is just that – speculation.

              For someone who claims to care about facts – you are mighty cavalier about how you apply them to your arguments.

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