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.