Revamped Mets pen leads to 5-game win streak

One of the keys to Tuesday’s victory over the Nationals was the work of the bullpen. Mets relievers went 4.1 IP and allowed 1 ER and picked up both the win (Ryota Igarashi) and the save (Francisco Rodriguez). Considered by some to be the weak point of the team, the bullpen has been an asset since Sandy Alderson made a couple of early tweaks and SP started going a bit deeper into games, last night aside.

In 2010, National League relievers posted a 3.97 ERA. The Mets’ bullpen finished fifth in the league with a 3.59 mark. But the team had to rework its bullpen in the offseason. This year’s Opening Day roster did not feature six of the top eight relievers from a year ago, as measured by appearances. Only Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell were back from the strong group the Mets assembled in 2010.

Impressive Spring Training performances led to the inclusion of setup man Blaine Boyer and Tim Byrdak on the Opening Day roster. After camp opened, Alderson said that the bullpen decisions were going to be made on a combination of Spring results and previous history. Unfortunately, the previous history of both Boyer and Byrdak left a lot to be desired.

The first 10 games of the season, Boyer and Byrdak combined to allow 12 ER in 10.1 IP. After a particularly bad performance by Boyer, in which he allowed four runs in extra innings to pick up the loss, Alderson moved swiftly to correct a mistake and removed the guy with a 10.80 ERA. Byrdak had a 9.82 ERA at the time but managed to hold onto his spot.

Alderson later made other moves, as he placed Parnell on the disabled list and sent D.J. Carrasco to the minors. The latter move was particularly interesting, as Alderson gave Carrasco a two-year contract in the offseason. But after he allowed 6 ER in his previous 5.2 IP, it was hard to argue with the decision to send him to Buffalo. Interestingly, Carrasco will work as a starter in Triple-A. Carrasco has indicated a desire to start, but it is unclear if the move is to honor that request or to simply get him more innings to work out his early troubles.

Regardless of the reasons behind the early transactions, the end result has been a good one for the Mets. In the last 10 games, Mets relievers have posted 28 IP and allowed just 8 ER for a 2.57 ERA. The team has also played its best ball of the year in this stretch, as they are 6-4 and are currently riding a 5-game winning streak. In the winning streak, the relievers have gone 13.1 IP and allowed just 2 ER (1.35 ERA).

A new pecking order has been established in the pen. Rodriguez is still the closer, but Jason Isringhausen has ascended into the eighth-inning role, taking over for the injured and ineffective Parnell. Taylor Buchholz (1.38 ERA in 13 IP) and Pedro Beato (0.00 ERA in 11 IP) are the main bridges to the veterans at the back of the bullpen.

Dillon Gee is now a reliever on the club and Terry Collins plans to use him as a short guy, rather than using him as a mop-up man. It remains to be seen how Gee will react in this role. But he has pitched well as a starter for the Mets, giving hope that he can be an option in the seventh inning of close games and give rest to Beato and Buchholz.

Strong results over the past 10 days have lowered the bullpen’s ERA to 3.84 for the season. While there are health concerns surrounding Isringhausen and Buchholz, who combined for just 20 IP the past two seasons due to injuries, right now the bullpen has defined roles and pitchers performing at high levels. If the Mets have a lead after six innings, they have a good shot to nail down the win.

Very few fans are satisfied either with their middle relievers or how their manager uses his bullpen. Mets fans have to look no further back than to this time last year, when we were complaining bitterly about Jerry Manuel’s daily usage of Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Nieve, along with the inclusion of top prospect Jenrry Mejia in the pen.

Now, thanks to the decisive moves of Alderson, Mets fans find themselves in unaccustomed territory. As long as our relievers stay healthy (and don’t’ have to pitch 4.1 IP on a regular basis), our bullpen is well-suited to protect leads at the end of the game.

But we still don’t want to see Byrdak versus a RHB in a close game.

Blaine Boyer busts Mets for last time

The Blaine Boyer experiment, mercifully now over, sounds exactly like a story about Las Vegas I heard just a few weeks ago.

My father made the trek to Sin City for business, with plenty to do. But along the way, a small group found their way to a blackjack table. An experienced card player, two pushes – on a 21 and 20 – was the best he could do in the first 10 hands. The odds at this point suggested he should stick around and his luck would change. Wrong, he got up after the dealer went 30 hands without busting once.

He heard later an associate went back later to the same dealer, deciding the bad luck was gone and good old math would make him rich. It didn’t take long for Lady Luck to abandon him as well.

My point is that choosing major league baseball players is a crapshoot, especially in the bullpen. Middle, long and specialized relievers all tend to be rejected starters. Sometimes they find a niche and have long-term success, but most have stats that bounce around as much as these players move around the league. A great seventh-inning guy last year could be designated for assignment tomorrow. It really is the epitome of “what have you done for me lately.”

In the case of Boyer, it’s been lose baseball games. The red-haired reliever was 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA, 2.10 WHIP and 1 save in 6.2 innings through five games with the 2011 Mets. In the April 6 10-7 loss to Philadelphia, Boyer coughed up 2 runs in the bottom of the fifth after New York put up a five-spot to bail out an ineffective Mike Pelfrey. On Sunday, he gave up 4 runs in the 11th inning to Washington after D.J. Carrasco finally stumbled.

To say the numbers have not been kind to Boyer this season is an understatement. He is drastically off the mark from his career average now in his seventh years in the pros. According to those figures, he should finish the regular season with a 4.69 ERA, 1.453 WHIP, 47 strikeouts and 28 walks. Just to drive the point home, he’s struck out as many batters as he’s walked – 1.

Assuming nothing’s changed with Boyer, mathematics and the law of averages says his numbers have to recover. GM Sandy Alderson couldn’t have made a mistake when they took the righty reliever who notched a shocking 0.82 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in Spring Training, could he?

In this case it was time to ignore the numbers and cut your losses.

Predictions for the 2011 Mets

My first go round at Opening Day predictions at Mets360 did not go so well. So, I could go one of several ways:

A. Try to make “easy” predictions to make me look good in hindsight.
B. Make off the wall assertions and when one of them came true, trumpet the fact that I picked it.
C. Repeat last year’s idea of being a combination of realistic/optimistic and hope for better results.

I’m going for the third path. So, here are my 2011 predictions for the Mets:

1. Josh Thole hits at least 7 HR, which bests Felix Millan’s single-season best.
2. Ike Davis reaches 85 RBIs.
3. David Wright’s K% drops at least five points from last year’s 27.4% mark. Assuming last year’s AB total of 587, that would mean 131 (or fewer) strikeouts rather than 161.
4. Jose Reyes establishes a career-best in OBP, besting his .358 mark in 2008.
5. Angel Pagan finishes in the top 10 among full-time CF in SLG%
6. Carlos Beltran becomes the first Mets RF to play (at least) 110 games and put up (at least) a 110 OPS+ since Bobby Bonilla in 1993.
7. Mike Pelfrey pitches 200 innings for the third time in four years.
8. R.A. Dickey has an ERA of 3.75 or lower, which is lower than all of the projection systems at FanGraphs predict.
9. Jonathon Niese will top Johan’s Santana’s 17 Quality Starts from a year ago.
10. Chris Capuano makes 25 starts.
11. Chris Young has a K/9 below 6.00 compared to his 7.82 career average.
12. Francisco Rodriguez saves 35 games.
13. Blaine Boyer does not end the year with the club.
14. RHB post an OPS of at least .900 versus Tim Byrdak, who makes us long for Feliciano and even Schoeneweis.
15. The Mets will score at least 20 more runs with the bases loaded than the 97 they had last year.
What are your predictions for the 2011 season?

*****

With Opening Day for the Mets falling on April Fools Day, we’re playing it straight this year at Mets360. But click here if you want to see last year’s April 1st entry.

*****

What’s the fascination with Blaine Boyer?

In a recent chat with Mets bloggers, Sandy Alderson was asked about Spring Training roster decisions, particularly the bullpen. Here was his response:

“I think the career body of work is normally what gets a player into camp who is under consideration for the first time or who is put into a competition. I think you have to keep in mind career numbers and trends and strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, you do take into account what goes on during spring training. It’s the nature of competition and the hope is that certain people will rise to that level of competition. But you cant let spring games dictate results entirely. You tend not to focus on the results in spring training but rather other things — mechanics, individual character, is there a reason to believe that a player is not pitching to past performance, is there some reason that he is not going to hit this year versus his career? So I think you do balance those things. But you’re right to point out that what goes on in spring training doesn’t always dictate the final outcome with those roster spots. We’ve got some close competitions here … in the bullpen for example, we’re trying to balance what we can reasonably expect based on history versus what we can reasonably expect or hope based on what we’ve seen in the past month.”

Which brings us to Blaine Boyer. The 29-year old is having a very nice Spring (0.90 ERA, 10 IP 1 ER) but that is completely out of line with what he has done in his six seasons in MLB. Lifetime in the majors, Boyer has a 4.63 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. How do the 10 Spring Training innings trump the 227.1 innings of previous work?

Yet people are going through hoops to try and get Boyer on the Opening Day roster. Why Boyer over Manny Acosta? This Spring has also gone well for Acosta, who has allowed 2 ER in 10.2 IP. Both lifetime and 2010, Acosta has been the better pitcher. Here are their respective numbers:

Lifetime
Acosta – 153.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.44 K/9
Boyer – 227.1 IP, 4.63 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 6.37 K/9

2010
Acosta – 39.2 IP, 2.95 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.53 K/9
Boyer – 57.0 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 4.58 K/9

Another thing upon which relievers are judged are inherited runners. Perhaps Boyer is better than Acosta in this department, which would certainly help his case. Last year, Boyer came on with 23 runners on base and 10 of those came around to score. That worked out to a 43 IS% (where the lower the number, the better).

Meanwhile, Acosta had 31 inherited runners and 13 scored for a 42 IS% or virtually identical to Boyer. For their careers, Acosta has an IS% of 31 while Boyer’s checks in at 43. If any edge should be granted in this category, it should go to Acosta.

If Boyer makes the club over Acosta, I”ll have to assume that his “mechanics or individual character” are superior to those of Acosta or that Boyer has taken some great leap forward with his stuff in the past month.

Regardless, it’s a question that should be asked by the mainstream media and answered by Alderson if the Mets lose Acosta to keep Boyer.

The A-B-C guide to the Mets bullpen

It’s often said that having too many good players is a nice problem to have. Judging strictly by Spring Training results, that is exactly the dilemma the Mets have in figuring out who makes their bullpen. Through games of Sunday, the Mets have three relievers who have not allowed an earned run, one with an ERA under 1.00 and two with marks under 2.00 ERA. Only the three with a scoreless ERA are guaranteed spots on the team.

Let’s examine two pitchers seemingly on the bubble, although one seems more likely to make the squad. Which one would you prefer?

Pitcher A – 8 games, 10.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 5 BB, 9 Ks
Pitcher B – 10 games, 11.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 10 H, 4 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 5 Ks

Pitcher A turns 30 this May and has 153.2 IP in the majors under his belt. Last year he was 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA and had 42 Ks in 39.2 IP in the National League.

Pitcher B turned 24 in the offseason. He has yet to pitch a game in the majors. Last year he was 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA and had 50 Ks in 59.2 IP in Double-A.

Both pitchers are likely to be lost to other teams if the Mets try to send them to the minors. So, which one would you pick?

Pitcher A is Manny Acosta while Pitcher B is Pedro Beato. Acosta is clearly having the better Spring and he has a major league track record while Beato does not. But speculation is that Beato has a better shot of making the club than Acosta.

We know Francisco Rodriguez is the closer. Tim Byrdak is the LOOGY while D.J. Carrasco is the long man. That leaves four spots up for grabs. Taylor Buchholz has yet to give up a run this Spring. Blaine Boyer has a 0.90 ERA. Bobby Parnell is thought to be the closer of the future. Jason Isringhausen has a 1.29 ERA and is thought to be on the team if his elbow is sound.

Parnell has had the worst Spring of any of the candidates and with an option remaining it makes sense to send him to the minors. But some in the organization want him in the majors learning from Rodriguez and Isringhausen.

Boyer has a 4.63 lifetime ERA in 227.1 IP in the majors but because of his strong Spring, many think he should make the club. Last year he had 29 BB and 29 Ks in 57 IP with the Braves. General manager Sandy Alderson has talked about taking a player’s entire career into account when making roster decisions and if that is the case than Boyer will not make the club. He has very limited upside.

With the information available as we head into the last week of Spring Training, I would set the bullpen as Rodriguez, Isringhausen, Acosta, Beato, Buchholz, Byrdak and Carrasco.

Parnell gets to work on his consistency in the minors while Boyer and Pat Misch move on to other organizations. Both of those guys are welcome to join Triple-A Buffalo if they are not overwhelmed with other offers.