Bobby Parnell: He is who we thought he was

Bobby Parnell came on in the ninth inning yesterday with a 4-3 lead after the Mets put up four runs in the bottom of the eighth. A leadoff error by David Wright led to two unearned runs and a crushing 5-4 loss. It was the third blown save this month in seven games for Parnell. By contrast, Francisco Rodriguez was 26-for-29 in save opportunities before being dealt to the Brewers.

Rodriguez was an established closer while Parnell is getting on-the-job training so perhaps it’s not fair to compare the two players in this regard. What is fair is to ask if the Mets are expecting too much from their young fireballing reliever. When Rodriguez left, Jason Isringhausen was used as the closer until he recorded his 300th career save in the third week of August. Then Parnell took over the role.

Here’s how Parnell’s done in save situations since taking over as the closer:

8/24 – Started ninth inning with 3-run lead and picked up the save.
8/29 (G1) – Started ninth inning with 2-run lead. Allowed a run but picked up the save.
8/31 – Started ninth inning with a 1-run lead and picked up the save.
9/1 – Entered with two outs and a three-run lead, allowed inherited runner to score but picked up save.
9/3 – Started ninth with 1-run lead, allowed two runs to pick up blown save and loss
9/4 – Started ninth with 3-run lead and picked up the save.
9/6 – Started ninth with 2-run lead, allowed two runs and picked up a blown save.
9/10 – Stared ninth with 1-run lead, allowed two unearned runs for blown save and loss.

When Parnell entered the game with a 3-run lead, he is 3-for-3 in save opportunities. When he enters with a 2-run lead, he’s 1-for-2 in save opportunities. When he enters with a 1-run lead, he’s 1-for-3 in save opportunities with two losses.

For whatever reason – and you can certainly say small sample size – Parnell’s struggles have increased in direct proportion to how difficult the save chance is. In hindsight, perhaps Parnell should have been given the chance to get some 3-run saves under his belt before taking over the full-time responsibilities of closer. Maybe more of an extended breaking-in process in the closer’s role would have been beneficial.

However, that is pure speculation. Instead, let’s look for a more objective view of Parnell’s season. Because he throws 100 mph, Parnell seems like a closer waiting to happen. But results matter more than pure velocity and for the most part what Parnell has achieved in 2011 is right in line with what we should expect given his history in the majors.

Coming into the year, Parnell had 128.1 IP in the majors, with all but five of those coming in the 2009-10 seasons. So far in 2011, he has 51.1 IP or a little less than half of what he had done previously. Let’s compare what Parnell has done this year versus what his career numbers are, to see if he is significantly under or over-achieving in any category.

2011 Lifetime
K/9 9.99 8.37
BB/9 4.38 4.06
HR/9 0.70 065
BABIP .351 .342
LOB% 70.2 69.4
GB% 50.7 49.6
HR/FB 8.5 7.4
ERA 4.21 4.51
FIP 3.39 3.61
xFIP 3.52 3.92

There’s virtually no category where you could say Parnell was underperforming this year. His walks are up a non-trivial amount from his career average but that has more to do with an outlier performance last year in the category, where he allowed 2.06 BB/9. In the minor leagues, Parnell has a career 3.9 BB/9 and in his time in the majors excluding 2010, he has a 4.54 BB/9. His HR/FB rate is up but still comfortably below what we consider normal in the category.

The one thing that does jump out is his strikeout rate but his performance in 2011 is better than what we would normally expect. However, I don’t think we should be too surprised that a young pitcher who lights up the radar gun has a high K/9 rate.

Essentially, Parnell in 2011 is exactly who we (and by that I mean anyone who examines his career record in the majors) thought he was. Yes, he throws really hard and strikes out a bunch of guys. But he also has poor control and is very hittable when batters make contact.

One thing that is disturbing is that 2011 is shaping up as the third straight year where Parnell has posted an ERA higher than his FIP or xFIP. For a comparison, Mariano Rivera has had an ERA below the estimators in nine of the 10 years for which we have data and the year where he didn’t, his ERA was 3.15 compared to a 2.92 xFIP.

Again, perhaps it’s not fair to compare Parnell to the greatest short-inning reliever in history. Instead, let’s compare him to another hard thrower – Kyle Farnsworth. Much like Parnell, Farnsworth is another guy who lights up the radar gun and is a player that everyone looks at like a guy born to be a closer. Five times in his career his average fastball velocity was at 96 or above.

Farnsworth posted an ERA lower than his estimators just one time in the first eight years for which we have data. However, Farnsworth’s ERA was 3.34 last year compared to a 3.49 xFIP and so far this year he has a 2.32 ERA and a 3.27 xFIP. At age 35, Farnsworth has finally reached the 20-save plateau in his career in 2011.

Yes, ERA and Saves are not the best ways to measure a reliever. But we already looked at Parnell’s peripherals earlier. Either way, the result is the same. No matter how much we may want Parnell to be a closer, his overall body of work suggests he’s not good enough for the role right now. At 26, Parnell still has plenty of time to grow into being a solid closer. But we should expect the transition to take quite some time, perhaps even years.

Everyone wants a shut-down closer, one guy who can come in and record a 40-save season. But assuming the Mets don’t spend money on a free agent closer in the offseason, which certainly seems like a logical assumption, then perhaps the best thing for the 2012 Mets would be to have co-closers.

Isringhausen is mulling a return for 2012 and if he does come back then he would seem to be an ideal guy to share closing duties with Parnell. Isringhausen gets the 1 and 2-run saves while Parnell gets the 3-run saves and whatever other save opportunities arise on days when Isringhausen is unavailable.

This plan puts Parnell in the best position to succeed. And from what we saw of Isringhausen this year, he either has it or he doesn’t – so it should make little difference to him that he ends up with the toughest of the save opportunities. An Isringhausen-Parnell closer combo is far from ideal, but it may be the best thing for the cash-strapped Mets, in addition to being the best thing for Parnell.

Mets Notes: Tejada v Turner, Izzy usage & HR

At the start of Spring Training, one of the biggest questions facing the Mets was who was going to be the club’s starting second baseman. Nearly 130 games into the season, not much has changed. Sure, Justin Turner has held down the position for the great majority of the year but his hold seems tenuous, at best. Terry Collins has dropped him from second to eighth in the lineup and once Jose Reyes returns, Ruben Tejada may take over the position and force Turner to the bench.

In his last 94 PA, Turner has a .176/.255/.306 line. Since May 31st, Turner has a .228/.304/.316 line in 304 PA, all but 11 of which came with him batting second in the batting order. Perhaps the greatest difference between traditional lineup construction and an optimized batting order is how the two treat the second slot in the order. Traditionally, the second slot has been reserved for a player willing to give himself up and go the other way. The optimal lineup views the second spot in the order as one of the most important slots, one where you should consider putting your best hitter.

The traditional lineup made sense in the 1960s, when teams like the Mets averaged fewer then three runs per game. Give yourself up, make productive outs and help your team score one run. But when the average team scores over four runs per game like they do here in the 21st Century, that makes less sense. Unless it’s an end of the game situation, you want your hitters to, you know, hit the ball, preferably with authority.

And Turner just hasn’t done that on a regular basis since the end of May.

Meanwhile, since being recalled on August 8th, Tejada has a .358/.452/.472 line in 63 PA. He’s a more preferable option as a starter than Turner but it’s debatable if he should be hitting second in the order. On a good team he should hit eighth. It would be nice if the Mets could bat David Wright second although I am not holding my breath waiting for that. Daniel Murphy would be another good choice for that slot in the order, if he comes back healthy and is not dealt.

IDEAL IZZY USAGE – Now that Jason Isringhausen has recorded his 300th career save, the Mets seem willing to give Bobby Parnell a shot at closing games. Well, better late than never. Isringhausen has been one of the feel-good stories of the year and I’m hoping he will be part of the 2012 Mets, too. If he does come back, I hope the Mets investigate the best way to deploy him. There were worries early on about his ability to pitch on back-to-back days. But for the most part Isringhausen has been up to that task.

Where he hasn’t done very well is bouncing back after giving up a run. Five times this year, Isringhausen gave up a run in an appearance and then pitched the next day. Four times he allowed runs in the follow-up appearance, too. With a young pitcher, frequently the best thing to do is get him back on the mound immediately after a bad performance. But for an older pitcher like Isringhausen, rest seems to be the better option after a rough outing.

PRIDIE’S PINCH-HITTING PREDICAMENT – One of the hardest things to do in baseball is to be a successful pinch-hitter. It’s especially true for youngsters, who are used to playing every day and getting at least three trips to the plate per game. Jason Pridie is 3-19 (.158) as a pinch-hitter this season. When he was getting regular ABs in his normal position of CF earlier this season, Pridie had a .253/.321/.424 line in 112 PA.

OFFENSE BOGS DOWN WHEN POWER RETURNS – When the lineup was without Ike Davis and David Wright, the Mets were missing two of their top HR threats. After an initial period where they struggled to score runs, the Mets found a way to score without hitting many HR. From May 21 to June 26th, the Mets hit just 10 HR yet scored 157 runs and went 17-17. From July 31st to August 24th, the Mets hit 22 HR but scored just 92 runs and have gone 6-16.

NIESE HITS WALL AGAIN – Last season Jonathon Niese was 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA after picking up a win on August 21st. The rest of the season he went 1-5 with a 7.57 ERA over his final seven games. This year Niese was 9-7 with a 3.73 ERA after picking up a win on July 16th. Since then he is 2-4 with a 6.46 ERA. Niese’s peripherals are still strong, as he has 8 BB and 40 Ks in 39 IP. But he’s been victimized by the gopher ball (5 HR in 39 IP) and he sports a .411 BABIP in that span.

Will Jason Isringhausen be the Mets’ closer in 2012?

One night after picking up the win, Jason Isringhausen came on Tuesday night to retire the side in order and pick up his sixth save of the season. Since taking over as the primary closer after the trade of Francisco Rodriguez, Isringhausen has appeared in 11 games with a 2-2 record, a 4.50 ERA and one blown save. It’s not overwhelming production, so the question remains: Can Isringhausen close for the 2012 Mets?

Right now, there is no easy decision on who anchors the Mets bullpen next season. Bobby Parnell has the velocity for the job but appears less ready than Isringhausen. Pedro Beato has not been the same pitcher since coming back from the DL. Pre-injury Beato had a 0.00 ERA over 17 IP with 3 BB and 10 Ks. Post-injury Beato has a 6.00 ERA over 30 IP with 17 BB and 17 Ks. No one else currently on the roster merits consideration for the closer’s job.

Isringhausen had two bad outings in back-to-back nights against the Marlins (2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER) in the beginning of August but otherwise has been solid in his brief stint as closer for the Mets. He’s shown the ability to pitch on back-to-back nights (doing it successfully three times here in the second half), has averaged 11.25 K/9 and a 3.0 BB/9 and has limited opposing batters to a .219 AVG.

While he no longer has the overpowering stuff of his days with the A’s and Cardinals, Isringhausen knows how to pitch and he works both sides of the plate effectively. He has some trouble versus LHB, who have an .834 OPS against him thanks to 4 HR in 65 ABs. It will be worth to see if the gopher balls versus lefties is a fluke or something that continues until the end of the season.

Sandy Alderson was able to get out from the money owed Rodriguez in 2012. Now he has to find a closer for next year’s club. With the Mets still unlikely to spend a ton of money in free agency, it’s doubtful that Alderson would spend a lot of his available budget on a closer. Which means that a closer from within is a likely scenario.

It seemed unreal when Isringhausen received an invitation to Spring Training this year. But he has proven to be a valuable addition to the club. Now the Mets have 47 more games to decide if they want to bring Isringhausen back for a repeat performance and if his full-time role next year will be as closer.

The overrated apprenticeship of Bobby Parnell

Although many have their doubts, the Mets’ front office stated this week that journeyman reliever Jason Isringhausen will be part of the team until at least the remainder of the 2011 season.

This was mostly done so Isringhausen could be Bobby Parnell’s mentor as Parnell tries to grasp what it takes to be a big-league closer.

While it’s a noble gesture, I think the Mets are making the wrong decision in keeping Isringhausen around. (This is under the assumption they will be sellers at the trade deadline).

Nevertheless, if the Mets keep Isringhausen, there are benefits to keeping him around, with of course him being Parnell’s mentor being the biggest factor. However, is that alone worth it?

So far in two save opportunities since the Mets traded Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod), Isringhausen has done an excellent job of shutting the door. And in both instances, Parnell was efficient in the primary set-up role.

If the Mets were somehow going to be in the wildcard race, than keeping Isringhausen would make all the sense in the world. The dumping of K-Rod was made for financial reasons. But, if the Mets go ahead and trade Beltran (and perhaps others), than that signifies that the Mets have an eye on the future.

And when it comes to the long term future of the club, where exactly does Isringhausen fit in? If Isringhausen is not going to be with the team next year, than what good is to have him on the roster for the rest of this season.

This guise of stating to keep Isringhausen in order for him to tutor Parnell is likely a ruse for Sandy Alderson and the Mets to foster a better prospect deal with potential buyers. With that statement, Alderson is just positioning himself for more leverage.

Once Beltran is dealt, that’s it. The Mets will have officially thrown in the towel. And once they do that, they should also be willing to trade Isringhausen. Thus, the franchise can expedite the rebuilding process and see what Parnell truly has, and if he has that closer mentality.

While all Mets fans truly and deeply appreciate the experience and dependability that Isringhausen has given the team this year, most know that he is on borrowed time.

The best scenario is for Isringhausen to get his 300th save with the Mets (he is five away now) and then they can send him out on top. It would be the perfect sendoff. This way Isringhausen can have shared some of his sage advice with Parnell (BTW, it’s not like K-Rod wasn’t helpful in this matter either), gotten his 300th save and then contribute to a contender.

Heading into the 2012 season the Mets will have to know if their closer will be Parnell, or if it will be Pedro Beato, so keeping Isringhausen any longer for the time he needs to get his 300th save would seem to be silly.

The best thing to come out of all this is the fact that the Mets really don’t look like they are missing K-Rod all that much. That could change at a moment’s notice, but for now it’s looking like a shrewd move.

The move now is to get Parnell in line to get some saves. This apprenticeship rigamarole is overrated.

Mets Notes: Playing without Beltran, Pagan’s splits and April 21st

Now that a trade of Carlos Beltran seems imminent, people are coming out of the woodwork to defend him and his production in his time with the Mets. But where were these people at the beginning of the year? Mets fans pledged their allegiance to Jose Reyes and now it seems likely that the club will try to retain Reyes after his contract is up, due in some part to the support from the faithful.

Reyes is younger, plays a more important position and came up through the farm system – three pretty good reasons for fans to prefer him. But the deafening silence from most of the fan base (we felt differently) in regards to Beltran the first three-plus months of the year was inexcusable. Especially as Beltran was thought to be the most fragile Met at the beginning of the season and has instead turned into the team’s most durable player.

And of course there was the matter of production. While Reyes wowed the fans with all of his multiple-hit games, Beltran was simply leading the team in HR (15), RBIs (61), walks (52) and OPS (.917) while placing second in runs (56).

Also, the Mets missed Beltran more when he was out of the lineup than they did Reyes. While Reyes gets credit for igniting the team, the club is 7-8 when he does not play. Meanwhile the Mets are 1-4 when Beltran is out and is 2-7 in games he does not start. It could be ugly without his bat in the lineup the final two months of the season if Beltran is indeed traded.

ANGEL OF THE EVENING: Angel Pagan gave the Mets the win Wednesday night with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. So far this year, Pagan has a .750 OPS in night games (213 PA) compared to a .427 OPS in day games (82 PA). Additionally, 17 of his 18 extra-base hits have been under the lights, including all four of his home runs.

Pagan also has a big difference in his results based on where he bats in the order. When he’s in one of the top four spots in the lineup, Pagan has a .144 AVG (16-111) compared to a .289 AVG (46-159) when he bats fifth or lower. Obviously there is a lot of overlap in these two splits, as Pagan batted second in the order early in the season when the club played more day games.

However, when Pagan first returned from the DL, he played 34 games where he mostly batted fifth in the order. He had a .305/.379./.414 slash line in those games. Then he moved to the leadoff spot with Reyes out and in 12 games batting first he managed just a .192/.246/.288 line.

RAH RAH RAH FOR R.A.: Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey did not have his best stuff last night but he battled and gave the Mets a chance to win. Dickey’s record this year is just 4-8 but that’s not really indicative of how well he has pitched, especially here recently. Dickey got a no-decision last night in a game the Mets eventually won. In his last six starts, the Mets are 5-1. However, Dickey has recorded a 1-1 record in that span.

IZZY DURABLE ENOUGH FOR CLOSER?: Wednesday night Jason Isringhausen pitched two innings in the Mets’ extra-inning game and picked up the win. It was the first time all season he went for more than an inning and the first time in more than two years an outing extended into a second frame. He last pitched two innings on 5/27/09. Isringhausen appeared in just four more games after that multi-inning appearance in 2009 before being sidelined with an elbow injury, which kept him out of the majors until he resurfaced with the Mets this season.

DO YOU REMEMBER APRIL 21st?: That was the day the Mets came closest to fielding their expected lineup. The batting order that day was: Reyes, Pagan, Wright, Beltran, Bay, Davis, Turner and Nickeas. Doesn’t that look nice? They won that game, 9-1. Of course, Pagan got hurt in this one and ended up missing more than a month. By the time he came back, both Davis and Wright were sidelined.

Compare that to the lineup the Mets trotted out on July 18th, which was: Pagan, Harris, Murphy, Hairston, Duda, Bay, Thole and Tejada. Not surprisingly, the Mets lost that game, 4-1. Since then the Mets have gotten back Reyes and Beltran and Wright is expected back soon. However, it’s unlikely that Davis will return and Beltran could be traded any day, which means we will never get to see the expected 2011 Mets lineup.

I’M GONNA DJ AT THE END OF THE WORLD: Since being recalled in mid-June, D.J. Carrasco has made 14 appearances and 11 of those were games decided by three or more runs. The last time he was brought into a close game was July 10th, when he came on with the Mets losing 2-0. He promptly gave up two RBI singles to give the Giants a 4-0 lead in a game that ended up being 4-2. Here are the final scores in the games he has pitched since June 24th:

8-1, 14-5, 16-9, 5-2, 5-1, 6-0, 4-2, 7-2 and 8-5. That last game the score was 4-0 when Carrasco came on and he added a run to the deficit. Since the recall, Carrasco has a 4.50 ERA and has 5 BB and 6 Ks in 16 IP. Is there any wonder that Terry Collins has such little faith in him and uses him primarily in low leverage situations?

Should Bobby Parnell be Mets’ 8th-inning reliever?

Coming into the 2011 season, the Mets were counting on Bobby Parnell to be their 8th inning reliever, the main bridge to closer Francisco Rodriguez. But Parnell was terrible and soon found his way on the DL. Even after he was healthy, Parnell spent extra time in Buffalo trying to get back on track. Since he returned at the end of May, Parnell has been lights out, to the point where perhaps it’s best if he’s again the club’s first option for the eighth inning.

But would it be a good idea to have Parnell as your main setup man? In April, he had a 13.50 K/9 and an 80.4 strand rate. If you just had those two numbers to look at, you would conclude that he had been very effective when he was anything but that. So what makes Parnell effective, or in the case of April ineffective? Let’s look at his numbers.

Span IP ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 BABIP WHIP
May-July 13.1 1.35 9.45 2.70 3.5 0.00 .351 1.28
4/2011 7.1 6.14 13.50 6.14 2.2 2.45 .389 1.91
2010 35 2.83 8.49 2.06 4.1 0.26 .381 1.40
2009 SP 36.1 7.93 7.68 5.20 1.5 1.24 .350 1.90
2009 RP 52 3.46 7.44 4.33 1.7 0.52 .317 1.50

None of these are a huge sample, so it’s okay if you want to take these numbers with a grain of salt. But one thing that jumps out is that it almost does not matter what Parnell’s strikeout rate is, which is virtually unheard of for a pitcher. As noted earlier, he had a tremendous K/9 in April this year and was terrible.

Another thing that stands out is that Parnell has very high BABIPs. Even his numbers as a reliever in 2009 are a bit misleading. If you remember that season, Parnell had great success as a reliever and then had an audition as a starter before ending the year back in the pen. Parnell had a .345 BABIP as a reliever before moving to the rotation. When he returned to the pen, he had an .071 BABIP which lowered his overall numbers.

Parnell lights up radar guns and racks up strikeouts, which seems like exactly what you want from a late-inning reliever. But he’s also the most hittable reliever among guys who throw gas. Using the FanGraphs leaderboards, for the past two years, Parnell has the fifth-highest average fastball velocity. Here are all the guys who average 96 and above and their corresponding BABIPs:

Player Avg FB velocity BABIP
Zumaya 99.3 .282
H. Rodriguez 98.5 .318
Walden 97.9 .307
Bard 97.7 .210
Parnell 96.6 .366
Hanrahan 96.5 .302
Ogando 96.3 .257
Cashner 96.3 .301
Lowe 96.2 .365
Feliz 96.1 .222
Thornton 96.0 .319

There were 261 relievers in this sample and Parnell’s BABIP was the fifth-worst mark in the bunch.

So, we expect Parnell to rack up an impressive strikeout rate and we expect him to have a high BABIP. Therefore Parnell’s success depends more on his walks and home runs allowed than anything else. When he struggled as a SP in 2009 and then again early in 2011, he had trouble with the gopher ball. Those same two spans he had a BB/9 greater than 5.00.

Mets fans already have a closer who walks the tightrope by allowing lots of baserunners in Rodriguez. Do they want another tightrope walker for their primary setup man? For his career in the majors, Parnell has a 1.56 WHIP. When he limits his walks, like he did last year, he has a 1.40 WHIP, which was in the bottom third of relievers with at least 30 IP.

But much like with Rodriguez, the total package seemingly works. Even though on first glance he appears very fortunate, last year he had an xFIP of 2.54 and this year it’s 3.01. His ultra-high BABIPs apparently cancel out his elevated strand rates and his low HR marks, given his K-rate. Those huge strikeout numbers pull him through, after all.

It would not be crazy to reinstall Parnell back as the primary setup man, perhaps in a time-share with Jason Isringhausen, who should not pitch on back-to-back days. Eight times this year, Isringhausen has pitched with no rest and he has an .861 OPS allowed in those games. When he has a day of rest between appearances, his OPS is .454, with two days rest it’s .634 and it’s .298 when Izzy’s had three days rest.

Still, perhaps the Mets can rig things so that Parnell always comes in to start an inning. This year he has come in with eight runners on base and allowed six runners to score. By contrast, Isringhausen has come in with 11 runners on base and allowed only two to score.

Besides a Quality Bullpen, Mets Lack Presence

“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

A four-run lead headed to the bottom of the eighth is supposed to be safe. To paraphrase Howie Rose, I was putting this one in the books before the eighth was over. But we know the narrative these past two weeks, don’t we? This bullpen stinks and no lead is safe until the 27th out. Yes, I know Pedro Beato and Jason Isringhausen were horrid last night (6/8). Yes, leadoff walks to geriatrics the likes of Craig Counsell are inexcusable. No, Dale Thayer has no business in a Major League ballpark, unless he possesses a ticket. I get all that. There might be a bigger, less tangible problem out there.

Angel Pagan batted fourth last night. For real. Not a typo.

Where the Mets have been playing some pretty decent baseball of late, there’s still a chasm in the middle of the order that has nothing to do with the talent level of the players per se. Angel Pagan is a good ballplayer, who has had some great moments. He is a valuable asset for the Mets, one which – as was seen earlier in the year – is sorely missed when it’s not around. But when you think “cleanup hitter,” does the name “Angel Pagan” immediately leap to mind? Does the guy in the other dugout whine, “Oh crap: how do we pitch to Pagan?” The sad part is, with the lineup as presently constituted – taking into account DL denizens David Wright and Ike Davis – he was their best option last night.

But this has nothing to do with the players who are missing, really, because neither of them is the type of player that gives a team a mental advantage in a ballgame either. Wright is a terrific hitter, who opposing pitchers know they can K with some semi-regularity. Davis is more of a Keith Hernandez, line-drive kinda guy. And of course there’s Jose Reyes, who is living up to his rep as TMEPIB (“The Most Exciting Player In Baseball”) right now. No. The Mets don’t have a Prince Fielder, an Albert Pujols, a Chipper Jones (as much as it galls me to speak that name in this context), a Ryan Howard, a Darryl Strawberry or a Mike Piazza. Not even a Troy Tulowitzki. There isn’t anyone on this squad right now who can put sweat on the upper lip of a pitcher they way those guys can/could.

Is there anyone on the horizon in the organization who can fit that bill? Maybe new draftee Brandon Nimmo…in 2016.

Oy.

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.

Top 10 Spring Training stories for Mets

After four months without MLB, Spring Training is always a welcome sight. Even though the teams never have full lineups, the pitchers rarely throw at peak form and managers make moves they never would during the season – we can’t help but to look at the stats and look at things that jump out. There are always going to be people struggling and people exceeding expectations. But sometimes the surprising thing is who is doing what – and to what extent.

With that in mind, here are my Top 10 surprises in Spring Training for the Mets.

10. Tim Byrdak with 2 Saves
In 343 games in the majors, Byrdak has 3 Saves and a 4.35 ERA. While it’s surprising that he has yet to give up an earned run this Spring, it’s only 6.1 IP. Last year with the Astros he had an 11.1 scoreless innings streak and a 14.0 streak. But if you had given us five guesses before Spring Training started about who would lead the club in Saves in late March few, if any, would have said Byrdak.

9. Fernando Martinez and his .364/.481/.591 line
When the Mets signed Martinez as a 16-year old, he was a five-tool talent and everybody’s expectations were through the roof. Now after an injury-marred minor league career, most people have written him off as a starter, much less an impact major league player. So, while it was only 22 ABs, it was still very nice to see Martinez put up sparkling slash numbers.

8. Kirk Nieuwenhuis gets 32 ABs despite .094 AVG
One of the most useful things to see in Spring Training is who gets a lot of ABs. Those are the guys that the club wants to see play, usually because they are competing for a roster/starting spot. But when a minor leaguer gets that much time, it’s a clear example that the club thinks highly of him. Nieuwenhuis benefits from being a CF but that doesn’t explain this much playing time with so little production. I had him rated fifth in my top prospects ranking and it’s clear the Mets are high on him, too.

7. Taylor Buchholz approaches 2009-10 innings total
Elbow surgery, along with a back injury that landed him on the DL last year, limited Buchholz to just 12 IP the past two seasons. This Spring, Buchholz has logged 11 IP, the top total of any reliever on the staff. And to make things even better, he has yet to allow a run. Buchholz has been fortunate, as he has allowed 15 baserunners in those 11 innings, but his health and performance have been good to see.

6. Daniel Murphy not locking up 2B job despite .811 OPS
Murphy has picked up right where he left off offensively despite missing most of the 2010 season. With only Jonathon Niese being likely to deliver big ground ball numbers to the right side of the infield, it should be an easy decision to install Murphy as the regular at second base and look to replace him defensively in the late innings with a slim lead. After all, an .811 OPS would tie for the sixth-best mark among second basemen in the majors last year. After scoring just 656 runs last year, which ranked 13th in the 16-team NL, the Mets should look for offense wherever they can get it.

5. Reserve outfield production
Not many people were enthusiastic when the Mets signed Jerry Hairston and Willie Harris for backup outfield spots. Hairston had a .652 OPS in 2010 while Harris was nearly as bad with a .653 mark. But in 78 Spring ABs, the duo has combined for 28 H, 9 2B, 1 3B and 4 HR. They also have 14 R and 11 RBIs.

4. Rule 5 picks struggling
Most people expected that Brad Emaus and Pedro Beato had good shots to make the roster. But Emaus got off to a terrible start before finally getting some hits the past few days. Beato has gone the opposite route, starting off strong but really sputtering later in the Spring. Emaus still has a chance to make the team because of support for his game in the front office. But Beato seems like a long shot. And cynics will point out that the owners will recoup $50,000 if they return both players.

3. Luis Hernandez named front runner by NY Post
Although the line is blurring, mainstream outlets (yes, even the Post) still have stronger editorial standards than independent blogs. So it was a huge deal when Mike Puma’s story broke that Terry Collins wanted Hernandez to be the starter at 2B. While the Mets have termed the story premature, there seems no doubt that Collins was impressed by what he saw from Hernandez last season. It will likely come down to Emaus or Hernandez at second base and it will be interesting to see if the manager wins out over the front office. I’m rooting for the front office.

2. The return of Jason Isringhausen
Another thing no one saw coming was the signing of Isringhausen, who inked a minor league deal on February 15th. After back-to-back years with elbow surgeries, it seemed like his career was over. But Isringhausen is seemingly back at full strength and has survived pitching on back-to-back days. He’s now the leading contender to be the team’s primary setup man and is hands down the feel-good story of the Spring.

1. The domination by Chris Young
I was not in favor of the Young signing. He had pitched just 96 innings the past two years due to shoulder surgery. Even when he was healthy, Young never topped 179.1 IP in a major league season. His last good year came in 2007 and there were serious questions about his velocity. Yet somehow this Spring, Young leads the team’s starters with a 1.33 ERA in a team-high 20.1 IP. He’s been touched by the gopher ball and still has a sub-par strikeout rate (3.98 K/9) but it’s hard to argue with the results, including six shutout innings this weekend.

Is Bobby Parnell’s roster spot in jeopardy?

This time last year, few expected Bobby Parnell to open the year with Triple-A, figuring he had a bullpen spot locked up. But a poor Spring led to an assignment to Buffalo, where he spent the first two-and-a-half months of the year. Could it be déjà vu all over again for Parnell here in 2011?

Once again, most people have written Parnell’s name onto the major league roster. He figures to be the team’s eighth inning man and primary setup man to Francisco Rodriguez. Plus, with the Mets likely to be careful about the usage of Rodriguez this year, Parnell figured to be the most likely pitcher to benefit, picking up some saves and games finished in lieu of Rodriguez.

Basically, Parnell was in this position almost by default. Yes, he could reach 100 mph on the radar gun but that was seemingly his main claim to the job. Well, that and the fact that there was no one else with closing experience. But now there is.

Jason Isringhausen has come out of nowhere and now has to be viewed as a legitimate threat to not only Parnell and his eighth-inning role, but also his spot on the roster. We know Rodriguez will be on the team. We figure that D.J. Carrasco also has a spot locked up, by virtue of the two-year contract he signed this offseason. It’s a reasonable guess that the Mets will employ both a LOOGY and a long man, meaning that four bullpen spots are locked up.

Taylor Buchholz also signed as a free agent this year with a major league contract. Manny Acosta had a similar ERA and better WHIP last year than Parnell and is out of options. Pedro Beato is a Rule 5 guy and would have to be offered back to Baltimore if he does not make the roster. Throw in Isringhausen and Parnell and it’s now a very crowded bullpen situation.

If Isringhausen is all the way back in his comeback from elbow surgery, he could fill the role of eighth inning man and be the backup closer for Rodriguez. While no one else had closer dust sprinkled on their resume, Isringhausen has 293 lifetime Saves. That could add up to big trouble for Parnell.

Because let’s face it, Parnell is a glorified ROOGY at this point in his career. Last year LHB had a .327/.364/.442 mark against him. It’s great that he can throw so hard and get lots of strikeouts. Those are extremely important for a short reliever. But it’s also important to be able to get out anyone who steps to the plate. Do you really want Parnell facing Ibanez, much less Howard or Utley if the game is on the line in the eighth inning?

If Isringhausen is productive, it seems likely that he will make the team. That makes five bullpen spots locked up for Opening Day. That would leave Parnell in with Acosta, Beato and Buchholz fighting for the last two spots.

So, Parnell cannot repeat his mistake from last year, thinking he has the team made in Spring Training. He has to go out and get results. He gave up four hits and a run in his first outing, which covered two innings. That outing is not horrible, but Parnell needs to improve if he wants to be with the major league club in Florida for Opening Day, rather than waiting a week to open against the Syracuse Chiefs with the Bisons again.

More good news in the Isringhausen comeback

“I love the competition,” Jason Isringhausen said. “There’s a lot of the stuff that goes along with the game I don’t enjoy, all the politics, the business part of it. But I enjoy the 1-on-1 competition with a hitter, and it’s hard for me to find that anywhere else. I’m just trying to compete with these kids, and I’m having fun doing it.”

There is even a chance he will regain his old No. 44 with the Mets. Isringhausen, who is wearing No. 45 in camp, recently was offered his old number by Jason Bay. But Isringhausen isn’t going to jinx it.

“Let’s wait until the last week of spring,” he said. “Then we’ll talk about it.”

Just when we thought the Isringhausen story could not get any better – if he makes the club it could get Bay to change uniform numbers. And we know how important that would be this season.

Source: New York Post

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Isringhausen: Potential Feel Good Story of 2011 or Waste of Time?

There are many who seem to be enamored by the arrival of Jason Isringhausen to the New York Mets spring training facilities. Others have no real opinion. To me, it seems like a page right out of the Omar Minaya handbook. Before you judge, hear me out.

One of the very many things people complained about regarding Minaya was his tendency to bring in older players or players who are injury prone. Seldom were Mets fans given anything to look at towards the future. With the arrivals of David Wright and Jose Reyes, Mets fans had hoped to be getting younger instead of older. The opposite held true with baseball war veterans like Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. It was one thing to have experience on your team. It is another to have players who should have been put out to pasture. Well, at the age of 38, Isringhausen would seem to fit the profile of a player ready to retire. Especially after missing an entire season thanks to TJ surgery.

I am sure that with the serious lack of funds that GM Sandy Alderson was given, he has no choice but to sign a number of pitchers and pray for a lightning in a bottle. This would explain the signings of Chris Young and Chris Capuano who both are coming off injuries. So is Isringhausen. This is why he missed the 2010 season. At his age, how well could he handle a grueling 162-game season after such a surgery even if he is used for three games out of a week?

Are the reports that we are hearing out of camp wonderful to Mets fans? Of course. Who does not like the story of a player drafted by the team, sent away and then brought back home? He also has managed to add in a curveball. Yet, after seeing his numbers as a member of the Mets, one could certainly be hard pressed to see why Mets fans would sincerely be happy. Isringhausen did not find success as a Met with an ERA that went from 2.81 in 1995 to an Oliver Perez-like 7.58 in 1997. His success came with the team he was traded to: the Oakland Athletics where his ERA dropped down to 2.13.

The Mets already have nothing but questions marks already with their pitching. Was it really necessary to bring in one more? Well, it will sell tickets if he leaves camp with the team. There is not a soul alive who does not know how desperate money is needed. Plus, everybody loves a feel good story. Last year that was certainly the case for R.A. Dickey. Maybe we will get that with Isringhausen. Bottom line is no matter what, I think I can speak for every Mets fan when I say I wish him success. Time will tell if he was worth the time.