After last year’s debacle, there’s a lot of concern about the 2013 bullpen. It seem like the Mets have signed 20 relievers with an NRI, hoping to get lucky with one or two of them. Since relievers are so volatile from year to year, this approach has at least as much chance of success as did last year’s attempt to field a good pen by throwing lots of money at “proven veterans.”

However, one thing not mentioned too often is how the success of the bullpen is tied to the success of the starting pitchers. Three of the five pitchers who the Mets hoped would make the bulk of their starts in 2012 wound up on the disabled list. Given that information, it’s not a huge surprise that the bullpen was poor last year.

If you have your doubts about the interdependency of the two groups, consider this: In the last five years, Mets SP who made 25 starts or more were about half as likely to have a bullpen-crushing start as were pitchers who made fewer than 25 starts. In this case, a bullpen-crushing start is defined as one in which the starter did not go far enough to qualify for the win.

Since 2008, the Mets have received 25 starts or more by a pitcher 17 times. That group has combined to make 511 starts and only 58 times have they failed to complete five innings. That averages out to an 11.4% bullpen-crushing start ratio.

In that same time frame, the Mets have had 299 starts made by pitchers who finished the year with fewer than 25 starts. That group has failed to complete five innings in a game 68 times, or 22.7% of the time.

In 2012, only R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese made at least 25 starts for the Mets. Those two combined for 63 starts and only three were of the bullpen-crushing variety. In the remaining 99 starts, 21 ended up being bullpen-crushers. Take away Matt Harvey and the remaining non-25 start guys ended up with 21 bullpen-crushers in 89 starts or 23.6% of the time.


Because of the injury problems that hit the expected starting rotation, the Mets’ bullpen was being asked to do too much on a regular basis. Only outstanding efforts from Dickey and Niese prevented it from being a complete disaster. How good were their efforts? Here’s a chart of the pitchers to post 25 or more starts since 2008 for the Mets and their bullpen-crushing outings.

Year Pitcher GS BC BC%
2012 Dickey 33 1 3
2012 Niese 30 2 6.7
2011 Mike Pelfrey 33 7 21.2
2011 Dickey 32 2 6.3
2011 Chris Capuano 31 2 6.5
2011 Dillon Gee 27 4 14.8
2011 Niese 26 3 11.5
2010 Pelfrey 33 7 21.2
2010 Niese 30 7 23.3
2010 Johan Santana 29 1 3.4
2010 Dickey 26 1 3.8
2009 Pelfrey 31 4 12.9
2009 Santana 25 1 4
2008 Santana 34 1 2.9
2008 Oliver Perez 34 5 14.7
2008 Pelfrey 32 4 12.5
2008 John Maine 25 6 24

Dickey was simply amazing in this regard. In his three years with the Mets he made 91 starts and failed to complete five innings just four times. He will be missed.

Hopefully, the Mets can get 25+ starts out of Gee, Harvey, Niese and Santana. While individually none of these pitchers are likely to make up for Dickey, hopefully as a group they can outperform what the Mets got from their starters a year ago. While Dickey was fantastic, Miguel Batista, Collin McHugh, Santana, Chris Schwinden and Chris Young combined for 16 bullpen-crushers in 52 starts, a 30.8% ratio.

In 2012 and 2009, the Mets got 25 or more starts from just two pitchers in both years. Their combined bullpen ERA in those years was 4.25. In 2011 and 2010, the Mets got 25 or more starts from nine pitchers and the combined bullpen ERA was 3.96, even with Terry Collins managing the bullpen into the ground in 2011.

You might notice that we went back to 2008 originally yet the last paragraph excluded that year. In 2008, the bullpen posted a 4.27 ERA despite having four pitchers make 25 or more starts. You might recall that was the year the Mets failed to make the playoffs because the bullpen was so putrid. Sometimes it really is the bullpen’s fault.

6 comments on “Mets hope healthy starters can aid questionable bullpen

  • TJ

    Excellent article, very valid point often overlooked. I am not one of the mindset to look past 2013. I want wins this year, and I am hoping that a healthy starting 5 can in in of itself improve the pen. I still think there is no reason not to sign a proven closer still out therre – Wilson or Valverde. I am all for Parnell getting a shot, but let him prove himself in the 8th for a full season, or outpitch an MLB closer with a track record. One of these guys should be available at a team friendly rate in a move that will not compromise the future in any way while increasing the win probability in 2013.

  • Chris F

    I think the point of your article is critical, and one in which I used for some time to advocate for RAs retention so as not to (1) put too much on the pen and (2) put too much expectation on young arms with a desire to achieve. I completely agree, the best way to limit the pen problem is with a great rotation.

    However, I may be missing something. Surely the reason a pitcher doesnt get 25 starts is because they cant go 5 innings, whether it be by injury or by being lousy. In the case of the latter, take Schwinden (or any of the others) for example, if he were permitted 25 starts, he would not get any better, but the stats on pen crushers would worsen…he is not permitted 25 because, well, he’s basically terrible. It strikes me that the reason someone gets 25+ starts is because he is a good pitcher.

    • Brian Joura

      At the start of the year, the only “young arm” the Mets have slated for their rotation is Matt Harvey and he was going to be there if Dickey was traded or not.

  • Metsense

    I always believed that the much ignored quality start % was very important. The weakest pitchers on the team are the middle relievers. The longer the starter goes the less the middle relievers have to pitch. This is another interesting way to look at it . The research was enlightening and the article a pleasure. Thanks.

  • Rob Rogan

    Very interesting. I don’t know, I mean I understand that the further a starter goes into a game the LESS you have to use your bullpen. That is generally a good thing, since your starters should obviously be your best pitchers.

    But is the fact that they have to work more equate to “crushing” the bullpen, leading them to under-perform? Or is it that the more the bullpen is exposed the more apparent it is that it’s terrible?

    I have forgotten what it’s like to have a good bullpen.

    • Brian Joura

      The Mets got 7 complete games last year – 5 by Dickey and 2 by Santana. Basically, the bullpen is going to be used every day.

      Add to that that Collins isn’t going to use his closer unless he has the lead in a save situation in the ninth and you’re down to six pitchers. Then throw in he’s got his LOOGY that he’s only going to use for a batter or two and you’re down to five pitchers. He rarely used Rauch for more than 1 IP and generally liked to spread the innings and appearances around for his other pitchers, at least those who weren’t in the doghouse.

      So, when Santana goes 1.1 IP and Dickey follows up the next day with 4.1 IP like they did 4/17 and 4/18 in ATL — that puts a giant strain on the bullpen.

      Every pitcher is going to do better in limited stretches. But when your SP make the bullpen throw 4+ IP on a semi-regular basis, it’s inviting disaster, whether you have the best bullpen in the majors or the worst.

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