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Mets overworking bullpen with no relief in sight


AP Photo/Tom Mihalek: Jerry Manuel relieves Johan early against Phils.

The Metsbullpen is projected to make 535 appearances and pitch 563 innings, if my very quick math is correct. Figure that an average season features 1458 innings without including extra innings, and that means that the bullpen is on pace for almost 40% of the Mets’ innings this year. Now, the numbers are inflated due to the insane extra innings game in St. Louis, so let’s remove the 13 innings from that game (game went 20, Santana started and went 7). We still hit a high projection of 485 innings, which is only slightly inflated by the few other extra innings games the Mets have played. That’s 33% of the season’s innings, which means that you can expect the bullpen to come into every game by the seventh inning. Try telling that to work horses like C.C. Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, etc. They wouldn’t need a reliever that early. They usually don’t even break a sweat until the eighth.

Let’s dive right into the personal stats:

Ryota Igarashi: 7 appearances, 6.2 IP, 1.35 ERA (42 appearances, 36 IP projected)
Fernando Nieve: 17, 16.2, 3.78 (102, 96)
Pedro Feliciano: 16, 13, 1.38 (93, 75)
Jenrry Mejia: 13, 13, 1.38 (78, 78)
Hisanori Takahashi: 10, 18.2, 3.38 (58, 104)
Raul Valdes: 10, 12.2, 3.55 (60, 72)
Manny Acosta: 5, 5.1, 6.75 (30, 30)
Francisco Rodriguez: 12, 12.2, .71 (72, 72)

This is becoming an annual argument went discussing the Mets, and it’s surprising that the Mets haven’t done something to address it sooner. The Mets’ bullpen is getting tired, and it’s already starting to show. Fernando Nieve is on pace for nearly 100 innings, and he gave up two homers in Tuesday night’s game. Think he’s not getting fatigued? What about Raul Valdes, who was brought on April 11th and has already appeared in ten of the Mets’ games since then. Keep in mind that the Mets have only played 24 games since that date, and Valdes is supposed to be their second lefty, i.e. the guy who rarely sees any action at all.

Apparently the Mets don’t foresee Pedro Feliciano’s arm ever falling off, as he already holds the Mets’ club record for appearances and now he’s trying to make sure that Nieve doesn’t steal the record out from under him. He’s just slightly behind Nieve’s appearance pace, with 93 projected jog-ins.

Putting it simply, the Mets came into the season fearing that their bullpen would be their biggest weakness. How else do you explain Jenrry Mejia being here rather than developing as a starter in the minors? And now they are leaning on the bullpen like it’s their only life line. It’s time to make some rash adjustments or else the wheels are going to come off real soon.

First solution is obvious. How about pushing the starters more often? Jerry Manuel treats John Maine and Oliver Perez like porcelain figurines, fearing that too much exposure will crack them either physically, mentally, or both. It’s time for them to see the light of the seventh and eight innings, even if it costs the Mets a game here or there. Johan Santana needs to pitch like the ace that he supposedly is and throw some complete games. Easier said than done, but it’s time to take the load from the bullpen and put it on the starters. Otherwise you’re going to see more injuries and that bullpen is going to need a revolving door in the back as well for all of the new guys the Mets are going to need in July and August.

Notice I didn’t mention Jon Niese’s name. There’s a good reason for that. Niese is already on pace to pitch 203 innings this year, which easily eclipses his career numbers, let alone his numbers from last season. Niese’s workload will deserve its own column soon.

Let’s compare the Mets to some other teams now. Remember that 20 inning game the Mets played against the Cards? That same team has only accumulated 65 relief innings on 73 appearances, while the Mets are currently at 95 innings in 90 appearances. We’re already talking a 30-inning difference and it’s barely May. I conveniently chose the Cardinals because they have workhorse starters and get the most out of their starting rotation. What about a team that may have to dig deeper into its bullpen due to less talent in the starting five? The Orioles have 80 relief innings. Yes, that’s right. A team with a 7-21 record has managed to use it’s bullpen less than the Mets. Again, you can completely take away the 20-inning game and the Mets still lose the comparison, 82-80. The Houston Astros, a team that nearly went into May without a win, has only 75 relief innings.

The bottom line is this. Jerry can’t continue this strategy of 5-6 innings from the front line, followed by the cavalry finishing things off. Yet, he seems more than content with that. It’s clear that he doesn’t handle managing a bullpen well. He doesn’t mix his guys up nearly enough, allowing guys like Nieve and Feliciano to throw on not only back-to-back days, but on multiple consecutive days. He exhausted K-Rod in St. Louis to an unbelievable degree, allowing him to get up multiple times in that extra inning affair and throw nearly 100 pitches in warm-ups.

Besides pushing the starters innings-wise, it’s time to remove the titles from the relievers (other than K Rod) and throw whoever is fresh. And it’s time to get the starters to believe that they can get that last batter, rather than allowing them to think that anything more than five innings is gravy and they’ll get a nice pat on the back from skip as they walk off the mound. The Mets will need more than their Protection & Recovery slogan in order to keep their bullpen guys from going down during the dog days of summer if they keep this pace up.

You can also follow me on Twitter (rawdenm).

~Mark Rawden


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