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Panic In The Streets, Bullpen Edition

Posted By Howard Megdal On April 12, 2011 @ 10:19 am In Player moves,Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled

Through ten games, the Mets are 4-6, and the culprit in last night’s 7-6 loss was once again the pitching. Specifically, the bullpen ruined an otherwise beautiful night at Citi Field. And the conventional wisdom seems to be that Sandy Alderson and company won’t hesitate to make more moves, given that Blaine Boyer was show the door after a poor outing on Sunday. [1]

I’m not so convinced. On the one hand, reliever performance can fluctuate greatly. But on the other hand, most of the pitchers the Mets have in that bullpen right now are there based on track record that should have far more to do with evaluating the team’s roster than a few outings in April. This isn’t just small sample size: it is almost impossible to create a smaller sample size.

But let’s put it a different way: who do you replace? Francisco Rodriguez hasn’t been part of the problem, though he did blow a save in one of the team’s four victories. Either way, he’s been a strong reliever for years, and shouldn’t go anywhere (at least, for performance reasons). Bobby Parnell struggled again last night, but even with his early problems, he is missing bats- seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.  Is Manny Acosta really a better option right now than Parnell? Hard to see it.

This article is critical [2] of Tim Byrdak for, it appears, allowing some lefties to get hits. But Byrdak has struck out five of the 11 lefties he’s faced, limited lefties to a .644 OPS  last season and .682 for his career. Are three hits- three hits!- really enough to make Sandy Alderson jettison Byrdak? Hard to see it.

Who else is there to scapegoat? D.J. Carrasco had one bad outing on Sunday, helped along by a pair of outfield misplays by Lucas Duda and Angel Pagan. He’s also signed to a two-year deal, so he isn’t going anywhere (nor should he). Taylor Buchholz has struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings so far, with a 1.59 ERA. Should one outing Sunday, where he walked three, lead the Mets to cut bait on him? One outing?

As for the two pitchers added following Sunday’s games, Jason Isringhausen was spotless in his debut, while Ryota Igarashi displayed little command and should be sent back to Triple-A when Jason Bay is activated, anyway.

The real numbers to watch in the bullpen are two-fold. The relievers have combined to allow a batting average on balls in play of .375. In other words, this group has been both underachieving compared to expected performances, and has also been unlucky. In addition, the starters have averaged just a shade over five innings per start so far, which actually understates how hard the bullpen has worked. The two starts in which the Mets received seven innings from starters- April 2 from Jon Niese against Florida, and Sunday from Chris Young against Washington- are also the team’s two extra inning games. So the bullpen has worked hard even when the starters have excelled.

All this is a long way of saying that a large number of factors that have nothing to do with a need for roster change are responsible for the team’s early bullpen struggles. And if the struggles continue at this rate a month from now, it is a good bet that the problem still won’t reside in the bullpen- it will be the fault of an underachieving starting rotation. Moreover, I suspect Sandy Alderson knows this. That alone should calm a fan base unused to an analytical front office.

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[2] This article is critical: http://risingapple.com/2011/04/12/when-will-tim-byrdak-start-getting-lefties-out/

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