Considering that the Mets spent nearly all of their meager offseason budget on the bullpen, it would be nice if I could rank them higher than fifth place in this category. Unfortunately, with the caveat that small sample sizes make it really hard to know what to expect from relief pitchers, the rest of the division looks stronger in relief, though the additions of Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch should make that gap smaller. Here’s how I see them:
1. Miami Marlins: Heath Bell isn’t as good as he looked thanks to San Diego’s home park dimensions, but he is better than Frank Francisco- and that’s no slight to Francisco, who should be a perfectly good closer for the Mets. Edward Mujica had one of my favorite statlines in recent years in 2010- in 69 2/3 innings, he had 72 strikeouts and six walks. Six! In 2011, that walk number ballooned all the way to 14. But he’s still good. Steve Cishek is another reliever who fans guys and has great command, Ryan Webb is a useful arm, Mike Dunn is a scary lefty-killer. This is a really strong pen.
2. Washington Nationals: Here’s the crazy part- Drew Storen, their solid closer, is starting the year on the disabled list, and they’re still fine at the back end of games, between Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge. Storen is expected back in mid-April, and he’ll be joined by Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, and even Tom Gorzelanny in long relief. Think Gorzelanny wouldn’t be in the Mets’ rotation?
3. Atlanta Braves: The two-headed monster of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters has two strikes on you already. In all seriousness, did you know Kimbrel fanned 127 in 77 innings last year? 127? It thins out a little after Eric O’Flaherty (from SCTV, I believe) and Kris Medlen, with Cristhian Martinez’s DUI doing him no favors, but the top end of this pen is astounding.
4. Philadelphia Phillies: I’m actually not a huge fan of this pen beyond Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Qualls. But I like Qualls, love Bastardo, and Papelbon reversed his downward trend in Boston in 2011, so I’m thinking he’ll be terrific for the Phillies. They’ll probably find some other middle relief arms, but look at that rotation: how many times are they going to need someone to pitch the sixth inning?
5. New York Mets: Frank Francisco, assuming he is really healthy, should be just fine closing. I like Ramon Ramirez, even though he has struggled this spring. And I may be the last believer in Bobby Parnell, while Tim Byrdak is a fine lefty specialist. But these are the guys up top, and I don’t see them as equal to the top 3-4 arms out of the bullpen elsewhere in the division. Meanwhile, the back end is somewhat suspect, with Rauch profiling as a pitcher with middling peripherals, Manny Acosta having had a half-season of success, and little backup in the event some of these guys get injured/blow up.
The pen should be fine. Probably not fine enough, though.