After only one game, many fans and pundits are bearish on the New York Mets‘ bullpen.
After all, the bullpen turned in a disastrous five earned-run performance on Opening Day. Adding injury to insult, the Mets announced that closer Bobby Parnell had a partial tear of his MCL which could lead to season-ending surgery. Combine that with poor performances in Spring Training by key relief pitchers like Vic Black, the reliance on reclamation projects like Jose Valverde and the inability to sign a top free agent relief pitcher like Grant Balfour (he took less money to go to Tampa Bay), and one could see why people are nervous already.
Another contributing factor is history. Many are pointing the finger at general manager Sandy Alderson‘s inability to build a decent bullpen during his tenure with the Mets. They have a point.
As a unit, Mets relief pitchers ranked 28th, 29th and 27th in fWAR in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively. Apart from Parnell, and perhaps LaTroy Hawkins last year, the Mets have been hard pressed to find consistency — at the very least — in the bullpen. Hawkins, who could have reportedly been re-signed on the cheap, bolted for Colorado when Alderson failed to match the Rockies’ offer. Perhaps Alderson didn’t think the 41-year-old had another great year left in him.
While it’s true that many of Alderson’s bullpen personnel decisions haven’t worked out, he’s not the only Mets GM to struggle with relief pitching. His predecessor, Omar Minaya, put together shaky bullpens that included the likes of Luis Ayala, Scot Schoeneweis, Jorge Julio and Guillermo Mota.
After a mediocre 2005, Minaya’s bullpen shined in 2006. They were third in the majors in fWAR. They overcame the loss of their primary setup man, Duaner Sanchez, who was involved in a mid-season taxi accident in Miami. They acquired veterans Roberto Hernandez and Mota, both of whom were effective during the regular season. The playoffs were a different story.
Most people blame the Mets’ exit in the 2006 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals on Carlos Beltran. He struck out looking on a nasty Adam Wainwright hook to end a Mets rally in the bottom of the ninth. In fact, the blame for that series should rest on the bullpen.
Mota, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner blew a 6-4 lead in Game 2. That was a pivotal game: Instead of leading the series two-games-to-none, they were tied at one game apiece. Wagner nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Game 6 by giving up two runs. And in Game 7, Heilman gave up a ninth-inning, go-ahead, two-run homer to Yadier Molina. Since then, it seems, the Mets have been unable to put together a reliable ‘pen.
In 2007 and 2008, the bullpen was a major reason why the Mets blew their first-place leads in the NL East in consecutive Septembers. In 2009, Minaya went overboard and acquired two closers to try to patch up the bullpen. Too bad one of them – JJ Putz – had a bad elbow and barely pitched that year. The other, Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, did a fine job when he wasn’t getting into fights with his father-in-law.
From 2007-10, the Mets’ bullpen ranked no higher than 20th in fWAR. In summary, the Mets’ bullpen has been bad for seven straight years.
Can the 2014 edition defy the odds and break this trend? They can’t be as bad as they were on Opening Day all the time. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be good, either. With Parnell’s absence, the situation looks grim. Then again, the bullpens that have looked good on paper in the past have faltered. Relief pitching is unpredictable — maybe all the dire predictions for this season will prove untrue as well.