Is the Bullpen Overused?

A recent article on the SNY website suggests that the Mets could already be burning out their bullpen.

A novel thought … and something I suggested on several occasions last year.

Is it possible that the Mets’ bullpen woes last year were not solely due to the personnel, as every pundit other than yours truly assumed? Is it, in fact, possible, that some of the responsibility could be placed on the shoulders of Jerry Manuel?

For those interested, the first edition of Bullpen Blueprint is now available for download. It may help you understand why the Mets came up short for two consecutive seasons. Download it here (it’s free!).

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude April 23, 2009 at 4:19 pm
    There’s no doubt the major flaw with last year’s bullpen, and the year before that, was overusage and not lack of talent. Granted, Heilman stunk from the get-go in ’08, and Sanchez was at less than 100% because of surgery, and Wagner was dealing with elbow woes, but their individual problems were compounded by Willie & Jerry constantly marching them to the mound too frequently, and too frequently in the wrong situations.

    However, I believe the finger of blame should not solely be pointed at the managers for going to the pen too often. After all, what decision do they have if 3/5’s of the starting rotation, year in and year out, is comprised of starters who routinely unravel and max out in the middle innings? In 2007, Ollie led the staff by averaging just over 6 innings per start. That means on a nightly basis Willie was turning to his bullpen for at least 3 innings per game. Last year, both Johan and Pelfrey were over 6 innings per start, but Ollie, Maine, and Pedro all averaged 5.2 innings or less. And this year things are bound to be worse, as Maine is coming off surgery, Ollie was retained, Pelfrey’s dealing with pain, and the 5th spot is a crap shoot. The biggest thing the bullpen needed for 2009 wasn’t necesarily a closer for the 8th and 9th inning each, although that’s nice too. The bullpen needed a rotation that could pitch longer into games. Yet, Omar’s attempt at shoring up the rotation was to bring back the human coinflip, Perez, and go with a triumverate of Redding, Livan, and Garcia at the #5, all of whom averaged less than 6 innings per start last year as well. Giving a guarenteed contract to Redding and his less than 5.2 per start average is just the worst. I realize we’re talking about the #5 spot, but the issue is important because guys #2-#4 are really no better in terms of length and consistency. That’s why I thought it was imperative for the Mets to obtain Lowe or Vazquez this winter, who were both around 6.1 innings per start last year. Even Garland was over 6 and he would have been a help. But Omar played patsy with the roster this offseason, and decided to concentrate only on fixing the bullpen and ignored the rotation. And that is why I place most of the blame on a burned out bullpen on Omar and not Jerry or Willie. Omar could have added 7 allstars to the bullpen – but if the rotation routinely puts the team in the hole early and can’t get out of the 5th, the Mets are still no better than they were before.

  2. joe April 23, 2009 at 10:54 pm
    The fact that Mets starting pitchers do not go deep in games is indeed a factor. However, there is nothing particularly unusual about the Mets’ starters compared to others in MLB — in fact they’re pretty much middle of the road.

    Where the Mets differed from other teams, both in the past two years and this year so far, is in the use of long men (or, lack thereof). For example, the Dodgers last year had starters who were similarly challenged when it came to length, but Joe Torre judiciously used Chan Ho Park and Hong Chih Kuo for multiple inning stints. Charlie Manuel of the Phillies did the same with Chad Durbin; the Twins used Boof Bonser; the Rays had JP Howell as a long man for the first half, then later used Jason Hammel.

    I absolutely agree, though, that the Mets’ bullpen efficiency would have been higher had their starters gone through the sixth inning more regularly, and I also agree with your choices of Lowe, Vazquez, and/or Garland.

    Unfortunately, the Mets are who they are, and decent innings-eaters are hard to come by. Assuming they can’t acquire a guy who can go deep into games, they’ll have to figure out how to make do with what they have, and I still think using a long man is part of the solution. Jerry Manuel has Stokes, Parnell, and now Fossum who are all stretched out, yet he refuses to allow any of them to pitch multiple innings. You can’t manage every single game like it’s the 7th game of the World Series.

  3. isuzudude April 24, 2009 at 9:32 am
    “You can’t manage every single game like it’s the 7th game of the World Series.”

    Agree 100%…however, that mentality might have cost the Mets the game yesterday, as Sean Green was left out in the sun too long and gave up 5 runs in 2 innings, essentially the difference in the ballgame when you see that the Mets wound up scoring 8 runs and the Cardinals only had 7 when Green was brought into the game. But Green is not a longman, he’s a ROOGY, so this one’s on Jerry for trying to stretch the wrong guy. Still, I’m very much in your boat, and think in blowout games and mopup situations, Jerry should be inclined to stick with a longman on the mound for 2-3 innings at a time, sparing the rest of the bullpen from unnecessary usage. And now with Stokes and Fossum on the roster, there is no excuse not to do so.

    While on the subject, is it any wonder why the Cardinals were the only team in baseball last year with more blown saves than the Mets? If LaRusa isn’t using 5 relievers in every game someone might think he fell asleep in the dugout. With a 4-run lead with 2 outs in the 9th inning, there is no need to play matchup, yet LaRusa insisted on pacing a hole through the infield grass. If that bullpen isn’t burned out by July then I’d say there’s some serious PEDs floating around in the St Louis water supply.

  4. joe April 24, 2009 at 10:12 am
    Great point on Green, ‘dude. With Fossum, Stokes, and Parnell all presumably stretched out, and needing work, why was the situational / 7th inning guy the one to go long? Who is the 7th inning guy tonight, if by chance Johan can’t go that far?