Symptom Treated – But Now What’s the Cure?
Unsurprisingly, Manny Acosta has been designated for assignment, which means he can’t pour gasoline on fires in Flushing for at least a week. There is a possibility, however, that he brings his Fahrenheit 451-style fireman skills to Buffalo. But let’s not think about that for now.
Yes, we’ve been screaming for Acosta’s removal since late April (some wondered how he made it to spring training in the first place), but now that the symptom has been treated, the Mets have to find a cure for the actual sickness.
When you segment a modern Major League Baseball game by pitching roles, you start with the starter and end with the closer. Before the closer is the setup man, or men — in the Mets’ case, it can be argued that Bobby Parnell, Jon Rauch, and Tim Byrdak combine to fill the role of three-headed setup man to closer Frank Francisco.
Unfortunately, it’s rare for today’s MLB starters to go a full 7 innings before handing the ball over to the setup man/men. It is this murky area between the starters and setup men where most ballgames go awry — mainly because a team’s worst pitchers are often asked to retire the opposition’s best hitters in highly stressful situations.
This is nothing new, of course; it’s been this way for at least a decade or two — ever since closers went from being two- to three-inning “firemen” to one-inning specialists.
As much as we hated the idea of seeing Manny Acosta come into a bases-loaded situation in the sixth or seventh inning of a ballgame, the problem was that he often was Terry Collins‘ best option at the time. Sure, Ramon Ramirez might in theory have been a more welcome sight for sore eyes, but a) he has frequently been used for multiple innings; and b) he hasn’t exactly been lights-out himself. Of his 21 games pitched this year, Ramirez has tossed more than one inning 9 times. Additionally, he’s pitched with no rest 3 times and with one day’s rest 7 times. Due to these factors, Ramirez has needed more rest in between appearances than the average reliever.
And now we come to the sickness, which can be diagnosed in one of two ways. Either the bullpen has been poorly constructed, or it’s being mismanaged. Or, maybe it’s a combination of the two.
The crux of the matter is the aforementioned three-headed setup monster. It seems that whenever the game is tied or within a run in the late innings — and this seems to be the case nearly every Mets game — the Parnell – Rauch – Byrdak trio is used in one-by-one matchup situations; i.e., righty vs. righty and lefty vs. lefty. Byrdak is the only one of the three consistently retiring hitters; he’s been so effective, in fact, a pessimist might think, “how long can this last?” Meanwhile, Rauch has been largely ineffective and Parnell has been wildly inconsistent — both in approach and performance.
When you need three men to get 3-5 outs, and your starter is only going 5-6 innings, there’s a gap in between where outs need to be had. On days that it can’t be Ramirez, who is it? Acosta couldn’t handle the job, and nor could D.J. Carrasco. Both are now gone, replaced in the interim by NJ native Jack Egbert and now Chris Schwinden. The jury is out on Egbert, who after a pro career as a middling starter may or may not be able to cut it as a relief man. As for Schwinden, we’ve seen enough of him to know his stuff isn’t enough to overpower MLB hitters, even in brief exposures.
So now that the symptom has been treated, and we have an idea on the root of the illness, what is the cure? Should Byrdak and Rauch be used as more than “one-out guys”? Can they be used as “crossover” pitchers (gosh, I hate that term)? Should the starters be pushed to get a few more outs? Should Frank Francisco be used for four-out saves? Or maybe he should be brought in to those “high leverage” situations that occur earlier than the ninth? Does Sandy Alderson need to go out and find another arm from outside the organization? If so, who’s available? Is there someone in-house who may be up to the task (Egbert? Chuck James? Elvin Ramirez?)?
Post your diagnosis and prescription for cure in the comments.
The other part of the solution is getting rid of the guys who can’t pitch in the major leagues. Pedro Beato and Jenrry Mejia should soon be ready, and there are other in-house options to audition until they hit upon a combination that works.
Still, the pain is spread around. The Mets not too long ago was winning game after game off the relief corps and the Phils winning games by beating relief pitching was standard business. There is just so much talent out there, so yeah, it is going to be hard for average teams to have good back-end relievers.