Tag: bullpen

2010 Analysis: Manny Acosta

Who would have thought, before the 2010 season began, that Manny Acosta would appear in 41 games for the New York Mets? As some may point out, Acosta is similar to Mariano Rivera in that he’s righthanded and from Panama; unfortunately, that’s where the similarity ends.

The stringbean reliever with the 95-MPH fastball was plucked from Braves on the waiver wire just prior to Opening Day and began the season in AAA Buffalo. He finished the year with a sparkling 2.95 ERA, 42 Ks in 39 IP, and a 1.21 WHIP. Looking at the stat line, it would seem he had a heckuva season; why didn’t it feel that way?

Maybe it had something to do with the 13 (of 31) inherited runners he allowed to score – the 8th-highest total in the NL – a rate of 42%. That’s not a very good percentage; the league average is 31% and the only Met with a higher rate was Raul Valdes (46%). So if it seemed to you like Acosta was routinely giving up big hits with men on base, well, he was. Additionally, the bugaboo throughout his career has been an inability to consistently throw strikes. His walk rate was 4.1 per 9 innings, which, again, is not great – particularly for a reliever.

2011 Projection

I don’t know if or where Acosta fits into the Mets plans for 2011. He’s not the worst reliever and he does light up the radar gun in the 95-96 MPH range. But at age 29, he pretty much is what he is and likely won’t improve much – he appears to be one of those “live arms” who never translate the skill into consistent performance. Since the Mets jacked up his value by letting him appear in 41 ballgames, and he has that shiny ERA and strikeout rate, another team is likely to pick him up if the Mets don’t re-sign him. However, I’d be inclined to offer him a minor-league deal for 2011 and if he refuses, let him walk.


Fantasy Baseball, Pedro Feliciano and Jerry Being Jerry

Photo: NJ.com

It sounds like Pedro Feliciano might be the new setup man for the Mets, at least according to Rotoworld. The fantasy baseball site is basing their information on an article by Andy McCullough in the Newark Star-Ledger.

I can’t find anything in the Star-Ledger article to back this up. Here’s the best I can come up with:

But with Mets manager Jerry Manuel rummaging through the bullpen for an eighth-inning answer, Feliciano has faced more righties than lefties this year. Both Fernando Nieve and Ryota Igarashi flamed out. So Manuel says Feliciano leads the team’s set-up committee alongside 39-year-old journeyman Elmer Dessens.

So will Feliciano retain his niche as the team’s left-handed specialist? Or does the team need him to set the table for closer Francisco Rodriguez?

“I know he wants it,” Rodriguez said. “He wants that job. He’s working so hard to establish himself in the set-up role.”

Feliciano led all of baseball in appearances these past two seasons – 88 in 2009 and 86 in 2008. After a clean eighth inning on Saturday, he notched his 37th appearance and extended his lead for this year’s title.

“There’s a ton of value,” assistant general manager John Ricco said, “for a guy like that – especially the way he can get lefties out – in our division.”

When I read that article, it seems like the Mets haven’t yet found an 8th-inning guy. In other words, it is still bullpen-by-committee. That’s fine, the committee has been working and Feliciano is a big part of that. But let’s not assume the Mets have figured out their bullpen situation for the long term.

Don’t discount RotoWorld because it is a fantasy baseball site. It is usually a great place to find out what’s really going on with injuries, bullpen roles and playing time controversies – they have a way of cutting through the media reports and PR spin from MLB teams. But in this case, I think they’ve fallen victim to Jerry being Jerry. To think the Mets have a hard and fast plan that they can stick to in the 8th inning is a bit presumptuous, until it is demonstrated in game situations, over a period of time.

If we believe every idea floated by Jerry Manuel, then Carlos Beltran will be the DH this weekend…

Read the article yourself and share your conclusions in the comments section.


Braves Sign Takashi Saito

saito-redsoxIn a matter of 48 hours, the Braves have rebuilt their bullpen.

A day after signing Billy Wagner to be their closer, Atlanta wasted no time in locking up a setup man — Takashi Saito.

Saito was signed to a one-year, $3.2M contract. And just like that, the 8th and 9th innings are solved for the Braves.

I know what you’re thinking: a 39-year-old closer and a 40-year-old setup man sounds like a formula for trouble — particularly when both oldsters have suffered elbow issues in the past two years. But Wagner has a new elbow, and Saito cruised through 56 appearances last year — pitching in the AL East, no less.

All told, the Braves spent a total of $10.2M and a one-year commitment to shore up the back of their bullpen with two standout veterans. Compare and contrast that to the Mets’ strategy last winter of tying up K-Rod for 4 years and spending a total of $60M for him and J.J. Putz to finish up games in 2009. Now, which bullpen makeover made better sense?

So, to conclude the activity for the day: the Phillies added a Gold Glover to their infield, the Braves completed the overhaul of their bullpen, and the Mets signed two backup catchers.

The offseason is still young.


Why Back to Back?

Recent news funneling from Flushing and Port St. Lucie is that both Billy Wagner and J.J. Putz are on the mend and could be back in big league uniforms within the next few weeks.

Wagner is ahead of Putz, as he is throwing in actual games. Minor league games in Florida, but games nonetheless. Meanwhile, Putz is tossing bullpen sessions in New York.

One thing noted on MetsBlog was that Wagner would follow a schedule of pitching in a few games a week, and eventually move to a program that includes back-to-back days. It won’t be until he’s proven that he can throw on consecutive days that the Mets will consider adding him to the active 25-man roster.

My question is, why?

First of all, putting relievers into ballgames on back-to-back days is a large part of the reason these former flamethrowers were injured in the first place. The idea that a guy isn’t “ready” until he throw consecutive days is the typical cement-head logic poisoning pitchers throughout pro ball today. Incredibly, the same people who buy into this nonsense also think a starting pitcher can only throw 100 pitches once every five days. Is it me, or is there something screwy here?

Secondly, why would the Mets NEED Billy Wagner to throw on back-to-back days? How about exercising some restraint, and learning a thing or two about PROPER bullpen management? The Mets carry a dozen arms at any given moment, yet Brian Stokes and Tim Redding can go more than a week without getting into a ballgame. And this is termed “management”?

Here’s an idea: bring both Putz and Wags back when they’re capable of throwing 25 pitches in a true “game” situation, experience no pain, and can come back and do the same thing 48 hours later. Then, you use one of them on one day, and the other on another day. Cap each at one full inning. If you’re really lucky, you have yourself a dominant and fresh 8th-inning setup guy every day — what other MLB team can claim that?

This strategy would not put a strain on the bullpen, because a) you’re having one guy instead of two or three get three big outs; and b) you won’t be using 7 relievers every day.

If Jerry Manuel was using those 11th and 12th guys on the pitching staff, maybe I’d look at things differently. But as long as Manuel has to “find innings” for some pitchers to keep them fresh, it shouldn’t be an issue to have two relievers who can’t go back to back.


What’s Wrong with Bobby Parnell

b-parnell-backHe looked lights out for the first two months of the season, and thrilled us with his triple-digit radar gun readings. But lately, Bobby Parnell has been ineffective — what’s wrong?

As is often the case, there is no one clear-cut answer. But I do have a multi-pronged theory.

Bullpen Routine

The most obvious issue is that Bobby Parnell has never been in the bullpen in the pros before, so he’s not used to the reliever’s routine — mentally nor physically. Since joining the Mets organization in 2005, Parnell has been a starting pitcher, throwing in a game once every five days (with a pitch count) and adhering to a strict program in between starts.

Now, he is expected to be ready every day, which is vastly different in regard to both physical and mental preparation. It’s not unlike going from being a marathon runner to a sprinter. Consider this: through the first 67 games of 2009, Parnell has appeared in 36 ballgames. Last year, while jumping from AA to AAA to the MLB, he appeared in 37 games ALL SEASON. In 2007, Parnell pitched in a total of 29 games, all as a starter. It’s safe to suggest that part of Parnell’s problem right now is being unaccustomed to the daily rigors of a big league relief pitcher.

Secondary Pitch

The next issue affecting Parnell’s performance is his lack of a legitimate secondary pitch. His slider has potential, but is inconsistent, cannot be thrown for a strike, and is 10-15 MPH slower than his fastball. The difference in speed is a problem because it gives batters time to realize what’s coming, and they can lay off of it. Further, batters can wait for a fastball and tee off on it, especially after Parnell misses with the slider once or twice in row. It’s pretty easy for a Major Leaguer to hit the ball hard if he knows what’s coming.

Location and Movement

When Bobby Parnell was developing as a starting pitcher, he relied on a sinking fastball thrown to specific locations in the strike zone. I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to guess he used a two-seam grip, which provides the sink and some lateral movement. Generally speaking, a two-seam fastball has more movement, but a little less velocity than a four-seam fastball. I’m going to make another guess, which is that Parnell is hitting the high-90s and 100 MPH using a four-seam grip, which usually offers much less lateral movement and no sink at all (it’s why infielders and outfielders use a four-seam grip — so their throws are accurate and “true” / go in a straight line toward the intended target).

I’m going to go one more step with my theory, and say that Parnell throws his two-seam / sinking fastball to a specific location, but rears back and throws his four-seamer in the general direction of home plate. As a result, the four-seamer has lots of velocity, but is staying too “true” and is too close to the center of the plate. Hitters may have a hard time getting their bat on a 98-100 MPH fastball even if it’s over the heart of the plate, but eventually, an MLBer will catch up to it — and they are. Add in the previous point about the batter knowing what’s coming, and it’s no surprise that Parnell is getting lit up lately.

The Solution

It’s difficult if not impossible to develop a consistent offspeed / breaking pitch at the MLB level — just ask Mike Pelfrey, who has been developing secondary pitches “on the job” for the past three years. So although one solution is for Parnell to “learn another pitch”, that’s easier said than done.

The second possibility is for Parnell to go back to using his two-seamer more often, to set up the triple-digit heater. But here’s the problem: one of the reasons Parnell was not progressing quickly enough as a starter was his inability to spot his fastball consistently. He is throwing the two-seamer/sinker on occasion here in the bigs, but it “runs” (moves laterally) a bit too much, veering out of the strike zone. Additionally, it’s “only” about 91-93 MPH, so if it doesn’t sink or run, it’s really easy to hit.

Bottom line is this: Bobby Parnell is, right now, a AA starter who needs more time to develop command of his fastball and an offspeed pitch. But, because the Mets were so excited at his velocity, they rushed him to the big league bullpen. After a bit of success, there are now much bigger expectations of him as a future setup man and possibly a closer.

One may wonder why the Mets were so eager to put Parnell’s electric arm in the bullpen, when they already had Brian Stokes. Stokes also throws a straight 96-97 MPH fastball, but he can mix in three secondary pitches (they’re mediocre at best, but they’re better than what Parnell has in his limited repertoire). Could it be part of the organization’s initiative to prove everyone wrong who criticized their farm system? Did they throw Parnell into the fire before he was ready simply to prove their player development is better than what the scouting reports state? A similar move to anointing Dan Murphy the everyday left fielder on the second day of spring training? We can only wonder.

Whatever the case, the point is, the Bobby Parnell experiment should be put on hold. The kid needs to go down to AAA or AA and hone his craft. When he develops either better location of his fastballs, or a legit secondary pitch, he’ll undoubtedly be a lights-out reliever again, with a bright future. Otherwise, expect more of what you’ve seen the past two weeks, while Parnell learns on the job.

(Hat tip to loyal MetsToday reader “sincekindergarten” who wrote an email to me inspiring this post)


Mets Desperate for a LOOGY

Over the winter, the Mets succeeded in overhauling their bullpen. Whether the change of faces will make a difference remains to be seen, but nearly every reliever on the team this time last year has been replaced.

Every one, that is, except for Pedro Feliciano, the Mets’ lone lefty.

Once piece missing from the overhaul, though, was the acquisition of a second lefty, or Lefthanded One Out Guy (LOOGY), to help out Feliciano. An extra lefty is especially necessary in the NL East, where the Braves and Phillies both send up dangerous lefthanded hitters.

Thus far, the Mets have auditioned Jon Switzer, Ron Villone, Casey Fossum, Valerio De Los Santos, Heriberto Rueles, and Tom Martin. Today they begin the tryout of 40-year-old Japanese hurler Ken Takahashi — presumably as a test for the upcoming weekend series against the lefty-heavy Phils. The Mets are desperate to find a somewhat reliable lefthanded option to team with their incumbent LOOGY.

But there’s a small problem: Pedro Feliciano is a shaky option himself.

Over his career, Feliciano has done a good job of retiring the Phillies’ top LH hitters — Ryan Howard has a .190 AVG against him and Chase Utley has hit .174. Feliciano has also done fairly well against switch-hitters Shane Victorino (.071) and Jimmy Rollins (.278). But, the rest of the current Phillies who have faced him before are hitting .500.

That’s not a huge deal, though, since there are a lot of “1-for-2s” there. A larger sample size may change those numbers drastically for the better.

What IS a huge deal is that the 2008 Phillies team hit .370 (10-for-33) against Feliciano, with a 1.040 OPS. Also alarming is the fact that in 2008, the first batter facing Feliciano hit .311 with a .400 OBP. That’s not good news for someone who often comes into a game with runners on base.

Unfortunately, things don’t get better for Feliciano when he starts an inning. Leadoff hitters were 13-for-33 (.333) with a .395 OBP and a .959 OPS.

Thus far this year, Feliciano is doing pretty well, with 10 Ks in 7 innings, and holding opposing batters to a .222 batting average (lefties: .176, righties: .300). He had a similarly strong start last year, posting a 0.97 ERA and 9 Ks in 9 IP in April. After that, though, his performance was inconsistent.

So while some believe the Mets need a secondary lefty for the bullpen, the reality may be that they need a primary lefty.