The Unknown Commodity: Bullpen Arms

An article by posted on December 4, 2012

It seems like year after year the Mets are looking at upgrading their bullpen. Whether it’s Sean Green, Elmer Dessens, Francisco Rodriguez, Scott Schoeneweis, Billy Wagner, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Jason Isringhausen, or even D.J. Carrasco.

It never seems like the Mets have figured out what makes for a great bullpen year after year. Sure you can develop arms like Atlanta, but that’s probably even harder to do. Maybe it’s not so much an organizational flaw, maybe it’s that nobody has truly figured it out yet?

What worries me about relievers is despite what people think – they are so unpredictable.

If I told you the Mets could get a reliever who last year had a 2.62 ERA in 68IP with 66K and 26BB with 1.16 WHIP while 10 out of 39 inherited runners scored.

You’d probably say “sign me up!”

Then I call him Ramon Ramirez 2011 and he’s run out of town because he struggled in 2012 and used as an example why our current front office is incompetent.

Yet here we are looking for bullpen help again.

The toughest thing to find in MLB is a good and consistent bullpen. The GM that figures it out will make a lot of money one day

To give you an example:

The Orioles and A’s both had remarkable seasons. Nobody here can deny that. They both had incredible bullpens in 2012.

But just look at Baltimore for a second.

Baltimore scored 7 runs more than they gave up but managed to win 93 Games in the AL. Of the other playoff teams, the smallest run differential was Detroit who scored 56 more runs than they gave up. Detroit won 5 games LESS than Baltimore.

They went 29-9 in 1 run games. Think about that for a second. They won 76% of their 1 run games! The next best in the American League was 66%. The difference between the Orioles 76% and the 2nd best at 66% is a 3 way-wildcard tie with the LA Angels with the Texas Rangers waiting for an opponent in another 1 game playoff.

Baltimore had a Top 5 bullpen in 2012, and finished 27th in bullpen the year prior.

The re-emergence of Darren O’Day who in 2011 appeared in just 16 big league games with a 5.40 ERA and 7 HR’s allowed comes back in 2012 and pitched 67 innings with a 2.28 ERA and allows 6 HRs. O’Day was selected off waivers last November after spending 17 games in AAA due to his struggles in the big leagues.

Pedro Strop who at 26 years old had appeared in 45 games since 2009 with a 5.22 ERA in 39 innings turns into a reliever with 70 appearances and a 2.44 ERA.

Troy Patton who was a Top 10 prospect for the Orioles struggles in 2009 with a 6.45 ERA in 9 AAA starts, then follows it up in 2010 with a 4.43 ERA in 25 AAA starts. Then in 2011 he gets moved to the bullpen in AAA, turns out a 1.83 ERA which leads to 54 MLB appearances and a 2.43 ERA.

Then you add Jim Johnson who in 90 games from 2009-2010 had a 3.92 ERA in 96IP with 105 Hits allowed and a 1.38 WHIP. Now in 2012 he appears in 71 Games with a 2.49 ERA, 51 Saves, and a 1.01 WHIP.

Then at age 34, Luis Ayala who we all remember is signed and appears in 66 games with a 2.64 ERA.

So as I read reports of the Mets interested in this guy or that guy – I take it with a grain of salt for now because I do not think anybody can explain to me why suddenly the Orioles bullpen clicked.

Is it Bill Castro who took over their bullpen coaching duties? Perhaps it’s Rick Adair who went from bullpen coach to pitching coach after Mark Conner resigned in June 2011? There could be a hundred different hypotheses on the subject.

To me, I think a player like Ramon Ramirez could have been a success here just as easily as he failed. Prior to 2012 if you were to evaluate Ramirez you’d say over the last 4 years he pitched in 276 games with a 1.21 WHIP and a 2.77 ERA and of the 169 runners he inherited, 38 scored (23%). If your team needs bullpen help – you’d love to add those numbers to your roster.

It has nothing to do with who signed whom, or sabermetrics versus traditional. To debunk that theory, just look at Baltimore and Oakland. It has everything to do with the unpredictability of building a bullpen.

If prior to the 2011 season, the Mets signed Luis Ayala who spent the entire 2010 season with 3 different AAA squads to the tune of a 6.42 ERA, whoever the GM was at the time would have been publicly bashed. Then in 2011 for the Yankees, Ayala appears in 52 games with a 2.09 ERA. Go figure.

The problem with acquiring any type of bullpen arm outside of a closer is that you never truly know what you’re going to get.

I know there are some stats to determine luck versus skill, but the truth is you just never know. The best a General Manager of any team can do is acquire the best talent he can find and hope for the best. If the Mets were to acquire a pitcher like Vinnie Pestano, they are acquiring a 2.45 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP in 137 big league games. If he fails then what?

The Orioles this year are in a unique spot. Their starting staff was in the bottom 10 in the sport. Their offense was 15th in baseball, but their bullpen caught lightning in a bottle. If I was a fan of the Orioles, I’d be very cautious heading into 2013 because a great bullpen arm can turn into an average arm in an instant.

The Mets have possibly 3 or more bullpen slots to fill before Opening Day. What they acquire on paper could be drastically different than what we see on the field.

If you have any doubts about the unpredictability of bullpen arms, simply look no further than 33 Games, 29IP with 24K and a 1.24 WHIP with a 2.12 ERA. I give you, Oliver Perez.

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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