Thursday, July 31, 2008
Mets bullpen woes
So the MLB trade deadline has come and gone and the Mets did a whole lot of nothing. I must preface this post by saying that I desperately wanted Minaya to bolster the bullpen, and was hoping that he would prioritize that over adding a corner outfielder. Corner outfield can be addressed through waivers, while it is rare that anything more than below average middle relievers become available. That being said, I am extremely dissapointed that we were unable to make a move to improve our middle relief. I do have faith in Minaya as a shrewd and creative GM around the deadline and when he says nothing came up that made sense for us, I believe him. Regardless, I believe that BY FAR the most glaring problem with the Mets is that they have one reliable reliever (Wags) who only gets to pitch if other bad relievers (everyone else) don't implode.
I have been very, very happy with Jerry Manuel, as a whole. I think that the firing of Randolph, although done callously and without class, was absolutely necessary. Manuel gets gangster, handles the media phenomenally, and seems to have loosened up the clubhouse. However, I am starting to become infuriated with how he has been managing our bullpen. Granted, pretty much all of his options before the 9th inning suck, but I believe the way he has dealt with the bullpen has not improved the Mets chances to win games. The Mets, as a club, are not on the same level as the Cubs, Brewers, or Diamondbacks (and maybe LAD? Hello Mandong...Dodgers post coming soon). They are, however, on the same level as the Phillies and Marlins, and as such, I do believe the Mets can win the East. But in terms of a postseason run, I really think that this club will go only as far as their bullpen takes them.
Pedro Feliciano: By far our best lefty reliever in both '06 and '07, this year has not been so kind to Feliciano. After eras of 2.09 and 3.09 in 06 and 07, respectively, Feliciano has an era of 4.03 with a startling 1.50 whip. His K:BB ratio is, however, right around where it was his previous two years, and its the increased hits he's giving up that has inflated his whip. The one thing that has been causing Feliciano so much trouble this season is getting out right handed hitters, something he had no difficulty doing his last two seasons. Righties are hitting .338 off of him this year even though his last two years they hit just .221 and .266. He is still doing a fine job against lefties, and given his peripherals and body of work, I wish the Mets would let him try and pitch through this. Instead, they have been limiting Feliciano as the situational lefty while giving Schoeneweis an expanded role. Schoeneweis has been pitching very well this season, but he has also been just as suseptiblet to righties as Feliciano. And he also has been overall a significantly worse left handed arm out of our pen when compared to Pedro. I still have faith in Feliciano, and I would love to see him get the nod over Schoeneweis to start some innings and spread around the work. Feliciano's era jumped from 2.80 to 4.20 after two horrible back to back outings on July 19 and 22. This entire month of July, in all of his appearences he has pitched a complete inning just one time. I don't understand why Manuel has stopped giving him work in innings that count as he has been for the past two years our most reliable reliever not named Wagner. Take away those two outings and youre looking at a sub-3 era from Feliciano. He has been pretty solid all year, but has unfortunately been given a diminished role coming out of the pen. Given the way things have been going lately, I hope Manuel starts giving him a greater role.
Aaron Heilman: I have been extremely critical of Heilman since his fist full season in the bullpen in 2006. I hate his demenor on the mound, I hate how he purses his lips together making his face look like a tightly puckered asshole, and I HATE how the way he shakes his arm and is constantly twitching while on the hill. He just always looks so uncomfortable out there. Aside from his mannerisms and face, I have also hated watching him blow lead after lead and prove to be completely incapable of taking control of 8th inning duties. Last season Heilman finished the season with a 3.03 era but his record was 7-7. With a 3.03 era, he should not have accrued 7 losses over the course of the season. And with Duaner lost for the season last year, every time Randolph sent out Heilman for the 8th to get to Wags, it was just a roller coaster. This year, he has a 4.60 era. Ugh. But, I really, really, really am starting to come around on him as of late. I have- for the first time ever, mind you -been upset when Heilman isn't used in close games in the 6th or 7th innings. There is one, and only one, reason why for this change of heart; his slider. Prior to this past month, he has been a strictly fastball-changeup pitcher. Both are exceptional pitches with tremendous movement, but if the hitter guesses right, we're looking at a ding dong ladies and gentleman. He has FINALLY added that third pitch to his arsenal, the slider, and has begun throwing it with confidence. It is allowing him to keep hitters off balance, even though it is by no means a plus pitch yet, it has good enough movement that if he makes a mistake with it, it will seldom end up in the bleachers. Now that he has added the slider, it makes his fastball and changeup, both plus pitches, sooo much more effective. While I by no means want to thrust him into the 8th inning role -he has collapsed far too many times in the past in that spot- I would like to see Manuel use him more to START the 6th or 7th innings. Heilman is best used to throw 1 complete inning at a time. He is not great at stranding runners as he is more apt to induce fly balls than grounders. Manuel needs to stop bringing Heilman in with men on as a situational righty and use him to pitch full innings.
Carlos Muniz: Muniz has been moving up and down from the minors to the bigs pretty much all season long. He has made an appearence for us in every month of the season, but July has been his first full month with the club. In 10 July innings pitched he has given up 5 earned runs. Manuel has been turning to him really only when our starter gets knocked out early. Even though Muniz has sucked a bit, he has showed flashes here and there. Despite pretty bad numbers, I am fine with Muniz for some reason. He can get that strikeout when he needs it, and could end up being a valuable middle reliever for us in a year or two as he continues to develop. But he undoubtedly has had his troubles settling in, and the more out of reach the game is (winning or losing) when he comes in, the better. He does typically pitch in low pressure situations and the only other guy we have that could fill his shoes in that role would probably be Claudio Vargas who has sucked horribly since being demoted to the minors. I think we are stuck with Muniz for the time being, and hopefully our starters will stop going 5 innings so we will see less of him. Or we can start bashing the shit out of opponents and blowing them out and see more of him, which would be fine too.
Duaner Sanchez: Sanchez needs to be our 8th inning set up guy. He is the only one in our bullpen that has a track record of being able to do it, and I hate the rotating, let matchups dictate who to bring in thing that Manuel has been doing in the 8th. Duaner had a 2.60 era in 2006 when he was setting up Wagner all season long, and even though he lost a couple ticks on his fastball velocity, we need desperately for him to be back in that role. He is not doing that bad this year, with a 3.8 era, and he is definitely the most capable and undoubtedly the most logical choice of everyone in the bullpen to throw the 8th. Willlie Randolph did the same thing with 8th inning duties earlier in the season as Manuel is now. He did not hand over the primary set up role to anyone in particular, and it drove me mad. I am a huge proponent of defining bullpen roles, in general. I think having that stability is tremendous and when guys come to the park knowing what they will be asked to do gives them an increased ability to perform. If we are up 2 runs in the middle of the 7th, I want Duaner to get up and start getting ready for the 8th. I don't want him to wait and see if the bullpen coach looks to him when the phone rings in that spot, I just want him to get up and start stretching. LETS GO DUANER. He has the mental toughness to go out there in big spots and get outs, and I think that if Manuel and management put their faith in him and said: "Duaner, when we're in a tight ballgame, you're gonna be the guy who will hand that lead over to Billy" I think he would respond in kind. Let him pitch through things, and let him throw the 8th. It's not like we have anyone else who can do it anyway.
Scott Schoeneweis: Schoeneweis has surprisingly been good for us this year. But, as far as I'm concerned, he still sucks. All he is good for is getting lefties out, period. His career era as a reliever hovers right around 5. FIVE. His era this year has been slowly creeping up as it sits at 3.02 as entering August. Even though he has been pitching a bit better than Feliciano, he has proven throughout his career as a reliever that he is strictly a situational lefty. He has never shown that he has the ability to get righties out, and such a matchup should be avoided at all costs. I am still completely on edge when he is called on to get us out of a tough spot or pitch a big inning. And yet, this year, we see Feliciano relegated to situational duties and Schoeneweis getting full innings of work. While yes, Schoeneweis has been a better than Feliciano to date, I simply do not understand why Manuel has more faith in him than Feliciano as the go to lefty out of our pen. Schoeneweis' era hovered between 5 and 6 last season. Every game I went to last year, when he came in, I could hear the collective groans throughout Shea. While he has been better this year, I still think he is best suited to come out only to face lefties. Righties are still hitting .324 against him, and while Feliciano is not getting righties out with any more regularity, he has -unlike SS - shown that he can do it. The more complete innings given to Schoeneweis the more righties he will face, and it is only a matter of time until his era goes back to where it has been his whole career: 5.00.
Joe Smith: It has been painful watching Joe Smith pitch lately as he has given up runs in each of his last three outings. Again, I feel like Manuel is really misusing Smith. Unlike Sanchez and Heilman, he is a ground ball pitcher who throws with heavy sink. He is far less adept to throw full innings and he is far, far better than the other right handed options we have at stranding runners, again, due to his ground ball tendencies. Righties are hitting just .210 against him and he has shown throughout his career to be extremely tough on them. He is, like Schoeneweis, best used as a situational arm out of the pen. However, Manuel continues to start 6th and 7th innings with Smith. Manuel is just not playing to the strengths of these relievers and keeps putting them in scenarios that will exploit their weaknesses. While our middle relief is littered with problems, I feel like Manuel has been making things far worse.
Billy Wagner: Wagner owns.
Ok, well that is our pen. One more thing, I do not understand why we have yet to give Eddie Kunz a shot. Why not? Our bullpen has been utter crap, maybe we catch some type of Joba in a bottle or something, and Kunz will come up striking out everyone in sight. Unless we are really looking at him as our closer of the future and want to keep him in the minors so as not to mess him up, I don't see why we don't give him a shot. We are in a tight race in the East and he could prove to be a huge, huge addition to our pen. He has a 2.87 era while striking out nearly a batter per frame in AA. It may very well be that he is not ready, and that would be fine, but I would like to at least see some outside the box thinking in terms of trying to fix our pen. Or at least some type of Kunz needs more seasoning proclamation from the powers that be, or something, ANYTHING.
So in summary, Manager Walsh would: switch the roles of Schoenweis and Feliciano, switch the roles of Smith and Heilman, go back to throwing Duaner exclusively in the 8th, and call up Kunz, maybe. Hopefully our bullpen will get back on track, it's looking like it's 50/50 at this point, so we'll see.
...and as always, Lets Go Mets.....