Met Relievers: Not as Bad as You Think They Are

These numbers aren’t terrible. But these are pitchers whose success, to an extent far greater than Feliciano’s, depends on the match-up.

The Mets have a similar advantage in third-choice reliever Aaron Heilman, who sports a .242 average against righties, .240 against lefties. Overall, his 3.34 ERA has left Mets fans underwhelmed, though his ERA has dropped more than a run (from 3.83 to 2.52) since the All Star Break. He’s also walked just 15 in 67 1/3 innings, striking out an adequate 49.

But those wishing to cast Heilman aside, still bitter over the home run he allowed to Yadier Molina in last season’s National League Championship Series, ought to peer over the fence at the grass of the other contenders. Which third option out of the bullpen would you prefer? Other than Atlanta’s Peter Moylan, whose attractive 2.05 ERA is compromised by pedestrian component stats—26 walks, 46 strikeouts in 70 innings—and supported by an unsustainable .228 batting average on balls in play (a number essentially measuring luck), no one can even plausibly compare.

The Mets have another right-handed option in Jorge Sosa, who has managed a 3.00 ERA in his 18 innings of bullpen work and a .207 BAA righties, and even Scott Schoeneweis, whose struggles against righties (.330 BAA) have been largely neutralized by Willie Randolph finally realizing that he is a specialist (.216 BAA lefties).

(Notice I did not include the maddening Guillermo Mota. When October arrives, the Mets almost certainly won’t, either.)

One other factor make the Mets’ bullpen something for opponents to fear, rather than feast upon, this October: their starting pitching.

In 2006, the Mets relied on their bullpen as much as any contender in baseball. Thanks to a shaky starting staff (4.67 ERA), the Mets accumulated the third-most bullpen innings in the NL, trailing only also-rans Chicago and Washington. This year, stellar starting pitching (4.18 ERA, including a 3.68 ERA from starters one through four) has allowed the Mets to sink to twelfth among NL teams in bullpen usage. In other words, not only will the bullpen likely need to get fewer outs than last year, they’ll be more rested when called on to do so.

In addition, the rapidly approaching return of Pedro Martinez, if successful, will do more than provide the Mets with an extra starting pitcher. Assuming Pedro claims one of the postseason starting spots, the Mets will have four pitchers for three starting spots in the reduced October rotation. With the Mets unlikely to move Tom Glavine, whose seniority and routine make him an unlikely stopper, the Mets will have the luxury of moving one of Orlando Hernandez (who thrived in the role for the 2005 White Sox), Oliver Perez or John Maine to the bullpen. These three have ERAs of 3.68 or less as starters (relievers typically have ERAs approximately a half-run lower), and all three are among the top-15 NL starters in strikeouts per nine innings (another rate likely to go up when these three can throw full-blast for just an inning or two). No other contender has a fifth starter remotely as valuable. Frankly, no other contender has a fourth starter as valuable, nor, arguably, a third.

A front four in the bullpen of Wagner, Feliciano, Heilman, and Perez or Maine provides far more firepower in relief than any of the other National League teams. Add in righty specialist Sosa and lefty-killer Schoeneweis, and there is no other NL team as prepared for the rigors of October. This Mets bullpen may not be great. But it’s better than what the other guys have.