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A Bullpen on the Brink

Jack DickeyWednesday, August 15, 2007
By Jack Dickey

Perhaps his performances in the would-be #300 and the later would-be #301 might indicate that Guillermo Mota harbors some sort of resentment towards Tom Glavine, the venerable lefty, whose Houdini-esque efforts went for naught against the Brewers and Marlins, respectively. After all, we are well aware of a certain resentment Mota harbored for Glavine's former battery-mate, Mike Piazza, as evidenced by near-comical spring training brawls in 2002 and 2003.

But, for a second, let's just assume Mota's not very good, which appears to be a lot closer to the truth than Omar Minaya would like to believe. According to the New York Daily News' Adam Rubin, the Mets said that Mota's velocity was consistent throughout 2006, despite a drop in WHIP (Walks + Hits/Inning Pitched) from an astronomically bad 1.70 to an infinitesimal 0.70 when he transferred from Cleveland to the Mets.

It wasn't the steroids; it couldn't have been, right?

Mota's WHIP has spiked back to 1.33, and his ERA followed the ascent, as it has climbed from 1.00 last year to 5.40 in 2007.

But strangely enough, Mota has emerged as something of a key component in Willie Randolph's 2007 bullpen, which has been quite the fall from grace after last year's stellar campaign. Last year, the bullpen held opponents to a .239 batting average, tops in the majors, with an impressive 3.25 ERA. The Mets relied on a late-inning troika of Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, and Billy Wagner, two sidearming specialists in Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano, and the world's undisputed top long reliever, Darren Oliver. Heath Bell, Royce Ring, Jorge Julio, Roberto Hernandez, and Guillermo Mota, complete with an enhanced performance, made cameos on the staff.

Everything Rick Peterson and Guy Conti touched during that almost magical season turned to gold, with the exceptions of Bell and Julio. Bradford, who was inked only after being non-tendered by the Oakland A's, had a miniscule 1.16 WHIP and was miraculous at stranding runners. Pedro Feliciano, who had spent the previous year in the celebrated capacity of closing games for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan, had seven wins and a 2.09 ERA.

Sanchez was magnificent before the cab ride from hell, twirling 55 innings of 2.61 ERA ball, winning five, after being acquired from the Dodgers for Jae Seo, in a move that made many scratch their heads. Heilman had a 1.16 WHIP, and threw nearly as many innings as John Maine did, allowing only a third of the home runs that Maine allowed.

Wagner, who has bested his performance in 2007, was still very good in his first season as a Met, saving 40 games and whiffing 94 in 72 innings, alongside a sterling 1.11 WHIP. Oliver, who stunned many by making the team out of Spring Training, threw 81 innings and had a WHIP figure of 1.12, just above Wagner's 1.11, all the while keeping the Mets in games they would have figured to lose.

The supporting cast previously mentioned succeeded in limited work as well, as Royce Ring allowed only seven hits in twelve innings, and Roberto Hernandez allowed only fifteen hits after coming over from the Pirates alongside Oliver Perez.

2007 marked the birth of the Bizarro Bullpen. Gone were lynchpins Bradford and Oliver, and Duaner Sanchez put a work ethic on par with Manny Ramirez's to the test in Spring Training before being sidelined again.

The Mets, on the other hand, welcomed into their midst potentially magical names like Urdaneta, Ambiorix, Chan Ho, and Schoeneweis, and even the rather succinctly named Joe Smith, who was pitching for Wright State during Spring 2006, was dazzling the eyes of Mets fans and management alike.

The joy was to be short-lived, as evidenced by the tumult that has dogged the pen all year. Ambiorix Burgos pitched sparingly, mostly in lopsided contests, and was injured before he had a chance to showcase his right arm in a setup role. (Though, seriously, did you know he had a 3.42 ERA, .200 BAA and 1.10 WHIP before getting injured? I'd kill for that now.)

Scott Schoeneweis made himself persona non grata at Shea, posting an 8.71 ERA and 1.84 WHIP at home, alongside an atrocious 15:13 walks-to-strikes ratio. Lino Urdaneta, who followed the Guillermo Mota time-tested path to success (read: injections), gave up one run in one inning before his suspension. Chan Ho Park had one horrendous start and never pitched from the pen as expected, and Jon Adkins, brought in from San Diego in exchange for Bell and Ring, pitched in only one big-league game after spending most of the year posting middling numbers in New Orleans.

Aaron Sele is no Darren Oliver (a .327 BAA and 1.69 WHIP are nothing to write home about), and Joe Smith is not Chad Bradford. To wit, Smith had a bloated 1.53 WHIP and .268 BAA despite an impressive scoreless innings streak at the start of the season. He will be back, undoubtedly, but he left the Mets another void in middle relief.

Aaron Heilman has brought both good news and bad to this bullpen, allaying fears that he would melt down like Brad Lidge after Game 7 last year, but he has been victimized by home runs (seven, more than any other Met reliever). Jorge Sosa has joined the pen after a turn for the worse in the rotation, and has showed that his pitch selection (all sliders, all the time) is probably better suited toward the late innings.

The two lone wholly bright spots have been Feliciano, who, despite recent scuffles, has a solid 2.76 ERA and 1.16 WHIP (and a lower BAA, .182, than the Mets' closer), and Billy Wagner, who's pleased that the All-Star Game doesn't count toward his stats. He has a 0.97 WHIP, 26 saves, and 61 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Unfortunately, the Mets are left with few options to remedy their troubles. Young starters Oliver Perez and John Maine are showing their wear in the dog days of August, and Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, and Brian Lawrence aren't all that capable of eating innings.

Although the recent showings of Eric Gagné and Octavio Dotel, the two biggest relievers dealt at the deadlines, might make it appear fortuitous that the Mets refrained from making a deal, the Mets are in something of a bind as they chase playoff spots.

Perhaps Duaner Sanchez will rejoin the club. Perhaps an unlikely minor leaguer will bolster the 'pen after rosters expand. But for now, this bullpen, a major component in the Mets' 2006 run, is on the brink of melting down.

And you thought Guillermo Mota just didn't like Tom Glavine.

Note: Jack writes regularly at his own blog, Crosstown Rivals.

About me: Although I am only 16, having just completed my tenth grade year, I can perhaps pinpoint my Mets fandom to a bizarre childhood adoration of Masato Yoshii and Bobby J. Jones. I knew at a young age that I hated the Yankees for all their various excesses, and for Roger Clemens, and avidly watching the Mets limp through the early years of the millennium soon followed.   Read More -->

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Comments (3)

Jack - Nice piece!

What do you think of the rumblings that, when Pedro the Elder returns, he'll work out of the bullpen? It would be interesting at the least, and would help shore up the glaring deficiencies we've seen from just about every name mentioned above. But I'm not yet sold on it. I like my Pedro early and overpowering.

I would bring up Mike Pelfrey, give him Aaron Sele's spot on the roster -- Aaron has already lost his job to Sosa anyway -- and tell him to air it out.

Earl Weaver made a practice of breaking his good youngsters into the major leagues in long relief. It never became a BAD idea, but it doesn't get much use these days. I get the idea that Pelfrey is putting the pieces together, and now (or soon) will be ready to contribute.

Of course Willie and Omar will wait until Sept 1 to bring Pelf up, and keep Sele around as back payment for loyalty or something.

Nostradennis-- Thanks. As for Pedro, his experience in the bullpen was from ages and ages ago, and I'm not sure I want Brian Lawrence in the rotation (although, he sure can hit) should the Mets still be in the midst of a close divisional race in September. Provided he has the stamina for 100+ pitches/start, I think you've gotta start him and let Lawrence take Sele's spot or use them both with expanded rosters.

DD- You're right; Sele really has very little left in the tank, and it shows. I haven't given up on Pelfrey yet, though I'm not sure his control translates well to the bullpen. Sure, he's getting better and better, but his walk rate ranks as the second worst on the team (and I'm sure Mike thanks Scott Schoeneweis daily for that one).

He'll be back up soon and probably will be in the rotation next year, but Willie and Omar need to quench their thirst for "proven veterans," a policy that earned bat-wielding assassin Jose Offerman 72 at-bats in 2005 and 215 ABs for Julio Franco the past two seasons. Ugh.

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