By Mike Steffanos
One of the perks of doing a blog is the opportunity to develop friendships with my fellow bloggers. One of those was with Mets Today's Joe Janish. Joe and I have had interesting email exchanges, because while we agree on many things we don't completely agree on anything. More than once during a really interesting exchange of emails I thought it was a shame that it was only Joe and I that were reading them.
I thought it might be fun to have some back and forth with Joe this season on topics where we represent opposing viewpoints.
A couple of days ago Joe sent me a link to this piece on Joe's thoughts that Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz might not make the difference as most of us think they will.
I would be doing both Joe and you guys a disservice if I tried to present his case just by pulling a couple of quotes out of his piece. Please take the time to read it and the excellent comments, too.
I think Joe was a little tough on Rodriguez, who blew 7 saves in 69 opportunities. To put this in perspective, in Billy Wagner's best year with the Mets, 2006, he saved 40 of 45 opportunities. That translates to a slightly lower percentage (88.9) than Rodriguez' (89.9) last season. Frankie will simply not have 69 save opportunities with the Mets, who do not play as many close games as the Angels.
Now Putz, on the other hand, blew 8 saves in only 23 opportunities last season. Certainly a repeat of that sort of thing would not bode well for the Mets.
Putz spent time on the DL last season with rib cage and elbow issues, so he has some excuse. The season before he saved 40 of 42, and was generally terrific. What to expect from him this season would depend on just how healthy he can stay, and there is just no way to predict that now. He did have a strong September, so that could be taken as a good sign.
One thing I think Joe might be on to is the reaction of the fans when K-Rod and Putz fail, as they inevitably will. To some extent the fans are being sold a scenario where any lead going into the eighth inning is a sure win. When a couple of those games slip away a few of the natives are going to get quite restless.
I made a point in my bullpen preview earlier in the week that both Rodriguez and Putz are coming to New York after playing their whole career on the much more laid back west coast. Just as you can't predict how healthy they will be, it's also impossible to predict how they will react when they hit an inevitable rough spot and get booed off the field.
That's not to say that I am anywhere near as pessimistic as Joe, but there are valid points here even if you are much more optimistic than my "glass half empty" colleague.
Where I really depart from Joe, however, is the thought that somehow Rodriguez and Putz represent the entire improvement of the Mets bullpen. What I see top to bottom is a bullpen that will miss more bats, get more ground balls and keep the Mets in games -- even when the starter doesn't have a strong outing.
As much attention as the closer and setup man get, the meat of a successful bullpen runs deeper. I'd argue that having a deep 'pen combined with a closer and setup man who were solid would lead to more success than having 2 great pitchers in those roles and not much else.
I see a bullpen more like 2006 than what we saw the last two seasons. As with any year the pieces have to come together, but I like the pieces a lot better.
Other than Wagner, the Mets lacked a power arm in the 'pen for most of the season. Both Rodriguez and Putz are pitchers that average more than a strikeout per inning, and there are other arms backing them up.
I've been impressed with Sean Green so far, and understand why other teams were looking to pick him up this off-season. 62 strikeouts in 79 last season wasn't bad for a guy who also induced ground balls 64% of the time last year.
I think it's reasonable to hope for Pedro Feliciano to return closer to his 2006-2007 form. If he could do that, I imagine he will spot into late innings with Green.
Brian Stokes and Bobby Parnell are both hard throwers who have a chance of being really solid middle innings guys.
I don't think it's a given that the Mets will have a great bullpen this season. I think they do have some really intriguing pieces which, if they come together, can do the job of protecting leads that wasn't done last season.
The biggest question to me will be Dan Warthen's ability to get these guys to throw strikes. As much as it hurts when someone comes into a game and gets torched for a few hits, history teaches us that it's the bullpens which get ahead of hitters and don't issue more than their share of walks that are the most successful.
Whether they get off to a good or a bad start, I think it will take time to judge this bullpen. A lot is also going to hinge on whether Pelfrey, Maine and Perez can hold their own, and if Livan Hernandez can recover enough old form to keep them in games.
I'm generally optimistic about the bullpen and the team as a whole. I think both have a good chance of succeeding. Even under my most optimistic hopes, though, I understand that this isn't going to be some sort of 162 game victory parade.