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Season Preview: The Bullpen

Mike SteffanosSaturday, April 3, 2010
By Mike Steffanos

The news is out on the latest round of cuts, and they pretty well clarify the bullpen the Mets are going north with:

  • Francisco Rodriguez (R)
  • Ryota Igarashi (R)
  • Jenrry Mejia (R)
  • Sean Green (R)
  • Fernando Nieve (R)
  • Hisanori Takahashi (L)
  • Pedro Feliciano (L)

It's somewhat surprising that Kiko Calero didn't make it. He was signed to a minor league contract and didn't pitch very well this spring, but he was very good with the Marlins last season and I thought the Mets might at least let him have the first shot at a job.

We still don't know if Kelvim Escobar will pitch this season, but it seems a fairly safe bet we won't see him for at least the first couple of months, and I wouldn't bet the farm on seeing him at all.

Nelson Figueroa is always going to be the Rodney Dangerfield of any pitching staff he tries to make. He pitched well this spring, and has always done a respectable job when given the chance, but he'll turn 36 in May and there really isn't much upside.

Bobby Parnell will begin the season as he should have begun last year -- pitching in the minors and trying to find the off-speed pitch to complement his fastball. I know a lot of fans and pundits are down on him, but I still think he has a chance to be a really solid relief pitcher.

As for the guys who are going north, my gut tells me that they have a chance to be a decent bullpen, but I doubt very much that this will be a top bullpen.

Frankie Rodriguez was simply terrible in the second half of last season. I understand that the team was awful and that didn't help, but I need to see him pitch well for a month or two before I relax when he's in the game with everything on the line.

It seems that as the National League got to know him better last year hitters forced him to throw more strikes, and that's when his effectiveness dropped. It's well known that he lost a couple of MPH off the fastball, and pitching behind in the count is not going to make him any more effective, that's for sure.

How Rodriguez fares in the early going will be one of the more interesting story lines for me to follow. Say what you want about the uncertain bridge to K-Rod, but if K-Rod isn't very good this will be one ugly bullpen for sure.

I suspect he will be all right, but I am definitely concerned.

Japanese RHP Ryota Igarashi was supposed to be a candidate for the eighth inning job going into camp, but he had poor numbers this spring. While, as I stated in my piece on the starting rotation, I don't believe in basing much on spring numbers, Igarashi clearly struggled against lesser hitters than he will be trying to retire once the real games start.

On the other hand, he has the fastball to get the job done, and I like his secondary pitches. I hope he can make the adjustment and help this bullpen.

Other than the rookie Mejia the rest of the bullpen looks like a bunch of guys pitching to contact. Igarashi is a strikeout type pitcher, and the Mets could use him. After allowing 18 hits and issuing 9 walks in 12 2/3 spring innings, however, the jury is still out whether Igarashi can pitch in a MLB bullpen.

20 year old Jenrry Mejia is the Mets number one prospect and should be with Parnell in a minor league rotation. Instead, he will be rushed to the majors as Parnell was last season and asked to retire major league hitters late in important ball games with an unpolished repertoire.

While Mejia's off-speed stuff is better than what Parnell had going into last season, manager Jerry Manuel assures us that he's going to ask Mejia to throw his fastball most of the time. When I read this I literally yelled WTF out loud.

Mejia is inconsistent with the off-speed stuff, so it's understandable that Manuel doesn't want him to use it much. Turning him into a one-trick pony and asking him to get out major league hitters -- particularly as he faces teams the second and third time around -- seems to me a prescription for the same problems Parnell had later into the season.

I want to see this kid starting games for the Mets next season instead of this sad experiment, particularly since for the 2010 Mets it looks like .500 is a more reasonable goal than contending. You're wasting a year of the kid's development, and if he has any success at all Manuel will undoubtedly ride him until his arm falls off, and the team probably isn't a contender. Now that's the very definition of short sighted. Sigh...

Sean Green looked like a strong candidate for the Buffalo Bisons' staff for much of the spring, and I still think he has a good chance of summering by Lake Erie.

For those of you who've followed this team for a while, Green reminds me a lot of Doug Sisk. Their styles were different, and Green is more of a strikeout pitcher. But, like Green, Sisk had terrific movement on his fastball and was hard to hit. Unfortunately for both Green and Sisk before him, walks are a huge problem.

I remember early this spring that the talk of camp was dropping down lower with the pitching motion was helping Green throw more strikes. Then Green started the spring with 8 walks in his first 6.2 IP. He probably saved a big league job by not allowing any walks in his next 4 appearances, then he was awful against the Orioles today.

Maybe Green will put it together and throw strikes and be an effective righty specialist. Even if that's so, it will be a while before I can remove my hands from my eyes while he pitches. Come to think of it, that's how I spent 6 seasons watching Sisk, whose walk rate only began to drop once he started allowing much more hits.

Green has the stuff to be a solid major league reliever, but it remains to be seen whether he can achieve that. If he can't, he's likely to pitch himself out of town in far fewer than the 6 seasons it took Doug Sisk.

Fernando Nieve looked pretty good last season before he suffered one of the many injuries of the 2009 season. He's got a good enough fastball if he's getting his slider over, and is versatile enough to start, pitch long relief, or pitch late inning relief.

I'm curious to see if he can contribute on days that he doesn't have the good slider, and I also wonder if the league will catch on to him as the hitters get to know him. If not, his ability to pitch more than an inning will be invaluable to a team that is probably not going to see its starters go deep very often.

Hisanori Takahashi had a strong spring, which certainly differentiated him from most of the staff. He wasn't overpowering, but rather looked like the quintessential crafty southpaw -- mixing his pitches well and keeping hitters off-balance.

I liked that he threw strikes with all of his pitches and didn't seem intimidated at all facing major league batters. Like Nieve, he can fill a swing role as a short and long reliever. Again, the ability to pitch more than an inning in relief is a plus with this staff, and a second lefty in the bullpen can only help Feliciano.

One thing to be leery of with Takahashi is the days when he is not sharp with his pitches. He doesn't have the velocity to overcome mistakes, and cannot afford to pitch from behind against major league hitters. Still, as long as he's throwing strikes he'll be okay.

Pedro Feliciano wants to be more than just an effective LOOGY -- he wants to be the eighth inning bridge to K-rod. That certainly is feasible when facing teams like the Phillies with a core of LH hitters, but I still think Pedro is a piece of the puzzle for the eighth inning, not the solution.

Provided the arm doesn't fall off from pitching every other game, you pretty much know what to expect from Feliciano. Although he occasionally runs into streaks of wildness, for the most part he challenges hitters and makes them put the ball into play.

Summing up: Unlikely to be one of the best in MLB, this bullpen can hold its own if things break right. There are a couple of strikeout pitchers (Igarashi and Mejia), a couple of guys who can pitch long relief (Nieve and Takahashi), a couple of low arm slots (Feliciano and Green), and some different looks to throw out there in general.

Of course there are a lot of questions, too. Can Frankie Rodriguez bounce back? Can Green and Igarashi throw strikes? Can Mejia get out major league hitters relying mainly on fastballs?

There are more questions, of course, but the biggest one lies with the managers. In his time at the helm, bullpen management has not been a strength for Jerry Manuel, but rather one of his starkest weaknesses.

He will run guys out there day after day when they are successful until they inevitably get overexposed and tired. On the other hand, a struggling pitcher can be forgotten by the Mets skipper.

If I was Kiko Calero, Bobby Parnell or any of the other arms in Buffalo, I would consider it extremely likely that one or more of the 7 guys who start the year in the bullpen will pitch himself out of it before spring turns to summer. They should think of themselves in a sort of extended spring training with jobs still to be won.

Looking at this bullpen, I can't help but think back to the 2007 draft when the Mets selected relievers Eddie Kunz, Brant Rustich, Eric Niesen and Stephen Clyne in the first three rounds. They were rightly criticized for drafting so many relievers so high, but they claimed that some of the guys would make their way quickly to the major league bullpen. Unfortunately, drafting by need didn't pay off for the Mets.

Kunz was the one who was supposed to make it here the fastest, but he has been unable to consistently throw strikes in Triple-A and seems like a long shot to ever be even a solid middle reliever in New York.

As for the rest, some are still viable prospects but none are close to the majors at this point. If one or two had panned out this bullpen would project better and Mejia would be starting games in western New York.

My best guess for this bullpen would be a middle of the pack bullpen -- not as bad as some expect, but not the strength that the Mets 2006 bunch proved to be.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

Comments (1)

Nice job on the piece, Mike. My prediction: Middle of the pack bullpen through July 4. Bottom of the barrel - once anyone who's been at all effective is exhausted and burnt out - for the rest of the season. If I were Mejia's agent, I'd be begging them not to do this. Go Jerry.

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