I’m not trying to defend the bullpen, because they haven’t been great and have been giving a lot of close games away lately, but it I keep hearing people talk about how it’s the worst bullpen in the league and how horrible it is and that’s misrepresenting it a bit. The National League league average for bullpens is 3.85 and has been a little worse, 3.98, in June and July. The Mets are at 5.00. That’s what makes it look really bad.
These seven guys in the bullpen are not fully responsible for all those numbers. So the bullpen the Mets will have available to them tonight is not the epic failure it’s being made out to be. Manny Acosta, with 33 runs allowed, is still tops in the National League among pitchers with no starts. Now, you can’t discount those runs because clearly someone else would’ve given up some in that role, but it does seem worth nothing that the non-Acosta relievers are pitching to a 3.77 ERA. The bullpen with Manny Acosta in it was posting a 5.54 ERA. Since the last time he appeared in a game, the Mets bullpen has posted a 4.07 ERA.
That certainly isn’t record-setting bad. It’s a bullpen that will close out games when you have a good starting five and an offense that can score runs. The Mets have been struggling with consistency in those other departments lately and that’s a bigger problem than the bullpen. Another thing in the Mets bullpen’s favor is the defense. They don’t make a lot more errors than average, but the plays not made or double plays not turned can be problems as well. I’m sure we all have nightmares about some of these games where the Mets gave the opposition four or five outs to work with. Balls falling in that an average defender would catch means a higher ERA for the pitcher despite his best effort. Sometimes it’s just bad luck, as with the hit and run last night, but other times it’s a bad read or bad positioning.
Of course ERA isn’t the perfect tool for evaluating relievers so it’s probably not safe to say they’ve been only a tick worse than league average lately. They’ve allowed 33% of inherited runners to score, with or without Acosta, and that’s good for second worst in the league behind only Philadelphia. League average is 28%. Sometimes those runs apply to other relievers, but sometimes they’re hurting the starters ERA and don’t show up in my calculations above.
So while the bullpen hasn’t been great the extent to which it’s struggled has been over-stated lately. Even the average bullpen around the league is is going to give up a run roughly ever seven outs. That’s usually at least one run a game.
The Mets have been bouncing around between just good enough and mediocre for most of the season now. They’ve been unable to take that next step to great, but they’ve also never fallen off the cliff towards bad and it’d be foolish to read into their current state, again, as the beginning of the end unless you’re more concerned with your preseason predictions being correct than with how the Mets are actually doing.
There are plenty of times that if the season were to end the Mets would’ve been in the playoffs. Some as recent as four games ago. Losing three to a division rival is a rough way to start the second half, but it’s hardly the end of the world. The Mets are actually only 4 and 5 against the Braves this year. Those first three games are as important to the standings as these last three. The Mets will clearly need to made some adjustments, play better, and have some better luck to win more games. These are all things the Mets have proved able to do. R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana are human, apparently. Everyone slumps.
Everyone streaks too. Santana and Dickey will have other stretches of dominance. Other players will get hits, pitch well, catch the ball and beat the opposition. The Mets will win again.
If I were to judge this Mets team at this point, I’d say it might be a 50% chance they make the playoffs. If the season happens to end while they’re on a hot streak, they’ll likely be in. If not, they’ll likely miss out. The margin of error may be that small, which was also the case in the series in Atlanta. The Mets number one goal for the second half is to create situations where they have a margin for error. Multiple run leads when the bullpen is struggling. Less walks so that one error or poorly defended ball doesn’t lead to runs. Most importantly, getting into playoff position and building a lead so every loss isn’t a possible elimination event.
All-Star Break coming up after the Cubs series and I think it’s worth a thought about how Terry Collins will line up his rotation coming out of it. There are a couple of things to consider here, including getting Dickey as many games as possible, the impending division match-ups, and the two pitchers coming off shoulder surgery.
So I’d definitely start R.A. Dickey the first game back against the Braves. This also ensures he’ll pitch against division-leading Washington in the second series. I’d then pitch Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee. Give Johan Santana the extra days off, which amounts to skipping a start, and have him start the series against the Nationals on Tuesday, 11 days after his start tonight.
No one’s asked this question that I’ve seen, and maybe it’s because no one dreamed Santana would throw this many innings, but I’m starting to wonder if the Mets would prefer he didn’t throw 200 of them this year. He’s on pace for about 196, and this is probably the last opportunity the Mets will have to give him a little break before a pennant race. Starting with the Nationals series, the Mets will play 20 games without a day off across five cities and three time zones.
Skipping Chris Young the first time through after the break gives him some rest as well, and allows the Mets to have Santana, Dickey and Niese lined up to pitch five of the six July games against the Nationals.
Confirmed: R.A. Dickey does indeed come to bat to the theme song from the HBO series the Game of Thrones.
What Dickey has been doing on the mound is so amazing it changes the narrative around the team and dominates the story line. Even the usually wordy R.A. has run out of things to stay to describe the results he’s getting, instead saying he’s going to leave it to us to describe and just continue going out there and doing his work.
The Mets had just gotten swept, again, coming into this series with the Orioles. This was the farthest thing from your mind watching the game. There was no downward spiral, no wheels coming off the train, just R.A. Dickey dazzlingly darting knuckleballs around Oriole bats. Wilson Betemit got a hit in the 5th and ceased our worry about the no-hitter, and Ike Davis got a grand slam in the 6th that ceased our worry about losing the game. From there on it was pure joy.
The Mets have a legitimate Cy Young candidate as the season nears it’s halfway point. They probably have the All-Star Game’s starting pitcher. They have an MVP candidate and a Rookie of the Year candidate. If they could find someone to compete for Rolaids Relief Man there would be nothing this team couldn’t do.
R.A. Dickey had one really bad start this year. It was against the Atlanta Braves in the rain. Normally I’d say you can’t throw out bad starts, because they still count. That’s true; that bad start will always be on his record, will always count in the standings, and will always have cost the Mets a chance to win that day.
In evaluating Dickey’s performance, and in looking forward to when he next takes the mound, it’s a little bit more unfair to factor that game in. The rain played a huge factor in the outcome and in his ability to command his pitches. If it’s not raining Dickey isn’t going to pitch like he did in Atlanta. The biggest cause of his bad game was the rain affecting the break of the pitch, not Dickey himself.
So that said, what does R.A. Dickey’s pitching line look like without that start?
10-0 record in 85.2 IP
1.47 ERA via 14 earned runs.
17BB and 85 K for a 5 K/BB and an 8.93 K/9.
That seems pretty good.
A lot has been made about the Mets run differential so far this year, and how it suggests that the Mets should have lost a lot more games than they have. They’re 32-29, but the Pythagorean formula says that with 262 runs scored and 281 runs allowed they should be 29-32. They’re at a point where winning a 3-2 game may get them a win, but will hurt their Pythagorean record.
Math does not have a memory. If the Mets play well enough to win a one run game, then they get a victory which suggests a .6774 winning percentage (110 wins) via Pythagorean. However if they get blown out 14-5, they get one loss but Pythagorean suggests a .1319 winning percentage (21 wins). Combined that’s a .2195 winning percentage (36 wins). Take the Mets record over the last 10 games. They are 4-6, but their 42:37 runs scored to runs allowed ratio suggests they should be 6-4.
This is all nonsense really, because I’m just cherry-picking games. The logic to it all is that overall you need to score more runs than you allow to win baseball games. There is no inherent talent (besides things like using mop-up relievers that make blowouts bigger blowouts) or ability that allows teams to scatter those runs in a way that groups all of the runs allowed into a couple of games and spread the runs scored more evenly so that they win a lot more games than they lose. That’s simply luck. A team that scores 3.5 runs a game but allows 4 runs a game should lose more often that it will win. For the entire season. Runs do group though through luck and randomness and late inning replacements in out of reach games, and a near even run differential rarely means a team loses or wins mostly close games.
Manny Acosta has given up 29 runs this season. Last season he gave up only 21 runs all year (although he started in June) to a rate of .4468 runs given up per inning. If we’d have had that Manny Acosta so far, he’d only have given up nine runs, rounded up. Acosta is pitching to a 11.86 ERA, which has accounted for a ton of those runs allowed. This is why run differential is not predictive of how the Mets will do going forward. The Mets removed a key input, Manny Acosta, from the equation and he won’t be around to give up more runs. If he does return, it’ll be because he’s pitching better and won’t be giving up runs at the same rate.
Let’s compare the run differential if we’d had the 2011 version of Manny Acosta. Instead of 262 runs scored and 281 allows the Mets would have scored 262 runs and allowed 261. Aha! A positive run differential. As I’m sure you can guess, that comes out to a .502 winning percentage via Pythagorean and 81 wins. The Mets are only three games above that, which isn’t an unreasonable deviation.
What run differential predictions forget is that teams and managers make changes. Manny Acosta is only one example of that. The Mets will make, and have made, other bullpen changes. They’ll make offense changes to to try to score more runs. Ike Davis will hopefully learn how to play baseball again, Daniel Murphy is almost a lock to score more runs than he has been. The Mets current run differential has roughly zero correlation to what we can expect from this team going forward; it only tells us about what they’ve done so far.
Clearly Barry Zito’s ERA is a factor of small sample size. (sing it everybody!)
He’s coming into tonight’s game with a 1.125 ERA having given up only two runs over 16 innings. This is unsustainable, as I suspect the Mets will demonstrate.
If the Mets score 6 runs in 5.1 or less it would triple Zito’s 1.125 ERA.
If they only score five they’d have to do it in 2.1 innings to triple it.
4 runs in 8 or less innings would double it.
If they only score 3, they’d have to chase him in 4 innings to double his ERA.
For his ERA to dip under 1, he only needs 2.1 scoreless innings, but if the Mets score once he’d need to go 11.
Tim Byrdak will be on the disabled list until at least May. This opens up a competition for lefty reliever in a Mets camp that hadn’t previously had a lot of jobs available. Couple that with Scott Hairston‘s injury, and the door is open for some guys to make the team that previously didn’t have much of a chance.
This may not be a bad thing. Tim Byrdak settled down after a bad start, but he wasn’t making anyone forget Pedro Feliciano. Similiarly, Scott Hairston ended up with pretty decent numbers, but his numbers against lefties were down from his career numbers. Neither of these guys are what one would call irreplaceable, and opening up the job to others may result in the Mets finding some that even does the job better.
Certainly none of these jobs are high-impact jobs. Byrdak pitched merely 37 innings last year, and Hairston only had 145 plate appearances. So even if the Mets couldn’t find replacements that would do as good a job, the overall effect on the Mets will be minimal. Other pitchers will get a chance to get outs, and the right-handed pinch-hitting duties will be filled by someone that gets that job done. Ronny Cedeno and Justin Turner both figure to get some of them anyway, so it’s unlikely the Mets even notice Scott Hairston is gone, unless further injury happens.
Chuck James, Danny Herrera, Garrett Olsen, and perhaps Robert Carson or Josh Edgin, are the guys pegged to replace Bydrak. Vinny Rottino, Adam Loewen, Mike Baxter, and maybe Kirk Nieuwenhuis are the guys in line to replace Scott Hairston and were already competing for a bench spot. Now two of them will likely get a chance. None of these guys is likely to come in and make a huge difference, but it’s certainly possible they can at least approximate what Byrdak and Hairston did last year. There is also the possibility of Sandy Alderson adding someone late in Spring Training to fill a role.
Depth is what gets hurt when you have to go to the next in line. Even if the next in line guys are better you run the risk of further injury forcing you to play someone completely not ready, or not very good. Lack of depth has been a buzzword to describe the Mets this spring, perhaps unfairly. In this case the Mets have suitable guys on the depth chart to step in. That’s the not the case for every position certainly, but if you look around most major league camps you don’t find prospects nipping at the heels of most position players, and you certainly don’t find talented major league veterans just hanging out in AAA waiting to help out. The Phillies for example have guys like Michael Martinez, Ty Wigginton, and Scott Podsednik floating around on various parts of their depth chart. Depth is a fluid concept, and Sandy Alderson has suggested there’s room in the budget to make some in-season adjustments. So what you see is not necessarily the whole picture.
I’m interested in seeing how these guys do with a chance to crack the roster. Hopefully fostering this competition will be good for them, and the Mets will go north with guys ready to contribute in these roles.
Mike Pelfrey‘s FIP has actually stayed pretty steady over the last four years, and his xFIP was even steadier. The main difference being that he game up less home runs in 2008 and 2010. So the question becomes what was it that caused the home run rate to be lower in those years? Was it dumb luck, or some adjustments on Pelfrey’s part? Personally I think his xFIP staying the same is precisely what’s wrong with the stat. Pelfrey clearly pitched better in 2010, particularly in the first part of the year, than he has since.
There probably still is some luck to it. The margin of error for flying out instead of hitting a home run is tiny. Optimistically, Mike Pelfrey’s numbers in 2011 were probably at the far end of bad luck and it’d be pretty easy to see how even with changing almost nothing he’d probably have a better result in 2012. Hoping for lucky bounces is not a good philosophy for a major league pitch to adopt however.
Pelfrey is working hard this Spring at his sinker. This is something he admittedly struggled with in 2011, and harnessing it against should be a positive. For one, it’s a different look than teams are used to. Adding in a pitch provides a new wrinkle to the scouting report and helps keep hitters off balance. Additionally, sinkers are harder to hit out of the park as they are harder to hit in the air. So far the reports are positive on his feel for the pitch.
With luck and the sinker, Mike Pelfrey should be an improved pitcher again in 2012. Throw in a likely improved bullpen and more of Pelfrey’s games should turn into Mets wins. That only happened 12 of 33 times last season.
Sandy Alderson was quoted recently as viewing Johan Santana as a question mark for the rotation to start the season. This comment was a statement on being prudent and building depth, not a dire prediction about Santana’s health. Still, it was misrepresented and reported as a medical update instead of simply an extension of previous comments of Alderson’s suggesting it’s a good idea to have lots of depth in the rotation. Johan Santana has not had a setback, and is on exactly the same path he has been since early October; Opening Day. He’s begun offseason conditioning, but it’s way too early to start throwing a baseball. Certainly there’s a possibility when he starts throwing that his shoulder will struggle to respond the way a pitcher’s needs to, but that’s merely a possibility, not a prediction.
Expecting Santana’s body to respond like Mark Prior’s, or Chien Ming Wang’s, is probably as silly as me expecting my body to respond like David Wright’s when I go to the gym. It’s even possible Santana and his doctors could use Wang and Prior’s experience as guidelines to improve on the rehabilitation process. Santana is a different person, and everyone’s body responds differently. There is a thought out there that because of copy number variation in the human genome, and other in depth biological stuff outside my paygrade, that there is some difference in the way different racial populations across the globe adapted over the last 200,000 years or so. Basically expecting Santana’s body to heal and strengthen like Mark Prior’s may be like expecting your Ford Fusion to break down at the same odometer reading your neighbor’s Focus broke down at.
They estimated Tommy John’s odds of recovery from his procedure at 1%, but nowadays 83% or so of the operations go as planned. Practice makes perfect, so to speak. A lot of that has to do with the regiment and rehab schedules and learning what’s the best way to get the elbow or shoulder into game shape again. This isn’t to say that that Santana is a lock to make even 25 starts next season, or that he’ll be successful if he does so. It simply means that Sandy Alderson is aware of the severity of the surgery Santana had and knows the importance of pitching depth. That’s it.