Monthly Archives: May 2012

Notes on a bullpen

The Mets bullpen allowed eight runs Wednesday night, giving them a 5.45 ERA this season, the worst mark in the NL and almost a full run higher than that of the next-worst bullpen. Let’s make excuses? Let’s make excuses.

1. They’ve been a tad overworked. Mets relievers have combined for 163 appearances, second in the NL to only Astros relievers and their 166 combined appearances. Three relievers — Tim Byrdak, Bobby Parnell and Jon Rauch — are on pace to make about 80 appearances, Ramon Ramirez is on pace to pitch 80-something innings, and so on. The starting pitching has given the bullpen a breather of late, but there’s a reason coaches save wind sprints for the end of practice.

2. Little help from the fielders. The Mets turn balls in play into outs 69.2% of the time, the third-worst rate in the National League. The fielders have made a bunch of errors, the pitchers and catchers haven’t stopped the running game, the outfielders don’t have great arms, and the middle infielders are poor at turning double plays. So they’re bad at pretty much everything.

And being bad at everything fielding-related hurts the pitchers. Frank Francisco and Ramon Ramirez both have strikeout, walk, and home run rates similar to their career averages, but both’s ERAs are around two runs higher than those rates suggest. It’s not totally the defense to blame for the disappointing performances in the bullpen. But I also think it’s easy to underestimate the effects of the Mets’ limited fielders on the pitchers.

3. Manny Acosta was really, really bad. You’ll hear about this on the next Mostly Mets Podcast, but if you take Manny Acosta’s 29 earned runs and 22 innings out of the bullpen equation, the Mets’ bullpen ERA drops to 4.37. It’s over a full run of improvement, and the new ERA would bump them from last in the NL to . . . second-to-last. But that’s much better than “full run worse than any other team.” Baby steps, here.

4. They haven’t actually been that bad. Well, no, they have. But some advanced statistics like WPA (Win Probability Added, a stat that . . . you know what, just trust me on this one) suggest that, although the Mets bullpen has been bad ERA-wise, they’ve timed some of their badness well. That is, the bullpen has gotten big outs in clutch spots while turning a few five-run deficits into 12-run deficits along the way. By bullpen WPA, the Mets relievers are “only” fourth-worst in the NL, instead of way, way worse than everyone else.

Basically, the bullpen’s ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. If a closer pitches a 1-2-3 ninth to protect a one-run lead Monday, and then allows three runs pitching in a 10-0 blowout Tuesday, his ERA goes up. But he improved his team’s chances of winning overall. WPA takes that stuff into account — somehow, it’s complicated and I think there’s robots involved somewhere — and that’s what the Mets’ bullpen has been up to this season.

5. At least Tim Byrdak has been good. You know how we just talked about the Mets’ WPA not being so awful? Almost all of the positive contributions to the Mets’ bullpen WPA have come from Tim Byrdak, with a small amount coming from Bobby Parnell. Every other reliever has a negative WPA on the season, which means they’ve done more to harm the Mets’ chances of winning games than to help. This was supposed to be a positive point, so, uh . . . Tim Byrdak is good, Bobby Parnell has been all right. Uh.

6. They can’t stay this bad. Right? This one is more of a plea than something backed up by evidence.

That’s all I’ve got. Excuses made.



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Daniel Murphy is excited about things

Metstradamus has the visual evidence from last night’s game. Also, the bullpen.

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Arrivederci Acosta

The Mets are expected to designate Manny Acosta for assignment and call up Chris Schwinden on Tuesday, probably ending the lanky reliever’s three-year Mets career. Acosta was terrible in 2012 — he allowed one fewer run in 2012 than he did in his entire Mets career prior — but he was an effective member of an often-ineffective bullpen (118 ERA+) across 2010 and 2011. I liked Acosta, I think we said as much on the Mostly Mets Podcast several times, and he had earned some benefit of doubt coming into this season. But six home runs and 33 runs uses up a lot beneficial doubt in just 22 innings. So we say goodbye.

But before we do that, here’s two points re: Acosta and his usage:

1. Pitchers, even relievers, shouldn’t lose it this fast without some kind of injury, be it physical or mental or metaphysical. Acosta had been a decent pitcher for five seasons prior to these 22 innings, and I’ll bet that he’ll be a decent pitcher again someday. Something just wasn’t working for Acosta right now. He already matched his walk and home run totals from last year in under half as many innings this season, and it looked as though he just couldn’t put the ball where he wanted. He’ll figure it out again at some point.

But the Mets need a decent relief pitcher right now, and Acosta has shown he is unable to fill that role. So he gets the boot. Wish him well.

2. Terry Collins has an unfortunate habit of bringing in his worst relievers when the Mets are trailing by a single run. The Mets trailed 5-4 when Acosta entered in the ninth inning on Monday, and roughly zero seconds later they were trailing 8-4. Teams trailing by one run at home in the top of the ninth inning — the situation into which Acosta entered — win roughly 13% of the time. So not total garbage time. Teams at home trailing by four runs with one out and one on — the situation from which Acosta exited — win roughly 1% of the time. Total garbage time. The game was still in reach and the Mets bullpen was fresh after strong efforts from Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey the two previous games. That’s not the best spot for a struggling reliever to find himself.

At the same time, Collins does need to use all his relievers, and a random game in May against the Phillies isn’t all that important in the long run. And he’s been pretty decent at using his best relievers in the most important spots (via Fangraphs):

The stat there, gmLI, is “game leverage index,” or on average how important a situation a reliever faces upon entering the game. The higher the number, the more important the spots. An index of 1.0 is average. Terry Collins has done a solid job using his better relievers in important spots. (Jonathan Papelbon, for example, has been used on average in the fifth-most important situations by the Phillies this season, behind world beaters like Michael Schwimer.) The biggest exception here being Ramon Ramirez, who, for some reason, is being used as a multi-inning middle reliever by Collins. I don’t know why either.

Chris Schwinden will take Acosta’s spot for now, though I expect Pedro Beato will be in Queens whenever he’s ready. The 2012 Mets bullpen: Keep throwing stuff at the wall until something sticks.


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A preview of sorts

Hey ya’ll. I have mentioned once or twice that I’ve been working on a post about R.A. Dickey. And I am and have been for a couple of weeks.

But I haven’t finished that post yet, with a series of graduations, family events, work, a trip to Roswell, and some other things getting in the way. I’m hoping I’ll finally finish said post over the weekend. But in a show of good faith — or something — here’s a little preview of sorts:

The joke is that if you’re one in a million in China, there are still 1,338 persons just like you. Or if, talent-wise, you’re in the 99.9999th percentile with regards to skill in your craft, there are still eight persons living within the five boroughs of New York who are just as good (or better) than you. There are 23 if you expand your range to the entire New York metro area. And that, strictly speaking, about half of us are below-average humans. The overwhelming number of persons sucking air suggests that most of us are fairly unspectacular.

So now try to imagine being the best in the world at something. Anything. Pick something. Running. Multiplication tables. Picking lint out of your belly button. Imagine having the knowledge, a definitive and very real sense that – and here we’re thinking beyond that rarely-acknowledge-but-necessary self-deception which tells each one of us, “No, out of all the unspectacular people in the world, you’re not one,” the voice that keeps us from laying in bed all day staring at the ceiling – a definitive and very real sense that you are better than every other person in the world at this certain thing. How many such persons exist?

I know there is at least one. R.A. Dickey is the best knuckleball pitcher in the world. Dickey is the only knuckleballer pitching in the major leagues after Tim Wakefield’s retirement last winter, so this distinction comes mostly by default. But Dickey can make a fairly solid claim based on merit, as he’s also a pretty good pitcher. Dickey’s 3.13 ERA the 15th best in baseball over the past three seasons. If compelled, you could argue that Dickey is the best knuckleball pitcher ever (taking into account the rising quality of play, his effectiveness as a starter, and a handful of other slippery restrictions and conditions that lead to the answer you want). But if not the best ever, he’s certainly top five. At the very least, R.A. Dickey can pull himself out of bed each morning and know that, forced into a knuckleball-off with Death, he has a better shot than anyone else presently sucking air.

I asked Dickey what being the best at something felt like in the Mets’ clubhouse at Citi Field last month.

“I never stop and think that I’m the best knuckleball pitcher in the world,” said Dickey. “That’s never entered my purview until you just said it.”

“I think . . . that’s a dangerous place to go. For me, I’m constantly trying to hone my craft, and a knuckleball is so capricious and chaotic, and you can’t necessarily . . . ,” he paused here and searched for the correct words on the ceiling.

“There’s a lot of trust in it,” he said. “Because of that, you don’t really feel like you’re the best at anything. You’re just trying to do the best you can do with it. Thankfully for me, the best that I can do with it in the moment . . . I’m the only one left. That’s nice, but it’s also lonely. It’s not ideal. I’d like there to be more. All knuckleballers everywhere. An all knuckleball league.”

Maybe no one knows what it feels like.

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Mostly Mets Podcast about the Mets, mostly

And so on. ITunes link is available here, if you’d like to set up regular downloading and review us (positively). XOXO.


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Rusty Staub speaks to unwashed masses

If you missed it, Rusty Staub spoke with Mets bloggers — most vile creatures — Wednesday. MetsBlog and Amazin’ Avenue have the transcription, so you can get a couple of friends together and perform a dramatic reading of the call, if you so please. Mr. Staub talks about grilling a little bit, too, perfect for the impending return of Memorial Day.

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When Little Things Go Awry

Here’s a confession: I spend a decent amount of time wondering how I appear to others, mostly because I’m shallow and vain. See, when I walk down a street in Manhattan, I immediately size up the 20-30 persons whom I pass. The thin, grey-bearded man in the oversized khakis is unmarried, has worked at the same office job for 20 years, and goes out of his way to be friendly towards strangers. The couple sharing a cigarette and wearing jeans from which no light escapes are art students at NYU. The attractive young woman in the trench coat probably would not date me. And so on. I can also tell you all the many, many faults of my friends, siblings and parents, and deliver comprehensive amateur psychological profiles on each. I find it easy to point out the strengths and flaws in others. Ask me for a demonstration sometime. Continue reading


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