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.