One of the reasons the Mets have had more success as of late has been the bullpen. What started off this year as very shaky and unpredictable has been shutdown over the past couple of weeks, helping the Amazins stay in games, shutdown opponents and close out games. In March/April, the Mets bullpen pitched to a 4.02 ERA and 1.400 WHIP in 85 innings with a K/BB of 2.08 while opponents hit .254/.337/.392 with ten homers. So far in May, relievers have a sparkling ERA of 0.52 in 34.1 innings, along with a 1.019 WHIP, 2.43 K/BB and opponents batting line of .176/.269/.210 with only one home run. And yet soon, the Mets will need to make a couple of decisions about the makeup of that bullpen.
Currently, the ‘pen consists of Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Isringhausen, Taylor Buccholz, Ryota Igarashi, Pat Misch, Tim Byrdak and Mike O’Connor, with the last three being lefties. Pedro Beato, who has been spectacular this season (17 IP, 0 ER, 9 H, 3 BB, 10 K) recently pitched in an extended spring training game and is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday the 17th. Meanwhile, Bobby Parnell, who landed on the DL with numbness in his right middle finger, will not be activated this weekend, but is probably not more than a week or so away from returning. Despite struggling this season (7.1 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 5 BB, 11 K), Parnell isn’t in danger of losing his spot. With Beato and Parnell returning, the Mets must make room by demoting two current relievers.
Of the aforementioned players in the bullpen, K-Rod is untouchable, Izzy has pitched very well in the setup role (11.1 IP, 3 ER, 5, H, 6 BB, 9 K), Buccholz has been fantastic (19.2 IP, 3 ER, 13 H, 6 BB, 22 K) and Tim Byrdak has been effective against lefties (opposing southpaws are six for twenty six off Byrdak with eleven strikeouts). That leaves Igarashi, Misch and O’Connor as candidates to return to Buffalo. Misch will likely be the first one to have his plane ticket punched. Called up after Chris Young went on the disabled list, Misch is more valuable as a member of the triple-A rotation, in case the Mets need another starter, than as the third lefty/long man in the bullpen.
So it’s Igarashi vs. O’Connor, with the sample size being pretty limited for both of them. Igarashi has pitched nine innings in the majors this season, yielding four earned runs on seven hits and a disturbingly high nine walks. He’s managed to strikeout twelve batters, but also has allowed four of eleven inherited runners to score. O’Connor, meanwhile, has only tossed three innings in the bigs this season, yielding no runs on one hit while walking one and striking out three. In his most recent appearance, he allowed both of his inherited runners to score.
I believe the Mets will keep O’Connor for the simple reason that he is a lefty and provides more flexibility in the bullpen. At Buffalo this year, O’Connor allowed four hits to lefties in six and one-third innings, walking four batters and striking out seven while not yielding a run. He performed predictably worse against righties (10 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 8 K), but he won’t be asked to pitch to anyone besides southpaws in close situations while in the majors. Igarashi was effective during his limited time at triple-A this season (3.1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 4 K), but because of the simple fact that he is right-handed, will probably return to the minors.