Closer by Committee: ’86 the 9th

By Will DeBoer

After Frank Francisco‘s mother of all meltdowns yesterday in Miami, Terry Collins all but declared a change in the bullpen structure, stating he has “eight options” when it comes to determining the closer. This effectively creates an open competition between the current members of the Met bullpen for the right to finish the 9th and get that shiny “S” for save next to their name in the boxscore.

The most appealing options to fill the need as of today are Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell. Both have ERAs sub-3.00 (Parnell’s is closer to 2.00), don’t put too many runners on base, and seem to have a lid on their stuff and their emotions (very important after yesterday’s blowup). Both have their drawbacks as finishers, though: Rauch has rarely been utilized as a closer in his 10-year career, and Parnell seemed to melt under the pressure last year when he was installed as the stopper.

Perhaps the answer to closer doesn’t lie in just one individual. Closer by committee hasn’t been fashionable in recent years, but with the right combination it can be quite effective. One only needs to look at the most successful Mets team of all-time to see this principle put to good use.

In 1986, the New York Mets had the most effective 1-2 bullpen punch in the big leagues: right-handed Roger McDowell would come in to face right-handed hitters, and lefty Jesse Orosco would square off against lefties. Between them, the duo earned 43 of the the team’s 46 saves: McDowell picked up the tab 22 times to Orosco’s 21, so the pretty much split 9th inning time right down the middle. 43 saves nowadays would earn a closer big money, and the ’86 Mets had their big money in a two-headed beast of McDowell and Orosco.

The 2012 edition of the Mets may be able to replicate this system through a combination of right-handed Rauch and/or Parnell and lefty Tim Byrdak. The only left-handed arm in the bullpen, Byrdak has already made 20 appearances on the season, the last 7 being of the single-out variety. Byrdak’s not-too-outstanding 3.48 ERA on the year is misleading: 2 of the 4 runs he gave up were in a throwaway game against the Giants three weeks ago; take away that outing and he’s down to 1.86. Byrdak has a reputation for getting his man pretty reliably, more than can be said for other members of the New York bullpen.

Of course, Rauch, Parnell, and Byrdak are not exact modern-day replicas of McDowell and Orosco, but the principle of an effective closer by committee can still be applied. These three have been consistently effective in the first fifth of 2012, and all three of them should get a chance at patching up the hole Frank Francisco’s demotion will leave.

What Byrdak sharing 9th inning time also means, as Michael Baron of reiterates, is that the Mets will need to find another left-handed arm for the bullpen. With all the righty relievers on roster, it should be easy to find someone to shuffle off to Buffalo (Manny Acosta and his 9.53 ERA, anyone?). The argument may be that no one in Triple-A is quite ready to make the jump to the big leagues, but to put it bluntly, an unseasoned prospect can’t do much worse than what the Mets and their fans got from Frank-Frank over the weekend.

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