Mets bullpen is still evolving


It’s been an exciting week for the Mets and their fans as we’ve watched the front office make the moves we’ve been begging for. The team has responded by chasing down the Nationals in the N.L. East. The beleaguered lineup has improved thanks to trades, improved health and revived lumber. The starting rotation remains the engine that makes the team go, with the only remaining question whether or not to go with a six-man rotation to save the young arms for October.

Even after all that has happened in Flushing the last week, the Mets were not done, turning their attention to a bullpen that was starting to show some wear and tear. The team announced after their 5-1 win over the Marlins on Tuesday that they had acquired Eric O’Flaherty from the A’s and DFA’d the ineffective Alex Torres.

This is another shrewd move by Sandy Alderson, because the biggest bullpen vulnerability has been the ability to get out left-handed batters. Both Sean Gilmartin and Alex Torres have reverse splits, faring better against right-handed hitters, but it was Torres who especially struggled. His FIP suggests his 2015 ERA was even worse than it looked and he has walked a whopping 6.8 batters per 9. Gilmartin can at least function as a long-man and handle mop-up duty.

The Mets bullpen took a few hits early on when they lost Josh Edgin, and later, Jerry Blevins and Jake Leathersich. With Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo and Adrian Gonzalez looming (come on, we’re going to make the playoffs), the Mets were in dire need of a lefty specialist. O’Flaherty is a veteran having a fairly poor year, so why should we be happy?

With the A’s, O’Flaherty had extreme splits, holding left-handers to a .186 average while right-handers were hitting .420 against him. His career splits are not so severe, but expect to see O’Flaherty deployed for key left-handed outs, then on his way to the dugout. He is a piece of the puzzle and while not sexy, he brings something that the Mets were specifically lacking.

At the back end of the bullpen, Jeurys Familia has emerged as an effective closer after showing promise as Mejia’s setup man in 2014. Familia currently ranks 6th in saves, despite having more blown saves than those above him on the list. The glass-half-full view sees that half of those blown saves came in three consecutive opportunities sandwiched around the all-star break, and hopes that Jeurys is back on the beam after his rough patch.

If you want to do more than hope, Familia’s improved control has translated into less free passes in 2015, while his strikeouts have trended up. He continues to get more than his share of ground balls, and he is now putting more batters away with his power arsenal. His BAbip suggests some good luck, but the peripherals are all there, most notably the fact that his 1st pitch strike % has gone up each year in the majors, peaking this year.

In what we’re told was a coincidence, Sandy Alderson acquired Tyler Clippard just as Mejia was exiting stage right, giving Familia a legitimate setup man. Clippard is an experienced closer, and has been very good for a long stretch. Clippard is actually not having his best statistical year, striking out less and walking more, but the velocity and change-up are still there. Mets fans are hoping that Sandy simply bought low and Clippard will regain his form.

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The best news for the bullpen might be the improved health. Bobby Parnell’s velocity has been climbing. This, combined with the fact that he’s learned to be more of a pitcher than a thrower in his time with the Mets, bodes well for his contribution going forward. Jerry Blevins was recently cleared to throw after suffering a broken forearm early in the year. If Blevins can return this year, then the Mets will have two left-handed specialists and a more balanced pen.

Seemingly further away are Vic Black and Rafael Montero. Black remains a bit of an enigma, but provides another live arm that figures to be in the mix at some point based on more positive reports out of the minors. Montero has also been cleared to throw which could provide one more option for the pen if either Carlos Torres or Hansel Robles falters, but his rehab from a supposedly minor injury has slowed to the point where team officials are irritated.

Journeyman Carlos Torres continues to put up respectable numbers despite having thrown a ton of relief innings the previous two years with the team – 86.1 and 97.0 IP respectively. Terry Collins has run him out there slightly less often this year, but he continues to do yeoman work.

After an ill-fated cup of coffee for the clearly not-ready-yet Akeel Morris, the Mets gave Hansel Robles his shot. The team has to be pleasantly surprised by the results and excited about his future, but he has all of 30 big league innings under his belt.

Looking outside of the organization, there are August waiver trade possibilities that would be great fits for the Mets. It starts with our old friend Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod refuses to succumb to annual predictions of his demise, but he comes with baggage given his previous Queens exit. It’s possible the loving fans that have embraced Wilmer Flores might find room in their hearts for Rodriguez, but Alderson may not find room in his payroll for the remaining two years of his contract.

Koji Uehara is another veteran closer toiling for a team that can’t get him enough save opportunities. Uehara is a bit more expensive at $9 million a year with a contract that runs through 2016. Boston also may not be looking to create more holes in a roster that needs repair this offseason.

Joaquin Benoit has been especially effective the last few years, but he has a contract similar to Uehara’s at $8M a year through 2016 and most likely would have already been traded if he was going to be.

If you’re not satisfied with Eric O’Flaherty and his cartoonish splits as LOOGY, Will Smith is a left-handed specialist having a breakout year and the best fit in terms of role and cost for the Mets. But he plays in Milwaukee. I don’t think they’re returning Sandy Alderson’s calls any time soon. The O’Flaherty trade likely signals the end of the tinkering with the left-handed specialists. We can wait to take a hard look at Smith as a free agent this winter.

Any of the above veteran closers would be tremendous pickups, but unless Alderson gets the green light to build a bullpen along the lines of the Royals, none are likely to happen.

The Mets have already given up prospects and taken on some payroll (notwithstanding David Wright’s insurance money) to improve the squad. Eric O’Flaherty has been added to the mix in yet one more measured, but hopefully strategically impactful move. With some improved health, the bullpen can be solid, and the Mets will be a more well-rounded team.