Maggie Wiggin, Contributor
After a poor start to the season, the Mets bullpen has drastically turned it around and now ranks 10th in baseball with a 3.36 ERA, despite having thrown the seventh-highest number of innings. They lead baseball having allowed just 18% of inherited runners to score (the league average is 28%).
“You pitch the same way no matter what the bullpen has been like,” Zack Wheeler told MetsBlog, when asked if a better bullpen gives him more confidence when on the mound. “Obviously, guys have ups and downs just like I do, so when I come out I trust them 100 percent.”
Sandy Alderson has shown a quick hook with under-performers in the bullpen, including John Lannan, Jose Valverde, and Scott Rice, but the real key is that their replacements – young, high-ceiling relievers such as Vic Black and Josh Edgin – have pitched much better than anticipated. We now see a pen constructed like many of the best in baseball, with an emphasis on youth and flexibility…
One of the essential components of the Mets relief staff has been eighth-inning man Jeurys Familia. He’s cut his walk rate in half since last season while adding a full mile per hour to his fastball, and he’s still just 24 years old. He’s given up a solitary home run in his 37 innings and more than half of the balls put in play against him have stayed on the ground. While his walk rate could still improve, his numbers so far constitute a great profile for a late-inning reliever.
Familia has also adapted to different roles on the fly – whether it’s coming in for a single high-stakes out earlier in the game or stretching out to multiple innings when needed. This makes him a valuable weapon.
Another cog in the wheel is Josh Edgin, who was one of the first cuts in Spring Training. This was a surprising move given the team’s limited lefty options, but understandable given his poor performance. He struggled in Triple-A as well, walking almost a batter per inning. But in a small sample so far in the big leagues this season, he’s found better control, and has walked only one while improving his strikeout rate from last season.
More realistically, batters are putting up a suspiciously low BABIP against Edgin, and his impressive 1.86 ERA probably won’t last long. Regardless, he’s taken great strides and could be a long-term solution to the Mets’ dearth of left-handed relievers (bonus: he can hold his own against righties, too).
Even with these solid contributors, to say nothing of Jenrry Mejia’s comfort with closing and Vic Black’s fire-balling (albeit stilltoo walk-heavy) resurgence, there are still some warning signs for this crew. They allow too many home runs, especially playing in spacious Citi Field, and they’ve walked the fifth most batters of any pen in baseball.
The Mets bullpen is also being taxed more than most. This is not a result of pitchers being pulled early – the team is better than average in getting innings from their starters. Instead, it’s due to their many extra-inning games this year (thanks, offense!). Heavy usage means tired relievers which leads to heavier reliance on less effective relievers. So this is something to watch for.
Still, for the first time in a while, Mets fans can feel confident when a game turns over to the bullpen. And with an average age of just 26, hopefully that feeling will last.