New York Mets: Reconstructing the Mets' Bullpen Based on 2006
Considering the struggles of this Mets team, it's hard to believe the 2006 squad was lauded for their incredibly deep bullpen.
No matter what inning it was, Willie Randolph was able to call upon an effective arm, especially since the long man—Darren Oliver—was more effective than some of the starters, such as Steve Trachsel, Alay Soler, Dave Williams and Jose Lima.
The game that stands out to me was on May 6th, while they played Atlanta the day after a 14-inning marathon in which they used all but one reliever.
The Mets needed depth from their starting pitcher. Unfortunately, that starting pitcher was Victor Zambrano who departed the game after 1.1 innings.
He was never to be seen in a Mets uniform again, but that is besides the point.
Darren Oliver pitched the next four innings and was relieved by Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano, Jorge Julio and the winning pitcher—Bartolome Fortunato (who was also acquired in the Scott Kazmir deal).
The Mets were able to win that game 6-5. The 2012 team can barely close out the final three outs, nonetheless 23 outs.
Here is how the Mets can model their 2013 pen after the 2006 squad.
1. Reliable Closer at the Back-End
In 2006, the Mets received a terrific season from their veteran closer, Billy Wagner, in his age-34 season.
Despite his reputation for coming up small in the big moment, Wagner will go down as one of the best left-handed relievers of all time.
He posted a 2.24 ERA and 40 saves over 70 innings, amassing a 4.48 K/BB ratio and a terrific 196 ERA+.
This season, the Mets have been forced to watch a combination of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell struggle to get through the ninth inning in one piece.
It would be hard to imagine any team taking a chance on Francisco, considering his injuries, lack of performance and high salary. If he is to remain on the roster for next season, he should really be demoted to the 7th inning duties.
The Mets should really examine the market for free agent closers in the off-season, with emphasis on run prevention.
Someone that could potentially fill that role would be Matt Capps, an underrated pitcher who will not be looking for the type of money that Jose Valverde is asking for.
2. Set-Up Man Equally Effective Against Lefties and Righties
The Mets actually had an even stronger bullpen earlier in the 2006 season, but that changed once Duaner Sanchez went down with his shoulder injury following the infamous cab ride in Miami.
Prior to his injury, Sanchez was extremely effective, compiling a 5-1 record with a 2.60 ERA in 49 appearances.
At the All-Star break, the Mets acquired Roberto Hernandez from the Pittsburgh Pirates to fill the void. Aaron Heilman was also used in the set-up role alongside Guillermo Mota, who was borderline dominant.
Although he has had a hand in several bullpen losses, Jon Rauch has actually been better than given credit for.
Yes, he has seven losses, but he has been stingy with base runners—0.98 WHIP—and has a respectable 3.09 ERA.
I would not mind seeing Rauch re-signed despite the need for a revamping the bullpen. He has been one of the bright spots, and he can contribute as an effective reliever next season as well.
3. A Balanced Middle Relief Corp
In the previous slide, I mentioned how Mota, Heilman and Hernandez all contributed to their late-inning success.
They posted a 32-15 bullpen record, while posting a 2.55 ERA in save situations. Certainly a far cry from the struggles of the 2008 bullpen.
The key to the 2006 bullpen was the different looks they were able to give.
They possessed power arms, sidearmers from both sides and pitchers that were adept at retiring lefties and righties.
Chad Bradford was a true savior for the bullpen, being that he was death on right-handed batters. He held them to a .331 slugging percentage, which is basically like facing pitchers for an entire season.
It will be difficult to have multiple relievers all dominate the way the Mets' middle relievers did that season, but if they can put an emphasis on pitchers that limit base runners—even if they had high ERAs in 2012—they can potentially catch lightning in a bottle.
Perhaps a pitcher like Grant Balfour or LaTroy Hawkins could help them take a step in the right direction.
4. The Next Pedro Feliciano
To say that the Mets were spoiled to have Pedro Feliciano would be an understatement. I find it hard to believe they had such bullpen troubles even with one of the most consistent relievers in the game.
Playing against the Phillies when they had Ryan Howard and Chase Utley at the prime of their careers, he was still virtually unhittable.
He appeared in more than 78 games from 2006 to 2010, leading the majors in appearances in the latter three seasons.
Feliciano has held left-handed batters to a .216 mark for his career, but his biggest asset was his ability to bear down in the clutch. He held batters to a .224 BAA with runners in scoring position, which is vital in one-run games.
The Mets replaced him with Tim Byrdak, who was sufficient but nowhere near the effectiveness of Feliciano.
For next year, the Mets certainly cannot burden their primary left-handed specialist with the workload of Feliciano and Byrdak. It is unfair to expect consistent results pitching nearly every night.
Josh Edgin appears to be returning for 2013, but the Mets must also add another southpaw.
Will it be Robert Carson?
Not if they expect to contend; he has not displayed the command necessary to become a reliable specialist.
I believe J.P. Howell or Jeremy Affeldt are the only relievers on the market that can provide consistent relief from the left side for an affordable price.
5. Long Reliever
As I mentioned in the opening, the Mets were incredibly fortunate to have such an effective long reliever. Not many teams have that luxury.
As good as Oliver was in 2006, he has actually improved since.
The 41-year-old will become a free agent at the end of 2012, but the Mets should look to go younger. Perhaps a reclamation project such as Jonathon Sanchez or Jeremy Guthrie could be had on the cheap.
This is probably the most overlooked part of a team—the seventh man out of the bullpen—but the Mets were able to steal a handful of games in 2006, in which their starter was knocked out before the sixth inning, and they needed depth from a reliever.
Little things like this help build a champion-caliber club.