The New York Mets had the best bullpen in the National League in 2006. Coincidentally (or not), that was the last time they reached the postseason. Then, the bullpen went into a tailspin, finally hitting rock bottom last season.
The 2008 Mets bullpen blew a whopping 29 save opportunities and posted an ugly 4.27 ERA.
New York's arch-nemesis for the last few seasons, the Philadelphia Phillies, had a completely different situation.
The Phillies bullpen ranked 24th in ERA in 2007. The Phils made a complete turnaround in 2008, jumping to 2nd in the majors with a 3.22 bullpen ERA. Philadelphia relievers blew just 15 saves in 2008, about half that of the New York bullpen.
A big part of that turnaround was closer Brade Lidge, who converted all 41 of his save opportunities.
Can the Mets bullpen make a similar turnaround in 2009?
I think General Manager Omar Minaya's work in the off-season gives them a good chance to do just that.
Phillies Community Leader Christian Karcole thinks that the Phillies depth in the bullpen will give them the upper hand. Check out his thoughts on the subject here: Division Debate: Phillies Bullpen Still Too Mighty For Mets
The Mets bullpen will be completely different in 2009. The actual bullpen itself, where these pitchers will call home for 81 games is even different.
The new bullpen at Citi Field will be free of the stress, troubles, and heartache experienced in the Shea bullpen. There will be a fresh start.
The Mets will return just two relievers who saw significant time in the bullpen last season. Pedro Feliciano (86 games) and Brian Stokes (24 games) are the holdovers who will be joined by five new faces when the season starts on April 6 in Cincinnati.
The Mets cut ties with several relievers who were a part of the misery of the last two seasons. Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis, and Joe Smith were shipped off via trade. Duaner Sanchez was cut during spring training, and closer Billy Wagner will miss significant time while recovering from elbow surgery.
Having new faces around who didn't have a part in the bullpen collapses will certainly help to change the atmosphere in the pen.
During the off-season, Minaya dismantled his bullpen and then rebuilt it. He started the rebuilding process on December 10th, 2008.
On that day, Minaya officially announced the signing of the Mets new closer, Francisco Rodriguez. Later that night, Minaya acquired former Mariners closer J.J. Putz in a three-team blockbuster trade, giving the Mets perhaps the best bullpen combo in the majors.
K-Rod will replace Wagner as closer. Considering that Wagner and Rodriguez are essentially equal in effectiveness (career—Wagner—2.40 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, K-Rod—2.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP), this is not an upgrade. So, had Minaya rested after acquiring K-Rod, the Mets would have basically the same bullpen as last season. But, he didn't rest. He kept working.
J.J. Putz is the most important acquisition for the Mets. Putz gives the Mets a dominant set-up man for the first time since Duaner Sanchez's injury during the '06 season. Putz struggled through injuries last season, but is completely healthy and has looked strong in spring training. He also has experience closing games, so if K-Rod falters or gets injured, the Mets have an instant replacement, something they sorely lacked in '08.
Not only will Putz be a huge help on the field, but his personality in the clubhouse will be of the utmost importance. While competitive, Putz is a laid back guy that enjoys practical jokes, especially smashing shaving cream pies into teammates' faces.
Putz' fun loving attitude will help lighten the mood in the New York clubhouse. This is an element that the team lacked during the "collapses" of 2007 and 2008. I look forward to seeing Putz nail a teammate with a pie during a post-game interview.
Rodriguez and Putz matchup well the Phillies' eight and ninth inning pitchers Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson.
Not only did Minaya do a great job on solidifying the back end of the bullpen with a top notch closer and set-up man, but he also shored up the middle innings with some good arms.
The lone lefty in the Mets pen will be Pedro Feliciano who returns for his sixth full season with the Mets. Feliciano did not have his best year in 2008, posting a 4.05 ERA. A big reason for his sub-par season was overuse. Feliciano appeared in a major league leading 86 games in 2008.
If Jerry Manuel can cut down Feliciano's appearances, and try to use him in the lefty-specialist role, Feliciano can be one of the top relievers in the league. After all, lefties hit just .210 against him last season, and a paltry .168 in 2007.
Feliciano is the Mets counter to the Phillies' J.C. Romero, who will miss the first 50 games of the season due to a controversial suspension stemming from a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
Sean Green came over to New York from Seattle in the J.J. Putz deal and he will replace Joe Smith. Green is a ground-ball machine. Last season he had a 63.3% ground-ball rate, ranking near the top of the league.
A surprise addition to the Mets bullpen is Rule 5 draftee Darren O'Day, whom I am excited about. O'Day had a brief stint with the Angels last season, but suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder in September. He was able to avoid surgery, and after extensive rehab is now healthy.
The side-arming 26-year-old had a 2.77 ERA in 123.1 minor league innings.
Rounding out the Mets 'pen will be youngsters Brian Stokes and Robert Parnell, both of whom have displayed excellent stuff and impressed Mets decision makers.
The 2009 Mets bullpen is completely different than the much maligned units of the past two years. The 'pen has plenty of depth and is filled with pitchers with plenty of upside.
I don't expect the Phillies' Lidge and Madson to repeat their outstanding 2008 campaigns. Lidge seems to have exorcised his demons from his poor performance in the 2005 playoffs, but he can't be perfect two years in a row. The Phillies 'pen will regress slightly and the New York 'pen will be drastically improved.
Omar Minaya's off-season work has closed the gap between the Mets and Phillies in terms of relief pitching.