Scott Schoeneweis, Pen, Doom Mets Again: Spotlight on Middle Relief, Not Closers

PJ EdelmanCorrespondent ISeptember 21, 2008

Mets fans hate Scott Schoenweis, but the reason isn't exactly clear, although today's implosion against the satanic Braves may have something to do with it.

Schoenweis, who has been pretty solid all year with a 2.95 ERA up until today's game, has been unable to elude Mets fans' growing ire.  I mean, he's only given up 20 earned runs all season.

Therein may lie the problem.  The runs that Schoenweis tends to give up are not his own. They are charged to the possession of other Mets pitchers.  Not including today's 7-6 loss to the Braves, Schoenweis has given up 53 hits and 22 walks in 51 innings of work.

Those numbers led to a 1.47 WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched)—numbers not too gaudy for a guy who only pitches about once every three days.  All those hits, although they may not cost Schoenweis a solid ERA, do cost the Mets wins.

These types of antics have caused Mets fans to take heed earlier on. Now mainstream sportswriters and organizations like ESPN, whose teaser today reads "Mets lose ground as bullpen blows another lead," have begun to take notice.  

Names like Stokes and Rincon are barely household names, and with Pedro Feliciano sporting a 4.10 ERA and blackhole Aaron Heilman lowering his ERA to 5.33, the Mets' bullpen is finally getting the attention it deserves. 

Johan Santana has long been aware of the Mets' faulty bullpen.  He had a string of June and July games where he left the Mets a chance to win, but his arch-nemesis of a bullpen had other plans.  It can be argued that the pen has actually cost Santana, who is currently rockin' a 2.65 ERA Cy Young candidacy.

The biggest issue for the Mets right now is their middle relief, and not their closer. Luis Ayala has been very good in his brief stint with the Amazins.  While it is likely that the Mets will chase either K-Rod, Fuentes, or Wood next year, their main focus should actually be finding pitchers who can keep a game close in the sixth, seventh, and eighth inning.

Such a task is no easy matter.  Pitchers don't come up from the minors or arrive in trades as middle relief.  They are pitchers who have decent stuff, but don't have the endurance to make it as a starter or the guts to step in as a closer. In a way, they are the offensive linemen of baseball. They do a lot of the dirty work, but rarely get any credit.  

The Phillies have a very good bullpen.  Pitchers like Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, and J.C. Romero, along with others, keep games close until the eighth or ninth.  Although their starting pitching doesn't compare well with the Mets, their middle relievers' ability to stay close in games contributes to a Phillies team that ranks top five in come-from- behind victories. 

Look for the Mets to search out some of these hidden gems in the offseason, but don't expect a major influx of new arms through signings or trades.  Instead, the Mets will rely on their farm system to provide them with young arms to fill in the middle relief role.

Names like Kunz and even Neise come to mind.  Such a strategy, however, may in fact be a critical mistake.  It may be wiser to go out and spend $15 million on two relievers who are proven run-stoppers. 

There are very few elite closers in the game, but there are plenty of serviceable ones.  The question is, can the Mets go out and get a diamond in the rough, a reliever who is hitting his stride, can keep games close, and is virtually unnoticed?

I bet they can, and without sacrificing the money they need for a closer that they want.  Because without a decent middle reliever, a closer is worthless. 

Just ask Johan Santana.