Thursday, March 22, 2007

What You Already Know: The Bullpen

Something's not quite right.

No really, the Mets' bullpen, while still very good (and still better than the Phillies bullpen), isn't quite up to snuff from the high standards of 2006.

Guillermo Mota overinjected.

Filthy Sanchez overslept.

Aaron Heilman still dreams of the greener grass on the other side of the fence.

Juan "The Fly" Padilla is shutdown due to a sore elbow.

Darren Oliver is in Anaheim.

The only sure thing about the bullpen is that Billy Wagner will have the ninth inning all season. And despite all the hand wringing over a couple of horrid collapses against the Yankees and the Reds, Country Time having the ninth inning isn't a bad thing. Now that he has a new split fingered fastball in his arsenal, let's see if he can keep hitters off balance while they're coming back from 4 run deficits in the ninth inning.

Heilman, until Filthy and the Cheat get back from injury and suspension, has the eighth inning. The question is: what will happen when those two get back? Does Willie Randolph dare "demote" Heilman to the seventh inning if he's pitching well and risk losing him forever and ever? Probably not...not after Sanchez's repeated lateness episodes in spring training. Then again, would Sanchez have to be moved to the eighth inning because he can't get to the park in time for the seventh?

The success of the bullpen may very well be tied to the success (or failure) of Joe Smith. No, not that Joe Smith, the Joe Smith who was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft out of Wright State. It's a testament to the improved drafting skills of the Omar Minaya regime that they can get a guy in the third round who makes the majors just nine months later. But Smith is going to have to use his killer slider and Bradford-like delivery to bridge the gap between Scott Schoeneweis and guys like Pedro Feliciano, Heilman, and Country Time.

As for Schoeneweis, he's a good alternative to Darren Oliver for the long man's role. If Oliver was like "Sweet N' Low", Schoeneweis would be like "Equal", but harder to spell. And Feliciano was solid most of last season, spectacular the rest of the time. Anything close to that would be welcome.

And speaking of hard to spell, there's Ambiorix Burgos. Rick Peterson would love for him to be the sixth guy out of the bullpen with his 99 mph heater and as the kids say: "freakish upside". But he's getting lit up this spring, and all of a sudden the Mets have another Jorge Julio on their hands...if Burgos makes the club, it will probably be in that capacity of "let's make this guy the one we put in with an 8-1 lead or 10-0 deficit, and let him work out his problems there. But what good would that be? With a starting rotation that on most nights barely cross five innings, this bullpen is going to need to be deep and effective. It will be when Filthy and Mota return. But until then, guys like Smith and Burgos, realistically or not, are going to have to grow up a little bit and perform in their roles at least until Filthy, the Fly, and the Cheat return.


adoniram said...

There's definitely cause for worry in the bullpen.

It's not gonna be awful (Wagner/Heilman make for a nice anchor... awfully German sounding as well now that I think of it) but it's got holes.

Looking forward to your starting pitching analysis. It seems to me that there's no doubt that the pitching has taken as step back on the top end from 2006 but may be deeper on the bottom end.

MetsfaninTX said...

As shaky as our pitching is,
compared to last year, I think
our starting pitching is much
better. Zambrano, Gonzalez,
Trachshel, and Lima are going to
be upgraded by Pelfrey, Maine,
etc. Bullpen is pretty much
the same with the possible
decline of Billy Wagner.

o'neill said...

I just don't see all this worry about the bullpen. Sure, we'll have to get by for a little while at less than full strength. But Wagner is good-to-great, Heilman (except for one inning last October) has never been anything but reliable, Burgos and Smith are intriguing wildcards, and before we know it we'll have Mota and Sanchez back (though admittedly Mota is one of those annoying "will he be good without the juice" question marks). Even if Mota is bad, we'll have a great closer, a great setup man, and a great setup man for the setup man. How many teams can say that? I wouldn't be at all surprised if we had the best bullpen in the game again this year.