Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bullpen Blows Up, But Who Lit The Fuse?

My initial reaction to Thursday's version of "Your Season Has Come, And It's Going to Rip Your Heart Out and Show It To You!" was to blow up as bad as the bullpen did in the seventh inning and go ballistic on the food poisoning twins as I have done before, but the Libra in me has decided to be fair and analytical about this latest loss and look at it from both sides, especially since my Friday piece on Flushing University is all about not getting too angry and to try to enjoy this pennant race we're in (I was putting the finishing touches on it when the Mets were up 7-3, what can I say?) So here now, are both sides of tonight's coin (both, unfortunately, come up tails):

In Defense of Aaron Heilman:

Those who are regulars here at my virtual barstool know that I'm not a Willie-Basher. I'm a firm believer that even if you have no business being in a ballgame, you have to go at it the very best you can when you get in there. Sure, there's some extreme circumstances, but very rare is the manager who will make a dumb move like put in a pitcher seventeen days in a row including off days (at least this side of Dallas Green.) So if you're in there, you have to get the job done.

That being said, if Jorge Sosa wasn't going to be available for you (and he shouldn't have been since he's already pitched in four of the last five games), then you had to find a way to get Brian Lawrence in for the sixth inning. Sure, I understand the desire to have Ruben Gotay pinch hit with the sacks full to blow the game open...and frankly, that takes some guts to do that up 7-3. But to try to play Russian Roulette with Mota for two innings, and then when that doesn't work, only use Pedro Feliciano for a batter, and then basically run out of options and force yourself to ask Heilman to get six outs (and start that journey with runners on first and second), you're not putting your team in the best position to win.

Look, Heilman is a one inning horse, as proven by some guy named Molina...I forget which one. Mota's best role is pitching in the bullpen exclusively and never on the actual field. And if I may be frank with you, the way the Mets are using Pedro Feliciano is kinda creepin' me out. How Mota gets to pitch all this time and Feliciano doesn't leave the bullpen for a week is scaring me. Does Feliciano need a "Joe Smith" type rest? Is he mentally drained? Physically drained? Physically hurt? An emotional wreck ever since Pirate Master got cancelled? I don't understand it at all...and I'm not sure I want to.

But managing yourself into a corner and force Aaron Heilman to try to get six outs is not good baseball. And that's not Heilman's fault.

In Persecution of Aaron Heilman:

Physical errors happen. David Wright throwing one into right field while charging a ball is going to happen (especially to Sugar Pants). Mike DiFelice dropping a throw from right field happens every now and again (even though DiFelice has been ready to catch since birth, but I'm too old to split hairs.)

But one of the tests of a good pitcher is whether he has the intestinal fortitude to bounce back when you make a good pitch but your defense lets you down. Are you mentally tough? We got one hint of the kind of mental state Heilman was in when he fielded Jose Bautista's sacrifice bunt and pumped to third base even though he had no shot at third base, and allowed Bautista to reach first and load the bases.

So what does Heilman do after Wright's error? Toughen up and get the next man out? No, he gives cookies to Adam LaRoche and Jason Bay for them to pound on like chop meat. Was it the off shoot of being in the game longer than usual? Or is it a case of not having the mental toughness that a big game reliever should have? Unfortunately, you never quite know with Heilman. Maybe Heilman does have some bulldog in him. You would never tell though past the hangdog look on his face and his not-so-secret desire to be a starting pitcher. Maybe it's unfair to bring that up every time he blows a game, but if you make a mental mistake like pumping to third on a beautiful sac bunt, then one has to wonder.

So there you have it. I've been fair. You decide which side of the worthless coin that you're putting yourself on. I, meanwhile, will try to find some loose change in the wall by banging my head against it.


Mel said...

You know what? I have always been willing to give Willie the benefit of the doubt, up to a couple of months ago, but the more I see this team play, the more often I find myself thinking "Would Bobby Cox make that move?". The answer most often seems to be NO WAY. Just weird stuff, like running out of bench players, misuse of bullpen etc, etc.
When he was hired, I read in one of the papers that they use to call him "Wave-them-home-Willie" while a third base coach with the team in the Bronx. It was meant to show his lack of understanding for the nuances of the game. Now I see why.

Jeterboy said...

It was actually Windmill Willie...but you're right.

Robby said...

I know like every comment I have posted on your blog has been in defense of Aaron Heilman in some way or another, I must explain that I have taken to the man moreso because everyone seems to hate his guts.

I mean I can justify hating Guillermo Mota, who now has a 5.80 ERA coming back from steroids suspension and whom Rotoworld isn't "feeling sorry for."

And I can justify getting pissed off at Willie Randolph because he has proven inept at managing a bullpen this season. I mean, its uncanny. With him, every relief pitcher (outside of Wagner of course) is unclassified. And these unclassified pitchers will either pitch two innings back to back days or a third of an inning in a week. There's no freaking middle ground.

I mean why the hell am I seeing Guillermo Mota on my television all the time and Pedro Feliciano is scarcely being used at all? Why is Joe Smith forgotten in AAA during all this?

But I can't quite justify it with Heilman. The fact is Heilman sits as the Mets' 2nd or 3rd best reliever (depending on where Feliciano is at these days). But since he's not lights out, he seems to get the brunt.

I swear, many of the times Heilman has had a bad outing have been 2 inning outings. Molina, tonight, an early Brave game. I am not sure but I want to see either the Kelly Johnson 3 run HR or the Jimmy Rollins 3 run HR or both were two inning attempts. And saying he's a "1 inning horse" isn't necessarily a putdown either because how many relievers aren't?

But yeah, it really frustrates me when you see one game (like Glavine's 300th) where Willie burns through Mota, Heilman, and Feliciano in one inning and then another game where he tries to stretch Mota two innings and Heilman two innings because Brian Lawrence sucks.

XenoKJS said...

The mets bullpen has been serving up nice, delicious metballs to a crappy pirates team all series. It just finally caught upto them in the final game.

This team reminds me of how I am in the morning. I am not a morning person. Its a struggle to wake up and get going to work, I mean I might physically get up, but I am not all there in the head. Its a perpetual state of groggyness.

The mets need a kick in the ass like I need a cup of coffee in the morning.

kyle in newport news said...

No, he gives cookies to Adam LaRoche and Jason Bay for them to pound on like chop meat.

Either you're mixing your metaphors here or you make some strange cookies.

David said...


it's willie's third year as manager. bobby cox wasn't as good as bobby cox in his third year.

actually though, i was writing to say that the culprit who continues to go unmentioned is the starting staff. these guys, even when pitching well, can't seem to get itself into the 7th or 8th.

i think you really do have to factor that in when thinking about who willie brings in and why. his bullpen is going 3-4 innings every single night. sometimes it isn't just about matchups. i'd be some serious scratch that on some nights willie or prof. rick puts the call out to the pen asking for one guy and the answer is "i just don't have it tonight skip."

willie doesn't abuse his pen the way torre has done historically. but still, these guys are wearing down. what i think is interesting is that if you read widely in the mets blogosphere and press everyone is clear that willie mismanages his lineup and bullpen. but 50 different bloggers and scribes give you 60 different opinions on the "obvious" move that willie is missing. as much as anything, that's what's retained my faith in willie.

when the marketplace comes to a consensus on what a guy is doing wrong, most of the time he's wrong (e.g., Tony LaRussa NOT pinch-hitting Pujols in the All-Star game). but when the market is all over the place about what a guy is doing wrong it's just a common case of making a move that doesn't work. even bobby cox does that.