Season in preview: The bullpen

Krod!

The bullpen in April: Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Buchholz, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato, Blaine Boyer

Overview: Besides the closer Rodriguez, the Mets’ bullpen is comprised of converted starters, non-tendered free agents and guys brought to camp on Minor League deals.

That sounds bad, but it’s not. Though “two closers” might make for sexier headlines, the best bullpens are often cobbled together on the cheap. Due partly to sample size, and presumably partly to usage, most big-league relievers’ performances fluctuate pretty wildly from year to year. As long as a team can find a host of promising arms and be willing to shake things up when necessary, it can build a successful relief corps.

By keeping Boyer, who had an out clause in his contract if he didn’t make the Major League team, the Mets had to send Manny Acosta and Pat Misch through waivers. Both pitchers cleared and will start the season in Triple-A Buffalo. Jason Isringhausen will open in extended Spring Training, building up arm strength and waiting for an opportunity when the big-league club loses a reliever to injury or ineffectiveness.

My colleague Mike Salfino is very bullish on Bobby Parnell. Parnell is among the game’s hardest throwers and induced a ton of groundballs last season. He needs to be able to control his slider to keep hitters off-balance, but he could easily emerge as the successor to Rodriguez.

Carrasco isn’t likely to dominate, but he was available at a relative discount and has been a decent Major League reliever for three straight seasons. Buchholz was great the last time he was fully healthy. Byrdak can get left-handers out (though Mets fans might have to adjust to the idea of a lefty specialist that needs occasional days off). The Rule 5 pick Beato converted to a relief role last year and posted a 2.11 ERA in Double-A. Boyer induces a ton of ground-balls.

And when he’s not disrupting the peace, Rodriguez has been a very good closer. The Mets will want to be careful with how they use him, since Rodriguez has an option on his contract that vests if he finishes 55 games, but he should be good whenever he pitches. Terry Collins has said he’ll be willing to use Rodriguez earlier than the ninth inning if the situation calls for it.

Collins has also mentioned a couple of times how he doesn’t like to get guys warmed up to not bring them in the game. That’s important, and a massive departure from the last couple years in Flushing. It remains to be seen how Collins will manage the Mets’ bullpen, but it’s hard to imagine him being worse at it than Jerry Manuel. The new administration seems more adamant about determining on its own when a player needs a rest day, not deferring to a professional athlete who will inevitably insist he’s ready to go.

Joe Pawlikowski at Fangraphs recently suggested the Mets’ bullpen will be a strength for the team, perhaps surprising the set disappointed that the team failed to bring on any big names this offseason. He’s right though. Though few of the Mets’ relievers are bona fide studs, the club has enough depth in its bullpen that it should be able to settle on a good mix of guys to finish out games.

The bullpen in September: Rodriguez, Parnell, and five other guys, a couple of whom are probably on the roster now. High turnover isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a bullpen.

Overview: The Braves’ bullpen, on paper at least, appears excellent. The Marlins’ crew looks good too. The Phillies’ won’t be great until Brad Lidge returns, but they should benefit from having starting pitchers eating up most of their innings. The Nationals’ bullpen, a strength last year, seems a bit top-heavy. But it’s pretty difficult to predict how bullpens will shake out, so I’ll take the safe guess and figure the Mets will wind up somewhere in the middle of the pack in their division.

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