Bullpen Blues

With the recent five game skid, it's time to start pointing some fingers and laying blame. And now that the Mets have fallen into last place in the division, the uniforms are not the only thing looking blue.

It was a sad, sad week for Mets' fans. Heck, it's been a sad start to the season. There are only four players with an OPS (On-base plus Slugging) of over .800, and three of those players have less than five at bats. The other one is Ty Wigginton, who has more than tripled the OPS of Mike Piazza. Piazza, meanwhile, is dueling Rey Sanchez for the title of worst hitting regular on the team. Piazza's OPS of .355 just beats out Sanchez's .344. Piazza has batted higher than his current OPS. The when you look at Roger Cedeno's .466 and Mo Vaughn's .562, it finally sinks in how poorly these guys are hitting.

But the pitching's good, right?

A week ago, things looked good, but there's been a lingering concern all season. On paper, the Mets have an impressive bullpen with the likes of Dave Weathers, Scott Strickland, Mike Stanton, and Armando Benitez as the core. It sounds like a fearsome group, and in most of the time, it is, but there are times when even the most fearsome bullpens wear out.

It is only 12 games into the season. Mets pitchers have pitched a total of 105.1 innings. Of those 105.1 innings, 41 of them have come from relief pitchers. That means over the course of this 12 game season, the starters have averaged barely over 5.1 innings per start. It does not take Bud Selig to figure out that if your starters only average 5.1 innings per start, then your bullpen will have more arms falling off than a leper colony!

It's the start of the season, and the bullpen should be fresh enough to handle a heavy workload early on to let the starters get warmed up, but obviously the bullpen is having some troubles. The Mets' bullpen ERA is 5.49, while in 64.1 innings the starters have an ERA of 3.92. It's a noticeable difference to say the least.

Here is the real concern. This is a (very) veteran pitching staff, with only Jae Seo under the age of a billion, yet the average pitch count for Mets' starters is 93.6. This is probably a holdover from new manager Art Howe's days with the Athletics when he had a young staff that he had to baby, but nonetheless, this can't go on. Only three times this season has a Met starter thrown over 100 pitches, with 110 being the high (Al Leiter 4/13 against the Expos). Take a look at some specifics.

Date - Pitcher - Line

4/2 - Leiter (6 Inn, 1 ER, 4 h, 3 bb, 3 k, 97 PC)

4/4 - David Cone (5 Inn, 0 ER, 2 h, 3 bb, 5 k, 84 PC)

4/5 - Tom Glavine (5 2/3 Inn, 1 ER, 5 h, 0 bb, 5 k, 96 PC)

4/10 - Glavine (6 Inn, 0 ER, 5 h, 2 bb, 3 k, 88 PC)

4/13 - Leiter (6 Inn, 0 ER, 3 h, 4 bb, 1 k, 106 PC)

(The 4/6, 4/8, and 4/9 games each had quick hooks, but are more justifiable in context).

The game on April tenth is the most unexplainable. The staff ace has pitched 6 easy shutout innings, thrown only 88 pitches, and is pinch hit for and replaced the next inning.

Look at it this way. The starters are 4-4. The bullpen is 0-4. The bullpen's ERA is more than a run and a half higher than the starters'. So do these quick hooks that Howe employs help or hurt the team?

So as not to ignore a seemingly more important issue, suffer me to recap. The bullpen has been overworked, yes, but overall the pitching has been ok. The Mets are ranked ninth of sixteen in ERA in the NL, so it really is the offense to blame. Why has there not been more complaining about the offence's lack of hitting? The bullpen issue is a trend based on management, while the lack of hitting is based on the players themselves. While players fluctuate and streak, managerial decisions do not.

To say Mike Piazza is hitting poorly is fact, but it's also blatantly obvious. To point out how poorly he is hitting is pointless. Management will not trade him. The Mets have no "plan B," nor do they need one. Just give him time and he will be fine. As for everyone else in the lineup who is seemingly slumping, give them at least a hundred at bats before you crucify them- except for Rey Sanchez. Giving him a hundred at bats is a bad idea. He'd be helping the Mets more if he had stayed in a Braves' uniform.

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