Last season the bullpen of the New York Mets enjoyed something of a renaissance year with several young arms making their way up to the big league club and contributing at a high level. One could easily argue that the reason the Mets finished 2014 with a record of 20-15 from August 20 onward had a lot to do with that bullpen.
Jeurys Familia (2.21 ERA), Carlos Torres (3.23 ERA), Vic Black (2.60 ERA), Josh Edgin (1.32 ERA) and Jenrry Mejia (2.72 ERA, 28 saves) were the heroes of a once maligned bullpen that believe it or not started the year with vagabonds like Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth, and a closer in Bobby Parnell, who was lost for the year with Tommy John’s Surgery.
Can they do it again? To be fair, expecting the same exact results from a bullpen year in and year out is a gamble nobody should bet on. Injuries, slumps, and adjusting batters all contribute to the ebb and flow of the bullpen. Every year and every bullpen is different.
On the surface the Mets don’t have an established closer for 2015. Look a little closer, and one can see that the best candidate for the job for might be Jeurys Familia.
Last season, Familia went extended stretches posting zeros on the scoreboard, becoming an automatic for Terry Collins to call on. In the Month of July, Familia gave up no runs in 12 innings. In August and September, respectively, he gave up four runs in each month. As a result, his 2.21 ERA was among the best on the team.
On the year, he held opposing hitters to a .209 batting average, which was in the top five among relievers with 75 or more appearances last year. Only Cody Allen of Cleveland, Jon Smith of Anaheim and Tyler Clippard of Washington were better.
Familia also manufactured most of his outs via the ground ball, (103), a huge key for any late inning reliever where most hitters are trying to get to ball into the outfield. Plus, he’s knocked scouts out of their shoes with his velocity with is in the mid-to-upper 90s.
He’s got the stuff, and, if you watched him last year, one could see the ice water in the veins too. Case in point, in two late season games against a Washington Nationals team that was looking to clinch a playoff berth, Familia shut the door on them twice! A combined line of two innings pitched, allowing only a single hit and striking out five against a 96-win juggernaut. A small sample, but a sample that is evidence to how good Familia can become.
Don’t be surprised at all if Familia earns a stamp of approval as closer of this team at some point. Some of the best to close games have slowly worked their way up the ranks of the bullpen before becoming closers. Trevor Hoffman didn’t become a full time closer until 1995 after three years in the pen for the Padres and Marlins. The great Mariano Rivera began his career as a starter, and eventually, a set-up man to John Wetland in 1996 before getting the closer’s role.
This is not to say Familia is the next Rivera or Hoffman. But he has the stuff to become a reliable closer if given the chance.
As for Mejia, he struggled as a starting pitcher last year. His 5.06 ERA in seven starts was the highest among Mets starters in 2014, so moving to the bullpen was a big plus for him. Unlike some starters who get upset with the pen assignment, Mejia welcomed it. He was so effective out of the pen that he became the closer, saving 28 games.
That being said Mejia was wild at times. He did walk 41 batters in 93 innings, and surrendered nine home runs. He’s an emotional guy, and sometimes emotions can come back to hurt a closer. I could see him becoming a reliable set-up guy if the closer’s roll doesn’t work out.
The comeback of Parnell will be interesting, but he will have a hard time getting that closer’s roll back. Not only does he have to compete with hard throwers in Mejia and Familia, but, he was not exactly automatic in the ninth inning. He has saved 36 games in 58 attempts, only 62 percent; a stat that is nowhere near some of his contemporaries who serve in that role. Throughout his up and down career, Parnell seemed more comfortable being a seventh or eighth inning guy rather than a closer. If he returns to full strength that might be his best role.