The U Files # 59: The Bull in the Pen

The Mets had made it a focus under the management of Steve Phillips to maintain a corps of (expensive) veteran relief pitchers that would provide above average support to the Mets starting pitchers. The Mets continued the practice of having high paid relievers form the core of the bullpen in 2003 with the signing of Mike Stanton and the carryover of David Weathers. This edition of the Met relief corps, however, did not generate the expected performance associated with some of those dollars.

The evaluation of a relief pitcher is complicated by the fact not all the runners on base for a reliever are his own, and he is not in control of the fates of all the runners he puts on base. This can make ERA unreliable in this area. A better way to look at bullpen arms is implemented by Baseball Prospectus and posted for free on their website, Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP). It uses the number and bases occupied of inherited runners (and the outs) and the number and bases of runners left to the next pitcher, plus any runs scored, to generate a statistic which can be viewed as the number of runs saved above or below average for each pitcher.

The average Major League bullpen in 2003 pitched 490 (and one ninetieth) innings to an RA of 4.52. The Mets bullpen logged 489.1 IP with an RA of 4.62. The Mets ranked 15th out of 30 teams in bullpen innings and 18th in bullpen RA. Three of the teams ranked below the Mets in bullpen RA had their statistics affected by playing home games in a hitter friendly park (Colorado, Montreal, and Toronto). Those three teams rank above the Mets in ARP runs; thus the Mets bullpen ranked number 21 out of 30 in Major League baseball.

The Mets bullpen finished six runs below average in actual runs, and 5.1 ARP runs below average. The best bullpen in baseball, that of the Los Angeles Dodgers, finished 96.4 ARP runs above average; and the worst bullpen in baseball, the San Diego Padres edition, finished 70.6 runs below average.

Armando Benitez

The Mets started the season with Benitez as the closer for the fourth consecutive season. He pitched 49.1 IP in 45 games before a mid-season trade to the New York Yankees. He performed 1.4 runs above average in a measure of inherited runners scoring, and was supported by his pen-mates with work .4 runs above average. In all, Benitez was 7.4 ARP runs above average.

David Weathers

Weathers was the workhorse of the bullpen, leading the pack with 86.2 innings logged. He was not used in particularly tough situations, scoring .01 points lower than the Mets bullpen average in a measure of expected inherited runs scored (the same score as Benitez), or 0.14 runs per appearance. Weathers was the reliever helped most by his pen-mates (4.6 runs), but he himself helped his mates, saving 1.5 runs in a measure of inherited runners scoring. Overall Weathers earned the best ARP run total of any Met reliever in 2003 – 11.0 runs (though he saved fewer runs per inning than Benitez).

Mike Stanton

Stanton was signed to a three year, $9 million contract before the 2003 season. Though backed by a solid pedigree, Stanton was getting old in baseball years and his 2002 season had seen a considerable drop in strikeout rate. Stanton pitched 45.1 innings in 50 games for the Mets, both lower totals than in vintage Stanton years. Stanton was used in situations similar to those faced by Benitez and Weathers, and his RA was hurt by the efforts of his pen-mates to the tune of 1.9 runs. Stanton was average in inherited runners scoring, and his overall ARP runs were 0.0, exactly average.

Scott Strickland

The young platoon-challenged arm acquired in a trade from the Montreal Expos entering his first full season as a Met could have argued he was the Mets' best setup man coming into the season. His season was cut short by elbow trouble, and he logged just 20.0 innings in 19 games. Strickland was used in easier situations than Benitez, Stanton, or Weathers. He was just barely hurt by his pen-mates (0.1 runs below average in support) and his support of his pen-mates was slightly worse (0.7 runs below average in inherited runners scoring). Despite these facts, Strickland put in work 3.8 ARP runs above average in his truncated season.

Dan Wheeler

Wheeler was the extended-innings specialist in the Mets pen, totaling 51.0 innings in 35 appearances. He was used in the toughest situations of any Met reliever to total more than 9 innings, given the task of negotiating appearances with an average of .27 runs expected to score due to inherited runners. He fared well against inherited runner situations, saving 1.3 runs that would have been charged to his pen-mates. He received similar support (1.0 runs) from his teammates. On the whole he was worth 3.1 runs above average.

Graeme Lloyd

Lloyd was another gnarled old left-handed former Yankee signed prior to the season, expect he was 1) Australian and 2) signed to a minor league contract. Having made the team out of Spring Training, Lloyd pitched 34.1 innings in 35 games before a mid season trade to the Kansas City Royals. In his time with the Mets, Lloyd appeared in tougher situations than the core relievers Benitez, Weathers, and Stanton, but not quite as tough as those faced by Wheeler – 0.22 expected runs per appearance. Lloyd was hurt by his teammates in the amount of 1.8 runs, and provided support a tenth of a run above average to his mates. He finished with positive 3.3 ARP runs as a Met.

Jaime Cerda

The 25-year-old relief prospect came to work for the second season to appear on a Major League game, carrying a sterling minor league pedigree (his overall minor league ERA is under 2). He appeared in 26 games and logged 31.1 innings. Placed in slightly tougher situations than the average Met reliever, Cerda was also the Met reliever hurt most by his pen-mates (3.3 runs in the sink). Cerda did not fare well (due to control problems typical to rookies), scoring 1.4 runs below average in inherited runners scored and posting 3.4 ARP runs below average.

John Franco

The grizzled 39 year old former Mets closer (and future Mets Hall of Famer) came back from ligament replacement surgery posted deceptively good numbers – posting a runs allowed far out of line with his components (hits, strikeouts, home runs, and walks). He allowed 11 runs in 34.1 innings, but 19 component runs. His ARP evaluation is artificially good, based on a giant mound of grade A luck. Take his 4.2 ARP runs above average with a boulder of sand when projecting a 2004 ERA for the recently re-signed pitcher.

Pedro Feliciano

Feliciano was used as a lefty edition of Dan Wheeler, racking up 48.3 innings in 23 games, and placed in similarly challenging situations (0.25 expected runs per appearance). He received average support from his mates, and gave support 0.3 runs below average in return. On the whole he was worth 4.3 ARP runs.

Grant Roberts

The former Mets prospect continued to be 1) very talented and 2) constantly injured, making his way into just 18 games and 19.0 innings. Compared to his pen-mates he was babied regarding the toughness of situations to be faced with. He gave his mates support a run above average and received support a fifth of a run above. Overall he produced 1.2 ARP runs in the positive.

Edwin Almonte, Jason Anderson, Mike Bacsik, David Cone, Jeremy Griffiths, Aaron Heilman, Jason Middlebrook, Orber Moreno, Jae Seo, Patrick Strange

The rest of the Mets pitchers to appear in relief did not pitch more than 11 innings individually but totaled 57.2 innings (counting only innings in relief – several of these pitchers also appeared as part of the fifth-starter-by-committee) and finished an improbable 33.4 ARP runs in the hole.

Name

Innings

ARP

Almonte

11.1

-9.3

Anderson

10.2

-0.5

Bacsik

3

-8.1(!)

Cone

2

-0.2

Griffiths

12

-4.7

Heilman

1.2

0.8

Middlebrook

7

-4.2

Seo

5

-1.6

Strange

9

-7.1