Mesa's Numbers In A Downward Trend

With Jose Mesa being a twenty-first century version of Mitch Williams lately, it's time to explore the numbers. Sure, Mesa saved 45 games last season, but when you dig deeper, you see that the numbers aren't all that pretty and they certainly don't all add up well.

It was 1-1 entering the ninth.  The two starting pitchers had gone a combined 13 innings and given up only the two runs on 11 hits.  Through eight, the pitchers were dominating.  Then we went to the ninth.

 

To start the ninth, in came my own sort of heartburn: Jose Mesa.  Tuesday night's game marked only the second time this year that Mesa has entered the game with a tie score.  The Phillies scored an extra-inning run in that earlier game, giving Mesa the win.  Last night, it wouldn't even get that far.  Mesa quickly got the first out...well, here's the play-by-play, from ESPN.com:

 

-M Williams fouled out to first.

-L Overbay walked.

-D Bautista struck out swinging.

-R Barajas singled to shallow center, L Overbay to third.

-Q McCracken singled to center, L Overbay scored, R Barajas to second.

-A Cintron singled to right, R Barajas to third, Q McCracken to second.

-R Barajas scored, Q McCracken to third, A Cintron to second on wild pitch by J Mesa.

-J Spivey singled to center, Q McCracken and A Cintron scored.

-R Cormier relieved J Mesa.

 

A walk.  A single, on a 0-2 count.  A single.  A single.  A wild pitch.  A single.  All but the walk coming with two outs.

 

A bad night?  Absolutely.  But I think it's going beyond simply a bad night.

 

The loss Tuesday night took Mesa to 1-3 on the season.  Yes, he has 11 saves, but he has two blown saves, as well.  His ERA is a downright ugly 6.35, which would be a career high.  He has appeared in 18 games so far this season; he has allowed at least one run to score in seven of those.  Let me just give you the ugly numbers:

 

W

L

Sv

BS

ERA

H

BB

K

BA

SLB

K/9

BB/9

H/9

1

3

11

2

6.35

22

8

7

.306

.375

3.71

4.24

11.65

 

Compare those numbers with the previous two years:

 

Year

W

L

Sv

BS

ERA

H

BB

K

BA

SLB

K/9

BB/9

H/9

2003

1

3

11

2

6.35

22

8

7

.306

.375

3.71

4.24

11.65

2002

4

6

45

9

2.97

65

39

64

.231

.338

7.61

5.06

8.44

2001

3

3

42

4

2.34

65

20

59

.246

.337

7.66

2.38

7.73

 

The numbers are obviously in a downward trend.  His losses doubled from 2001 to 2002, and he has already matched 2001's total.  We have already talked about the ERA.  His strikeout numbers are way down, and his walks are up from 2001 (although slightly down from last season).  He is also giving up almost 12 hits per every nine innings.

 

The loss of control is a big issue for closer.  A team depends on the closer to come in and shut the door on the opposition -- don't even give them a whisper of a chance in the 9th.  A guy like Mariano Rivera, John Smoltz, Eric Gagne -- they shut the hitters down 1-2-3 repeatedly.  Mesa's lack of control leads to him being hit often, as the .306 clip shows.  He has only six 1-2-3 innings in his 18 appearances, and is averaging over 1.5 base runners per inning.  That is not the sign of a closer in control.

 

We can hope that Mesa is just going through a rough spot, and will become more effective and efficient as the summer wears on.  But the numbers do not bear that out.  In fact, they make things look even worse for a team hoping to play into October.

 

Tuesday night's appearance in a tie game was the 17th such appearance since Mesa joined the Phillies at the start of the 2001 season.  And the results should have been expected.  Mesa gives up just shy of a run per appearance when entering with the game tied; he has a 6-6 record in those 17 games, and the Phillies are 10-7.  I crunched the numbers from all of Mesa's appearances since Opening Day 2001, and here's what I have come up with:

 

Scenario

Games

Avg. RA*

W

L

Sv

BS

Team W

Team L

Trailing

14

0.57

0

0

0

0

0

14

Tie Game

17

0.76

6

6

0

0

10

7

1-run lead

41

0.44

2

5

28

13

33

8

2-run lead

36

0.28

0

1

34

2

35

1

3-run lead

35

0.14

0

0

34

1

35

0

4-run lead

14

0.36

0

0

2

0

14

0

5+ - run lead

6

0.67

0

0

0

0

6

0

 

*Avg RA = Average number of runs Mesa has allowed per appearance

 

As you can see, the numbers are not good when he enters a game with a tie score.  He will give up a run 3 out of every 4 chances, and the team is barely over .500 in that scenario.

 

Mesa is most comfortable with a 3-run lead.  He has had 35 such appearances in 2-plus years; in those 35 games, Mesa has 34 saves and the team has 35 wins.  With a 2-run or 4-run lead, he is almost as automatic.  With a 5-run or greater cushion, he gets a little relaxed; he may give up a run or two, but the game is safely in hand.  Similarly, he's not as effective when he comes in and the Phillies are trailing -- he may give up a run or two at times, but usually the game is pretty much over anyway.

 

But it's the smaller leads where I find issues.  We have seen that the numbers are not good when the score is tied.  But look at 1-run leads -- the leads that a closer needs to protect.  In 41 appearances with a 1-run lead, Mesa will give up a run almost half the time.  He has 13 blown saves in those 41 chances, for a 68.3 save percentage.  The Phillies have lost eight of those games.  Those are not good numbers.  You turn to your closer to shut down tight games.  What does it say when you can only feel safe doing so if you have a 3-run lead?

 

These numbers, again, span 2001-present.  Which means that Mesa's troubles -- as brought to the spotlight Tuesday night -- are not a one-year thing.  The numbers show that Mesa is not dependable -- or at least not as lights-out dependable as you want your closer to be -- in a close game.  And the Phillies can't have that if they want to be playing in October.  It's time to start looking for some help.

Michael Blake is the site editor for View From The 700 Level. Be sure to check out his site for even more Phillies news and views.

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