Unconventional Wisdom: Breaking down the Mets bullpen
If the Mets miss the playoffs this year, they'll remember Aug. 2 as the day their season irrevocably turned. In the ninth inning of a game against the Astros, interim manager
On the whole, the Mets are third in the league in run differential and tied for third in wins. For them
However, Wagner's injury exposed the Mets' Achilles heel, their bullpen, and if they don't make the playoffs they can hang a good share of the blame on a unit that hasn't come close to holding up its end of the deal. The Mets have lost 28 games in which they were either ahead or tied after six innings, the most in the majors. That's partly a function of opportunity (they've played more games in which they were ahead or tied after six than any team) and partly a failure to execute (they're 5-15 when tied after six).
The ranking is by overall standings in the majors, and make no mistake: For the Mets, that's ugly. In fact, if the Mets reach the playoffs without much improvement from their bullpen, their WXRL total would rank among the 10 worst for a playoff team since 1988, a year chosen to represent the dawn of the one-inning closer era:
Not surprisingly, the teams that made the playoffs despite such bullpen problems didn't last long; only two out of 10 won a playoff series, and none won a championship. Limiting the discussion to teams like this year's Mets, who were in the bottom quartile of their respective leagues in WXRL, narrows the list to seven, with one series win. This just in: a bad bullpen isn't part of a winning recipe.
The sad fact is that through the first half of the season, even with Wagner performing at a level far below his peak, the Mets actually had one of the league's better bullpens; their 6.1 WXRL through the All-Star break ranked third in the NL behind the Phillies and Dodgers. Since then, they've been a league-worst 1.4 wins below replacement level as a unit. Fill-in closer
A quick peek at the individual numbers informs us that it's not hard to recognize a systemic combination of overuse and ineffectiveness. Of the six relievers whom
Driving such a frenetic pace is a massive platoon split that has Manuel chasing the "right" matchups, following a single-minded La Russa-style tactical orthodoxy at the expense of more important strategic imperatives such as conserving bullpen arms over the course of the long season. When they have the platoon advantage (righty on righty or lefty on lefty), Mets relievers have limited hitters to just .225/.299/.325; ranked by OPS, that's an impressive fourth in the majors. However, when they don't have the platoon advantage, they've been tagged at a .294/.375/.479 clip, worst in the majors. The 227-point OPS difference between situations is the highest by a wide margin; second-highest are the Brewers at 188 points, and they just whacked a manager over his
Yet for all of those woes, things might be different if Wagner were still around. Despite a superficially tidy 2.30 ERA, the five-time All-Star had accumulated just 1.5 WXRL in about two-thirds of a season, after compiling 3.8 last year and 5.9 in 2006 (second in the league). Depending upon which model of Billy Wags you use as a benchmark, that's anywhere from one to four wins missing from his ledger. Even at its lowest, that margin may easily be the difference between a club playing its way into October and adding another season like their now-infamous 2007 collapse to give them a matched pair of late-season meltdowns.