I’ve been trying to decide what the Mets need. I mean, in 2007 they were all but a lock for the playoffs before embarking on an epic fail of historic proportions. Then they went out and acquired the best pitcher on the market. So theoretically, they should’ve come back this year and been even better than they were in 2007 — given the pitching weakness of the Braves (despite their status as an official March 2008 “Trendy Pick”) and the age of the Phillies (the oldest team in MLB — thanks, Jamie Moyer!), surely it was reasonable to expect the Mets to spend much of 2008 in first place in the NL East, if not to run away with the division title.
But they didn’t. Why? What happened? How could this be? They were second in the NL in runs scored, fourth in OPS, second in steals, and first in intentional walks (despite being seventh in home runs). A solid offense, in other words.
Their defense, too, was well above-average, as was their starting pitching — the area that New York focused so diligently on last winter. As starters, the Mets were second in the NL in BAA, fifth in ERA, third in IP, fourth in K’s. Unfortunately, they were also second in walks — but aside from that, their starters performed well.
What could POSSIBLY account for their failure to make the playoffs?
Alas, poor bullpen! Words like “shocking,” “awful,” and “sadistic” were used to describe the Mets bullpen this year. We saw headlines like: “METS BULLPEN BLOWS ANOTHER LEAD,” “HOW BAD IS THE METS BULLPEN?” and “METS BULLPEN CAUSES INTERNAL BLEEDING, RENAL FAILURE, LOSS OF BOWEL CONTROL.” The Mets bullpen was so bad, they currently have an approval rating lower than George Bush’s. The Mets bullpen was so bad, George Thorogood and the Destroyers wrote a song about it. The Mets bullpen was so bad, they actually caused a 9% drop in the Dow. (I will turn actual analysis here over to Jay Jaffe, who had a great breakdown on Baseball Prospectus — don’t worry, it’s free.) Hence, building a bullpen is New York’s major task this offseason.
A bullpen should lower the team’s ERA, not raise it. But as good as New York’s starters were, their relievers last year were terrible, posting a 4.25 ERA–13th out of 16 teams. They were 12th in K’s, and a K is a useful thing when you’re often coming into the game with runners on. In other areas, like K/BB and WHIP, the Mets were just average, or a even below average.
But can a weak bullpen — even a terrible, sadistic, organ-liquifyingly bad bullpen — really be a great team’s undoing?
Keep in mind that the Mets only finished 3 games out of first, and that they had the third-best run differential in the league. In fact, the Mets teams of the past few years remind me of the Red Sox teams I grew accustomed to seeing around the turn of the millennium — excellent teams who played in a tough division and just managed to fall short. So, yes. The bullpen here could be — and was — the difference.
But now, there are plenty of closers available, and it seems like the Mets are checking up on just about all of them, as well as the set-up men, middle-men, mop-up men, and just about every other relief arm available. Beyond that, they’re also making a run at the same decent, mid-rotation pitchers everyone else is in the mix on. Nothing bold or terribly exciting, but the extreme pitching focus makes sense for the Mets. The Mets have already invested heavily in what is still, epic fails aside, an extremely good team. This is the perfect time for an aggressive, win-now strategy.
So, in sum:
1) Cast a wide net and pick up as much pitching quality and quantity as you can get.
2) Keep your fingers crossed that the Braves really have given up on Jake Peavy (though that sounds like it’s just a bargaining tactic, to me).
3) Move to new stadium, leave old demons behind.
And none of that works, try a Cole Hamels voodoo doll bobblehead giveaway.