Value of the bullpen

I made a few comments after the Abreu signing that the Mets’ acquisitions of K-Rod and Putz were overrated ; partially because K-Rod himself is and secondly because the positions (setup and closer) also are.

In response, there was the following reader questions (I started to respond in the comment section, but then it got long, so I made it a post):

how is set-up role and closer role overrated??

-do we expect starting pitching to go 9 innings all the time??
-shortening the game for the starter is overrated also?

so the combination of wettland and mo was overrated? could we have won all those championships n the 90’s without a dominating bullpen?

To answer the last 4 questions – No, Yes, Yes, and Yes. And as for the first question, set-up men and closers are overrated because, over the course of the season, they just don’t impact nearly as many at-bats as starters do. Sure, Mo in 1996 pitched an absurd 107 innings, but in general, bullpen pitchers throw about 60 or 70 innings. A good starter will log 200+ innings. Obviously the impact of those innings, especially for a closer, can be a bit more “high leverage,” but at the end of the day, the starter will mean more in terms of wins and losses for a team.

No, starters don’t go 9 innings every game, but the more innings they pitch, the better the bullpen will be. So yes, shortening the game for the starter is overrated – the logic there is flawed, because it’s really the other way around. Last year, Tampa Bay’s normally atrocious bullpen became one of the league’s best. How is that possible? Did Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, and JP Howell really get THAT much better in a year? Of course not. What happened is the Rays had amazing health and productivity out of their starting 5. Those 5 pitched more innings than any other. Therefore, Tampa’s bullpen didn’t need to be used nearly as much. People like to talk about bullpen volatility; a good portion of why relievers’ numbers take such drastic swings is a result of how they are used, which is a product of starting pitching.

The Yankee teams of the 90s all had decent bullpens, but really it was the starting pitching and Rivera that made it that way. The Yankees always had a good starter on the mound, so the middle relief was never overexposed. Guys like Mendoza, Stanton, Nelson, etc were all decent pitchers. But when you have starters that consistently go deep in games and a closer who is so good he can be his own setup man… well your job is easy. The Yankees have had a lot of decent bullpens this decade that ended up looking pretty bad – also in part because of Torre’s handling of it. Guys like Proctor, Quantrill, Karsay, etc were all certainly talented enough to succeed, they just broke down due to overuse.

So when I critique the Mets, its not because I don’t think they should have a good closer – they definitely should. And I think they got Putz for relatively little. I just find it surprising that they would pursue bullpen help so aggressively and neglect the outfield and starting rotation. In a short postseason series, having those 2 solid relief pitchers might help you more than Abreu and a decent 4-5 starter. But in terms of helping you GET to the postseason? The OF and starter will help you more.

Omar Minaya says things like “I hear the people on the streets and they say the Mets need a better bullpen.” Well, yeah Omar, but some random guy in line with you at the deli probably shouldn’t be influencing your decisions.

Bottom line, I’m mostly stunned the Mets didn’t just pony up a little more money so they could get the bullpen guys AND other help, especially when the market has become so cheap.


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