The Mets have many problems this season, but one of the major ones is the bullpen keeps coughing up leads. That includes Sunday, when the Mets had a five-run lead when the relievers took over with no outs in the seventh inning. You can blame Terry Collins for the nearly criminal overuse of his relief arms, but in many cases, Collins has no choice — this is all because of the Mets history of babying their pitchers once they get into the organization.
This problem is not limited to the Mets; starting pitchers overall are not going deep into games. But it is pronounced on the Mets — Jacob deGrom, indisputably the Mets ace at this point, is averaging six innings in his starts. Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are averaging less than six. Robert Gsellman is at just about five innings per start. And even Noah Syndergaard clocked in at less than six before being injured (taking away that last 1.1 inning start and he was averaging 6.5 innings per start).
This can all be traced back to the severe pitch and innings limits the Mets have placed on their starters throughout their professional careers. They are unable to throw much more than 100 pitches before tiring out. God forbid they ever see the eighth inning.
As a result, Collins has to lean on his bullpen more than ever. Certainly he could do a better job of managing his relievers — not every lefty-righty switch has to be made, so instead of having five or six relievers every game, some of them pitching to just one batter, he can have three or four, giving them much-needed days off.
But of course, that is another problem — most relievers are not trained to go more than one inning, which is why most teams have to carry seven bullpen arms, leaving an inadequate five-man bench. If relievers could go longer, fewer could be used in each game, allowing teams to strengthen their benches with another bat or two.
Sandy Alderson knew all of this, which is why he built what everyone thought was a solid bullpen. But it has not really worked out that way. That’s why relying on relievers is such a bad idea; relievers are basically failed starters. Most of them are mediocre at best, except for closers and some eighth inning guys. You might catch lightning in a bottle for one season, but there is no guarantee it will last. And since so many innings are eaten up by middle relievers, you are basically putting every game into the hands of under-average pitchers.
So what can the Mets do? Not much — this is the hand they (and the rest of baseball) have dealt themselves. In the short-term, Alderson could go out and get more quality relievers, but who is to say they will be any better than what they already have? Collins also needs to do a better job resting these guys, knowing they will be needed for the long haul.
Speaking of long haul, maybe what the Mets need to do is to start training their starters to go deeper into games. Conventional wisdom says that pushing pitchers too hard in the minors will lead to injuries. Well, the Mets and everyone else have been babying their pitchers and they are still getting injured. All I know is this formula of six innings by the starters and praying for solid bullpen work is not a recipe for success.