Let’s just forget about Wednesday night’s ugly loss and talk about bullpens. The Mets bullpen has been ugly of late as well, but even before the recent meltdowns, I was thinking about just how difficult it is to build a bullpen, and what can be done to strengthen bullpens league-wide.
The modern bullpen is made up of seven men — a closer, an eighth inning guy, and five mediocre pitchers who are not good enough to be a closer or eighth inning guy, let alone a starter.
Not too long ago a bullpen consisted of five pitchers (and a snazzy baseball-shaped cart with a hat on it). But specialization and the coddling of starters has expanded the need to seven. That means each team has two pitchers who have no business being in the major leagues, for a total of 30 pitchers league-wide who should be toiling in the minors.
It is the rare middle reliever (they prefer this term rather than “mediocre pitcher”) who is effective year after year, so it is usually a bad idea to sign a middle reliever to a long-term contract (Scott Schoeneweis, anyone?). Many of these pitchers could put together a good year, but there’s no guarantee they can repeat it, what with being mediocre and all.
That’s what makes it so difficult to put together an effective bullpen. A GM is taking a shot on a pitcher who can be awful as easily as he can be good. Think about all of the relievers not only on the Mets, but all over baseball in recent years. One year good, one year bad. Or an incredible start and then a mid-season collapse.
It’s just a crapshoot. All GMs can do is sign a guy for one year and hope for the best. And managers would be smart to ride a hot hand until he is no longer hot. Although that was Jerry Manuel’s theory, and we see how that worked out.
The only way to solve this problem is to train starters to go deeper into games. This would lessen the load on bullpens, reducing the number of pitchers needed. Teams could then carry additional position players which could help in pinch-hitting situations, as well as giving regulars extra days off.
Some teams like the Texas Rangers are pushing starters to go longer, but most teams are still being cautious with their young arms. So we likely won’t see an end to these poor pitchers and bullpen meltdowns anytime soon.