Bock’s Score: Mets May Employ An Ill-Fated Bullpen Strategy

On a cold day in November, with the National Concussion League in the middle of casualty counts, hope is on the horizon.

It is just three months, 12 short weeks, until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. And it will be just three months after that when the New York Mets bullpen comes apart at the seams.

November’s chilling news is that the braintrust of the Mets has come up with a plan to protect its fragile pitching staff. Except for Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndegaard, all other starters will be limited to two trips through opposing batting orders. This is because the third trip through is often dangerous. For some Mets starters, the first two trips through can be just as hazardous.

Now statistics tell us – and we don’t need advanced analytics for this – that two trips through the batting order translates to six innings and 18 outs. And that’s if the pitcher is perfect through those six innings.

Since most baseball games last nine innings, that leaves three more innings and nine more outs for the bullpen to weave its way through. No worries. The Mets plan to carry eight relievers, one extra arm, to share that burden.

Now relying on our handy adding machine, five starting pitchers and eight relievers accounts for 13 players on the 25-man roster. Because baseball requires eight position players for every game, that brings us to 21 warm bodies and leaves a four-man bench. One of the four will be a catcher who stays put in case the starting catcher gets banged up and needs to be replaced. That leaves three warm bodies on the bench available for pinch hitting, pinch running, injury replacements etc. And if the game goes extra innings, well that could really be an issue.

Now there was a time in baseball when we had something called complete games. This occurred when the manager handed the baseball to his starting pitcher and got it back nine innings later. Ervin Santana of the Minnesota Twins and Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians each managed that trick five times last season. Nobody else, none of the other fancy starters like Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, had more than two.

The complete game has become an anomaly in major league baseball, an oddity in this age of bullpen specialists. Only once in the 21st century has a pitcher managed more than nine complete games in a single season. That was 2011 when James Shields threw 11 for Tampa Bay. 

 That brings us to the battered Mets, a MASH unit that needed 29 pitchers to get through last season. That total included catcher Kevin Plawecki, who twice was used in save-the-bullpen-arms mopup situations.

To solve this crisis of healthy arms, the Mets will employ the two trips through the batting order strategy. It will be administered by new manager Mickey Calloway, imported from Cleveland where he was the pitching coach for five seasons.

By the time we get to August, the Mets may wish they had Cab Calloway calling the shots instead.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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