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Mets Season Preview: How will the bullpen fare?

For years, the Mets' bullpen has been among the worst in baseball. Perhaps that will change this year.

Over the past three years, the Mets’ bullpen has been awful. Its 4.31 ERA over that span ranks twenty-ninth in Major League Baseball, just barely better than the Rockies, whose bullpen has to play half its games in hitter-friendly Coors Field. Isolate the relief pitchers’ performance a bit, and the Mets have still been bad. Thier 4.00 FIP from relief pitchers ranks 25th over the past three seasons. Considering Bobby Parnell has thrown 178 innings over the past three years with a 2.78 ERA and 2.88 FIP, the overall numbers have been downright dreadful for the rest of the pen.

On the whole, the Mets’ bullpen under Sandy Alderson has had a hard time striking out opponents. Their 19.2 percent strikeout rate was the second-worst in the game since 2011. Throw in a 9.3 percent walk rate, which ranks in the middle of the pack of major league teams, and it’s not a shock that Mets relievers have put up poor numbers. As the team enters its fourth season under Alderson, is there any reason to believe its bullpen will be better than it’s been in the past?

The Opening Day bullpen will consist of Parnell, Jose Valverde, Carlos Torres, Scott Rice, Vic Black, Jeurys Familia, and, most likely, John Lannan. Let’s take a look at how those pitchers’ projections for 2014 compare to the average major league relief pitcher last year.

The concept behind Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is that pitchers can only control certain things: strikeouts, walks and hit-by-pitches, and home runs. Last year, the average major league relief pitcher struck out 7.57 opponents per nine innings, walked 3.02, and allowed 0.96 home runs.

Here’s how the Mets’ pitchers are projected to perform this year, taking the average of their ZiPS and Steamer projections, both of which are available at Fangraphs.

Pitcher K/9 (projected)
Vic Black 9.97
Bobby Parnell 8.18
Jeurys Familia 8.10
Jose Valverde 7.72
MLB Average (2013) 7.57
Carlos Torres 7.37
Scott Rice 6.87
John Lannan 5.05
Pitcher BB/9 (projected)
Bobby Parnell 2.57
Carlos Torres 2.87
MLB Average (2013) 3.02
John Lannan 3.63
Jose Valverde 3.67
Scott Rice 4.01
Jeurys Familia 4.19
Vic Black 4.36
Pitcher HR/9 (projected)
Bobby Parnell 0.66
Scott Rice 0.70
Vic Black 0.88
John Lannan 0.93
Jeurys Familia 0.94
MLB Average (2013) 0.96
Carlos Torres 1.08
Jose Valverde 1.09

The projections, of course, are simply predictions, and the group doesn't feature many established major league pitchers. But as far as expectations go, the Mets should have above-average pitchers in strikeout and home run rates but just two above-average pitchers in terms of walk rate.

There's still plenty of uncertainty here. Black and Familia have very limited major league experience but have shown enough with their stuff to warrant some optimism heading into the season. Valverde has a ton of experience but struggled mightily last year and was just decent in 2012. This group won't be confused with the bullpens of the Braves or Royals, but if a couple of those three pitchers are good this year, the bullpen shouldn't be the black hole that it's been for the past few years.