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Time for the Mets to bulk up their middle relief corps

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Terry Collins has utilized Jeurys Familia and more recently Addison Reed at an alarming pace. Here’s what the Mets should do to keep their arms from falling off.

Philadelphia v New York Mets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Mets are very lucky to have two elite relief pitchers at the back end of their bullpen. Postseason foibles aside, Jeurys Familia has turned into a top-shelf closer. That’s an extremely valuable commodity to develop from within, even as he begins to make more money. Addison Reed’s rescue from the Arizona scrap heap late in 2015 provided the Mets with a pitcher who arguably might even be better than Familia now but at the very least looks poised to hold the fort in the 9th while Familia is suspended and then dominate the 8th inning again.

Both relievers are excellent back of the bullpen pitchers and Terry Collins has utilized each of them liberally the past few seasons. This is a double-edged sword in that, while you want to use your best pitchers more than your worst pitchers, there’s a line between using them and abusing them. Given their importance, running them into the ground during the regular season likely only hurts you later in the season when they’re gassed.

Check out the major league leaders in relief appearances over the past three seasons:

2014
2015
2016

Notice the only name that appears in the top ten in appearances all three years is Jeurys Familia. That’s a lot of work for a closer and you can see that just by looking at the save totals. Mark Melancon (2015 and 2016) and Cody Allen (2014) are the only other full-time closers to appear on any of these lists. You’ll also notice Addison Reed checking in at #3 this past season with 80 appearances. This is a very heavy workload for two relievers on one team and yet it’s not unprecedented under Collins (recall the usage of Tim Byrdak and Scott Rice in recent years).

With the suspension he’s likely to receive at the start of 2017, Familia will naturally have his workload cut down some from the past three seasons. That will help a little, but Collins will likely only ride a fresh armed Familia all the more once he returns. With this in mind, how can the Mets limit Familia and Reed in 2017 to keep them fresh and healthy all the way through the postseason? What the Mets need to do is bulk up their middle relief corps.

Part of the issue comes from the other pitchers on the Mets’ staff, both relievers and the rotation. The brutal truth about the Mets’ starting rotation to this point is that while the quality of the innings they’ve thrown has been high, they just have not thrown very many innings as a group. This was partly by design at first but also has been in part due to injuries. The Mets’ projected front four of Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, and Matz started just 93 games and threw a total of 556.2 innings in 2016, an average of just a tick under 6 innings per start. Look back a year earlier when Syndergaard and Matz made their debuts and Harvey was fresh off of Tommy John surgery, and at 89 starts and 566 innings, they’re at 6.4 innings per start. That’s better but there are still obvious health questions surrounding this talented group of pitchers coming off all of the injuries of this past season.

These durability issues leave a lot of innings on the table that have to get covered by the rest of the bullpen and Terry Collins has thrown a large chunk of those innings at Familia, Reed, and Hansel Robles—over the past two seasons, they’ve combined to lead the club in appearances and relief innings by a large margin. Jerry Blevins places fourth in appearances, despite half the innings due to his role as a specialist. The issue here is the quality of what comes after those four in the bullpen, and it hasn’t been pretty.

This past season, many of the middle innings were taken by pitchers like Erik Goeddel, Jim Henderson, and Antonio Bastardo. In 2015, it was Goeddel, Carlos Torres, and Alex Torres. These pitchers have either had durability issues, quality issues, or a mix of the two. Improving the quality of the middle relievers would give Collins more arms that he could trust in games where he doesn’t really need to use Familia or Reed, situations where he ultimately has to use them anyway because one of these lesser relievers starts coughing up a big lead. That will help keep some of the unnecessary wear and tear off of Familia’s and Reed’s arms.

Another way the Mets could go about this is utilizing some of their starting pitching depth in relief roles. For what it’s worth, it sounds like the Mets plan on doing this to a degree, sending Seth Lugo and one of Zack Wheeler or Robert Gsellman to the bullpen. These pitchers have the stuff to be quality relievers and have shown they can provide innings, as well. But the Mets could still use another veteran or two, especially one who throws left-handed since Blevins is not a Met right now. To that point, the current lefty options are Josh Smoker, who has shown some promise but is clearly untested, and Josh Edgin, who looked like a shell of his former self late in the year.

Despite some quality free agent arms having already signed elsewhere, we’re at the end of December and the Mets still have yet to add any pieces to their bullpen (sorry, Ben Rowen and Cory Burns). There’s still time to add bullpen arms before spring training but as we enter January, pitchers like Sergio Romo, Joe Blanton, Fernando Salas, Blevins, and the like are going to start coming off the board. Those are the types of veteran arms the Mets need to add in order to solidify the middle relief and give Terry some trusted options not named Reed or Familia. Going into the season with Lugo, Wheeler, Goeddel, and a couple of minor league fliers just isn’t going to cut it.