At what point does a “closer in waiting” become just another reliever if he doesn’t eventually take over the closer mantle? Bobby Parnell is going to try to make sure we don’t find out this year, as a Frank Francisco injury (surprise, surprise) has opened a window for him to claim the throne that has been waiting for him since at least 2010.
After Francisco Rodriguez filled the Billy Wagner gap for three years, the position was supposed to smoothly transition to Parnell. Instead, Parnell struggled with consistency and made it difficult for the franchise to give him a long-term vote of confidence. Parnell, though, has strung together three very good seasons spanning 163 innings, settling in as a reliable bullpen hand. And Parnell thinks he’s ready now.
Francisco entered the season as the favourite for the job, but eblow inflammation has slowed the veteran righty this spring. He’s not expected to be ready for opening day, and coming off a season with a 5.53 ERA and 3.90 FIP, Francisco doesn’t exactly have great job security.
Parnell seems likely to take the gig and run with it in the early going. He’s an extreme groundballer with good (though not elite) command rates and has managed an FIP of 3.21 or lower in three straight campaigns. He can be trusted, so don’t let any reputation he has as a failed closer sway you – he was actually best in high-leverage situations last year.
Beyond the closer’s chair, the Mets really didn’t make much of an effort to improve on a bullpen that had the second worst ERA in the majors last season at 4.65 (27th in FIP at 4.13). There is a lot of turnover, but it’s not a worst-to-first kind of overhaul. Brandon Lyon was the biggest acquisition, and he’s a solid righty to pencil in as a set-up man. He is also, however, prone to really bad stretches. He had a downright terrible 2011 and also had blow-ups in 2008 and 2005. Maybe it’s an every-three-year thing? As it is, Lyon is a fine set-up arm but seems unlikely to get a chance at saves unless injury strikes Parnell.
Scott Atchison was also brought in for middle relief help, joining Latroy Hawkins as righty depth. Atchison had an unsustainable 1.58 ERA last year but has back-to-back seasons with a roughly 2.70 FIP, proving himself a capable arm. At approximately 237 years old, meanwhile, Hawkins is hoping to show he has something left after a 4.48 FIP season in 2012 with the Angels. He can no longer strike anyone out but has become an extreme groundballer with good control. As the fifth righty in the pen, you can certainly do worse.
Josh Edgin is the top lefty in the pen, and perhaps the only one given Terry Collins’ previous bullpen management preferences. Edgin wasn’t great in his audition last year, struggling to a 4.69 FIP thanks to some trouble with the long-ball. But he strikes a lot of people out, was hard on lefties and has been decent this spring. There aren’t many other options, anyway.
If Collins keeps a second lefty, it’s between Pedro Feliciano, Scott Rice and Robert Carson. None have been outstanding and Feliciano is returning from injury, but he’s probably the favourite given his track record and Collins’ preference for veterans. The last righty spot could go to a loser in the starting rotation battle, but right now Greg Burke looks like a possible favorite, with an 8:0 KK:B ratio in 6.1 spring innings (that is, assuming Francisco starts on the DL or they bypass a second lefty).
Overall, the Mets don’t look to have a great bullpen, but it’s not terrible either, which is an improvement. If Parnell can run with the job and continue on his path from the last three years, the Mets will be just fine at the back end.
Closer: Parnell, Francisco
Setup: Francisco, Parnell, Lyon
Dark Horse: Hawkins, Atchison
Longshot: Feliciano, Burke