By Rich Coutinho
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It’s funny, in today’s game of baseball, the success of a team’s bullpen usually decides the fate of its season.
It was not always that way, especially for me growing up watching pitchers like Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Steve Carlton — just to name a few. As for the 2011 Mets, whose rotation has been better than average for the past two months, it will still come down to the bullpen. Specifically, how the hurlers that bridge the gap to K-Rod perform.
The bullpen is such a determining factor in this era for one simple reason: some of the biggest outs in a game are recorded — or not — within the 7th and 8th innings. Often times teams have to entrust those all-important moments to a young-but-inexperienced pitcher — or one lifted off the waiver wire at the tail end of their career. How these relievers perform generally dictates the fate of those nail-biters, the games that ultimately decide whether a team makes it to October.
In the Mets’ bullpen it comes down to two guys: Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato. And to a certain extent, Jason Isringhausen, whose age might preclude him from being a big late-inning factor in the second half. Both Parnell and Beato have live arms, though that does not always translate into results.
One National League hurler that has bridged the gap between potential and success is Joel Hanrahan. I’ve spent the past few weeks asking scouts and baseball experts about him and at the same time, what they think about the upside for both Parnell and Beato.
One scout said of the two Mets relievers: “I know I’d like a live arm like Parnell in my organization, and not just because of his fastball, but he has a very underrated slider as well which means plus stuff. On the flip side, he’s struggled with consistency which is not uncommon for a young pitcher. Meanwhile Beato, while not possessing the stuff of Parnell, seems to have a better mental approach to the game and has pretty good stuff but not the plus stuff that Parnell possesses. Of the two, I would think Parnell has a better shot at potentially becoming a closer than Beato.”
When I asked the them about Hanrahan, one of the scouts said: “When he was traded I could not believe the Nationals would surrender an arm like that but I guess they got frustrated with his numbers. I think what turned it around for him was trusting his stuff. At some point, if a guy throws at 100 MPH you’ve got to stop nibbling and let the ball’s late movement do the heavy lifting. In Hanrahan’s case, that one concept turned the switch on for him and you can see the results.”
With K-Rod’s future in New York uncertain at best, it might be prudent for the Mets to entrust more late-inning pressure situations to Parnell. Then they could make an educated guess as to whether or not Parnell could be the Hanrahan of 2012. The fireballing Texan is improving, so giving him the 8th-inning role seems like the right move.
In the event Parnell is overworked, Isringhausen can always step in. Giving Beato some time there might help as well. If K-Rod stays, it only provides more depth for the bullpen, and if he doesn’t return next year (option kicking in or otherwise), the Mets may have their answer for the vacant closer position.
At three games over .500, New York is in the wild card playoff hunt. Despite all the talk of getting injured players back, relievers Pedro Beato and Bobby Parnell could ultimately decide just how far the 2011 Mets go.
How much do you hang on Parnell and Beato? Let Coutinho know in the comments below…