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The Playoff Bullpen, or, Bartolo Colon Makes his Seventh Relief Appearance August 31, 2015

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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So as not to bury the lede, Bartolo Colon made a planned appearance in relief for the Mets on Saturday. Though the Mets lost the game, Bart pitched a nice eighth inning, allowing a double (although David Ortiz was really out, thanks to Juan Uribe‘s heads up play) but striking out 2. He finished the game for the Mets.

At a 7 Line game a few weeks ago, someone asked me, “Who do you keep for the playoffs?” My answer, as always, was “Make Bart the highest-paid setup man in the league.” Obviously, you can’t take Jeurys Familia out of the closer’s role – he’s just too good there. With extra days off, though, the Mets could rely on Colon as a strong eighth-inning man with the capability to carry a game into extra innings. No matter what the situation, Bart would be the right choice in the eighth, leaving Tyler Clippard as an ace reliever/fireman.

Bartolo Colon. Photo: Arturo Pardavila III

Bartolo Colon. Photo: Arturo Pardavila III

Clippard has been used ecumenically from the bullpen, facing 113 right-handed batters (who hit .229/.336/.406 against him) and 125 left-handed batters (.108/.208/.135). The lefty numbers are a bit deflated by a .141 BAbip, compared to a .261 BAbip against righties, but Clippard is clearly very good regardless of the situation. It’s clear that Terry Collins is aware of that, since he’s relied on Clippy to come in mid-inning in several appearances (and that allowed him to avoid waving early for his closer). You don’t need two left-handed specialists if you have Clippard on hand.

Roughly, that means that the Mets could start with a core rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Jon Niese, with a potential 8-man bullpen anchored by Familia, Colon, and Clippard for the late innings; Hansel Robles, Carlos Torres and Addison Reed to eat innings; Eric O’Flaherty as a lefty specialist; and Sean Gilmartin as a long man. That leaves the Mets with a short twelve-man bench, but Terry does have the flexibility to use Niese to run and deGrom and Syndergaard to hit, situationally. I wish Steven Matz would make an appearance, but that’s off the table.

The alternative might be to carry a third catcher in lieu of Robles or Reed in the pen, but the upside of Kevin Plawecki and Anthony Recker on the bench doesn’t seem like a great payoff, since the marginal runs from having both Plawecki and Recker as pinch hitters wouldn’t add up to much. Plus, with the depth of production from the infielders, the ability of Uribe, Wilmer Flores, and Daniel Murphy to play multiple positions, and strong outfield defense, the Mets can get away without as many hard hitters on the bench.

Do I really think Terry Collins will play a short bench and use Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard as pinch hitters? No, of course not. I think it’s more likely that Syndergaard ends up being used more often in relief due to his road struggles and O’Flaherty gets left off the roster (with Gilmartin being used as a lefty specialist), or Torres gets sent down, in order to maintain a longer bench with an extra outfielder to hit or run situationally. Still, I think if the Mets can dial in their run production, a shorter bench won’t be an issue.

Just to show Colon isn’t the only starter who makes the occasional relief appearance, three starters have earned saves on their throw days this year: