For years, the New York Mets struggled to put a bullpen together. The Mets have rolled through various high and low cost veterans for the past five years trying to find a mix of relievers that could effectively close games for them. No combination has worked, causing the Mets to have one of the worst bullpens in the majors. The Mets tried something different in May, turning the bullpen over to a group of talented young arms instead. The move has paid off in spades.
The closer's chair was initially supposed to belong to Bobby Parnell, who had a strong season as closer in 2013 before being lost for the season in August with a neck injury. Parnell's rehab was slow in the spring, and he ended up being lost for the season on Opening Day after an MRI revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament. The Mets played musical chairs with Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth for a few weeks, but finally gave the job to Jenrry Mejia after he lost his rotation spot in mid-May. Mejia has taken to the closer's role beautifully, potentially giving the Mets a blossoming young star in the back of the bullpen.
Mejia was good as a starter at the beginning of the season, but he tended to unravel the second or third time through the batting order. Mejia's high intensity work made some in the organization feel he was better suited for the bullpen, a move Mejia resisted for years. After losing his spot this year, Mejia appears to have accepted the closer's role and has flourished there. Since moving to the bullpen, Mejia has recorded 13 saves in 15 opportunities. Mejia has been on fire of late too, allowing only one earned run in his last 10 appearances.
While Mejia has been great as a closer, the Mets needed to find a good setup man to get the ball to Mejia with a lead. Jeurys Familia has stepped up to fill that role. Like Mejia, Familia started off as a starter in the minor leagues before being shifted to the bullpen in the big leagues. Familia had some success in the bullpen last year before missing a lot of time due to injury, which caused him to start the year in middle relief. The failures of veterans in front of him gave Familia a chance to become the primary setup man, and he has seized his opportunity.
Familia has had an outstanding season, pitching to an outstanding 1.92 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP in 49 games this season. Familia has been on fire of late as well. According to stats in this article by ESPN New York's Adam Rubin, Familia has allowed only one earned run in his last 19.1 innings pitched dating back to June 12th. Familia has been a lock down setup guy, and teaming with Mejia has allowed the Mets to shorten games and strengthen their overall bullpen.
The Mets' bullpen has been drastically better since April, as fellow young guns Vic Black and Josh Edgin have solidified roles in the group. The Mets' bullpen as a group has an ERA of 3.11, which is the seventh best mark in the major leagues. A lot of that improvement has come due to the stability in the back end of the bullpen for the first time in a long time. The unit is poised to become even stronger next season when Parnell returns and a young starter or two is added to the group to manage his innings. For once, Mets fans don't have to panic when Terry Collins walks to the mound to remove a starter late in games.
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