So far this season the Metropolitans ever-present bullpen woes have continued at a clip that would make any baseball fan sick to their stomach. Mets fans however are used to such disasters and therefore don’t even blink when the relief pitchers allow six or seven runs in a two inning span or continuously blow saves for Johan Santana, who after watching win upon win lost at the hands of his relievers must despise the day he first donned a Mets uniform. But I digress.
Everyone knows the bullpen as a whole has been nothing but trouble for the Mets in recent years but the focal point of their troubles has been with the closer. It could be argued that the last time they had a closer who didn’t make fans worry was John Franco, who was undoubtedly great but pitched over a decade ago, giving light to the troubles of late.
The Mets revolving door of closers has included, but is not limited to, the likes of Armando Benitez, Braden Looper, Billy Wagner, Francicso “K-Rod” Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, and Jason Isringhausen. It wasn’t all bad for these men, Benitez could often be affective but always seemed to falter in the big situations, Wagner was a great closer but was nearing the end of his career by time he joined the Mets and was visibly over the hill, Rodriguez never panned out but at the time was regarded as the best closer not named Mariano.
So in 2012 amongst the ever present bullpen problems sits Frank Francisco. The Mets acquired him from the Blue Jays prior to the season and was given the job at the start of this year. He responded by flawlessly closing out the first three games consecutively and in all three instances he ended the game with a strike-out. To say this was a sight for sore eyes would be a resounding understatement. The other New York team finally looked like they had someone that might provide some stability at the position, after all Francisco has a fastball that regularly reaches 94 mph and off-speed stuff that’s more than capable of getting him by.
However, recently he hasn’t performed up to par and that has Mets fans asking if he is in fact the right man for the job. His two blown saves in Miami had fans searching for any other option. Looking around the Mets bullpen however it appears he may be the only man for the job. Other options such that could be thrown into the mix would be Parnell, another former Blue Jay in Jon Rauch or the man from the Angel Pagan trade; Ramon Ramirez.
Rauch started off solid, but has been very shaky of late and although is effective he doesn’t have overpowering stuff associated with the role of closer.
Ramirez is young and shows promise but appears more suited for middle relief and perhaps could develop into a good set-up man.
Bobby Parnell may very well be the Mets closer of the future and Terry Collins has hinted at that numerous times, but at this point it is dangerous to throw him into that role because he has failed at it in the past and could still use some development. This year he is pitching much better than he has in the past, his fastball which used to sit at 99 mph now resides at about 95 and he has been able to spot it much more efficiently.
His biggest triumph has been the development of a knuckle curve (kudos to Jason Isringhausen) which he has used to make many a batter look foolish. With his continued development throughout this season and the breaking in of that pitch to compliment his slider and fastball Parnell could very soon become the main-stay there for a team that desperately is seeking any form of consistency.
As for now fans must stomach Francisco, who although may not be the smoothest pitcher in the game and currently boasts a 6.75 ERA still is fifth in the MLB in saves with 14 while only blowing two. Francisco is on pace for well over 30 saves for the year, a welcome improvement on years past.