Aaron Heilman has already faced 141 batters this season. Only one other Mets reliever has faced more than 100 - Jorge Sosa, who faced 107 batters before being released last month. Sosa hasn't thrown a pitch for the Mets since May 12, yet he has still faced more batters than Billy Wagner (95) this season. I cannot think of a more startling indictment of Willie Randolph's bullpen management then that.
Of course, it's not all Willie's fault. He's a conventional, by the book manager who is either unwilling or unable to think outside the box. Closers are supposed to be the best relievers in the bullpen, but there's not one closer in the league who is routinely given the lion's share of his team's relief work. They are instead shoehorned into a rigid usage pattern that actively inhibits their team's chances to maximize opportunities to win games by using their best relievers in high leverage situations. Willie is just following along with the rest of the crowd. What's worse, Wagner has bought into the lie hook, line and sinker.
Rollie Fingers led the Oakland A's in relief batters faced during their three straight World Series campaigns from 1972 to 1974 and led his team in that category five other times in his career. Dan Quisenberry led the Kansas City Royals in relief batters faced in four straight seasons (1982 to 1985). Bruce Sutter did it three times for the St. Louis Cardinals, from 1981 to 1983. Each won a World Series with their team; Sutter in 1982 and Quiz three years later.
This is how it was done before Tony LaRussa turned Dennis Eckersley into a one-inning specialist in the late 1980s. Other managers inexplicably followed suit, never realizing that LaRussa was in fact handcuffing himself by only using his best reliever in highly specialized situations. The Cult of the Save has flourished in the last 20 years - all at the expense of intelligent reliever usage.
So far this season, only two teams in baseball have allowed their closer to face more batters than any other reliever - the Houston Astros (Jose Valverde) and the Oakland A's (Huston Street). Of course, each are barely holding off middle relievers to retain the team lead in batters faced in relief and will undoubtedly be surpassed by one or more relievers by the end of the year. Besides, the Astros are managed by a guy who thinks home runs are rally-killers and the A's are skippered by a guy whose primary job qualification might be his best friend, so I'm not ready to annoint Cecil Cooper or Bob Geren managerial geniuses just yet.
Contrast that with the Pitsburgh Pirates, where manager John Russell has allowed nondescript middle reliever Franquelis Osoria to face nearly twice as many batters (183 to 102) as his fine young closer Matt Capps. How on earth does using Osoria, who could charitably be called the fourth best reliever in the Pirates' bullpen, so much more than Capps make any type of sense?
It doesn't. Reliever usage in today's game is completely out of whack. Who will be the first major league manger to realize LaRussa's two decades old mistake for what it was and restore sanity to the distribution of reliever workload?