Aaron Heilman gives up homers like they’re going out of style. In a little over 64 innings this year, he’s given up nine homers and has a pathetically high ERA of 5.74. Now why would anyone with those kinds of numbers be given the responsibility of preserving wins for the New York Mets? According to manager Jerry Manuel, his changeup makes him effective against both righties and lefties, which is important for a closer. Well, with all due respect to the “OG” Manuel, but I would not call a line of .326/.412/.611 good for a pitcher in any context. Those are Aaron Heilman’s numbers versus lefties, a stat Jody Gerut and Ryan Doumit know all too well.
So, with the Struggling Smith, Failing Feliciano, Mediocre Muniz, and the Awful Schoeneweis (he doesn’t even deserve an alliteration), who is to close for the Mets? Well, how about the Killer Kunz! Eddie Kunz, the former closer for the back-to-back NCAA Champion Oregon State Beavers, is currently being wasted in the Mets pen while the team wastes late leads. In late June, when the only hope Mets fans seemed to have was coming from Binghamton, I wrote a piece on the B-Mets and included Kunz. I wrote back then that:
With Billy Wagner getting older and other Met relievers struggling, the bullpen may be in need of a shakeup in 2009. A player the Mets may turn to is Eddie Kunz. Kunz, who throws similarly to Joe Smith, is only beginning his second season at pro ball for the Mets…In 33.1 innings, Kunz has struck out a respectable 29 batters. However, his control has been off, and he’s walked 21 batters in those same innings. With a 4.05 ERA, Kunz does have one state all closers thrive for: zero home runs allowed.
A shakeup in 2009 has become a shakeup in early August. Right after that article appeared, Kunz went on a string of scoreless innings that lasted until his call-up to the big league team, a streak that lowered his Double-A ERA to 2.79.
Kunz has only (through Monday) 2 1/3 innings in the majors and has given up just one run (a solo homer to Chase Headley of the Padres). But what was so amazing about Headley’s drive to the Pepsi Picnic Area at Shea last week was that it was the first homerun Kunz had allowed since his freshman year of college. In 2005. When he was 19. Needless to say, Kunz is not prone to the long ball, something we unfortunately cannot say about our friend Aaron Heilman.
Besides the obvious benefits of not giving up homeruns, Kunz’s propensity for groundballs is incredibly important for a closer. First off, he is able to quell major rallies with double plays. And secondly, even when he does have an off day, it is more of a result of three straight singles or a double down the line. That means that Kunz doesn’t have major jumps in his ERA because he is mostly giving up one run in failed save attempts. Because of this, even if he does blow a save/lead for the Mets, he is more likely to keep the team relatively in the ballgame. However, someone like Heilman is more likely to take a three-run lead, and with one swing of the bat, turn it into a two-run deficit. Billy Wagner is also occasionally guilty of this, but at least Wagner can boast of dominating in his other performances.
So, at the end of the day, we have a relatively simple situation. Until Billy Wagner comes back and “saves” the Mets, Eddie Kunz should be given the job as the closer for the Mets. When John Maine returns from the Disabled List, Carlos Muniz should be sent down to New Orleans, with Kunz staying and never returning to the minors. Will Kunz be as good as Billy Wagner? Most likely not. But all the Mets are looking for right now is someone better than the rest, and they have that guy in Eddie Kunz.