One of the biggest knocks on general manager Sandy Alderson has been his inability to build a successful bullpen. And while Bobby Parnell flourished in 2013, the bullpen as a whole combined for a 3.98 ERA–which ranked 22nd in baseball. In addition, the bullpen’s 4.02 FIP was the fourth worst in the game.
But Alderson’s late-season (in 2013) acquisition of Vic Black, a 25-year-old and former first round pick, was a step in the right direction. Black owned a 3.08 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 2.41 K/BB in five seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system. Over the past two seasons, however, the Texas native dominated the upper levels to the tune of a 2.02 ERA, 12.48 K/9 and 20 saves.
Black looked comfortable in 13 innings for the New York Mets too, tossing a 3.46 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 3.0 K/BB while averaging 95.5 miles per hour on his fastball. With Parnell likely to begin the 2014 season on the disabled list, there’s a good chance the right-handed Black will get a crack at some saves–and perhaps more if Parnell’s neck injury lingers.
The Beanball was fortunate to catch-up with Vic Black about what it was like to be traded, how he plans to improve his command in 2014 and a host of other deeper looks into the Mets’ reliever’s playing and non-playing life. Make sure to read the whole interview after the jump.
You had two cups of coffee in 2013 (first with the Pittsburgh Pirates and then with the New York Mets). Why do you feel your 13 innings with the Mets were more successful than your 4 with the Pirates?
The outings with the Mets, to me, just solidified the fact I can succeed at the big league level. [Terry Collins] put early faith in me in some situations that the Pirates weren’t going to. But those are the situations I had been pitching in [over] the last 2 years–and assuming the minor leagues prepare you for the big leagues, then I’d say I’m a genuine product of the preparation. I just belonged there and the guys made it [feel] like I had been there all year. That’s as close to an answer I can get through words.
What was your reaction when you were traded by the organization that drafted you to the New York Mets?
Ben, honestly I was slightly heart broken. [I]n [a] sense, I felt as though I had been put up for adoption. But like I’ve explained to many people, the “family” that [receives] you always loves you just a bit more [than the last]. [Laughs]. But once I got to Washington, and even before, the guys were great! Hawk [LaTroy Hawkins] and David [Wright] both contacted me [to] said hey and let me know [that] if I needed anything, they would help–which [brought] immediate comfort.
Describe what was going through your head when you recorded your first career save against the Cincinnati Reds on September 24.
Oh, “the day,” as my mind likes to refer to it as. [Laughs]. Well truthfully, it was the most locked in and focused I have ever been and rightfully so. But that was what I have been preparing for, specifically, for the last 2 years. So there was pure joy coming [in] from the bullpen and to get that double play to end it. [It was] unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. Guys dream to play in the big leagues, but my dream is to be one of the best closers in history, God willing. So that was just a taste, but I know what I want–that’s for sure. [Laughs].
LaTroy Hawkins characterized (as according to The Star-Ledger’s Jorge Castillo) your arm as “magical.” What do you think LaTroy meant by that?
[Laughs]. I want to start by saying the humility I feel being able to work with Hawk [LaTroy Hawkins] and have his influence, knowledge and him [as] a friend is far greater than any player I’ve ever been around. The man is a true professional and I was blessed to be his throwing partner and teammate. But he is always telling me [...] my arm, is magical. God [has] given me a good arm–that I do know. But to have a man of his experience and time–spent around some of the best–is something to not [take for] granted.
Your career minor league numbers are impressive–especially in the strikeout department. Going into 2014, what will your approach be to reduce walks, thus improving your overall command? Has Dan Warthen outlined an agenda for such?
Yeah, the Ks have never really been a problem and truthfully I don’t worry about walks. But as a back end guy and the desire to close, walks can’t happen–they will, but they can’t. [Laughs]. Free bases are never good. But as far as an agenda or plan, it starts with pitch one: [It] has to be a strike. Then to get the first [batter] of an inning [out] allows for more breathing room. But the slight mechanical fix Warthen helped me with [greatly] increased my feel and command in the zone.
As of right now, Bobby Parnell’s status for the start of 2014 is a bit up in the air due to his late-season neck injury. In the event the Mets decide to tap an internal option for the ninth inning, do you feel like you would be ready for the challenge if called upon?
Well, like the rest of the organization and anyone that loves baseball, we all hope Bobby [Parnell] recovers and regains his strength and is right back to where he left off. I have seen [his] highlights–it is insane! But as for me having an opportunity, I can’t even say that I know I’ll break camp on the 25 [man roster]. My mindset is to compete, be ready and able to be a successful option for the team [in] 2014. Saying that, I believe I am ready to close and could execute on a daily basis. But I just want to face hitters, because getting guys out is the most satisfying feeling in the world. [Laughs].
Describe what your offseason workout routine is like. Is it mostly lifting and running, or do you incorporate activities like yoga into the mix too?
As it pertains to working out, I have been lifting 4 days a week and doing yoga at least 5 times a week. Yoga has been my focus the last 2 offseasons and I see the benefits first hand and know it is working. Flexibility and strength go hand in hand and it’s important to have both equally. I have been playing catch 4 days a week to about 70 ft or so.
Do you ever look at advanced statistics (for self-improvement or leisure) or are you more of a traditionalist? If the former, are there certain advanced statistics or particular “stat-heavy” websites/blogs you analyze/read?
I actually never looked at a report [until] I got to the Mets. Hawk [LaTroy Hawkins] actually planted that seed and now I just pick [a] few things here and there about certain [opposing hitters] if I believe it can take an at-bat to 1 or 2 pitches as opposed to 5 or 6. Simple things though, nothing too crazy.
Who was your baseball/pitching idol growing up?
Idol? Hmm, well, I truthfully never watched ESPN [until] college, so baseball was just something I did and loved. But I’ve always liked watching relievers in general. No [reliever] is the same, which makes it so interesting–they are all good.
Did you do anything fun (non-baseball related) this offseason?
I went and took my dad camping and fishing in Colorado for a week and plan on hunting a little bit down the road when the pheasant really get going. But baseball [and preparing for it] is my love and it’s what I do even in the offseason.
What’s the best food/restaurant you’ve experienced in New York City?
I unfortunately haven’t been able to get to some awesome restaurants. I did, [however,] crush the street vendors. But I do have a main hobby: and that is eating. I try and eat somewhere new each time, which is why New York is so exciting. You can literally eat somewhere new every time!
Make sure to follow Vic Black on Twitter at @Vic_Black_2.