It is no secret the Mets had one of the worst bullpens in the league last season. They had a 4.99 ERA (26th in the league) and a WAR of 0.7 (24th in the league). They had many acquisitions in 2019 who didn’t work out for them either because of poor performance or injury. Will the Met bullpen see a similar fate this season?
Diaz was the disappointment of the season for the Mets. If Diaz continues down the same path as last season and Jarred Kelenic is as good as we know he can be, that trade could go down as one of the worst in history. Diaz had one of the biggest falls from grace last year going from the best closer in the league to one of the worst. Diaz had 57 saves in 61 chances in 2018 with the Mariners and 26 saves in 33 chances in 2019 with the Mets. His ERA went from 1.96 to a 5.59 ERA.
What went wrong? His control seemed to be lacking on his high-velocity fastball, his slider did not have the same break to it, and there were many claims he was tipping his pitches. To combat these problems, Diaz worked with former Met Pedro Martinez on his mechanics this off-season. Another huge factor in his downfall was a loss of confidence.
Baseball is mental just as much as it is physical. Once a pitcher is seen as hittable, hitters gain confidence and the pitcher loses his edge over the hitters. Compound this with the pressures of pitching in New York and forgot about it. However, the empty stadiums actually might suit Diaz this year. The closer role is a role that comes with immense pressure. Taking the fans out of the stadiums can reduce this pressure significantly. Overall, I expect a marked improvement from Diaz this shortened season.
Lugo was the Mets’ light in the darkness last season. Lugo pitched to a 2.70 ERA and batters had an OBP of only .246 against him. He even took over the closing role from Diaz towards the end of the season. However, he didn’t exactly shine in that position going 6 for 11 in save opportunities. I think Rojas will go with Diaz as a closer, but Lugo now at least has more experience and could be a solid backup. I expect a similar performance from Lugo this season because he has been very consistent in his 4 years with the Mets.
To combat the bullpen woes of last season, the Mets signed Dellin Betances this off-season. Betances is returning from a torn Achilles injury and missed most of last season. He is impressive when he is healthy though. The former Yankee is a 4-time all-star, has a career ERA of 2.36, and averages 14.6 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. If he stays healthy, I think he is the best signing by BVW this off-season. Betances was struggling with velocity during Spring Training before the lockdown. However, the delay seems like it helped Betances as his velocity is up 6 mph to 96mph.
Familia was another acquisition in the Brodie Van Wagenen era. A familiar face to Met fans which did bring back a lot of fond memories, but after the nostalgia, he did not bring much joy to Met fans in 2019. He pitched to a 5.70 ERA, gave up 9.3 hits per 9 innings, and went 0 for 4 in save opportunities when given the chance to replace Diaz.
I don’t want to blame the pressure of New York on everything because he has shown he can perform in New York. However, when you are trying to get back into form and a crowd is ready to boo you at every turn it is not helpful. I think Familia will also benefit from the empty stadiums.
Familia pitched very well in Spring before the delay. He also started developing a variation of the splitter that made him so good in 2015 with new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. We saw a glimpse of this splitter in the exhibition game against the Yankees and it looked fantastic. A Familia revival could be just what the Mets need to get their bullpen back on track.
Wilson was excellent before his elbow injury in 2019. He only pitched 39 innings last year due to this injury. If he stays healthy this season, he could be like a new signing. He looked ready to go in Spring Training and I expect him to get a lot of innings. He is the only lefty in the Mets bullpen who has performed consistently so needless to say Wilson’s role will be huge this season.
Okay, I filed Gsellman under the “Big Names” category if you are not a Met fan I understand you debating that claim. However, Met fans all know Gsellman well because he has been a mainstay for the last 4 years eating a lot of innings. Gsellman had a very good start after his first call-up pitching to a 2.42 ERA.
However, since then Gsellman hasn’t been the pitcher we all saw in 2016. After a horrid 2017 season as a starter, he was moved to the bullpen. Gsellman has been pretty average in the bullpen posting a 4.28 ERA in 2018 and a 4.66 ERA in 2019. I expect about the same from Gsellman this season in the limited amount of opportunities that he will get this shortened season.
The Mets brought in Brad Brach mid-season in 2019 and he pitched pretty well with a 3.68 ERA in 14.2 innings. Small sample size but the righty does have a 3.33 career ERA in 9 seasons. On the other hand, Brach had struggled mightily before this move with an ERA of 6.13 for the Cubs in 39.2 innings. So which Brach will Met fans see this season?
Maybe neither since he has an undisclosed injury. While the Mets say he will be back by July 27th it is hard not to see potential setbacks for a 34-year-old. However, since the injury is undisclosed I can only assume the Mets are correct on the timeframe. I think Brach’s performance with the Cubs was an outlier that was highlighted by a lack of control evidenced in his 6.35 walks per 9 innings. Brach got this number down to 1.84 walks per 9 with the Mets. As long as Brach maintains his control of the zone, I think we will see solid performances.
Hunter Strickland or the guy who fought Bryce Harper. Instant Met fan favorite. He is a non-roster invitee who I think will make the team. Strickland had a terrible 2019 especially in the playoffs where he gave up 4 runs in 2 innings. In the regular season, he had a 5.55 ERA with his time split between the Mariners and the Nationals.
However, you could blame his multiple injuries for most of this. He was out four months due to a strain in his late muscle. He can make a big impact this season if he keeps his control because he does have good stuff. In his 6 years in the majors, he has a very good career ERA of 3.19 so I could definitely see him making the team for depth.
Hughes is not exactly a big name, but you have probably seen the video of J.T. Realmuto rolling his eyes as Hughes runs in from the bullpen. This was right before Todd Frazier hit a 3-run homer off him to seal the win for the Mets. Hughes was recently signed by the Mets for a 1-year deal, but more recently put on the IL. The Mets have not disclosed the reason for this, but it definitely could be COVID.
Hughes has had an up and down career, but he has shown some flashes of brilliance. In 2014 he pitched to a 1.96 ERA with the Pirates and more recently in 2018 he pitched to a 1.94 ERA with the Reds. The sinkerballer has not been without his struggles, but I think the switch to Citi Field could help him cut down on the 13 homers he gave up last year. We might not see much of Hughes, but if we do I hope he takes his time running in from the bullpen because he looked gassed pitching to Frazier.
Smaller Names to Make an Impact?
In a very shortened season with less than half of the games, we probably will not see too much of the bullpen depth. Some names who might get an inning or 2 are Chasen Shreve, Drew Smith, Corey Oswalt, Daniel Zamora, Paul Sewald, Tyler Bashlor, and Walker Lockett. Will any of these players make a name for themselves?
Met fans know Sewald well from the last 3 years and he has shown some talent, but no consistency evidenced by his career 5.16 ERA. Zamora looked very promising in 2018, but since then has looked very hittable. Bashlor, Oswalt and Lockett have all been very unimpressive. I don’t see any of these players having much of an influence in this shortened season. One non-roster invitee who could make an impact is Chasen Shreve. Shreve could make the roster as another lefty who has good reverse splits to backup Justin Wilson. Shreve only had 3 major league appearances last season and did not look good in Spring. Hard to see him getting a lot of innings.
Drew Smith is an under the radar righter who can definitely be a solid option for the Mets. Smith may be under the radar for fans, but he not under the radar for the radar gun. Smith’s fastball reaches up to 97 mph. He impressed in 2018 with a 3.54 ERA in 28 innings. Unfortunately for the Mets, Smith underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2019. The delay this season helped Smith recover in time. I can see Smith getting some innings, but hard to tell how effective he will be since he is just coming back from Tommy John (plus he definitely needs to work on his slider).
Mets’ bullpen is coming off one of their worst years, but I see a lot of signs to inspire hope. If players stay healthy, I think we will see a sizable decrease in their ERA. They obviously still have a lot of question marks in key roles like Edwin Diaz, Dellin Betances, and Jeurys Familia. However, from what we have seen lately Betances looks like he has his velocity back and Familia’s splitter could see him revive his career. I don’t think our bullpen will be the best, but an average bullpen would be a big improvement from last season.
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