Back in March, rumors began circulating that the New York Mets and Cleveland Indians were working on a trade that would send second baseman Jason Kipnis to New York in exchange for relief pitcher Paul Sewald. Mets’ higher-ups reportedly backed out – Kipnis was set to earn $30.5 million over the final two years of his contract – and Sewald made the Opening Day roster. While Kipnis had a fairly average season with the Indians (.230/.315/.389, 18 home runs, 89 wRC+, .158 ISO, 1.6 bWAR), Sewald was mostly terrible and failed to separate himself from the pack of mediocre relievers that pitched for the Mets.
Sewald was coming off a moderately successful rookie campaign in which he posted a 4.55 ERA, a 3.74 FIP, a 1.21 WHIP, and a 0.1 bWAR in 65.1 innings. However, he took a big step back in his sophomore year and finished with worse numbers across the board. His strikeout rate dropped from 25.1% to 22.9%, his walk rate jumped from 7.6% to 9.1%, his HR/9 rose from 1.10 to 1.28, and his line drive rate went from 22.0% to 23.2%. He finished 2018 with a 6.07 ERA, a 4.23 FIP, a 1.51 WHIP, and a -1.0 bWAR in 56.1 innings. He allowed more walks while striking out fewer batters, all while tossing nine fewer innings than in 2017.
Sewald got off to an encouraging start and earned Mickey Callaway’s trust right off the bat. In seven April appearances, he posted a 1.98 ERA, a 1.33 FIP, and a 0.80 WHIP, with opposing batters managing a .490 OPS against him. He ended April with 17 strikeouts against just two walks and recorded at least six outs in five of his seven outings.
Things went south quickly starting in May, which led to Sewald’s demotion on June 22. His ERA ballooned to 4.85 and his FIP rose to 4.15 in 39 total innings before the Mets sent him to Triple-A. After not allowing a home run in April, Sewald was tagged for six in 19 subsequent appearances and saw a steady rise in his walk rate while his strikeout rate declined. The quality of contact against him was especially alarming, with a Hard% of 37.4% during that six-week period.
After a brief return in early July, Sewald was recalled for good on July 23. Callaway, who had previously relied on Sewald to provide two or three innings of relief per appearance, was now calling on the right-hander to get just one or two outs at a time. After throwing 41.0 innings in the first half of the season, he only pitched 15.1 innings in the second half.
The decrease in usage did not help with Sewald’s overall production, as he continued to struggle and was essentially an afterthought by September. In his final two months, Sewald posted an 8.79 ERA, a 3.86 FIP, and a 2.02 WHIP in 14.1 innings pitched. While he was able to avoid the long ball for the most part, he continued to issue far too many walks (nine in 14.1 innings) and continued to allow hard contact to opposing batters.
Sewald tossed the third most innings out of the pen for the Mets in 2018, trailing only Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Among relief pitchers with at least 50 innings, only Jake McGee and Chris Rusin of the Colorado Rockies posted a higher ERA in 2018. He finished the year with seven losses and did not earn a victory, which dropped his lifetime record to 0-13. He did record his first career save on August 22 at home against the San Francisco Giants, which was a small consolation prize in an otherwise lost season for Sewald.
With the Mets needing to plug several holes in their bullpen heading into 2019, Sewald could have made cemented his spot on next year’s roster with a strong showing in 2018. Instead, his performance has left his role with the team in question as he joins the countless relief pitchers who tried and failed to make a positive impression during their time with the club.