Following a 2017 season in which their relief pitchers combined to rank dead last in the National League with a 4.82 ERA, the Mets sought to upgrade the back end of their bullpen heading into 2018. They eventually found their lone bullpen upgrade in right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak, who they signed to a two-year, $14 million contract during the Winter Meetings in the middle of December.
The Mets signed Swarzak following easily the best season of his career. After spending most of the 2015 season playing for the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization, and most of the 2016 season either in Triple-A or pitching to a 5.52 ERA with the Yankees, Swarzak broke out in 2017, posting a career best 2.33 ERA and 2.74 FIP in 77.1 innings pitched between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers. He also posted a career-high 10.59 strikeouts per nine innings, and saw his swinging-strike percentage jump from 9% in 2016 to 14% in 2017. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Swarzak moving forward was that his transformation seemed to be backed up by actual underlying improvements. Early during his breakout season, Beyond the Box Score pointed to Swarzak’s increased slider usage down and away off the plate, and improved command with his fastball in the zone as possible signs that his breakout might prove to be sustainable. The Mets hoped that Swarzak’s 2017 breakout would carry over into 2018, and that he would prove to be an effective high-leverage reliever for the duration of his two-year contract.
Unfortunately for the Mets, Swarzak was unable to replicate his 2017 success in the 2018 season, as the veteran righty spent the entire season either on the disabled list or pitching ineffectively out of the bullpen. After missing time in Spring Training to discomfort in his left calf, Swarzak was forced to leave his second appearance of the 2018 season with a left oblique injury. He would end up being placed on the disabled list on April 3, and missed all of April and May before being activated on June 5.
After being activated from the disabled list, Swarzak posted a 4.63 ERA and an even worse 6.42 FIP in 11.2 innings pitched in June. While Swarzak did show some of the strikeout ability that he showed in his breakout 2017 campaign, striking out 13 batters in 11.2 innings, he ultimately allowed entirely too many runners to reach base in the month. He allowed 17 hits and walked four in the month of June, which was good for a WHIP of 1.80.
A disappointing June gave way to a dreadful July, in which Swarzak pitched just 6.0 innings and gave up more runs than innings pitched. Swarzak would end the month with a 10.50 ERA, having struck out 8 and walked 5, before heading back to the disabled list in early August with right shoulder inflammation. Swarzak would miss a little more than a month before returning from his second disabled list stint of the season on September 11. Swarzak again struggled upon returning to action, posting a 6.75 ERA with 4 walks and 7 strikeouts in 5.1 innings pitched in the month of September.
On the season, Swarzak posted a 6.15 ERA, with an almost as bad 5.48 FIP to match, and was worth -0.4 fWAR in just 26.1 innings pitched. While he walked 4.78 batters per nine innings, and gave up a staggering 2.05 home runs per nine innings, Swarzak’s above-average strikeout numbers did give the Mets some reasons for optimism going forward. His 10.59 strikeouts per nine innings matched his total from the previous season, even if his strikeout percentage fell from 30.0% in 2017 to 26.7% in 2018. While he is certainly not the only person who contributed, having only contributed 26.1 innings, the Mets bullpen ranked fourteenth the National League by ERA in 2018, and were ranked dead last by FIP.
Having spent the entirety of the 2018 season either injured or pitching ineffectively, Anthony Swarzak was unable to replicate the success of his breakout 2017 during his first season in Flushing. While Swarzak’s biggest issue this season was his inability to stay on the field, his ineffectiveness when on the mound, coupled with the lack of depth behind him when he wasn’t, contributed to the Mets bullpen being among the worst in the league for the second season in a row. If the Mets are really serious about competing in 2019 and beyond, they probably should not let Swarzak’s presence on the roster, or the $8 million he has left on his contract, keep them from improving their bullpen during the upcoming offseason.