Thirty different players pitched for the 2018 New York Mets. I say “players” rather than “pitchers” because one of them was Jose Reyes. Remember that fun little game? Anyway, that does not count for the purposes of this post, but let’s take a look at the other 29.
Mostly the story here is that the rotation was solid as a unit and the bullpen was, well, not. Aside from Jason Vargas, who was the weakest link the rotation anyway, the rotation stayed healthy, which in and of itself was a major achievement. And deGrom’s Cy Young caliber year somewhat balanced out Vargas’ mediocre year when considering the overall starting rotation ERA, which was 3.54 for the season. The Mets also finished with the most fWAR among starters of any team in the National League. Of course, almost half of that WAR total comes from deGrom alone, but it still paints a stark picture with the reliever WAR total, which was -0.6 fWAR, second to last in the National League and the only bullpen aside from the Marlins and Royals to finish under replacement level for the season. Injuries took their toll on the relief core more than in the rotation and, much like for the position players, the Mets lacked the organizational depth to fill out the bullpen with major league caliber pitching.
Like Nimmo was the lone fireball shooting across the sky of the final position player meter, Jacob deGrom is the lone shining light here. Head and shoulders above the rest of the pitching staff, deGrom finished with over twice the fWAR total of anyone else. Of course, there have been many separate pieces written here and all over Mets internet about deGrom’s season and how historic it was. I will not rehash all of that here, but suffice it to say that deGrom should be a lock for the Cy Young Award and exceeded even the highest expectations set for him this season.
Speaking of high expectations, Noah Syndergaard had them too coming into this season. While he still had a very good season overall, it probably wasn’t quite as consistent as many, including Syndergaard himself, would have hoped. Syndergaard was good, but for those expecting elite production, he did not produce that consistently. He did show flashes, however, and he did end the season with a complete game shutout. But his season was also interrupted somewhat by injury and children’s illnesses, so he finished with just 154 1⁄3 innings under his belt. Over that span, he posted a 3.03 ERA and a 2.80 FIP with 4.2 fWAR, second only to deGrom on the pitching staff. Notably, Syndergaard was one of the only pitchers whose FIP was lower than his ERA, which is backed up by the fact that he was one of the most effective pitchers in the league at generating soft contact. One troubling statistic that jumps out, however, is that his K/9 for the season is 9.04, which is good, but Syndergaard should be up there with deGrom’s 11.16 K/9, given the stuff that he has. Hopefully he can make the adjustments that he needs to kick his craft up that extra notch next season.
Speaking of kicking it up a notch, Zack Wheeler had a renaissance of a season that was one of the lone bright spots for the 2018 Mets. After struggling in the early going, posting a 6.43 ERA in the month of May, Wheeler saw that drop to a 3.26 ERA in June. And he only got better after that. Over the entire second half, Wheeler pitched to an incredible 1.68 ERA and 0.81 WHIP with a .174 opponents’ batting average. Those are deGrom-like numbers for Wheeler, who had the first fully healthy season of his career. And instead of finding himself on the trading block at the deadline as a reward for his performance, he became too valuable to trade and now many are calling to extend him instead. He finished with a 3.31 ERA and 4.1 fWAR. He surely would have caught and surpassed Syndergaard in WAR, but he was shut down for his last few starts due to concerns about his innings load. He tossed 182 1⁄3 innings, second only to deGrom on the team.
It seems like eons ago, but Zack Wheeler actually began the season in the minor leagues because Matt Harvey was still in the rotation. Harvey was ineffective and was jettisoned to the bullpen before he was unceremoniously dealt to the Reds for Devin Mesoraco in May. Over 27 innings, comprised of four starts and four relief appearances, Matt Harvey had an even 7.00 ERA with the Mets. He was able to find more success as a member of the Reds’ rotation and while all hopes of him getting a mega contract in free agency were stolen from him by thoracic outlet syndrome, it does seem pretty likely he’s done enough that some team or another will sign him to a short and cheap major league deal next season.
Like Wheeler, Steven Matz had an encouraging season, if only because he was able to make 30 starts for the first time in his career, something many thought he was not capable of. His performance was somewhat uneven, but he got his ERA under 4 for the season by his final start, finishing out with a 3.97 ERA. Matz’s problem this season was getting length out of his starts. Despite making only two fewer starts than deGrom this season, Matz pitched 63 fewer innings than deGrom did.
But of all of the starting pitchers, it was the guy that the Mets signed to be their “innings eater” that threw the fewest innings. Jason Vargas threw just 92 innings this season, due in part to two stints on the disabled list—one when he broke his hamate bone in a spring training start and one for a calf strain he sustained during conditioning drills in late June. As a major acquisition in the offseason meant to solidify the rotation, Vargas was a massive disappointment. The Mets simply needed back end of the rotation level production from Vargas, but for most of the season, he could not provide that. He finished with a 5.77 ERA and 0.1 fWAR. That said, his overall ERA total is a borderline miracle considering where he started. His first half and second half splits are staggering. In the first half, he posted an 8.60 ERA, while in the second half he pitched to a much more reasonable 3.81 ERA. With Vargas under contract for next season, the best the Mets can do is hope that the second half version of Vargas is closer to the truth.
Meanwhile, Vargas’ injuries, among others, forced the Mets to dig much deeper into their extremely thin pitching depth than expected, exposing just how inadequate it was. The Mets used a few spot starters, but Corey Oswalt was the one the Mets turned to the most. He made twelve starts for the Mets this season, a portion of them coming down the stretch after Wheeler was shut down. Between those and his five relief outings, Oswalt posted a 5.85 ERA, which is certainly unsightly, but he managed to keep the Mets in the game most of the time when he pitched and his performance was not as bad as the ERA indicates for someone who was clearly not ready to be a member of a big league rotation.
The Mets had poor luck with pretty much all of their spot starters this season. P.J. Conlon made two starts and had an 8.22 ERA in 7 1⁄3 innings. Chris Flexen started a game and had a few relief outings and pitched to a 12.79 ERA in 6 1⁄3 innings. Even Drew Gagnon made a start and posted a 5.25 ERA in 12 total innings of work. The Mets had virtually no one in the organization capable of starting a game at the big league level.
The only pitcher that filled in competently was Seth Lugo, who made five starts this season. He really deserved to make more starts, but with A.J. Ramos and Anthony Swarzak hurt or ineffective most of the season and Jeurys Familia traded at the deadline, Lugo was pretty much the only consistently effective pitcher out of the Mets’ bullpen this season and the team felt he was too valuable there to keep him in the rotation. Over 101 1⁄3 innings this season, Lugo posted a 2.66 ERA and 1.5 fWAR, by far the best of any relief pitcher on the staff. He had eleven holds and three saves. Lugo is pretty much the only sure thing in the bullpen heading into next season.
The only other reliable pitcher in the bullpen was Jeurys Familia before he was traded at the deadline to the Oakland A’s for a somewhat disappointing return. Familia pitched 40 2⁄3 innings for the Mets in the first half to a 2.88 ERA. He had 17 saves before being traded. For many Mets fans that perhaps view Familia as a culprit in the 2015 World Series loss, this season perhaps puts into perspective just what the Mets had in him—an extremely solid late-inning reliever who got the job done much more often than he did not.
The Mets knew last season that the bullpen would be an issue coming into this season and made somewhat of an attempt at addressing it between the acquisition of A.J. Ramos last season and the free agent signing of Anthony Swarzak in the offseason. Both have proven to be unmitigated disasters. A.J. Ramos was relatively solid last season for the Mets, but was awful at the beginning of this season before it was revealed that he had a torn labrum in his shoulder that necessitated season-ending surgery. Before the surgery claimed his season, Ramos posted a 6.41 ERA over 19 2⁄3 innings, but how much of that ineffectiveness can be chalked up to the injury is unclear. He is a free agent this offseason.
Anthony Swarzak, too, missed a significant amount of time this season due to injury. Early in the season, he suffered an oblique strain that resulted in a lengthy DL stint that he did not return from until early June. Then in August he hit the DL again with shoulder inflammation and was not activated until September 8th. Ultimately, the reliever that the Mets signed to a 2 year/$14M contract threw just 26 1⁄3 innings this season to an ugly 6.15 ERA. During the stint when he was healthy, it seemed like Swarzak could never put a string of effective outings together. Just when it seemed he had things figured out, he’d have another poor relief appearance. It’s really hard to know what the Mets will have in him next season.
Early in the season, the other reliever that the Mets leaned on heavily was Robert Gsellman, who like Seth Lugo, was seeing success transitioning from a starting pitcher to a reliever. He pitched to a 1.80 ERA in March and April and Mickey Callaway used him as a late-inning option that can pitch multiple innings, something that was very valuable to the Mets in the early going. That said, Gsellman hit a major bump in the road in the middle of the season for reasons that are not entirely clear, but overuse may have played a role. In June, he had a 6.59 ERA. He was able to bounce back somewhat in the second half, posting a 1.54 ERA in the month of August, but he looked shaky again toward the end of the season. All told, it was a so-so, up-and-down season for Gsellman, who put up a 4.28 ERA overall over 80 innings of work. Even if he didn’t turn out to be the weapon the Mets hoped he would be in April, it was still a step forward for Gsellman from his nightmarish and injury riddled 2017 season. He will likely occupy a spot in next season’s bullpen.
Hansel Robles was a guy that the Mets thought might be a part of the bullpen in the future, but he found himself designated for assignment in June after putting up a 5.03 ERA over 19 2⁄3 innings of work. Robles was always a story of untapped potential. He had nasty stuff, but inconsistent command and could never quite put together a sustained run of success as a Met, despite showing flashes of major league caliber ability. The Angels claimed him off waivers and he went on to post a 2.97 ERA for them in 36 1⁄3 innings.
Buckle up, folks because things get really ugly from here. This isn’t to say that letting Robles go was a mistake because he had been given plenty of chances without much success, but to say that having a reliever with an ERA around 3 would be a dream for the Mets in 2018 is an understatement. Even Jerry Blevins, who had been so good as the Mets’ primary lefty the past couple of years, had the worst season of his career, ending up under replacement level at -0.1 fWAR for the season. This was mostly due to an utterly horrid start to the season; he had a 9.00 ERA in April. Just when you thought he was done, he put a nice little run together in August, over which he posted a 2.00 ERA. But he crashed back down to earth again and looked like first half Blevins in September. He ended up with a 4.85 ERA on the season. He is a free agent at the end of this season and it is a shame that his Mets tenure ended on such a sour note, as he was one of the better relief pitchers the Mets had over the past few seasons.
The only other reliever to rack up a reasonable number of innings in the Mets’ bullpen this season was Paul Sewald, who followed his promising 2017 campaign with a poor performance in 2018. His season took an arc similar to Gsellman’s where things starting off very promising, but only went downhill from there—except his fall from grace was even more pronounced. After a 1.98 ERA in March and April, Sewald had an ERA over 8 after first of June. Really his strong start is the only thing that saved him from the poop emoji, but he was the closest to a consistently poor pitcher the Mets had this season. Over 56 1⁄3 total innings this season, Sewald posted a 6.07 ERA.
From here, we travel to the revolving door of relievers that the Mets used to fill out their bullpen throughout the season, which include names many of us probably hope to never hear again, such as Buddy Baumann and Chris Beck. Yep, both of those were a thing. Baumann appeared in three games for the 2018 Mets and gave up eight runs. He was claimed off waivers on April 27th and designated for assignment on June 5th. Chris Beck’s Mets tenure was nearly just as fleeting and should have been even shorter, if we’re being honest. But Mickey Callaway saw something in him, which motivated the Mets to claim him off waivers on June 13th. He appeared in six games and posted a 5.23 ERA. He was designated for assignment on July 9th.
The Mets didn’t have any more luck looking within the organization for relief help. Sandy Alderson attempted to bolster the organizational pitching depth by trading mostly for relief pitching in 2017 and those trades have yet to be very fruitful for the Mets. The only products of those trades that saw significant time on the major league roster this season were Jacob Rhame and Drew Smith, who came to the Mets in the Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda trades, respectively. Rhame was shuttled back and forth from Triple-A a few times this season and posted a 5.85 ERA over 32 1⁄3 big league innings. Drew Smith was more successful and has a good chance to win a spot in the bullpen next season. He had a 3.54 ERA over 28 innings. Smith was quite good after being called up in late July, posting a 2.31 ERA in the month of August. But Mickey Callaway kept going back to him in September despite his ineffectiveness, leading to an ERA approaching 5 during the latter part of the season.
Gerson Bautista—hard-throwing product of the Addison Reed trade—also saw a brief cup of coffee in the major leagues, but was hit hard. Over 4 1⁄3 innings in five games for the Mets, Bautista gave up six runs. While he has velocity as a weapon, he doesn’t have much else at this stage, but he is still 23 years old and could develop further.
The award for briefest amount of time in the majors this season, however, goes to Scott Copeland. Remember him? He pitched in one game for the Mets. And he was good! On May 31st, Seth Lugo made a spot start for the Mets and pitched well, tossing four scoreless innings against the Cubs. The bullpen, which included Bautista, Baumann, and Robles, gave up five runs in the loss, but Scott Copeland didn’t give up any runs. He was the only reliever with a clean sheet that day. He gave up one hit and struck out two over 1 1⁄3 innings of work.
This leaves us with the collection of arms the Mets had on the team in September, many of whom were auditioning for a spot in next year’s bullpen. Arguably the most successful auditions were from Tyler Bashlor and Daniel Zamora. Bashlor, drafted by the Mets in 2013, was promoted to the big leagues straight from Double-A on June 25th. Over 32 innings, he pitched to a 4.22 ERA and definitely showed flashes of big league level ability.
Ironically, Daniel Zamora—acquired for Josh Smoker of all people—has been more successful at the big league level than the relievers the Mets acquired for their bigger pieces. Zamora was promoted to the Mets in mid-August and was used mostly as a lefty specialist. He was successful in that role, putting up a 3.00 ERA. It would probably still be wise for the Mets to acquire a left-handed reliever to replace Jerry Blevins, but Zamora made a case to be the second lefty in next year’s bullpen.
A reliever the Mets acquired in trade this year also saw some time in the big leagues. Bobby Wahl was one of the two players the Mets got in return for Jeurys Familia. He pitched 5 1⁄3 innings over seven games for the Mets to the tune of a 10.13 ERA. But a hamstring injury kept him from a more prolonged big league stint.
Eric Hanhold—the player to be named later in the Neil Walker trade—also had his already brief time with the Mets shortened by injury. He was promoted as part of September call-ups this year but only pitched in three games for the Mets with a 7.71 ERA. He mysteriously hadn’t pitched since September 9th when on September 25th we finally learned that he had been dealing with an oblique strain that kept him sidelined.
Tim Peterson was another guy that bounced back and forth between the minors and the majors a couple of times this season. He was drafted by the Mets in 2012 and this was his first year seeing action in the big leagues. Over 27 2⁄3 major league innings from when he was first recalled in May until the end of the season, he posted a 6.18 ERA.
So while the rotation for next season is essentially set with deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Matz and Vargas all remaining on the team next season, the bullpen is full of question marks. Seth Lugo is essentially the only sure thing, but Anthony Swarzak is under contract and Robert Gsellman will likely occupy a spot as well. Drew Smith, Tyler Bashlor, and Daniel Zamora all showed sufficient promise that they should be in contention to earn spots in next year’s bullpen, but the Mets have to acquire a bare minimum of two very good back end relievers, including probably a closer, to make the bullpen into something resembling a major league caliber relief core for 2019.