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Jacob Rhame has work to do coming off a poor 2018 season

The young right-hander struggled in 2018.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets acquired Jacob Rhame in 2017, receiving him from the Dodgers in exchange for Curtis Granderson. He came over as a guy with a good fastball, gaudy minor league strikeout totals, and questionable secondaries, adding to the pile of fungible relief arms the Mets targeted at the deadline. He continued to dominate at Las Vegas after the trade, and while his brief major league performance was dismal, there was hope Rhame could be a solid relief option in 2018.

Instead, it’s hard to find any positive slant about Rhame’s season. His 5.85 ERA wasn’t inflated by BABIP or LOB% misfortune. His strikeout rate was mediocre, particularly for a reliever. Worst of all, he’s a fly ball pitcher (55.4 FB%, 0.5 GB/FB) who allows 14.3% of his fly balls to leave the yard. Most guys who give up home runs at that rate are ground ball machines, strikeout artists, or both, and combining an inability to strike guys out at an elite rate, an inability to induce ground balls, and an inability to induce weak fly balls is a bad mix, for obvious reasons.

Those ugly results aside, there might be some usable tools underneath. Rhame has a four-seam fastball that is at the very least interesting. It has the 20th-best rise among relievers, a decent amount of run, and clocks in at a solid 96.43 MPH. Logically, that’s a pitch he should be throwing up in the zone, inducing swings and misses or pop-ups with a fastball that stays up. A quick glance shows that when he does this, the pitch works.

But he spends far too much time pounding the pitch into the middle or bottom third of the zone.

This is the same criticism that is often made about Noah Syndergaard, and I had a similar comment about Robert Gsellman. A four-seam fastball is best used up in the zone, particularly in an era when most batters are trying to get under the ball and lift it out of the yard.

Most of this is grasping at straws. The data we have on Rhame is objectively bad, and this change is not as simple as “just throw your fastball up in the zone, duh.” Rhame has decent control, but perhaps he doesn’t have the command to not just aim for the center of the strike zone and hope. Perhaps his motion makes throwing in the upper third of the strike zone more challenging. We’ve also not discussed how this change affects synergies with his slider, which is an underwhelming pitch to begin with. There is nuance to a change in approach like this.

Still, there’s at least one idea for making Rhame into a usable relief arm. He’s only 25, has a solid minor league track record, and has only tossed 41.1 innings in the majors over his brief two-year career. It’s too early to give up on him, and while the Mets should in no way rely on him to be a significant part of their bullpen next season, he’s still useful as a shuttle arm that could potentially grow into more. Hopefully the coaching staff and Rhame do the work to get him there.