The Mets’ bullpen, which was an integral part of the team’s franchise-best 12-2 start to the 2018 season, came crashing back down to Earth last week. The pen cost the Mets—and specifically Jacob deGrom—two victories as the team lost four of its last six games.
A.J. Ramos has been front and center, as he took the loss Monday night (0.1IP, 2ER, 1BB) against the Washington Nationals and helped start the Atlanta Braves’ rally in Saturday night’s loss (0.1IP, 2ER, 2BB). Ramos has struggled early in his appearances, as he has allowed the first batter he’s faced to reach base in five of his 13 outings. Ramos was acquired last July with the expectation that he would play a key role in a revitalized 2018 bullpen, but he has struggled to reward the front office’s decision. Going back to last year, he has 21 walks in 28 innings with the Mets and has posted a 4.42 FIP.
Monday: 1.2IP, 4H, 5ER, 3BB, 1K
Tuesday: 3.0IP, 3H, 2ER, 2BB, 2K
Wednesday: 5.0IP, 2H, 2ER, 0BB, 6K
Thursday: 2.0IP, 5H, 6ER, 4BB, 1K
Friday: 6.0IP, 1H, 0ER, 3BB, 6K
Saturday: 1.1IP, 4H, 4ER, 3BB, 4K
The inability to throw strikes in the late innings has been a troubling trend, as the bullpen surrendered 15 walks in 19 innings last week and posted a 9.00 ERA. This lack of control was on full display last Monday night, as relievers threw only 22 of 49 pitches for strikes. On Saturday night, relievers threw only 22 of 42 pitches for strikes.
Jerry Blevins, who has been a steady and dependable presence for the Mets over the past two seasons, has had a rough start to the season. He has allowed ten base runners in three-and-two-thirds innings pitched and has posted an abysmal 12.27 ERA, 4.79 FIP, and 2.73 WHIP. Blevins is the lone southpaw in the bullpen, but he has given up six hits and seven runs in 15 plate appearances when facing lefties. The Mets’ right-handed relievers have, overall, proven more effective against lefties this year, including Seth Lugo (one hit in 18 at-bats) and Robert Gsellman (no hits in 18 at-bats).
Jerry Blevins discusses the Mets' bullpen struggles in their walk-off loss to the Braves. pic.twitter.com/PaZoWc6Ezj— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) April 22, 2018
Mickey Callaway has shown that he will rarely push his starters past 100 pitches, which will creates more stress for the bullpen. On Saturday night, deGrom threw seven stellar innings and was only at 97 pitches before Callaway pinch hit for him with Wilmer Flores to lead off the eighth inning. Outside of Zack Wheeler’s stellar start in Miami and deGrom’s last two appearances, no Mets starter has thrown a pitch in the seventh. Ramos, Jeurys Familia, and Blevins rank first, third, and eleventh, respectively, in appearances by relievers this year, and with the lack of deep starts from Mets starters, those trends are likely to continue. The Mets currently rank ninth in baseball in relief appearances.
The success of the Mets will rely heavily on the bullpen, which makes this past week concerning. However, there is no reason to think it can’t return to its early-season success. Ramos, Familia, and Blevins are all very talented and have a track record of success, but they will need help. The Mets are patiently awaiting Anthony Swarzak’s return, as he will provide another reliable option for Callaway to call on.
In the meantime, Callaway should trust Paul Sewald more, as he has been impressive in limited appearances. In only eight-and-one-third innings, he’s recorded twelve strikeouts and has posted a 2.16 ERA, 0.99 FIP, and 0.60 WHIP. If he continues to pitch well, the manager should use him in higher-leverage situations to provide some relief for Ramos and Blevins. The Mets also have a wealth of minor league relief talent, including Jacob Rhame and Gerson Bautista, both of whom have seen limited action at the major league level so far but should continue to see time with the Mets and may be well equipped to help out in the latter part of the season.
The rotation will also play a large role in the bullpen’s success, as starters outside of deGrom will need to pitch deeper into games. This includes ace Noah Syndergaard, who has pitched well but has yet to make it into the seventh inning. Jason Vargas’s return to the rotation will give the Mets an arm that can reliably pitch deep into games, but Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz will also need to give the Mets length, as well, if the team hopes to make it back to the postseason this year.