As has been the case several times so far this season, Jerry Blevins came into the Mets game yesterday in a big spot against a left-handed hitter and failed to get that hitter out. His appearance was part of a larger one that saw the Mets lose a late lead that eventually cost them the game, but Blevins’s performance so far this season has been a bit alarming.
It’s tough to jump to major conclusions based on a tiny sample of innings, but there’s a stark contrast between what Blevins has done this year and what he had done in the two-plus seasons he spent in a Mets uniform before it. From the 2015 season, which saw him pitch just five innings before a broken arm ended his season in his first year with the Mets, through 2017, Blevins had a 2.72 ERA and 3.01 FIP. With 11.7 strikeouts and 3.7 walks per nine over that stretch, he was a very reliable piece of the team’s bullpen.
Over the offseason, the Mets approached left-handed relief pitching in pretty much the same way they did all of their pitching, not doing much of anything and taking a chance that what they had in-house would be fine. Picking up Blevins’s option wasn’t a bad move, but the fact that he’s basically alone in being trusted to face left-handed hitters in big spots at the major league level has left him and the team in a bad spot.
Mickey Callaway has resorted to defending some of his lineup and bullpen decisions lately by saying that a player is on the team to do a certain thing, and from the sound of it, he’ll keep rolling them out there to do that thing they’re supposed to do. But at some point, preferably soon, he might want to give one of the team’s right-handed relievers a shot at getting those big lefties out—at least until Blevins rights the ship.
In 23 appearances totaling 9.2 innings so far this year, Blevins has a 5.59 ERA and 4.04 FIP, the latter of which he’s holding on to only because he has not given up a home run yet. He has walked more batters than he’s struck out, which is alarming, and his strikeout rate is way down—from 31.8 percent last year to 13.1 percent this year. His swinging strike rate, the percentage of his pitches that have generated swings-and-misses, is down from 11.0 and 12.7 percent in the last two years, respectively, to 7.5 percent this year. And he’s having a very hard time getting lefties out, even if they’re not hitting for a ton of power against him, as they have a .296/.367/.370 line.
All of those numbers have come over a short span of time and could change pretty rapidly. A quick glance at the data on Brooks Baseball doesn’t show anything alarming with his velocity, which is thus far at a career-low mark but not by all that much. After throwing his cruveball the majority of the time last year—which was a first for him—he’s used it a bit less often this year. It’s understandable, as that pitch has gotten swings-and-missed just 13.9 percent of the time, down from its rates in the 21-to-23 percent range over the three seasons before this one.
Blevins has been used in high-leverage spots, trailing only Jeurys Familia and Robert Gsellman in Fangraphs’ measure of leverage this year. Given his track record, it’s understandable that he would be used in that way to start the season. But in the short term future, it might be a good idea to have him make some lower-leverage appearances and get his curveball working before his next big appearance against a lefty in a tight spot. It’s certainly possible that he can get better without making that change, but the team might not want to take that risk right now.