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Mets Player Performance Meter: Pitchers, 2019 season

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A quick review of how the Mets’ pitchers fared overall this season.

Minnesota Twins v. New York Mets Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

Much like other seasons in the recent past, the Mets’ pitching staff in 2019 was a tale of two groups: the starting pitchers and the bullpen. Even despite the fact that the bullpen was overwhelmingly a disaster, the Mets still had the third best pitching staff in the National Leagues this season, as measured by fWAR—behind only the world champion Nationals and the juggernaut Dodgers. The Mets used 29 different pitchers in 2019 and that group was once again led by Jacob deGrom, who is the likely favorite to be a repeat Cy Young Award winner. Zack Wheeler also had a strong season heading into free agency. The Mets made a splash in the offseason by acquiring an elite closer, but he had a less than elite season. Brodie Van Wagenen’s other major bullpen acquisition was also lackluster, leaving Seth Lugo—and later, Justin Wilson—as the only reliable option out of the bullpen.

If the offense was carried by Pete Alonso, the pitching staff was certainly once again carried by Jacob deGrom. For the third season in a row, deGrom pitched over 200 innings. After his historic season last year, many thought it was damn near impossible he could replicate it. But from May onward in 2019, he did just that. After a 4.85 ERA in March and April, deGrom went on to post a 2.07 ERA the rest of the way. After the All-Star break, he allowed 15 earned runs in 14 starts. He ended the season with a strikeout rate of 11.25 per nine innings and a 0.97 WHIP. He allowed just 0.84 home runs per nine innings—an amazing feat, considering the juiced baseball. As much as last season’s numbers jump off the page, deGrom’s 2019 is, in some ways, even more impressive. We watched an ace struggle early, make adjustments, and come back every bit as strong as he was before—the truest essence of what separates a pitcher from a thrower. It is hard to imagine that he is not the favorite to win his second consecutive Cy Young Award, joining Alonso in taking home the hardware this offseason.

While deGrom was able to make the necessary adjustments, it seemed that Noah Syndergaard struggled to do the same. He still had a very good season by many metrics—nearly 200 innings pitched, 4.4 fWAR, and 5.1 WARP. But the difference between his ERA and his FIP was stark, with a 4.28 and 3.60, respectively. If DRA is your preferred metric, the difference is even greater; he posted a 3.40 DRA in 2019. For the second straight year, his peripherals suggest some bad luck. But we can’t just shrug our shoulders, chalk it up to luck, and call it a day. The fact remains that the results simply aren’t quite what they should have been, considering his talent and his stuff. He did record 202 strikeouts in his 197 23 innings of work this season, but that mark should really be closer to deGrom’s 255 punch-outs. That unrealized potential did not only manifest itself in the statistics. Syndergaard expressed frustration with his own performance on several occasions and seemed at a loss for answers. Whether it be sequencing, controlling the running game, or some other adjustment we are not able to anticipate, Syndergaard can still be a monster when he is at his best. And even at less than his best, he is still better than many pitchers out there.

Speaking of pitchers at a loss for answers, there was no Mets pitcher more lost on the mound in 2019 than Edwin Diaz. One season removed from being an elite closer, Diaz found himself removed from the closer’s role by August. And if we’re discussing wild disconnects between results and peripherals, Diaz was the textbook case. His FIP was over a run lower than his ugly 5.59 ERA. Even more incredible, his DRA in 2019 was 2.95. If I were to sum up Diaz’s 2019 in one sentence, it would be this: when batters made contact against him, it was almost always hard contact and it was often a home run. Diaz struck out 15.36 batters per nine innings, certainly an elite strikeout rate, but he also walked 3.41 batters per nine innings and gave up 2.33 home runs per nine innings. He racked up seven losses and the same number of blown saves. He did save 26 games, but it was about as nightmarish first season as a Met that Diaz—or anyone—could have imagined.

Nightmarish is also a term I used many times in the weekly meter posts throughout the season to describe Jeurys Familia’s performance. In the first of a three-year contract with the Mets, Familia was sometimes injured and nearly always ineffective. Among pitchers that threw over 30 innings in 2019, Familia had the worst ERA with a mark of 5.70. He posted a -0.2 fWAR, a 1.73 WHIP, and walked over 6 batters per nine innings. Yet, given that the Mets had few alternatives to turn to, Familia and Diaz each appeared in 66 games—the most on the team. The Mets better hope that one or both of them turn things around and fast if they can hope to have something resembling a solid relief corps in 2020.

Despite the Mets’ attempts to bolster the bullpen with the acquisition of Familia and Diaz, Seth Lugo was once again the Mets’ most reliable relief pitcher in 2019. In his first full season out of the bullpen, Lugo tossed 80 innings, by far the most of any Mets reliever. Many of those innings came in high leverage and Lugo continued to excel. If anything, he was even better than he was last season, thanks to an extremely impressive 6.50 strikeout to walk ratio. He increased usage of his four-seamer, which achieved elite whiff rates and allowed him to mix in his lethal curveball even more effectively. He posted a 2.70 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 2019. His 2.2 fWAR was in the top five among all major league relievers this season. Lugo still considers himself a starting pitcher and Brodie Van Wagenen has hinted that he may get a shot in the rotation again if the Mets cannot find a suitable arm to fill the hole in their rotation. Whether his innings come out of the rotation or out of the bullpen, Seth Lugo is imperative to the success of the 2020 Mets.

Lugo’s 2.70 ERA somehow wasn’t the best mark in the Mets’ otherwise atrocious bullpen, though. That honor belongs to Justin Wilson, who put up a 2.54 ERA in 39 innings this season. Unfortunately, Wilson dealt with elbow soreness and the Mets’ usual tendency to rush pitchers back from injury, resulting in a setback. The lefty did not come back at full strength until July, but he was fantastic for the Mets in the second half. He was arguably Brodie Van Wagenen’s most successful free agent signing and will be back with the Mets in 2020.

It has recently been reported that the Mets are interested in a multiyear deal with Zack Wheeler, who will decline his qualifying offer. After his monster second half in 2018, many thought Wheeler was poised for a big season. While he didn’t quite put up the sparkling numbers of last season’s second half, he was still solid—and more importantly, healthy—enough in 2019 to place himself among the most desirable free agent starting pitchers this offseason. Wheeler made 31 starts and tossed 195 13 innings, over which he posted a 3.96 ERA and 4.7 fWAR—making him the most valuable pitcher on the team not named Jacob deGrom. After a brief IL stint bumping right up against the All-Star break, rumors swirled about him being dealt at the trading deadline. The Mets opted to trade neither Wheeler nor Syndergaard and Wheeler went on to put up a 2.83 ERA in the second half, with the Mets falling just short of the playoffs.

The Mets got at least 30 starts out of each of their principal starting pitchers this year (if you combine Jason Vargas and Marcus Stroman’s starts), which includes Steven Matz, who made over 30 starts for the second straight season. He pitched far fewer innings (160 13) in those starts than deGrom, Syndergaard, or Wheeler, however. Despite pitching to a similar ERA (4.21) to Syndergaard (4.28), Matz’s FIP (4.60) was a run higher than Syndergaard’s (3.60). Matz’s performance was frustratingly inconsistent. He struggled with the home run ball, giving up 1.52 long balls per nine innings. He had extremely stark home/road splits, pitching to a 6.62 ERA in 15 road starts this season. In the first half, he continued to struggle in the first inning and with letting innings get away from him, something that has plagued him throughout his career. Matz was even briefly relegated to the bullpen shortly before the All-Star break, but made a series of strong starts upon his return to the rotation in the second half. But for all his flaws, Matz remains a solid back of the rotation starter and will be a player the Mets will be counting on to provide quality innings in 2020.

Jason Vargas made 18 starts for the Mets before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies at the trading deadline. After a really rough start, Vargas was (perhaps surprisingly) great in May and June, posting an ERA under 3 during that stretch. He even threw a complete game shutout on June 5th against the Giants. All told, he posted a 4.01 ERA over 94 13 innings as a Met in 2019—certainly respectable back of the rotation numbers.

However, with the Mets hovering on the edges of contention at the deadline and Vargas having become somewhat of a clubhouse malcontent, they opted to upgrade their rotation, acquiring Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays and shipping Vargas off to Philly. Over 11 starts with the Mets in the second half, Stroman posted a very solid 3.77 ERA. He struck out 63 batters and walked 42. He brought the fiery energy on the mound that his reputation promised. 2020 will be Stroman’s final year of arbitration before he becomes a free agent next offseason.

While the Mets were extremely lucky in 2019 when it comes to starting pitching health, they still required the deployment of spot starters, as every team does. For the Mets, almost none of those starts went well. Brodie Van Wagenen talked up his pitching depth in the offseason, but it turned out to be one of the Mets’ biggest failings, as many predicted heading into the season. In an attempt to bolster that depth, Van Wagenen acquired Walker Lockett for Kevin Plawecki. Lockett made four starts and five relief appearances for the Mets in 2019, over which he posted a ghastly 8.34 ERA in 22 23 innings of work.

The Mets’ internal options did not fair much better. Chris Flexen made one start in late April, in which he gave up six runs—five of them earned—on seven hits in 4 13 innings of work. His other appearances all came in relief, with the bulk of them occurring in June with the Mets talking up his increase in velocity out of the bullpen. While that increased velocity was present, the results were not. Overall, Flexen posted a 6.59 ERA in 13 23 innings in 2019.

Corey Oswalt, also used a spot starter in the past, did not make any starts for the Mets in 2019, but he did pitch twice in long relief in April. He went 3 23 innings on April 13, surrendering five runs on six hits, including a home run. On April 26, he gave up four runs on three hits in three innings of work.

The Mets attempted to cure their starting pitching depth woes by trading for Wilmer Font in early May. Font had been pitching in a relief role for the Rays and had posted a 5.79 ERA in 10 games in Tampa when the Mets acquired him. Font pitched in 15 games for the Mets and made three starts, totaling 31 innings of work, over which he put up a 4.94 ERA. He walked 13 batters and struck out 24. The Blue Jays later acquired Font from the Mets for cash considerations and he went on to post considerably better numbers in Toronto. He was one of thirteen Mets pitchers who was below replacement level in 2019, as measured by fWAR. In fact, only two Mets pitchers—Drew Gagnon and Tyler Bashlor—fared worse by that metric this season.

The Mets brought in Hector Santiago as a non-roster invitee in the offseason and also talked him up as viable starting pitching depth. In fact, when the Mets purchased his contract in late May, Brodie Van Wagenen went as far as to call Santiago an “improvement to the roster.” To the surprise of virtually no one, Santiago didn’t turn out to be what Van Wagenen promised. He made eight relief appearances for the 2019 Mets and pitched to a 6.75 ERA over eight innings in those appearances, striking out six batters and walking five.

The only outside acquisition that the Mets brought in midseason to bolster their bullpen that worked out in any meaningful way was Brad Brach. He was released in early August by the Cubs after struggling with his control and the Mets picked him up. He held a 6.13 ERA when he arrived in Queens, but had better luck with the Mets, posting a 3.68 ERA in 16 games. Most importantly, he walked just three batters in his 14 23 innings of work while striking out 15, showing flashes of the dominant setup man he had been during his time with the Orioles.

The Mets are already citing Robert Gsellman (along with Seth Lugo) as a potential option for the fifth starter’s role next season, despite the fact that he has not made a start since 2017. Gsellman’s 2019 went much like his 2018; he was effective at times during the season, but suffered from overuse and eventually succumbed to injury. He racked up the most appearances on the staff by the time August rolled around and ended up missing the final seven weeks of the season due to a lat injury. Despite missing all of that time, Gsellman still threw the most innings out of any relief pitcher on the team besides Lugo. He suffered from his usual inconsistency on the mound, which evened out to a 4.66 ERA over 63 23 innings of work in 2019. He struck out 60 batters and walked 23. To his credit, he was one of the more effective relievers on the team this season at keeping the turbo ball in the ball park, to the tune of just 0.99 home runs per nine innings, the best mark besides Lugo and Wilson among the Mets’ bullpen arms.

We have now reached the rotating carousel of mediocre to outright bad relievers the Mets employed in 2019, several of which you may have forgotten pitched for the Mets this season. Bless you if you did forget and I apologize in advance for reminding you. Arguably the least effective among them was Drew Gagnon, who posted a heinous -1.0 fWAR this season, which is truly an impressive feat in just 23 23 innings of work. One glaring aspect of his season that could produce such a horrible result sticks out in particular: Gagnon gave up 11 home runs in those 23 23 innings. Eleven home runs. That is truly alarming. Four of those home runs came in a single outing in which he nearly blew a sizable lead against the Braves. All told, he posted an 8.34 ERA in 2019.

I already cited Tyler Bashlor as the only other pitcher besides Gagnon to post a worse fWAR than Font. It was another year of being shuttled back and forth from the minors for Bashlor and his results were decidedly uneven. In 22 innings of work, he walked a startling 17 batters and pitched to a 6.95 ERA.

Paul Sewald is another familiar face that bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the majors this season. He struck out an impressive 22 batters in 19 23 innings of work, while walking only three batters, but he surrendered 10 runs over that span, including three home runs. Ultimately, his 4.58 ERA and 0.3 fWAR still made him one of the more effective relievers among the taxi squad.

If Luis Avilan had been deployed properly by Mickey Callaway and the Mets, he may have been a more effective pitcher than he was in 2019. A pitcher with distinct platoon splits, he somehow ended up facing more righties than lefties this season. Righties slashed .373/.460/.587 against Avilan this year. Overall, he posted a 5.06 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in 32 innings of work.

Speaking of lefties, Daniel Zamora appeared in 17 games for the 2019 New York Mets, mostly as a lefty specialist. Lefties still managed to hit .294 against him, however, which was identical to his mark facing right-handed hitters. He posted a 5.19 ERA in 8 23 innings pitched.

The Mets briefly had yet another lefty in their bullpen in longtime Oriole Donnie Hart, who the Mets claimed off waivers from the Brewers in early August. He pitched just one inning for the 2019 Mets, in which he retired the side in order. He was promptly then sent to the minors and did not pitch again the rest of the season. He has been outrighted from the roster and declared free agency.

Another mid-season bullpen acquisition whose time on the Mets was short-lived is Brooks Pounders, who the Mets acquired from Cleveland in mid-June. He was on the Mets for just two weeks and during that two weeks he made seven appearances and tossed 7 13 innings, posting a 6.14 ERA. His time with the Mets may have been brief, but he did have a fantastic Bullpen Guy name, so there’s that.

Although he did not exactly flourish out of the Mets bullpen in 2019, Chris Mazza was easy to root for. He made it all the way from independent league baseball to the major leagues. That is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately, the results simply weren’t there for Mazza at the big league level. He gave up 10 runs in 16 13 innings of work over nine appearances with the Mets this season, striking out 11 batters and walking five. However, he often threw admirably in long relief, soaking up multiple innings for the Mets.

We are now knee deep in Remembering Some Guys, as our friend David Roth would put it. Remember Stephen Nogosek? He pitched for the 2019 Mets. Along with Gerson Bautista and Jamie Callahan, Nogosek was part of the 2017 trade with the Red Sox that sent Addison Reed to Boston. In his first stint in the big leagues with the Mets, Nogosek surrendered eight runs in 6 23 innings of work. He struck out six batters and walked two.

Tim Peterson appeared in six games for the 2019 Mets. He tossed 7 13 innings in those appearances and walked as many batters as innings pitched. He gave up four runs over that span and struck out three batters.

Ryan O’Rourke is second only to Donnie Hart for shortest stint on the Mets in 2019. He made just two appearances—one on May 1 against the Reds and one on May 4 against the Brewers. He pitched 23 of an inning in each appearance and did not surrender a run or a hit in either one. He walked three batters and struck out one.

Jacob Rhame pitched just 6 13 innings for the Mets in 2019 and would otherwise have been just one pitcher on this list of unremarkable relief arms the Mets deployed this season. However, Rhame’s 2019 season involved some drama. During a 9-0 blowout against the Phillies, Rhame sailed two pitches near the vicinity of Rhys Hoskins’ head during an at-bat that Hoskins took exception to. After the game, other members of the Phillies were none too pleased about Rhame’s conduct either. Just one day later, Hoskins hit a home run against Rhame in the ninth inning of a Phillies win and he did the most deliberate home run trot of all time. Rhame was then suspended for two games for throwing up and in at Hoskins, which accounts for much of the reason why he did not see much more time on the big league roster; the Mets were not interested in playing one man short out of the bullpen for two days while Rhame served his suspension. After the suspension, Rhame made just two more appearances for the Mets before requiring ulnar nerve repositioning surgery, which ended his season. All told, Rhame posted a 4.26 ERA over five appearances in a season he would likely rather forget.