After spending the vast majority of both the 2017 season—in which he performed adequately—and the 2018 season—in which he struggled—in the major league bullpen for the Mets, Paul Sewald spent the majority of 2019 on the AAA side of the shuttle. Sewald finally came back up to the big club for good in late August, where his star rose and fell in quick succession.
The 2019 Mets made some notable if ill-fated additions to the bullpen, rendering Sewald a depth piece assigned to AAA at the start of the season. He was summoned to the majors for two separate stints in April and May, making only four appearances. The righty surrendered three runs over seven innings in mostly mop-up work over that time. After the May outing, the Mets designated Sewald for assignment. When he cleared waivers, Sewald reported back to Syracuse, thinking his chances of returning to the majors were slim as he was no longer on the team’s 40 man roster.
But that thinking didn’t take into account the tire fire that was the Mets’ 2019 bullpen, and come mid-August, Sewald returned to the majors. Upon his return, he seemed to flash some improved stuff as he thrived in his immediate return. In five appearances in August, Sewald pitched seven innings, allowing one run while walking one and striking out 13. He also recorded his third career save when he pitched the eighth inning of a rain-shortened victory over Cleveland.
Sewald’s improved control and uptick in velocity (hitting 93 MPH) was noted approvingly by Gary, Keith, and Ron, and he seemed to quickly move into Mickey Callaway’s (very limited) bullpen circle of trust. That changed quickly after perhaps the Mets’ worst defeat in a season full of difficult endings. The Nationals’ seven-run bottom of the ninth inning on September 3 may have been punctuated by Kurt Suzuki’s walk-off home run against Edwin Diaz, but it was Sewald who came in to start the ninth inning of a 10-4 game, allowing four of the first five runners to reach to ignite the rally. Sewald’s usage for the remainder of the year was more sporadic and generally lower leverage.
For the season, Sewald threw only 19.2 innings, going 1-1 with 1 save, recording a 4.58 ERA. The win was the first of his career, after losing his first 14 decisions. His 10.07 K/9 and 1.37 BB/9 are admittedly promising—the walk rate in particular a huge improvement over past results—but of course over a very small sample. His work was good for 0.3 fWAR, and his 3.57 FIP vs. his 4.92 xFIP also show the difficulty in effectively analyzing his season.
While miscast as, say, your third most reliable arm in a bullpen, between his bursts of cromulence and his ability to pitch multiple innings Sewald could effectively be cast as a sixth or seventh arm in a big league bullpen. Someone who can soak up innings and potentially keep you in range in games you are trailing—or allows you to rest your main arms in a blowout. Or in an ideal world, perhaps more of a decent depth option to call up from AAA when a piece of your super-stacked, incredibly deep MLB bullpen goes down. Only time—and the Mets’ offseason moves—will dictate Sewald’s role in the 2020 bullpen—if any.