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Taking a look at the Mets’ bullpen depth

The team has built a deep group of arms to shuffle in to the last couple spots of the bullpen.

MLB: New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and Justin Wilson are all significant additions to the a Mets bullpen that sorely needed help after running an ERA of nearly five in 2018. Combined with Seth Lugo and the latent potential of Robert Gsellman, it’s one of the better groups at the back-end of a bullpen in baseball.

But what about the rest of the bullpen? Rule 5 draft pick Kyle Dowdy will likely take one spot as a long man, unless the Mets decide to return him to the Indians during spring training. That leaves two spots up for grabs, and there are a plethora of options to fill them.

Low End Starting Pitchers

P.J. Conlon | 6.55 ERA, 116.1 DRA-, 6.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.6 HR/9
Chris Flexen | 12.79 ERA, 166.2 DRA-, 4.3 K/9, 8.5 BB/9, 2.8 HR/9
Drew Gagnon | 5.25 ERA, 119.5 DRA-, 6.0 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9
Hector Santiago | 4.41 ERA, 150.3 DRA-, 9.1 K/9, 5.3 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9

Guys at the back-end of the starting pitching depth chart often see some time in the bullpen, and all four of Conlon, Flexen, Gagnon, and Santiago have prior bullpen experience. It’s an extremely weak part of the depth chart, however. Flexen hasn’t made good on his top prospect status and has been a disaster that past two seasons. Conlon’s pitchability isn’t enough at the major league level. Gagnon has one (bad) major league start in the eight years since he was drafted. Santiago, meanwhile, has made an All Star Game, but has actually never posted a DRA better than league average.

In an ideal world, none of these guys sniff the majors, but if the Mets need a long man out of the bullpen, either due to a double-header or just during a long stretch without off days, one of these guys is likely getting the call. There’s also an argument at this point for shifting Flexen to the bullpen entirely, so that he could perhaps recapture some of the strikeout stuff he displayed between 2015 and 2017. Hopefully their major league exposure is limited and the Mets can weather whatever innings they need out of this group.

Underwhelming Relievers

Tim Peterson | 3.18 ERA, 123.0 DRA-, 8.1 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 2.6 HR/9
Jacob Rhame | 5.85 ERA, 108.1 DRA-, 7.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 2.2 HR/9
Paul Sewald | 6.07 ERA, 94.6 DRA-, 9.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9
Drew Smith | 3.54 ERA, 113.2 DRA-, 5.8 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9

This is a crop of internal options who all saw major league time last season. Sewald is the most experienced of the group and probably the best option, as ERA estimators think he was extremely unlucky last season. He’s not someone you want pitching late innings, but he still has two minor league options and has value as a shuttle arm

Aside from Sewald, the rest of this group is best left in the minor leagues. Peterson simply doesn’t have a major league arsenal, and Rhame probably doesn’t either. Smith succeeded in spite of a laughably low strikeout rate for a reliever, which he’ll need to increase to be a viable major league option.

Veteran Options

Luis Avilan | 3.77 ERA, 109.1 DRA-, 10.1 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9
Arquimedes Caminero | 3.56 ERA, 126.1 DRA-, 7.4 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9 (2016)
Ryan O’Rourke | 3.96 ERA, 76.9 DRA-, 8.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9 (2016)

In a refreshing change in strategy, the Mets actually made several notable minor league signings this offseason. Luis Avilan is the one most likely to make the opening day bullpen. Over the last three seasons, he’s spiked his strikeout rate over 10, and he’s consistently posted strong ERA and FIP numbers. DRA is less convinced in his 2018 output, but had him at about 30% better than league average in 2016 and 2017, so he could be a potential steal.

Caminero and O’Rourke are long shots, by comparison. Neither has pitched in the majors since 2016 - Caminero was pitching in Japan, while O’Rourke was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Caminero has a live arm but no control, and hasn’t ever posted above average major league results. O’Rourke, meanwhile, was an excellent LOOGY with the Twins before his elbow blew out, striking out almost 40% of the lefties he faced and holding them to a .224 wOBA. Caminero is likely a low-end depth guy, while O’Rourke would make for a good injury fill in if the major league bullpen is in need of a lefty reliever.

Long Term Potential

Tyler Bashlor | 4.22 ERA, 126.9 DRA-, 7.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.7 HR/9
Eric Hanhold | 7.11 ERA, 69.5 DRA-, 9.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9 (Triple-A)
Stephen Villines | 3.16 ERA, 77.6 DRA-, 13.5 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 (Double-A)
Daniel Zamora | 3.00 ERA, 50.4 DRA-, 16.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9

These are the four relievers who have the best chance at a long term role in the major league bullpen. We’ll start with Daniel Zamora, the only pitcher on this list to demonstrate he can survive in the major leagues. A lefty with a classic LOOGY repertoire and delivery, Zamora has actually been successful against righties so far in his career. Minor league hitters will flail at decent sliders and the major league track record isn’t long, and it’s more likely Zamora settles into the lefty-specialist role. Still, it’s an encouraging start, and he should get significant major league action this year.

Tyler Bashlor got major league time down the stretch but struggled, and he likely needs more time in the minors to work on his control and secondary offerings. Hanhold, conversely, got only 2.1 major league innings despite being quietly excellent in Triple-A. Don’t let the Vegas-inflated ERA fool you, Hanhold was roughly 30% better than average based on his peripherals, and most likely should’ve gotten more major league time last season. Finally, Stephen Villines, who has posted some absolutely ridiculous peripherals in the minors, should get a major league shot this season. Realistically, his mediocre fastball and funky, sidearm delivery will limit him to a role in middle relief, but the minor league results are really something to dream on.

There are a couple other names to watch - Adonis Uceta, Corey Taylor, Matt Blackham, Ryder Ryan - but they’re further away from the majors and have more to prove in the minor leagues before being candidates for the bullpen. Of the options outlined here, I expect one of Zamora and Avilan (more likely Avilan, due to veteran status) and one of Sewlad and Hanhold (toss up) to round out the opening day bullpen. That shouldn’t be a permanent arrangement, as these last two spots, along with Dowdy’s if he doesn’t stick and even Gsellman’s if he continues to struggle, should be flexible.

Regardless of who the Mets take north in a month, this is a deeper bullpen group than the Mets have had in years. They should still go out and sign another major league option, given how depressed the market is (Adam Warren or Tony Sipp would make a lot of sense), but if they don’t, there are plenty of options to churn through. Cycling these pitchers should help keep the bullpen fresh while giving everyone a chance to stick in the majors. If the Mets are lucky, this depth should contribute to a much stronger bullpen in 2019, and perhaps even unveil a hidden internal gem for the back-end.