Coming off a pair of years that went very poorly for their bullpen, the Mets made an effort to address a glaring weakness over this offseason. The revamp was headlined by the trade for Edwin Diaz—and second baseman Robinson Cano—and the signings of Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson.
Last year, Mets relievers combined for a 4.96 ERA, the third-worst mark in all of baseball, and the year before that, they had a 4.82 ERA that ranked second-worst. But the good news regarding those performances is that the Mets have moved on from several of the pitchers who pitched a significant percentage of those innings—and pitched poorly.
Gone from the organization are Hansel Robles, who ranked fifth in innings over the past two years with 76.1 and had a 4.95 ERA and 5.65 FIP, and Josh Smoker, who despite not being with the Mets last year still ranked seventh in innings over the past two years with the 56.1 he pitched with a 5.11 ERA and 4.92 FIP in 2017. Fernando Salas had a 6.00 ERA in his stint with the Mets that covered parts of 2016 and 2017, and AJ Ramos had a 5.59 ERA in his 38.2 innings between 2017 and 2018. Both of those pitchers are out of the organization, too.
Add those four pitchers up, and they threw 216.1 innings, 19.4 percent of the 1,115.1 innings pitched by Mets relievers since the start of the 2017 season. Merely parting ways with those pitchers doesn’t guarantee anything, of course, and the Mets also parted ways with Jerry Blevins, who threw 89.2 innings himself over the past two years and had a respectable 3.71 ERA in that time. Addison Reed is a more distant memory, having signed with the Twins after he was traded by the Mets to the Red Sox during the 2017 season, but his 49 excellent innings of work for the Mets haven’t been easy to replace.
Looking at the breakdown of innings from the past emphasizes what’s important for the future. If the vast majority of the Mets’ relief innings are thrown by the pitchers who are likely to make the Opening Day roster this year, things should go pretty well. If not, the bullpen becomes a huge roll of the dice.
Edwin Diaz is simply one of the very best relief pitchers in baseball and is coming off a 2018 season that saw him put up a 1.96 ERA in 73.1 innings with 15.22 strikeouts and just 2.09 walks per nine innings. Percentages illustrate the strikeout and walk rates even better, as he struck out a staggering 44.3 percent of opposing hitters and walked just 6.1 percent.
Jeurys Familia hasn’t quite been his most dominant self—the pitcher we saw from 2014 through 2016 with the Mets—but he still had a very good season last year. He totaled 72 innings between his time with the Mets and the A’s and finished the year with a 3.13 ERA and 2.65 FIP.
Justin Wilson, who’s set to be the Mets’ top left-handed reliever, has a good track record over the course of his major league career despite also having a very high walk rate the past two years. Seth Lugo was outstanding out of the bullpen last year, and while Robert Gsellman wasn’t, it’s not too difficult to see him pitching reasonably well out of the bullpen this year.
Luis Avilan seems like a lock for the Opening Day bullpen, and he’s been good over the past three years, even with his 3.77 ERA last year having been the least-good mark of those three seasons. And at the moment, it looks like Rule 5 pick Kyle Dowdy will be the seventh and final member of the team’s bullpen to start the year. He’s the biggest unknown of any of these seven pitchers.
If that group, especially the top six pitchers, stay mostly healthy and pitch a boatload of innings, the Mets’ bullpen has a very good shot at climbing up the rankings of major league bullpens significantly from the lowly finishes of the past two seasons. If things go awry, however, there aren’t any guarantees with the depth they have in the minors.
Paul Sewald, who was assigned to minor league camp in spring training a couple weeks ago, actually threw the most major league relief innings of any Mets pitchers over the past two years. He had a 5.25 ERA in total over 121.2 innings, and he finished the 2018 season with a 6.07 ERA in the majors.
Drew Smith, who had a 3.54 ERA in 28 major league innings last year and was among the more impressive options for bullpen depth coming into this season, will miss the season after having Tommy John surgery. It’s not purely doom and gloom with the rest of the depth: Daniel Zamora, Tim Peterson, Tyler Bashlor, Jacob Rhame, Eric Hanhold, Stephen Villines, and Ryan O’Rourke, among others. But it’s a group that has either had very limited playing time in the big leagues or has struggled in that time.
Like other areas of the roster, though, it feels like the Mets made real improvements but could have done more. Hell, with Craig Kimbrel still out there as a free agent, they could still do more. But overall, the 2019 version of the Mets’ bullpen should be a massive improvement over the versions that were rolled out in 2017 and 2018.