Edwin Diaz’s ninth inning home run to Jesse Winker on Monday night may have delivered the closer his first loss of the season, but it’s a small mark on what has otherwise been a superlative first month in the right-hander’s Mets career.
After posting an ERA under two and striking out more than 15 batters per nine innings for the Mariners in 2018, Diaz was arguably the most exciting piece of the blockbuster trade the Mets made for Robinson Cano. Just 25 years old and one of the most dynamic young arms in the game, expectations were sky-high, and despite the team’s general pitching woes, Diaz is meeting, if not exceeding, those expectations.
One of baseball’s elite strikeout artists, Diaz is currently putting up a career-best strikeout rate of 15.43 strikeouts per nine innings. Nearly 50 precent of batters who have come to the plate against have struck out, and he generates swings and misses on a whopping 25% of his pitches, a close second to Milwaukee’s Josh Hader for the best mark in baseball.
At the same time, Diaz has curbed some of his previous wild ways and is walking just 1.54 batters per nine, another career-best for him. This combination of control and unhittability, on the back of a plus-plus fastball and a plus-plus slider, is a formidable one, and it appears to only get sharper with time.
What has challenged Diaz this year is the same thing giving fits to many other great pitchers: the home run ball. Diaz has allowed 1.54 home runs per nine, a jump from his 0.98 career rate and a bit above the major league average of 1.33 for pitchers this year.
Of course, due to the small samples this time of year, that works out to a whopping two home runs, and a handful of clean appearances would drop that number down to his career norm. But with his hard hit rate at 52%, a leap of 20 percentage points from his career average, and a homer-heavy environment all around the league, it’s something to watch out for.
When the Mets traded for Diaz, what they were looking for most was consistent dominance in the ninth inning, and that’s what they have gotten. He has given up a run in just two of his 13 appearances, both off of solo homers, and he hasn’t allowed any baserunners at all in eight of them. His 1.54 ERA is the lowest of his career, and he has the peripherals to keep it low all season long.
The team is showing extreme caution in his use this season, perhaps after watching previous top Mets relievers begin to fade at the end of heavy season workloads, but he has not shown a propensity to tire, nor has he fallen victim to the various aches, pains, and tweaks that so many of his teammates have.
Diaz came to the Mets as one of the best relievers in baseball, and so far, he has been everything advertised and more.