Much of the offseason conversation surrounding the Mets’ high-variance bullpen has been centered around the hope for resurgent seasons from the likes of Edwin Diaz, Dellin Betances, and even Jeurys Familia. But if this volatile bullpen finds success in 2020, the return of Brad Brach to the relief corps may ultimately be the most underrated component of that success.
Last offseason, Brach didn’t sign until mid-February, and it was hard on him emotionally, which was why he jumped at the chance when the Mets made him an offer in December—a one-year, $850,000 deal with a player option for 2021. He earned that deal on the back of a second-half bounce-back with the Mets after being designated for assignment by the Cubs in early August. Brach’s numbers with the Cubs in 2019 were ugly—a 6.13 ERA and 28 walks in just under 40 innings of work. But the Mets, who were eager to claim Brach on waivers, noticed that he was potentially tipping his changeup and the veteran righty underwent a renaissance during the Mets’ playoff push. He posted a 3.68 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 2.62 FIP, and 3.78 DRA over 14 2⁄3 innings for the Mets down the stretch. Perhaps even more importantly, the walks declined sharply as well. The Mets clearly believed enough in his ability to replicate that success in 2020 to bring him back for another season.
There is another reason the Mets seem to be bullish on Brach: his cutter. When the Mets signed him last season, the analytics staff and pitching coaches told him they liked the pitch and believed it could have potential, given its 1.71 pitch value, according to FanGraphs. While struggling so mightily in Chicago, Brach didn’t feel he was exactly in the position to be messing around with anything new, but the Mets allowed him to experiment and the results are hard to argue with.
“The biggest thing was using the cutter a lot more, I was able to be a lot more aggressive in the zone and I think it kind of just made everything else a little bit better,” Brach said to the New York Post about his revitalization with the Mets. “Coming over here and really the coaching staff gave me the confidence just throwing that thing a lot and they really liked it. I kind of saw it as a ‘What else do I have to lose’ kind of thing.”
So far this spring, Brach has thrown two innings, striking out three batters and allowing just one runner to reach base. Given his career averages and track record as a late-inning reliever, the projection systems share the Mets’ sunny outlook on Brach. ZiPS projects that Brach will put up a 3.74 ERA and accrue 0.6 fWAR in 56 games in 2020. PECOTA is also optimistic, projecting a 3.69 ERA—an outperformance of his DRA—and 0.5 WARP this season. Steamer is more down on Brach, projecting a 4.07 ERA and 0.2 fWAR. However, even these more pedestrian numbers would still represent an improvement over the carousel of middle relief Quad-A types the Mets have often deployed in the past. If indeed the Mets get the results they are counting on from the higher-profile members of the bullpen in Diaz, Betances, Familia, Wilson, and Gsellman, production from Brach close to his 2019 stint with the Mets is a huge boon in middle relief to round things out and would make the Mets’ bullpen one of the best in the National League.
Brach has indicated that he would love to finish his career with the Mets, the team he grew up rooting for. If he is able to sustain his 2019 success in 2020, given that his contract includes that 2021 option, he may very well have the opportunity to do just that while being an underrated cog in the team’s success along the way.