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 bulk of 2019 on the Triple-A side of the shuttle, finally coming 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, ill-fated additions to the bullpen, rendering Sewald a depth piece assigned to Triple-A to start the season. He was summoned to the majors for two separate stints in April and May, making only four appearances in which he surrendered three runs over seven innings in mostly mop-up work. The team even designated Sewald for assignment after his May outing. When he cleared waivers, Sewald reported back to Syracuse, thinking his chances of returning to the majors were slim since he was no longer on the 40 man roster.
But that thinking didn’t take into account the tire fire that was the Mets’ 2019 bullpen, and in mid-August, Sewald came back up to the Mets and seemed to flash some improved stuff as he thrived in a very short sample size. 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) were 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 some late inning unhappy 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 off of Edwin Diaz, but it was Sewald who came in to start the ninth inning of a then 10-4 game, allowing four of the first five runners to reach to start the rally. Sewald’s usage was far more sporadic and generally lower leverage thereafter.
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, but over a very small sample. His 3.57 FIP vs. his 4.92 xFIP also show the difficulty in adequately analyzing his 2019 contributions.
While miscast as, say, your third most reliable arm in a bullpen, Sewald did show bursts of cromulence—along with an ability to pitch multiple innings. In 2019, four of his 17 appearances went two innings or longer. It is this latter skill that may serve Sewald well in the 60 games in 68 days sprint that will comprise this proposed season. While the Mets have tried to throw more random depth options into the bullpen—such as their recent signing of Jared Hughes—the expanded rosters, the team’s glaring lack of depth in the starting rotation and the shortened sprint of a season which all point to a high rate of bullpen shuffling—in which there would seem to be a spot for a classic long man who can soak up innings and potentially keep you in range in games you are trailing—or to rest your main arms in a blowout.
With a healthy Noah Syndergaard, this role may have fallen to whomever lost the fifth starter battle from among Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, and Steven Matz. Absent Thor—and with the flexibility to fill this role or to hopefully dial it up a bit in shorter outings, a Sewald at the best of his abilities may find himself a role in the 2020 Mets bullpen.