If one takes a look at the depth chart of lefty relievers the Mets have at their disposal this season, it isn’t a pretty picture. At the top of the list sits Justin Wilson and below him is Daniel Zamora, who did not cover himself in glory in Saturday’s exhibition game, Chasen Shreve, and not much else. That fact alone makes Wilson close to indispensable to the Mets’ bullpen. Despite the fact that he was used in Saturday’s summer camp game against the Yankees to record just one out against a left-handed batter, it is doubtful that Luis Rojas sees Wilson as a lefty specialist.
And he shouldn’t. Throughout his career, Wilson has been equally effective against righties and lefties, posting a 3.29 ERA over 268 1⁄3 innings against the former and a 3.18 ERA over 141 1⁄3 innings against the latter. With Robert Gsellman, Brad Brach, and the newly acquired Jared Hughs all already sidelined to start the season, the Mets will be relying heavily on Wilson to record key outs in relief against both righties and lefties. Many of the Mets’ other late inning options have big question marks hanging over their heads; Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia both struggled mightily last season and Dellin Betances is trying to have a bounce back season after injuries robbed him of his 2019 campaign. This leaves Wilson alongside Seth Lugo as the first bullpen arms that will have to step in if other options falter.
Of course, Wilson lost much of 2019 due to injury himself, suffering recurrent elbow problems that sent him to the IL for a lengthy stint throughout May and June of last season, which was riddled with setbacks. But during the time he was healthy last season, he was very effective. He put up a 2.54 ERA as a Met overall in 2019, but even more impressive, he pitched to a sparkling 1.82 ERA after he returned from the injured list in early July with an increased strikeout rate to boot.
In the Before Times, when we still thought we were going to have a normal baseball season, it appeared as if Wilson was picking up right where he left off—a standout performer in spring training before it was suspended due to COVID-19. Of course, this odd and unprecedented shortened season doesn’t do anyone with an injury history any favors, but Wilson did his best to stay ready.
“We had a local high school that was kind of out in the country that was open,” he said of his extended offseason workouts to MLB writer Justin Toscano. “I was able to face some pro guys.” He also spent a lot of time throwing into a net at his home gym and working out at TCU with other professional players. He said he feels ready to go and that the team as a whole is ready to go.
“A lot of guys are here itching to get going now that we’ve kind of got the protocols and got our feet on the ground and hitters are starting to see live pitching and getting more comfortable. I think we’re ready, and other teams are in the same spot. Whoever’s ready first will probably have a little bit of an upper hand. We’re good to go here.”
He’s certainly not wrong about the huge advantage readiness garners in 2020. And if he can stay healthy, he will have the opportunity to toss many key innings for the Mets this season and continue to prove himself as Brodie Van Wagenen’s best and most underrated acquisition of his tenure as general manager.