Two weeks ago today, Edwin Díaz had a 7.71 ERA and was coming off a disastrous outing that saw him throw 35 pitches and record just one out. It seemed obvious that the Mets had to get him out of high-leverage situations quickly.
The Mets apparently saw things the same way, as they moved Diaz into significantly lower-leverage situations beginning with his following appearance. Having entered each of his first three games in the ninth inning—twice with the Mets ahead by one and once with the Mets trailing by one—Díaz’s next outing was in the seventh inning of the Mets’ August 2 game against the Braves. They were trailing by three runs at the time.
From there, Díaz came into the eighth with the Mets trailing by two on August 4, the ninth with the Mets trailing by one on August 7, the eighth with the Mets ahead by two on August 9, the ninth with the Mets trailing by one on August 11, and the eighth with the Mets ahead by five runs last night. There’s been a clear change in how the Mets have deployed Díaz over the past two weeks.
With that shift has come drastically improved performance. In six appearances, Díaz has thrown six scoreless innings with twelve strikeouts and just one walk. He’s given up four hits and thrown a total of 101 pitches, an average of 16.7 pitches per inning. That stretch gives him a 2.16 ERA and 2.36 FIP in 8.1 innings of work this season—despite a very high .385 BABIP against him—with an outstanding 47.2 percent strikeout rate. If you didn’t know how terribly his 2019 season went and just saw the numbers from this year, you’d think that Díaz was roughly the same pitcher that he had been in his dominant 2018 season with the Mariners.
Anyone who watched the Mets’ 2019 season, though, probably isn’t ready to pretend that it never happened. So it’ll be interesting to see when and how Luis Rojas starts putting Díaz into higher-leverage situations. Among regular Mets relievers, only Jared Hughes and Seth Lugo have a lower ERA so far this year. Díaz has the lowest FIP among that group, too, and his 2.41 DRA, the Baseball Prospectus metric, is the best mark for any Mets pitcher this year.
There are two questions that will presumably be answered in the near future. First, when does Luis Rojas start putting Díaz into high-leverage, late-inning spots again? And second, will Díaz be able to maintain his great recent numbers once he starts pitching in those situations? It’s going to be tough to answer the latter with certainty, but in such a short baseball season, two-week stretches are a relatively significant period of time.
Whether this stretch by Díaz has the Mets fully trusting him or not, any change in usage doesn’t have to be drastic or immediate. Instead of making the majority of his appearances with the Mets trailing, he could be used in games that the Mets are leading—either by a wide margin or by a slim margin but in earlier innings or against the lesser hitters in the opposing team’s lineup. If that goes well, Díaz could be phased into the highest-leverage spots, all without any declaration that he’s been named the team’s closer.