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2020 Mets takeaways: The bullpen

Believe it or not, Mets relievers were closer to middle of the pack than the worst in baseball this year.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

With the Mets’ 2020 season officially over, we thought it would be good to look back at how the various components of the team performed over the course of sixty games. It’s hard to draw significant conclusions from such a short span of time—a bit more than one-third of a normal regular season—but to the extent that useful information can be gleaned from this season, we will try.

And what better place to start than the bullpen? The Mets’ bullpen had a 4.60 ERA that ranked 18th in Major League Baseball, which is hardly something to celebrate but still a marked improvement over how they performed as a group just last year. Their 4.74 FIP ranked 21st, which again isn’t special but is better than ranking among the worst two or three bullpens in the sport.

Much like the Mets’ starting rotation, their 2020 bullpen featured one pitcher who stood out above all the rest, with Edwin Díaz being the best of the bunch, statistically, by a wide margin. While he only converted six of his nine save appearances—making some of his worst appearances in some of the biggest spots—he threw 25.2 innings with a 1.75 ERA and 2.18 FIP, striking out 45.5 percent of opposing batters along the way. And while his walk rate was high, he cut down significantly on the rate at which he allowed home runs. Whether or not you’d trust him in a big spot is an open question, but he was the best reliever the Mets had this year.

The only reliever who threw more innings than Díaz was Jeurys Familia, who somehow managed a 3.71 ERA in 26.2 innings of work despite walking nearly as many batters as he struck out. And running down the list by workload, Chasen Shreve, Jared Hughes, and Justin Wilson accounted for the bulk of the remainder of the bullpen’s innings. Those three were mostly fine, as Shreve had a 3.96 ERA, Hughes had a 4.84 ERA, and Wilson had a 3.66 ERA.

The most fun, surprising performance to come out of the bullpen—position players Luis Guiillorme and Todd Frazier pitching aside—had to be that of Erasmo Ramirez. In 14.1 innings, he had a 0.63 ERA, something that seems like it would be nearly impossible to replicate over a longer span of time but can and should be enjoyed for what it was.

Brad Brach, Dellin Betances, and Franklyn Kilome threw 12.1, 11.2, and 11.1 innings, respectively, unfortunately with ERAs of 5.84, 7.71, and 11.12. When your ERA and your innings total are close at the end of a season, that season didn’t go very well.

Seth Lugo only threw 10.1 innings in relief, but they went very well, as you’d expect. He had a 2.61 ERA and 2.90 FIP before a rushed transition to the rotation turned into poor results as a starting pitcher. The Mets have very clear holes in the rotation, but it’s a safe bet that Lugo would have been the second-best reliever on the team behind Díaz had he been in a relief role all year.

Twelve other players threw innings of the Mets’ bullpen to mostly poor results. The best ERAs in that group belong to Guillorme, Frazier, David Peterson, and Walker Lockett, all of whom made one scoreless relief appearance. Miguel Castro had a 4.00 ERA in nine innings, looking like a work in progress with tantalizing strikeout stuff but a problematic walk rate. Paul Sewald, Steven Matz, Hunter Strickland, and Drew Smith were bad. Michael Wacha had a 2.25 ERA in his lone relief appearance, which went far better than almost all of his starts.

Looking ahead, the Mets will need to address the bullpen in the offseason, especially if they have any intention of keeping Lugo in a starting role rather than relief. Díaz is under team control through the 2022 season, Familia has a year left on his contract at $11.67 million, and Betances and Brach have player options that they would seem incredibly likely to pick up—at $6 million and $1.25 million, respectively—coming off their poor performances this year.

Should he rejoin the bullpen, Lugo would give the Mets another very good option for at least a couple more years, as he’s under team control through 2022. Miguel Castro is, too, if it turns out that he could be a high-strikeout guy with a bit more certainty when it comes to his overall performance. Justin Wilson and Jared Hughes are set to hit free agency, while Chasen Shreve could be retained via his final year of arbitration eligibility if the Mets are so inclined.

All of that is to say that the Mets don’t need to build an entire bullpen from scratch in free agency this winter, and the fact that Díaz was much, much better in 2020 than he was in his Mets debut in 2019 is encouraging. However the front office shapes up under Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson—assuming final approval of the sale of the team—that front office should still take bullpen acquisitions seriously this winter.