When the Mets acquired Jerry Blevins from the Nationals in exchange for Matt den Dekker in 2015, he represented a huge upgrade in the Mets’ relief corps almost instantly, and was a mainstay of their bullpen for the next four seasons. In 2016 and 2017 in particular, Blevins was a workhorse, and an extremely valuable one, putting up ERA+s of 145 and 141, respectively, over those two years.
While with the Mets, Blevins set himself apart by being one of the most fun players on the team, both on Twitter and on his semi-regular “Hello, Jerry” segments on SNY. He famously accepted a Twitter avatar, just hours after his trade, from our own Steve Schreiber, made with love on MS Paint. He was an easy player to root for, and seemed like one of the good guys in the game.
After a down year in 2018, the Mets let Blevins go, and he signed with the Braves. While both his appearances and run prevention went down, he still had a pretty good season in 2019 for Atlanta, matching or slightly underperforming his peripherals.
But two key things happened in 2020 that put into question his ability to produce as significantly in 2021: Blevins didn’t pitch last season, and MLB instituted the three-batter rule.
Though signed by the Giants during the off-season, Blevins was released before the season started in early April and didn’t land with another club. Now, this may have been intentional, not wanting to expose himself or his family to another ‘bubble’ due to COVID-19, or it may have been because he looked that bad during spring training.
This is how Brady Klopfer at the McCovey Chronicles described Blevins’s 2020 spring:
Blevins, a left-handed specialist (which is now a dying breed) struggled mightily, allowing 10 hits (including 2 home runs), 2 walks, and 9 earned runs in just 3.2 innings, while striking out 3.
That stat line should give anyone pause, but it is an incredibly small sample size in spring training, so putting too much stock in that is likely unwise. The larger issue, as noted by Klopfer as well, is that with the new three-batter rule in place, left-handed specialists are becoming rarer and rarer in the game.
Now, while Blevins clearly is more effective against fellow lefties, his platoon splits aren’t as dramatic as other LOOGYs. Over his career, lefties bat .213/.270/.303 against him, with righties going .241/.342/.401. The issue with those splits is the power component, with righties slugging 100 points higher than lefties. In a game that had a spike in offense over the past two seasons, perhaps due to changes in the baseball itself, it is unsurprising to see Blevins struggling more with giving up the long ball. In 2019, righties put up an .831 OPS compared to .540 for lefties.
According to Baseball Savant, Blevins added a four-seam fastball into his arsenal in 2017, instantly becoming his most hit, and most hit for power, pitch. It isn’t clear why Blevins ditched his sinker for a more straight fastball, but his results haven’t been helped at all by the switch.
And so, the question is clear: will a deadening of the baseball, as is reported to be happening, allow Blevins to return to his earlier run of success? There are no pitchers that last longer than left-handed relievers (say cheese, Ollie Perez!), and so Blevins’s age (entering his age 37 season) isn’t as concerning as it would be at other positions. His velocity has been relatively consistent, as has his control, so it isn’t as if his arm suddenly stopped working.
The Mets brought in Blevins on a minor-league deal which, if he makes the big league club and hits his incentives, could be worth $2 million. If 2017, or even 2019, Blevins shows up, that’s a steal of a contract. If he’s willing to accept a minor league assignment, it seems nearly inevitable that we will see Blevins in blue and orange this year. Hopefully, the Mets’ brass will remember his fantastic Players’ Weekend jersey names (Gordo. Je-rry, Je-rry, Je-rry) and make sure he’s called up at least for that series.