It wasn’t too long ago that Edwin Díaz was hearing boos in Queens. He talked about his desire to give the fans something to cheer for instead. He has done that and so much more.
Díaz’s career arc as a Met is one of the more impressive turnarounds in recent memory. After a nightmarish start in Flushing in 2019, he was dominant in 2020, but a pandemic-shortened season of success was not enough to shake the weight of the expectations set upon him and the specter of his early failures. Díaz was good in 2021, but not spectacular. Whispers of “not the guy we traded for” could still be heard in bars, living rooms, and talk radio studios across the five boroughs.
Díaz decisively silenced those whispers in 2022. Pick your favorite metric to measure relief pitcher success—ERA, ERA+, DRA, FIP, strikeouts, whiff rate, saves, WAR (any of them)—Díaz was elite by any measure and inarguably the best reliever in baseball. Not only was his 2022 the best of any reliever that season, it was one of the best seasons by a reliever ever. His 17.1 strikeouts per nine innings second-highest K/9 rate ever posted by a relief pitcher with at least 50 innings, bested only Aroldis Chapman’s 17.7 in 2014. But Chapman also walked 11.9% of the batters he faced in 2014. Díaz walked just 7.7% of the batters he faced this season—a marked improvement in command compared to his previous seasons in a Mets uniform.
Going beyond the scope of just relief pitching, Díaz’s bread-and-butter slider was tied for 5th-most effective pitch by run value (-22 runs) among all pitchers in 2022. Considering run value is a cumulative stat, it is truly incredible that Díaz sat on the leaderboard among starting pitchers. His slider was that good. He threw that deadly slider over half the time in 2022—a sharp increase over previous seasons—which put him among the league leaders in slider usage this season. And not surprisingly, Díaz had one of the highest slider whiff percentages ever in the pitch-tracking era. Oh, and he paired that slider with a fastball that averaged (averaged!) over 99 mph and more than occasionally went well into the triple digits.
Edwin Díaz, 102mph Fastball and 91mph Slider, Overlay/Slow.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 8, 2022
Díaz closing for deGrom isn’t very fair. pic.twitter.com/fHc59CCjE4
Of course, the phenomenon that was Edwin Díaz’s 2022 season went beyond the cartoonish whiffs on his nasty slider that helped lead the Mets to 101 wins and a playoff berth. His entrance to the resounding trumpets of “Narco” by Australian musician Timmy Trumpet and the Dutch DJ duo Blasterjaxx became a viral internet sensation and nationwide craze.
“Narco” came out five years ago, but Timmy Trumpet and Blasterjaxx suddenly saw the song experiencing a renaissance, rocketing up the Spotify charts thanks to the hype generated by Díaz, which culminated in Timmy Trumpet performing live at Citi Field. It was the type of spectacle you rarely see in baseball—a game that often fails to market its brightest stars so they can become household names like LeBron James or Tom Brady.
With his elite 2022 season, Edwin Díaz made himself indispensable to the Mets. He made himself into a star. Now, Díaz has parlayed all of that into a five-year, $102 million deal to stay in Queens long-term—a record-breaking contract for a relief pitcher.
“Everyone was saying that I was one of the worst trades,” Díaz said to ESPN last month. “Now it’s paying off, and everyone is talking about the opposite.”
You can say that again.