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Grading the Mets’ Adam Ottavino signing

An unexpected—and perhaps ill-advised—addition to the Mets’ bullpen.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets - Game One Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

After making a bevvy of small signings and building a big heap of NRIs to churn, the Mets finally made a more substantial bullpen reinforcement and brought back Adam Ottavino on a one-year, $4.5M deal. It’s one of the odder deals of the offseason for sure; Ottavino originally opted out of his $6.75M player option earlier this offseason—it’s worth noting that a good chunk of that money was going to be deferred—and has cited uncertainty on the direction of the team as one of the primary reasons for that decision. Despite those and a handful of other thinly-veiled criticisms throughout the offseason, the 38-year-old right hander will now rejoin the late-inning mix for the Mets.

You don’t have to dig too deeply to see that Ottavino’s perfectly fine 3.21 ERA hid a significant step back across the board. The number of metrics you can site here is long enough to be cumbersome for paragraph format, so here’s a table instead:

Adam Ottavino 2022-2023 decline

Metric 2022 2023
Metric 2022 2023
Sinker Velocity 94.2 92.5
Sweeper H-Mov (in) 17.8 16.8
Zone% 41.60% 40.40%
Chase% 31.30% 29.70%
Whiff% 29.80% 26.10%
In-Zone Whiff% 19.20% 16.10%
PitchingBot (Stuff) 68 59
PitchingBot (Arsenal) 61 49
Stuff+ (Stuff) 110 100
Stuff+ (Arsenal) 105 96

To summarize, Ottavino is throwing softer with less movement; landing his pitches in the zone less often; inducing less chase; inducing fewer whiffs, both in and out of the zone; and has seen both his raw stuff and overall arsenal scores (which accounts for control as well) decline from well above average to slightly below.

Obviously, these are all bad indicators. Ottavino probably still has some major league utility, but given these data and his age it’s unlikely he’s still a viable late inning option. Nevertheless, the Metss investment here signals that Ottavino will slot back a late inning role given even though he doesn’t project to be any better than the list of guys the Mets have picked up off the scrap heap this offseason. To drive that point home, here is an anonymized screenshot of the projected ERAs in the Mets’ bullpen from RosterResource (credit to Jarrett Seidler on Twitter for the idea on how to present this):

In case you couldn’t figure it out, Ottavino is the second pitcher on that list, in line for a projected ERA a whopping 0.17 runs better than Phil Bickford as the 8th man in the pen.

It’s not clear why you’d choose to spend real money on a player that isn’t actually any better than your current options, particularly given the Mets’ comments about not wanting to add too much more payroll. Then again, they have since gone on to add two more relievers in Jake Diekman and Shintaro Fujinami; the former is demonstrably better and the latter has much more upside. Still, leveraging the money given to Ottavino to instead sign a superior option like Phil Maton or Kenyan Middleton would probably have been a better move. Perhaps the money could have even been allocated to DH instead.

All of this commentary will have to be revisited at the end of the offseason when we see just how much some of these other guys get, but in the context of the moment the Ottavino signing doesn’t look great. Not a catastrophe to be sure - it’s a one-year deal for a small amount of money - but a move that feels like a poor decision on the margins of the roster. This move earns a C-.