4. Making the Bullpen a Priority
One of the glaring weak spots for the 2018 New York Mets was its bullpen. For example, they sported a 4.96 ERA in 2018 (3rd worst in the majors). They were also one of only three bullpens (the Royals and the Marlins being the others) with a negative WAR on the season, per Fangraphs – let that sink in…a negative WAR, meaning below replacement (AAA) level.
Both stats (ERA and WAR) being cerebral testaments to how poor the Mets’ pen was last year, but anyone who followed Jacob DeGrom’s amazing 2018 season also felt the emotional toll of watching a starting pitching gem flushed down the toilet by the bullpen on more than just a few occasions.
The plan for the back end of the 2018 Mets’ bullpen plan started with an established closer in Jeurys Familia. While former Marlins closer AJ Ramos, prize offseason acquisition Anthony Swarzak, and lefty specialist Jerry Blevins were set to get the ball to Familia in the ninth and some of the young power bullpen arms they traded for in 2017 would surely develop into viable options to complement their veteran core.
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Instead, Familia struggled a bit early, and was eventually traded away at the deadline, the ever shaky Ramos showed why even his previous team didn’t want him closing games for them – before a torn labrum ended his season, new comer Swarzak was consistently disappointing when healthy, and specialist Blevins failed to be effective against lefties.
Rather than staying put, or only going for a seventh inning guy to get the ball to Lugo/Gsellman or vice-versa the Mets made their impact felt early this offseason by acquiring All-Star closer Edwin Diaz from the Mariners along with Cano.
Let’s just consider what Diaz did in Seattle last year. He saved 57 games (T-2nd MLB all time), had an ERA under 2.00 (1.96), a WHIP of .79, and a K/9 of a whopping 15.22 while being named the Mariano Rivera award winner as top AL reliever. He throws 100 MPH (97.9 average fastball velocity in 2018), has a wicked slider, and is only 24 years old, with four more years of club control – what is there not to like?
All the naysayers will cry “regression!” – and they’re actually right. Just as Jacob DeGrom cannot sustain the magic he had in 2018, neither can Diaz, but so what? Let’s just say that both are elite at what they do (even with the inevitable regression their respective 2019 numbers will incur) and move forward.
And speaking of moving forward, the acquisition of arguably the best closer in the game was followed up with bringing Familia back into the bullpen fold. Mets fans all know what Familia brings to the table and I’m sure they’d all take their former closer as the set-up man to compliment the new closer in town, as it provides the team one of the league’s best 1-2 punches to close out games.
Then, as the cherry on top, the Mets brought 31 year-old lefty, Justin Wilson, on board to round out the group. The bullpen arm the Mets still needed when they signed Lowrie; Wilson is a former closer for Detroit (2017) who had an up and down 2018 in the Cubs’ pen averaging a disappointing 5.4 BB/9 to go along with an intriguing 11.4 K/9 on the season. Although his fastball velocity was down a tick to 95.1 MPH on average last season, he’s a hard thrower and a proven left- handed commodity.
When you add last year’s bullpen holdovers, Lugo and Gsellman, to the mix the 2019 bullpen has the potential to be a strength, as opposed to 2018’s patchwork experiment.
Tyler Bashlor, Drew Smith, and lefty Daniel Zamora slot in after the big dogs and need to build on the promise they each showed in 2018, but have the potential to hold down the back end of the bullpen in 2019. Meanwhile, Hector Santiago and Luis Avilan are also interesting signings.
They don’t necessarily match up with the crosstown Yankees’ vaunted super bullpen (or do they?), but I feel FAR more comfortable handing the ball to the pen this season than I did last season.
5. Not Batting Out of Order
Batting out of order? Does that even happen in the major leagues? Is this some type of metaphor for a lost 2018?
No, no metaphor here. And yes, the Mets actually batted out of order last May making the lowly Reds look good in Cincinnati.
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The likelihood that this happens again in 2019, in back to back years, is slim to none, but if it does football season will be coming early this year.