How do the Mets put out their own bullpen dumpster fire?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 01: Edwin Diaz #39 of the New York Mets reacts as Jose Iglesias #4 of the Cincinnati Reds rounds the bases in the ninth inning after a solo home run at Citi Field on May 01, 2019 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The Cincinnati Reds defeated the New York Mets 1-0. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 01: Edwin Diaz #39 of the New York Mets reacts as Jose Iglesias #4 of the Cincinnati Reds rounds the bases in the ninth inning after a solo home run at Citi Field on May 01, 2019 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The Cincinnati Reds defeated the New York Mets 1-0. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

If the New York Mets have any shot at turning around their fortune for next season, it starts with putting out the dumpster fire burning in the bullpen. How do they accomplish this?

The New York Mets went way outside the box to hire former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager. His mission: to make a huge splash and remake the Mets starting with trading for one of the best closers in baseball in 2018.

Many fans and writers disliked the trade for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, primarily because three talented prospects went to Seattle and the Mets ended up with most of Robinson Cano’s massive contract.

At the time no one cared about sending Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak away. Now they are both antagonizing the Mets as members of the Phillies and Braves while Jarred Kelenic shoots up the prospect chart like Apollo 11. Justin Dunn would look good in the Mets rotation or bullpen right about now too.

Gerson Bautista has not contributed much for the Seattle Mariners this season but he is still at least as talented as the Syracuse Shuttle guys.

We all know that @GMBVW’s moves have not worked as planned and the Mets find themselves with the third-worst bullpen ERA in the majors at 5.63 behind only the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.

Breaking the numbers down further the Mets have the ninth worst BB% and the second worst BABIP leading to a third-worst 1.54 WHIP. Baserunners everywhere and they have the fourth worst left on base percentage (LOB%). This is a recipe for disaster.

A Look at the Bullpen

Here are some individual statistics for the five top relievers going into 2019. All statistics and definitions are from Fangraphs and Statcast. Content note: these numbers might be highly disturbing for people who love the Mets.

I recommend reading the definitions of these statistics if you are not familiar with them.

Jeurys Familia

  • ERA 7.50
  • FIP 5.74
  • xFIP 5.20
  • BA .292
  • ISO .221
  • BABIP .364
  • SLG .513
  • wOBA .392
  • xwOBA .320
  • xBA .233

Edwin Diaz

  • ERA 5.50
  • FIP 3.64
  • xFIP 2.81
  • BA .283
  • ISO .203
  • BABIP .421
  • SLG .486
  • wOBA .345
  • xwOBA .269
  • xBA .219

Robert Gsellman

  • ERA 5.09
  • FIP 3.51
  • xFIP 4.16
  • BA .268
  • ISO .164
  • BABIP .344
  • SLG .432
  • wOBA .330
  • xwOBA .289
  • xBA .236

Justin Wilson

  • ERA 4.22
  • FIP 5.64
  • xFIP 4.67
  • BA .225
  • ISO .175
  • BABIP .241
  • SLG .400
  • wOBA .319
  • xwOBA .296
  • xBA .225

Seth Lugo

  • ERA 3.35
  • FIP 3.53
  • xFIP 3.90
  • BA .230
  • ISO .170
  • BABIP .308
  • SLG .400
  • wOBA .294
  • xwOBA .267
  • xBA .196

The numbers clearly show that the actual performance does not reflect the expected performance based on Statcast data such as exit velocity and launch angle.

Look at the extreme differences between actual BA and xBA (for everyone but Wilson) and between wOBA and xwOBA (especially Familia and Diaz).

Look at the difference between Diaz’s ERA, FIP, and xFIP. Based on the way batters are hitting the ball Diaz should be expected to have a fielding independent pitching (xFIP) of 2.81 which is much more in line with what most people expected.

Lugo has somehow pitched better than his FIP and xFIP would suggest so expect a slight regression from him in the second half. Gsellman’s xFIP of 4.10 is only slightly worse than Lugo’s xFIP of 3.90.

These differences are likely due to a combination of bad luck and terrible defense.

Extinguishing the Flames

My original assignment was to suggest ways to improve the current bullpen situation. At the time everyone was tossing Molotov cocktails to the plate and it was World WAR III or World LBR III (losses below replacement).

When there is literally no one to rely on the options are pretty limited. My editor suggested focusing on what the Mets can do to prevent this happening again next year.

Here are some ideas followed by why they might or might not improve the situation. They apply to this year as well as next.

  • Use Seth Lugo as the Fire Extinguisher in the highest leverage situations
    • Use him for two innings when he pitches effectively and efficiently for his first three outs
    • Those two innings can include the eighth and ninth inning when Diaz is not available
  • Continue to use Diaz to start the ninth inning
    • As much as I wish guys like Diaz were willing to be used in highest leverage situations from the seventh inning o–and effective in those situations–Diaz seems much more comfortable in the traditional closer’s role
    • His underlying abilities have not disappeared and patience is required
    • No dry-humping the closer
    • Use him at least once every three days but no more than two in a row or four out of five days
      • Better to use him in a close game (down by 1, tied, up by 1-2) than only using him with a 1-3 run lead
  • Stop using Familia in high leverage situations until he can string together a lot of effective outings
    • Gsellman should move ahead of Familia in higher leverage situations
    • Gsellman’s expected results are way better than Familia this season
  • Push the starters to go at least seven innings as long as they are still effective
    • A tired deGrom is a hundred times better than everyone but Lugo and Diaz
  • Use defensive replacements with any lead in the eighth or ninth inning and even earlier with a 3+ run lead
    • Guillorme should replace Rosario at SS
    • Hechavarria should replace Cano at 2B
    • Lagares should replace Smith/Davis (moving Conforto to RF and McNeil to LF)
    • Nido should replace Ramos
    • Frazier should be at 3B
  • Other way out there ideas include a six-man rotation where starters go an extra inning each turn
  • Use tandem starters for the fourth and fifth starters
    • Pair guys like Vargas and Oswalt or Matz and Font to combine for eight innings
    • Might not win that many games with these pairs but top three starters will work with a much more rested bullpen

Of these ideas, the defensive replacements are a no-brainer and the recommended usage of Lugo and Diaz should also work better in the second half as well as in 2020. Gsellman moving ahead of Familia is also likely to improve the overall results although Gsellman is currently no better than average out of the pen.

I would not try the six-man rotation unless they find themselves replacing Wheeler and Vargas with three better than average starters, which is as likely as sending people to the Moon . . . I mean the Sun.

I have always liked the tandem idea and if planned from the beginning of next season could be an effective strategy. It’s not going to help this year because Wheeler and probably Vargas will be gone in a flash and Anthony Kay is the only prospect that could really fit in this kind of role in 2019.

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What are your suggestions for improving the bullpen next year or even this year?