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New York Mets: What is wrong with relief pitcher Edwin Diaz?

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 29: Edwin Diaz #39 of the New York Mets sends the ball to first base for the out to end the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on April 29, 2019 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The Cincinnati Reds defeated the New York Mets 5-4. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 29: Edwin Diaz #39 of the New York Mets sends the ball to first base for the out to end the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on April 29, 2019 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The Cincinnati Reds defeated the New York Mets 5-4. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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What has happened to New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz in 2019?

With just about a quarter of the season left, it seems as if New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz is unable to pitch a clean inning. He has given up more home runs so far this year (11) than all of last season with the Mariners (5) and is sporting a 5+ ERA.

In recent games, manager Mickey Callaway started to stray away from using Diaz in high leverage situations and instead used Seth Lugo, who has been fantastic this season, for 6 out saves.

So what happened to the dominant, All-Star closer that  Brodie Van Wagenen acquired this offseason?

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It’s almost unheard of for a player as dominant as Diaz was last year, arguably the best reliever in baseball, to perform this poorly one year later. For that reason, it’s hard to blame Van Wagenen for acquiring him. He saw a dominant relief pitcher that would solidify the back end of the bullpen. But baseball is an unpredictable game, and sometimes gambles don’t pay off.

Free agent signings and trades just don’t work out, and sometimes you give up promising young prospects and feel like you’ve been cheated. Diaz’s struggles almost makes you wonder if there is some tell-tale sign that Diaz is doing which is tipping his pitches that other teams are picking up on but the entire Mets organization is not.

Pitching coach Phil Regan worked with Diaz on keeping a straight line to the plate as opposed to falling off the side of the mound which Diaz said helped him. So why does he keep blowing saves?

At first glance of Diaz with the Mariners from last season, nothing about his mechanics looks different, but his pitches seem to. His fastball still runs up in the mid to upper 90’s, but some hitters seem to see it extremely well.

In today’s game, mid-90s is the new 90 mph fastball and professional hitters have no problem timing up heaters.

We saw this with the Dodgers in late May when Diaz blew the save in the ninth giving up two home runs, both off of his fastball, and we’re still seeing it now two months later. His slider seems to hang and not have any sharp break to it and kind of “spins” into the strike zone, which hitters are taking advantage of. It’s easy to critique the face value of his performance, the pitches, but there is a deeper issue to Diaz’s struggles.

He can’t handle the pressure of New York…yet. 

At some point, you have to think that it is no longer a mechanical or performance issue, but a mental block. Diaz came to New York, a notoriously hard place to play where players either sink or swim, with extremely high expectations. It is undeniable that the atmosphere of Seattle baseball and New York baseball is stark.

We’ve seen it before with various free agent signings and trades where players come to New York and are a shell of what they previously were. Names like Jason Bay and A.J. Burnett with the New York Yankees come to mind.

Major League Baseball players almost certainly hear and read about their shortcomings through the media which can take its toll on a player. As fans, we all know that New York sports media is ruthless. Diaz has no confidence and his pitching seems to reflect that. He looks scared on the mound, almost as if he doesn’t want to throw the pitch because it might get hit, which is very different from the fiery Edwin Diaz of last year that went right after hitters and made them look silly.

So is he going to be this bad during his entire tenure with the Mets? I don’t think so.

Sure, the pressure of playing in the city is tough, but this could be an adjustment period for Diaz. His stuff is too good and he has too much talent to continue at this unprecedentedly bad pace. We just saw during the trade deadline that teams were checking in on him, clearly teams see something in him that suggests a turnaround.

Next. Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil alive in the 2019 NL MVP race

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There’s something about New York that makes it difficult for players to perform, whether it be the high expectations to win or the relentless media, but I wouldn’t doubt Edwin Diaz returning to form in the near future.

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