The New York Mets closer role doesn't have to be a solo act
Okay, so instead of the blaring of Narco, why am I hearing the sound of Taps? It’s not the end of the world. The New York Mets will be without the blaring trumpets this season, and more importantly, without Edwin Diaz who had a career year in 2022 and was signed to a mega-deal in the off-season.
The Mets are not worried about the money, they don’t have to be, you know, Steve Cohen and all. But they are also covered for that loss and will be reimbursed. But the coverage that the Mets really need is in the bullpen.
Bullpens by the very nature of the game are erratic. It’s a mixed bag of nuts, sometimes literally, and you just don’t know what you are going to get. But, in reality, a good bullpen is not just pen with a single arm. There is a supporting cast. All the great closers had company – Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Rollie Fingers – they all had one. And sometimes, because closers aren’t perfect, and they can’t pitch 162 games, they need a bullpen mate to pick them up. The key is whether those teammates can cover you for an entire year.
GM Billy Eppler had done a pretty good job in assembling what was supposed to be the supporting cast for Diaz.
Adam Ottavino and David Robertson both have experience, in New York, with the Yankees, in high leverage pressure situations and in pennant drives.
The Mets took a flyer on Ottavino last year and he rewarded them with a 6-3 record, 2.06 ERA and a WHIP of 0.975 setting up for Diaz, and he also chipped in with three saves of his own when Diaz was out for a few games.
Robertson was a long-time reliable set-up man in the pen for Mariano, and then saved 39 games in 2014 after his retirement. Robertson moved on to close the next three years for the Chicago White Sox before returning to the Yankees. He was derailed with Tommy John surgery and sat out the 2020 season. But appears to have something left in the tank even at 37 years old.
And then there is Drew Smith. Smith has been inconsistent, but on long stretches has given the Mets confidence that he is a reliable arm in the pen averaging 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2022, 8.8 for his three-year career. He is prone to the gopher ball when he isn’t on. But when he is, he truly can blow batters away. Isn’t that what defines a dominant closer?
And there is righty Tylor Megill and lefty David Peterson. This pair seemingly frustrates everyone. They both have talent, and we’ve seen that. But each time they seem to get in a groove, they have a game where they get slapped around. That inconsistency, thus far, is why neither one was being counted on as a part of the Mets rotation, at least early on. But, given their stuff, why not include them in the mix?
The New York Mets have won without a dominant closer before
In 1969, righty Ron Taylor pitched in 59 games, finished 44 of them and earned a team-leading 13 saves. Southpaw Tug McGraw pitched in 42 games, finished 26 of them (he also started four games) and earned 12 saves. That’s right, the top two relief pitchers combined for 25 saves.
The bullpen only had a combined 35 saves. That’s because that’s all they needed. That’s because the Mets staff of Seaver (18), Koosman (16), Gary Gentry (6), Don Cardwell (4), Jim McAndrew (4), Nolan Ryan (2), and, get this, McGraw (1) combined for 51 complete games. Oh, and the others getting saves that season were Cal Koonce (7), Ryan (1), Jack DiLauro (1), and an answer to a trivia question, Bob Johnson (1).
Then in 1986, righty Roger McDowell pitched in 75 games and finished 52 of them and earned a team-leading 22 saves. That’s right. It was not Jesse Orosco. Orosco pitched in 58 games and finished 40 of them and earned 21 saves. The other three earning saves were Doug Sixk (1), Rick Anderson (1), and Sid Fernandez (1). That bullpen only had 46 saves. Again, because…the starting five of Dwight Gooden (12), Ron Darling (4), Bobby Ojeda (7), Fernandez (2), and Rick Aguilera (2) combined for 27 complete games.
But how about Tylor Megill and David Peterson? Could they be the next Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco combo? Or the next Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw? The Mets want to win a World Championship without a dominant closer. They had K-Rod, Billy Wagner, Armando Benitez and, guess what, there were no World Series championships having that overpowering dominant presence on the mount. Well, the two titles in the team’s history came without that one dominant closer. So it’s not unreasonable to think that the Mets can do it with a bullpen by committee. But, damn, I’ll miss those trumpets.