Robert Stephenson is one of the more interesting free agent relievers out there. Not familiar? You’re hardly alone. A lifetime 4.64 ERA is hardly anything to get excited about. So when we see him mentioned in the latest New York Mets rumors, you’re right to be skeptical at first.
Stephenson’s career started out like many. He was a starting pitcher with an inflated ERA who transitioned into a relief role. Finally settling down after a few years of bouncing between the majors and minors back in 2019, his journey has included stints with the Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and most recently the Tampa Bay Rays.
The genius Rays who seem to turn every pitcher into masters on the mound tapped into the best of Stephenson. In 42 games for them following a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Stephenson went from owning a 5.14 ERA on the year down to a career-best 2.35 with some other fantastic numbers.
Did Robert Stephenson figure it out or is he a product of the Rays?
For most of his career, Stephenson had good walk and strikeout numbers. His problem in the rougher seasons was how well batters hit him. He has been hit hard plenty in his career with exit velocities in the high 80s and low 90s (above league average) and hard-hit percentages far exceeding where you’d want to see it. Last year is a great example of the growth he made after switching teams. A hard-hit percentage of 44.4% with the Pirates ticked down to 26.4% with the Rays.
Those advanced analytics give us a good hint as to why his name would appear in the latest Mets rumors. As an intriguing free agent option for the ball club, they have to wonder if he figured things out or if he’s just a product of what the Rays do so well: turn average or below pitchers into absolute studs.
Stephenson even saw his strikeout ratio go up to a career-best 42.9%. Across the board, he was one of the best relievers anyone could imagine. His 0.67 WHIP and 14.1 strikeouts per 9 help to highlight why he was so effective for Tampa Bay.
If you’re Stephenson and his agent, now is the time to take advantage and get more than a one-year deal. The Mets have stayed away from any commitments longer than a year aside from Sean Manaea who has an option for 2025.
Stephenson may be a worthwhile exception. Even if he isn’t an elite reliever, he has been good in the past. This includes a 3.13 ERA in 46 innings as a member of the Colorado Rockies back in 2021.
The Mets need a bullpen arm or two and committing to someone for more than a year will benefit them in the long run. We don’t need to leave the bullpen completely vacant. A couple of arms to carry over from 2024 to 2025 is necessary.