The New York Mets will have seven starting pitchers report to spring training in 2018, so which possible odd man out makes the most sense in the bullpen?
The New York Mets did what they needed to do at the Winter Meetings by adding a reliever that can handle late innings work. Anthony Swarzak will be looking to become a critical performer in the bullpen, and could even work his way into more favor than the likes of trade deadline acquisition AJ Ramos.
After adding Swarzak, the Mets’ front office swiftly made it clear they were done spending on the bullpen for the winter. That leaves the team with a four-man core of relievers that will include Swarzak, Ramos, Jeurys Familia, and Jerry Blevins.
That’s a strong start to building a legit bullpen, but they will certainly need to fill out the final three slots with players that can contribute effective innings. With a surplus of starting pitchers, at least one rotation candidate could find his way into the bullpen for the Opening Day roster.
So, let’s take a look at the case for why each starter could make the move to the bullpen. Before we start, just note that Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom are not included, because they are locks to make the Opening Day rotation as long as health is on their side.
Matt Harvey will also not appear because it is a longshot that the Mets would ask him to move to the bullpen and even if they did, it’s an even longer shot he’d accept that role.
Matz’s stuff has never been in question. He’s a special left-hander, because he can light up the radar gun with his fastball, has a sweeping curveball, a nasty slider and an effective changeup to boot.
There’s no doubt that Matz was pitching hurt last season, he admitted as much when discussing the elbow pain he was experiencing, which made him begin to cut out his slider, because he simply could not throw it.
The most compelling case for Matz is his first time through the order numbers. We have to throw out his 2017 numbers due to injury, but in 2016, Matz was most effective the first time through the order pitching to a 3.02 ERA and limiting opposing batters to a .656 OPS.
In 47.2 innings pitched, Matz struck out 53 batters while walking 11. Matz’s stuff makes facing seeing him just once quite difficult to deal with. If there’s a case for Matz as a reliever, this is it.
With Wheeler, most of this argument will be speculation. Entering 2017, he had not thrown a major league pitch since 2014, so the expectations were limited. The 2017 season was not kind to Wheeler, as his ERA ballooned to 5.21 and injuries again derailed his season.
There’s no statistical backing to say he belongs in a relief role, but with the eye test, you can see Wheeler’s stuff would fit well in shorter appearances. His fastball is electric and his breaking pitches can make any batter look silly.
Then add in the fact that his average start in the majors only lasts 5.6 innings and you can see how his game translates to the bullpen.
Wheeler seems like a logical fit in the bullpen if he cannot stay healthy and continues to fail at working deep into games.
Lugo’s bullpen case starts and ends with his curveball. In the bullpen, a pitcher can certainly survive with just two pitches, which is something that could certainly benefit Lugo.
Lugo’s fastball won’t break a radar gun, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. According to FanGraphs, Lugo’s fastball earned a Runs above average rating of 6.5 in 2017.
That coupled with a curveball that set the record for spin rate in 2016 could make Lugo an elite reliever. Lugo’s curveball clocked in at 3,498 RPM, a Statcast record. Those added revolutions make his curveball much more difficult to hit than the average curveball, and using it out of the bullpen would create a tough task for opposing hitters.
I don’t think Gsellman cares what role he is deployed in for 2018. All puns aside, Gsellman is still just 24 years old, with a strong repertoire of pitches. Although Gsellman has had some real success as a starting pitcher as recently as 2016, his sinker could work well for him out of the bullpen.
That sinker would be great at inducing ground balls in high leverage situations, and the reason I say that is because it already has been great in doing that in Gsellman’s time as a starter. In High leverage situations in 2017, hitters were held by Gsellman to hitting a paltry .225.
Coupled with his solid walk numbers, Gsellman could be a weapon in those high leverage situations that require a ground ball. The fact that Gsellman has 7.2 innings of relief experience under his belt is also a plus.
At the end of the day, the Mets have seven pitchers for five spots. At least one of these guys will be making a move to the bullpen, and each possesses an attribute that could make them successful in that role. The question is, who will Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland determine is the best fit for a relief role.