While there’s plenty to be excited about, the New York Mets middle relief corps are looking thin as the 2018 season gets underway.
It’s not about how you start—it’s how you finish. Someone needs to remind the New York Mets of that.
While the team’s brass, coaching staff and fanbase seem awfully concerned with who starts games, they don’t seem to be paying much attention to who comes in to finish things up.
In the 2018 world of five-inning starters and the questions still looming at the backend of the rotation, the bullpen—namely the middle relief corps—should have and ought to be a focus of Sandy Alderson and all those concerned with the success of the New York Mets.
Jeurys Familia is slated to be this team’s closer, and a darn good one, assuming he is healthy and returns to form.
AJ Ramos is the most likely candidate to set him up in the eighth inning if the Mets have the lead on most nights. But even he comes with questions, having struggled with his control and lacking an overpowering fastball.
While Familia and Ramos are proven commodities, the Mets have to get to the end of games first. Right now, this team seems a bit light in the bullpen, especially in the middle innings.
The one market that didn’t seem to suffer much this offseason was the bullpen market— Greg Holland, who the Mets were rumored to have interest in but finally signed with St. Louis prior to Opening Day, notwithstanding.
The Mets dove in quickly, signing Anthony Swarzak to a two-year deal. The problem is Swarzak, 32, he has never put together back-to-back good years.
The Mets committed to Swarzak on the basis of his wonderful 2017, where he pitched to a 2.33 ERA with a 10.6 K/9 rate.
While Scott Sprat of FanGraphs credits his evolution to a change of approach in 2016, his 2016 season with the Yankees was odd. While he averaged a strikeout per inning, he also gave up 10 home runs in 31 innings and pitched to a 5.11 ERA.
That seems awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Like a carbon copy of Hansel Robles?
So the question is this: Which Swarzak shows up? Metrics are one thing, but results matter most.
Robles and his penchant for surrendering home runs are in the City of Lights and headed for lots of bus rides around the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Robles must’ve saved a seat for Zack Wheeler, the loser of the fifth starter competition, who would have made an interesting bullpen piece but is also starting the season in the minors.
That leaves the Mets quite a bit thinner than expected.
Jerry Blevins has been spectacular throughout his tenure as a Met but is best suited when used as a loogy. The southpaw just isn’t built to take on more, and when he does, the results aren’t good.
Left-handed batters were held to a measly .455 OPS while he posted a 0.88 WHIP and his xFIP, or expected fielding independent pitching number, a more accurate measurement of effectiveness was 2.54.
Righties, meanwhile, mashed with a .988 OPS, as Blevins struggled, posting a 2.47 WHIP while his xFIP rose to 6.29. His 2016 numbers were a bit less stark in contrast but along similar lines.
In other words, he just isn’t capable of getting righties out with any regularity.
Paul Sewald had a K-rate of over one per inning and showed some flashes last year as batters hit just .234 against him, but he still pitched to a 4.55 ERA with a xFIP of 4.35. He is not a proven commodity by any stretch. Jacob Rhame less so, and he struggled this spring with 5.06 ERA and has thrown nine major league innings.
Seth Lugo, who was to be the long-man is now slated to begin the season in the rotation, at least for a turn or two with Jason Vargas sidelined with a broken hamate bone in his right hand.
Robert Gsellman had a nice spring pitching out of the bullpen for an inning at a time, but he has no experience as a reliever and struggled last year as a starter. Could his sinker, should it regain its 2016 form, be an asset for getting ground balls?
Yes, but that is hardly a given, and at this point, he is likely slated to be both a long man and a middle-inning contributor, which is a work in progress. He did look dominant in his first bullpen outing, striking out the side on Opening Day.
Otherwise, the Mets might find their fans singing Lazy Mary at the seventh inning stretch with frowns on, as the bridge to Ramos and Familia is awfully creaky.