The New York Mets should leave pitcher Seth Lugo in the bullpen in 2019 if their intent is to contend for a playoff spot.
A lot can change between now and the beginning of the New York Mets‘ 2019 season. However, two things appear true. The team believes they can contend (a feeling that many people disagree with) and they have a very good starting rotation.
Jacob deGrom has been the best pitcher in baseball this season, while Noah Syndergaard has electric stuff and has had some strong results. Zack Wheeler, seemingly over his injury issues, is showing why he was a top prospect. Steven Matz, when healthy, is a very effective pitcher, and Corey Oswalt has shown signs that he can be a strong fifth starter.
The bullpen is an area of concern, as only Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are reliable members of the bullpen right now, and even Gsellman has faltered recently. These factors combine to make one thing painfully obvious: The Mets need to leave Lugo in the bullpen in 2019 if they hope to have a shot at contending.
However, as is often the case with the Mets, the painfully obvious isn’t always what gets done. In the latest of a list of examples of this, ESPN reports that the Mets plan to have Lugo enter 2019 as a starting pitcher, and that he could take some starts at the end of 2018.
There are several reasons as to why the Mets should avoid this path, not the least of which is that Lugo has been by far more effective as a relief pitcher. Despite his stated preference for starting, he has a 4.06 ERA as a starter as opposed to a 2.51 ERA as a reliever entering play on August 8.
This isn’t that surprising when you consider how Lugo pitches. He has a great curveball, which he gets the best spin rate on in the majors. However, none of his other pitches are incredible pitches, and he leans on the curveball heavily to get outs.
Leaning on one pitch as a relief pitcher is fine, as relievers rarely face a hitter more than once in a game. However, as a starter, pitchers need multiple ways to get hitters out. As hitters face starters more, they have more success, especially when that starter only has one or two out pitches.
For example, hitters bat .289 against Lugo during his third time through the order, a number that is too high for a starter trying to get quick innings late in a game. When Lugo comes out of the bullpen, however, batters only hit .203 against him.
However, the relative value that is brought to the team by Lugo pitching out of the bullpen is almost as important. As a starter, Lugo would be the fourth or fifth starter, as deGrom, Wheeler, and Syndergaard would all be ahead of him, and it could be argued that Matz would be as well.
As opposed to being the fifth best starter, Lugo would be the best relief pitcher the Mets have were he to stay in the bullpen. While the Mets could improve their bullpen through free agency, that would involve spending money, and thus seems unlikely.
While the Mets have young relievers with potential (Drew Smith, Jacob Rhame, and Bobby Wahl come to mind), they haven’t proven they can do it in the majors yet.
A contending team can’t rely on unproven commodities to carry a bullpen through a full season, especially in the modern MLB when the bullpen is more important than it ever has been before.
Keeping Lugo in the bullpen in 2019 will help to cross off one of many areas of concern should the team look to contend.