Bullpens can usually count on a diamond in the rough emerging each season. The 2019 New York Mets didn’t have that luxury.
The New York Mets’ bullpen was bad in 2019. Really bad. They had two trustworthy relievers: Seth Lugo, who was one of the best relievers in baseball, and Justin Wilson, who battled injuries for most of the season. Lugo and Wilson posted ERAs of 2.70 and 2.54, respectively. Brad Brach’s 3.68 wasn’t bad, but he only made 16 appearances as a Met. And that was pretty much it.
The Mets’ next-most reliable relievers were Jacob Rhame (4.24 ERA in only five appearances), Paul Sewald (4.58), and Robert Gsellman (4.66). When the Mets needed quality innings out of the bullpen, if Lugo and Wilson weren’t available, the only option was a wing and a prayer.
Much of this paucity of reliable relief came from the failures of Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia, which need no elaboration. Whether Familia and/or Diaz turn things around is an open question—Diaz certainly still has his velocity, and Familia has reportedly lost 30 pounds this offseason. But the 2019 Mets bullpen also had another problem. Simply put, the back end of the bullpen didn’t have an ounce of good luck.
The individual relievers don’t matter as much as the general phenomenon. Quite often, the Mets, like most teams, fall blindly into no-name relievers who turn in good seasons out of nowhere. In 2019, the opposite happened.
Just look at the Mets of the last decade.
It feels like the Mets have had a terrible bullpen forever, but even a few years ago, they didn’t. In 2016, the Mets’ 3.53 bullpen ERA ranked sixth in baseball. And that bullpen was powered not only by big names at the top, but also by no-name relievers who turned in successful seasons under the radar.
Familia put up a 2.55 ERA while Addison Reed rode his scintillating fastball to a 1.97 mark, but they weren’t the only ones. Hansel Robles (3.48 ERA), Jerry Blevins (2.79), Jim Henderson (4.11), and Fernando Salas (2.08) were all legitimate contributors for then-manager Terry Collins.
Even in 2017, when the bullpen was one of the worst in the league, they still found help in unlikely places. Reed was excellent, but Blevins stepped up with Familia injured for much of the season. Blevins posted a 2.94 ERA in 75 appearances. Similarly, Josh Edgin compiled a 3.65 ERA in 46 games. Even Chasen Bradford put up a 3.74 ERA in 28 appearances.
Traveling way back in time to 2010, the bullpen was anchored by big-name closer Francisco Rodriguez. But K-Rod was backed up by the pitching of Hisanori Takahashi, Manny Acosta, and Elmer Dessens.
In 2011, Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, Miguel Batista, Taylor Buchholz, and Danny Herrera all pitched out of the bullpen with ERAs under 4.00.
During the 2013 season, with Parnell established at closer, the bullpen was bolstered by sub-4.00 ERAs from LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Rice, Carlos Torres, Vic Black and Pedro Feliciano.
One of the stranger bullpen years in recent Mets history came in 2014. Buddy Carlyle and Josh Edgin put together fantastic seasons with 1.45 and 1.32 ERAs, respectively. Dana Eveland—apparently a real person who existed—put up a 2.63 ERA in 30 appearances. Kyle Farnsworth, Black, Familia, Torres, and Jenrry Mejia…all under 4.00.
The 2015 Mets featured a cast of lesser-known relievers in the bullpen, but the results were astounding. Sean Gilmartin (2.67), Alex Torres (3.15), Logan Verrett (3.03), Goeddel (2.43), and Jack Leathersich (2.31) all played a crucial role in the 2015 World Series run. No, I’m not kidding.
We’ve already covered 2016 and 2017, and the 2018 bullpen was unremarkable besides quietly excellent seasons from Drew Smith and Daniel Zamora. But in 2019: nothing. It was Lugo and Wilson and pray for rain. No Leathersich or Buchholz or Batista. That was it.
So what happens in 2020? It’s hard to imagine that this time, the Mets don’t run into at least one reliever who comes out of nowhere to have a fine season. Maybe Tyler Bashlor finally starts locating his pitches, or Walker Lockett puts it all together. Perhaps Jacob Rhame finally finds a groove. Michael Wacha could turn things around in his new situation. Zamora could show more of the consistency he displayed in 2018. Paul Sewald could hit a lucky patch. It could be anyone. Or it could be someone we’ve never heard of before.
The Mets’ bullpen already has Diaz, Dellin Betances, Lugo, Wilson, and Familia. At least three of them should have serviceable seasons, which will be one more reliable reliever than the 2019 squad. They’ll make an excellent group at the top of the pen.
But there’s also the bottom of the pen, and that’s where the Mets might really reverse their luck. If they can find another Elmer Dessens, another LaTroy Hawkins, another 2014 Buddy Carlyle, as they have so often in the past, the NL East will look up at them in envy.