By: Matt Williams

Examining the State of the Mets Bullpen

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The Mets had the second worst bullpen in the league last year. A combination of injuries, growing pains, and bad performances led to a 4.82 ERA. If the Mets are going to succeed in 2018, they are going to need a better performance from their bullpen. They added a lot of talent in terms of relief pitchers during the trade deadline last year, but most of those arms (such as Gerson Bautista)still need developing. So let’s take a look at the pitchers who will likely contribute to the 2018 Mets bullpen.

Jeurys Familia is going to be the team’s primary closer. However new manager Mickey Callaway has stated that he may elect to go with a mix and match strategy this season, having Familia come in during critical points in the game. This is a long overdue “get with the times” approach that should help the team navigate game deciding situations better than previous years. Familia is coming off a lost season in which he had to have shoulder surgery to remove a blood clot. Limited to 24 2/3 innings, Familia posted a 4.38 ERA while missing that signature dominance we have come to see in recent years. The Mets will need Familia to return to his elite all-star form if they have a chance of competing this season, and he should have all the motivation in the world in his walk year.

Jerry Blevins enters the 2018 season as the Mets primary, and likely only, left-handed reliever. Coming off a strong campaign that featured a career high in appearances (75) and a 2.94 ERA, Blevins will be a critical piece of this Mets pen. He should see plenty of work and possibly get a few saves if a tough lefty looms for the opposition in the 9th inning. Blevins is about as steady as they come, so if he remains healthy, the Mets have a solid arm they can rely on all season long.

A.J. Ramos was acquired from the Marlins last year at the trade deadline in a surprising move. The right hander is coming off the worst year of his career split between Miami and New York. In 2017 Ramos had an abysmal 13.2% walk rate to go with a 3.99 ERA. Always known to walk batters even when he was an all-star in Miami, A.J. will need to be more effective in limiting the damage if he is going to help the Mets. Ramos has taken responsibility for his poor performance last year and has focused on regaining his form that led to near career average 10 K/9 and 2.60 ERA. Perhaps a full year out of the ninth inning will take some pressure off and allow him to have a strong season before his free agency next fall.

Anthony Swarzak signed a two year, 14 million dollar deal this offseason . Last year Swarzak posted a 2.33 ERA to go with a stellar 1.03 WHIP and 91 strikeouts in 77 ½ innings in a breakout 2017 season with the White Sox and Brewers. The right hander actually credits Mets manager Mickey Calloway as being a part of his success. In 2015 Swarzak was demoted by the Cleveland Indians, but was given valuable advice to change his delivery by Indians’ pitching coach (at the time) Calloway before he was sent down. If he can continue to build on his breakout campaign from last year, Swarzak will be a pivotal piece in the Mets bullpen. It is worth noting that Anthony Swarzak is currently nursing a calf injury during spring training. However, he has already began throwing again and should be good to open the season.

Rafael Montero still being on the Mets roster defies logic, but despite that he is very likely to be handed a job in the bullpen come Opening Day. Why? He is out of options. The Mets have had opportunity after opportunity to cut ties with Montero, opting instead to cut players like Josh Smoker and Chasen Bradford. So you can say the Mets are pot committed with Montero and want to give him every opportunity to make good on his promising talent. Don’t be mistaken, this is Montero’s last chance. It is now or never for the former top prospect who was once heralded in the minors for his elite control. Yet whenever he steps foot on a major league field he becomes a different pitcher with a career 5.2 walk rate. In fact, Montero has the second worst ERA in the entire national league during the last two seasons. You may wonder why the Mets insist on giving him chance after chance after chance. There is some underlying numbers to suggest Montero may not be as bad as those numbers suggest. He was very unlucky last season with a .367 BABIP and actually ranked 179th in opponents exit velocity according to Statcast. What does this all mean? It means barring a catastrophic spring, Montero is going to be on the Mets opening day roster. Let’s hope Mickey Callaway and Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland can work their magic and save Montero’s career.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…….it’s outta here! You would never know it though the way Hansel Robles is pointing straight up in the air like it’s an infield fly. I know you can picture it in your head. A talented pitcher, Robles’ career has now been defined by circus antics and quick pitches. A strong fastball averaging 95.3 mph used to be enough for Robles to overpower hitters, but a lack of an effective secondary pitch has caught up with him leading to a career worst 2017 season. He is likely to improve upon the 4.92 ERA and 4.61 BB/9 he finished with last season, and even worked on his delivery with Pedro Martinez during the offseason. Robles needs to learn to limit the walks and throw his breaking pitches for strikes. I am not holding my breath, but with an option available to the Mets, Robles will need to earn a job in the bullpen. It will not be handed to him.

Zack Wheeler wants to be a starting pitcher. Don’t believe me? Just ask him. He wants to earn a spot in the starting rotation, but it’s probably not going to happen. The Mets signing Jason Vargas was likely the nail in the coffin of Wheeler’s rotation dreams. That being said, of all of the starting pitchers vying for a spot on the opening day roster (Gsellman, Lugo) Wheeler is by far the least suited to it. He recently complained about not being able to complete is typical routine when asked to come in relief in a recent spring training game. Wheeler was slated to piggyback Matt Harvey,  but when Harvey’s pitch count started to rise in the second inning, Tyler Bashlor was called to warm up in the bullpen. Harvey was able to get out of the second inning, but Bashlor was called upon to pitch the third due to already being warmed up. Wheeler entered the game in the fourth inning but was clearly uncomfortable, resulting in multiple wild pitches. According to NJ.com, Wheeler insisted that his struggles were due to his routine being cut short. Mets fans hope that Wheeler can find a way to be successful in the bullpen because, barring injury, that is where he is headed.

Other hopefuls for the Mets bullpen include: Paul Sewald, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Jamie Callahan, and Jacob Rhame. However, it is likely that these pitchers will start the year in Triple A to start the year. If anyone, Sewald stands the best chance of cracking the opening day rotation due to 9.61 K/9 and 3.74 FIP in 2017. It may all depend on the health of the starting pitchers, the spring performances of Robles and Montero, and where Zack Wheeler ends up. The Mets bullpen will play an important role dictating whether or not this 2018 team can compete for a playoff spot. Let’s see how it shakes out.

About Matt Williams

Want to talk Mets? Follow me @Apac1542

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1 Comment

  1. EngineerMommy

    March 9, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    The inning-ending knee-buckler from New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard was just one measly pitch — and one that doesn’t even count, for that matter — of the thousands he will throw this year. But that one pitch also revealed plenty about where things stand some three weeks before Opening Day for Syndergaard, the Mets and the rival Washington Nationals.

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