Much of the hype surrounding the sterling 13-4 New York Mets has been attributed to the successes of Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and Jeurys Familia, who have combined for a 1.85 ERA and 10.8 K/9 in nearly 30 innings of work at the top of the bullpen.
However, the offensive breakthrough that brought about a momentum-preserving 11-5 victory over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday was a direct consequence of Paul Sewald‘s gritty work in long-relief.
Sewald worked three innings, striking out five Nationals hitters while allowing just one run on one hit that, if better defended by Jay Bruce, would have been tabbed as a mere bloop single. According to Sports Info Solutions, Sewald had the highest miss rate (52%) of all MLB pitchers on Wednesday night with minimum of 20 swings.
In his first 8.1 innings of work this year (fourth among team relievers behind the above three), Sewald has logged a 2.16 ERA, 0.95 FIP, and 0.600 WHIP with 13.0 K/9 against just 1.1 BB/9.
Such success may come as a surprise to many Mets fans given his overall numbers from 2017, which included a 4.55 ERA and 1.209 WHIP, but those who recall Sewald’s first month of work may be more familiar with his recent dominance.
In his first 14 appearances last season, Sewald pitched to a similarly impressive 2.21 ERA, holding batters to a .621 OPS and sporting a solid 24:4 strikeout to walk ratio. Once June rolled around, however, a clearly fatigued Sewald stumbled, posting a 5.60 ERA and 1.222 WHIP. Terry Collins often called on Sewald as a middle-relief stopgap, with the righty only eclipsing 40 pitches three times during an arduous season that initially put his place in this year’s bullpen in the air.
Sewald has only made four appearances thus far, but has already matched his long-relief totals from last season, working two, three, and three-inning shifts of 55, 48, and 42 pitches, respectively. The circumstances, as we saw last night, have not been ideal, as Sewald has been primarily responsible for spelling short, underwhelming starts in a pseudo-mop-up role. Nevertheless, the numbers clearly suggest less is more with the Vegas sidearmer. In low-leverage situations, Sewald has held hitters to a .205/.244/.304 line.
Using Sewald in a long-relief role, and thus saving two clearly revitalized arms in Gsellman and Lugo for consistent set-up and high-leverage work, may have lasting consequences for the Mets’ pitching staff. And if the offensive explosion that followed his efforts last night is any indication of what it may mean for the team, the Mets may have hit the jackpot.