The twists and turns of the Mets’ first half could be traced simply by keeping tabs on the relief pitchers themselves. Over the first 14 games, of which the team won 12, the Mets’ bullpen was flying high, hoisting a 1.51 ERA and averaging 10.82 strikeouts per nine innings.
The ship took a tough hit on a fateful April 16th opener against the Washington Nationals, as the Mets burned five pitchers and blew a five-run lead in the eighth inning of an 8-6 loss.
The Mets kept a head above water over the next month by playing mediocre-to-passable baseball, but nonetheless began to show cracks, perhaps most profoundly in the pen as it lugged along a 5.13 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. Since it squandered yet another 6-1 lead (this one to the Atlanta Braves on May 30th to fall back to .500), the Mets’ bullpen has never returned to form, just as the team has never returned to a winning record. Opposing hitters have since tacked on an .822 OPS against a group that, with a 5.65 FIP and average of 1.8 homers allowed per nine innings, has ranked dead last out of the 30 teams in the majors.
Assembling reports for one of the most humiliating assortments of pitchers in my lifetime as a fan wasn’t easy, but with the help of the rest of the editorial staff at Mets Merized Online (Michael Mayer, Joe DeCaro, Logan Barer, Rob Piersall, and Josh Finkelstein, to name a few), I am now fortunate enough to present such analysis. Godspeed.
Jeurys Familia – With an xFIP of just 3.65 and a ground-ball rate at a career-low 50.5%, Familia hasn’t exactly returned to the standard he set forth in the more competitive days of 2015 and 2016. He’s outright lost three of his four blown saves, too boot. However, as the case has always been, the ERA and movement on his pitches continue to work against the fans’ aggravation. Dipping as low as 1.64 in late-May, Familia has since done a sufficient job performing up to his trade value.
Seth Lugo – Once caught in a back-and-forth last month between the rotation and the pen, Lugo has posted a 1.96 ERA out of the latter. With opponents posting just a .463 OPS in high-leverage situations and hitting an even worse .443 with men in scoring position, Lugo has easily been the most reliable arm in the bullpen during the first half. While he’s been used sparingly of late and has had to work through control issues, Lugo has also seen considerable upticks in his velocity, carving out quite a niche as a long-relief option akin to Collin McHugh of the Houston Astros and Chad Green of the New York Yankees.
Robert Gsellman – He got off to a rip-roaring start as an instrumental cog in the bullpen’s early success, but has since hit a considerably rough patch. Since the beginning of May, Gsellman has a 5.26 ERA, averaging 1.6 HR/9 and losing his feel against left-handed hitters, who have managed .734 OPS against him. His first month exposed some of his potential, but the 9.81% walk-rate – a career-high – speak to the lack of overall results.
Jerry Blevins – He’s walked 5.4 batters per nine innings, but don’t be fooled, Blevins has put the ball over the plate… perhaps even on a tee. He’s allowed 1.5 HR/9, and has struggled particularly badly against left-handed hitters. Once untouchable it felt, Blevins has been flanked to the tune of a .333/.426/.600 in 36 such appearances. With two outs, the numbers are even worse: .432/.553/.595. While he showed some life for a brief stretch in May where batters totalled just a .136/.240/.182 line against him, Blevins’ role with the team – even more so on a competitive team looking to improve at the deadline – is dubious, at best.
Anthony Swarzak – Another reason why giving relievers multi-year deals can have damning repercussions, Swarzak has had perhaps the hardest time of any pitcher on the roster. Hampered by oblique issues, Swarzak has still allowed as many runs in 17 games as Familia and Blevins have through full seasons. His pitchf/x values have fallen into the deep negatives, he’s averaging 5.74 walks per nine innings, his 7.04 FIP does little to absolve him of his 7.47 ERA, and his ground-ball rate sits at a career-low 33% despite all the hype that first saturated Swarzak’s scouting report as a viable ground-ball pitcher.
Paul Sewald – Like Gsellman, Paul Sewald has had trouble finding his way since a sharp April. His 1.98 ERA out of a long-relief role has disappeared from the rearview, as he’s allowed seven homers in his last 27.1 innings of work. A 6.39 ERA from May through June sent him back to Las Vegas at the end of the month. Sewald threw over 40 pitches on four occasions in April, but has since hit such a mark just three times. He could certainly use the next four days as a chance to rest and regroup.
Tim Peterson – He’s stumbled in July, but among all the arms on the Las Vegas laundry list, Peterson has shown arguably the most potential. He had allowed just six hits through his first 11.1 innings, boasting a 1.59 ERA. His last four and two-thirds innings have been plagued by hits and homers that have helped bring his ERA to a more humble 4.50, but his solid control has certainly bought him a few weeks to adapt.
Jacob Rhame – And here we have another young reliever who, despite the velocity, just hasn’t fooled anyone, as the 1.34 WHIP can confirm. A 26% ground-ball rate and averages of 6.9 K/9 and 2.3 HR/9 rate combine to tell a story of a pitcher who has been slapped around the entire year. Rhame didn’t allow a run in his final three outings of the first half that followed his July 9th promotion. Let’s hope he can build off of that as he tries to avoid the bottom of the current totem pole.
AJ Ramos – Ramos’ season ended on June 24th when he underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum that he apparently had been pitching through (note nobody in management stepping in to either put him on the disabled list or, at the very least, quit using him as liberally). The season – albeit more of a physically lost cause than a consequence of mechanical flaws – was still incredibly frustrating. His 6.9 BB/9 and 1.63 WHIP never made it back to civilization, and the 26.5% ground-ball rate, a figure even lower than Swarzak’s, defined the lost year for Ramos.