When the New York Mets shipped off top prospect Jarred Kelenic to the Mariners as part of the deal to land Edwin Diaz, most had high hopes for the highly touted reliever. After all, Diaz was coming off a 2018 season that ranked among the greatest ever by a closer. Of course, things didn’t exactly work out in 2019. Following a historically bad regression that year, Diaz was on a short rope in 2020. While he still struggled somewhat in high leverage situations last season, his overall numbers looked excellent. For all intents and purposes, Diaz was back. With the team now primed to make a serious playoff push in 2021, the question is whether or not 2020 Diaz is here to stay.
On the surface, Diaz’s stats last year look elite. From a 1.75 ERA and 2.18 FIP, to an unreal 17.5 K/9, he certainly looked like his old self. Velocity has never been a concern for him either, as he again averaged 98 mph on his fastball. Though his high walk rate (4.9 BB/9) is an obvious concern, he mostly seemed to be in command. Now, this is usually the part where someone mentions that his peripherals or advanced stats were actually bad and that he just got lucky. However, this is not one of those times.
By every conceivable metric, Diaz was at the top of his game in 2020. One look at his percentile rankings shows just how dominant he was last year.
Hitters were left flailing at the plate as Diaz generated a 41.1% whiff rate on his four-seamer and a ridiculous 57% whiff rate on his slider. Overall, he struck out over 45% of all batters he faced, a career-best. His .157 xBA and .235 xSLG were career marks as well, even besting his 2018 performance. When hitters were making contact, it was typically light with an average exit velocity of just 86.8 mph, though, 38.6% of contact did exceed 95 mph. All of this came despite a .381 BABIP, suggesting that if anything, Diaz actually suffered from some bad luck last year. Overall, Diaz was one of the best relievers the Mets had in 2020.
Obviously, if things were perfect, people wouldn’t still be hesitant to trust Diaz in the closer role. It’s true that much of his production last season comes with the caveat that he was mostly brought into low-leverage situations. All told, 15 of his 26 appearances came with the team losing, with 10 of those being multi-run deficits. Likewise, he only appeared in 10 save situations all year, converting just six of them.
That said, two of his blown saves were the result of the only two home runs he gave up all year and, on top of that, he only gave up five earned runs in total. With the benefit of larger sample size, these mistakes might have been forgotten over the course of 162 games. Especially considering that Diaz closed out the season recording four saves in a row.
While spring training typically doesn’t mean anything, there have so far been plenty of positive signs hinting at Diaz’s dominance. He’s currently perfect through two innings, giving up zero hits or walks. He’s also recorded three strikeouts and is already lighting up the radar gun. The prospect of a closer by committee has been thrown around a lot lately, but if Diaz can throw like this in the regular season, he might have that role all to himself.
As for Diaz’s 2021 outlook, things are currently looking pretty optimistic.
Steamer: 63 innings, 2.81 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 13.82 K/9, 3.53 BB/9, 32 saves, 1.2 fWAR
ZiPS: 66.3 innings, 2.71 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 14.65 K/9, 3.53 BB/9, 31 saves, 1.2 fWAR
Considering that projections typically underrate good pitchers, these numbers should make any Mets fan absolutely ecstatic. Even if Diaz does perform roughly in line with these stats, 2021 would easily be one of his best seasons and one of the best by any reliever this year.
Bottom line, it’s looking like the real Edwin Diaz is back.
Featured Image courtesy of Hunter Martin/Getty Images
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