Opening Day is fast approaching. With just three days before the start of the 2021 season, the New York Mets have mostly finalized their 26-man roster. Every Wednesday for the last eight weeks, each position got its own preview. This week, however, is a two-for-one, with the relievers getting their preview today and the starters wrapping things up on Wednesday. Check out the previous breakdowns in the links below. For now, it’s time to take a look at the Mets relief pitchers.
The Top Six
Looking for a Comeback
Even after a mostly impressive 2020 season, many fans (understandably) feel anxious about Diaz. While memory of his atrocious 2019 still stings for many, give credit where credit is due. Diaz only gave up five earned runs last year and put up an absurd 17.5 K/9, albeit mostly in non-save situations. While his 4.9 BB/9 in 2020 is alarming, he’s yet to give up a walk in six Spring Training outings this year. If he can maintain control in high leverage situations, he could once again be one of MLB’s top closers.
While Diaz looks to be on the upswing, the same can’t be said for Familia and Betances. After an awful 2019, Familia failed to improve much in 2020. While his 3.71 ERA looks decent, his 4.49 xERA, 4.92 FIP, 1.463 WHIP, 6.4 BB/9, and 7.8 K/9 (lowest since 2013) are all red flags. Already this spring he’s given up seven hits and seven walks in seven innings of work.
Betances, meanwhile, has fared even worse than Familia. The once elite reliever was plagued by injuries last year and produced a 7.71 ERA. Career-lows in fastball velocity (93.6 mph) and strikeout rate (18.6%) raise serious questions about whether he can ever be the same. With similarly uninspiring velocity and strikeout numbers this spring, Betances, like Familia, will be on a short rope.
Castro came over late last year for 10 unspectacular outings. Major control issues culminated in a 4.00 ERA, 8.0 BB/9 and 2.111 WHIP. Though his 14.0 K/9 is promising, he’s never put up numbers like this before 2020. Luckily, he’s looking much sharper this spring, giving up just one walk vs. eight strikeouts in 6.1 innings of work. Armed with the fastest sinker in baseball (98.1 mph avg.), 2021 might finally be the year Castro breaks out.
As for May, he was the first big acquisition the Mets made this winter. Like the others on this list, he’s a hard throwing righty with high strikeout numbers (14.7 K/9 in 2020). Since 2018, May owns a 3.19 ERA, 3.56 FIP and 1.080 WHIP in 113 appearances. While he struggled a bit with hard contact in 2020 (91.1 avg. exit velocity), he still projects to be one of the team’s better relievers.
Lastly, Loup is the lone lefty of this group. Since 2012, he’s quietly been one of the top lefties in baseball. Coming off the best season of his career (2.52 ERA), he had excellent numbers vs. right-handed batters as they slashed just .192/.246/.423. against him last year. With a career 3.38 ERA, 3.50 FIP and 1.236 WHIP, he will be the Mets primary lefty out of the pen.
The Final Two Spots
With two openings remaining, Jacob Barnes looks almost guaranteed to earn one of them. After a solid first few seasons, he struggled to a 6.75 ERA from 2019-2020. His 47.9% hard hit rate in 2020 is a particularly ugly sight. Barnes’ biggest issue has been his inability to find consistent results with his cutter and four-seamer as the two alternate effectiveness each year. Case in point, his cutter produced a .283 xBA in 2020 vs. .222 in 2019, while his four seamer had a .184 xBA in 2020 vs. .322 in 2019.
So why the optimism? In addition to a career-high 12.0 K/9 in 2020, he’s pitching great in Spring Training. Aside from a rough first outing where he gave up three runs, he’s been perfect the rest of the way. With eight strikeouts, zero walks, zero runs, and only two hits in his last five appearances, he’s firmly cemented his spot on the roster.
As for the final spot, Robert Gsellman was confirmed to have earned it late Sunday night. While Mike Montgomery seemed like a lock to make the roster, he was unexpectedly released Sunday after a rough final outing. Likewise, Jerry Blevins also appeared to have the edge over Gsellman, but was instead optioned to the alternate site in Brooklyn.
This left Gsellman who, despite a rough spring (5.63 ERA) and 2020 season (9.64 ERA), is by default the last man standing. He figures to be the long man and emergency spot starter for the Mets. While he’s struggled to find consistency over the years, he wasn’t too bad out of the bullpen from 2018-19 (4.45 ERA, 4.03 FIP). Whether he can perform well enough to hold on to this spot after the opening weeks is anyone’s guess.
There are over a dozen more relievers with the potential to make an appearance for the Mets this year. Among the best are Sam McWilliams, Sean Reid-Foley, Daniel Zamora, Stephen Tarpley, Drew Smith, and Arodys Vizcaino. While McWilliams and Reid-Foley are technically starters, at this stage of their careers both profile more as relievers and are still adjusting to that new role. Zamora and Tarpley are viable lefties, but have struggled to produce consistent results in the majors. As for Smith and Vizcaino, both have pitched well this spring and in the majors, but have missed too much time to recent injuries to make the Opening Day roster.
Then there’s Seth Lugo. The team’s best reliever, it was a huge loss when he underwent elbow surgery last month. Hopefully, he should return around late April/early May. Until then, the Mets will have to make due without their bullpen anchor.
That’s a wrap on the relief pitchers. Come back Wednesday when the starting pitchers close out the preview series.
Featured Image Courtesy of David Banks/Getty Images
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