One of the biggest challenges for pitchers right now is the rate that balls are leaving the park and the Mets are no exception. After giving up 152 HR in 2016, Mets pitchers have surrendered 220 with four games remaining in 2017. But one area where the Mets’ staff has really struggled this year is with walks. Last year, six of their 22 pitchers had a BB/9 rate of 4.0 or greater. This year 16 of their 29 pitchers have a walk rate of at least 4.0 per nine.
The average NL walk rate has been fairly stable the past five years, ranging from a low of 2.9 in 2014 to 3.4 here in 2017. Last year’s walk rate was 3.2 so this year’s mark is indeed up. Last year, Mets pitchers tossed 1,447 innings. A 0.2 rise in average walks over that many innings would mean an increase of slightly over 32 walks per year. Instead, the Mets’ staff has allowed 140 more walks than a year ago, with the season still not over.
Many of the pitchers with a BB/9 over 4.0 this year won’t be back next year. But at the very least, the 2018 club figures to feature Jerry Blevins, Jeurys Familia, Matt Harvey, Rafael Montero, AJ Ramos and Zack Wheeler.
It’s only the second time in his career that Blevins has recorded a walk rate over 4.0 for a season. For his career, the lefty has a 3.4 BB/9 rate, so we can hope for some regression from him. But Ramos has a history of high walk totals and Familia, while better the past few years, also has had some troubles with the free passes in his history. Can the Mets’ pen survive a back end featuring three guys with high walk rates? It makes one appreciate Addison Reed all the much more. Reed had a 1.1 BB/9 rate with the Mets this season.
Much like with the relievers, Montero and Wheeler have a history of high walk rates. Only Harvey’s rate can really be considered a surprise. In 2016, hardly the best year of his career, Harvey posted a 2.4 BB/9. If Harvey ever hopes to regain his previous form, he’ll have to rediscover the control and command that abandoned him this season.
Since beginning to pitch inside, Montero has allowed just 2 HR in 51 IP, a rate nearly every pitcher in baseball would love to have. But walks are still killing him. If somehow he can harness his control, once viewed as one of his primary assets, perhaps he could be the pitcher we hoped for five years ago.
So much emphasis is going to be on who the new manager is but perhaps even more important to the team’s success is who will take over for Dan Warthen as the new pitching coach. It’s difficult to imagine any manager or coach coming in with the mystical charm to be able to fix this problem overnight. But at the very least, these two new individuals will have to make it a point of emphasis for the staff to throw strikes.