Aside from injuries, the biggest culprit for the Mets fourth place finish in 2018 was a leaky, undependable bullpen. New Mets General Manager has addressed this shortcoming head on, first with the earth shaking trade that brought us lights out closer Edwin Diaz, and this past week, with the signing of former Met closer Jeurys Familia. Having a hard throwing, strikeout pitcher with a lot of closing experience as your setup man is a nice luxury, and one of the weapons that distinguishes contenders from pretenders.
After trading Familia at the deadline last season, the Mets mostly used Robert Gsellman as their closer. The starter, turned middle reliever, turned closer, earned 13 saves in 20 opportunities for a horrific, untenable 65% save rate. His seven blown saves led the Mets bullpen which coughed up a total of 18 blown saves. Surprisingly, that number was better than league average last year. The San Francisco Giants bullpen blew a whopping 30 saves, so they too had more to blame for their putrid season than just injuries. The Giants finished the season with a pathetic 54.5% save rate, where as the Rangers, Mariners, Nationals, Yankees, A’s, Cubs, Indians and Rays all finished above 70%. Not surprisingly, seven of those eight teams finished with a record over .500.
Save rate or save percentage is actually a more telling stat than blown saves, simply because not all teams have the same number of save opportunities. The league average was 63 with the Mariners leading the way with 81 and the cellar dwelling Orioles having just 46. The Mets bullpen saved 41 out of 59 games for a 69.5% save rate, a bit above average last season.
With Diaz (57 saves, 1.96 ERA, 0.79 WHIP) and Familia (18 saves, 3.13 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) at the back end, and Seth Lugo (54 appearances, 3 saves, 11 holds) and Robert Gsellman (68 appearances, 13 saves, 15 holds) playing key supporting roles, we suddenly have the makings of a very good bullpen.
As it stands right now, the caravan of young righty relievers we’ve compiled through Sandy Alderson trades will compete for two spots. These competing candidates include Tyler Bashlor, Drew Gagnon, Eric Hanhold, Franklyn Kilome, Jacob Rhame, Drew Smith and Bobby Wahl. Lone lefty Daniel Zamora showed a lot of promise in some high leverage spots last season. If Van Wagenen can add one more reliable piece to this pen, preferably a lefty, the Mets bullpen will not only stand to improve dramatically, but could very well go from being a team weakness to a strength. Couple that with a strong rotation and the Mets have a playoff caliber pitching staff.