On Tuesday the Mets won on a walk-off sac fly from Pete Alonso, but the true hero of the game was a different rookie. Entering the game in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and the Reds’ three-hole hitter up, Drew Gagnon struck out Eugenio Suarez to tip the scale back in the Mets favor. It was a strike-out that resulted in the Mets going from a 45.9% chance of winning to a 62.1% chance, while the Alonso sac fly only increased the already likely odds of victory from 93.3% to 100%.
The Reds had an opportunity once again to take the lead in the 10th inning, but it was Gagnon again to close the door after a runner reached third base due to an error by Jeff McNeil.
If Gagnon isn’t a name in your household yet, he probably won’t be one soon either. And that’s just fine because the Mets won’t need him to be the hero every night, they just need him to be an effective middle reliever. That is something the team has rarely possessed in recent memory.
If it hasn’t been said enough, the bullpen of the Mets has been unimproved despite being a focus in the offseason. Their relievers rank third to last in ERA this season, and their FIP and xFIP aren’t much better. They also ranked third to last the previous season, and second to last the season before that in 2017. Two of their best recent years of relief pitching were 2015 and 2016 when they made the playoffs. In years past the Mets were criticized for not making enough offseason moves to strengthen the pen, but this past offseason they were praised for such moves.
Not all the blame should fall on the front office, with injuries and starting pitching troubles there have been plenty of times when relivers were not put in a situation to succeed. It isn’t necessarily their talent level that is lacking, but what might be lacking is a proper pecking order of relievers. Having your best relievers in for the most difficult situations is a key to a successful pen, so let’s have a look at two arms in this pen that perhaps should be given more chances in harder situations.
Starting with the aforementioned Gagnon, while his tiny major league numbers are nothing impressive, looking at his 2018 minor league season provides some hope. He finished the second best in K-BB% in AAA, and that was pitching in Vegas where most pitchers lose control. It could be that the former third round pick has found something, and now possesses the stuff to be a productive middle reliever. With a low 90’s fastball as a starter, a full-time pen role would help him gain some velocity and he’d be able to lean more on his high-spin-rate curveball. Gagnon has shown enough improvement to stay with the club for a little longer, and hopefully become a guy that can come in and fix jams in the middle innings.
Until Justin Wilson gets back from the IL, Daniel Zamora should be the one handling lefty-batters for the Mets bullpen. His microscopic major league sample size of 10.1 innings have been stellar, with 20 strike-outs and a sub-1.00 WHIP. He’s also only seen success at every stop in the minor leagues with high K-rates, but has only even played 15.1 combined innings between AAA and the majors. Some will say he hasn’t proven himself against good pitching, but compared to other options the Mets have he still should get the chance to at the major league level. One of the bright spots of the late 2018 Mets, many thought Zamora earned a position in the Mets bullpen for this season. After thriving in this opportunity he’s shown no reason for those people to be wrong.
After Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman it should be Gagnon getting the call from the pen and it should be Zamora getting the call against lefties. The bullpen order must be constantly readjusted with roster moves being made seemingly every day, but at this juncture with injuries and ineffectiveness plaguing more veteran arms, these two rookies should be given the opportunity to help turn the tide.