Tomas Nido should catch Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard

MetsBlog and other outlets reported yesterday that the Mets don’t want Tomas Nido to be Jacob deGrom’s personal catcher. Here’s how Mickey Callaway addressed the situation:

We could (keep Nido with deGrom,) but then in the playoffs we’d be running into a sticky situation. Look, it’s not something that we’re debating, it’s just something that’s gonna happen.

Right now it’s a pipe dream to think this particular team is going to make the playoffs. The last thing this team should be doing is making decisions based on some mythical time in the future. Could they make the playoffs in 2020? Sure, maybe, if a lot of guys who are here start playing better. And that’s what the focus should be for the Mets. The GM – my opinion is that this decision with Nido is out of Callaway’s hands – should be focused on what we can do to help the June 2019 Mets play better than the April and May versions of the team.

You have so many people who want to import one of the big free agents who are still available. But that seems pretty unlikely. It’s my belief that the Mets and their fans should turn their attention to the current roster and how it can be utilized differently. Dominic Smith and his 1.038 OPS has started three of the last four games, the only time he hasn’t was when perhaps the best LHP in the league was on the mound. That’s a move in the right direction. Sure, Smith is not this good. But if the guy is just having a two-month hot streak, let’s not waste 90% of that by having him on the bench when he’s going good.

The hope was that when Callaway came on last year that we’d see a different bullpen deployment. And initially we did, with Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo being consistently used for multiple inning outings. But as the 2018 season progressed, we saw fewer times that happened. And in Saturday’s game, we saw a Terry Collins special, as Gsellman was used for the fourth time in five games. That didn’t go so hot. If the Mets want to improve, they can manage their bullpen with the twin pillars of leverage and rest in the front of their minds.

Tyler Bashlor throws really hard. But overall he’s not a really good reliever. He’s the kind of guy you want to use to soak up innings when the game’s not particularly close. You want to use him when you have a five-run lead or a five-run deficit. In other words, he’s a low-leverage guy. But the last four times Callaway inserted Bashlor into a game, he entered with the following Leverage Index: 2.82, 1.46, 1.58 and 2.26 Saturday night.

If you don’t know what Leverage Index (LI) is, it’s a way to describe how important the game situation is at the moment. FanGraphs considers an LI of 0.00-0.85 as Low Leverage, and a 1.00 LI as average. So, an LI of 1.46 is clearly an above average situation of importance. Furthermore, an LI of 2.0 or greater is considered a High-Leverage situation.

There are times when you cannot avoid using a low-leverage reliever in a high-leverage situation. But the key is to put your low-leverage relievers in low-leverage situations whenever possible. And the flip side of that is not to use your high-leverage relievers in low-leverage situations – unless they simply need the work.

The Mets had a situation with an LI of 0.35 in the seventh inning Wednesday night and put in Gsellman instead of Bashlor. If Callaway hadn’t used Gsellman in this low-leverage situation, perhaps Gsellman could have been better rested and ready to contribute in the high-leverage situation he faced Saturday night, while pitching for the fourth time in five days.

If the Mets want to improve their currently remote chances of making the playoffs, they can pay more attention to rest and leverage with their bullpen deployment.

My opinion is that another way the Mets can improve their play here in June is to play matchups with their catchers, rather than their relief pitchers. On Opening Day, my belief was that the best move Brodie Van Wagenen made was the signing of Wilson Ramos. But anyone who’s watched the Mets play a bunch of games here in 2019 can’t come away with the idea that Ramos is a good defensive catcher.

Now, there are plenty of things that go into being a good defensive backstop. Most people focus on how many runners you throw out. But there’s also how you do in WP/PB, there’s how you do in framing and how you do in game calling. Of the four things mentioned, we can do a good job here in 2019 quantifying three of those things. But game calling is another matter.

Some have proposed using catcher’s ERA – the ERA of a pitcher when a certain catcher is behind the plate – as a proxy for game calling. But you can be the best handler of pitchers and call the best game imaginable but if the pitchers you catch aren’t good – your catcher ERA (cERA) isn’t going to be good, either. The catcher behind the plate in 2018 when deGrom pitched was going to have a better cERA than the catcher behind the plate when Jason Vargas pitched that season.

Instead, we should use cERA as a comparison with the same pitcher, rather than across all pitchers.

In 2018, Nido worked very well with Noah Syndergaard. He caught him 11 times and had a 1.97 cERA with Syndergaard. When any other catcher on the Mets in 2018 caught Syndergaard, the pitcher had a 3.98 ERA. Nido was behind the plate for 73 IP with Syndergaard and the other catchers combined for 81.1 IP. That’s a fairly equal split; it’s not like Nido only caught him five times and the other guys combined had 21 games. Still, it’s not a huge sample.

This year, for whatever reason, Nido has caught Syndergaard just once. In this ridiculously tiny sample, Nido has a 2.57 cERA. In Syndergaard’s other 11 games, he has a 5.14 ERA.

Instead, Nido has been used with deGrom. In six games with deGrom, Nido has a cERA of 1.16 while deGrom has an ERA of 6.39 in 31 IP in his other six starts. Now, to be fair, deGrom had several games early on in the season when Nido was in the minors when his start was delayed by rain. Having his normal routine disrupted certainly contributed to his lousy numbers in those starts.

The sample sizes for Nido catching deGrom and Syndergaard are too small to make any definitive statement. If we were somehow able to have a season where one of these pitchers made 100 starts and 50 were caught by Nido and 50 were caught by Ramos, it’s a near certainty that their cERAs would not be anything remotely like the current 5.25 difference it is with deGrom.

At the same time, there would be a difference. And the question is: At what point does the difference in cERA make carrying Nido’s bat in the lineup a worthwhile tradeoff?

My opinion is that it’s a no-brainer decision to use Nido if he can shave two full runs or more off of a pitcher’s ERA. Again, this is not anti-Ramos. He certainly seems to be getting good results with Steven Matz. Instead, this is a plea to use the data to inform decisions. The worst thing you can do is to actively disregard the data or to have a conclusion first and then hammer the data until it fits your conclusion. If the numbers said that all five pitchers performed the same or slightly better with Ramos, then you would use Ramos whenever possible and use Nido only when Ramos needed a day off and not based in any way on which pitcher was on the mound.

If you’re interested in seeing better results right here, right now you want to see Smith play the outfield. You want to see someone besides Bashlor on the mound in an important situation. And you want to see Nido be the starting catcher when either deGrom or Syndergaard gets the start. These things are not written in stone. If Smith goes 2-50, he should not continue to get consistent playing time. If Bashlor starts pitching better in low leverage situations, you can gradually use him in more important roles.

Right now having Nido behind the plate has made a huge difference with deGrom, even bigger than the one last year with Syndergaard. Why you would want to mess with that makes no sense. Embrace it and ride it for as long as it works.

The Mets are not going to make the playoffs unless deGrom and Syndergaard pitch at ace levels. They have a catcher in Nido who has been getting ace level of performances from those two pitchers. And when our top two guys pitch to someone else, they’ve been significantly worse. Now, much like with Smith and his BABIP, you can say what Nido has done isn’t sustainable. But a team with a 28-30 record can’t avoid using the guys that give them the best chance to win. And right now that’s Smith on a near-daily basis and Nido 40% of the time.

6 comments for “Tomas Nido should catch Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard

  1. TJ
    June 2, 2019 at 11:29 am

    Excellent piece. Agree 100%.

  2. John Fox
    June 2, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Good article. I might add one more skill to the 4 that were mentioned in the article to measure catcher defensive ability. That is, the target the catcher sets for the pitcher to throw to. Seems simple, but it makes a difference

  3. Metsense
    June 2, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Once again, you hit the ball out of the park. The article points out, in numerous examples, Callaway does not have the pulse of his team.
    I personally do not like personalized catchers but the overwhelming evidence says that Nido should catch Syndergaard and DeGrom. Do it!
    Callaway does not utilize his roster efficiently. Wait until Cano is available and Hechavarria is benched. I’m not advocating benching Cano indefinitely but I wouldn’t mess with Frasier and AH at this point. Maybe Cano should play three times a week to rest each starter. In the long run this season, Cano will eventually get hot and get back his starting position.
    Callaway disregards leveraged index and that is the most frustrating thing he does.
    Saturday, Callaway did not use Lugo. It seems that he does not like to use him two days in a row. If that is the case then when you use Lugo have him pitch more than one inning. The Mets are fortunate do you have Lugo, Gsellman, Gagnon, and Font who all can pitch multiple innings. Instead Callaway is from the Tony LaRusso School and keeps changing pitchers and burning his bullpen.
    Players, and also the season, are evolution. Things change and a manager has to be adaptable to these changes. It seems to me, that Callaway is always a step behind.

    • June 2, 2019 at 1:35 pm

      That’s a good point about Lugo. I think they’re following the right path not pitching him on back-to-back days. Pitch him longer and give him more days off. Two to three innings per appearance with an equal amount of days off.

      Thanks for the kinds words and thanks to TJ and John, too.

    • TJ
      June 2, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      Boy, I seem to be the defender of Callaway, when if actuality he has been very disappointing. But, anyhow, in his defense, Lugo was returning from the IL, and was activated earlier than initially expected. So, I think there was no way he was going to pitch him a second inning, or back to back days, until after that initial return inning. I can accept that, as I too would like to see guys get multiple innings followed by 2 off days. No doubt Callaway senses the gallows (figuratively) if thing don’t turn around quick…he is certainly managing that way.

  4. MattyMets
    June 2, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    Great post Brian. Thanks for doing the research. I had read in the off-season that Ramos works particularly well with lefties. Matz and Vargas seem comfortable with him. He can hit, but unless he hits a home run he clogs the base path. I don’t like anything about Ramos defensively and just don’t see his bat as strong enough to make up for it. When we were priced out of Realmuto and Grandal, BVW should have looked at defensive catchers. Lucroy and Maldonado both came a lot cheaper than Ramos and pitchers love those two. I’d have rather sacrificed a little offense and put a real field general back there who can work with pitchers. Rivera is in Syracuse and Mesoraco is still technically a Met. The inevitable Ramos injury might be a blessing.

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