Sunday was the first day of September, the day when MLB rosters expand from 25 to any number you want up to 40. It’s a crazy relic of a different time and after years of people pointing out the absurdity of playing by one set of rules for five months of the year and playing with something quite different in the final, often crucial month of the season, MLB is finally addressing – although not eliminating – this practice next year. But that didn’t help the Mets yesterday.
Like most teams, the Mets took advantage of the expanded rosters, adding five players prior to Sunday’s game. Brandon Nimmo and Tomas Nido were activated from the IL while utility man Sam Haggerty and pitchers Tyler Bashlor and Daniel Zamora got the call to the majors. Bashlor and Zamora both pitched in the majors earlier this year and both, quite frankly, did not prove to be very good.
Now, as long as they’re going to let you carry extra pitchers, you might as well take advantage of it. The flip side of that is you don’t use these extra pitchers until the game is out of reach or you have no other choice. Sunday night the Mets found themselves in a 2-2 game in the eighth inning. The starter went six innings and the Mets used two relievers in the seventh inning, although the second reliever, righty Paul Sewald, faced just one batter.
The Phillies had lefty Bryce Harper leading off the eighth inning so the Mets removed Sewald to play matchups, bringing in Zamora. Now, Sewald isn’t a guy you’d normally want facing Harper. But something seems different with Sewald here lately. In his last 10 games before his recall in late August to the majors, Sewald had 13 IP, 16 Ks and a 2.08 ERA. And in his five games in the majors, he had 7 IP, 13 Ks and a 1.20 ERA. And he retired the only batter he faced Sunday.
Meanwhile, Zamora had a 4.20 ERA in 30 innings for Syracuse and a 5.68 ERA in 6.1 innings for the Mets. And he’d allowed runs in two of his last five outings in the minors. But Zamora wasn’t brought into the game because of any results he had this year in the majors or minors. He was brought in because he throws with his left hand and Mickey Callaway decided the platoon advantage was desperately needed at this juncture of the game.
Now, it should be pointed out that at the point he was brought on to face Harper, Zamora had 36 PA in the majors against LHB and those batters posted an .861 OPS against him. On one hand, it’s not a very big sample. On the other hand – man those are absolutely terrible results. Essentially, lefties hit like Michael Conforto (.870 OPS through Saturday’s game) against Zamora. Perhaps Callaway was swayed by the fact that Zamora had retired Harper all four times he faced him.
In 238 lifetime PA against LHB, Sewald had an .828 OPS without the platoon advantage. This year in 19 PA, lefties were batting just .188 against him and had 7 Ks. When he returned to the majors, the Mets’ announcers discussed how his velocity had trended up since he pitched with them previously. His average fastball velocity in the majors last year was 90.3 but he hit 94 in the seventh inning.
The point here is not that Sewald is great. Rather, it’s that Zamora has given no reason whatsoever for the Mets to use him in a high-leverage situation like they did Sunday night. FanGraphs has the Leverage Index when Zamora entered the game at 1.80 – which is well above average, with an average leverage being right around 1.0 give or take a few percentage points.
Zamora should be used in games with a Leverage Index around 0.50, not one over three-and-a-half times more important. The Mets could have kept Sewald in. They could have used Jeurys Familia to start the inning, rather than have him enter with a runner on base like they did. Familia has faced Harper 14 times and struck him out in eight of those and limited him to just two hits and a walk. Or they could have used Edwin Diaz. They had at least three options better than Zamora. Shoot, since it was going to be a one-batter appearance, they should have used Justin Wilson for a third-straight game rather than Zamora.
It’s extremely unlikely that Callaway will be the Mets’ manager next season. Here’s hoping that whoever they bring in to replace him understands the concept of leverage and knows which ones of his relievers to avoid using in high-leverage situations. And if he doesn’t, have him run some computer simulations until he gets it down. This isn’t rocket science and it’s unbelievable that a guy earning a paycheck to manage in MLB screws it up more than once.