The Edwin Diaz Mystery

Playoffs or not, the story of the 2019 Mets will inevitably be about the offseason that proceeded it, and specifically about the Edwin Diaz trade. Surprisingly enough, the trade that netted the Mets a 36 year old second basemen set to make $120 million was not even the most controversial piece acquired in the trade. Diaz, and his 5.83 ERA, currently are and will continue to be the talk of the town. The displaced closer has had a dreadful year for sure, and has visibly lost all confidence in his stuff no matter how terrific it may be. The Mets’ manager finally lost faith in him as well, despite believing that this team didn’t stand a chance of making the playoffs without Diaz right. He wasn’t wrong, as the team’s playoff hopes have dipped to 5.8% now with a mere ten games to play. That figure is still higher than the season low right after the All Star break, but the point remains. 2019 has been about the failure of Diaz, both when considering the most memorable games and when considering statistics.

Well, saying all of 2019 was about Diaz may be a stretch. There is of course Pete Alonso’s home run quest, and Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young bid. There were the ups of 15-1, and the lows of Gary Apple calling games in the booth. Amid all of this was a Mets team expecting to have a great back end of the bullpen but who instead had a crew that more resembled TNT.

And the Mets were not alone in these problems. Prior to 2018 the Rockies invested almost as much as the Mets invested in Robinson Cano to their bullpen, yet the results in 2019 are far from worth $106 million. Wade Davis and his 7.87 ERA rivals that of Diaz. Two playoff-level teams in the Dodgers and Nationals have also seen their fair share of bullpen disasters, but the Mets were alone in investing so much draft capital and faith into one arm, the arm of Diaz.

And can you blame us for that faith? After the 2018 he had 57 saves and a sub-2.00 ERA, and we were excited to have him. But instead of 57 saves we were left with 25 saves, and since May 25th it has been 13 saves and seven blown saves. What happened to the young star that was worth multiple high prospects?

To conduct a study on how relief pitchers are the most inconsistent position in baseball, look no further than the career of Edwin Diaz. Despite putting up a reasonable xFIP and one of best K/9 of all time, he has been a 0 fWAR pitcher in 2019. It all has to do with the HR/FB rate, also a figure of historic proportions. He has pitched seven outing where he strikes out every batter he faced while still giving up runs, including seven home runs in those outings. That comprises almost one out of every eight outings.

One doesn’t need to scour the box scores to see these trends. His fastball has been electric at times and has even touched triple digits. It is still hittable, especially when his only other pitch the slider is ineffective. You simply can not get every major league hitter out with only one pitch, and there have even been times when he doesn’t have that one pitch as evident from the high walk rate.

I don’t mean to overstate how poor Diaz has been in 2019, it just is important to bring up how unreal these numbers seem. This inconsistency brings us back to the question of what happened to the young stud at only 25 years of age?

It again ties into the greater question around the league surrounding bullpen blowups. While relievers are often failed starters, historically their collective ERA has been better since they face hitters in limited quantities. That same fact often leads to inconsistency due to a small sample size of innings. Even deGrom has had 60 inning stretches of high-4 ERA mediocrity.

But how is it that one pitcher can go from 1.96 to 5.83? This begs questions of bullpen management; which Mickey Callaway and all managers are forced to answer each and ever day. Should we really have been surprised that Diaz has flamed out this year? During the early going of the season the big controversy this team had was over the management of Diaz. People in the organization were pointing fingers at each other, and ultimately no clear decision was made whether to treat Diaz like a pure closer, or to bring him in if high leverage situations arise prior to the ninth. The other side of the argument was about whether he could pitch multiple innings or not.

I come from the school of thought that your best pitchers should be pitching during the most important moments, but I understand this is difficult to implement in practice. Some fans were fine with Diaz playing the typical closer role, and that he was not able to get six-out saves like Jeurys Familia did before. At the end of the day, one role or the other needed to be established and upheld instead of flip-flopping. Diaz became uncertain in his role and disillusioned by the New York media. Baseball is too hard of a sport to expect success when not focusing on fine-tuning mechanics. Hopefully the upcoming offseason will allow Diaz to reset and find himself once more, but that alone will not solve the issue of bullpen blowups. Consistent management is necessary as well, and if managers don’t figure this out sooner there will be many more pitchers like the 2019 Diaz.

9 comments for “The Edwin Diaz Mystery

  1. September 19, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    My opinion is that role is a distant secondary consideration. Unless Diaz can recapture his slider, he’s not worth using in any big situation, regardless of inning.

  2. Chris F
    September 19, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    Another question one might ask is how did Diaz, an otherwise nothing special player, go from a 1ish WAR to 3.5 WAR? That’s equally astonishing. Right now he looks like a one hit wonder. I don’t think his record shows anything other than an anomalously good season. Getting him was not like getting Schwenzer or Verlander.

    • September 19, 2019 at 11:24 pm

      Without looking it up, tell me which one was his 3.5 fWAR season:

      A – 15.33 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 83.9 LOB%, 46.8 GB%, 1.88 xFIP
      B – 15.22 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 82.5 LOB%, 44.4 GB%, 1.78 xFIP

      He’s had two very good years and now two very bad years. Can he turn in another good year? Beats me. But it’s not accurate to say he’s a one-hit wonder.

      • BVac
        September 19, 2019 at 11:57 pm

        I agree its been good year bad year, so that makes next year good right!

  3. Chris B
    September 20, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Nice article Brendan. I think Diaz has been on the unfortunate side of some bad luck as evident by babip and xfip. However there is certainly a stuff and mental component to his poor performance. Sliders across the league have been less effective and Diaz wouldn’t be the first athlete not capable of handling the New York spotlight.

    • BVac
      September 21, 2019 at 9:21 am

      That’s probably my biggest fear. While the stats suggest he’ll rebound next year, the fact that sliders are no longer dominant in addition to the pressure of playing New York make me worry he will not bounce back. Perhaps he can develop a new pitch like the changeup so many other Mets pitchers have acquired.

  4. TJ
    September 20, 2019 at 11:59 am

    Diaz is not the first reliever to be a mystery, and no one knows where he will go from here. Given his greatly diminished trade value, to me the only sound thing for the team to do is plan the 2020 pen with him (and Familia) penciled in for only low leverage situations. If they bounce back and earn back end work, great. I don’t want to hear that “we’ll have them fixed” by opening day.

  5. Mike W
    September 20, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    I think a big question will now be, does Callaway get fired ?

  6. September 20, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    The issue is the slider, right? Both Noah and Diaz are having issues throwing them. Can they spend the off-season working on how to get the “feel” back on that pitch?

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