The Mets’ bullpen will have difficulties next year, too, without a shakeup

Right after the season ended, I set out to figure out what caused the losses and how to fix some of those situations. The Mets had 76 losses, and mostly broken down below. Of those losses, 29 were the starting pitcher not pitching well. It’s hard to believe that the Mets, with the third best starter ERA in the National League had so many, but after all, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler didn’t have ERAs at 4.00 or higher by accident. With regard to addressing the fill-ins, Chris Flexen, Walker Lockett, and Wilmer Font only started 8 games, or 5% of the schedule, so there is no reason to bother with their mostly terrible performances.

Category April May June July August September Total
Offense Shut out 2 4 1 0 2 0 9
SP ERA 7+ 9 6 5 3 3 3 29
Opp. Tacks on in last 3 innings 2 1 2 1 2 1 9
Bullpen loses game 1 4 8 4 3 6 26

As I was looking for the data to understand the weaknesses, I saw that there were two problems: One was fixed and one never was. The problem that was fixed was the starting pitchers’ slow start to the season. The slow start taxed the bullpen and led to a mini bullpen meltdown for about a month and led to injuries to key pieces in the bullpen like Justin Wilson and Robert Gsellman.

The starting pitchers’ ERA by month:

April May June July August September
Jacob deGrom 4.85 2.92 2.70 1.09 2.18 1.29
Noah Syndergaard 6.35 3.70 3.55 2.70 4.34 4.93
Zack Wheeler 5.05 4.35 4.11 5.94 3.41 1.85
Steven Matz 3.68 3.38 7.36 1.80 3.21 5.06
Jason Vargas 5.75 2.81 2.70 4.82
Marcus Stroman 4.91 2.90

The Mets ended April with a 15-14 record, a 5.29 team ERA and 1.48 WHIP.

However, the bigger problem that wasn’t fixed was the bullpen, and the one constant I found when looking at the Mets relievers was their inability to miss bats and get opponents to swing at pitches outside the zone. The Mets relievers had the lowest rate of getting swings on pitches out of the strike zone (O-Swing%) in the National League with just 29.7% (average was 31.8%) and the highest contact rate on pitches outside the zone at 63.8%. This means that the Mets relievers weren’t getting hitters to chase for soft contact, weren’t putting hitters away and their pitches were the easiest to track so even the stuff off the plate was being hit.

For reference, the starters’ overall rate was 33.0%, 3rd in the National League: DeGrom 37.9%, Wheeler 34.1%, Syndergaard 33.5%, Vargas 31.4%, Stroman 31.1%, Matz 28.0%. In 2018, Matz’ chase rate was 23.4% when every other Mets starter was over 32%. [An article by Ben Clemens in Fangraphs on November 7th highlighting the Zack Wheeler’s inability to close is something of a parallel to this topic.]

Let’s look at other teams’ relievers’ O Swing% as compared to the Mets (the average pitcher in MLB was 31.8%):

Mets   Cardinals   Dodgers   Yankees   Nationals  
Edwin Diaz 35.0 Dominic Leone 38.1 Julio Urias 38.3 Tommy Kahnle 35.1 Sean Doolittle 39.5
Luis Avilan 31.6 Giovanny Gallegos 36.2 Kenley Jansen 38.1 Luis Cessa 34.3 Daniel Hudson 39.0
Robert Gsellman 31.0 Carlos Martinez 35.0 Pedro Baez 35.6 Aroldis Chapman 32.9 Javy Guerra 35.2
Jeurys Familia 30.1 John Brebbia 33.0 Dylan Florio 32.8 Zack Britton 31.9 Fernando Rodney 34.4
Justin Wilson 28.8 Tyler Webb 31.2 Yimi Garcia 30.6 Chad Greene 31.9 Hunter Strickland 33.3
Seth Lugo 28.2 Andrew Miller 30.4 Joe Kelly 27.9 Nestor Cortes 29.5 Matt Grace 33.0
Tyler Bashlor 25.9 John Gant 29.4 Caleb Ferguson 27.4 Adam Ottavino 24.9 Wander Suero 30.3

In summary, we see that the bullpen failures early on were due to starters not going deep into games thus taxing the relievers, then as the starting pitchers were doing better, the relievers’ inability to create deception and compel hitters to expand the zone forced the Mets relievers to put pitches more in the hitting zone and result in louder contact. The troubling aspect is a pitcher’s numbers don’t vary much from year to year if they don’t add another pitch, and Brodie Van Wagenen has already claimed that the bullpen will not be shuffled too much this winter. Mets fans need to prepare themselves for the reality that there will be blown saves next year too, and hopefully the Mets relievers are able to change speeds often enough to keep hitters a bit more off balance.

Takeaways
1. In the first month, the Mets starters’ slow start to the year caused an early overuse to the bullpen that had survived the first month pretty well but started showing fatigue in mid-May.
2. The Mets relievers were the worst in the National League at getting the opposition to chase out of the strike zone due to lack of pitch deception or movement, and that stat is pretty consistent from year to year for each individual pitcher.
3. Years of drafting and signing based on velocity, and a lack of analytical emphasis on movement, have left the Mets with a pitching staff that lacks deception and movement leading to opposition hitters being able to track Mets pitches easier and not chase pitches outside the zone.

12 comments for “The Mets’ bullpen will have difficulties next year, too, without a shakeup

  1. Mike W
    November 16, 2019 at 10:44 am

    This is a fantastic article. I think you you print it out and send it FedEx to BVW. Maybe he will see it. This is also how a pitching coach should be thinking.

    • TexasGusCC
      November 17, 2019 at 12:53 am

      Thank you Mike. I appreciate the support.

  2. Eraff
    November 16, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    You Draft live arms…always and forever. This isn’t about finding young soft tossers—- Wheeler/Matz/Syndergaard never reached their dreamy projections. All struggled with the fine arts…it’s on them and their development.

    • TexasGusCC
      November 17, 2019 at 12:58 am

      Eraff, I remember in 2015 Matt Harvey made a point about his stuff being better when he eases up on the velocity a few miles per hour and I think I recall Syndergaard said something similar. I think Bartolo Colon used to kind of mentor these guys in that way a little. Seems however that they went away from this? Does anyone else remember any of these comments from the staff?

  3. Chris F
    November 17, 2019 at 8:19 am

    I think a thing you hit on, and it mattered in ‘18 as well, I’d the short duration of starters in the early season. The long and short of it is that by May reliever work loads for a “starter heavy” team were unreasonable, putting them already in a behind position with a long season to go.

    I maintain the best way to improve the pen is to put them out there less. Noah can’t hit 100 pitches and be at 15 outs. It’s easy to blame the relievers, and they stunk, but what relievers do is directly linked to what starters do.

  4. Eraff
    November 17, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    I don’t disagree that “Velocity isn’t everything”…but this is nit a story about wrongly drafting velocity and arm talent. It’s about Pitchers not advancing beyond their sheer physical gifts

  5. November 18, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    One thing I wonder about is if/how long a reliever that’s been overworked needs to recover.

    A point that drives me crazy is the belief if that a RP has one day off, he’s ready to go, regardless of how many games he’s pitched. That was a TC special. I don’t think it’s true but I don’t have an idea how to figure it out, either.

    BTW – the chart with the O-Swing% was fascinating. Diaz with the best mark despite his horrible year? Didn’t see that coming. And very surprised Lugo doesn’t rate better in this metric.

    • TexasGusCC
      November 18, 2019 at 6:05 pm

      Brian, Diaz was about 36% the year before with his 57 saves, and I was very surprised at Lugo’s numbers as well as Matz’s. However, Lugo’s 2.2 fWAR was in the top five in NL even though I found several outings that he wasn’t too effective. I recall the three run homer to Baez in the 8th inning in August, but my searching discovered two more moments like that earlier in the year. So, he wasn’t bulletproof but he did enough overall despite a low chase rate, except for those moments.

  6. MattyMets
    November 18, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    Super post, Gus. Really good stuff here and I see a fascinating debate brewing…
    “Years of drafting and signing based on velocity, and a lack of analytical emphasis on movement, have left the Mets with a pitching staff that lacks deception and movement leading to opposition hitters being able to track Mets pitches easier and not chase pitches outside the zone.”

    This is a great point, however, is this a scouting issue or a development issue that some of these guys can’t develop more consistent secondary pitches? That long list of AAAA hard-throwing righty relievers we’ve had the past few years – wonder if one or two of them won’t figure it out with another franchise. Bashlor and Rhame can both throw it through a brick wall, but that’s not enough at the big league level.

    • TexasGusCC
      November 18, 2019 at 10:37 pm

      Matt, I mentioned this in the article as an example, but taking what you said, I decided to look into why Robles was so effective this year. Here is what his numbers are telling me as we compare 2018 Mets with 2019 Angles:

      O-Swing%: 2018: 23.1% – 2019: 29.9% (threw more stuff outside the zone)

      Swing%: 2018: 45.6% – 2019: 50.2% (hitters swung at more pitches overall)

      O-Contact%: 2018: 70.5% – 2019: 58.8% (yes, that’s a huge difference! Hitters are chasing alot more!!)

      Obviously if he’s getting hitters to chase more stuff outside the zone he will be more effective. But what are they chasing?

      Pitch Types:
      Fastballs: 2018 (and before) 66.8% – 2019: 53.2%
      Sliders (also known as his hangers): 2018: 28.3% – 2019: 20.7%
      Changeups: 2018: 3.7% – 2019: 23.0%

      Yes, the Angels made him mix up the slow stuff instead of the fastball-slider combo his former team lived by!!! Wow!!! Amazing!! You mean you can get hitters out without trying to throw it through a wall every time?? Wow!!!

      Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

      • MattyMets
        November 19, 2019 at 8:43 pm

        Great insight Gus. So Robles needed a change up and we never figured that out. So tired of seeing ex-Mets figuring it out elsewhere.

  7. November 18, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    Good work on this article. Analytics all day…now BVW, go get MadBum & Tehran and make this a killer staff..! What team in the division would rival : Degrom, MadBum,Thor, Stroman, Matz and Tehran for depth…? Braves subtract Keuchel, Nats subtract Strasburg, and the best pitching in the division is in Met’s hands. Cole is going to Yanks or Angels and taking the cash. Wheeler ? Probably Stros to replace Cole. Go to work BVW. Madbum and Tehran on a cheaper deal.

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