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.
|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:
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%):
|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.