The Mets’ bullpen finished 2019 11th in the National League in WHIP (1.432) and 13th in ERA (4.99) and if we removed Seth Lugo from the equation, the numbers would be significantly worse. The pen was dogged last year by the dreaded combo of injuries and ineffectiveness. But let’s take a minute to dream on what might be for the 2020 pen. What if the top four guys combined for 290.1 IP, 2.51 ERA and a 1.016 WHIP – wouldn’t that be something?
And that’s what Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Seth Lugo combined for in 2018, with Lugo’s contribution only what he did as a reliever that season. Of course, Betances missed most of 2019 while Diaz and Familia were pretty rotten last season. Only Lugo was able to duplicate his strong season from 2018 a year ago.
The Mets’ top four relievers last year combined for 237 IP, 4.14 ERA and a 1.300 WHIP.
If you asked most fans, they would expect Lugo to pitch well as long as his elbow holds out, which, knock on wood, it has done so the past two seasons. They also expect Diaz to bounce back to some degree and Familia, well, they have considerably less hope for in 2020. Which makes Betances the big wild card of the group.
In the five-year period from 2014-2018, Betances put up numbers that marked him as one of the top relievers in the game. In that span of 373.1 IP, Betances had a 2.22 ERA and a 1.018 WHIP. His 607 Ks led to a remarkable 14.6 K/9. The only weakness was his walks allowed. There was the ugly 6.6 BB/9 in 2017 and about a 3.5 mark in the other four seasons. But the Mets will gladly take his 3.9 BB/9 in his five-year peak if he can give them 70 innings in the bargain.
And there’s the rub. After being both durable and dominant in those five seasons before 2019, last year injuries limited him to 0.2 IP due to shoulder, lat and a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon. The latter one came after he pitched in his lone game of the 2020 season on September 15 after he made his way back from the other two injuries.
None of the injuries required surgery, although he was in a walking boot for six weeks after the Achilles injury. Certainly the hope is that since Betances made it back to the majors following the shoulder and lat injuries that those are in the past. But the Achilles is another beast.
At his introductory press conference after signing with the Mets, Betances declared that he felt good now and that he’d be ready to go in Spring Training. Those are easy things to say in early January. Let’s see what happens when he undergoes his first official workout, scheduled for February 12. Was the roughly six weeks following that news conference enough time to get Betances from long tossing to being able to throw off a mound in a competitive situation?
Even if he’s not ready to go on February 12, there are still 11 more days before the first Grapefruit League game and a little over a month after that before the first regular season game. Regardless of when he’s able to take the mound in a real game, the Mets will be better when that happens. And if he can make a complete comeback to what he was from 2014-2018, that would be tremendous.
It’s remarkable how well the Mets did last year with essentially only Lugo and Justin Wilson has good options out of the pen. It may be unlikely that either of those two will be able to match what they gave the club in 2019. Which will make comebacks by Betances and Diaz all the more important for the success of the Mets in 2020.