Brodie Van Wagenen and the Seth Lugo dilemma

There are things we’d like to be able to do in our job but we don’t for a variety of reasons. Maybe the owners don’t provide us with enough resources. Or maybe our bosses institute policies that are absurd but we’re powerless to change. Sometimes it’s because we’re too lazy to go the extra mile and do what it takes. And, sadly, sometimes we’re held back by our own limitations.

If you were to objectively look at Sandy Alderson’s performance as GM of the Mets, there were a lot of things outside his control that held him back. But among the things that were in his power to do and change that he failed to accomplish was reacting on the fly and deviating from Plan A. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. If you have a good plan, you don’t want to run away from it at the first sign of trouble. But you don’t want to continue to use a good plan that’s not working even remotely the way you anticipated, either.

We’re going to get to see how Brodie Van Wagenen handles this dilemma now.

One can argue that we’ve already seen at least a little bit of this with the managerial hiring. Plan A blew up in Van Wagenen’s face and after initially botching the response in an unbelievably bad way – saying he didn’t see it as a Mets problem! – he moved on to Plan B. The people in the managerial chair have changed; but, ultimately we all expect that the reason they got the gig in the first place was to serve as a puppet for Van Wagenen. If he wanted an independent manager, then he would have hired Dusty Baker or Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter.

Instead, Van Wagenen has his hand-picked guy in the dugout, one who won’t have any trouble carrying out his directions, seemingly like Mickey Callaway did. Additionally, Van Wagenen has his pitching coach, too. The top two men in the dugout don’t have any allegiance to the previous boss or the players that boss brought in, ones that perhaps they lobbied to get in the first place.

Before the start of the 2019 season, the Mets seemed to have their starting rotation in place, with five holdovers from the 2018 campaign. However, some lobbied for Seth Lugo to get the fifth starter’s job over Jason Vargas. The problem was that Alderson, Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland were all in on the decision to sign Vargas as a free agent. While Alderson was gone, the other two had some allegiance to Vargas.

Generally, you don’t want to put players in sub-optimal roles. But there was a reason to think before the year began that Vargas as a starter plus Lugo as a reliever would yield better overall results than if the roles for the two pitchers were reversed. Then, Vargas pitched much better than he did in 2018 and Lugo ended up being one of the club’s two reliable relievers.

Flash forward to 2020 and the Mets headed to Spring Training with six starters – not counting Lugo – for five spots. Before the pandemic hit full force in this country, it appeared that we knew who got the short end of the stick and would be working out of the bullpen. Then, shortly after things got shut down, Noah Syndergaard had TJ surgery and was lost for the year.

Everyone assumes that the sixth starter slides into the rotation and the Mets try to carry on without Syndergaard as best they can. But now we circle back to having the courage to deviate from the original plan. It’s hard to do this under the best of circumstances. And now with just a 60 or so game schedule, how long can you afford to go with a plan that’s not working?

Michael Wacha has an All-Star appearance and an NLCS MVP on his resume. At one point he was a fine pitcher but injuries have made him a shell of his former self. Last season he had a 4.76 ERA and a 1.563 WHIP. He was a good guy to take a flyer on, as there was a chance that the 28 year old could put the injuries behind him and pitch like it was 2015 again.

The Mets’ choice is now this – Would they rather gamble on a return to form by Wacha or gamble that the bullpen can survive without Lugo?

Theoretically, the delayed start to the season should benefit reliever Dellin Betances, giving him the time to recover from last year’s injuries and build back arm strength to deliver the high-velocity pitches he’s known for previously. A Betances comeback to anything remotely resembling his 2014-2018 established level of performance would be a gift from the heavens. There’s also the hope that Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia enjoy better seasons in 2020, too.

Perhaps things will change once Spring Training 2.0 gets underway but up until this point, there’s been no word about a move for Lugo into the rotation. We must remember that Wacha is a Van Wagenen guy and Lugo is not. But will Van Wagenen show the ability to adjust on the fly and make a decision that’s in the good of the team, rather than the good of his guy? We certainly didn’t see that last year with Robinson Cano playing every day he was healthy.

For what it’s worth, Wacha had a nice Grapefruit League performance, with a 1.17 ERA in three outings covering 7.2 IP. However, despite the shiny ERA, Wacha still had an ugly 1.565 WHIP – virtually the exact same mark he had in his disappointing 2019. You can’t be a good pitcher and allow that many baserunners. In 2019, 14 pitchers logged at least 100 IP in the majors with a WHIP of 1.500 or greater and Wacha had the second-best ERA of the group. Meanwhile, Lugo had a 0.900 WHIP in 80 IP last year.

Sure, it’s easier to pitch out of the bullpen than it is as a starter and no one expects Lugo to match his marks posted as a reliever if he were to be a full-time starter. But there’s a lot of wiggle room between a 0.900 and a 1.563 WHIP. In his career, Lugo has a 1.307 WHIP as a starter but most of his starts came in 2017, when he was first pitching with elbow pain that he now (knock on wood) seems to have learned to manage.

My expectation is that Wacha begins the year in the rotation. But here’s hoping that Van Wagenen has him on a really tight leash. Assuming a healthy Betances and an effective Diaz and/or Familia, Wacha’s leash should be of the two or three-start variety. There’s just not any additional time in a shortened season to hope that a guy with a sky-high WHIP can find himself, regardless of who signed him.

11 comments for “Brodie Van Wagenen and the Seth Lugo dilemma

  1. June 28, 2020 at 11:58 am

    I’m big on David Peterson he was throwing his fastball 95 mph in spring training and has had excellent ground ball rates and fips in the minors. I hope if Wacha is bad or gets hurt that Lugo or Peterson replaces him in the rotation not Ealker Lockett.

    • June 28, 2020 at 12:46 pm

      Peterson is definitely the Wild Card in this situation. My opinion is that he fits into the season somehow. A lot will depend on how things shake out. If the Mets get buried, I fully expect him to be in the rotation – regardless of how the others are doing. If they’re doing well, I can see him in the bullpen.

      • Name
        June 29, 2020 at 11:29 am

        I would like to understand how service time for the taxi squad works.

        I struggle to see why any team would bother wasting significant service time for a prospect given all the uncertainty regarding everything and whether a restarted season will even be played to completion.

        • June 30, 2020 at 1:37 pm

          From Tim Britton:

          40-man Roster: This is the same as always. Players on the 40-man roster are subject to the same roster regulations they would be in normal circumstances. Therefore, Tomás Nido and Walker Lockett are out of options; if they don’t make the major-league club out of summer camp, they need to be designated for assignment and exposed to waivers. Same thing goes if the Mets ever want to send them down. If New York wants to add someone to the active roster who isn’t on the 40-man roster, it will have to make room for him. (The Mets currently have 39 players on their 40-man roster, having placed Noah Syndergaard on the 60-day injured list.)

          Some other organizations have added top prospects to their player pool, even if those prospects are not in a position to make a major-league impact in 2020. (It doesn’t do anything to their service-time clock, and all it costs is the roster spot and the per diem to have them around.) Allan is the pitcher who would have made the most sense for the Mets to carry in that mold, but New York hasn’t added any far-away prospects to this initial pool.

  2. TexasGusCC
    June 28, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Very good points Brian and David’s mention of Peterson is good too. Lugo deserves a chance to start since one of his bad starts was found to be a trash can game in Houston, but we all “deserve” something better. Too, why isn’t Porcello looked at in the same light? He hasn’t been anything special either lately.

    I believe it was Joel Sherman that wrote that teams would run separate 30 man camps in case there’s a breakout in one of them. That will allow the starters to be equally divided and in three weeks of work we should be able to get four starts out of each one to make a better determination of who deserves the first chance.

  3. Rae
    June 28, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    The Mets could try Lugo in the rotation as a spot starter. I think Wacha if he can avoid his constant injury bug might be a better starting pitching option than either Lugo or Porcello. Lugo has been loyal to the Mets so they should afford him some spot starter games to show off his stuff. Everyone knows his last bad start was in Texas. He may have lost due to the Astros cheating because they were banging on garbage cans, sending their teammates messages about the location of what the opposing pitcher was going to throw, what side of the plate the ball would be thrown to, and the type of pitch the pitcher was set to throw. to certain sides of the plate, and they also drummed signals to the Astros hitters what pitch the opposing catcher was calling so they knew what was being thrown at them by the pitcher. After all the Astros cheating BS the Astros pulled they should have been removed from all the World Series perks, and the World Series title that they stole from the Dodgers in 2017. This season also included Lugo’s last bad start which the Astros certainly cheated against Lugo and the Mets. If I was the Commissioner I would have removed the 2017 Series title from the Astros and given it to the much more deserving Dodger’s. And I do not like the Dodger’s at all after all they did abandon my home town.

  4. Rob
    June 28, 2020 at 7:15 pm

    Reminds me a bit of Aaron Heilman. Showed signs of improvement but buried in the bullpen.

  5. June 29, 2020 at 4:01 am

    The underlying question of adjusting on the fly and how long to wait to make adjustments is going to be very interesting in general for all teams this season. Baseball is a game of averages and things, over the course of the season, “evening out” or “regressing to the mean.” You only have 60 games to squeeze the best out of your roster, and every day you wait to pull the plug on a situation/player may mean the difference between playoffs and going home. How long can you wait for a guy to get out of a funk when you only have half the number of games? How fast is too fast? How long is too long? May be some craziness on the horizon.

    • TexasGusCC
      June 29, 2020 at 11:04 am

      Rob, in the news we some haggling over incentive clauses and I would approach everything – including your question – as such: 162 games is 2.7x of this season’s 60 games. So, almost triple. Thus you can only have about 1/3 the patience you’d normally show a player. If you were going to give Wacha about two months to prove himself (9 starts), now he only has 3 starts. Too, there’s no pacing yourself this year Robinson Cano.

  6. Metsense
    June 29, 2020 at 11:28 am

    I would rather gamble with Wacha than gamble with the bullpen. The risk of the starting pitchers can be reduced if deGrom and Stroman were the pitch every 5th day Instead of every 5th game. Lugo earned the closer position and he was reliable.Brach and Wilson also had a good year in 2019. Familia and Gsellman were throwing this spring but time will time. Betances still is a health question mark.None of them earned the closer position. Diaz is a dilemma and should earn his spot. I’m not comfortable that this will happen because he is a BVW person. Initially in a 60 game season, I would gamble with Waccha starting, with the rotational adjustment, than Diaz as the closer.

  7. MattyMets
    June 29, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    My hope is that Mets coaches can do a good job evaluating in spring training so we can determine the best way each player can help us win. I hate how the Mets always seem to have to turn something upside down 3 weeks into the season. Injuries are one thing, but they should be able to tell who looks their best and who doesn’t. If Wacha doesn’t look like he’s found his old stuff, then stick him in the pen. And if Bashlor and Rhame and some of those guys are coughing up gopher balls in ST, give someone else a shot.

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