Edwin DiazIt’s been a busy off-season for the Mets and the front office has done an admirable job filling out the 40-man roster with talent, versatility, and depth. The offense, defense, bench, and rotation should all be significantly improved over last year and primed for a playoff run. But as history tells us, a weak bullpen can torpedo a promising season. After all, ever the best starting pitchers rarely throw complete games anymore, so it’s very often left to the relievers to hold the lead or keep the game close.

As for closing, Edwin Diaz figures to hold that role again. Will we see the strikeout machine we saw in 2020 or the homerun derby pitcher we saw in 2019? This is a very big and scary question to consider. What was the main cause of Diaz’s brutal 2019 – the slick ball, the change of scenery, or the pressure of playing in New York? Maybe the raised seems last season helped him find his slider and maybe he got used to his teammates and the big city. Or, as some have suggested, maybe he thrived under the reduced pressure of not having to pitch in front of a packed ballpark. The fans may return at some point this season and the baseballs will be changing again so we can’t rest too easy on our expectations here. One positive is that new catcher James McCann is regarded as a better receiver, pitch framer, and overall defensive catcher than his predecessor and that can certainly help Diaz.

The good news is that there are alternatives if Diaz falters. Newly signed Trevor May is another hard-throwing strikeout pitcher who can be a lockdown setup man and step in to close if needed.  Over the past season and a half in Minnesota, May struck out a whopping 117 batters in just 87.2 innings. Seth Lugo, though expected to begin the season on the IL recovering from surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, also has some closing experience, as well as the ability to pitch multiple innings. It would be reassuring if the Mets could add one more bullpen piece before the season starts to at least hold the line until Lugo returns, likely in mid May.

The Mets’ 2021 bullpen also features two former All-Star closers in Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances. Due to injuries or ineffectiveness, neither has been dominant for several years now. However, the hope is that both are healthy with something to prove and at least one of them will prove effective as a useful setup man. The lefty Aaron Loup seemed to transform from an average reliever to a very effective one last year with Tampa Bay and he cranked it up a notch in the playoffs. In nine 2020 post-season appearances, Loup was effective in eight and allowed no home runs. He will certainly be in the late inning mix.

The rest of the bullpen may be something of a revolving door as pitchers shuttle back and forth to Syracuse depending on injuries, needs, effectiveness, and options. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Righties Robert Gsellman and Miguel Castro are likely to be on the opening day roster. The latter can strike batters out, but also gives up way too many walks. Gsellman can go multiple innings and start in a pinch, but it’s been a few seasons now since he’s been really effective.

Jacob Barnes, Franklyn Kilome, Sam McWilliams, Sean Reid-Foley, Drew Smith, Stephen Tarpley, Daniel Zamora Yennsy Diaz figure to battle for the last spot, along with a number of spring training invites, like Jerry Blevins, Tommy Hunter, Mike Montgomery, Arodys Vizcaino, Ryley Gilliam, and others. There’s something to be said for the old adage of “strength in numbers,” but by mid-season, the Mets will certainly have had an opportunity to get a sense of who, if any, of these cast-offs, journeyman, and upstarts is worthy of sticking around in Queens.

Our bullpen is deep in terms of live arms worth a look, but it’s remarkably shallow in terms of arms that Manager Luis Rojas and Mets fans can truly rely on. It would be great if Betances, Familia or Gsellman can make a comeback or if one of these other relievers could emerge, but at the moment it looks like we have four go-to arms and one is injured. This won’t be enough to get us through the long season. Hopefully, Sandy Alderson and Zack Scott can find one more bullpen addition over the next few weeks. Otherwise, this will be our biggest area of concern and may be worth revisiting at the mid-season trade deadline.

10 comments on “Can Diaz, May, and Lugo lock down the late innings?

  • Brian Joura

    If Diaz is as similar to last year, the key becomes May. If those two can be solid, they should be able to piece together 2-3 other good relievers from all of the arms they have available.

    • T.J.

      Agree…it’s all about Diaz and then go from there…it will be hard to tell until the real games begin…plan B needs to be prepped and ready to roll.

      Per Betances today, his FB was low 90s vs 86 at same point last season. That is very good news for the bullpen, at least as far as late Feb. good news goes.

  • Ike

    If these three stay healthy and pitch the way they’re capable of I think they’ll be the best back end of any bullpen in

  • Metsense

    It was dehearting last year when the bullpen walked so many hitters. Diaz walked 4.7 per 9 innings in 2020, Familia 6.4, Gsellman 5.1, Castro 8.0 and Betances 9.3. This is unacceptable. Alderson remedied the problem adding Loup 1.4 and May 2.7 to join Lugo 2.5. But Lugo is injured and Diaz , with his high walk rate, is an imagined pending implosion. Hopefully he will regain his command like he did in 2018 with a 2.1. Until Lugo is healthy and Diaz pitches at least 2020 level, the bullpen will not be lock down in the late innings. I’m skeptical.

    • Remember1969

      Yes, walks were the big problem last year. How many games did a reliever come in and walk the first batter he faced? (hint: more than I like)

      If they can throw more strikes, they are good arms – I think Castro if he can cut the walk ratedown to something less than 3 could be pretty lights out and Familia has always been a good pitcher even with a little bit higher walk rate, so if he is back to 4, it would go a long way.

  • Woodrow

    Don’t think May and Lugo are closers. It’s Diaz or bust…They’ll need another 2-3 guys to step up to help Diaz,Lugo and May. Castro,Betances,Familia,Loup,McWilliams,Smith I don’t know. Gotta catch lightning in a bottle.

  • Remember1969

    What I’d like to see is to have each of them stretched out to throw at least two innings and two or three of them to be able to pitch 4 innings at a time, every third day. The burning through 5 or 6 pitchers a night needs to be a thing of the past.

    The three batter minimum helps, but I really hate to see that legislated – it should be natural for guys to be able to throw more than a half dozen pitches a night.

  • Mike W

    The bullpen is our biggest question. With this crew, we just dont know what to expect. Hopefully it goes well.

  • TexasGusCC

    Matt, there have to be levels to the bullpen. You can’t have the same eight guys, you need guys with options to be a taxi squad to lengthen the major league bullpen with the Syracuse guys. For instance, if a starter goes two innings for injury or lack of effectiveness and they use five relievers to finish that game, then the next night they need three relievers more, they will need to make a move. If all the MLB pieces don’t have options, how do you replenish?

    So, you have levels of guys:
    Back-end “sure things”
    Middle innings bridges
    Long men with options

    Where do players fall? Flexibility is important.

  • Wobbit

    So much bullpen success depends on the management thereof… and in no way do I want to make it sound easy. It s absolutely not. It might be the greatest challenge to any manager. The better managers, in a good season, will use his guys correctly and save his bullpen a full run or more in ERA. The equates to more wins.
    I believe Diaz will be ok… he misses a lot of bats. Lugo might need time to find himself. May is very important, but it’s hard to shoot out of the new gate. Betances should start in low-leverage situations exclusively… I’ll take any positives from him we can get. Familia will be the same… high walks, working himself out of his own messes or losing leads… never a welcome sight. It all comes down to Luis Rojas and getting a good feel for this talent and taking charge.

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