In yesterday’s notes column we talked about how good Edwin Diaz has been so far this year and why it might not last. So, what happens? He goes out and earns a five-out save for the first time all season, striking out five of the six batters he faced, including Mike Trout as the tying run. Buck Showalter has shown some creativity with how he used Diaz on the just-completed road trip, bringing him in for only the eighth inning in Los Angeles and then the five-out save yesterday.

The bullpen creativity is wonderful and not managing for a statistic in L.A. was even better. It’s a big reason why Showalter has been easily the best bullpen manager for the Mets in over a decade. He started off with a commitment to giving his relievers more rest than his predecessors. He’s adapted to stop seeking the platoon advantage quite so often in the following inning, dubbed the PPP here. And now he’s being creative with Diaz.

Of course, the greybeards will tell you that Showalter’s usage of Diaz isn’t as creative as it is retro. Look at the usage of some 1970s relievers – Rich Gossage and Bruce Sutter jump immediately to mind and the Mets used Tug McGraw that way, too. You use your best reliever when you need him and you don’t hesitate to ask him to get more than three outs.

Diaz hadn’t been used heavily on the road trip and with an off day today, it made perfect sense for Showalter to go to him for five outs Sunday. And the fact that it was probably good for team (and fan) morale to finish the road trip with a split and not lose any more ground to the red-hot Braves no doubt factored in, too.

So, where does Showalter go with the bullpen from here?

To me, the first thing he has to do is commit to a usage pattern with Seth Lugo. My preference would be to use him twice a week with multiple inning outings. But if Showalter thinks he’s best at one-inning bursts three to four times a week, that’s okay. He just can’t pitch him back-to-back days and he shouldn’t bounce back and forth between three outs and longer appearances.

Lugo came on in the seventh inning Sunday and pitched well. Showalter brought him back for the eighth and he looked like a different pitcher, one unable to throw strikes. It was a reminder that these guys aren’t robots, able to give consistent performances each and every time they take the mound.

In the chatter last night, Name asked how the Mets were going to close out the game. My response was that it was going to be Lugo in the seventh inning, Adam Ottavino in the eighth and Diaz in the ninth. Ottavino had thrown just three pitches in the previous three days and with Monday’s off day, he’d enter Tuesday with essentially five days off if he didn’t get into Sunday’s game. That seems less than ideal.

Instead, Showalter sent Lugo out for another inning. It’s almost like he wanted to use Diaz for an up/down outing.

Of course, as fans, we have imperfect information. For all we know, Ottavino told Showalter he needed the rest. But the gamer in the New York Post made no mention of that and there was no headline at SNY mentioning it, either. A reasonable guess is that Ottavino was available and Showalter opted not to use him.

Also of note for the bullpen is that it looks like Trevor Williams drew the short straw and is the one who got bumped from the rotation. Both David Peterson and Williams had relief appearances on the road trip but the upcoming rotation includes Peterson as the starter on Wednesday. It’s not the choice I would have made but it’s not like it’s an obvious mistake or anything. It leaves the pen as follows:

Diaz, Lugo, Ottavino, Drew Smith, the two lefties, Jake Reed and Williams

With their current configuration, the Mets won’t need to make a roster move when pitching staffs have a mandated cut to 13 in a week. But it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they make a move to add another pitcher before then, as it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have both Khalil Lee and Nick Plummer sitting on the bench and not getting ABs. We’ll just have to wait and see how that plays out.

People look at the bullpen and want to make an upgrade, figuring it’s not deep enough with quality hurlers. In principle, you can always use another good bullpen arm. But the reality is there are four pitchers returning from the IL sometime later this month or in July. And how are the Mets going to accommodate the returning players and have room for a trade acquisition?

When the two starters return, at least one current starter will move to the bullpen. The Mets can choose to send Peterson to the minors to remain stretched out as a starter. Let’s say they do that. Then either Chris Bassitt or Tylor Megill or Taijuan Walker goes to the pen. Megill is the most likely choice and from the relievers listed above, Reed is the most-likely one to go to Syracuse. But that’s assuming that Colin Holderman isn’t activated before the starters, which is far from a sure bet.

If Holderman comes back first, Reed goes down for him. And then what? Holderman was terrific before his last outing before going on the IL, similar to Megill in that fashion. As a rookie, he doesn’t have the track record of the other relievers. But he showed more than the lefties and it would be a shame to see him sent to Triple-A just because of some sort of seniority issue, keeping inferior relievers instead of him.

By the All-Star break, we could be looking at the following pen:

Diaz, Lugo, Ottavino, Smith, Megill, two lefties, Williams

But there’s also the impending return of Trevor May. Who do you bump from the above pen to make room for May? And then who goes for the alleged trade acquisition? At least one of the sacred lefties will have to go to make those two moves. The only other option is to send Megill to the minors and lose Williams as a DFA, since he’s out of options.

Some may feel that Smith shouldn’t be guaranteed a spot in the pen. But those people are imagining that the league is “catching on” to Smith. Or some other narrative explanation instead of accepting that he went thru the same bad stretch that virtually every reliever does. In his first 12 games, Smith didn’t allow a run. In his last six games, he’s allowed 1 ER in 7.1 IP. In the middle was the six-game bad stretch where he allowed 6 ER in 6 IP. Smith is a good seventh-inning reliever and capable of pitching in the eighth, too.

But no doubt that’s where many people end up. Lugo, Ottavino and Smith are fine in the seventh inning and okay in the eighth. And they’d prefer more certainty in the eighth. You can get that certainty by importing a new reliever. But you’d have to give up something to get that reliever and then you’d have to cut one of the lefties to make room for him.

Or, you could use the relievers already on hand with the idea that no one gets used in the eighth inning of a close game who pitched the day before. So, you have to refrain from using more than two of Lugo, Ottavino and Smith in the same game. It’s easier if May comes back and can be added to the eighth-inning mix. That means you have to use the other non-Diaz righty relievers for multiple innings. And find spots to use the lefties for a full inning where they won’t kill you.

And this may sound crazy but you could also take your eight-best relievers, regardless of how much MLB experience they have or which hand they use to throw. We’ll really know that times have changed if Showalter uses that option.

3 comments on “Buck Showalter’s relief usage and what the future pen might look like

  • Wobbit

    I wish it weren’t true that both lefty relievers are terrible, but they are. Joele could be effective with his “tough-on-lefties” delivery, but he isn’t. He’ll probably have a respectable career in AAA.
    Shreve just hasn’t it got it anymore.

    That said, I use Peterson in the pen. Could be a huge addition. I don’t give a damn about him being “stretched out”… all I ever want from him is 1-4 innings anyway. We need him in Queens. Could wind up our set-up guy by September.

    While I think Megill could be the future closer, I’d hate to give up on him as a starter. He’s a six-inning machine, low WHIP guy.

    Trevor May.. I dread the day of his return… mop up duty only.

    Your final paragraph is the answer. Keep the best 8 guys, regardless of everything else.

  • Metsense

    Showalter is very good managing the bullpen.
    The Mets should use 14 pitchers as long as they can.
    Williams (3.59 FIP) should remain in the rotation.
    When Scherzer is healthy, then Peterson (4.11 FIP) should be sent down to Syracuse and be the depth starter.
    When deGrom is healthy, then Megill go to the bullpen. If Megill is pitching better than Bassitt or Walker maybe it would be the time to offer Bassitt or Walker at the trading deadline. Both are free agents and both have value.
    But say that it doesn’t happen.
    Then Diaz, Lugo, Ottavino, May, Megill, Smith, Rodriguez and Williams (Holderman if 14th) should be the bullpen.

  • MattyMets

    Not sure who will be available, but ideally I want the Mets to find a top notch lefty reliever in July. If that means DFAing Shreve or Rodriguez so be it.

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