Many people were upset that the Mets didn’t do more at the trade deadline. We’ve already seen that the hitters they imported have been much better than expected. Everyone thought the Padres won the deadline and they brought in Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury. Those three have combined (thru Wednesday’s games) for a .259/.371/.444 line in 98 PA. Meanwhile, Daniel Vogelbach, Tyler Naquin and Darin Ruf have combined for a .348/.426/.574 line in 101 PA. Early returns look very good for the Mets.
But while people have been quick to warm to the Mets’ offensive moves, many feel like Billy Eppler made a mistake by not importing a stronger late-inning reliever and/or a lefty bullpen arm better than Joely Rodriguez. Eppler didn’t want to include one of the club’s top six prospects in any deadline deal and allegedly could not get a deal done with what he was willing to part with in a trade.
But, just as the Mets’ imported hitters were better than believed, is it possible that their current relievers were better than people realized?
It’s tough to look at reliever statistics and properly value what they’ve given to the club. Additionally, because of the sample sizes involved, it doesn’t take a whole lot to turn a guy from looking like a reliable reliever to a near-worthless one. And there’s always the case of the reliever who puts up solid numbers in low-leverage situations but who falls apart when the stakes get higher. You’ve got to take reliever numbers with a grain of salt.
My preference is to look at four numbers when it comes to relievers – innings, ERA, WHIP and OPS against. It still leaves you light on leverage but sometimes you can add too many ingredients to the stew. Regardless, here are the MLB averages for the latter three categories for relievers:
3.86 ERA, 1.270 WHIP and a .691 OPS
But we’re really not interested in numbers influenced by the worst relievers on the worst clubs. Instead, let’s look at the seven NL teams with a winning record, those fighting for the six playoff spots. And instead of looking at all of their relievers, let’s just look at the top five for each club, those likely to pitch important innings in the postseason.
Now, this is not as easy as you’d think. It’s hard enough to do that with the Mets, who we follow on a daily basis. How are we supposed to do that for the Brewers, who we’ve seen just three times this year and a club that’s just traded their closer? I’ve gone thru each club’s Baseball-Reference page and picked out my choices as the club’s top relievers. Their overall numbers were used, not just those as a reliever, for the sake of simplicity.
But remember that I’m no expert on other teams. And even if that was the case – nobody had any idea in August how Francisco Rodriguez would impact the playoffs and World Series in 2002. It’s very likely that there will be a starter moved to the pen or a reliever currently in the minors come on to play a big role. So, while the numbers below are accurate, consider them ballpark numbers for what the top relievers on the best teams will be come playoff time.
Hopefully, Trevor May replaces Smith but Smith was used here because he had more innings and better numbers than May. And we’re not even counting Trevor Williams here, who in 29 IP as a reliever has a 1.24 ERA, a 1.138 WHIP and a .590 OPS. Buck Showalter’s only used him once in a non-mopup role out of the pen but there’s at least a little reason to believe he should get a shot at higher-leverage spots.
The Braves have a really nice pen, even if Iglesias is slightly overrated in the public’s eye. Minter is a beast and they have other relievers not mentioned here who are good and make Brian Snitker’s job easier.
Mets fans wanted the club to get Robertson and it’s easy to see why. Dominguez has come back to be excellent and Hand has been quietly very good, too. Perhaps it’s better to critique Eppler on not re-signing Hand – who was good for the Mets down the stretch last year – rather than criticizing him for not getting Robertson.
Maybe this is the team whose fanbase should wonder why the team didn’t add a reliever. It’s very possible I’m missing someone. Helsley has been great and Pallante has been strong, too. It still feels light to me.
It was very brave of the Brewers to swap closers with the Padres. Either brave or some less-flattering adjective. They have a nice 1-2 punch but is their group deep enough for a long playoff run?
The best team in the league and perhaps the hardest team to pick their top bullpen guys. The Dodgers have so many pitchers and quite a few of them are currently on the IL. Who knows which injured starter or current starter becomes a reliever for the playoffs? These are the current relievers. Well, Graterol is on the IL, too…
They took a very-worthwhile gamble that Hader’s 2022 ERA is not indicative of what he’ll give them down the stretch and in the playoffs. Nobody else seems great yet no one seems awful, either. Can this group of relative unknowns past the closer get the job done in the playoffs?
Earlier, the numbers were given for the average relievers. If we take this group of 35 pitchers and use the median, we get: 3.24 ERA, 1.132 WHIP and a .636 OPS. So, how does the Mets’ pen stack up? Diaz and Ottavino are comfortably ahead of the median, while Lugo and Smith are a hair below. And Givens illustrates the problem with relievers, that a few bad outings can skew the results. Givens gave up runs in his first three outings with the Mets. Before that, he had a 2.66 ERA, a 1.254 WHIP and a .652 OPS, putting him right around average for a playoff reliever.
Maybe you believe that Ottavino can be a solid eighth-inning guy if he’s not needed to come on earlier. Perhaps you believe that Lugo has discovered a mechanical flaw and is back much closer now to the guy that he was in 2019. Furthermore, you may even believe that among Givens, May and Smith that there will be another solid reliever for the Mets. But it’s likely there’s still one thing bothering you.
For many, the elephant in the room is the Mets’ lack of a lefty reliever among their top five options, the only club among the seven listed not to have a southpaw in the ranks. Some view this as a fatal flaw. Others (ok, me) believe this to be vastly overrated and something that can be successfully managed in the playoffs.
No one outside of his family and friends would regard themselves as huge Rodriguez believers. It’s hard to get excited about a 5.12 ERA and a 1.453 WHIP. But he has limited opposing batters to a .642 OPS, which is right around our playoff average. And Showalter has improved in his usage with Rodriguez, showing more of an inclination to use him to get critical outs rather than maximize his innings.
With the days off in the playoffs, along with a starter being moved to the pen, no team will have to use their lefty reliever to soak up innings if they don’t want to do so. Instead, the southpaw will be used to retire a key lefty or two and then be removed from the game. Two outs, two on and Soto at the plate – that type of situation. Rodriguez gets the out and then Showalter brings on a different reliever for the following inning.
In his last 20 PA against lefty batters, they are just 1-16 against him, with eight of those being strikeouts. While his overall season numbers against LHB are nothing special, what he’s done recently is terrific. Rodriguez has settled into his role and Showalter has utilized him better, for the most part. In the recent five-game series against the Braves, he had four PA against their LHB and they went 0-4 with 3 Ks and a groundout.
Let’s say the Mets play 19 games in the playoffs. It’s very easy to see Showalter using Rodriguez in, say, eight of those games and have him face, say, 15 batters and have 10 of those being LHB. Whatever the final numbers are, Rodriguez will face a majority of lefties, as Showalter will have no need to have him pitch an inning to three righty batters. Instead, he’ll have a “Scott Rice under Terry Collins” type of usage.
And Rodriguez has been okay all year versus lefties and has been significantly better here recently. Sure, you’d much rather have Minter, much like you’d rather have Soto than Vogelbach. But Vogelbach has shown his worth when used in a platoon role. And Rodriguez will get to perform in a similar platoon role, at least as much as current rules allow.
While Collins used Rice and his other lefty relievers against any LHB with a pulse, Showalter will use greater discretion, putting Rodriguez into the game against LHB that the other team won’t PH for, like Soto or Freddie Freeman or Bryce Harper. And by more judicious use, my belief is that the lefty reliever issue will be mostly neutralized.
Ultimately, the Mets’ bullpen is essentially a playoff-average one. Outside of Diaz, you wouldn’t point to the group being a team strength. But it doesn’t have to be one in order for the club to succeed. Can they navigate the innings before Diaz? My belief is that they can. Can they handle the other team’s key lefty hitters? The starters take care of the lefties for the first six or seven innings and Diaz takes care of them in the ninth. And in the inning or two between those, Rodriguez can do the job. But we’ll probably have to hold our breath whenever he enters the game.