Edwin DiazIt was a conscious decision not to write about Edwin Diaz on Thursday. The announcement that his injury was season-ending was horrible and everyone needed some time to process the news in their own way. Some will curse the WBC, a few will mourn the Mets’ luck, while others will declare that the World Series aspirations just went up in flames. My sincere hope is that having somewhere between 24-36 hours to digest the news that everyone can now look at things with a more-balanced perspective.

My opinion is that the Diaz injury will have minimal impact on the Mets’ regular-season results.

Diaz was absolutely incredible last year, as he amassed 32 of the team’s 41 saves. You know what other Mets team had 41 saves? The 77-win 2021 squad. Diaz had 32 of the team’s 41 saves that year, too. He was good in ’21 but nowhere near as good as he was in ’22. In Diaz’ first year with the Mets in 2019, he was terrible. That season’s team won 86 games and collected 38 saves, with Diaz pulling down 26 of them.

Before Diaz joined the Mets in 2018, they won 77 games but had the same 41 saves that they had in their 101-win season in 2022. Jeurys Familia led the team with 17 saves while Robert Gsellman had 13.

If Gsellman, who had a 4.28 ERA, a 1.300 WHIP and against whom batters had a .700 OPS, was a co-closer on a team that finished with 41 saves – you have to figure that Adam Ottavino, David Robertson and Brooks Raley will manage to close down games and get the 2023 Mets in the neighborhood of 41 saves, too.

With the limited innings that a closer pitches, it’s extremely difficult for them to amass a big on-field impact. Diaz, who had about as big of an impact as a closer could have last year, posted a 3.0 fWAR. By contrast, Ottavino had a 1.1 fWAR last year. That seems like a good estimation of the impact of Diaz’ loss on the team – about two wins.

There’s been a mythology built up that only certain pitchers are able to successfully pitch in the ninth inning and nail down a save. And people buy this myth, despite the fact that year after year after year that no-name hurlers hold down jobs as closers and post 30-save seasons. In the last 10 full years, there have been 140 instances where a reliever amassed 30 saves. Some of them are special, like Diaz, Craig Kimbrel and Josh Hader. And some of them were forgettable, like Shane Greene or Jeanmar Gomez or Ernesto Frieri.

There may be pitchers who are spooked by pitching in the ninth inning with the game on the line. But there are plenty of hurlers who are nothing special who can get the job done, if only given the chance. Yet that fact is hardly ever considered, mainly because it doesn’t fit the myth. Just looking at the Mets, they recently had a five-year period where five different pitchers led the team in saves, with all five of them successfully closing the door at least 22 times. Were they just incredibly fortunate to discover the rare hurlers who could succeed in the ninth inning on a regular basis? In case you forgot, three of those guys were Frank Francisco, Bobby Parnell and Jenrry Mejia.

Robertson had 110 saves between 2014-2016 before getting hurt in 2017. Last year was his first healthy season since 2017 and he notched 20 saves. Is there any reason to believe he would melt down if handed the ball in the ninth inning on a regular basis?

One of the ways that the game has gotten worse since the 1970s is the insistence on teams to manage for a statistic – in this case, saves. Teams won’t use their best reliever in a tie game in the eighth inning but will bring him on with a three-run lead in the ninth, just so he can get a save. Everyone knows that the tie game in the eighth is a much-higher-leverage spot than the one up three in the ninth. Yet we just kind of accept this deployment of relievers. It’s really crazy and sub-optimal.

Let’s say Ottavino is the Mets’ best reliever in 2023. But because he doesn’t have the capital C closer name like Diaz, the Mets can use him in the highest-leverage spot. That may be a one-run game in the ninth inning. Or it may be a tie game in the eighth. Robertson could lead the team in saves by closing up most of the three-run leads. But Ottavino is the guy to turn to when the game is really on the line.

Not having Diaz available might allow Buck Showalter to use his bullpen in a better way.

The greybeards among us can remember when the team would split closer duties. The 1999 Mets had Armando Benitez with 22 saves and John Franco with 19. The 1986 Mets had Roger McDowell with 22 saves and Jesse Orosco with 21. The 1971 Mets had just 22 saves but Danny Frisella had 12 and Tug McGraw had eight. Before that, McGraw was a co-closer with Ron Taylor.

There are things that used to happen in baseball that just can’t happen today. Back in the 1970s, top starters would pitch 280-320 innings because they got to face lineups with several automatic outs that allowed them to conserve energy. Those lineups don’t happen on a regular basis here in the 21st Century, making the 300-inning hurler extinct. But we could absolutely have bullpen deployment today that we did in the 70s.

My hope is that the incredibly unfortunate injury to Diaz allows the Mets the freedom to utilize their bullpen differently than the other 29 clubs do, in an effort to get the best results possible. It may be nothing more than a dream on my part, but they certainly have a better chance of using a proven, albeit out of fashion, bullpen deployment with Showalter at the helm than if Terry Collins was still calling the shots.

Finally, the Diaz injury only further highlights how absurd it was not to spend fourth-outfielder money to bring established relievers with recent success to fill out the back of the bullpen. Now the bullpen will feature four wild cards instead of three. The Mets have an impressive number of depth bullpen arms to choose from to fill out the final four slots. But you’re lying to yourself if you’re glad that they might open the year with Zach Muckenhirn rather than Brad Hand or any of a host of other relievers who were available that they chose not to sign in order to chase a low-budget strategy.

14 comments on “A look at the Mets’ bullpen after time to reflect about the Edwin Diaz injury

  • Bob P

    Great perspective Brian. I particularly like your comments about using the right pitchers in high leverage situations, and not for counting save stats. I do remember Buck bringing in Diaz a couple of times last year in earlier situations that were high leverage and I hope there’s more of that. I’m very surprised that analytics haven’t pushed bullpen usage in that direction.

    I’m not as concerned with losing our closer as I am with replacing Diaz with a AAAA arm.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words!

      And who knows – maybe Diaz make a speedy recovery and we see him back for the playoffs.

  • JimmyP

    Besides a general sadness for Diaz, I’ll miss the fun and entertainment of his outings. Those strikeouts, the trumpets, the wins.

    The issue is saves vs. blown saves. Diaz was great last year, out of his mind, really, but it’s not all certain that he’d be equally great. Robertson might be just as effective, or close.

    The problem is that the depth got thinner. Even pushed up. And we lost our best bullpen arm. Hopefully that won’t hurt too much. But it certainly didn’t help.

    As for Buck’s use, I thought he did a pretty great job every time he raised an arm and brought in Diaz. It wasn’t rocket science and didn’t require an overthink, which might be what you are suggesting. Players like defined roles.

    Also: I disagree with the assessment. I guess I buy into the “mythology” that not everyone is cut out for the end-of-game pressure that comes down on a closer. It’s a unique role and a few counting stats don’t refute that.

    • Brian Joura

      Genuinely curious – what would refute it in your mind?

  • Metsense

    This is a balanced, thoughtful, insightful article.
    The Diaz injury will impact the season. According to Fangraphs depth chart projections (post injury) are that the Mets should slip back into second place in the East. The sky is not falling and they are still projected to made the playoffs.
    It a myth that only certain pitchers can pitch in the ninth inning. A further myth is that a relief shouldn’t gave up a run in every outing.
    Saves is a useless stat in the way it is earned. The relief pitcher that pitches in the most highest pressure situation should be credited with a save.(with criteria)
    Eppler had ample opportunity to sign another veteran relief pitcher and that decision could haunt him this season.
    Showalter does manage the bullpen well and can weather this unfortunate circumstance.
    The WBC isn’t appealing to me. The scheduling in spring training is not ideal.
    The Diaz injury was avoidable . I don’t misunderstand the on-field celebration in a non- championship round. But then, I don’t understand the celebrations by ripping shirt off the back either.
    Diaz seems to be good guy and they hope he has a full recovery.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I agree completely with most everything you wrote, but especially your last sentence.

  • Denis Engel

    It’s the most Mets thing ever.
    – Joe Scarborough (March 16, 2023)

  • MikeW

    Thanks Brian. This is a great perspective. The bullpen may even be better because the Mets will have to think before they send a closer in. It’s more scientific than automatically putting Diaz in.

    I think it is realistic that Diaz may have regressed this year. Relief pitchers performance can vary widely year by year. Just look at Aaron Loup.

    As a lifelong Mets fan, let’s bring back some memories of our relievers. Here is a list for you.

    Bob Apodaca
    Skip Lockwood
    Terry Leach
    Doug Sisk

    And should be Hall of Famer Billy Wagner.

    I have hope that one of the less known relievers on our team could turn into a gem this year.

    And, yes, I will really miss the trumpet.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks Mike!

      Tom Hausman wants to know why you left him out.

  • Paulc

    Closer is the most overrated position in MLB, by far. Losing Diaz may mean 2 less wins or it may mean zero change in the W-L column. Diaz, with his 1.31 ERA, saved 32 games in 35 chances over 62 innings. Gregory Soto of the Tigers saved 30 of 33 games with a 3.28 ERA in 60 innings. An ERA two-and-a-half times higher led to the same number of blown saves in about the same number of chances. Closer-by-committee will do just fine, just not as entertaining as the trumpet entrance.

  • Mike W

    I just read that the Mets won’t have to pay Diaz his 20 million this year. MLB insurance policy is on the hook because of the WBC.

    And now, Nimmo tweaked his knee in sliding into second.

  • BoomBoom

    From what I’ve been reading the mets will miss his clubhouse presence even more than his on-field performance.

  • T.J.

    Well measured and thought out as usual.

    The loss of Diaz and how it happened was stunning and depressing for sure. This is a special dude that was able to go from horrendous/fans irate to dominate/fan favorite in prime time NYC. We can all debate the worth of the closer overall and who can or cannot pitch in the 9th, but there aren’t many people on the planet that can accomplish that turn around.

    As Jimmy P wrote, it comes down to blown saves. While it was unlikely that Diaz repeated his 2022 performance, I do think there is an “intimidation” factor to the uber dominant closer, a psychological edge, especially in the big game and at home…probably impossible to measure, but I’ve seen many times through the years that batters looked feeble against the Marianos, Wagners, etc.

    Ultimately, it is not good when you have to replace your best arm in the pen, but others can step up to minimize the win/loss impact.

    Diaz seems like a good guy and I can say first hand that the festive trumpets at Citifield was fun at the ballpark that hasn’t been comment in Flushing for many years.

  • AgingBull

    A timely and necessary article, Brian. It’s great to read your balanced perspective versus the kneejerk vitriol that is all over the web. Your WAR comparison really says it all. Also, it was smart to wait a day to let this settle in. IMHO, projections for RPs are dice rolls, with few exceptions. Having a deep, versatile bullpen is critical and so is having a manager and coaching staff that knows how to manage it. Buck and Hefner have proven to be adept in their handling and the in-game decision-making has been so solidly consistent that it hardly gets mentioned. Recall the frustration at Rojas, Callaway, and Collins?

    I am willing to bet that Robertson and Ottavino remain solid but that one of the younger arms emerge as that prime-time closer. Even with his injury, my money is on Montes de Oca (MdO?) as his ball is just so lively. If he can harness that and reduce his walks, he has all the right stuff to be dominant, not just serviceable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 100 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here