We have been criticizing Billy Eppler for his options-reliever strategy since before the season started. And it’s turned out even worse than we initially feared with how those back-end relievers have all been horrible this year. But one thing that flies under the radar has been the club’s designation as Drew Smith as one of the “locks” relievers. The plan was to have five locks and then cycle thru three options relievers as needed in the back end. The Edwin Diaz injury made that four locks. And Smith made it three.

Who made the decision that Smith, who had never thrown a full season in the majors, should be considered a reliever to write into the scheme in pen? Ideally, it was a collaborative decision between Eppler and Buck Showalter. So, far the sake of argument, let’s give them 50-50 blame on this one. And what makes the decision even worse is that, according to FanGraphs, Smith has two options remaining.

The previous two seasons, when healthy, Smith has been a very good bullpen option. In 75 games over the 2021-22 seasons, Smith had a 2.89 ERA and a 1.111 WHIP. On the surface, those look great. But if he had pitched full seasons, he should have had in the neighborhood of 125 games pitched. And while the ERA looked strong, his FIP told a different story.

The point of FIP is to strip away “luck” and get quicker to a pitcher’s true-talent level. We can debate how many games or innings is necessary for FIP to be worthwhile. Maybe you can’t use it after 10 innings with any certainty. But it’s difficult to claim that 87.1 IP, which is what Smith had over the two seasons, isn’t enough. Smith had a 4.50 FIP in the 2021-22 seasons combined.

One of the strong points of FIP is that if a pitcher’s ERA differs in a significant way from his FIP, that in the following season, his ERA is likely to move in the direction of his FIP. That’s not to say he will match his previous season’s FIP. Rather, it means that if his FIP his higher than his ERA in Year 1, that his Year 2 ERA will likely be higher than it was previously. Let’s use Smith to illustrate:

2021 – 2.40 ERA, 4.69 FIP – we expect ERA to go up. And it did.
2022 – 3.33 ERA, 4.33 FIP – we expect ERA to go up. And so far, it has.
2023 – 4.38 ERA, 4.47 FIP

The difference here isn’t enough to predict another rise in his ERA next year. If it stays in this same range the rest of the season, we can think that Smith has found his level. Which is as a below-average reliever. That would make him an excellent candidate for option-reliever status. That is, if we hadn’t already banned Eppler from using that strategy for more than one reliever in the pen ever again.

LINDOR LEADS THE WAY – Many fans feel like Francisco Lindor isn’t worth his contract, that the Mets spent heavy both to get and keep Lindor, while other shortstop options were available to them. It’s not that they’re necessarily wrong. It’s just that Lindor is the type of player who should be a hands-down fan favorite and he isn’t. He plays every day, he faces the media every day so his teammates don’t have to and he’s really good in the field, in addition to being a good hitter for his position.

And right now, Lindor is doing even better at the plate. In his last 232 PA, he has a .282/.384/.538 line, one that comes with a .301 BABIP, so he’s not just getting lucky with hits falling in. Lindor’s still getting lots of extra-base hits – a .256 ISO – but he’s bringing singles and walks along, too. It’s too bad the rest of the lineup is so limp. This is the kind of extended stretch that should have led to a nice record. Oh well, maybe next year.

THIS PITCHER’S Q SCORE CONTINUES TO RISE – Essentially, the Mets replaced Taijuan Walker in the rotation with Jose Quintana, figuring that the quality of their new pitcher would exceed that of their former one, while requiring both fewer years and a lower AAV, too. Unfortunately, Quintana came down with an injury and missed over 3.5 months of action before making his season debut on 7/20.

But since his return, Quintana has been every bit as good as the Mets expected. In five starts, he has a 3.03 ERA and a 0.8 fWAR. If he pitched at this rate over 30 games, he’d have a 4.8 fWAR on the season, a terrific total for a guy written in as the club’s fourth starter when Spring Training began. Meanwhile, Walker has been better in the health department but in 24 games has a 4.03 ERA and a 1.5 fWAR. In a fitting, 2023 way – the Mets were right but it still ended up wrong.

CATCHING UP WITH OMAR – The catching for the 2022 Mets was abysmal and they addressed that by signing Omar Narvaez in the offseason. However, Narvaez got hurt early in the season and the Mets replaced him on the roster with Francisco Alvarez. The good news is that we saw that Alvarez wasn’t close to being as bad defensively as he was being portrayed. But that made Narvaez an unneeded appendage.

The plan was that Narvaez would bounce back from a down season in 2022 and approach the 2.8 fWAR season he put up in 2021. But instead, in his brief playing time this year, he’s a hair worse than he was in 2022. And Narvaez has an option to return next year, one he’s almost certain to pick up. And it’s hard to say he’s a better defensive catcher than Alvarez. Just another cruel twist this season had in store for us.

ROSTER MANIPULATION BLUES – It’s an accepted part of 21st Century baseball that a team is going to make a bunch of moves in the short-term interest of the club that are less than kind to the interests of individual players. We can shrug our shoulders and say it’s an occupational hazard. Or we can look for a way that becomes win-win for both the team and the players.

In the day before a doubleheader, Jimmy Yacabonis hurled 3.2 IP in a bullpen-saving outing. His reward was being DFAd the next day. The Mets needed fresh arms for the two games and Yacabonis was not going to be available. The Mets also called up Denyi Reyes to start the first game and then immediately optioned him back to the minors to recall Tyson Miller.

During the game, the broadcasters mentioned a talk with the manager, where Showalter said it was a tough thing and what made it even worse is that the players know it beforehand. Every pitcher knows that if he gives an extended outing, he’s on the chopping block to lose his spot on the roster. That can’t be good for either morale or performance.

Back in mid-May, there was a call in this spot for MLB to introduce taxi squads, where they would carry extra players to cover these situations. Instead of optioning or DFAing a player, they would move him to the taxi squad, which would keep him in the organization and also allow the pitcher to accumulate service time.

The details of this taxi squad could be collectively bargained. Perhaps two pitching spots and one hitting spot, with the ability to move players from the taxi squad to MLB – and vice-versa – every game. Additionally, you could bring new players to the taxi squad once a week, say, every Monday. Certainly, this plan is not without problems, too. If you’re the hitter, you could be in limbo for however long you’re on the squad. But that would be eased by the MLB paycheck and service time.

It seems an idea worth considering.

6 comments on “Drew Smith’s status, Francisco Lindor’s extended hot streak, Jose Quintana continues his strong pitching

  • T.J.

    Great stuff. While the Mets bailed on the final 1/3 of 2023, you still come to bat with your A game every day…much appreciated for a discouraged Met fan like me.

    I have been critical of Lindor, but every player can be critiqued. He is a tremendously good ball player, with above average skills across the board, including the intangibles. His problem, if he has one, is that he is a star but not a superstar. He shares that with Beltran and even David Wright…as Fred Wilpon once pointed out. He is paid like a superstar, and with the money and prospects to get him, that is what the market expects. I just hope they can field a legit contender before he passes his prime.

    Your Drew Smith point is spot on, and it reiterates the fact that while the GM wasn’t perfect, the players performance and injuries killed 2023, not the GM and/or owner. They were right on deGrom. They likely were right on Senga over Bassitt. They were likely right on Qunitana over Walker. They were right on signing Robertson. That is a massive amount to be right on. Losing Montes de Oca in addition to Diaz and the other pen guys is bigger than being reported. Combine that with pretty much all the replacements being very poor, and we know about the position player failures, the 2023 debacle is a player-driven failure for sure.

    You taxi squad idea makes so much sense that I doubt it will every get done.

    • Brian Joura

      I dig the comparison to Beltran – another player who was above-average in many different things but not necessarily “great” at anything. It’s easy for fans to get excited about Alonso because he’s great at hitting home runs. But with the sum total of his contributions, Lindor does more to push the team forward than Alonso does.

    • T.J.

      I forgot to mention the train wreck contracts they avoided by choice with Correa and Báez. Additionally, they avoided major money to Bauer, Syndergaard, and Matz, maybe not but choice but they still avoided them. And despite all that, they are looking at a 90-95 loss season.

    • TexasGusCC

      I do like the taxi squad idea too, but I would go a step further: if a player is on the taxi squad and used, he cannot be optioned or released for seven days, at least. While I do agree on the reality of the concept of the occupational hazard, I don’t like the Yacobonis result. Almost four innings pitched, and then get released? That’s bulls…

      • crispy

        I think they would just stash their SPs on the taxi squad, in effect getting 2 extra daily guys

  • Woodrow1

    Big ratings tonite for ESPN

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