Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
We're all thinking it, so let's discuss: the Mets bullpen blew the 2019 season for them, right? There are woulda-coulda-shouldas dotted all over their schedule -- moments where if they had gotten competent relief, October dreams might've had a chance.
Overall, Mets relievers had a 4.99 ERA, the worst in team history. Worst! That means even the 1962 Mets, a team that went 40-120, had a lower mark (4.76). Yeah, it was a different offensive era, but we're using that comparison as a statistical jump-scare of sorts, to really bring home the terror the '19 bullpen brought.
With such room for improvement, it's clear the Mets relievers will have a massive impact on the high hopes for 2020, too -- perhaps even more so than a much-scrutinized stat such as Pete Alonso's homer total.
While we wait for baseball to restart, and it could be a while, here's a look at a potentially vital bullpen number, as well as four other stats in different areas that could tilt the Mets' season:
Goodbye, big fly Edwin?
For the Mets' bullpen to thrive, Edwin Díaz simply cannot have another homer-fest of a season.
Last year, the man who was supposed to lock down the back end of the bullpen allowed 2.33 home runs per nine innings. He set an MLB record by giving up 15 home runs in the ninth inning. If you're designing a T-shirt summing up what went wrong for the Mets in 2019, a snapshot of the disbelief on Díaz's face as another rocket left Citi Field needs to be part of it.
Even as some fans have written off Díaz as wilting in New York's cauldron (that's probably unfair, though he did look shook a few times last year), there are reasons to think he can have the bounce-back the Mets desperately need.
As much as he got clobbered last year (5.59 ERA), he did miss plenty of bats with his high-90s fastball, too. He struck out 39 percent of the batters he faced -- fifth among MLB relievers. And getting mauled for 16 runs in three innings over his four worst appearances basically destroyed his season stats.
Apart from those nightmares, Díaz had a 3.27 ERA. Of course, you don't get to drop the bad ones in the big leagues. Still, all that has helped him morph into a darling of the preseason projection systems. Does that guarantee a return to his 2018 form, when he had one of the best closer seasons ever? Heck, no. But he can certainly be much better -- something the Mets need badly.
Avoid early potholes
Remember the good feelings from the second half last season? The Mets played .639 ball, going 46-26 after the All-Star break. It was the second-best mark in the National League and the fourth-best in baseball. The pitchers had a 3.48 ERA, fourth-lowest in the majors, too. They didn't win every night, obviously; it only seemed like it. Jerseys were ripped off and a charge toward contention (well, the outskirts, anyway) was made.
But this number crushed them: 40-50. That was their mark in the first half. The team ERA was 4.86, 21st in MLB. They dipped to a season-worst 11 games under .500 by dropping the second-half opener to the Marlins before taking off.
Did they finally start playing to their talent level? Maybe. Or was it just a marvelous 72-game run that helped optimism bloom this spring? We'll find out. Their consolation prize last year was becoming only the fourth MLB team ever to go 20-plus games over .500 in the second half after going into the break at least 10 games under.
They want something better this year, obviously, and playing well early could help.
Start them up
The Mets enjoyed remarkable rotation health in 2019 and it was one of the driving forces behind their success.
Six pitchers made 154 of the 162 starts, four hurlers started 30-plus games and two others -- Jason Vargas and Marcus Stroman -- combined for 30 Mets starts in the other slot in the rotation.
If the Mets duplicate that in 2020, they will be very, very tough considering they have the great Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Stroman as the top tier of the rotation.
Steven Matz has made 60 starts over the past two years and Rick Porcello has never delivered fewer than 162.2 innings in his 11-year career and pitched 200-plus three times. The pieces seem to be in place for rotation durability, though pitching is so fickle that nothing is ever certain.
Matz, if he does not make the rotation, and/or Michael Wacha offer the kind of depth the Mets have ignored recently before this season. That's another plus.
Mets need to deWin
DeGrom has been the best pitcher in baseball the last two seasons and has the hardware to prove it in consecutive NL Cy Young Awards.
We've all chuckled over how his record (10-9 in 2018 and 11-8 last year) isn't a proper reflection of how he's pitched. The win is a relic of a prior age, after all! But the Mets don't win enough when their ace pitches. Look at this ridiculous stat: 28-36. That's the Mets' record over the past two seasons in deGrom starts -- 14-18 each year.
Maybe a better team showing every deGrom day pushes them into October.
It's a rite of spring in Port St. Lucie -- Noah Syndergaard working on improving his defense against the running game.
He gave up 42 steals in 45 attempts (93.3 percent) in 2019 and vowed again to take care of it. Could be a big deal if he does and perhaps push him to ace-like heights -- he allowed a career-high 8.8 hits per nine innings last year and steals put runners in scoring position to come in on all those hits.
Maybe he deserves a pass on giving up more than double the homers in 2019 -- 1.1 HR/9, a year after giving up only 0.5 HR/9 -- because of the rabbit ball. But he needs to control the rabbits on the bases now.