John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
So much of the Mets' 2020 season already feels as if it's dependent upon Edwin Diaz re-discovering the form that made him arguably baseball's best reliever two years ago in Seattle.
As one scout this week told me, "They'll win 90-95 games easy if Diaz figures it out again. And they should have a championship bullpen."
Hard to argue.
Because if Diaz again becomes a reliable closer, the Mets should be monsters in the late innings, with newcomer Dellin Betances likely sliding in as the primary set-up man and Seth Lugo then available as an Andrew Miller-like wild card, helping to lock down games with multiple-inning outings wherever needed.
Don't forget how dominant lefty Justin Wilson was in the second half last season, and who knows, maybe Jeurys Familia's dramatic weight loss will give him the confidence to trust his stuff again and throw his 97-mph two-seamer for strikes.
"Potentially, and I say potentially with great caution," said another scout, "they've got a better pen than just about everyone -- even the Yankees. But obviously there's a lot of uncertainty, starting with Diaz."
With that in mind, I asked six scouts/executives in recent weeks whether they foresee a major bounce-back from the righthander, and what it would take to look a lot more like the guy who racked up 57 saves with a 1.96 ERA in 2018 than the one who gave up a major-league record 15 ninth-inning home runs as a Met last season while pitching to a 5.59 ERA.
None of the six think Diaz will be a trainwreck again, but only three believe he'll be a dominant closer in 2020, while the other three predict he'll be at times dazzling but also inconsistent, to the point where the Mets would need Lugo to close games on at least a semi-regular basis, as he did in the second half last season.
Here's the common denominator:
The believers think it's primarily a matter of Diaz regaining his confidence.
The non-believers think it's primarily a matter of Diaz regaining his confidence.
"For a guy who's probably never had to think too much about mechanics, as unorthodox as they are, it's dangerous to me that there's so much talk coming out of the Mets about fixing his mechanics," was the way one scout put it.
"I think that was a big part of his problem last year: You could almost see him start thinking about his delivery when things went bad for him, and that led to overthrowing, especially with the slider, and before he knew it he was a mess mentally. It got to the point where his body language told you he was expecting the worst every time he pitched. He's got to get that belief back, and that's not always easy."
Another scout, one who was a former major league pitcher, cited similar issues but sees them as reason to believe Diaz will pitch at a high level this season.
"His mechanics are borderline awful but he's always made them work, like most guys who can throw a billion," the scout said. "He's a hard guy to break down because when I look at his mechanics I don't even know where to begin. He does so many things you wouldn't teach a young pitcher but he's got an electric, special arm and his funky delivery is tough on hitters.
"For me it's all about the slider. In Seattle it had good tilt, great break, and late action that made it kind of disappear down-and-away to righties. But last year he threw too many flat ones and it was a mediocre pitch. It should be a damn wipeout because he's got a funky leg kick, funky arm action, and he lands closed (which helps hide the ball).
"If he throws to that down-and-away quadrant to righties, they should have no chance because they have to honor his 100 mph fastball. But when you lose your confidence and you start trying to force that pitch, it has slider action right out of your hand when you really want it to look like a fastball as long as it can until it has tight, late break the hitter has a hard time seeing.
"So it's more about being confident, trusting his natural delivery and letting it fly. Really, it's trusting everything -- timing, rhythm, tempo, release point. It's having that attitude of I don't care who's hitting or if the bases are loaded or what, I can get you out.
"But when you're blowing games and getting booed it's hard to have that bravado. I don't who you are, you start fighting that feeling of, 'can I do this?' That's what I saw last year, and I think he can get it back but I wouldn't bet the mortgage on it because I can't be sure if it was just something that snowballed on him or if the high-pressure environment was a factor."
The high-pressure environment known as New York, that is.
All of the scouts/execs I spoke to acknowledge the big-stage element of the equation has to be taken into account, as Diaz hadn't experienced anything similar while pitching in Seattle for a team that was a non-contender.
The ones who expect a bounce-back from Diaz believe he'll be better equipped to deal with the media scrutiny and the high expectations the second time around, which will allow him to get back to pitching with dominance.
"I think it's fair to say he might have been a little overwhelmed by everything that comes with closing in New York," one scout said. "We've seen lot of guys struggle in their first year in a place where so much is expected, and then become more acclimated the next year.
"I think that will happen for Diaz, and I don't think it's more complicated than that. The stuff is too good to get all wrapped up in mechanics. If he can relax and just be natural with his delivery, he'll go back to being the guy he was in Seattle."
The scouts who aren't sold on a bounce-back, meanwhile, need to see proof that Diaz can control his emotions, and as such his command, when he's thrown back into the same high-pressure setting.
What they all agree on is that, to a large degree, success for the Mets in 2020 will be riding on it.