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Faith In The Mets Bullpen To Bounce Back?

The New York Mets have added zero pieces to the bullpen that so clearly undermined their playoff chances in 2019. While that would seem to defy logic, and it’s safe to assume that they are not done, they really only have one more spot available in their bullpen line-up (although technically Robert Gsellman does still have minor league options available). It would appear that the Mets are banking (or being forced to) on their bullpen (which is not short on resumes) to bounce back next season.

What could give them, the media or the fans any reason to think that might happen?

Last season, as we went through Spring Training and into the start of the season, we started hearing rumblings from the pitchers about the different feel of the baseball. They spoke about how the seams felt different from the past, how the ball felt smoother, like throwing an “ice cube” or a “golf ball.” Now, the easy response is to just blow it off like guys making excuses, except that we then proceeded to see home run totals skyrocket across the league, reaching all-time highs. Many accused the league of juicing the balls (something we’ve heard before), but if you believe the league’s investigation (words we hear way too often these days) it said that there was a difference in the stitching on the balls this year.

How does that affect the game? It seems that league wide, the pitchers who were affected the most were the sinker/slider-heavy pitchers. So how does this give us hope for the Mets bullpen and perhaps relievers/closers league wide? Let’s look at some numbers.

In 2019, we saw some of the best pitchers in the National League all struggle right out of the gate. Top pitchers with higher ERAs in the month of April than throughout the rest of the season included: deGrom (4.85), Scherzer (4.12), Nola (5.68), Ryu (3.38), and Gerrit Cole (3.95). However, we saw that the top pitchers in the game are usually the smartest pitchers. What we saw was them work on adjusting their breaking pitches and figure it out.

Important to remember however, that even though they are the smartest pitchers in the game, the starters have off-days on which they throw and can work on their adjusting their stuff.

Relievers on the other hand, and especially closers, do not have that kind of time off to work on adjusting their pitches. Accordingly, we did not see the top closers in the game from 2018 make such adjustments to their repertoire as the 2019 season went on.

Rather what we saw league-wide was the third highest overall blown save rate in baseball history, behind 1951 and 1974. Of the top 40 leaders in saves from 2018, we saw significant regression across the board. If you remove the 3 of those pitchers who did not pitch in 2019, the remaining top 37 closers of 2018 saw their ERA increase an AVERAGE of 1.26 runs per game (from 2.98 to 4.25). That includes 4 of the top 5 saves leaders from 2018 who saw their ERAs all INCREASE by 3.63 runs or higher, their average ERA rising from 2.40 to 6.42. A total of 13 out of the top 37 saves leaders from 2018 saw their ERAs balloon more than 2 full runs per game.

So what does that brief statistical vomit mean heading into 2020? Perhaps it means that there might be good reason to expect that a lot of pitchers who were indeed very good pitchers before crashing and burning last year might find their way back with a solid month or so of spring training to re-learn how to pitch with whatever balls the league magically graces us with this year.

For the Mets, it might mean that one, or God forbid maybe both of their young, former elite closers might bounce back to at least be serviceable in 2020. That would certainly be good news for the Mets and their playoff chances.

But these thoughts might just be only for those who dare to dabble in optimism.

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