The Mets’ starting rotation was well known as one of the best starting rotations in baseball in 2016, and they will likely still be up there in 2017. What might have quietly snuck under the radar is the fact that the Mets’ bullpen was also one of the best in baseball. Their collective 3.77 RA9 was third in the NL behind the Nationals and the Dodgers, and they led all of baseball with a 3.58 FIP.
The best relievers were already guaranteed to return to the team this upcoming season since they are still on their rookie deals. Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia are arbitration eligible and will be making a combined $15.2 million in 2017. Hansel Robles will be making the league minimum.
Familia got most of the attention last year because of “teh savez,” but he also has one of the nastiest sinkers in baseball that has averaged 97 MPH since 2014. He was bound to regress from his 1.85 RA9 in 2015, and in 2016 he indeed regressed by over a full run to a 2.90 RA9. His 89.4 percent strand rate in 2015 regressed to the mean, as did his walk rate, which in 2016 was approximately three percentage points lower than his career rate.
Believe it or not, the Mets’ best reliever in 2016 was Addison Reed. He had a 2.09 RA9 and led the NL among relievers with 2.9 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. He was one of only six players in baseball to have a FIP below two, thanks to his excellent 29.9 percent strikeout rate and 4.3 percent walk rate.
I can’t say for sure, but it looks like pitching coach Dan Warthen worked his magic again with Reed. He had a career 4.40 RA9 before arriving in New York, and since then he has turned in a stellar 1.93 RA9 in 93 IP. His strikeout rate has also gone up by five percentage points. He will be a free agent after 2017, so if he keeps this up he will stand to get a pretty nice contract next offseason. Regardless, he has turned into a great acquisition who only cost some spare parts.
Though not at the level of Familia and Reed, Robles has been effective since debuting in 2015. He had a 3.71 RA9 and 3.56 FIP in 2016, though his walk rates were a little high.
Jerry Blevins signed as a free agent in 2015 and had quite a good season himself. He only pitched 42 innings, but he had a 3.00 RA9 and struck out 29.3 percent of batters faced. Blevins has always been a solid reliever, but unless he has become another beneficiary of Warthen’s magic, he will probably regress some in 2017. Even at only one year and $6 million, it isn’t without risk. Blevins was a sub-replacement level player in 2014, and he missed almost all of 2015 due to injury, though to be fair, that did involve terrible luck.
The Mets also decided to bring back Fernando Salas. He was a waver wire acquisition from the Angels at the end of August. He had an outstanding September with the Mets, with a 2.08 RA9 and 30.7 percent strikeout rate, and he walked nobody. Of course, that was over only 17 1⁄3 innings, so call me crazy, but I don’t believe that is going to continue in 2017. Still, he will only make $3 million and should be a solid depth piece.
Needing some more left-handed depth, the Mets also signed 12-year veteran Tom Gorzelanny to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. If he makes the team, he will make $1 million. He barely played in the majors in 2016, and in 2015 he pitched very poorly with a 6.41 RA9. He could still be used as a left-handed specialist, as hitters have a .224/.302/.356 line against him for his career.
It is important to note that the added depth is especially important with Familia’s status for 2017 up in the air. He is likely to suffer a suspension as a result of an alleged domestic violence incident.
It is important to note that the Mets’ bullpen ranked in the middle of the pack in 2016 by DRA. Their pitcher-friendly ballpark is sure to be a reason for that, and if we take a look at the DRA run values for Mets’ pitchers, the common theme is that they benefited from good pitch framing and a high number of outs generated on balls in play. That is different than BABIP luck. The DRA model concluded that Mets pitchers benefited from an abnormally high number of outs given the type of contact they gave up. It’s odd because their defense was bad.
The projections are not high on the Mets’ relievers, but that is because projections are rarely high on relievers in general. Projections are based on historical comparisons, and history shows that reliever performance is highly volatile. That is why Familia, for example, despite being worth 2.3 fWAR in 2016, is projected by Steamer to be worth 0.9 WAR in 2017. ZiPS has him at 1 WAR. I suspect that most would take the over on those numbers, though Familia did have an unsustainably small 2.6 percent HR/FB ratio that will very likely regress.
It could be that projections do not know what to do with today’s best relievers. That, however, is a topic best suited for another time.
Salas has a projected 4.09 RA9 and 0.4 WAR according to Steamer, which makes sense given his track record. Reed and Blevins are projected at 3.74 RA9 and 3.80 RA9, respectively, and less than 1 WAR each. They are projected to have big regressions because their 2016 performances are completely out of line with their track records. It would be crazy to project their 2016 seasons as being representative of their true talent. However, if Reed and Blevins have made any real changes, the projections would not know that. It will be very interesting to see how those two do in 2017. Reliever performance is so hard to predict.
The Mets are bringing back their 2016 bullpen with additions that, at least in the case of Blevins and Salas, have upside to them. Some of the pitchers are likely to suffer some regression, but they should still be effective. The team stands to do an excellent overall job in run prevention in 2017. Unfortunately, the run scoring is still a big question mark, as they were tied with the Brewers for fifth fewest runs in baseball. Hopefully, better injury luck will improve that. The Nationals might be too good for them to win the division, but they can definitely win a Wild Card slot again.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.