JUPITER, Fla. — If these Mets don’t hit, you’ll be surprised.
If their starting pitchers don’t consistently keep their club in the game, you’ll be surprised.
If their bullpen blows a bunch of leads, imperiling the team’s championship aspirations?
To quote a former Mets manager, it’ll be like déjà vu all over again.
Maybe you worry most about the Mets’ team defense, or their overall fundamental play. Mets fans can express angst through myriad prisms, though, and if you break them down by position group, the bullpen has to rank as the top concern. Last year, the Mets’ relief unit placed ninth in the National League with 0.6 wins above replacement (thanks, FanGraphs), which marked their best such ranking since 2016, when their 5.4 WAR led the NL.
On Thursday, the Mets will begin putting their veteran relievers to work, with the quintet of Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Trevor May, Robert Gsellman and Aaron Loup on the schedule to face the Nationals at Clover Park. They are five of the eight Mets relievers earning more than $1 million. One of those eight, Seth Lugo, will miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery last month to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.
Trying to be more positive in the Steve Cohen Era? Prefer to stay humble after the Wilpons’ departure? Have it both ways. Here’s a breakdown — examining both the bright side and the dark side of their 2021 prospects — of the Mets’ eight experienced arms in the bullpen. We’ll do it in order of 2020 WAR:
1. Edwin Diaz (0.9)
Bright side: His second Mets season proved far better than his first, as he posted a 1.75 ERA and converted six of nine save opportunities.
Dark side: He did this in empty ballparks, after he sure seemed to feel the fan heat during his epically awful 2019. And even last year’s small sample featured a couple of real-doozy blown saves.
2. Trevor May (0.4)
Bright side: Quite simply, he has pitched very well since returning from Tommy John surgery in July 2018. He’s a decent bet at $15.5 million over two years.
Dark side: In last year’s COVID-shortened campaign, he permitted a career-worst 1.9 homers per nine innings and saw hitters tag him for an average exit velocity of 91.1 mph, his worst of the Statcast era (since 2015).
3. Seth Lugo (0.4)
Bright side: At his best, he’s good enough to contemplate switching back to the starting rotation, which the Mets did last year.
Dark side: Just have to make sure the effects of the surgery, low-risk and low-grade on a pitcher’s scale, don’t linger.
4. Miguel Castro (0.3)
Bright side: He has put together an ERA+ above league average each of the past four seasons.
Dark side: Since 2018, he has averaged 5.1 walks per nine innings. Yeesh.
5. Aaron Loup (0.2)
Bright side: The Louisiana-born lefty neutralizes like-sided hitters to a career slash line of .232/.301/.319.
Dark side: His opponents’ exit velocity (86.9 mph) and launch angle (11 degrees) both spiked last year while with the Rays, and the 2021 Mets’ defense won’t match the 2020 Rays’.
Bright side: From 2014 through 2018, only Wade Davis (11.9) topped Betances’ 11.7 WAR, and just barely (thanks, Baseball-Reference.com).
Dark side: Betances’ body betrayed him the past two seasons, last year with the Mets and the year prior with the Yankees. Can it rebound from that heavy pinstriped workload?
7. Jeurys Familia (-0.1)
Bright side: Last year (3.71 ERA) marked an upgrade over his hellish 2019 (5.70).
Dark side: His 4.92 FIP last year was actually a touch worse than his 4.88 in 2019, meaning he likely enjoyed some good fortune in 2020.
8. Robert Gsellman (-0.2)
Bright side: He forever carries the feel of someone with untapped potential, which is why the Mets tendered him a contract for this season.
Dark side: He never seems to tap that potential.