Mets Must Pitch J.D. Davis Early And Often
Major League Baseball has implemented new rules which not only restrict the use of left-handed relievers (i.e. LOOGYS), but they have also severely restricted the ability of position players to pitch in games. In fact, according to the new rules, a position player may not pitch unless it is extra innings or “his team is losing or winning by more than six runs when he enters as a pitcher.”
There is a caveat there where a position player can freely enter a game if they are designated as a two-way player. A two way player is someone who has 20 games started as a position player and has pitched 20 innings. As the rule implies, this is a status a player achieves during the course of the season.
Obviously, the 20 way player rule was implemented for a player like Shohei Ohtani who serves as both the Angels DH and a member of their pitching rotation. However, that does not mean other teams should not look to take advantage of this rule.
For the Mets, that means pitching J.D. Davis every opportunity they get.
When the Mets traded for Davis, one of the justifications for the deal was he could step in a reliever if needed. In fact, in his brief Major League career up until that point, Davis had made three relief appearances for the Houston Astros allowing an earned run over 2.2 innings. In those 2.2 innings, he struck out four and walked one.
That was his first pitching experience since college. While at Cal State Fullerton, Davis had 20 appearances. While pitching 43.1 innings, he had a 2.70 ERA, 1.177 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, and an 8.1 K/9. In his draft report, Baseball America noted ” shows good arm strength off the mound, showing 91-93 mph heat and a decent breaking ball, but his fastball is straight and his arm action isn’t great.”
Put more succinctly, Davis isn’t a Major League quality reliever, but he is a capable pitcher who could help a team out of the bullpen in a real pinch. The thing is you never know when that pinch is going to come.
Far too often, we see times in the season where the Mets pitching staff is completely gassed. The pitchers weren’t giving the length needed. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have begun piling up the multiple inning outings. That puts more of an onus on the one inning relievers to push harder than they typically should. Following the Mets, this happens at least twice a year.
With those stretches, an already questionable Mets bullpen will cost the Mets some games they wouldn’t otherwise lose. The job for new manager Luis Rojas and new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner is to find ways to mitigate against that. While being more judicious in how you use your pitching is one element, another is knowing when you send out a position player to pitch.
Early in the season, whenever the Mets have a six run lead or deficit, they should put Davis into the game to accrue innings necessary to achieve that two way player designation. Later in the season, that will allow the Mets to use him in four or five run games when they feel they need to save their pitching staff to give them a break.
Remember, this is an extremely talented Mets bullpen, but it is one with some health issues. Lugo has the torn UCL. Gsellman partially tore his lat. Dellin Betances is coming off an Achillies, and he had shoulder issues prior to that. Justin Wilson pitched through elbow soreness. Edwin Diaz has bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Michael Wacha was shut down with shoulder problems multiple times in his career.
Point is, bullpens, even the best bullpens, need breaks whenever they can get them. That can come in the form of a Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard complete game, and it can come in the form of Davis coming into a game and eating an inning here or there when the opportunity presents itself.
In order to really accomplish that, the Mets should remember a 162 game season is a marathon, and they need to prepare in April and May for problems which may come into play in July and August. Those problems are usually bullpen exhaustion related. To best prepare for that, the Mets should begin implementing strategies to get Davis qualified as a two way player so he is available when they really need help down in the bullpen.