So far this year, the Mets have had the fifth starter spot come up in the rotation 10 times, and they have had a starter go at least five innings twice. Their fill-ins, Wilmer Font and Chris Flexen, have certainly contributed to it. It’s about as bad as you get, but with them falling far short of 100 innings as a Met, they don’t yet qualify as one of the worst pitchers in Mets history. Can you name the five who do? Good luck!
When Jason Vargas on the Injured List and Steven Matz unable to make his start due to injury, the Mets needed to find a starter. Instead of recalling Corey Oswalt or Chris Flexen or making a 40 man move to call-up Hector Santiago or Casey Coleman, the Mets opted to make a trade for Wilmer Font, a 29 year old reliever with a career 6.39 ERA.
When the Mets are making trades to acquire relievers for emergency starts, you get the sense of just how poor this Mets Major League ready pitching depth is. You also see how desperately the Mets need one of their pitching prospects to step up and force their way to the Majors.
Fortunately for the Mets, Anthony Kay has not just been the organization’s best starting pitcher this year, he has arguably been the best pitcher in Double-A this year. In eight starts this year, Kay is second in the Eastern League in ERA while leading the league in complete games and shutouts. He’s second in the league in wins, fifth in the league in strikeouts, and third in WHIP. More than the numbers, he has been dominant.
We saw that again last night. In a complete game seven inning shutout (second game of a doubleheader), Kay allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out eight. In the game, only one batter would reach as far as second base, and Kay would retire 11 of the last 12 batters he faced.
Anthony Kay was masterful today for the @RumblePoniesBB: 7 innings 3 hits 0 runs 1 walk and 8 strikeouts. A complete game shutout.
Kay has a fastball with movement that can get up to 95 to go with a superb changeup and a decent curveball. He has been amazing this year. pic.twitter.com/k3OD62E1gZ
— Yehuda Schwartz (@yaschwa30) May 15, 2019
When you have a complete game shutout, there are a number of areas where you can draw your attention. When it comes to Kay and his development, the main focus from yesterday should be his issuing just one free pass. In his brief professional career, Kay has had control issues walking 3.5 per nine and 4.2 over his first six starts of the season.
Recently, Kay has had better command. In his last two starts, he has pitched seven innings and issued just one walk. He has gone from throwing strikes 60 percent of the time to throwing strikes 70 percent of the time. His pounding the strike zone has permitted him to befuddle hitters and go deeper into games. When he is pounding the strike zone like this, you really take note of his stuff.
The first thing which stands out is his curveball. According to Baseball America, it has an average spin rate of 3,000 RPM. That’s Seth Lugo territory. In addition to a high spin rate on his curveball, Kay has an excellent spin rate on his fastball. His fastball typically sits in the lower 90s, but he is able to ramp it up around 96 MPH. Combine that with a change-up with a 10 MPH difference than his fastball, and you have the makings of what could be a very good starting pitcher at the Major League level.
Before even discussing him at the Major League level, the Mets first need to see Kay in Syracuse. He needs to work with Mickey Abbott to further hone his delivery and control. The Mets need to see him against a higher level of competition to make a better evaluation of whether he is ready to pitch at the Major League level. Considering how Kay has been dominating in the Eastern League and the Mets not having a Triple-A pitcher they want to slot into their rotation, it would seem the time is now to send Kay to Syracuse.
Once Kay is in Syracuse, the Mets can get a much better read of how he performs against better competition, and they can better determine if he is going to be a part of the 2019 Mets pitching staff in some capacity. Considering the depth, the Mets should find this out sooner rather than later, which is why Kay’s next start should be in Syracuse.
When analyzing the Mets acquisition of Wilmer Font, it is important to start with who Font is before turning to what exactly the Mets parted with to obtain him. When it comes to Font, the Mets really obtained a duplicative asset who wasn’t of much, if any, value.
Font is a 29 year old reliever with a career 6.39 ERA, 1.493 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, and a 7.7 K/9. He has a career -0.3 WAR He has never made more than 19 appearances or pitched more than 44.0 innings. Last year, he pitched for three teams. That’s the way it usually goes for players with tantalizing talent who cannot translate their success to the Major League level.
He certainly tantalized the Rays last year with a 1.67 ERA (with peripherals which screamed regression) in nine appearances for them last year. Of course, the real Font returned this year. In 10 appearances for the Rays, he had a 5.79 ERA with a 3.2 BB/9. With him being out of options, it would appear it was only a matter of time before Font was designated for assignment than being a trade asset.
As we know, the Mets would step in and make a trade for Font. Despite having Corey Oswalt and Chris Flexen, two pitchers with comparable stats to Font, the Mets made the trade for Font. Instead of signing Hector Santiago, and touting him as a former All Star, the Mets made a trade for Font. Instead of calling up Casey Coleman, a pitcher with better results at the Major League level in his career, and who was showing he was capable of being that three inning reliever Font truly is, the Mets swung a trade.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. The Mets were well within their rights to prefer Font over the pitchers they already had. Certainly, F0nt’s ability to be plugged in right away helped his case. While that may be the case, the point to remember here is Font is a bad Major League pitcher with no value whatsoever.
The Mets then traded an asset for Font. The asset was an 18 year old pitcher named Neraldo Catalina.
Now, not much is known about Catalina other than his age and the fact he signed for $150,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Yesterday, Mets Minors had a write up on him. Basically, Catalina is a power arm with a strong build who was going to debut stateside this year.
There are any number of potential outcomes with Catalina. He could be like any number of teenage pitchers who sign out of the Dominican Republic who don’t pan out to be anything. It’s certainly possible he could be nothing more than a footnote listed in the transaction portion of Font’s Baseball Reference page. He could also pan out to be like Jeurys Familia, who had signed for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic back in 2007.
But that’s the thing, Catalina has the potential to be anything. He’s an asset, and it’s why the Mets used their bonus pool money to obtain him. After all, if the team didn’t think he was worth anything, they wouldn’t have given him anything.
It’s the same exact situation with Felix Valerio. Does anyone really know what the Mets had in Valerio? Probably not, but the problem is the Mets are included in that group of people. As reported by Fangraphs, the Mets don’t scout beneath full-season ball. This means players like Valerio, who played in the Dominican Summer League, aren’t scouted by the Mets. Considering short season affiliates have not yet started their seasons, the Mets supposedly revamped front office has not had the opportunity to self scout players like Valerio or Catalina.
To make matters worse, the Mets are trading players of whom they have little to no knowledge for players who are out of options and are on the brink of getting cut. It was Catalina for Font, and it was Valerio for Keon Broxton, who has been terrible. Yes, the Mets also gave up Bobby Wahl and Adam Hill in the Broxton deal, but that’s also the point. They included Valerio in a deal where Wahl and Hill should have been sufficient.
Should fans be up in arms over losing Catalina? Maybe. We honestly don’t know. He could be great,and he could be terrible. With him not pitching one inning in the Mets organization, no one can know anything for certain. But that’s also the point here. The Mets don’t know what they have in these players, and they are trading them anyway.
They’re doing it because they’ve become very short-sighted in their win-now mentality. That’s odd considering that mentality which does not extend to signing Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel or to guaranteeing a rotation spot to Gio Gonzalez over a terrible Jason Vargas. The Mets are also doing it because they’re playing the odds that even if Catalina does eventually succeed it will be so remote in time that no one is going to immediately link Catalina to Font or the Mets.
In the end, Catalina is a symptom of a problem. This trade is an example of the poor depth the Mets built this past offseason. It’s a further indication the team not only is unaware of the value of their assets, they also don’t understand the value of bottom of the roster players on the trade front. Mostly, it’s another sign of how the team is more than willing to do away with organizational depth and talent instead of actually spending the money which was required to build the team into the “Come get us!” team the Mets advertised themselves to be.
This game was starting to look awfully familiar. Even with Amed Rosario hitting an RBI triple, he was bad in the field making yet another error. The offense wasn’t scoring runs at all putting Zack Wheeler in a position to be a hard luck loser.
Wheeler was good against the team he was almost traded to four years ago. In seven innings, he allowed two earned on six hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts. Even with him pitching well, in a sick twist, he was in a position to get the loss against Gio Gonzalez.That was until Pete Alonso came up to the plate against Junior Guerra:
— New York Mets (@Mets) May 5, 2019
As Mark Simon of Sports Info Solutions points out, Alonso is now 6-for-10 with three homers in the ninth inning. This is exactly what clutch looks like.
Seth Lugo was also clutch pitching three scoreless innings. Edwin Diaz came into a tie game in the 12th, and he didn’t allow a home run. He would get through the inning unscathed with some help from Jeff McNeil, who made a diving catch to rob Ryan Braun of an extra bass hit.
McNeil came up big again in the 13th. Despite being 0-for-5 up until that point, with two outs, he singled sending Hechavarria to third. The Brewers went to the bullpen to bring in Adrian Houser to face Alonso. Unfortunately, Alonso didn’t come through a second time.
O’Rourke was not particularly effective. He walked both Eric Thames and Mike Moustakas, but he was still able to get through the inning because Wilson Ramos picked Thames off first, and Yasmani Grandal flew out to end the inning.
That left Robert Gsellman as the last line of defense. He navigated his way through a Braun one out double in the 14th. On the play, Rosario just dropped a throw from Michael Conforto, which arrived much earlier than Braun did.
Rosario was at it again in the 15th. His error allowed Hernan Perez to get on to lead-off the inning. Tomas Nido would erase him on the basepaths when Perez tried to advance on a ball which trickled not too far from Nido.
Fortunately, the 16th inning was uneventful for Gsellman, which sent the game to the 17th. It wouldn’t be Gsellman for the 17th as Steven Matz pinch hit for him. This meant it was all gong to be on Chris Flexen.
FINALLY, in the 18th, McNeil would drive home a run. His two out RBI single in the 18th knocked in Hechavarria who easily beat Braun’s run home. It was McNeil’s third straight hit in extras after not getting a hit through nine.
Flexen wasn’t going to make it easy walking Thames to start the inning, and he’d walk Grandal and Travis Shaw to load the bases with one out. Specifically with the Shaw at-bat, Angel Hernandez missed pitches in the strike zone and called then mmm balls.
With that, Braun would hit a ball Alonso couldn’t handle. It was hit very hard, and really, it was a problem of Flexens making.
In the end, it took 18 innings and 33 games for the Mets to finally go under .500.
Game Notes: Adeiny Hechavarria made his Mets debut getting double switched into the game in the ninth.
After losing two out of three to the Cardinals, the Mets have lost six of their last eight games, and they are now just one game over .500. In the series and this bad stretch as a whole, we are starting to see some troubling patterns emerge:
- This Mets team was supposedly all-in, and Brodie Van Wagenen had a “Come get us!” bravado. Somehow, this led to Jason Vargas and Chris Flexen starting in back-to-back games. The season isn’t even a month old, and the Mets complete lack of pitching depth is already getting exposed.
- There is no good explanation why the Mets would have Jacob deGrom skip a precautionary MRI when he landed on the disabled list due to an elbow injury.
- Moreover, in a game against a team the Mets may very well be competing for a Wild Card spot this season, the Mets threw Flexen, Luis Avilan, Jacob Rhame, and Paul Sewald.
- If Avilan is not going to be used as a LOOGY but instead as a mop up reliever, you have to question why he is even on this roster.
- At some point you do have to question if this is really a bad team. Through 21 games, the team has a -19 run differential. The only team with a worse run differential in the National League is the Marlins.
- Again, the defense the Mets put behind their pitching is embarrassing. Their -22 DRS is the worst in the National League, and the combination of Amed Rosario and J.D. Davis form the worst left side of the infield in the majors by a pretty healthy margin.
- With respect to Rosario, at some point we have to question if this is who he is. He’s not making real progress in any parts of his game, and it’s getting to the point where he is hurting the Mets (again) on both sides of the ball.
- It is possible Rosario could use a day off. However, the short sighted Mets decided Luis Guillorme again did not merit a fair opportunity and instead chose to carry a string of Four-A relievers. So in addition to no pitching depth, the Mets have no shortstop depth.
- On Davis, there is no way you want him in the outfield. He’s slower than Freddie Freeman, Hanley Ramirez, and Jay Bruce among others.
- Davis’ inability to play third and the fact he can’t hit the fastball (.167), you cannot continue to play him once Todd Frazier is up. Sure, he had one or two nice games, but you cannot let small sample size successes blur the picture, especially when his defense is killing the Mets out there.
- If you look at Noah Syndergaard‘s advanced numbers, he’s the same pitcher he has always been. The biggest issue for him has been the defense. When the ball is in play, it’s a hit as evidenced by his .346 BABIP against (he’s at .311 for his career) and his 50.6% strand rate (career 73.7%).
- Really, Syndergaard has been unlucky because the fielding behind him is putrid. Hence, he has a 2.92 FIP.
- On the subject of Syndergaard, narratives are just tiresome. For example, when Syndergaard is bad in Philadelphia, not one word is said about Wilson Ramos‘ catching, but when it’s Travis d’Arnaud, we hear trumped up charges saying he’s not a good catcher or game caller. In the end, it’s confirmation bias.
- With respect to d’Arnaud, it’s clear he wasn’t yet ready to return. Certainly, you have to question why they rushed him back when the team was winning, and Tomas Nido was doing a quality job in the games he played.
- Robert Gsellman has been terrific of late. Not only did he bail the Mets out of that eighth inning jam, but he also pitched three innings to save the bullpen yesterday. If the Mets aren’t going to do the right thing and sign Gio Gonzalez or Dallas Keuchel, it may be time to start stretching him out to replace Vargas in the rotation.
- Good for Pete Alonso to respond to his first slump by mashing the ball against the Cardinals. Also, you have to love him talking his way into the lineup a day after having to leave the game with his getting hit by a pitch on the hand.
- The umpires handling of Robinson Cano getting hit on the hand was embarrassing for baseball and the umpires. There was no way he swung, and when you make a call that egregious, you cannot throw out Mickey Callaway.
- We are seeing Jeff McNeil in his first real slump as a Major Leaguer. In the series, he was 1-f0r-11. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals discovered something other teams could emulate, or if St. Louis is just a terrible place where good things go to die.
- With all the troubles the Mets are having right now, Keon Broxton is getting saved from the spotlight, which is good for him because he has been terrible.
- If the only impediment to signing Craig Kimbrel is he wants to close, the Mets are even dumber than you could have imagined for wanting to have Rhame on the roster just so they could have Edwin Diaz close.
In the offseason, the Mets traded over five prospects. Why? They were all-in.
The Mets opted to forego a year of control over Pete Alonso by having him start the year on the Opening Day roster. Why? The Mets we’re all-in.
The Mets opted to go with just four MLB caliber starting pitchers in their organization because that’s apparently being all-in as well.
On the bright side Flexen was throwing 96 MPH. On the downside was everything else.
Flexen got through the first unscathed, but the wheels would come off starting with a Wilson Ramos passed ball allowing Jose Martinez to score. During that at-bat, Miles Mikolas would deliver with a two RBI single giving the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.
That was it. Game over.
Mikolas was cruising, and one pitcher after another couldn’t get out of their own way. Here are their disappointing but not unexpected final lines:
- Chris Flexen 4.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 0 K
- Luis Avilan 1.1 IP, H, 2 R, 2 ER, BB, 2 K
- Jacob Rhame 1.1 IP, H, R, ER, 2 BB, 0 K
- Paul Sewald 1.0 IP, H, R, ER, 0 BB, 0 K
Against a team the Mets are likely going to fight for a Wild Card spot, the Mets threw Flexen, Avilan, Rhame, and Sewald. They did it because they came into the season with no depth, and by mid-April, it’s already become an issue.
We also the Mets play continued shoddy defense. We also saw their offense begin to regress to the mean meaning it wasn’t there this time to bail out the pitching or defense.
Other fun notes include the Mets opting not to have deGrom undergo an MRI despite him having an elbow injury significant enough to put him on the IL. Alonso was hit on the hand with x-rays fortunately being negative.
Mostly, the Mets have been outscored by 17 runs this year, and they’ve allowed over 10 runs five times. It’s still early, but we’re starting to see very real problems with this team, and the way Van Wagenen built it, you legitimately have to ask how fixable they are.
According to his deal with the New York Yankees, Gio Gonzalez can opt out of his minor league deal today. If and more likely when he exercises his opt out, the Yankees have 48 hours to decide whether or not they want to call him up to the majors or release him.
Now, calling him up may not be as clear cut with him due $300,000 per start. If he were to make even 20 starts, he’d be due $6 million on top of his $3 million base salary. You’d have to imagine even for the Yankees $9+ million is a lot for a sixth or seventh starter.
Of course, the Yankees could circumvent this two ways. First, they can use their exclusive window to renegotiate a deal. On that front, it is interesting to see if Gonzalez switching from Boras to CAA would serve as a benefit or impediment in those discussions.
The other option would be to call him up and put him in the bullpen. If he was in the bullpen, he’s not earning $300,000 per appearance. It should be noted this isn’t necessarily a bad faith decision as Chad Green and Jonathan Holder have gotten off to poor starts.
In the short term, Gonzalez can be a boost in the bullpen, and in the long term, he’s insurance for a Yankees rotation who still does not know when or if Luis Severino will return.
While the Yankees have plenty of incentive to keep him, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports the Yankees are not expected to keep Gonzalez thereby making him a free agent.
If the reports are true, the Mets need to immediately pounce.
With the news Jacob deGrom is headed to the Injured List with a not yet known elbow injury, we’re reminded how thin the Mets starting pitching depth is. We’re also reminded how much the Mets rotation needs another starter with each and every Jason Vargas start.
With respect to Gonzalez, he has been good in his last two Triple-A starts. Over his last 11 innings, he has allowed two earned while walking three and striking out 18. It should be noted that’s good, not great. But by the same token, unlike Dallas Keuchel, he has actually pitched in competitive games and can be ready to pitch literally tomorrow. For that matter, he promises to be much cheaper.
With respect to Gonzalez, it’s difficult to argue he’s much more than a fifth starter. He walks too many, and his strikeouts have continuously declined since 2012. Last year, he walked 4.2 per nine while striking out just 7.8 per nine. That’s a rather unacceptable 1.85 K/BB.
According to Baseball Savant, Gonzalez did have excellent spin rates while being above average in yielding hard hit balls and exit velocities. Still, Gonzalez has been quite hittable, and as noted, he makes matters worse with the free passes.
And yet, he’s a better option than Vargas, who has pitched just 9.1 innings over three starts because the Mets have no faith in him past 80 pitches. That’s if they even have faith in him with his first 80.
At the point, Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, and Drew Gagnon have yet to prove themselves at the Major League level. We can ascertain the Mets level of faith in each of them by them not really being put in a position to push Vargas during Spring Training.
So overall, it’s fairly clear the Mets need another starter, and they need that starter now. While Keuchel is the pitcher most everyone wants, Gonzalez is the guy who is cheaper and will be ready to pitch sooner. When you break it down, the Mets can do worse than Gonzalez.
In fact, the team has been doing worse than him, which is why they need to act fast to sign him as soon as he becomes available.
Last night, we once again saw Mickey Callaway‘s go to Robert Gsellman, who is arguably the team’s fifth best reliever with the game on the line in the eighth inning. Callaway did this because he had little other choice.
This means when the game is on the line with one or two outs in the seventh, the Mets must pitch anyone other than Diaz. It does not matter if the team had a short start from someone like Jason Vargas and has to throw Chris Flexen the following day in place of an injured Jacob deGrom.
This means the Mets will have to send in lesser relievers against the Phillies, a team they will fight season long for the division, or the Cardinals, a team the Mets will potentially be competing against for a Wild Card spot.
This means if there is a tie game on the road, Diaz doesn’t enter the game. Like we saw in Philadelphia, Diaz stays in the bullpen like Buck Showalter once had Zack Britton infamously stay in the bullpen in a tie game waiting for a save opportunity which may never arise.
Right now, there’s no gray area. There’s no assessing the team’s and bullpen’s needs day-to-day. Instead, the Mets are putting a premium on limiting Diaz’s usage.
Ultimately, like with the Joba Rules, it means the General Manager does not trust the manager with a young reliever. It means despite all the Mets gave up to acquire him, the Mets are not going to allow Diaz to be the game changing closer they purported him to be. It means a supposed all-in team is willing to lose games to save a closer for a postseason run which may never materialize.
The Mets went to Atlanta in first place, and they leave a half-game back. At one point, it didn’t seem like it was going to be the case, but that is how it proved to shake out. There were a number of reasons why:
- The Mets had the Braves on their heels, and they were in a position for a statement making four game sweep. Instead, they walk away with a split. The biggest reason why is they started Jason Vargas.
- The Mets need to give Corey Oswalt an opportunity to succeed. They had him rush to be ready to relieve on three days rests, and they instead had him on extended rest. They then decide to have him rush his warm-ups to enter a game with runners on base. How did they think his outing on Saturday was going to go.
- The Mets have to make a decision once and for all with the fifth starter spot. Enough of these half measures. It’s either Vargas or an open try out. You can’t keep pushing Vargas back and putting more pressure on the rest of the rotation. It’s still April, and the Mets are running their rotation like it’s late September and there’s a postseason spot on the line.
- Dave Eiland said it well when he said no one can succeed with how the Mets are handling Vargas. If the team doesn’t trust him, name Oswalt or Chris Flexen the fifth starter or sign Dallas Keuchel. If they do trust him, keep him in the rotation on regular rest. Overall, don’t make things worse than they already are.
- If the Padres get Keuchel on top of signing Manny Machado and having Fernando Tatis Jr. being the season in the majors, the Padres will be everything Brodie Van Wagenen has purported the Mets to be.
- The Mets sold us they needed Pete Alonso on the Opening Day roster to win the division. In that time, they won eight games. With their starting Vargas, they gave one of those wins back, and Vargas (or the fifth starters spot) has at least 28 starts to go.
- Just as we all expected, Steven Matz has been the best pitcher in the Mets rotation. If he continues to be so, he’s going to help overcome a lot of the problems created by the fifth starter spot.
- Zack Wheeler and Brandon Nimmo showed in Atlanta we should not overreact to slow starts from people who have historically performed. That is something to remember as Robinson Cano is hitting .183 with a -0.3 WAR.
- Michael Conforto is playing like an MVP candidate. Mets should be looking to lock him up, and don’t play the Scott Boras card. The Nationals locked up Stephen Strasburg. It may be an uphill climb, but it is possible if you have the will.
- With Jacob deGrom struggling with Wilson Ramos behind the plate, we can probably put to rest the insane notion deGrom’s last start was attributable to Travis d’Arnaud.
- The biggest warning sign with deGrom is batters hitting the long ball against him again. It may be just a slight adjustment, but he needs to find a way to keep the ball in the ballpark again. On the other hand, deGrom is striking out batters more than he ever has (14.7 K/9).
- Ramos really needs to step up his game. He’s been quite poor behind the plate with very poor pitch framing and balls getting by him. While he’s hitting, he’s bound to regress as he’s hitting for no power, and he’s hitting the ball on the ground.
- While J.D. Davis hit that homer, his defense is hurting the team. Yesterday, his inability to make a play on an Ender Inciarte infield single helped drive up deGrom’s pitch count, and it led to deGrom not being able to have the pitcher lead off the top of the third. These little things always look large.
- Mets defense is the worst in the National League, and Davis leads the way with a -5 DRS. This is why when Todd Frazier is ready, the team should give consideration to keeping Luis Guillorme up. Another reason why is Amed Rosario (-3 DRS) has not played a particularly good shortstop.
- If Frazier was smart, he would not come up one second before he was ready. He can ill afford another injury plagued year, and with the team’s depth, if he doesn’t get off to a hot start, he may never get off the bench.
- It’s odd how quiet things are surrounding Jed Lowrie.
- Sometimes we over focus on what guys are instead of understanding their roles. Paul Sewald is well suited for mop up duty and for eating up innings. The 1.1 innings he gave yesterday helped save the pen a bit.
- The Mets offense is humming, but there are some warning signs. Alonso is striking out 30.6% of the time. Jeff McNeil has a .439 BABIP. Ramos has a 64.1% ground ball rate. Who knows what to make of Rosario yet?
- The Mets have missed an opportunity in the past two division series losing a series to the Nationals at home and missing a chance to win or sweep a four game set against the Braves.
- With Tiger Woods winning The Masters, the Game of Thrones premiere, and the extensive Hank Aaron interview during the game, the Mets were a complete afterthought yesterday, which is a shame because that was a first place Mets team playing a bitter rival.
After last night’s game, Mickey Callaway indicated the team was looking to get only five innings out of Jason Vargas. This was the plan even with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia being unavailable and with Seth Lugo feeling sick. With the Marlins hitting rockets off Vargas, Callaway held hard and fast to the plan removing Vargas after just 74 pitches.
While the win was nice, Vargas’ performance and the plan for him is troubling. After all, if the Mets cannot trust Vargas to go more than five innings against the Marlins, what are they going to do when he faces the other teams in the division? Do the Mets see him even reaching the fifth against lineups featuring Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, or Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto?
The answer is probably no, and the question is how the Mets plan to adapt.
The obvious choice is to remove Vargas from the rotation. The issue there is their Triple-A starters did not fare well in the Majors last year. While you may believe in Corey Oswalt‘s increased Spring velocity or Chris Flexen‘s new physique, it would be wise to give them time in Syracuse first to see if their offseason progress translates to results.
Last year, the Rays were the first to utilize an opener. In tabbing Sergio Romo as his opener, Rays manager Kevin Cash said, “The way that their lineup stacks generally speaking is very heavy right-handed at the top It allows us in theory to let Sergio to come in there and play the matchup game in the first . . . .” (Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times).
In essence, the goal of the opener is to get a traditional reliever to start the game and face a platoon advantage in the first. After the reliever gets through the top of the order, the starter can come in and “start” his game against the bottom of the lineup thereby permitting him to not only get an easier start to the game, but arguably, to get deeper into the game.
In the case of Vargas, you saw the Marlins stack right-handed batters against him. After all, it makes sense with right-handed hitters hitting Vargas well. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, right-handed batters are hitting .262/.324/.464 off of him, which translates to a 4.74 FIP.
As a result, the Mets need an opener who can counteract a team loading up their right-handed batters against Vargas. Given his history as a starter, it would make sense for the Mets to make Robert Gsellman as the opener on the games Vargas starts.
From what we see so far this season, Gsellman is not part of the late inning mix. That is reserved for Diaz, Familia, Lugo, and Justin Wilson. Rather, Gsellman is going to be used like he has been so far in this series. When the starter goes five (or less), he is going to be the first guy out of the pen to eat some innings before handing it to the late inning relievers.
If the team is going to use Gsellman for an inning or two whenever Vargas starts, why not make it at the beginning of a game? Why not put pressure on the opposing manager to opt for either having right-handed batters face Gsellman so they’re in place to face Vargas later, or to start their left-handed batters and have a wave of substitutions to face Vargas?
The point is by starting the game with Gsellman, Callaway would be creating a situation that is beneficial for Vargas to enter the game. If you are only getting five innings from him, why not make it against a team’s worse hitters? Why not use Gsellman against a right-handed lineup without fear of seeing a pinch-hitter? If nothing else, it can’t hurt.