Seth Lugo

Jon Niese Could Be a Valuable Reliever

Last year, when it was apparent he was not going to be a part of the postseason rotation, Jon Niese volunteered to go to the bullpen. As it turned out, he became a valuable part of the Mets postseason bullpen. 

In five of Niese’s six postseason appearances, he did not permit a run. He was nearly perfect over 4.1 innings allowing just two hits while striking out five batters. He got a big strikeout of Anthony Rizzo in Game Two of the NLCS:

He kept the Mets alive in Game One of the World Series with two huge scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th innings. He bailed Steven Matz out of a tight sixth inning while seemingly being the only Mets pitcher to get Eric Hosmer out in a big spot. In a do-or-die Game Five, he pitched a scoreless tenth. Overall, Niese was terrific in big spots, and he came through when the Mets needed him most. It really was shocking given his well-earned reputation as a head case. 

In the offseason, the Mets traded him for Neil Walker, and even under the tutelage of arguably the best pitching coach in the game, Niese has been terrible going 7-6 with a 5.13 ERA, 1.574 WHIP, 80 ERA+, and a 5.49 FIP. These are easily the worst stats of his career, and as a result, Niese finds himself back in the bullpen. 

Somewhat surprisingly, the Mets are interested in a reunion with Niese. They’re possibly interested with Logan Verrett failing to recapture the magic he had as a spot starter last year. The Mets have to at least contemplate Niese as Sean Gilmartin and Gabriel Ynoa have pitched poorly over the past few months. Furthermore, the Mets do not seem inclined to stretch out Seth Lugo and give him a chance to start

Certainly, you can understand the Mets interest in Niese. However, it is still hard to imagine Niese is a better option for the rotation than the Mets internal candidates. It may be one of the reasons why the Mets are more interested in improving the bullpen than by adding Niese to the rotation. Given his performance last postseason, perhaps Niese could be the bullpen answer. 

There is some evidence from this season that Niese could be a useful bullpen piece.  In his first two innings of work, he has a 2.50 ERA. In his first inning of work, batters are hitting .234/.269/.375. In his second inning of work, batters are hitting .217/.308/.406. With runners in scoring position batters are hitting .250/.332/.352. When there are two outs and runners in scoring position, batters are hitting .093/.170/.140. 

Looking at these numbers, it’s fair to conclude that Niese has started games well but has fallen apart from the third inning on. These numbers should improve with Niese being reunited with Dan Warthen and with him maxing out for an inning or two. If Niese were to move to the bullpen, he could have a career renaissance similar to Oliver Perez, who was another unpopular Mets lefty starter who faltered. 

With that in mind, Niese could be the exact pitcher the Mets are looking to add. Once he’s in the fold, the Mets can then figure out what to do for the last spot in the rotation. 

Mets Do Not Need Bullpen Help

As the trade deadline approaches, every team usually states that they need bullpen help, and those that are true contenders usually add an extra arm or two to the bullpen.  For example, back in 1999, one of the biggest strengths for a Mets team fighting for the NL East and the Wild Card was their bullpen.  Armando Benitez had taken over the closer role much earlier than anticipated.  Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook were having excellent seasons.  Pat Mahomes was a revelation as the long man in the bullpen.  Ex-closer John Franco was expected to return form injury to help with the playoff push.  Greg McMichael was having an off year, but he had previously been a valuable bullpen arm in a pennant race from his days with the Atlanta Braves.  On top of that, the Mets had some young promising arms to go to down the stretch with Jason Isringhausen and Octavio Dotel (even if Bobby Valentine thought they were better suited and belonged in the rotation).  Overall, the point being is the Mets did not need bullpen help.

Even with that being the case, a Mets team that was very active during the trade deadline made sure to acquire another arm for the bullpen by sending McMichael and Isringhausen for Billy Taylor.  It turns out Billy Taylor was washed up, and he would not even be on the postseason roster thereby forcing the Mets to make do with the already good bullpen pieces they had.  The Mets find themselves in a similar position than the 1999 Mets did.

The Mets bullpen is led to Jeurys Familia who is the best closer in the game. When needed, Familia can pitch two innings to get the big save that the Mets need.  The primary eighth inning set-up man has been Addison Reed, who is only sporting a 2.26 ERA and a 0.912 WHIP.  This duo has only lost one lead that has been given to them this year in 32 attempts.  Behind them is Hansel Robles who has done everything the Mets have needed in the bullpen.  He can come out and bail the Mets out of a bases loaded no out jam or pitch 3.2 terrific innings to save a Mets bullpen from a first inning injury to a starting pitcher.  Jerry Blevins has been an extremely effective LOOGY allowing lefties to hit .210/.269/.310.  By the way, he has been even better against righties limiting them to a .107/.188/.214 batting line.

Behind these pitchers are some very solid options.  There is Jim Henderson, who was great before Terry Collins abused his arm.  Henderson is currently in AAA on a rehab assignment.  Seth Lugo has been absolutely terrific out of the bullpen in his two appearances.  However, it is only two appearances, and there still remains a (remote) chance that he may wind up in the starting rotation with the Matt Harvey injury.  There is Erik Goeddel, who even despite one poor performance this season, still has a career 2.75 ERA and a 1.054 WHIP.  There is still Sean Gilmartin, who was an essential part of the Mets bullpen last year.  He is a starter in AAA, but if the Mets are that desperate for major league relief help that they will swing a trade, they should pull up a known quantity to help the team where he is needed.

If the Mets will consider calling up players from the minors, there are some good options in AAA.  Josh Edgin has a 2.45 ERA in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.  Paul Sewald has taken over as the closer, and he has recorded nine saves.  There is always the alluring Josh Smoker, who is having a down year but still sports a mid-nineties fastball.

Finally, in addition to all of these players, there is still Antonio Bastardo, who is going nowhere.  It is doubtful a rebuilding team will want to add him into the mix with his high salary and poor production.  The Mets are stuck with him, and they are going to be stuck with him for the full season, regardless of whether they make another move to add a reliever or not.  In essence, Bastardo is the reason why people mistakenly believe the Mets need bullpen help.  With that in mind, the best thing the Mets can do is to find a way to get Bastardo back on track.  That will help the Mets bullpen more than them adding another reliever.

Overall, the Mets bullpen is in fine shape with four outstanding relievers and plenty of good options behind them.  The Mets do not need a reliever.  They need to fix Bastardo since he’s going to be here whether or not the Mets make a trade.  With that in mind, the Mets should leave the bullpen as is and turn their attention to the teams other needs at the trade deadline.

Seth Lugo Is a Better Choice Than Gabriel Ynoa Right Now

Matt Harvey having season ending surgery has put the Mets rotation in flux, and it could potentially lead towards the team deciding which one of their prospects should be added to the rotation. With Robert Gsellman only having made one AAA start and his being on the disabled list, there are only two prospects the Mets have to choose from – Gabriel Ynoa and Seth Lugo.

For many, the obvious choice is Ynoa. The 23 year old Ynoa has been regarded as one of the top prospects in the Mets minor league system. He has progressed rather quickly through the Mets minor league system which is all the more remarkable when you consider how conservative this front office tends to be with their prospects. In this his first full season in AAA, Ynoa was named a Pacific Coast League All Star. He is 9-3 with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.353 WHIP in his first 17 starts. These are impressive numbers when you consider Ynoa pitches to contact and that he’s pitching in a hitter’s friendly league. Given his status as a Mets top prospect and the fact that he is pitching well in AAA, it seems like he would be the obvious choice to join the Mets rotation over a pitcher like Lugo.

The 26 year old Lugo was the Mets 2011 34th round selection out of Centenary College of Louisiana. That’s a Division III NCAA school. This season he lost his spot in the AAA rotation due to how poorly he had been pitching. Overall, Lugo has made 13 starts and six relief appearances going 3-4 with a 6.55 ERA and a 1.675 WHIP. These are ugly numbers that were brought up time and again when the Mets first called him up to the majors to pitch out of the bullpen. However, in his first relief appearance, we quickly found out why we scout a pitcher for their repertoire instead of their stats when he struck out Anthony Rizzo with a filthy curveball:

As you can see, Lugo has a filthy curveball that can get fool even the best major league hitters. Lugo combines that pitch with a fastball in the mid 90s, a slider in the upper 80s, and a developing changeup. This is the repertoire Lugo used to pitch two scoreless innings against a Cubs team that has scored the most runs in the National League. This is the same repertoire Lugo was developing when he went 2-2 with a 4.00 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP in five AAA starts last year. Overall, you can reasonably argue that Lugo’s fastball and curveball are two plus major league ready pitches. As we have seen with a number of Mets pitchers, time spent with Dan Warthen will only help him further develop that slider. Despite his early season struggles, he’s arguably more ready to succeed in the majors.

In fact, Lugo has had success in his limited work with the Mets this year.  In the aforementioned game against the Cubs, Lugo pitched two scoreless innings allowing only two hits while striking out two.  When he had to take the place of an injured Noah Syndergaard, Lugo responded with two scoreless and hitless innings against the Nationals.  Lugo is clearly proving he can get big league hitters out, and that the Mets should consider him for a rotation spot.

Montero, on the other hand, struggled in his last start.  He lasted only four innings allowing 10 hits, five earned, and one walk while striking out only two. In his last three starts, Ynoa has averaged 4.2 innings with a 9.42 ERA and a 2.163 WHIP.  Ynoa has hit a bump, and he needs to remain in AAA to make the necessary adjustments.

Right now, Lugo is better equipped to get out major league hitters.  He’s a better bet to succeed in the Mets rotation. Lugo should get his shot.

Mets Suffered Four Losses Today

The only thing that matters about tonight’s game is the fact that Yoenis Cespedes left the game with a strained quad in the third and Noah Syndergaard left the game in the fifth with an apparent injury. It’s worth noting that Syndergaard’s last two fastballs were 93 and 91 MPH. He throws offspeed pitches faster than that. 

These injuries came on the heels of Matt Harvey announcing he was electing to have season ending surgery to address his thoracic outlet syndrome. With Cespedes and Syndergaard leaving the game, Harvey’s season being over, and tonight’s 3-1 loss to the Nationals, the Mets would suffer four losses tonight. 

In the game tonight, Stephen Strasburg was awesome. He had a no-hitter going until Asdrubal Cabrera homered off of him in the fifth. Strasburg’s final line was seven innings, two hits, one earned, three walks, and nine strikeouts. 

Strasburg was able to win because the Nationals’ Mets killers showed up again. Clint Robinson hit a two run homer in the second, and Daniel Murphy, of course, hit an RBI double in the third. 

The Mets tried to muster a rally in the eighth beginning with a Wilmer Flores double off Nationals reliever Shawn KelleyJose Reyes followed with an infield single that Murphy stopped from going into the outfield while rolling over 2-3 times.  It was first and third with no outs, and Reyes would just stay there. He stayed there while Oliver Perez got Curtis Granderson to pop out to short. He stayed there when Juan Lagares, who came in for the injured Cespedes, hit into the inning ending 4-6-3 double play. That double play ended the Mets best shot to tie the game. 

If you want to take something positive from the day allowing you to smile like you’re Brandon NimmoSeth Lugo had another impressive performance. Lugo pitched two scoreless and hitless innings. Given Harvey’s injury and Syndergaard leaving tonight’s game, Lugo is making a case for himself to join the rotation

Game Notes: The Mets announced Syndergaard left the game due to arm fatigue and not due to issues related to his bone spurs. That’s not all that comforting either. 

The deGrom-Lugo Parallel

Back in 2010 when Jacob deGrom was drafted out of Stetson University as a shortstop, you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the Mets organization that truly believed deGrom would not only be a future Rookie of the Year, but also one of the top pitchers in baseball.  In fact, deGrom wasn’t even seen as such when he was first called-up to the Mets in 2014.

At that point in time, the Mets were in a year of transition, and they were at the point of trying to figure out who could be a part of the team in 2015 when the Mets were really intent on becoming contenders.  One of the players called-up was obviously deGrom who was was 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.278 WHIP in seven starts in AAA.  This was a marked improvement from the pitcher who was 4-2 with a 4.52 ERA and a 1.467 WHIP in 14 starts in AAA the previous year.  During said 2013 season, deGrom had made 10 starts in AA going 2-5 with a 4.80 ERA and a 1.483 WHIP.  Sure, there were reasons to expect he could eventually pitch in the majors.  He was a four pitch pitcher that had a mid 90s fastball and a good slider.

When Dillon Gee went down with an injury, the 26 year old deGrom was called up to the majors to make a start in his stead.  There was no timetable on how long deGrom was going to either stay in the majors or in the rotation.  However, if push came to shove, the Mets were more inclined to move deGrom into the bullpen and let Rafael Montero stay in the rotation.  At that point, Montero was seen as a much better and more polished prospect who had good command and was a groundball pitcher.  What transpired was deGrom proved that his 2014 AAA season was no fluke.  He went on to make 22 starts that season going 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA and a 1.140 WHIP en route to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year.

He had surpassed Montero who had not pitched as well in his opportunity and who dealt with some injuries thereby opening the door for deGrom to forever solidify not only his place in the rotation, but also the Mets plans.

Right now, the Mets have a pitcher in Matt Harvey who is injured, and that is going to open the door for a pitcher to get a chance to show that they are capable of being part of this Mets rotation.  Much like in 2014, the prospects that are battling it out is a 26 year old in Seth Lugo who was never expected to be in this position and a 23 year old pitcher in Gabriel Ynoa who relies upon his control and groundballs to get outs.  Much like in 2014, the Mets have deemed the younger pitcher to be the better prospect.  In many ways, this could be the case of history repeating itself.

So far, Lugo has made one major league appearance.  In that one relief appearance, he showed that he has the stuff to get hitters out at this level.  Like deGrom, he has seemingly taken his game to the next level once he got called-up to the majors.  Right now, the only thing that really separates him and deGrom is the fact that deGrom got his chance to establish himself in the major league rotation.  Of course, it was easier for the Mets to give deGrom his shot in 2014 when the team was going nowhere.  It’s a lot harder to justify such a decision when the team is in the thick of both the NL East and Wild Card races.  And yet, with that in mind, the Mets should want to put the guys in the rotation that have the best chance to get batters out.

Arguably, that pitcher is Seth Lugo.  He just needs to get the chance deGrom did to prove it.

Potential Matt Harvey Replacements

The news that Matt Harvey may miss a significant amount of time due to the possibility that he may have thoracic outlet syndrom is devastating to not only Harvey himself, but also to the Mets rotation.  While Harvey was struggling all year with a 4.86 ERA, he is also a pitcher who can rise up in big games.  We have seen it time and time again with him whether it was him almost pitching a perfect game against the White Sox, being named the starter for the 2013 All Star Game, or his Game 5 of the World Series performance.  He was an important part of the Mets, and if he has an extended absence, he is going to leave behind some pretty big shoes to fill.

As of right now, the Mets have not announced who will take Harvey’s spot in the rotation for Harvey’s next scheduled start.  Fortunately, the Mets organization is fairly deep in major league capable starting pitching talent.  Here is a list of the potential candidates:

Logan Verrett

Last year when the Mets were trying to manage Harvey’s innings, it was Verrett who temporarily took his place in the rotation.  In Verrett’s four spot starts last year, he was a very respectable 1-1 with a 3.63 ERA.  This included a brilliant performance Verrett had in Colorado limiting the Rockies to four hits and one earned run in eight innings.  Unfortunately, Verrett has not had the same success as a spot starter this year.  In his five spot starts, he is 1-3 with a 5.32 ERA.  Part of those struggles may be attributed to the fact that Verrett has not been fully stretched out like he was when he took the ball for the Mets last year.  Accordingly, if Verrett was stretched out and able to pitch every fifth day, it would be reasonable to assume he could pitch as well as he did as a spot  starter last year – perhaps even better.

Sean Gilmartin

Verrett was picked over Gilmartin for the last spot in the Opening Day bullpen, and as a result, the Mets sent down Gilmartin to be a member of their AAA starting rotation.  Last year, we saw that Gilmartin knows how to get major league hitters out.  In 50 appearances, he was 3-2 with a 2.67 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, a 2.75 FIP, and a 143 ERA+.  When he made multiple inning relief appearances last year, he was 3-1 with a 1.38 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP.  The only caution with Gilmartin is he has not been as successful this year as he was last year.  In his 13 AAA starts, he is 9-3 with a 4.72 ERA and a 1.336 WHIP.  In his five major league relief appearances, Gilmartin has a 7.00 ERA and a 1.556 WHIP.  However, it should be noted Gilmartin’s struggles started when he was being jerked back and forth between Las Vegas and the Mets, between relieving and starting.  Before his first call-up, Gilmartin was 4-1 with a 2.58 ERA in the very hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.  Overall, Gilmartin has shown he can get major league hitters out and pitch well as a starter.

Seth Lugo

When Harvey was put on the disabled list, the Mets called-up Lugo who dazzled in his two inning relief appearance.  In that outing, Lugo used all five out his pitches to get a potent Cubs lineup out.  He featured a 94 MPH fastball and a wicked curveball.  He curveball was working so well he was able to get Anthony Rizzo to swing at a pitch that moved so much it would hit him on his back foot.  He certainly has the tools to be an effective starter even if he hasn’t had the results in AAA this year.  Given his repetoire and the ability to work with pitching coach Dan Warthen, the Mets just might have a pitcher who could blossom on the major league level similar to how Jacob deGrom did when he was called-up to the Mets in 2014.

Gabriel Ynoa

If the Mets are going to turn to their prospects for a solution, Ynoa deserves some consideration as well.  By any measure, the 23 year old Ynoa has been the Las Vegas 51s’ best starting pitcher.  In a hitter friendly league, the Pacific Coast League All Star is 9-3 with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.353 WHIP in 17 starts.  The only questions with Ynoa is if the Mets believe he is ready to make the leap to the majors and whether his ability to enduce groundballs is a good fit for a Mets infield whose players have limited range.

Rafael Montero

If the Mets are inclined to take a risk with a Lugo or a Ynoa, they may be inclined to give Montero one last shot.  However, as we have seen with Montero, it gets harder and harder to justify giving him another opportunity.  When he was with the Mets this past year, he had an 11.57 ERA and a 2.571 WHIP in his two appearances thereby more than justifying Terry Collins‘ almost outright refusal to put him into a game.  Down in AAA, Montero is 4-6 with a 7.88 ERA and a 1.888 WHIP in 16 starts.  This isn’t the same guy the Mets once thought had a bright future.  Keep in mind, the Mets thought he had a future as far back as last year when he made the Opening Day roster as a member of the bullpen.  Maybe just maybe giving this guy one last shot could wake him up, and it could bring out the best in him.  It’s possible working closely with Dan Warthen may allow him to fulfill the promise he had when the Mets valued him as a prospect.

Overall, the Mets have many directions they could go.  Each of the aforementioned starters could step-up and hold the fort until either Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler is able to return from the disabled list to help lead the Mets back to the World Series.  Ultimately, this is going to be an opportunity for one or more of these pitchers.  It’s up to them to step up and stake a claim to a spot in the rotation.  It’s up to them to make it hard for the Mets to remove them from the rotation much like deGrom did in 2014 when he won the Rookie of the Year Award.  If one of these pitchers has a run like that, it would give the Mets six or seven terrific starters.  That would be an amazing problem to have.

Editor’s Note: this was also published on metsmerizedonline.com

 

The Matt Harvey Replacement Isn’t Here Anymore

Steven Matz has bone spurs in his pitching elbow, and the Mets talked him out if having inseason surgery to remove them. Noah Syndergaard also has bone spurs in his pitching elbow, but it appears like it’s nowhere near as serious as Matz’s. Zack Wheeler has had a number of setbacks in his Tommy John rehab, and the best case scenario has him returning to the Mets mid to late August. Now, worst of all, Matt Harvey may have thoracic outlet syndrome.

Anyone one of these pitchers may miss an extended period of time, and the Mets replacements are less than inspiring. 

First up as always is spot starter Logan Verrett who has a 5.32 ERA in his five starts this year. Sean Gilmartin has a 7.00 ERA in his limited appearances with the Mets this year. Seth Lugo had an electrifying one inning appearance before bring sent back down to AAA where he has a 6.55 ERA. Rafael Montero hasn’t been much better with his 6.31 AAA ERA and his 11.57 major league ERA. Finally, there’s 23 year old Gabriel Ynoa who may not be ready for the majors. 

For a team that is built on pitching, these are not viable options. These pitchers are not carrying these Mets back to the World Series like the pitching did in 2015. 

No, the Mets need a pitcher like Michael Fulmer.  Fulmer has made 13 starts this year going 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA and a 1.096 WHIP. He’s throwing a 96 MPH fastball and an 89 MPH Warthen slider. If he was in the Mets rotation right now, he would arguably be the best pitcher in their rotation. At the very least, he’s top three. There’s one problem. 

Fulmer’s a Tiger. Fulmer was one of 12 pitchers the Mets have traded away since the 2015 offseason. Make no mistake. Fulmer was the best of the lot.

Many have justified his departure as he was traded away to acquire Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes would go off in August and September with an offensive display Mets fans haven’t seen since Mike Piazza was leading the Mets to back-to-back postseason appearances. The Mets would fall just short of the ultimate goal as they lost the World Series in five games. 

Arguably, the Mets needed Cespedes to reach that point. However, in acquiring him, the Mets gave up Fulmer’s entire career. They gave up the very player they may need this year just to get back to the World Series. The Mets may have sacrificed their chances in 2016 and beyond for the run they made last year. 

The reason is because pitching is fragile. No matter how good you think you have it there’s a bone spur, a torn collateral ligament, or a shoulder condition that can take an ace pitcher away.  It’s why an organization needs as much high end pitching depth as it can get their hands on. Yesterday’s surplus becomes today’s necessity. 

Fulmer was seen as surplus last year, and he was moved for Cespedes.  With Harvey’s, Wheeler’s, and Matz’s medical issues, he’s now a necessity that is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. 

Mets Bats Bring the Thunder

Mother Nature provided the rain, but it was the Mets bats that provided the thunder. The Mets hit five home runs within the first five innings going ahead 10-1. 

It started in the second inning with James Loney and Asdrubal Cabrera going back-to-back off Cubs starter Jason Hammel. Cabrera would hit another homer off Hamel in the fifth. That would be the second homer in the inning. The first was a Yoenis Cespedes laser shot. Cespedes needed to hit that homer as Brandon Nimmo hit a home run in the fourth inning that was one foot farther than Cespedes’ shot yesterday:

It was Nimmo’s first career home run and curtain call. He followed it up by making a nice defensive play in the fifth:

  
It was a terrific night for Nimmo and the Mets. 

The beneficiary of all these runs was Jacob deGrom. It was about time the Mets scored some runs for him too. The Mets had not given him more than two runs of support since May 27th. He’s had the fourth worst run support in the majors this year with the Mets scoring 2.89 runs per game for him (Matt Harvey has the second least with 2.79). 

deGrom would finally get his first win since April 30th. His ability to get this win was in doubt as there was a rain delay for over an hour before the third inning. Terry Collins sent him out there anyway, and deGrom lasted five innings allowing three hits, one earned, and one walk with seven strikeouts. The lone run he allowed was a solo home run off the bat of Kris Bryant. It’s possible deGrom could’ve gone more than five as he was only up to 85 pitches. However, once there was another rain delay in the sixth, the third one of the game, deGrom was done for the night. 

Needless to say, deGrom pitched much better out of the delay than Hammel did. The Mets pummeled Hammel in this 10-2 win like they did in Game 4 of the NLCS.

Game Notes: Loney was 3-4 with two runs, three RBI, a double, and a homer. He was a triple short of a cycle. He actually hit one this year. It was a June 18th game against the Braves. Seth Lugo made his major league debut in the eighth inning wearing number 67. He became the first Met to ever wear that number. Lugo got it up to 97 MPH showing real promise out of the pen. He pitched two scoreless innings allowing two singles, a HBP, and striking out a batter. He also had his first balk falling off the mound before delivering a pitch. 

David Wright attended his second straight game. For safety reasons, he watched the game from the bullpen.