Tommy Hunter

Projecting Mets 2021 Opening Day Bullpen

The New York Mets bullpen has been through for a loop with the injury to Seth Lugo to start the season. Things have grown increasingly complicated by diminished velocity of Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances. With all that said, the bullpen has talent, and there are many spots accounted for already.

Guaranteed – Miguel Castro, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Aaron Loup, Trevor May

Obviously, Diaz is going to be the closer coming off of a strong 2020 season. May is going to figure into the equation as a late inning reliever, and Loup was brought on to be the LOOGY. That’s the easy part.

Castro is out of options, and it is very likely he would be picked up off waivers if the Mets tried to send him down. Fortunately, that does not seem to be an issue with Castro having a great Spring striking out four in 4.0 scoreless and hitless innings.

After him, with Familia seemingly getting his elite level stuff back, he is a lock to make the bullpen. If nothing else, he can pitch the middle innings while the Mets hope Jeremy Hefner gets him back to his dominant form.

Bubble – Dellin Betances, Robert Gsellman, Drew Smith, Daniel Zamora

The 13 pitcher roster rule has been suspended for the 2021 season, but that may be a good general construct. Considering a five man rotation with the aforementioned five guaranteed spots, that leaves three remaining spots.

Given his salary and history of building up his velocity in-season, it is likely Betances makes the Opening Day roster. That leaves two spots available in the bullpen. Given the performances this Spring, that is going to be a difficult decision.

Gsellman has been a mainstay in the bullpen over the last few seasons and based on seniority he gets the call. Notably with him, the Mets did have the option to stretch him out as a starter, but they opted not to do that this spring with Gsellman only throwing 4.0 innings over three appearances.

Smith was the one reliever from the 2017 trade deadline debacle who has proven he could pitch in the majors. So far, he looks good, and the Mets are going to have to go out of their way to try to keep a pitcher with three scoreless appearances with no walks and three strikeouts off of the roster.

Finally, there is Zamora who probably presents the Mets best option to carry two left-handed pitchers in the bullpen. He has been a little wild with two walks over 3.2 innings, but he has also struck out three batters. That is typical for Zamora over the last few years.

Fifth Starter Competition – Joey Lucchesi, David Peterson, Jordan Yamamoto

The injury to Carlos Carrasco certainly changed the complexity of the fifth starter battle. With his injury, that opened up two spots instead of one. Given the nature of the injury, the Mets could feel more comfortable putting Peterson in the Opening Day rotation as the fear of having to send him down at one point isn’t as strong.

If Peterson were to make the rotation, the Mets could put one or both of Lucchesi or Yamamoto in the bullpen. Both pitchers have been great this Spring, and they have both more than made the case they deserve to be on the Opening Day roster in some way, shape, or form.

Outside Looking In – Jerry Blevins, Tommy Hunter, Arodys Vizcaino

Blevins probably has a much better chance than this given his curveball looking great. However, he has only appeared in two games walking two and striking out three. While this arguably puts him ahead of Zamora, especially with his track record, adding Blevins would require the Mets to make a roster move.

With respect to Hunter and Vizcaino, they may well both prove to have an impact on the Mets in 2021. That said, neither quite seem ready to pitch Opening Day at the moment. That goes double for Vizcaino who has only made one apperance so far.

Wild Card – Mike Montgomery, Corey Oswalt

With Carrasco suffering an injury, the Mets are said to begin stretching out Montgomery. That would seemingly be an indication they are looking for him to begin the season in Syracuse instead of Flushing. Still, it is hard to overlook his ability to be another lefty in the bullpen and a pitcher who can give you multiple innings. That said, Lucceshi could offer that himself.

Oswalt has had a very good Spring Training with Luis Rojas being very impressed. His velocity is way up, and he has looked quite strong. In fact, we probably shouldn’t completely rule him out in the fifth stater competition. If it is about competition, Oswalt has a strong case to make the Opening Day roster. That said, the fact it’ll require a 40 man move serves as a significant impediment.

Opening Day Bullpen

Joining the aforementioned group of Castro, Diaz, Familia, Loup, and May will very likely include Betances giving the Mets two more spots to figure out. With Lucchesi and Yamamoto now poised to start the season in the rotation, it would seem the final two spots can go to pitchers who are strictly relievers and not converted starters.

At the moment, it looks like one of those two spots should go to Smith. It’s possible the last spot goes to Gsellman due to his ability to give the Mets an extra inning here or there, but it would seem his spot is about as tenuous as Betances’ is right now. Overall, there are two weeks to go and a lot can happen. It will be very interesting to see where things go from here.

Mets May Have Hidden Gem In Tommy Hunter

The New York Mets are looking for ways to fill out their bullpen, and with Seth Lugo undergoing elbow surgery, there suddenly is room for relievers to make their Opening Day bullpen. One of the more intriguing names is Tommy Hunter, who signed a minor league deal with the Mets this offseason.

Hunter, 34, is undoubtedly coming off a poor year. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have signed a minor league deal. Lost in that season is Hunter doing something extremely important – proving he was healthy.

From 2013 – 2017, Hunter was one of the better relievers in all of baseball. Over that five year stretch, Hunter had a 132 ERA+ while going 18-16 with a 17 saves, a 3.12 ERA, 1.090 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, and a 7.4 K/9. This lead to him signing a two year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Things did not turn out well for Hunter with the Phillies. In his first season, he was effective posting a 109 ERA+, which to that point, was the worst of his career as a reliever. In 2019, after a terrific start to the season, he went down with a torn flexor tendon. That led to him re-signing a one year deal with the Phillies.

While Hunter was trying to come back from the injury, he dealt with the same issues the rest of baseball had. It was a disjointed season where he couldn’t really work out with trainers or in gyms. He couldn’t work with the Phillies new pitching coach Bryan Price. Instead, he had part of a Spring Training, a ramped up summer camp, and then a shortened 2020 season.

In 2020, Hunter made 24 appearances pitching 24.2 innings. Overall, he was 0-1 with a 4.01 ERA, 1.135 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, and a career best 9.1 K/9. Of note, six of those 24 appearances were scoreless, and he allowed one run or fewer in 20 of his 24 appearances. Looking at that, you see Hunter was a bit of a boom or bust reliever.

Again, keep in mind, this was his first season back from elbow surgery. As is usual, you are going to see some good and bad. On the bad side, aside from the stats, we see from Baseball Savant, Hunter got hit extremely hard, and despite the career best strikeout rate, he wasn’t generating many swings and misses.

On the bright side, Hunter had elite spin on all of his pitches, and he had good control. Looking at his spin and velocity, it compared quite favorably to his 2017 season with the Tampa Bay Rays, which was arguably the best season of his career. Looking at that and other factors, we do see some evidence his 2020 season was better than many believed. In fact, he had a 3.31 FIP.

Looking at his 2020 season, you could envision him being able to return to form after a relatively normal offseason. There is something there for Jeremy Hefner to work with in order to get Hunter back to being the impact reliever he was prior to his surgery. Right now, there’s an open competition, and few in the entire Mets organization can boast the Major League success Hunter has had. As a result, we could very easily imagine Hunter not only making the Opening Day roster, but also having a significant impact in 2021.