BY Chris Larson
Going into the season, many expected the New York Mets to potentially contend for a postseason berth, but more than likely miss out on one simply because of the Mets recent track record and the fact that their starting rotation hasn't stayed healthy over the course of a 162 game season the past couple of years. However, the Mets have changed all of our opinions about who they are and really come out of the gate ready to play.
Some of that may be credited to Mickey Callaway and his ability to lead in the clubhouse, while some of it might be thanks to an improved offense and a starting rotation that has been impactful to this point, but don't overlook the value of the Mets bullpen thus far.
Going into play today, the Mets currently have the best bullpen in baseball with a cumulative ERA of 1.62 over 50.0 IP. Over that span, the Mets bullpen has given up the fewest earned runs (9), have the 6th lowest Batting Average Against (.197), and are tied for 8th with the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox in strikeouts (59).
In the past, a big reason why the New York Mets could never make serious noise is simply because they're starting rotation wasn't doing enough to make up for the injuries that it encountered, never pitched deep into ballgames, and the bullpen was simply being overused. Fast forward to this season and you will notice that all of those things are gone and the fact that Mickey Callaway has done a phenomenal job of managing a pitching staff thanks to his experience with the Cleveland Indians.
With the Indians, Callaway helped lead them to the World Series in 2016, thanks to some dominant starting and relief pitching, and knows exactly how to manage a pitching staff to the point where one guy isn't being overworked and everyone is able to reach their true potential. For an example of that look no further than Matt Harvey who was Callaway's first target in Spring Training. Callaway wanted to help Harvey get back to the pitcher that he once was with the help of Mets pitching coach, Dave Eiland, and while it hasn't shown in his last two starts, there is still time for him to revert back to his old ways.
The same can be said about the Mets bullpen and the amount of innings that each reliever has pitched to this point. Although it's a small sample size to base an argument off of, no Mets reliever so far has thrown more than 9 innings or appeared in more than 8 games. That is a big sigh of relief for Mets relievers, the entire Mets fan base, and all of baseball considering how much importance is being placed on bullpens nowadays and the growing role that relievers have in helping lead their team to the postseason.
One of the biggest key cogs for the Mets bullpen has been the combination of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. So far, Lugo has a 1.13 ERA over 8.0 IP, while Gsellman leads the Mets with a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 14.73 over 7.1 IP. Lugo has been able to find success so far because he has thrown his fastball less this season compared to last and his curveball more often than last. Last season, Lugo threw his fastball 55.9% of the time compared to 46.9% of the time so far this year and he's thrown his curveball 25.7% of the time this year compared to 17.4% of the time last season.
For Gsellman, he's seen an uptick in velocity on three of his pitches and the best thing is that he is still only 24 years old so if he can stay healthy over an entire 162 game season, who knows what he is capable of. So far this year, Gsellman's fastball is averaging 94.0 MPH compared to 92.7 MPH last season, his curveball is clocking in at 82.5 MPH compared to 80.2 MPH from last year, and his changeup has increased speed from 85.2 MPH in 2017 to 86.9 MPH this year. Regardless, while the uptick on each of those pitches might not seem like a lot, it's a good sign because it means Gsellman is healthy and will be able to work the strike zone every time he takes the mound.
Furthermore, the Mets have also experienced so much success thanks to AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia, locking things down at the backend. When a team has a 1-2 punch at the end of its bullpen, it creates a lot more definition for the rest of the bullpen and provides a greater amount of stability. For an example of that, look no further than Andrew Miller and Cody Allen of the Cleveland Indians, who have played a significant role in the success of the Indians the past two seasons.
After only getting 7 save opportunities last year due to going down with a right arm blood clot, Familia currently has 7 saves in 7 save opportunities and a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 11.00. So far over those 8 games that Familia has appeared in, he's thrown 61.1% of his pitches for strikes and has a .211 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) which is the lowest of his seven-year major league career.
For AJ Ramos, things continue to look up as well. Ramos has an average spin-rate of 2,160.66, which is a tick higher than the league average spin rate of 2,157.63, and a .056 Batting Average Against. Ramos, who is 31 years old, can be filthy at times and was a big acquisition for the Mets when they traded for him last July. The best thing is if Jeurys Familia experiences an injury at any point, Mickey Callaway and his staff can plug AJ Ramos into the closer spot and feel very comfortable.
No matter how you slice it, the Mets have only played 13 games so far this season, but they are off to their best start in franchise history and that cannot be discounted. While there is still a long ways to go and given the fact that it's only April, many might still be writing off the Mets, but if they continue to pitch the way they have, look out. In fact, you could even make a case that if the Washington Nationals continue to play the way they have, the Mets could be winners of the NL East.
The only thing they have to hope for is continued success, continued health, and continued leadership from Mickey Callaway and his entire coaching staff. Three things that they have illustrated to all of baseball over these first two and a half weeks.