The 2021 New York Mets roster has slowly taken shape over the course of the offseason, including the signing of James McCann, and the blockbuster Francisco Lindor trade. However, there are still a few holes on the team and some questions remain about who will make the opening day roster. These questions are especially prominent on the pitching staff. One of the most important of these concerns Seth Lugo.
2021 New York Mets: The Lugo Problem
Lugo debuted in 2016, and his first season included eight starts, out of 17 appearances, while posting an impressive 2.67 ERA. In his second season, the Mets went all-in on Lugo as a starter, though he only posted 4.71 ERA. After this, management reversed course, opting to let Lugo work consistently out of the bullpen in 2018 and 2019. Lugo excelled in this role, posting back to back seasons with an ERA under 2.70. He developed into a reliable back end arm, even capable of going multiple innings if needed.
Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the 2020 season left the Mets with very little rotation depth. In a bid to stay competitive, the Mets moved Lugo back to the rotation midseason. This had disastrous effects, however, Lugo’s ERA ballooned to 5.15. Lugo can best benefit the team from the bullpen. As such, management must ensure the team does not fall prey to the same issues they faced in 2020.
Thankfully, the Mets have already begun building some rotation depth to avoid the issues that plagued them last season. To this end, they re-signed Marcus Stroman and brought in Carlos Carrasco from the Indians. Along with perennial Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom and upstart lefty David Peterson, the four could lead one of the league’s best rotations.
These four are impressive and projected to combine for 13.2 WAR, according to Fangraphs. However, the depth beyond this group is thin. Noah Syndergaard has the potential to solidify this group as the best in the game, but he is slated to return no earlier than June and that date could easily be pushed back. Any remaining depth includes the historically unreliable arms of Steven Matz and Robert Gsellman.
Therefore, the 2021 New York Mets should look to sign an additional starting pitcher, such as Jake Odorizzi, or Jose Quintana. If not either of them, they could opt for a few less expensive depth options, like J.A. Happ or Ivan Nova.
Assuming the Mets shift Lugo back to the bullpen, let’s see how their bullpen could look in the upcoming season.
In this group, the Mets have some reliable relievers who should all figure to have a spot on the opening day roster. The remaining spots could be filled by some combination of Brad Brach, Drew Smith, Jerry Blevins, Robert Gsellman, and Steven Matz.
While this group could also use an upgrade or two, it is historically more difficult to find consistent relief pitching relative to starters. In Lugo, the 2021 New York Mets have a proven commodity and one they know can excel in high leverage, late-game opportunities. It would likely be much more prudent for the front office to spend money on a solid fifth starter, place Lugo in the bullpen, and use cheaper, depth signings to further bolster the relief pitching.
Publicly, management has not yet made it clear how exactly Seth Lugo will be used on the 2021 New York Mets. Although, the stats seem to clearly point to the fact that Lugo is most effective when working as a reliever. The question essentially boils down to whether the front office would rather spend money signing an additional starter or relief pitcher.
On top of Lugo already providing greater value from the bullpen, it would likely be easier to find a reliable fifth starter than a reliable back end bullpen arm. Consistent, elite relief pitching is not easy to find, but the Mets have that in Lugo.
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