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2022 Mets: Can We Trust Edwin Diaz?

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In what remains one of the most infamous trades of the last decade, in 2018 then-Mets GM Brodie van Wagenen traded away top prospect Jarred Kelenic and others to acquire Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano. While Cano was the bigger name, the real star of the Mets acquisitions was Diaz, who was coming off an incredible season with a 1.96 ERA and 44.3 K% across 73.1 innings.

Many at the time criticized the trade as shortsighted, which was not helped over the next calendar year as Kelenic rocketed up prospect rankings and Diaz utterly imploded in New York.

However, in the two seasons since, fans’ attitudes have cooled as Diaz’s performance stabilized and Kelenic struggled for the duration of 2021. At current, the team seems poised to head into 2022 with Diaz again at the helm of the bullpen, but he still doesn’t inspire the sort of confidence a team would like to have in their closer. Assuming the lockout ever comes to an end, what can we expect to see from the flamethrowing reliever?

The Good

The good news is that going just by raw talent and the eye test, Diaz is one of the best bullpen arms in baseball. His fastball velocity ranks in the 100th percentile league-wide, with an average of 98.8 MPH in 2021. Not to mention a 90+ MPH wipeout slider that helps generate incredible strikeout numbers. Just watching Diaz pitch for an inning is evidence enough that he has more arm talent than most.

Among all pitchers who faced at least 250 batters in 2021, Diaz ranks eighth with a 34.6 K%. This is in the same neighborhood as Raisel Iglesias and Corbin Burnes, and better than elite relievers like Ryan Pressly and Kenley Jansen. Diaz also throws his four-seam fastball harder than any pitcher in the top 75 of that list, besides the questionably mortal Jacob deGrom.

The Bad

The problems begin to emerge for Diaz when his elite pitches don’t result in a strikeout. For one, his walk rate is not nearly as impressive as his K%. In 2021, his 8.9 BB% was in the bottom half of the league, 41st percentile. Walks can quickly become a problem for Diaz, as any baserunners in a late-and-close situation threaten a blown save.

Walks in isolation though, are not distinctly harmful. Josh Hader for instance, posted an even higher BB% than Diaz in 2021, but held a minuscule 1.23 ERA because hitters were rarely able to make enough contact to bring in a run. Diaz though, posted a 3.45 ERA last year. A large part of the problem is that hitters are far too often able to make solid contact when they can catch up to Diaz’s pitches. In 2021, out of 273 pitchers who faced 250+ batters, Diaz’s 28.7 line drive percentage was the ninth-worst.

In comparing these numbers to his career-best 2018 campaign, both his BB% and LD% have ballooned since leaving Seattle.

The Ugly

If Diaz can repeat his 2020 and 2021 performances this year, it will at least help to stabilize a bullpen that is currently questionable at best. The group behind Diaz is currently headlined by Trevor May, Seth Lugo, and Miguel Castro, all of whom demonstrated reason for concern last season. The real fear is if Diaz returned to his 2019 form, when he routinely melted down on the mound and gave up a seemingly impossible number of home runs.

In 2019, Diaz allowed 15 home runs in just 58 innings, contributing to a 5.59 ERA. For comparison, Diaz gave up just three home runs across the 2021 season. To be sure, this was in part due to changes MLB imparted to the baseball, greatly increasing the number of home runs leaguewide.

Across nearly 100 innings pitched since that awful year, some combination of mechanical adjustments and additional changes to the baseball have brought Diaz back to his career averages. Ultimately it seems that both 2018 and 2019 were outliers for the Mets closer. Most likely, he will continue to post an ERA near 3.00, with an elite strikeout rate. However, if he cannot further limit his walks Mets fans will continue to lack trust in Diaz in save situations. This also furthers the Mets’ need to add another reliever, such as Andrew Chafin, once the lockout ends.

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David Murtha is an MLB writer covering the New York Mets as well as general baseball news. He is a lifelong Mets fan born and raised in Queens. He is also currently a student at Stony Brook University studying biology, and has previously written for other online publications.