The Mets are projected by PECOTA as the National League Eastern Division Champs by Baseball Prospectus in their recent release of their 2020 MLB predictions. PECOTA has the Mets finishing with an 88-74 record, which is also listed as the second best record in the National League, only behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. In what arguably will be the toughest division in baseball, there is a sense of optimism surrounding this team after the way the Mets had finished last season. After the All-Star break the Mets finished the season with a 46-26 record, which was the second best record in baseball only behind the (you guessed it) Los Angeles Dodgers. This among many other reasons (see Jacob DeGrom, Pete Alonso) have the Mets appearing on many people’s radars as potential playoff contenders in 2020, if they haven’t appeared on their radar already. The Mets can certainly meet these expectations as well as exceed them with a continuation of last season’s second half success, and a few other factors bouncing their way. One of those factors include Edwin Diaz bouncing back in a big way in 2020.
While the Mets did add Dellin Betances, they are also expecting a bounce back season from Jeurys Familia, and another strong season from Seth Lugo. The Mets are essentially entering camp with 4 potential closers. But arguably none of those options can make as much of an impact on this year’s team as the 25-year old Diaz can.
There were sky-high expecations for Diaz in 2019, considering the Mets had moved two of their top farm prospects for both him and second baseman Robinson Cano. Many fans were not happy moving outfielder Jared Kelenic in the deal, which only fueled the pressure both Diaz and Cano would face coming over to New York. We also have to remember Diaz was coming off a dominant 2018 season with the Seattle Mariners, where he won the American League Reliever of the Year Award, and finished the season with a 1.96 ERA on top of 57 saves! The 57 saves were tied for second most all-time in Major League history, and 24 of those saves came with a one run lead, which was a Major League record. Unfortunatley as many Mets fans know, expectations would not be met, and Diaz wound up having one of the worst seasons as a reliever in Major League history. Diaz would end up finishing the season with a 5.59 ERA, and allowed (15) 9th-inning home runs which was a Major League record. Diaz also floundered with the spotlight on him, as in 18 high leverage innings last season, he served up an opponent’s batting average of .306 with 14 earned runs allowed. Nothing pretty about any of those numbers.
However, Diaz spent time in the offseason with Pedro Martinez making minor adjustments with his slider, that will hopefully pay off going into the 2020 campaign. On average throughout his career, Diaz throws his slider 33% of the time to compliment his fastball which he throws 66% of the time according to Fangraphs. The slider is a pitch that Diaz never seemed to harness last season, and it bit him in the rear end multiple times. In 2019, opposing batters inflicted damage on his slider to an ugly .297 average while going deep on six of those pitches. That in comparision to his .134 career average when throwing that pitch going into last season’s campaign is eye opening.
Also establishing better location of his fastball is something else Diaz will look to work on this spring, as it seemed to hang over the middle of the plate too much last season. It will be worth watching both as a fan, and for the members of the Mets coaching staff, Diaz being more consistent in his mechanics when throwing his slider, as well as establishing better movement with his fastball. The velocity is there, but the control simply has not been.
Diaz may not have nearly as long of a leash this season as he did last year. But if Diaz can regain control of his slider, and display the type of stuff that made the Mets pull the trigger last offseason, he will be the overwhelming favorite to come out of camp with the closer’s job. That in itself will go a long way towards the Mets winning the National League East in 2020.