Is Reed the missing piece for Mets’ bullpen?

With the news this past weekend that (former) Diamondbacks reliever Addison Reed was headed to the Mets, New York may have finally secured the missing piece to their bullpen: a steady seventh-inning reliever to bridge the gap between the talented starting rotation and the eighth- and ninth-inning guys, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia. This was a forward-looking move by the front office; an anticipation of, dare we say, the likely reality of the Mets in the playoffs.

Any memories of Reed’s 2015 season in Arizona — which was punctuated by early struggles, culminating in him losing the closer role — may need to be revised given his move to New York. While his lack of command was the main driver of his first half problems (as well as some bad luck in terms of balls put in play), his second half has been more along the lines of the reliever that at times showed dominance for the White Sox and Diamondbacks.

Let’s take a look at a few key stats for Reed between the first and second halves of the season to get a better handle on who the Mets might be getting in return for two young arms:

  Strikeout % Walk % BABIP WHIP ERA FIP
First Half 17.7% 9.7% .363 1.73 5.92 3.90
Second Half 20.6% 4.4% .314 1.16 1.65 1.96

Reed’s command has returned in the almost two months since the All-Star break, his strikeout rate is up from the first half of the season, and his velocity is largely unchanged from the previous two seasons. The vital signs point to a useful reliever who has seemingly put both first half struggles and an injury behind him, one who will be at the very least an upgrade over the previous option of Hansel Robles (even though Robles has been very effective in the second half of the season).

After the loss of Jerry Blevins to a fractured throwing arm earlier this season (and his strange reinjury due to slipping off a curb), one big selling point of Reed for the Mets was surely the fact he is adept at getting left-handed hitters out. Take a look at the OPS of left-handed hitters against Reed for the past three years compared to the league average for relievers:

OPS_Reed_Lg_Avg

With a hopefully effective Reed now on staff, an inventory of the Mets’ bullpen is in order, with particular attention being paid to the meteoric rise of Jeurys Familia. The latter does warrant some serious attention, after all: the Mets’ closer has broken out this year on the back of a 100-mph fastball and nasty slider, and he’s currently propelling New York toward a division crown with some incredible August numbers — and a new pitch.

A dominant closer adding a new pitch to the repertoire in August during a division race is pretty rare, but Familia has decided to go that route. That’s likely because the new pitch, a splitter, is incredibly good in the small sample we have. Resulting from a modified grip of his changeup, the right-hander’s splitter has averaged 94 mph, which is over three miles per hour faster than any other pitcher’s average splitter — starting pitchers and relievers combined. Here’s how it looks at its best, on a 96-mph strikeout of Alejandro De Aza:

Familia’s splitter is borderline unhittable when it takes on the sort of velocity and life we see above, and it seems to be the pitch he has been looking for against left-handed hitters. Out of the 28 splitters he’s thrown in August, 82 percent have been to left-handed hitters, and the results have been staggering. He’s not only gotten batters to swing at over 78 percent of the splitters he’s thrown, but they’ve whiffed on 55 percent of those swings. With league-average whiff rates on splitters around 32 percent, these are truly elite numbers if they’re able to hold up over a longer time period.

The simple newness of the Familia splitter is most likely one of the reasons for its success thus far; once the pitch starts making it into scouting reports (if it hasn’t already), those whiff rate statistics might drop. However, given that no one throws a splitter anywhere close to as hard as Familia does, we shouldn’t be too surprised if this becomes a go-to pitch for him, especially against lefties.

Overall, the Mets have a distinct advantage heading into the stretch run: their bullpen currently has the second-fewest innings pitched out of any National League team, due in large part to the outstanding work of the starting rotation this season. New York averages just under 6 1/3 innings per start, the best mark out of any starting staff in the major leagues.

Manager Terry Collins is most likely going to leverage that extra rest, too, as all signs point to him employing a six-man rotation when young starter Steven Matz returns from injury in the next week or two. With the playoffs looming, and many of the Mets’ young starters approaching unknown territory with respect to innings pitched, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Collins lean on the bullpen more during the last month of the season — especially with September roster expansion allowing for more available arms.

With a five and a half game lead in the division, a newly-added former closer turned seventh-inning guy, and a generally well-rested bullpen, the Mets are in prime position to take advantage of their very soft schedule down the stretch. If and when they reach the playoffs, they’ll have a strong 1-2-3 punch in the late innings of high-leverage games, anchored by a closer who’s added what could be a dominant new pitch. There might be unforeseen issues for the Mets in the next month, but recent improvements have lowered the possibility that the bullpen will be one of them.