Mets seeking encore from Justin Wilson, minus the injuries

Part 26 in a series analyzing the New York Mets

The Mets made some big splashes prior to last season to improve their bullpen.

There was the trade for Edwin Diaz, the centerpiece of the deal that also brought Robinson Cano to Queens and cost the Mets two of their top prospects.

They also signed Jeurys Familia for three years and $30 million.

The acquisition that created the least amount of fanfare, but provided the greatest result, was bringing in Justin Wilson on a two-year, $10 million contract.

The only drawback to the left-hander’s season was a pair of trips to the injured list due to left elbow soreness.

Wilson made just one appearance from April 19 through July 2 and had a 4.82 ERA in 10 appearances, but when he returned, Wilson was excellent the rest of the way and even spent time splitting the closer duties with Seth Lugo after Diaz was removed from the role.

Justin Wilson
Justin WilsonPaul J. Bereswill

In 35 appearances following his return, he allowed just six runs in 29 2/3 innings (1.82 ERA), while earning three saves in September.

The question heading into 2020 was whether he’d be able to stay healthy and effective as part of a bullpen that added Dellin Betances as a free agent.

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“We believe that a healthy and dominant Dellin, combined with Edwin Diaz and Seth Lugo and Justin Wilson and Jeurys Familia, Brad Brach, Robert Gsellman, this collective group has the potential to be one of the best bullpens in baseball,” GM Brodie Van Wagenen said in January following the signing of Betances.

That optimism would be based on Wilson and Lugo building on their performances from last season, Brach pitches like he did with the Mets a year ago and not how he did with the Cubs, while Diaz and Familia return to their 2018 form and Betances comes back well from the torn Achilles suffered last September.

Wilson and Betances were part of a solid bullpen in The Bronx during Wilson’s one year with the Yankees in 2015 after he was acquired in a trade for Francisco Cervelli.

The two relievers each appeared in 74 games setting up for Andrew Miller. After that season, the Yankees traded Wilson to Detroit in exchange for Luis Cessa and Chad Green.

For Wilson to have good results again with the Mets — if the season starts following its March shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic — he’ll likely look to build on what he did a year ago, when he finished with a career-best 86.8 percent rate of stranding runners on base, as well as a return to being a ground-ball pitcher.

The improvements could be tied to a sharp decrease in his use of his fastball (52.5 percent per Fangraphs) and a heavier reliance on his cutter (39 percent).

“He’s a valuable guy to have in a bullpen like that, but for him to be used best, he can’t be one of their top relievers,” one AL scout said. “He showed something by pitching in big spots late last year, but they still need more from Diaz, Familia and Betances because I don’t think he can last in a big role for an entire season.”

Wilson has shown an ability to get batters out from both sides of the plate, which would be key if MLB institutes the new rule requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters if they don’t finish an inning.

And even with last year’s elbow woes, Wilson has pitched in more games since 2014 than any left-hander other than Tony Watson.

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