It wouldn’t be winter without concerns surrounding the prospective Mets bullpen. Although bullpens are fluid by nature, finding the right mix of players filling the right roles is yeoman’s work in today’s game. Just look around the league and observe teams handing out record contracts to one inning workers and paying king’s ransoms for these guys to batten down the hatches in-season. Quite honestly, it feels like a losing strategy—overextending finances or parting with prized prospects for guys who are both failed starters and mercurial from year to year.
Losing strategy or not, however, winning teams now prioritize bullpen construction. Although the Mets had a successful pen in 2016, with the likely departures of Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas, and the imminent suspension of Jeurys Familia, fans are uneasy about the current bullpen outlook. Reading the offseason tea leaves, we can pretty confidently say the Mets intend to address any bullpen concerns primarily from within, and thus Paul Sewald has a golden opportunity to break into the Majors in a big way.
Succumbing to the concept of established bullpen roles—7th inning guy, setup man, closer—will make fans uneasy about the prospect of a rookie stepping into a late inning relief role out of the gate. Additionally, the Mets developed Sewald solely as a reliever. Unlike Familia, or, before his ban, Mejia, Sewald has never been considered a potential starter, so our biases about pitcher development lead us to believe Sewald is lesser than. We have also observed other prospective organizational relief aces, such as Jack Leathersich and Jeff Walters, falter as they approached the Majors. Suffice it to say, Paul Sewald is not the most alluring option to consider for high leverage innings in 2017, but he may be the most intriguing option.
The Mets drafted Paul Sewald in the 10th round of the 2012 draft. Although he experienced moderate success as a starter during his senior year at University of San Diego, the Mets integrated Sewald into the bullpen immediately, and in hindsight that decision appears inarguable. Sewald has achieved success virtually every rung of the ladder on the climb to his Big League debut. Sewald began drawing substantial attention when he dominated AA Binghamton to the tune of a 1.75 ERA, a 0.857 WHIP, and a 5.60 K/BB ratio. 2016 saw Sewald promoted to AAA Las Vegas, where he was once again successful. Although the overall numbers in Vegas weren’t as pristine as they were in Bingo, the environment for a pitcher in the PCL is less forgiving, and Sewald’s greatest weakness last season was the home run ball. But on balance, Sewald’s 2016 season was still a success, producing a 3.29 ERA over 65 innings in the hitter friendly ballparks out west.
|2014||24||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A+-AA||1.93||43||28||11||56.0||1.071||6.6||0.2||3.1||11.1||3.63|
|Minors (5 seasons)||Minors||2.20||194||126||66||257.2||1.032||7.2||0.5||2.1||10.7||5.20|
A cursory look at Sewald’s Minor League success would suggest an elite bullpen arm with a high velocity fastball and some sort of otherworldly breaking ball. This is what we’ve come to expect watching the elite relievers in today’s game. We don’t expect a repertoire reliant on a 90mph fastball and a low 80s slider, but that is exactly what Sewald features. Reports vary slightly, but the consensus is Sewald sits at about 90mph, backs the fastball up with a very good slider, and although he theoretically has a changeup, he uses it sparingly if at all. Although his stuff is decidedly ordinary, Sewald cuts his teeth with pure pitching ability.
Without question, Paul Sewald’s greatest asset is his command. Coming into games late in high leverage situations, nothing can dishearten teams, managers, and fans quicker than a pitcher who fails to locate. As a reliever, Paul Sewald seems keenly aware of that fact. Throughout his Minor League career, Sewald has produced a BB/9 of 2.1—excellent for any pitcher, especially a reliever. Granted, his walk rate increased in Vegas, but optimistically we can attribute that to less feel for his slider, which could be a potential weakness in the Majors. Although his slider is a solid pitch with swing and miss potential, it is vulnerable to flyballs. Sewald experienced considerable difficulties allowing home runs in Vegas, which is cause for slight concern because although Major League parks are more favorable to pitchers than the PCL, Major League hitters are better and home run rates in the Majors have skyrocketed the last season and a half.
Concerns aside, the only relevant question pertaining to the 2017 Mets is can Paul Sewald be a contributor in the bullpen? If his Minor League statistics instill confidence, his repertoire might present concerns. We can analyze the total package and attempt to project success or failure for Sewald, but first we need to acknowledge pitching coach Dan Warthen.
Warthen and Sewald could be a match made in Heaven. Among Warthen’s many successful relationships with Major League pitchers, both starters and relievers, intriguing patterns are evident. Chiefly, Dan Warthen’s pitchers do not allow free bases. He encourages pitchers to pound the strike zone regardless of opponent, and Mets pitchers are more satisfied giving up cheap singles than allowing walks. To this extent, Sewald should fit in nicely. Potential harmony between Sewald and Warthen does not end there, though, because Sewald features the quintessential Dan Warthen repertoire. Warthen’s adoration of the slider is no secret by now. Give him a pitcher who can locate a fastball and throw even a decent slider and it’s a good bet he’ll get you solid returns.
Dan Warthen’s success with starting pitchers is self-evident, but his success with relievers is a bit more precarious. It may seem counterintuitive, but developing successful relievers is a more complex task than developing successful starters, because there are more variables a reliever must deal with. A successful reliever endeavors to pitch in the highest leverage situations, potentially with men on base, against the opposing team’s best hitters. As if the task is not burdensome enough, a successful reliever also needs to have his best stuff day in and day out. As a coach, Dan Warthen alleviates pressure from his relievers by simplifying the process. A two pitch pitcher with good command will be successful under Warthen because that’s all he asks his pitchers to be. Locate with the fastball, have the slider in your back pocket, and outs will come.
When considering Sewald’s future in the bullpen, perhaps it is best to look at Warthen’s finest bullpen success—Addison Reed. Ok, it’s asinine to suggest Sewald will be as good as Reed, who was a top-10 reliever in baseball last year and the team’s most reliable reliever when the chips were down. But consider what Reed was before coming to the Mets. Despite early success as a closer, Reed was a middling reliever when Sandy Alderson acquired him.
Warthen simplified things with Reed, both physically and psychologically. The Mets had Reed eliminate his leg kick, reducing moving parts and focusing his energy solely on the strike zone. As a result, Reed achieved a career best 1.5 BB/9 last season. Reed also featured the Warthen One-Two, the fastball/slider combination, utilizing it at approximately a 70%/30% split. Reed does not have an overpowering fastball or slider, but Warthen’s simplification process has Reed experiencing peak success in the Majors. So what happens when a presumably more polished pitcher, at least in terms of command, comes under the tutelage of Dan Warthen? Paul Sewald will be an interesting case study.
Now, the comparison between Sewald and Reed can only go so far. Reed sits between 92 and 93, and reports are Sewald maxes out at 92. Although scouts are optimistic about Sewald’s slider, we won’t know what it truly is as a pitch until he throws it to Major Leaguers. But with Dan Warthen’s track record of success and his ability to seamlessly incorporate his simplification mantra among both starters and relievers, fans have reason to be optimistic about Sewald.
Paul Sewald offers a solid floor for a reliever because he derives his success from his command. Overall, his “Addison Reed-Light” stuff might limit his potential. But any pitcher who features a fastball, slider, and solid command is liable to succeed under Dan Warthen, and we should not be surprised to see Sewald grind his way into high leverage appearances this season. Sewald appears to be the somewhat forgotten man because the front office declined to protect him in the Rule of 5 Draft. Despite fan concerns over losing Sewald to another team, he remains a Met, and those fan concerns have shifted to the current bullpen outlook. The murky outlook is not ideal, but Mets fans should take some solace in Paul Sewald, who could very well surprise folks this season by stepping into a vital bullpen role and succeeding.