Edwin Diaz’s borderline All-Star first half has eliminated any concern that might have lingered about the Mets closer, but team officials also aren’t content.
The right-hander’s fastball and slider are among baseball’s nastiest, which should translate more closely to Josh Hader filthy than Diaz’s 2.94 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 34 appearances this season. Diaz has converted 18 of 19 save opportunities. Hader has pitched to a 0.80 ERA and 0.743 WHIP this season.
“It’s not what I expected,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said Thursday, referring to Diaz’s first half. “I have a high expectation for Edwin. He has some of the best stuff there is in baseball so he has done really well, extremely well. He has done a lot of things very well, but I have very high hopes and high expectations for him.”
Diaz averages 99 mph with his four-seam fastball, placing him in the 100th percentile in MLB, according to Statcast. With his slider, Diaz has held hitters to a .154 batting average. But there is still the issue of walks: Diaz has issued 13 in 33 ²/₃ innings.
His latest escape act came in Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Brewers, when he walked two batters and hit another, surrendering an unearned run in the eighth before getting the win in the Mets’ 4-3 victory.
Diaz’s approach Thursday before a game that was postponed by weather caught Hefner’s attention.
“He wants to work, so he’s not OK with not giving up a hit, walking two guys and hitting a guy, giving up the run, even though it was unearned,” Hefner said. “He wasn’t happy with that and he’s wanted to work, so that shows me that he cares a lot, and anytime a guy has a care factor, then you know there is untapped potential in that person.”
Diaz’s numbers in save situations this season are more along the lines of what Hefner expects overall: He has pitched to a 0.90 ERA with 27 strikeouts and four walks in 20 innings. In non-save situations, Diaz is pitching to a 6.39 ERA with 16 strikeouts and seven walks in 12 ²/₃ innings.
But Hefner says he can’t pinpoint a difference between Diaz in save and non-save situations.
“There is nothing pitch-wise or usage or movement or anything like that that is anything different,” Hefner said. “That [statistic] is a thing that has been around as a bit of an excuse, and I think it gets into their minds and they start to believe it. It’s a more intense environment in a save situation, I do think it brings the best out of people, but that’s as true in save situations as it is in bases loaded, no outs situations as it is a perfect game compared to a non-perfect game or a no-hitter versus already given up hits. I think intense situations bring the best out of everyone, but relative to [Diaz] I don’t think it’s evident.”
The lone Mets player selected to the All-Star Game, Jacob deGrom, has said he will skip the event to prepare for the second half of the season. If MLB opts to replace deGrom with a Mets player, Taijuan Walker and Diaz are two obvious candidates.
“There was real tough competition [for Diaz] because there’s some real good relievers in the National League,” manager Luis Rojas said, mentioning Hader, Mark Melancon and Alex Reyes, all of whom were selected to the NL team. “Numbers-wise I don’t want to say that [Diaz] is having a better year than those guys that I mentioned, but he’s a guy that could well deserve to go there. He and Taijuan are the two guys that I mentioned that should be considered to be a part of that team.”