Stay or Go: Should Mets bring Edwin Diaz back for 2022?

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Edwin Diaz treated art, coming set on mound 2021
Edwin Diaz treated art, coming set on mound 2021

As the Mets reshape their front office and start determining just how much of a roster shakeup will be needed for the 2022 season, much of the attention will be focused on pending free agents.

And that is understandable since those pending free agents include Javier Baez, Marcus Stroman, Michael Conforto, and Noah Syndergaard.

But the Mets also have decisions to make when it comes to some players who will soon reach free agency but are not quite there yet.

Edwin Diaz, who is entering his final year of arbitration and is set to hit free agency after the 2022 season, is one of those players.

During his time with the Mets, Diaz has followed what was an almost impossibly bad 2019 season with a dominant 2020 and a very good 2021.

But even though Diaz has pitched well over the last two seasons, the mere mention of his name is enough to send many Mets fans into a tizzy.

And saying that Diaz was good in 2020 and 2021 -- a provable fact that can be backed up by both standard numbers and advanced numbers -- has somehow become a controversial statement.

It is not Diaz's fault that he was part of the Jarred Kelenic trade that could possibly haunt the Mets. But that seems to be part of the stigma that's attached to him.

It is also unfair to expect Diaz -- or any closer -- to be perfect or even close to it. But that seems to be the standard lots of Mets fans are holding him to.

Edwin Diaz
Edwin Diaz

At this point, I'll briefly discuss the flawed blown save stat that doesn't come close to telling the full story of any reliever.

For an example, we can look at one of Diaz's blown saves from 2020, when he inherited a bases loaded situation, walked the first batter he faced, and then struck out the next four in his 1.1 inning of work as the Mets won.

Diaz blew six saves in 2021, with his bad spurts being bunched together. But blowing saves every now and then is something every reliever does -- even elite ones.

We can turn to Josh Hader, who blew five saves in 2018 and seven saves in 2019 but was still viewed as one of the best relievers in baseball those seasons.

But Diaz? He's put on trial after blown saves, and his job as closer -- at least to some -- is viewed as being in danger each time he gives up a run.

With Diaz under control for just one more season, should the Mets stick with him or attempt to trade him?

WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE FOR DIAZ TO GO

Aside from Diaz having just one year of team control left is the fact that he is starting to get expensive.

He is projected to earn $10.4 million via arbitration in 2022 after making $7 million in 2021.

Now, with the Mets likely needing to go well past whatever the luxury tax turns out to be for 2022, Diaz's salary should be a blip on the radar. But it could be a factor if they're hedging on whether or not to keep him.

As far as on-the-mound concerns, one of the main ones with Diaz is that when he loses it, he can lose it badly.

The above is not unlike many high-leverage relievers -- with Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman just two examples -- but it does make Diaz a bit of a wild card at times.

Jul 28, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) tips his cap to right fielder Michael Conforto (not pictured) after Conforto threw out Atlanta Braves left fielder Abraham Almonte (not pictured) trying to score during the ninth inning at Citi Field.
Jul 28, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) tips his cap to right fielder Michael Conforto (not pictured) after Conforto threw out Atlanta Braves left fielder Abraham Almonte (not pictured) trying to score during the ninth inning at Citi Field.

If you look at Diaz's 2021 season, you'll see that it was marred by a rough patch in July when he blew three saves in a row. Those blown saves bridged the first and second half of the season and resulted in his ERA ballooning from 2.86 on July 11 to 4.30 on July 19.

As was noted above, though, not all saves are created equal.

And it's fair to point out that the first of the blown saves mentioned here came on a seeing-eye-single with Diaz trying to get the fifth out of a five-out save, while the second one came on a home run that had an expected batting average of under .100.

Still, Diaz can lose it at times. And as a two-pitch pitcher, if he is unable to locate his slider or fastball in any given game, he opens himself up to a potential world of hurt.

WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE FOR DIAZ TO STAY

To put it simply, Diaz has been really damn good over the last two seasons.

In 88.1 innings over 89 appearances in 2020 and 2021, Diaz has a 2.95 ERA (2.39 FIP) and 1.10 WHIP with 139 strikeouts (14.2 per 9).

In 2021 specifically, Diaz had the best home run rate of his career (0.4 per 9) and lowered his walk rate to 3.3 per 9 from the 4.9 per 9 it was in 2020. That 3.3 per 9 rate is the best Diaz had since his All-Star season with the Seattle Mariners in 2018.

And a look at Diaz's advanced numbers shows that what he did in 2021 was not a fluke.

This past season, Diaz was in the top four percent of the league in fastball velocity, whiff percentage, hard-hit percentage, strikeout rate, xSLG, xwOBA, xERA, and xBA.

Mets closer Edwin Diaz
Mets closer Edwin Diaz

Diaz was also elite when it came to barrel percentage and chase rate, and was in the top 25 percent of the league in average exit velocity.

Quite literally, the only advanced metric Diaz was below average in last season was walk rate, which -- as noted above -- he improved dramatically from 2020 to 2021.

When you put everything together, it's easy to conclude that the aberration for Diaz -- who possesses some of the best stuff in the majors -- was 2019.

And since 2019, he has not seemed to be negatively impacted at all by the New York market, and has been open and accountable (but still confident in his ability) after each time he's failed.

At just 27 years old (he'll turn 28 in March), Diaz is also young enough to be a pitcher the Mets keep in the fold beyond 2022 and build a bullpen around.

VERDICT

The Mets have some serious issues to address, but Diaz isn't one of them.

Barring a trade offer that bowls them over, the Mets should keep Diaz, with an eye toward possibly extending him before the end of the 2022 season if he dominates.