Stay or Go: Should Mets re-sign Adam Ottavino?

Adam Ottavino two panel stay or go treated art 2022
Adam Ottavino two panel stay or go treated art 2022

Coming off a relatively down season in 2021, when he had a 4.21 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 69 games for the Boston Red Sox -- and a 2020 with the Yankees when he posted a 5.89 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in limited opportunities -- Adam Ottavino was one of the Mets' most valuable relievers in 2022.

In 66 appearances over 65.2 innings, Ottavino had a 2.06 ERA (2.85 FIP) and 0.97 WHIP with 79 strikeouts -- a rate of 10.8 per 9. Ottavino was also elite while allowing just 6.6 hits per 9, his best rate since allowing 6.4 hits per 9 for the Yankees in 2019.

Meanwhile, Ottavino's 0.97 WHIP was the best he posted since 2016, when he had a 0.92 WHIP for the Colorado Rockies.  

What Ottavino did for the Mets in 2022 was tremendous compared to how he performed in 2021 and 2020, and his success is backed up by advanced numbers that were truly eye-opening.

And Ottavino has a not-too-distant history of dominance, with two of his best seasons coming in 2018 for the Rockies and 2019 for the Yankees.

Whether or not Ottavino can continue to be a late-inning cog will have a lot to do with the success of his slider, a frisbee that he has thrown 45 percent of the time during his 12-year career and threw 42.8 percent of the time in 2022.

New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) delivers a pitch in the fifth inning of the game against the Houston Astros during spring training at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) delivers a pitch in the fifth inning of the game against the Houston Astros during spring training at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Ottavino's other weapons in 2022 were a fastball he threw 44.8 percent of the time (and had an average velocity of 94.4 mph), a split-finger fastball he threw 7.2 percent of the time, and a cutter he relied on 5.2 percent of the time.

As Ottavino enters his age-37 season, is what he did for the Mets in 2022 sustainable? And what should the Mets be willing to give in terms of years and dollars to bring him back?

WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO LET OTTAVINO GO

For all of the positives that come with Ottavino, one big negative sticks out: He was very bad against left-handed hitters in 2022.

Ottavino was hit hard by lefties, with them slashing .301/.358/.480 against him in 81 plate appearances. Those failures against lefties were a stark contrast to his dominance against righties, whom he held to a sparkling .161/.226/.253 triple slash in 177 plate appearances.

If Ottavino's struggles against lefties in 2022 were a one-year blip, they might be easy to get past. But he has been hit hard by them throughout his career, with left-handers punishing him to the tune of a .274/.372/.424 triple slash.

It should be noted that Ottavino handled lefties just fine in 2021 in the power department, holding them to a .393 slugging percentage. But they got on base at a very good .384 clip.

One thing that hurts Ottavino and other relievers who aren't true crossover guys is the recently implemented three-batter rule that requires a pitcher who enters a game to face at least three batters (if he begins an inning) or finish an inning (if he enters in the middle of one).

Ottavino's struggles against lefties are by no means something that should doom him when it comes to how he fares on the open market this offseason, but they're definitely a big concern.

Another issue is that hitters absolutely teed off on Ottavino's four-seam fastball in 2022, slashing .429 with an .857 slugging percentage against it. It could've just been a one-year blip, though, since he held hitters to a .106 batting average and .170 slugging percentage against his four-seamer in 2021. 

WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO KEEP OTTAVINO

If the Mets believe Ottavino's deepening struggles against lefties in 2022 were an outlier, there's an easy case to be made that he should be brought back. And that case is made strong by the elite advanced numbers we noted above.

Ottavino was among the best in the league when it came to average exit velocity allowed (99th percentile), hard hit percentage, xERA/xwOBA, and barrel percentage (all in the 97th percentile), xSLG (96th percentile), and strikeout percentage (89th percentile).

Ottavino was also above average in walk rate (2.2 per 9), whiff percentage, fastball spin, and fastball velocity. While Ottavino's walk rate was terrific in 2022, it's fair to wonder if that was a one-year blip for a guy who averaged 5.2 walks per 9 between 2017 and 2021.

As far as Ottavino's vaunted slider, batters hit just .165 with a .289 slugging percentage against it in 2022. But batters managed to hit .248 with a .440 slugging percentage against Ottavino's slider in 2021.

Mar 22, 2022; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) delivers a pitch in the third inning of the spring training game against the Houston Astro at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 22, 2022; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) delivers a pitch in the third inning of the spring training game against the Houston Astro at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

So, as is the case with many relievers -- even those who have had a handful of dominant years -- the season-to-season variance with Ottavino is a legitimate concern as it relates to his fluctuating struggles against lefties and how his slider dominance can come and go.

With that said, a positive for Ottavino is that he is a New York City native who is used to the market and has thrived here.

New York City isn't for everyone, and Ottavino has shown that he can succeed while dealing with the pressure that comes with it -- and he's done it in the Bronx and Queens.

VERDICT

This might seem like a wishy-washy take, but it's really just a common sense one...

The radical variance in Ottavino's performance over the last few seasons, his age, and his recent troubles against lefties are alarming. But his tremendous performance in 2022 was not a mirage.

If I'm the Mets, I try to bring him back on a one-year deal that pays him a tad more than the $4 million he made in 2022. If the bidding goes into the $6 million or $7 million range or beyond one guaranteed year, the Mets should move on.