The yips. Chuck Knoblauch had them. So did Rick Ankiel. Even Phil Mickelson had them at majors before his breakthrough at Augusta in 2004. Now the torch has been passed to Mets closer (though maybe not for long) Edwin Diaz who is, quite frankly, a mess.
I’m not the “dancing on someone else’s grave” type, but we can’t sweep this under the rug. Diaz, who reigned as baseball’s ninth-inning gold standard as recently as 2018 when he led the sport in saves with 57 (tied for the second-most ever in a single season), is a broken shell of the pitcher he once was. And in a shortened year where time is of the essence, that’s a problem.
The Mets, as most of you are well aware, gave up plenty for Diaz, who arrived in a blockbuster trade from Seattle along with Robinson Cano in a swap that netted the Mariners a treasure trove of A-list farmhands including outfield prodigy and former first-round pick Jarred Kelenic (No. 11 in MLB.com’s current prospect rankings). The flame-throwing 26-year-old collapsed under the weight of expectations in his Mets debut last season, faltering to a 5.59 ERA with an embarrassing seven blown saves on 33 attempts. Diaz continued to miss bats with 99 punch-outs in 58 innings (that computes to an elite 15.36 K/9), but when hitters did catch up to his scorching fastball, it usually landed in the Citi Field seats (15 home runs allowed in just 254 plate appearances).
Clearly rattled by the high-stakes atmosphere of New York—a vast departure from his first three seasons when little was expected of the Mariners—some felt Diaz might benefit from playing without fans in 2020. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for Diaz, who looked utterly lost in a disastrous ninth inning Thursday against the Red Sox.
Pitching for the first time since his debacle against the Braves on Saturday (he blew a one-run lead in the ninth by serving up a two-out solo blast to Marcell Ozuna), Diaz went off the rails again, allowing four men to reach before rookie manager Luis Rojas finally sent him to the showers with only one out in the frame. The right-hander’s final line included one strikeout, one run allowed, two walks, one hit batsmen and a base hit to Michael Chavis. No master of efficiency, Diaz needed 35 pitches to record a single out, with only 19 of the 35 going for strikes.
Rojas called on Seth Lugo for a save opportunity earlier this week and also has four-time All-Star Dellin Betances at his disposal should the need arise. That doesn’t give Diaz much leeway in the ninth. “We need to talk,” Rojas admitted when asked if he’d continue to employ Diaz in high-leverage spots after Thursday’s unraveling. “We liked what we saw in the first two camps, but tonight was definitely different.”
Diaz has company in Struggle City with Craig Kimbrel’s ninth-inning leash in Chicago tightening with each successive outing. Closers tend to be more slump-prone than most, frequently weathering dry spells and bouts of inconsistency. Yankees great Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” Whatever the percentages, Diaz isn’t right and the Mets need to address it quickly.