Are the Mets on track to duplicate the 2012 Rays pitching staff?

Looking at the players the Mets have, and the projection systems used to evaluate the team, has been interesting. Dan Szymborski’s projection system, ZiPS, has projected a meager 68-94 record for the 2013 Mets. However, other, more optimistic, projections systems, such as Nate Silver’s PECOTA, have projected the Mets to finish 80-82. It’s important to understand that a projection system is never perfect, and that there are intangibles. Teams can perform significantly better or worse than the projection. However, it’s pretty likely that the Mets finish somewhere between 68-80 wins next season. A 2013 playoff run for the Mets doesn’t look likely. However, 2014 may be the year of the Mets.

Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the Mets in the future, the starting rotation seems to indicate a strength that is comparable to the 2012 Rays’ young pitching staff that led the AL in ERA. Arguably, the ace of the Mets’ staff right now, Jonathon Niese, can be compared to James Shields of the Rays 2012 staff. Like Shields, Niese is considered to be soft tossing. His fastball averages 90 miles per hour, yet like Shields he is held back from being a top-tier starter because of his lack of ability to keep the ball in the park. Peripherally, they are very similar. Before his breakout season in 2011, Shields never had a strikeout rate above 8.00. Given that Niese is 25, he should soon be entering his prime. Niese has the pitcher profile of Shields, and in the future could play the same role in the Mets as Shields did in the Rays’ rotation as a solid starter.

The Mets also have the younger talent that is similar to the Rays’ rotation. For example, Matt Harvey is similar to David Price. Harvey probably isn’t going to be as good as Price, however. Currently, he has a plus fastball, and has yet to really figure out how to develop and utilize his secondary stuff. Price’s first full season in the rotation was not pretty. However, his breakout season in 2010 was partly due to his ability to utilize his power fastball along with his secondary stuff. Once Harvey makes the same adjustments that Price made, there should be good things to come in Flushing. I’m not saying that Harvey is going to have the same career as Price, but they have similar profiles and Harvey may benefit from making the same adjustments that Price made.

The Mets’ Zack Wheeler could be comparable to Matt Moore of the Rays, in the sense that he has been an accomplished pitcher at the minor-league levels. He still has a lot to learn, but is a top prospect in the Mets organization who is going to be really fun to watch develop. As far as his career trajectory is concerned, we can’t really say it’s going to be the same as Moore’s because both are pretty young, and Moore hasn’t really logged a lot of major-league time.

So, as Mets fans, we shouldn’t look at 2013 as a frustrating season, but rather a developing season. Once Harvey and Wheeler can make valuable contributions to the team, the Mets won’t be far off. The year 2014 could be when the Mets become contenders. All it will take is for Alderson to add a couple of defensive pieces in the outfield, and some solid arms for the bullpen. The Mets rotation could be a poor man’s version of the Rays 2012 rotation — that would still be a very effective rotation. It may be painful to watch the Mets roll into spring training knowing that there’s a slim chance they contend in 2013, but instead of taking the “glass half empty” approach, maybe we should look ahead. This season may just be a gap year, with some of the younger players getting some experience, so that next year the Mets will be contenders. Then again, there’s always the small chance that the Mets follow the same route as the 2012 Orioles, and unexpectedly clinch a playoff berth.

5 comments for “Are the Mets on track to duplicate the 2012 Rays pitching staff?

  1. Name
    February 17, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    I like the comparisons.
    Niese and Shields had almost the exact same peripherals last year. Same H/9, BB/9, HR/9. Shields had a higher K-rate and much more IP, but Niese had a slightly lower ERA. I think 2013 Niese could be even better than the 2012 Shields.

    Harvey to Price is a stretch, mainly because Price won the Cy Young in 2012 and he had much more experience entering his season. Not likely that 2013 Harvey will do that. But they are both strikeout pitchers like you said.

    Wheeler to Moore is also a stretch, mostly because Wheeler is expected to only spend up to a half season in the majors, while Moore spent the whole year in the majors in 2012.

    I think Gee and Cobb is a good comparison as well, both stats wise and pitching style.

    The only two who don’t really match up are Santana and Hellickson, although you could make a case for Harvey to Hellickson because they match pretty well in everything except K’s. Then you could argue that pre-ankle injury Santana could possibly produce what Price did, although most people would probably think that is a huge stretch.

    Overall, i’d say that the 2012 Rays are the best match(in recent memory) for the 2013 Mets.

    • February 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      Hi Name,

      My comparison of Harvey to Price wasn’t that Harvey is going to become one of the best pitchers in baseball next season, but that they’re similar in the way they came up and Harvey has to make the same adjustments as Price in order to become a dominant pitcher. Once he can do that, he’ll be pretty good. Same thing with Moore and Wheeler, Wheeler in 2013 is probably what Matt Moore was to the Rays in 2011, a young prospect who’s dominated in the minors, and is just getting his feet wet. I think that Hellickson to Harvey wouldn’t be a great comparison just because there’s a big difference between a strikeout pitcher and a groundball-contact pitcher even if there home run and walk rates are the same. I think the overall point of the piece is a lot of the Mets future pieces look to follow the same trajectory as the Rays staff.

  2. February 17, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Perhaps Dillon Gee can be our Jeremy Hellickson.

    Obviously this is the best-case scenario yet somehow it doesn’t seem far-fetched. I know it’s just 10 starts in MLB – but Harvey just seems like so much more of a sure thing than he did this time last year. May Wheeler have a similar debut midway through the 2013 season and boost our hopes even more.

  3. February 17, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    2 Problems with your analysis. First you have to take into account that James Shields pitches in the American League which means no pitcher bats so the lineups are a lot more difficult with a DH being in place. Shields pitches in the American League. Niese on the other hand pitches in the National League where you will find that many teams usually have 2-3 automatic outs. When James pitches in his divisional rival ballparks they are for the most part considered hitter-friendly(Camden Yards,Fenway,Yankee Stadium)I don’t know enough about Rogers Centre to make a statement one way or the other. Niese did have an advantage pitching his home games in Citifield. But since the outfield configuration has been changed we will see what happens this season. If Niese is to become a number one starter then he’s going to have to go up against every opponents top pitcher(which means little run support).

  4. February 19, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Hi Pete,

    As long as Niese is on the Mets he will probably look similar to James Shields unless the Mets decide to switch leagues which is unlikely. What your saying right now about Niese are a bunch of intangibles if he’s staying on the Mets. The Mets aren’t going to be switching stadiums anytime soon either. In fact Citi Field and Tropicana Field have similar park factors.

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