The New York Mets have a log jam in the starting rotation. This is not news. They failed to trade anyone in the offseason. Also, this is not news. What is news, however, is the report on Tuesday that the team is leaning toward pitching Zack Wheeler (3.54 ERA, 11-11 in 2014) on Opening Day.
This immediately brings up two questions: why does manager Terry Collins feel the need to repeatedly name anyone this soon and why Wheeler? The answers are almost as complicated as a Collins lineup card.
First, in the 2013 season, Collins named Jon Niese the Opening Day starter as early as January according to some reports. Last season, he had named Niese the starter again early until he went down with an injury and Dillon Gee took the spot. This season, he’s leaning toward Wheeler.
Why does he feel the need to put this particular item to rest so early? Why can’t he just see how they are performing in March? Wouldn’t that make more sense? What if Wheeler isn’t doing well but deGrom is? Or Niese is? What if Matt Harvey continues his pace and is actually ready for Opening Day?
The point is that there are a million variables that go into that decision between now and April 6, so why make that call now? What benefit is it to the player or the team to know who will be on the mound for the first few innings of their season?
It may give pitchers a boost of confidence or show them that the coaching staff has confidence in them, however, it is not especially advantageous to the team. It’s not going to make the lineup hit any better knowing who the starter was so early.
The past few years are a perfect example of this point. In 2013, Niese was named the starter when Johan Santana wasn’t going to be ready. In 2014, Niese, again, was named because Matt Harvey wasn’t healthy. Then, Niese, also, got injured.
The point is, Collins has no idea who will be around on Opening Day right now. Why name anyone? Make it an open competition. Perhaps the competitive natures of the pitchers will surface and help to propel them to greater heights.
The second question is why Wheeler? Wheeler is a fine candidate for the spot and would be deserving of it, however, there are other pitchers to consider over him for various reasons.This is a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.
First, Dillon Gee (4.00 ERA, 7-8 record in 2014) started last year. While he is projected to end up in the bullpen, he is still more than capable of throwing one game as a starter. Particularly if they want to push Matt Harvey back as much as possible.
Then there’s the aforementioned Jon Niese. Had Collins had his way, the lefty would’ve started two consecutive seasons. Why, then, is he not good enough to start this year? He is coming off a good 2014 campaign where he posted a 3.40 ERA with a slightly less exciting 9-11 record and 138 strikeouts.
There’s Matt Harvey. The former All-Star Game starter is facing batters tomorrow and could well be ready by the time the first official game rolls around. He has been saying since last year that he was gunning for Opening Day. What if that comes to fruition? With his already impressive resume, can Collins really deny him?
Next is Jacob deGrom. The reigning Rookie of the Year winner is the reason Dillon Gee is going to the bullpen. His 2.69 ERA and 9-6 record last season made him head and shoulders above other rookies as well as his own rotation. His numbers alone can make a strong case for it.
Finally, there is Bartolo Colon (4.09 ERA, 15-13 record last season). Colon is the highest paid pitcher ($9M) by almost more than double the next guy (Niese $5M). He led the team in wins and was a viable candidate for the Cy Young award for most of the 2014 season.
He’s paid to be a “big game” pitcher. Why, then, isn’t he considered? His efforts last year alone should merit a look. He’s a veteran that has seen it all before and pitched Opening Days before. It wouldn’t phase him. He’s proven and tested in these types of situations.
In closing, only one pitcher will get the ball in this spot and, truthfully, it probably won’t be very memorable except that it was Opening Day. The next day will see another pitcher, then another and another, all the way through 162 games.
In the end, naming the pitcher for that particular game will most likely end up being irrelevant in the grand scheme of the overall season. With that said, one would like the team to get off to a good start. Wheeler could get that for them, as could the other candidates discussed.
Naming that pitcher who has the unenviable task of lighting the fire on the 2015 season can be important only from that stand point of getting off to a good start, however, it’s not so important that it has to be decided this week.