When the Mets won their first World Series in 1969, they received 51 complete games from their starters. Last year their staff posted just one complete game. Many people wish that we would go back to the starting usage from that earlier era. My thought is that in the overall scheme of things, we’re better off not asking pitchers to regularly throw 130 or more pitches in a game. But if another team wanted to experiment with a return to 1969-era usage, the results would be fascinating.
But right now let’s look at the results of 2016 starting pitcher usage. The realistic hope most days is for your starter to go seven innings and have your two best relievers finish the game. So, how often did the starting pitcher for the 2016 Mets go at least seven innings? Let’s run a chart, breaking down the teams by NL and AL and see where the Mets fit in.
|NL Total||520||AL Total||577|
Lots of stuff to look at here. First off, the Mets finished tied for fourth, but clearly in the second tier of NL clubs. Still, you look at the top of both of these lists and you see a lot of playoff clubs. Four of the top five NL clubs made the postseason while the fifth, the Cardinals, missed by one game. In the AL, the top three clubs made the playoffs and eight of the top nine clubs finished with winning records, the exception being the White Sox, who had Chris Sale (23) and Jose Quintana (14) combine for 37 starts that reached the 7-IP minimum.
There was a smooth decline in the AL from the top club to the bottom club, never having a difference in one place of more than five games. In the NL, there was an 11-game difference between third and fourth place and a 12-game difference between the two clubs tied for fourth and sixth place. The top three teams in the NL had a combined 12-start lead in these games but that lead turned into a deficit once you went six teams deep for both leagues.
AL pitchers have to face deeper lineups with the designated hitter but don’t run the risk of being pinch hit for, since they don’t come to bat. In 2016, it seemed not being pulled for a hitter was more of an advantage, as the league held a 57-game advantage in these starts of at least seven innings. Either that or the pitching in the junior circuit is just superior.
The NL Central had the bottom three clubs in this ranking. At the start of the season, who thought the Pirates would be hanging out in this neck of the woods? Could go a long way in pointing out how they went from 98-78 wins in just one year. Barely above them are the Dodgers, the team that had 15 different guys start a game because of all of their injuries. In 2015, Clayton Kershaw had 22 games where he went at least seven innings. The 2016 Dodgers had just 25.
Now let’s look at the Mets. Their 44 starts was good for the league but a bit short of where most of us hoped they would be. In 2015, the team totaled 62 starts of at least seven innings. Here was the breakdown for those two teams:
|Noah Syndergaard||12||Jacob deGrom||14|
|Bartolo Colon||10||Matt Harvey||13|
|Seth Lugo||2||Dillon Gee||2|
The five pitchers with the most starts for the Mets in 2016 had 40 of these starts. In 2015, that number was 58. Of course the top five guys also combined for more starts overall in 2015, by a 143-126 edge. On a percentage basis, 41% of the starts by the top five guys resulted in an outing of at least seven innings in 2015 while it was 32% last year.
So, how do the Mets get back to their 2015 pace? Obviously, health will be the big factor. The other main part will be how much they get from their fifth starter, whether that be Gsellman or Zack Wheeler. The 2015 club outperformed their 2016 counterpart by a 9-2 margin from the fifth spot, thanks to Niese.
Let’s run one more chart, this one comparing how many of these starts the Mets got by month the past two years:
As expected, you find the fewest of these longer outings happen in the first and last month of the season. No surprise in either month, as the pitchers are still working themselves into shape in April, plus the weather plays some role, too. In the final month, teams have expanded bullpens, which likely makes a manager more inclined to go for a reliever, knowing he’s got 10 of them, or more, at his disposal. Too bad the latest CBA didn’t address the September roster issue. It would have been interesting to see if the number of these longer starts went up to match what we see in the heart of the year or if there are other factors at play besides roster size in September.
My thought coming into 2016 was that the Mets’ starting pitchers were going to help bail out the bullpen by going deep into games on a regular basis. That didn’t quite work out but the bullpen ended up just fine, thanks to the strong performances of Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, Jerry Blevins and later on Fernando Salas. Right now neither Blevins nor Salas is with the club – hopefully at least one will return – and the likelihood of a suspension hangs over Familia. So once again, we’re looking for the starters to come through and provide deep starts and lots of innings.