Mets starters and going deep into games

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   AL  
Nationals 60 Blue Jays 56
Giants 57 Indians 53
Cubs 55 Red Sox 51
Cardinals 44 White Sox 50
Mets 44 Tigers 45
Rockies 32 Mariners 42
Braves 31 Astros 39
Phillies 30 Rangers 36
Padres 27 Orioles 32
D’Backs 25 Angels 30
Dodgers 25 Rays 30
Marlins 25 Twins 30
Reds 24 Royals 28
Brewers 21 Yankees 28
Pirates 20 A’s 27
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:

2016   2015  
Noah Syndergaard 12 Jacob deGrom 14
Bartolo Colon 10 Matt Harvey 13
deGrom 9 Colon 12
Steven Matz 7 Syndergaard 10
Harvey 2 Jon Niese 9
Seth Lugo 2 Dillon Gee 2
Robert Gsellman 1 Matz 1
Logan Verrett 1 Verrett 1

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:

2015 2016
April 6 3
May 12 11
June 13 8
July 13 8
August 13 8
Sep/Oct 5 6

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.

11 comments for “Mets starters and going deep into games

  1. Jimmy P
    January 15, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Nice charts, good information.

    But considering that four of these guys are coming off surgery, I look at it from the opposite perspective. I’m not seeking to push these guys deep as a standard practice.

    My design would be a very strong, deep, dependable bullpen. If Wheeler thrives, and Mets add one solid guy, I think they can be there once Familia returns. In this sense, I’ll be curious to watch the Marlins this season. They are in real trouble with their starters, but seem focused on building a powerful & deep bullpen. We know that their position players are extremely talented. Funny, I just flashed on the Big Red Machine. They just hoped the starters would get them into the 6th inning, then Sparky would take over.

    Seems like the difference in 2015 to 2016 Mets is Matt Harvey. In addition, Matz just can’t seem to go deep.

    Question: Do we have pitch counts for the ’69 team? I believe it took fewer pitches to get through 7 innings in 1969 than it does today, for a variety of reasons — hitting approach, more contact, less overall power in the lineup, sacrifice bunts, etc — but I don’t have the data to support that perception. I wouldn’t assume, respectfully, that your number of “130 pitches” is necessarily accurate.

    • January 15, 2017 at 9:41 am

      My “130 or more pitches” comment in the first graph was for a complete game, not a 7-inning start.

      I looked at Tom Seaver and they did not have pitch counts listed on his B-R page for any year in his career.

      However, Tango came up with a pitch count estimator which will get us in the right ballpark. Tango’s basic formula is 3.3*PA + 1.5*K + 2.2*BB

      Last year, JDG had the team’s only complete game. He had 28 PA, 1 BB and 7 Ks. The pitch count estimator comes up with 105 pitches for this outing and he actually threw … 105. It’s usually not that good but it’s pretty darn reliable.

      Going back to Seaver, his first complete game (edit: in 1969) had 37 PA, 1 BB and 3 Ks. By the pitch count estimator, he threw 135 pitches. Of course, 3 Ks and 1 BB was kind of low for Seaver. At the end of August, he had a complete game with 35 PA, 3 BB and ll Ks. The pitch count estimator spits out 139.

      Generally speaking, there were fewer strikeouts in the 60s and 70s than there are today, which should mean lower pitch counts. But you’re also talking, at a minimum, six extra plate appearances going seven versus going nine. That’s 20 pitches (without any strikeouts or walks) by Tango’s estimator.

    • Name
      January 15, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Going deep has nothing to do with pushing people past their limit. It’s about efficiency and effectiveness, aka dominance.

      Take for example, Noah.

      Last year, in his 12 starts where he went 7+ innings, he threw 1214 pitches to 320 batters over 87.1 innings.
      That’s an average of 101 pitches/game, 13.9 pitches/IP and 3.79 pitches/BF
      In his 14 starts where he went between 5 and 7 innings, he threw 1421 pitches to 352 batters over 84.2 innings
      That’s an average of 101 pitches/game, 16.8 pitches/IP, and 4.04 pitches/BF

      As you can see, in the games with higher innings total, he didn’t average more pitches per game. In fact, one could argue that the 5-7 innings games caused more stress on the pitchers because they were out there longer each inning.

  2. Eraff
    January 15, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Pitcher Health is a very large guess for this group. While they exploded their model of a Pitcher Centric team in the last quarter of 2016, I don’t think the Mets can out run similar problems for an entire season

    Last year’s finish was absolutely bizarre, in my opinion— they simply don’t have a good enough squad to win without the great Starting Pitches…. except, Oh!!!— they did!!!

  3. Chris F
    January 15, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    32 2015 KCR

    This is certainly a metric this fan base will identify with, and of course in general across baseball. I certainly believe for the 2017 Mets to have any serious shot, they will need to be in the top tier of teams with starting pitchers going 21 outs. That’s true because this team is anchored by starting pitching. We need to dial back the hands of the way back machine all the way to 2015, when the Royals won the World Series and has only 32 games where starters went 21 or more outs (I did not count the starts from Cueto prior to benign traded). Even assuming I missed something, the royals will be much lower that other teams that make the post season. It shows how there may be more than 1 way to slay the dragon.

    • Name
      January 15, 2017 at 1:31 pm

      As the charts show, teams with good SP have much higher odds of getting to the postseason.

      While you can win in multiple ways to win, SP effectiveness has the highest correlation compared to bullpen, hitting, fielding of what teams makes the postseason.

      As an analogy, it’s not impossible for someone 5’6” to make it to the NBA, but the odds are much less than someone who is 6’6”

    • January 15, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      While acknowledging that there’s more than one way to slay the dragon, the 81-81 2016 Royals would tell us that this is a risky path to take.

      • Chris F
        January 15, 2017 at 5:28 pm

        In 2014, when they lost the WS, they had 59 starts of 21 or more outs. Interesting if nothing else. It also shows how variable actual outcomes are.

        Back to the Mets though. As the article intimates, the chance to make waves in October comes from pitching pitching pitching. Everyone wants it, and we appear to have it. Of all the things the Mets hope to improve on, pitching may just be the *only* one that is essential to be legit in the post season.

  4. MattyMets
    January 15, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Really nice post, Brian. Pitch efficiency is the key. When a pitcher is really humming he can go 8 or 9 without having to go beyond 110 or 115 pitches. Avoiding not just walks, but too many deep counts is key. There was a common misconception that Sid Fernandez was a six inning pitcher because he was a heavy set guy who’d run out of gas. What really happened was he had a high running fastball that would get fouled off a ton and he had too many long at bats. Sometimes it’s okay to get a ground out. You don’t have to strikeout every batter. Wheeler is the only one who concerns me with walks but Matz can fall prey to the long counts too.

    One thing to look forward to in 2017 is that we’ll hopefully have a healthy rotation like in 2015 but with the 2016 double play combo behind them!

  5. Mike Walczak
    January 16, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    The Mets are going to really miss Bartolo the Great. They are going to be without Familia, Blevins and Salas assuming the two latter do not get resigned. With almost the whole starting staff coming back from injuries, this could spell big trouble for the Mets. The Mets could have kept up with the Nats and Cubs, if they invested in a deep bullpen. (Didnt have to be Chapman, Jansen, etc….) Lets see what happens.

  6. Eraff
    January 16, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    I liked Salas! He’s a very solid Pro. If Blevins is 3 years and over 5 million per, He’s not a Sandy Guy.

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