At the start of Spring Training, the Mets had seven pitchers that they hoped would make most of the starts for the club this season. Multiple injuries forced the Mets to use other starters much earlier than anticipated, as Rafael Montero started on May 5, Adam Wilk on May 7 and Tommy Milone on May 10. All told, the Mets have used 11 different starting pitchers so far this year and we’re just barely into July. Last year they used 12 starting pitchers all season.
On June 10, Steven Matz returned from the disabled list, where he had been all year long, and the following day Seth Lugo did the same thing. Unfortunately, Noah Syndergaard was still on the DL and he was soon joined by Matt Harvey and Robert Gsellman, meaning the Mets will have to continue to use a starter not among their offseason seven for the foreseeable future. And perhaps two if they insist on keeping a six-man rotation.
Matz and Lugo have combined for eight starts and they are 5-2 with a 3.10 ERA. Compare that to the 10 starts made by the pitchers outside the offseason seven. Milone, Montero, Tyler Pill and Wilk have combined to go 1-6 with a 7.51 ERA. Matz and Lugo have combined for 52.1 IP in their eight starts while the Mets’ four depth starters have mustered just 44.1 IP in 10 starts. Matz and Lugo have provided both quality and quantity that the depth starters have simply been unable to come close to achieving.
And the numbers for the depth starters are somewhat propped up by Montero’s last start against the Giants, when he gave the group its only win and helped lower its ERA by allowing 1 ER in 5.2 IP. It remains to be seen if, when the competition gets better, Montero will be able to put up decent numbers going forward. However, fate has smiled on him somewhat as he gets the Phillies Sunday afternoon.
Like virtually all other pitchers on the Mets, if not baseball, Matz and Lugo have done well when they keep the other team from cracking multiple homers in a game. They have a 2.20 ERA in the five games where opponents hit one homer or did not leave the yard. The difference is they’ve been able to do that in the majority of their starts.
Milone, Pill and Wilk have surrendered 10 HR in 32 IP. Montero, for all of his faults, has not allowed a homer as a starting pitcher this season. He has allowed two gopher balls as a reliever. When we last saw Pill, he gave up 2 HR against the Dodgers and when we last saw Milone, he surrendered 3 HR against the Angels. And Wilk served up 3 HR in his only start for the Mets.
Meanwhile, over his four starts, Matz has a 4.99 FIP compared to a 2.67 ERA. He’s been extremely fortunate with a .218 BABIP and an eye-popping 95.5 LOB percentage. Neither of those numbers will last. Hopefully, he can combat regression with those numbers by upping his strikeout rate – currently with a 6.0 K/9 – and cutting his 17.9 HR/FB rate. Lugo doesn’t have any numbers that appear completely unsustainable at first glance; yet, he has a 4.40 FIP compared to a 3.55 ERA.
Even if they’re outpitching their peripherals, both Matz and Lugo would remain a huge step above the depth starters if we just compared FIPs. And to be clear, guys that you count on for your rotation should be better than your depth starters. But the dropoff has been so severe that it has to be counted as a black mark against Sandy Alderson.
On February 28, it was fine to think that the Mets would be okay going into the year with the offseason seven. But once Matz and Lugo went down with injuries in Spring Training, Alderson should have been more aggressive with acquiring a better depth starter. At that point, the offseason seven was down to five and at least four of the five had question marks. It was highly likely that they would need additional pitching before Matz and Lugo were ready to return. And they did.
If Alderson had signed a Doug Fister or a Colby Lewis type shortly after the season started, they could have had three-to-four weeks to prepare in the minors and have been ready to step in once the Mets needed them in May. At that point, their price tag should have been reduced from what it would have taken to sign them in November. Plus, while the Mets may have been at their budget max previously, by April it should have been easy to predict extra payroll freeing up thanks to insurance from the David Wright contract kicking in.
The Mets are 13-9 since Matz returned on June 10, with seven of those wins coming against teams with better records on the day that they played. You’ve got to start somewhere. The pitching-starved Mets were 25-33 before Matz’ return.
Half the fan base left the Mets for dead when they were swept by the Dodgers. But since then, they’ve gone 7-1 and picked up 3.5 games in the standings versus a Washington team with severe bullpen issues. It’s still a giant uphill climb and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. But having starts made by Matz and Lugo rather than Milone and Wilk can only help the cause.