The Mets’ pitching rotation is primed for a big year

So far this offseason, rookie GM Brodie Van Wagenen has been wheeling and dealing players as much or more than any Mets GM ever. By signing Wilson Ramos and shipping out Kevin Plawecki, he’s remade the catching corps. He’s tinkered with the outfield, banishing Jay Bruce and acquiring Keon Broxton. The bullpen has been recast and upgraded by obtaining old friend Jeurys Familia and trading for lights out closer Edwin Diaz. The infield has been blown up with perhaps different starters at first, second and third bases, and Amed Rosario had best watch his back. The starting rotation, however, as of today would likely be the very same rotation that ended 2018.

That would mean Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz and Jason Vargas all slotted in as SPs. If this group pitches to the level they pitched at toward the latter part of 2018, this rotation would among the best, if not the best of MLB staffs.

deGrom was the NL Cy Young Award winner last year, and even if he doesn’t quite match last year’s production, he is still likely to be an elite pitcher, barring injury. He’s got the velocity, the control and the smarts to dominate batters. HIs 2018 ERA was a microscopic 1.70.

Syndergaard had a few hiccups in 2018, including a finger injury and a case of hand, foot and mouth disease, of all things. He still had a good year with an ERA of 3.03, and, as he has shown throughout his career, his velocity is off the charts. He flashes an upper 90’s fastball, and also almost unheard of average velocities of low 90s for his slider and a changeup that averaged 90.1 MPH, according to FanGraphs. He’s still young but he’s been in the Majors since 2015, so he’s got some experience under his belt. He too should be pitching like an ace in 2019.

Wheeler has shown great promise but has floundered at times. His 2018 was a down and up season. His ERA for the year was 3.31, but for the second half he pitched to a 1.68 ERA and held opponents to a .174 BA. His first half struggles were perhaps due to slow recovery from a previous injury. Having an arm like his as the number three starter is a luxury few teams have.

Matz was inconsistent in 2018, and he ended up with 3.97 ERA. He too finished strong, with a 2.51 ERA from September on, and batters hit only .168 against him in that time frame. If he stays healthy and focused he will make for a fine number four starter.

As to the fifth presumed starter, Vargas, he ended the year with 5.77 ERA. He was injured at the start of the season, and then pitched poorly. But from September on it was a different story with Vargas posting 3.27 ERA with opponents batting .181 against him.

There are several reasons to be optimistic for an aggregate improvement for this already good starting staff. First of all, the manager/pitching coach combination of Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland helped bring a new approach to the pitchers. A second year of absorbing this as well as further tweaking should be a positive. In addition, the enhancement to the bullpen will help in that there is a good chance the relievers will do a better job of disposing of inherited runners than the 2018 crew. Also, if one of the starters gets hurt or falters, it would be easier with the additional bullpen depth to slide a Seth Lugo from a reliever to a starter, as he has shown proficiency in both roles.

With the exception of the soon to be 36 year old Vargas, all the projected starters are around their prime pitching ages. If their health holds up, this could well be a starting rotation for the ages, and Mets fans will be happy Van Wagenen took a hands-off approach to the starters.

13 comments for “The Mets’ pitching rotation is primed for a big year

  1. January 15, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Not high on Matz, his homer issues are pretty bad, and he’s rarely healthy and his K rate has gone down and his walk rate has gone up. Matz hasn’t performed better than a fifth starter since 2016, hopefully he has a Wheeler like breakout this year. I’m expecting big things from the other three I just hope the Mets get a couple relievers and move Lugo to the rotation. If anyone gets hurt the Mets are screwed cause they have little starting pitching depth with Kilome hurt and Dunn being traded, and Kay and Peterson years away.

    • MattyMets
      January 15, 2019 at 10:13 am

      The best way to add starting depth is to bulk up the bullpen. Hear me out. No good free agent starting pitcher will sign on to be a 6th starter and agree to begin the season in the bullpen or Syracuse. None of the Mets starting five has bullpen experience. So, until there is an injury, there’s no opening. The answer is to sign another good reliever or two so that when Lugo and/or Gsellman inevitably get moved into the rotation the bullpen doesn’t get too weakened. There are still plenty of options available in free agency and with a surplus of infielders, the trade market is also a possibility.

      • Eraff
        January 16, 2019 at 10:55 pm

        smart comments

  2. Mike Walczak
    January 15, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    I concur 100% with the first two posts. I really dislike Vargas as the number five man. One injury or pulled muscle to the top four puts us a step back.

    Would like to see adding a long reliever who could provide us with some starts when the injuries happen.

  3. oldbackstop
    January 15, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    Hector Santiago had seven starts last year for the Chisox and was an All Star in 2015 with 32 starts. I’d like to see him push Vargas.

    • Mike Walczak
      January 15, 2019 at 10:26 pm

      I’d like to see him push Vargas out the door.

    • January 16, 2019 at 6:33 am

      Jason Vargas was an All-Star in 2017 – why on earth do you want to replace an All-Star?

      Adrian Gonzalez was a 5X All-Star
      Jose Reyes was a 4X All-Star
      Jose Bautista was a 6X All-Star
      Todd Frazier was a 2X All-Star
      Asdrubal Cabrera was a 2X All-Star
      David Wright was a 7X All-Star
      Yoenis Cespedes was a 2X All-Star
      Devin Mesoraco was an All-Star

      It’s unbelievable how the 2018 Mets did not win 120 games with all of those All-Stars!

  4. TexasGusCC
    January 16, 2019 at 12:49 am

    John, I agree that Callaway and Eiland have been a big influence on getting Matz and Wheeler over the hump of sustained success, and they need to work on all the kid relievers now. Also, I’m hoping Syndergaard can feel more comfortable throwing at the top of the strike zone where hitters can’t just drop the bat and make contact, and in on the hands more.

    And, you did hit on several points that I’d like to touch on and add one more:
    1. Although Vargas held batters below .200, his ERA still was 3.27. This was the result of 4 HRs in just 22 innings with a slugging pct. of .341. Meaning, when they hit him, soft contact is not too often. In fairness to Vargas, since early August til year’s end, his only bad starts were at home for Atlanta giving up 4 earned in 5 innings, at home for Cincy giving up 3 earned in 0.1 innings, and in L.A. giving up 4 earned in 3.1 innings. That’s 3 out of 10, so basically a 70% success rate of giving his team a chance to win and that is his ultimate goal. I feel that’s how the Mets need to use him: Very short leash – it’s not working today, get him out of there. The 70% good game number needs to be commended, although his overall numbers suck.
    2. We all know the starters will have to carry this team, but it seems they know it and are ready for that from the swagger we see. Problem is that the starting pitching is so elite and so depended on. Which brings me back to the offense. If the offense isn’t taking pressure off the starting staff, the duress will wear the starters to the point that one may overexert himself due to the pressure and get injured.
    3. Lugo is to the Mets staff what a sixth man is to a championship NBA team. That is, a player just as good as the starting five, but able to step in and play productive minutes when needed. I’d like to see at least one more back end reliever to allow Lugo the flexibility of being able to be moved to the rotation if necessary. If the bullpen needs Lugo too much, then the fill-in will be Oswalt or Flexen and that’s not what is best for this team.
    4. I’m hoping they don’t trade TDA because he really is a good framer of pitches. I’ve seen him steal some borderline pitches and the pitchers can benefit from reducing their workload. Too often I was puzzled as to why Plawecki would let his glove sag below his knees as the pitcher was winding up and just as he was throwing it, Plawecki would give the target. Why so late? Why not have a quiet glove waiting for it rather than so much hand movement late in the reception? It was never brought up by anyone who is supposed to comment on these things, so I didn’t say anything but it caught me as unusual.

    • January 16, 2019 at 6:54 am

      I like your first point about success rate and I feel like that gets lost a lot. Usually, we see this more with relievers who have a couple of bad outings that explode their ERA. But Vargas had 5 starts where he had 12.2 IP and 28 ER for a 19.90 ERA. And when you only make 20 starts, that’s a giant hole to try and dig your stats out from.

      • TexasGusCC
        January 16, 2019 at 10:26 am

        His initial starts were brutal and I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture. I wanted to be fair to the pitcher as well and not just pile on, so as I saw his last month then looked back a bit to August, I was quite surprised. He was pretty good; maybe not impressive but certainly effective at times. I still wouldn’t hang my hat on his production, but, if there isn’t an upgrade he may just be usable – if done correctly.

        • Chris F
          January 16, 2019 at 10:32 am

          One of things that has to be projected through those starts is the burning of the pen, which then reduces the team win potential for other games. If you have to throw 6-8 innings of relief, that carries a week worth of pen issues, and puts a lot of stress on other starters to go deeper, which has not necessarily been a great thing.

          • TexasGusCC
            January 16, 2019 at 12:53 pm

            Definitely Chris. However, the manager can offset that by having a caddy for Vargas, like the kid from Rule 5, or use an opener for Vargas, like Oswalt, and and then bring him in to face all the lefties, or keep Oswalt in if the opposing manager put in all righties in anticipation of the Vargas switch. This is since we learned that Oswalt was much more successful going through a lineup just once.

  5. Artie
    January 16, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    Depth, at least one more guy to supplant Vargas or fillin for one of the others. Oswald and Santiago don’t inspire too much confidence. A Gio Gonzales would be great but that ain’t happening. Hellickson, Miley, Bucholtz, Shields, could be.

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