Most everyone expects Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to be very good. Many of us expect Zack Wheeler to be good, too. However, the outlook is not quite as rosy for Steven Matz and Jason Vargas. The questions become how good does the starting five have to be and can the first three make up for the second two. To answer these questions, let’s look to the playoff teams from the National League since 2012, when the current two Wild Card system was adopted.
That gives us seven seasons, with five teams per season, which works out to a sample of 35 teams. That’s reasonably large enough. However, it’s important to note that these are the raw numbers and the run environments were not necessarily stable in this time period. There were 3.95 runs per game scored in the NL in 2014 and 4.58 rpg in 2017. The hope is that the tradeoff for simplicity isn’t compromised too badly by a swing of roughly half a run between the low and high.
As you might expect, we see all kinds of ways to build a playoff team. We have teams with dominating pitching in both starters and relievers. There are great starting staffs with noticeably worse bullpens. And there are teams where the starters were okay but the relief corps was outstanding. Our 35 playoff teams ranged from starters amassing between 54 and 81 wins, with an ERA between 2.96 and 4.59, which was posted by the 2017 Rockies. The next worst mark for starters’ ERA was also by the Rockies and the 2018 version of the club had a 4.17 mark. Among the 33 non-Rockies teams, the worst mark was 4.05 by the 2017 Cubs. Here are our 35 playoff teams, with their numbers broken down by starters and relievers
|Year||Team||Wins||SP Record||SP ER||SP IP||SP ERA||RP Record||RP ER||RP IP||RP ERA|
We see that the average NL playoff team over the past seven years received 65+ wins and a 3.55 ERA from their starting staff. The two Mets teams from this time period to make the playoffs got 58 wins and a 3.61 ERA in 2016 and 64 wins and a 3.44 ERA in 2015 from their starters. Contrast that with the teams the past two season which fell shy of the postseason. In 2017, Mets starters posted 49 wins and a 5.14 ERA while their 2018 counterparts notched 50 wins and a 3.54 ERA.
Interestingly, the quality – as judged by ERA – just wasn’t there from the rotation in 2017. But last year, the starters posted an ERA that was good enough for a playoff berth. But due to a lousy bullpen and an inconsistent offense, they finished about 15 wins shy of where they needed to be. Reinforcements were made to both the bullpen and offense this year. It’s beyond the scope of this piece to address the offense, so let’s look at the relievers.
Last season, the Mets used 25 guys out of their bullpen and only six of those posted an ERA below the 3.47 mark of the average playoff bullpen. And even that is misleading, as four of those six pitched in nine or fewer innings in the majors for the Mets. Overall, the Mets’ bullpen amassed a 4.96 ERA over 546.1 IP in 2018. Judging by our 35-team sample of playoff teams, they’ll have to cut at least a full run from that mark this season. It will help if they don’t give 130 IP to four guys with ERAs above six like they did last year to the ugly quartet of Tim Peterson, AJ Ramos, Paul Sewald and Anthony Swarzak.
Edwin Diaz had a 1.96 ERA over 73.1 IP and figures to be a big help in this department. Hopefully the team will have Jeurys Familia and Seth Lugo for full seasons out of the pen, too. If those three can give 200+ relief innings with a sub-3.00 ERA, that will go a long way towards stabilizing the pen. In 2018, the Mets received just 129.2 IP by relievers with a 3.00 or better mark.
Getting back to the starters, last year the Mets received 799.2 IP in 136 starts from the five pitchers who begin the 2019 season in the rotation. That’s certainly a strong number of starts, even if you’d like to have 50+ more innings with that many starts. Additionally, the Mets’ top two depth starters – Lugo and Corey Oswalt – combined for 78.1 IP in 17 starts with a 4.48 ERA.
Those are actually pretty good numbers from your sixth and seventh pitchers when you didn’t do a mid-season trade for an upgrade or have a stud prospect waiting in the wings for a promotion. For a comparison, those guys last year for the Nationals – Erick Fedde and Jefry Rodriguez – combined for 89 IP in 19 starts with a 6.06 ERA.
Let’s check in on a computer forecast to see how they project the Mets’ starters. We’ll use Steamer Projections for this exercise. Their forecasts called for the starting five to combine for 138 starts, 822 IP and a 3.65 ERA. That’s a few more starts and innings for the quintet than a season ago but at a worse rate of production.
It’s hard to forecast deGrom to match last year’s 1.70 ERA but Steamer also sees three other Mets starters having their ERA rise compared to 2018. Only Vargas is expected to beat last year’s mark, as it has him going from a 5.77 ERA to a 4.30 mark. That’s a nice improvement, but the Steamer forecast calls for Vargas to pitch in just 105 innings.
Once you factor in the depth starters, the team ERA for SP will certainly rise, probably to the 3.75 range. Recent history shows you can make the playoffs with that type of rotation but you better have a good bullpen and you better have a good offense. Ten of our 35 playoff teams had an ERA of 3.71 or greater from their starters and all 10 of those teams had a bullpen ERA better than their SP ERA. There’s definite room for improvement in the Mets’ bullpen from their 2018 numbers. Can the assembled cast combine for a sub 3.70 ERA?
That seems optimistic.