Few will remember the tenure of former Mets manager Mickey Callaway fondly. But one thing that even his strongest detractors will have to grant him is that in the past two seasons, the Mets’ starting pitchers were very healthy. Was that something that Callaway should get credit for or is that something that merely happened on his watch? As outsiders, it’s not a question we can answer right now. But let’s look at what happened with the starters in 2018-19.
Here are the games started by each pitcher the last two years. The first number following their name will be the starts in 2019 and the second number will be 2018.
* – Vargas’ 29 starts in 2019 includes both his numbers and Marcus Stroman’s.
For those keeping score at home, that’s 154 starts in 2019 and 136 in 2018. The year before Callaway took over as manager, the top five starters on the Mets combined for 107 starts. If at the conclusion of the 2017 season, someone suggested that Matz and Wheeler would combine for 120 starts over the next two years – that person would have been ridiculed. In the previous two seasons, that duo combined for 52 starts.
Let’s take a look at the other three teams in the NL East who’ve been contenders the past two seasons to see how their starters have fared. Again, the first number will be starts for 2019 and the second number will be for 2018:
Braves – 132, 131
Nats – 135, 131
Phillies – 122, 150
It’s tough to draw conclusions from such a limited sample but these numbers certainly suggest that if you want to be competitive, you need to do better than 107 starts from your top five guys if you want to be in the playoff hunt.
The Phillies totals are pretty interesting. Prior to the 2019 season, Philadelphia made numerous additions to their offense – most notably J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper. But they made no such additions to their starters. And after amassing 150 starts from that group in 2018, no one was up in arms about it, either.
But four of their five starters from 2018 put up worse numbers the following season, with only Zach Eflin improving from a 4.36 ERA to a 4.13 mark. But even with that improvement, Eflin spent time in the bullpen, as did Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. The Phillies’ drop in games from their five starters came not due to injury but rather ineffectiveness.
And the Phillies looked to rectify their weak SP by signing Wheeler as a free agent for 2020 and beyond. Now they just have to hope he does better than their last big free agent pitcher signing. Jake Arrieta, who went 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA in five years with the Cubs, has gone 18-19 with a 4.26 ERA in two years with the Phillies.
Getting back to the Mets – at one point Terry Collins received praise because the Mets had few incidents outside the lines with his players. My take was that was due more to unassuming leaders like Asdrubal Cabrera, Curtis Granderson and David Wright than anything that Collins brought to the table. Could it be that we’re looking at a similar situation with the starts by the Mets’ pitchers – that it’s due more to the individuals than anything the manager did?
That’s certainly a possibility. Callaway inherited a bunch of young/prime starters. The one exception was Vargas and he’s the one who spent considerable time injured in 2018. But Matz was far from the picture of health, Wheeler took longer than expected to bounce back from TJ surgery and Syndergaard made just seven starts in 2017. They may not have been old but they certainly didn’t have great track records prior to Callaway’s arrival.
As we get ready for the 2020 season, the big questions are if Matz and to a lesser degree Syndergaard have arrived at the point where 30 starts a year is the expectation for them? My opinion is that’s a point on which reasonable people can disagree.
Also, we have to consider the first full seasons for Stroman and Rick Porcello in New York. Stoman has made 32 or more starts in three of the past four years while Porcello has a streak of four straight seasons with at least 32 starts. Additionally, Porcello has made at least 27 starts each of his 11 years in the majors.
Those two have a good history on their side. But as we know all too well, past performance is no guarantee of future results. When the Mets signed Todd Frazier, one of his calling cards was that he was never injured. That didn’t exactly keep up during his tenure in Queens.
If the Mets are to make it back to the playoffs in 2020, they’ll need, among numerous other things, their starters to remain healthy. They enter the year with five guys with good results in this department the past two or more seasons. That’s a good thing. Now we’ll get to see if the combination of new manager Luis Rojas and new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner can keep up the good results that Callaway got the past two years.