There are two thoughts about the Mets’ starting pitchers that most people have, even if they don’t typically go together. The first is that the team will be successful largely on the backs of their starters. Few would predict the Mets to make the playoffs if Jacob deGrom came down with a season-ending injury in May and Noah Syndergaard didn’t improve on last year’s ERA. And the second thought is that no one really knows how the club’s fourth and fifth starters will shake out.
The Mets had one opening in the rotation and went out and signed two free agent starters, meaning that the club now has six guys who expect to start. Steven Matz has made 101 starts for the Mets in his career, including 60 over the past two seasons, yet he’s battling for a spot in the rotation this year. Early rumors have Rick Porcello jumping over Matz for the SP4 role, leaving Matz to battle it out with Michael Wacha for the last starter’s spot. Porcello has been a workhorse throughout his MLB career and has no bullpen experience at this level. Meanwhile, both Matz and Wacha threw out of the pen last year.
So far this Spring, the Mets have been largely non-committal about their plans for the back end of the rotation. A trial balloon was sent up through the press about playing matchups with the final rotation spot. It’s safe to say that no one was doing jumping jacks about that idea. There was also the Matz to the Yankees rumor, which at least had some people interested, but that had almost no chance of happening in real life, especially at this time of the year.
Which leaves the Mets hoping the problem will work itself out. The six pitchers are all having solid or better Grapefruit League seasons so far. In 34 IP, they’ve allowed just 8 ER – good for a 2.12 ERA. And the three hurlers competing for the final two spots are all giving it their best shot. Matz and Porcello have each allowed just 1 ER in 6 IP and Wacha has surrendered just 1 ER in 7.2 IP. In early results the big separator has been WHIP. Porcello has been very good (1.17) and Matz has been outstanding (0.33) but Wacha (1.57) has allowed 8 H and 4 BB in 7.2 IP. His ERA will spike if he keeps allowing that many baserunners. It’s something to keep an eye out on the rest of Spring Training.
A DIFFERENT TYPE OF MARCH MADNESS – Few people put much stock into Spring Training performances. The small sample size and the level of competition are the two biggest reasons and there’s also the idea that different players are working on different things, putting an emphasis on experience over results. But it’s hard not to notice and be impressed by the results Brandon Nimmo has put up in Grapefruit League play the past four seasons. Here are his numbers since 2017:
17 – 22 PA, .476/.500/.524
18 – 70 PA, .306/.371/.613
19 – 61 PA, .291/.344/.527
20 – 26 PA, .435/.500/.652
In his last 179 PA in Grapefruit League play, Nimmo has a .342/.397/.578 line.
DON’T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ON THE WAY OUT – The Mets have never been known for taking the high road when a player departs. But it seems that we’ve seen a new low with how the Zack Wheeler saga has played out. Wheeler claimed there were crickets chirping from the Mets when he became a free agent and Brodie Van Wagenen stated in no uncertain terms that his Philadelphia contract paid him more than what the Mets thought he was worth. There were other shots going back and forth, including one subtle one from the Mets’ side. They wasted no time giving Wheeler’s #45 to a new player. Wacha has sported that number this Spring. In St. Louis, Wacha had #52 but that’s Yoenis Cespedes’ number in New York. Maybe Wacha asked for #45. Or maybe the Mets gave it to him as an indication of how ready they are to move forward without Wheeler.
FIRST-ROUND PICK LOOKS FOR RESPECT – In 2017, the Mets used their first-round pick on LHP David Peterson, who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire or been embraced by the prospect hounds. Our own David Groveman had Peterson as the #14 prospect in the system, not a particularly great ranking for a first-round pick in a system not viewed as one of the game’s best. Others have him squeaking into the top 10 but it’s still not a ringing endorsement.
Considered a disappointment by many, Peterson’s peripherals last year paint a much rosier picture than his actual ERA. He gets groundballs and strikeouts but was done in by a .340 BABIP allowed and a 66.3 strand rate. Peterson had a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League following the 2019 season, with a 3.46 ERA in 13 IP against the top prospects who typically fill out the AFL rosters. In Grapefruit League play, Peterson has a 1.50 ERA in 6 IP and 3 G. After spending all of last season in Binghamton, Peterson should be in Triple-A to start 2020. He won’t get the first crack if a spot in the rotation in the majors opens up, but don’t be surprised if he makes starts for the Mets in the upcoming season.
BREAK A LEG, FIGURATIVELY OR LITERALLY – In the theatre, it’s bad luck to wish someone good luck. So, you say “Break a Leg!” instead. Another theatre belief is that if you have a poor final dress rehearsal that you’ll have a good opening night. In stark contrast to what he did last Spring, Robinson Cano is having a poor start to his Grapefruit League season, as he’s gone 1-11 so far. Last year’s hot start in exhibition play didn’t mean anything for Cano once the regular season started. Let’s hope that a poor dress rehearsal for Cano in 2020 will make for a great regular season. To Cano – Break a Leg! – however you wish to take it.