Before the first game of the 2020 season, Keith Hernandez speculated that the hitters would be ahead of the pitchers. Then the first game the Mets won, 2-1 and the second game was 2-2 before the Mickey Mouse rules of extra innings added four more runs to the final ledger. But is that because the pitchers are ahead of the hitters? Or is it because the starting pitchers in those two games were of a higher caliber than what we’ll typically see?

In 2019, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Mike Soroka and Max Fried combined to allow 256 ER in 704.2 IP for a 3.27 ERA. And this came with the happy ball. As a whole last year, NL pitchers posted a 4.38 ERA. And we’ve heard all throughout Spring Training and summer camp how much better Matz is throwing the ball this year. And Fried was a 17-game winner last year who has claimed the No. 2 starting spot for the team that many feel will win the division.

In the two games, the four starters combined to allow 3 ER in 22 IP for a 1.23 ERA. By contrast, the relievers for both teams combined to allow 6 R in 15 IP – and that includes four scoreless innings by the Mets’ pen on Opening Day.

Overall, there have been 30 games played in MLB so far. And we see that the pitchers in those games have combined for a 3.93 ERA. This is down from last year’s 4.49 MLB-wide ERA. But how much of this is due to the quality of a team’s top two starters? At the end of August, when every team has used their fourth and fifth starters five or more times each – do you expect to see a rise in MLB’s ERA from it’s current sub-4 mark? If so, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to say that the pitchers are ahead of the hitters.

HOT AND COLD STARTS – At any given time in the season, you expect that roughly equal parts of the hitters will be doing well and doing poorly. And after just two games, we see that pattern already forming. Four starters are batting .286 or better while five are hitting .167 or worse. Leading the quick starters is Michael Conforto, with a .600/.714/.800 line. And bringing up the rear is J.D. Davis, who is 0-6 with two strikeouts. To be fair to Davis, he was robbed of a home run on Opening Day. But as the starter with the least-solid hold on a starter’s job given his poor defense, he probably needs the hits to fall in sooner rather than later.

THE MAGNIFICENT JACOB DEGROM – No matter when you started following the Mets, you’ve seen some outstanding pitching performances. The greybeards will tell you all about Tom Seaver. Even in the dark days of the late 70s, there was strong pitching from Pat Zachry on the rare times he was healthy and an ERA-winning season from Craig Swan. And no one who ever saw him pitch will forget Dwight Gooden. More recently we had a 20-win season and a CY Award from R.A. Dickey and the brief brilliance of Matt Harvey. But deGrom is trying his best to eclipse them all.

In his last 68 games, dating back to the tail end of the 2017 season, deGrom has a 2.04 ERA. While Seaver had a 1.76 ERA in 1971, neither the end of his 1970 season nor the beginning of his 1972 campaign were of similar quality. And that’s not even taking into account the offensive levels of their respective times. Seaver had a 194 ERA+ in ’71 while deGrom posted a 218 ERA+ in 2018. We could rip off another 10 ways of showing deGrom’s brilliance but chances are you already know them by heart. There are many, many reasons why the delay of the 2020 season stinks. But missing out on 20 or so starts from peak deGrom should be near the top of the list.

WHAT’S THE OPPOSITE OF THE PETER PRINCIPLE? – In business, The Peter Principle refers to a person being promoted to the level of their incompetence. You excel at your first job and you get a promotion. You master that job and you get promoted again. You stink in that job and stay there the rest of your career. The opposite phenomenon should be called the Seth Lugo Principle. Lugo’s been so good at his current job as a reliever that he’s deemed too valuable to move into the more important – and lucrative – role as a starter. Since 2018, Lugo has made 111 appearances as a reliever and has allowed 44 ER in 160.1 IP for a 2.47 ERA. He also has 183 Ks and 38 BB in that span, for a 4.8 K/BB ratio. Last year, the Mets had good health from their starters and just about no one else reliable in the bullpen, so Lugo didn’t make a single start. This year, we’ve already seen two starters go down. And even with (seemingly) better bullpen depth, there’s been no serious talk about moving Lugo to the rotation. He’s a victim of his own success. The Lugo Principle.

PLAYERS WHO BENEFITED FROM THE DELAYED START – We can’t pretend that the delayed start wasn’t a blessing for some players who probably wouldn’t be ready to go at the end of March. And we’ve seen those guys come up and contribute right away. The most obvious was Yoenis Cespedes, who delivered the game-winning homer on Opening Day. But there were others, too. Conforto injured his oblique during Spring Training and likely would have opened the year on the IL. As noted earlier, he’s off to a terrific start. Dellin Betances had appeared in a Grapefruit League game but not with MLB velocity. He likely would have stayed behind in Florida to build up arm strength. He’s already seen action. And Drew Smith, who missed all of last year due to TJ surgery, was likely going to miss the first two months of the season. He got the last two outs of Saturday’s game. Smith added a cutter to his repertoire this season. He was a solid reliever when last healthy in 2018. Let’s see if the cutter can help him be even better here in 2020.

9 comments on “The magnificent Jacob deGrom, The Lugo Principle and players who benefited from the delayed start

  • TexasGusCC

    Seems Lugo is kept in the bullpen to take over in case Diaz falters. In fact, Diaz may be a good reliever, but those 61 saves fooled Brodie and keep fooling him.

  • Terry

    I like to hear when a guy adds a new pitch. I can’t imagine it being an easy thing to do – add an MLB-quality pitch in mid-career – but I’m curious why more guys don’t try it. It will be fun to see if the cutter works out for Drew Smith.

  • Metsense

    The Lugo Principle can be solved with some patience and a change of thinking. In the last year, Diaz has been horrible and he needs to find his way. There is an urgency to remedy the closer’s role. Reinsert Lugo to the closer’s role and monitor Familia, Betances and Wilson in high leverage situations. If one of them steps up and there is a need for a starter then move Lugo into the rotation. It would be wise for the Mets to transition Lugo to be a starter in the 2021 season or before but the Diaz incontinency and the closer’s role is the immediate problem.
    JD Davis has to hit because he is a poor defender.(-11 Rds ib LF). On paper, Smith is better in LF (-2 Rds). Davis,Smith and Cespedes should split time as DH/LF.
    As a greybeard, I would compare deGrom to The Franchise with the caveat that Seaver had pitched three times longer.

  • Name

    I guess i’m in the minority, but i’m of the belief that Lugo can’t be a successful starter.
    Not saying it can’t be done – but has there been any recent pitcher who first failed a SP, went to the pen and had success, and then went back to starting and continued having success?

    • Brian Joura

      I believe it’s inaccurate to label Lugo as a failed SP.

      In 31 starts over 3 seasons, he was 13-8 with a 4.06 ERA as a SP. And a bunch of those starts came in 2017 when he first suffered the elbow injury. In 13 starts in 2016 and 2018 combined, he allowed 24 ER in 70 IP. That’s a 3.09 ERA.

      There were 95 starters in the NL in the 2016-18 period to amass at least 150 IP and Lugo was tied for 45th with his 4.06 ERA as a starter. Steven Matz had a 4.16 ERA in the same span.

      • Name

        When you average multiple years out and compare to rank it can be highly misleading . Robert Gsellman 16-17 had a 4.60 ERA as a starter. Among NL starters with 100 IP that ranks him 66 out of 101. Would you argue he deserves a chance to start? Rafael Montero is rank 87. There were 14 worse starters than him so he should continue to get starts as well?

        Both Lugo/Gsellman starters numbers are buoyed by their rookie season of which i personally believe are tainted from September, something which you probably don’t agree with. So i ignore that year when projecting future success.
        And 2018 doesn’t really count for me either as a starter season as he was primarily doing relieving work.

        So i mainly am judging Lugo based on his 2017 season where he made 18 starts with a 4.76 ERA. Take out his first start and it goes up to 5.03 Maybe that’s not the worst in the league but i consider that a failure.

        • Brian Joura

          I certainly would tell Gsellman to get in line behind Lugo for a chance to be a starter. And I’d have him behind Peterson, too.

          Most people have favorites and look for ways to support their favorites. You’re the exact opposite. You have guys you label bad or incapable of filling a role and then look for ways to support that. You keep it interesting.

    • TexasGusCC

      Name, I echo Brian’s sentiment and add two thoughts. The first is Lugo would be a failed starter if he didn’t have the repertoire, but he does have three plus MLB pitches. Second, if he doesn’t have the stamina to go at least six, hopefully seven successful innings, he needs to stay in the bullpen.

  • Brian Joura

    One day with third starters going and MLB’s ERA jumped from 3.93 to 4.12

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