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.