It isn’t a stretch to say that the Mets rotation needs a talent like Seth Lugo. After Zack Wheeler took his services to the team that wanted him more than the Mets, Noah Syndergaard needed corrective surgery on his pitching elbow, Marcus Stroman decided to stay safe at home this year, and Steven Matz has had to struggle to find his best self, the Mets rotation has been worrisome after Jacob DeGrom pitches. Yes, there are glimpses from all pitchers: Rick Porcello will give you four good innings and one explosion of offense by putting too many pitches in the hit zone; David Peterson has done well but the lack to familiarity will wear off as he will keep facing the same teams again and again; Michael Wacha has been knocked around by Atlanta and Miami to the tune of a 9.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP after dominating a sleeping Boston team; and the combined four starts of Corey Oswalt, Walker Lockett and Robert Gsellman have produced a 7.07 ERA and 1.71 WHIP.
The problem is that if you put Lugo in the starting rotation, who closes? Edwin Diaz has had issues pitching the ninth inning, for whatever reason. Diaz’ pretty 2.45 ERA and 20.45 K/9 overall, are 4.26 ERA and 22.5 K/9 in the 9th inning this year. While all the indicators are that Diaz is due for some good fortune, his .556 BABIP in the 9th inning is actually better that his .571 BABIP in his five appearances in the 8th inning.
Other candidates are Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, Brad Brach, Jared Hughes and I will include Drew Smith.
– Familia has battled consistency with a 1.54 WHIP in 12 innings but a decent 8.8 K/9;
– Betances also has a bad WHIP at 1.56 in 9 innings and an alarming 7.0 K/9 for such a historically dominant pitcher;
– Wilson has a 7.27 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP in 8.2 innings;
– Brach has started pretty well with a 1.69 ERA and a 8.4 K/9 but owns a 1.50 WHIP;
– Hughes has also had a nice start with a 3.38 ERA, a manageable 1.22 WHIP but only a 6.8 K/9;
– Smith has a 3.00 ERA in 6 innings, a 0.833 WHIP, and a 9.0 K/9.
So, if we want to keep Lugo as a starting pitcher, we need to manage the end of games with these pitchers and that will probably create drama. On sheer numbers, Diaz is still the best choice. The better set-up guys appear to be the 7th inning guys, Smith, Hughes and Brach, while the 8th inning guys Wilson, Betances and Familia have been inconsistent. However, as the Mets approach the halfway mark of the season, how long can you keep waiting for pitchers to right themselves? Now, rumors have the Mets engaging the Tigers on Jose Jimenez, but if Brodie Van Wagenen keeps his word, such a trade is a stretch because it will require prized prospects and he has said that he is against dealing those prospects and hurting the team’s future. Also, he would be dealing for a postseason that may or may not happen.
Let’s work backwards for a minute because you need to identify your five best starters in order to get leads to begin with. If DeGrom is one and Lugo is two, who are the best other three and can the starters left out help the cause of finishing out wins or will they have the same issues as most of the relievers already had? Figuring that Van Wagenen will insist on Porcello to be in the rotation and Peterson deserves to be in it, who is #5? And, if Matz isn’t in the top five, can he be a closer or at least a setup man? Matz has great stuff but is a pitcher that has struggled with pressure and base runners, so putting him in high leverage situations of late games may not be a great idea. So, do you put Matz in the rotation and hope he can at least be helpful there and use Wacha and Gsellman in the pen? Gsellman was hurt early and has only pitched one inning in the pen this year with two strikeouts and no runs. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to put him into the 8th/9th inning mix. Too, Gsellman’s problems in his career have stemmed from the long ball which is ironic because when he broke into the majors, his reputation was that he had a heavy fastball that was hard to lift evidenced by a 0.2 HR/9 his rookie year. What happened to that? Since then, his rate has been 1.1 HR/9, which isn’t terrible but he needs to find that pitch and has indicated that more usage helps it. Let’s take him up on it.
It’s not an easy solution to a tangled problem. The Mets need some relievers to step up, they need to identify who can be trusted to be given leads to late in the game, and they need to possibly shorten their rotation of relievers for high leverage situations and let the others work through their problems in lower leverage situations. All of this is to keep Lugo in the rotation, because the Mets actually have a bigger problem finding options for successful starters than they have had looking for successful relievers.