Oddly enough, the most talked about lefty arm on the New York Mets this offseason has been…Steven Matz? This is the case because Matz reupped with the team after settling for a $5.2 million contract at the arbitration table. Other than that Matz, whose career has been marred by injuries and inconsistencies, has seen his popularity amongst fans tumble. Other than some of the stellar work he has done in the community, which shouldn’t go unrecognized, Matz hasn’t brought much to the mound for the team. In other words, unless James McCann brings some serious magic to his game, Matz shouldn’t be the lefty we’re talking about.
That title belongs to David Peterson. The lefty from California had a solid rookie campaign, pushing a 3.44 ERA and 1.208 WHIP, with 40 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched. Peterson recorded a WAR of 1.5, the second-best of the entire Mets pitching staff. At only 25 years old, Peterson should be in position to be a perfect candidate to round out the Mets pitching rotation for the upcoming season.
The main question surrounding Peterson is whether he should be the fourth or fifth starter in the rotation, given that Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, and Marcus Stroman will all take their turn ahead of him. The answer is completely dependent on who the team signs. There’s been reports that Steve Cohen isn’t ready just yet to close his wallet to splash signings, which is a welcomed feeling for Mets fans. This could mean that the Mets still make a splash and sign Trevor Bauer. That expensive scenario would guarantee that Peterson receives the five spot in the rotation until the return of Noah Syndergaard, at which point he could line up to be a long man out of the bullpen that provides rotational depth.
Looking past the Bauer wildcard, there are tons of veteran options out on the market that make the question of where Peterson fits into the rotation more difficult, or whether or not he’ll get bounced from the rotation when Syndergaard returns. Although it has been reported that the thought around the MLB is that Masahiro Tanaka will return to Japan to pitch, Tanaka is also a pitcher that could bump Peterson when Syndergaard returns to the rotation.
Other options though, like Jake Odorizzi and James Paxton would pose a more difficult decision. It was tough sledding for those two veterans last season, as they combined for a WAR of -.4, and battled through slews of injuries that prohibited them from ever getting comfortable on the mound during the season.
For a more accurate picture of what the pitchers can bring to the table, a look at their collective resumes does the trick. Odorizzi pitched himself into an All-Star appearance in 2019, throwing a 3.51 ERA on his way to recording 15 wins. Paxton held a 3.82 ERA over 150.2 innings in 2019 for the Yankees, and pitched two complete games in 2018. As for Kluber, his two Cy Young awards do all the talking. But would any of them pitch well enough in 2021 to supplant Peterson in the rotation once Syndergaard returns?
The one advantage that all of them hold over Peterson is experience. The two veterans combined have pitched 1,795.2 career innings. With all of the duels and big situations they’ve been in, including a deep postseason run from Paxton, it could be a great idea to have a veteran anchoring an already strong front of the rotation. Looking at the innings pitched from the opposite side of the spectrum, that is a lot of miles on the tank for two pitchers who are returning from injuries. Signing any of those veterans also comes with the risk of signing a player who just doesn’t know their tank is out of gas yet. Peterson is healthier than all of them, and is less likely of a candidate to break down at the end of the season when innings start to feel heavier.
Acquiring Carrasco was a great move for the Mets, as it began to plug the holes of last year’s swiss cheese rotation. While acquiring a veteran starter should be on the to-do list, that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the Mets have a quality starter in Peterson who should not be ignored. In the 2020 season he was the second-best pitcher on the Mets staff, and while he will understandably take a backseat to pitchers like Stroman and Carrasco, it should come as no surprise if his game improves even more during the 2021 season.