Recently, I discussed the projected offense for the 2012 Mets. Today, let’s talk about the pitching. Most fans’ top concern regarding the 2012 season is how the starting pitching is going to stack up. Implied in that worry is the knowledge that the Mets were fortunate with injuries to their starters last year, as the club had five SP make 149 of the team’s 162 starts. They are unlikely to enjoy similar health in 2012 and there’s not a lot of depth ready to step in and be above replacement level.
First, having five starters combine for 149 starts is definitely above average. However, we should point out that while the Mets did get this in 2011, it was not from the five starters we would have preferred. Most fans would have chosen to see Johan Santana and Chris Young get the starts that went to Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano or Mike Pelfrey.
Before the season started, I hoped the Mets would get the equivalent of two healthy starters from the foursome of Capuano, Gee, Santana and Young. And they did exactly that, as those four combined for 62 starts. It was just surprising that it broke down as 31 for Capuano, 27 for Gee and 4 for Young. If it broke down as 20 for Capuano, 15 for Santana, 15 for Young and 12 for Gee – would that have been a shock to anyone? And would we talk about how healthy the Mets’ SP were last year?
Let’s look at recent team history and see how many starts were made collectively by the five pitchers with the most starts. Here are the numbers:
2011 – 149
2010 – 130
2009 – 111
2008 – 145
2007 – 133
Over the previous five years, the Mets have averaged 134 (133.6) starts from the five guys who made the most starts. That’s good information but how does it rate to the league as a whole? One way to check this is to see the top starters for 2011. If you go over to FanGraphs you can sort for games started on their leaderboards. The results display 30 per page, which works out to one per team in an ideal world. Using the 15th player on each page, here’s what the “average” starter workload was last year:
#1 SP – 33 starts
#2 SP – 32 starts
#3 SP – 29 starts
#4 SP – 25 starts
#5 SP – 18 starts
That works out to 137 starts. Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey were spot on with 33 and 32 starts, respectively. Capuano was above average with 31 starts as was Gee with 27. Where the Mets really outperformed was with their #5 SP, as Niese got 26 starts. But using the above numbers, if Santana and Young missed only half the year, rather than all and 7/8 of the season, we would have gotten: 33, 32, 26, 20 and 15 from the top five pitchers or 126 starts. In that scenario, no one would be talking about the Mets’ “luck” in staying healthy.
It’s safe to say that the Mets will not get 149 starts from any five pitchers in 2012. And while there’s not great depth at Triple-A, if Santana can come back and be one of the top 5 starters, the rotation will not be the disaster that everyone assumes it will be.
Say what you want about Pelfrey, but he’s been very durable. R.A. Dickey has been the same in his two years with the club and knuckleball pitchers have a history of pitching every five days at an advanced age. Tim Wakefield made 30 or more starts in five out of six years starting at age 35. Charlie Hough made 30 or more starts nine straight years starting at age 34. Phil Niekro made 30 or more starts in 18 out of 19 years starting at age 29.
If Dickey, Pelfrey and Santana can combine for 80 starts, then Gee and Niese need only 54 to match the 134 starts that the Mets have averaged the past five years. Then they only have 28 starts to fill in by SP #6 and lower. Hopefully Miguel Batista and Chris Schwinden (along with any other veteran Sandy Alderson signs to an NRI) can cover the majority of the missing starts until September when perhaps Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey can come up for action.
The starting pitching is the biggest concern for the Mets heading into the 2012 season. But people overestimate the health of the 2011 squad. If the Mets have average health from what they’ve experienced in the last five years and the offense produces like it projects to – there’s simply no way this team challenges for 100 losses.