The Mets have won 15 of their last 17 games and you don’t go on a streak like that without having great performances all around. One area for the Mets that’s done particularly well is the starting pitching, which outside of the game where Taijuan Walker got his spike caught on a pitch and then got knocked around, has been lights out. With both of their aces back from the IL, the Mets have five pitchers who are above-average, ones that allow you to put together long stretches of excellent results.
The schedule gets significantly harder, with two series against the Phillies surrounding one with the Braves and matchups against the Yankees and Dodgers on the near horizon, too. They won’t go 14-2 in those games against playoff-caliber clubs but the starters ensure they won’t go 2-14, either. The Mets have already endured a tough stretch like this back in June and that was without both Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. They should do even better this time with their aces and without the West Coast games of the June stretch.
Now that we’ve looked back and looked at what’s on the immediate horizon, let’s focus about two months ahead of time, when the playoffs begin. Assuming things stay on track and the Mets are one of the postseason clubs, how do they handle their rotation? The Wild Card Round, which the Mets hope to avoid, is a best-of-three series with no days off. The Divisional Round is a best-of five series, with days off between the second and fourth games. The League Championship is a best-of-seven series, with days off between the second and fifth games. Finally, the Word Series is identical in length and days off to the LCS.
While all of the Mets’ starters are good, deGrom and Scherzer are a cut above the others and you want to maximize their starts – or as much as you can while keeping to traditional 21st Century rest protocols. With the days off built into the schedule once the Wild Card Round is over, the Mets will only need four starters. So, if everyone is above-average, who gets sent to the pen for the playoffs?
There’s no obvious answer and there are several factors in play here. Undoubtedly, one key factor is how will each of the other three hurlers, non deGrom/Scherzer universe, be performing down the stretch. We have no idea here in August how pitchers will be doing in September. But we can look at how they are doing now, as sort of a warm-up exercise. Here they are, listed in alphabetical order:
Chris Bassitt – He started off the year very strong and he had a 2.34 ERA after his first seven games. Then he hit a rough patch of five games which saw his season-long ERA balloon to a 4.48 mark. But in his last nine games he’s been terrific. Bassitt has a 2.19 ERA with a 0.973 WHIP in 61.2 IP. He’s faced three winning team in this stretch and is 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA, with his only loss coming against the Padres, when he allowed 2 ER in 7 IP with 11 Ks.
Carlos Carrasco – He leads the team with 13 wins but his performance has been a little more up and down than Bassitt. While Bassitt bunched his bad starts together, Carrasco has sprinkled his in throughout the season. But after his last bad outing at the end of June, Carrasco has been very sharp. In his last seven games, he has a 1.69 ERA and a 1.172 WHIP in 42.2 IP. He’s faced two winning teams in this stretch and is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA, including five shutout innings against the Padres.
Taijuan Walker – From an ERA standpoint, he was having the best season of the three until the game where he caught his spike and then got roughed up. In the nine games before that outing, Walker had a 2.38 ERA and a 1.024 WHIP in 56.2 IP. He faced two teams with winning records and was 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA, including 7.1 scoreless innings against the Astros. Carrasco’s spike game was against the Braves and he allowed 8 ER in an inning plus. He pitched last night and allowed 2 ER in 6 IP against the Reds, which hopefully means the Braves game was a one-time thing.
If the postseason started today, you wouldn’t be able to point to their recent results and say one pitcher eliminated themselves from the playoff rotation. What would you do next?
It may come down not to which pitcher is performing “worst” as a starter but rather which pitcher would do best coming out of the pen. With 47 appearances in the majors as a reliever, Carrasco has by far the most experience pitching as a reliever, with more than double the relief appearances as Bassitt (13) and Walker (5) have combined. But Carrasco hasn’t appeared as a reliever since 2019 and since 2015, he’s made just 13 relief appearances, the same as Bassitt, only with 48 more starts.
I have not heard anything about any of these three pitchers needing more time to get loose, which would be a factor in determining which pitcher would function better as a reliever. My completely subjective opinion is that due to the number of pitches he throws that Bassitt would need the most time to get ready. But it’s not anything said with a great feeling of confidence.
You might want the guy who could throw the hardest to be your reliever, someone who could come on in a pinch and make high-velocity pitches. Here are the average FB speeds from FanGraphs’ Pitch Type section for our trio:
Bassitt – 93.0
Carrasco – 93.0
Walker – 93.6
Much like with their recent performances, there’s not much here to suggest that one guy should be in the pen.
These have been objective views but perhaps what’s needed is to look at this from a subjective point of view. Is there anything that veteran manager Buck Showalter might look at to break a perceived tie? None of the three have been with the Mets for a long time nor have any pitched for Showalter previously. Additionally, none of the three are guaranteed to be on the 2023 Mets, although Carrasco has a club option.
My complete guess is that if it comes down with no clear choice as to whom to move to the pen that Showalter will pick Walker as the hurler to draw the short straw. As stated earlier, my belief is that Bassitt’s pitch mix doesn’t make him an ideal reliever. Additionally, my thought is that Showalter will give the nod to Carrasco to stay in the rotation due to his 229 starts in the majors, compared to the 154 of Walker.
Now, one could certainly argue that Walker doesn’t have an ideal reliever’s arsenal, either. But it seems likely that Walker could improve his velocity more than the others with the need to pace himself removed from the equation. And he’s also the youngest of the three. It’s not impossible that plays into the equation, too. Walker may have more time left to make future playoff starts. It’s a tiny, tiny thing – for sure. But it might come down to it when you’re dealing with three above-average pitchers all performing well.
It’s a nice problem to have.