In 1970, the Reds hired a new manager and went on to win 102 games and the future looked bright. But things fell apart for the team in 1971 and they finished under .500 for the season. Sound familiar? It’s a nice parallel for the 2022-2023 Mets. What happened to the Reds in 1972? Well, they rebounded to win 95 games. So, what the heck happened in ’71?
Johnny Bench and Tony Perez did not match their 1970 production. Bobby Tolan got hurt in the offseason playing basketball and missed the entire season. Dave Concepcion put up a 44 OPS+. On the pitching side, three starters who combined for 95 starts and went 48-25 in ’70 combined for 58 starts and posted a 13-30 record in ’71.
The reasons are pretty clear for anyone who looks at the Reds’ team pages on Baseball-Reference for those two seasons. You wouldn’t know that Tolan missed the year because of a basketball injury but everything else was there for all to see 50-something years later. A Reds fan at the time could fill you in on other details – specifically injuries to pitchers – but you didn’t have to be there to get a pretty good picture of what went down.
So, do you think 50 years from now the picture will be as clear to someone looking at the 2022-23 Mets on B-R?
A fan could see Starling Marte and Jeff McNeil not matching their production from the previous year – along with some other players. They’d see Edwin Diaz missing the entire season. They’d see the awfulness of the great majority of the bullpen. But they would likely be confused as to what happened with the starting pitching.
There was quite a bit of turnover from the previous season but was that due to injury or trades or free agent defections? And why did the team give so many starts to Carlos Carrasco and Tylor Megill when there were seemingly better options available? Well, if it’s any consolation to people 50 years in the future – it didn’t make a ton of sense here in 2023, either.
Here in the middle of September, Carrasco and Megill have combined for 42 starts and in that span, they allowed 128 ER in 197.1 IP for a 5.84 ERA. And that’s with Megill giving strong starts in his last three games, with a 2.20 ERA in his last 16.1 IP.
And our fan 50 years in the future will see Jose Butto, Joey Lucchesi and Jose Quintana with a combined 115 IP with 31 ER for a 2.43 ERA in 21 starts and wonder why they didn’t get the starts that went to Carrasco and Megill.
Well, future boy, Quintana was hurt and missed the first 3.5 months of the season. The answer’s not as clear with the other two, though.
Butto gets called up from the minors in mid-April and makes two starts and one relief appearance. In his starts, he gives up 3 ER in 9.2 IP and his reward is a trip to the pen and then a ticket to Syracuse. You could argue that his ERA was misleading. Butto allowed 10 BB in those two starts and his FIP was an ugly 7.08 or over four runs worse than his ERA. But would you rather have a guy who was lucky or a guy who was just bad making starts going forward. The Mets chose … poorly.
Butto didn’t exactly set the world on fire on his return to the minors. He gave up 17 HR in 70.1 IP, which led to a 6.53 ERA. But there seems to be something funny going on in Syracuse this year, as virtually no pitcher has performed well there. The team ERA is 5.86 and among the pitchers who amassed at least 50 IP, the best ERA was the 4.74 mark of Lucchesi.
Given a spot start in mid-August, Butto has a poor outing and he’s sent back to the minors. But two starts here in September he’s allowed just 3 ER in 11.1 IP. So, in five starts for the Mets, he’s been solid in four of them. Too bad Carrasco and Megill didn’t have a similar ratio.
Meanwhile, the Lucchesi story is even more baffling.
He missed all of 2022 while recovering from TJ surgery. Lucchesi started the year in the minors and made his MLB debut on 4/29, becoming the first Met in 2023 to pitch seven innings. It was a terrific outing, where he struck out nine and did not allow a run. Lucchesi got four more starts and wasn’t nearly as good, although some quick hooks may have contributed to his overall line.
Perhaps it was the right decision to send him to the minors when they did. But they left Lucchesi in Syracuse too long. They finally recalled him for a start on 8/18 and he threw 5.2 scoreless innings. Which earned him a return trip to the minors. Yeah, it didn’t make sense then, either.
Lucchesi made his next start for the Mets on 9/13 and he allowed an unearned run in seven innings. Syracuse is still playing – let’s hope they don’t send him back down again. Snark aside, both Butto and Lucchesi should get at least another start, as the Mets want Kodai Senga to get an extra day of rest and there is just one day off the rest of the year.
To be fair, Lucchesi did have an injury that delayed his latest recall to the majors. But when the team was struggling so much in June, he should have gotten another chance.
The decision to keep rolling out Carrasco and Megill as often as they did was maddening while it happened but really wasn’t the story of the 2023 collapse. We’ve seen Senga pitch well all year and Quintana has been every bit as good as hoped for once he was activated. If Quintana and Justin Verlander had been healthy all year, the Mets would have been in better position to handle the implosion of Carrasco. Shoot, they probably would have yanked him from the rotation sooner if that was the case.
Butto and Lucchesi are now auditioning for roles on the 2024 Mets. Both seem to have slots as depth starters wrapped up. That doesn’t sound like much but Megill was a depth starter this year and he’s made 22 starts and counting. You never know what kind of opportunity will become available when you least expect it.
Yet with as bad as the bullpen is, you wonder if those two will be under consideration for spots as relievers on Opening Day next year. Without a doubt, the team could use a long man or two out there and Butto and Lucchesi should be able to fill that role. Otherwise, they might feel the crunch from the pitchers beneath them that are currently at Double-A.
One of a hundred questions that David Stearns and the new farm director will have to answer are the roles for Butto, Lucchesi, Megill and David Peterson in 2024. And the readiness of Dominic Hamel, Junior Santos, Christian Scott, Tyler Stuart, Joander Suarez, Blade Tidwell and Mike Vasil for Triple-A and potentially the majors next year, too.