Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Pitching Is Serious Business

As we await with bated breath to see if Cleveland's Mike Chernoff is, indeed, the frontrunner for the Mets' head baseball honcho job, I thought I'd take a look at an area where the Mets have to drastically improve to extend their season into October. It's pretty obvious that the Mets will need to make significant upgrades to their starting pitching if they really want to contend in 2021. As it stands right now, their starting rotation consists of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, David Peterson, and the hopes that Noah Syndergaard can return and be a force sometime into the season. Seth Lugo may also wind up there, I guess, although I thought it was a mistake when the team moved him there during the season. Steven Matz is a complete mystery, and any other starting pitching candidates the Mets have on their roster now look more like depth pieces than viable starters

Putting aside for a moment any free agent and trade targets, some of which will certainly be brought in, if I were the Mets brain trust the only things I would be counting on would be deGrom, Stroman, and, knock wood, a half-season of Syndergaard. As for other in-house guys, I'm not sure that there is another potential full-time starter currently on the roster. Accepting deGrom as a given, here are some thoughts on all of the other guys.

Marcus Stroman is almost certainly going to be overpaid this season, as I can't picture even in a better economy the guy getting a contract that paid him almost $19 million, but I guess anything is possible. He made a pretty smart business decision taking the Qualifying Offer this season for sure. He has a year to reestablish himself with the knowledge that he won't cost a team interested in his services a draft pick after next season. As for this year, I expect every bad start will bring out folks in the media complaining about the contract. It's just low-hanging fruit waiting to be plucked.

As for me, I just hope that he's solid and that the Mets get at least one starting pitcher that would slot ahead of him in the rotation. That way, once Syndergaard comes back, Stroman is likely the fourth starter, and that's not a bad # 4 to have. Since he's not a huge strikeout guy, he would obviously benefit a great deal from an improved defense behind him. I'd like to be more excited about the guy, but his decision to opt out this season as soon as he had the service time — without pitching in a single real game — may have been completely understandable, but it left a bad taste in my mouth as a fan. He has to show me a real competitor's spirit next season to win me back. Of course, he has almost 19 million reasons not to care what I think.

David Peterson is definitely going to have a role on this team next year, barring injury or trade, but you really can't look at him for 30 starts. His career with the Mets consists of a brief cameo in Brooklyn in 2017, 128 innings in 2018, 116 IP in 2019, and just under 50 innings this past season. He had to sit out a bit with shoulder fatigue this year. Even when pitching, Peterson constantly seemed to be trying to get his shoulder loose and basically did not give the impression of someone who was ready to make a huge jump in innings going forward. It doesn't seem to be reasonable to expect more than the 120 innings or so he averaged over both of his full minor league seasons. Maybe 20 starts would be a sensible expectation.

Seth Lugo finally got a chance to be a starting pitcher again, and it's hard to imagine how the circumstances could have been worse for him. Back in mid-August, when Lugo as a starter was being discussed, I listed the reasons why I thought it was a bad idea. If anything, I don't think I was pessimistic enough, but the Mets did it anyway. Lugo wound up making 7 starts. Exactly one of them, his second to last against the Rays, went beyond 6 innings. Then he got knocked out in the second by the Nats in his final outing. Only two other starts even went 5 innings.

If someone was looking for proof that Lugo should be a starter, 2020 didn't provide it for them. But it certainly didn't completely squash the idea, either. There simply wasn't enough data. I look at it this way, Lugo isn't any better prepared to make 30 starts than Peterson is. His innings totals from 2016- 2020 are 64, 101, 101, 80, and 37 over that five-year period. This includes time missed with injuries — remember, he's pitching with a partial tear in his UCL — and two years spent primarily as a reliever.

Statheads make the argument (which I generally agree with) that a starter is much more valuable than a reliever, although as starting pitcher innings decrease this becomes a bit less true. I can't help but believe, however, that Lugo is much more valuable as a really effective multi-inning reliever than as a fourth or fifth starter whose innings would need to be limited. Bullpens are more crucial than ever, and that is where I hope to see Seth Lugo in 2021, even though I take no joy in the fact that he will likely be less happy in that role.

Noah Syndergaard is going to return at some point next season. He's tweeted out a video of himself throwing as a love letter to Steve Cohen. He's not going to be available to start games in April, just when he returns is TBD. I can't help but think back to Matt Harvey six years ago, returning from Tommy John with all of the controversy over whether he should have been shut down rather than allowed to pitch in the playoffs. We don't know if Harvey would still be an effective starter today if this had been done. To this day, I don't understand why Harvey wasn't held back a month or two at the beginning of 2015.

My point in bringing up Harvey is simple. Since the Mets are planning on at least contending for the playoffs this season, I would hope that they would be much smarter in how they handle Syndergaard than they were with Harvey, so that we could avoid all that nonsense if the Mets do make the playoffs in 2021. Either way, the Mets have some complicated decisions to make about Syndergaard next season, including rather quickly evaluating if he's worth trying to sign to a long-term contract. It was deflating enough watching Zack Wheeler pitch for the Phillies this past season, I'd hate to see Syndergaard sign with a rival. That would be a real gut punch for Mets fans.

Still, you don't want to have a "sign the guy at all costs" mentality and then have a deal blow up in your face. If the Wilpons were still running the circus, I'm fairly confident that they would have found a way to fumble this decision one way or the other. Here's hoping that Cohen's Mets make the right call.

Steven Matz: Remember Jon Niese? I always thought he was going to be a better pitcher than he turned out to be, but at least that southpaw was able to put together a career that included almost 200 Major League starts. After watching Matz pitch in the 2015 playoffs and follow that with a solid 2016 season, I remember thinking to myself that this was a young Mets southpaw who was going to live up to all of his early promise. Instead, he'll need a remarkable turnaround just to match Niese's career.

The biggest intrigue surrounding Matz this offseason is whether he should be non-tendered. In my wildest dreams from even 2 years ago, I never would have guessed it would go quite this badly for the southpaw. If it was my decision, I'd hold onto him in the hopes that he could figure enough out to be a bullpen and starting pitching depth piece. 

The other guys: Speaking of depth, that's exactly what Thomas Szapucki, Franklyn Kilome, Corey Oswalt, Nick Tropeano, and Ariel Jurado provide to this starting rotation. Szapucki and Kilome might have some value as trade pieces, too. Szapucki in particular has some prospect buzz surrounding him. The southpaw might be the one guy that has a chance to really contribute as a starter, but he doesn't have a lot of minor league innings under his belt with a total of 145 since 2015. He might get an emergency call for a start or two.

The Mets certainly need to sign an impact starter like Trevor Bauer, but they also need to get a lot more depth in this department, particularly if we wind up playing 162 games in 2021. Brodie Van Wagenen allowed a number of depth pieces to slip away through bad roster management this season, but that should be the type of acquisition that a bit of money spent could really allow them to stockpile. If the promising young starters they took in the past two amateur drafts have an actual minor league season in which to develop their skills and get a little closer to major league ready, that would be great, too.

I'm not sure how solid the Chernoff rumors are, but from what I've read he'd be a great choice for the job. Whoever gets the head of baseball operations position will need to move fairly quickly on getting some starting pitching in, although it might be a bit before the big names like Bauer sign.

Okay, that's all for today, Please stay safe, be well and take care. Take comfort in the knowledge that better-pitched games are coming.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. Mike, good points, I agree with almost all of it.

    I am a little more bullish on Stroman. While I don't know what/if effect not pitching in 2020 will have, I believe he is a heck of a pitcher, particularly if they solidify their defense behind him.

    I am not on board with Bauer. I just don't think he has shown enough in his career to be worth a monster contract. It just doesn't make sense to me that people rate him on a partial season where he threw 11 games and all against rather inferior lineups. Without 2020, his lifetime ERA is over 4.00, and that is with his one other season at 2.21. His sandwich season of 2019 was really pretty poor. I am not sure which Bauer we would get, the one from 2020 or the one from the full 2019. Just thinking that there are about 5 other pitchers that can offer 4.00 ERA's for a lot less money.

    Perhaps in a future piece you might outline your thoughts of filling out the staff? They definitely need some more pieces.

  2. Definitely will do something on the bullpen soon. I'm not so much down as Stroman as "waiting to be convinced". I share some reservations about Bauer as you have outlined them. I guess I hope that if they do sign him some really smart people have looked at the pros and cons of it


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