The Road to 162: Getting the Most Out Of New York Mets Pitching

Baseball season is really freaking long.

This isn’t breaking news. The 162 game slog through the season starts in the cold, continues through the warm and hot, than finishes up in the chilly. In order to be competitive, a team needs to extract 1,458 adequate innings (plus extras) from its pitching staff.

On Friday, the Mets made a boring move in mapping their path to 1,458 by signing Jason Vargas, who is (they hope) the skinnier, leftier (I know this isn’t a word), and less powerful (no career home runs for Vargas!) version of Bartolo Colon.

Vargas’ 2017 was a tale of two seasons. In the first half, he was one of the league’s most surprising All-Stars, boasting an ERA of 2.62. He came back to Earth in the second half with a putrid 6.38 ERA. The Mets would be perfectly content if he falls in the middle, which would go a long way in stabilizing a pitching staff full of question marks.

The narrative this off-season has had the same tone since 2015. “If the starters are healthy…” has been the mantra, but seems to ring hollow given the string of injuries this formerly once in a generation staff has accrued.

We are past the point of fantasizing what a healthy Harvey, DeGrom, Wheeler, Matz, and Syndergaard would look like pitching in succession through a regular season. While DeGrom and Syndergaard appear to be in the midst of their prime, Harvey is a bad season away from being the guy the Reds sign to a minor-league contract in February of 2019. Matz and Wheeler could still have some good years ahead of them, but it’s unreasonable to have any expectation of them pitching every 5th day throughout the season.

Despite these cold truths, the Mets have a diverse range of talented arms that could allow the team to navigate the perils of a brutally long season, and actually thrive. Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard need to anchor the staff, but from there, the Mets have enough to piece together a strong pitching group in 2018.

Here’s the formula, if the Mets choose to go with 12 pitchers:

Starting Rotation

STARTERS BULLPEN
Jacob DeGrom Jeurys Familia
Noah Syndergaard A.J. Ramos
Jason Vargas Anthony Swarzak
Matt Harvey Jerry Blevins
Steven Matz Seth Lugo
Zack Wheeler
Robert Gsellman/Hansel Robles/Rafael Montero/Paul Sewald/Wild Card?

 

 

By arming themselves with two talented swingmen (Wheeler and Lugo) in relief, Mickey Callaway has unique flexibility. Let’s say Matz is through 5 innings and 70 pitches. At the first sign of trouble in the sixth, there is no need to push him to the 100 pitch mark and risk him throwing high stress pitches that don’t yield good results. This will wear him down over the course of the season.

Instead, Callaway can bring in Wheeler for an inning or two to bridge to his strong trio of backend relievers. And in the event Ramos and Familia need a night of rest, Wheeler’s starting experience can allow him to toss up to three innings.

While Wheeler, who came up through the system as a highly regarded starting pitching prospect, is understandably resistant to the idea of coming out of the pen, the numbers bear out that his use would be maximized coming in for shorter appearances.

Season
TTO
K/9
BB/9
K%
BB%
K-BB%
AVG
WHIP
FIP
xFIP
Total
1st Time Thru Batting Order
10.52
3.59
27.6 %
9.4 %
18.2 %
.218
1.23
3.84
3.14
Total
2nd Time Thru Batting Order
7.68
3.91
19.6 %
10.0 %
9.6 %
.257
1.42
4.08
4.13
Total
3rd Time Thru Batting Order
7.04
4.66
17.6 %
11.6 %
5.9 %
.277
1.60
4.19
4.53
Total
4th Time Thru Batting Order
0.00
6.00
0.0 %
13.3 %
-13.3 %
.308
2.00
9.45
7.36

Data courtesy of Fangraphs

As Wheeler progresses through a game, every single one of these stats deteriorates. The longer he pitches, he undoubtedly gets worse. This is the case for most starters, but this drop off is significant. Additionally, he hasn’t proven he can make it through a season. So why burn him out and get less production as a starter when you might be able to get longevity and more effectiveness by him pitching one, two, or three innings at a time?

Seth Lugo, he of the Greatest Curveball Of All Time, can also be a weapon out of the bullpen. He may stand to benefit the most out of the hiring of Mickey Callaway. In 2017, the Indians led the league by throwing curveballs 17.6% of the time. Callaway, as you may have heard, was their pitching coach.

Lugo is a darkhorse to supplant Harvey or Matz for a rotation spot. Also, it will be interesting to see if the Mets follow the course that the Dodgers blazed in 2017. Their liberal (that’s one word for it) use of the 10-day disabled list enabled them to keep their arms fairly healthy. Given the vast success of the Dodgers last year, it would be prudent for a team like the Mets to engage in a similar type of roster manipulation to keep their arms fresh. Lugo would suit that role very well.

Courtesy of the 2017 trade deadline, which there might be another article on soon, the Mets have a stable of young bullpen arms that will compete for the seventh spot. Competition also includes Hansel Robles, Paul Sewald and Robert Gsellman. While none of these arms would be confused with Andrew Miller or Craig Kimbrel, a lively Spring Training competition for the seventh bullpen spot is a good indicator of at least some potential talent being present. Competition is always a good thing.

There is understandable pessimism about the ability of the Mets’ pitchers to stay healthy through the course of the season. If used conventionally, it’s certainly unlikely they would survive. And baseball is a sport of attrition, so there will be points where some no-names are starting the game and coming in for relief.

However, Callaway’s progressive attitude lends confidence to the idea that the Mets are willing to be creative to maximize all of the arms at his disposal, and most importantly, keep everyone healthy for the stretch run. While this doesn’t guarantee anything, it certainly makes the Mets intriguing.

We’ll see what the narrative is after 1,458.

For more Mets and miscellaneous, follow David on Twitter: @DGeller10

 

 

 

 

1 thought on “The Road to 162: Getting the Most Out Of New York Mets Pitching

  1. Good analysis!

    Like

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