With Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman going down, the Mets need a fifth starter. Whenever the Mets need a starter, the debate once again turns to whether Seth Lugo should be put back in the rotation.
Certainly, you can understand the impetus. Lugo was a revelation in the rotation in 2016, and without him in the rotation, the Mets very likely miss the postseason. We also saw him back that up by being the ace for Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
We know Lugo can start, and we know he can be extremely good in the rotation. We also know Lugo is one of, if not the best, reliever in baseball. It’s extremely difficult to part with that.
The Mets starting pitching and bullpen injuries make it even tougher to remove Lugo from the bullpen.
In 2019, Matz averaged 5.1 innings per start. Things improved in the second half when he moved to the middle of the runner. After that, he did average 5.2 innings per start. That’s still under 6.0, but he did make strides towards at least being a six inning pitcher.
Porcello also averaged 5.1 innings per start. That was after averaging 5.2 innings per start the previous year. Looking at his career, Porcello’s innings have declined in each of the last three years. That’s a bad trend for a pitcher the Mets need to be an innings eater.
That means two of the Mets three best pitchers don’t consistently pitch at least six innings. That leaves the bullpen getting 10-11 outs during their starts. That should prove to be a break compared to the fourth and fifth spots.
Last year, Michael Wacha averaged just 4.2 innings per start. Over the final three months of the season, he pitched into the fifth just three times over 11 starts. In his career, he’s never averaged more than 5.2 innings per start. This is from the fourth starter.
After that, the Mets are stuck going to Corey Oswalt, David Peterson, or bullpenning it. The young starters can’t be relied upon to consistently go deep into games. That puts a further burden on the pen, and that gets worse with planned bullpen games.
Further compounding a bullpen game is the lack of people who can go multiple innings consistently. Robert Gsellman was that guy, but he’s injured. Effectively speaking, that leaves Lugo as the only reliever who can consistently give the Mets multiple innings out of the pen.
Really, a lot of the Mets bullpen is a question mark. Can Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia rebound from bad 2019 seasons? Will Justin Wilson‘s elbow hold up? Can Dellin Betances return to his dominant pre-injury form?
There’s just far too many questions in the bullpen and far too few innings in the rotation. Asking any bullpen to have to cover 10-12+ outs four out of ever five days is a monumental ask. It’s even worse with few off days.
Fact is, at the moment, the Mets need Lugo in the pen. He’s really the Mets only option who can pitch multiple innings. He’s the best reliever on the team.
Really, Lugo is the best option out of the pen. At a time when the Mets need the bullpen to take on a tough workload due to the schedule, they should have Lugo at the ready to get those innings as it’s not coming from another reliever.
Overall, Lugo may be the best option for fifth starter. He’s also the best reliever the Mets have. They need him out otherwise. In any event, Lugo is where he belongs – in that bullpen.
The Mets have done their part protecting the confidentiality of their players. We know Brad Brach and Robinson Cano aren’t in camp, but the team will not say why. Thar said, Luis Rojas might’ve given us an indication it’s COVID19 related:
Luis Rojas said the Mets haven't had any baseball-related injuries so far during camp.
— Tim Healey (@timbhealey) July 12, 2020
As is typically the case when a player is going to miss time, the discussion begins on what the Mets should do to replace these players.
There’s a ton of options available to replace Cano, and it’s an interesting debate.
It’s similar to Brach. Newly signed Jared Hughes is obviously the first man up to replace him. There’s also Paul Sewald, Drew Smith, Stephen Gonsalves, Franklyn Kilome, Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt, and some interesting minor league arms.
If this were a normal 2020 season, we’d debate the correct path, and we’d see the Mets have time to get it wrong, get it wrong again, and hopefully, finally make the correct decision.
However, this is far from a normal season. There is a pandemic which threatens the lives and long-term health of people. We’ve already heard about Freddie Freeman and his struggle with this disease. We’re hearing about Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz still experiencing some issues.
Right now, we don’t know if Brach or Cano have COVID19. To the extent they do have it, we don’t know how much it’s impacting them now, or will affect their health in the future.
The only thing we do know is there’s a pandemic which is affecting people differently. We know this pandemic has no vaccine. Even with precautions, we can’t guarantee players won’t become infected.
With all we know and don’t know with COVID19, at some point we need to pivot from who will replace these infected players to whether there should be baseball in 2020.
Remember, it’s alright to desperately want baseball to return. It’s also alright to believe it’s not safe for these players to play. We’re all human, and there’s no clear cut answer or solution.
MLB The Show 20: Mets vs Diamondbacks, Game 42 https://t.co/ORb9vpDVA1
— SNY (@SNYtv) May 13, 2020
Believe it or not, the number 29 is tied for the second most chosen uniform among Mets players. Currently, it is worn by Brad Brach, and there has been a player wearing it every year, sometimes multiple players in a year, every year since Alex Trevino and Tom Gorman wore it in 1978.
This is a number which probably should have been synonymous with Ken Singleton, but the Mets traded him far too soon. When you look at the history of the number, three names stand above the rest.
There is Steve Trachsel, who was a human rain delay. He also had some highlights like pitching two one hitters in the 2003 season and being the winning pitcher in the 2006 NL East clincher. He should also be forever commended for being willing to take a demotion to 2001 to figure things out.
There was also Dave Magadan who had a great game himself in the 1986 clincher, and he nearly won the 1990 batting title. He was also in the top 10 in OBP and OPS.
However, when you look at the number 29, there is only one Mets player who was truly great wearing that number – Frank Viola.
In 1989, the Long Island native and St. John’s alum came home to pitch for his hometown New York Mets, the team he rooted for as a child. That 1989 season was a difficult one for him in Minnesota and New York. Entering the 1990 season, he switched his number from 26 and 29, and he was once again the pitcher who was the 1987 World Series MVP.
In 1990, Viola had a great All Star year where he had the second most wins in the National League. In fact, with him winning 20 games that season, he is the last Mets left-handed pitcher to win 20 in a season. The only other Mets pitcher to win 20 in a season since him was R.A. Dickey in his 2012 Cy Young award winning season.
He’d lead the league in starts and innings pitched that season. He’d also have the second highest WAR in the league among pitchers, and he would finish third in the Cy Young voting. He would only trail teammates Dwight Gooden and David Cone in FIP.
Although the win/loss record didn’t show it, Viola backed up his 1990 season with another All-Star campaign in 1991. In making that second All Star Game, Viola joined Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, and Sid Fernandez as Mets left-handed starters who have gone to multiple All Star games. Since Viola went to back-to-back All Star Games, no other Mets starting pitcher has accomplished that feat.
In a little over two seasons with the Mets, Viola was 38-32 with a 3.31 ERA with a 110 ERA+ and a 3.26 FIP amassing a 9.8 WAR. In addition to his time spent on the mound, he returned to the Mets as a minor league pitching coach who helped build that 2015 staff. That included his picking up a dejected deGrom by telling him he wanted to be there for deGrom’s Major League debut.
In all, Viola was not with the Mets long as a player, but he did things rarely done in team history, and some of his feats have not been repeated. He was a very good pitcher in his brief Mets tenure, and he has had a profound impact on the franchise both as a pitcher and a pitching coach. All told, that is why he is the choice for the best Mets player to wear the number 29.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
22. Al Leiter
23. Bernard Gilkey
24. Art Shamsky
25. Pedro Feliciano
26. Terry Leach
27. Jeurys Familia
28. Daniel Murphy
In an exciting back-and-forth game, the Mets blew the lead a few times, and then in the ninth, Robert Gsellman was on the mound with the bases loaded and just one out.
Gsellman got the most dangerous hitter in the Braves lineup, Ronald Acuna, Jr., to ground into the inning ending 6-4-3 double play. After starting the double play, Amed Rosario hit a lead-off homer in the 10th to give the Mets a 9-8 lead.
It was a two home run game for Rosario. After Brad Brach converted the save, the second one was a game winner.
Michael Wacha would make that lead stand holding the Braves to one run over 5.1 innings. Brad Brach, Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Diaz combined to pitch 3.2 scoreless to preserve the 2-1 victory.
These simulated games are getting painful to watch, and they’re just reminding you of the worst of Mets baseball for the past few years. This game was no exception.
If you can stomach to watch the Mets blow this one, more power to you. If you don’t want to do that to yourself, it can be summarized easily.
On the bright side, this is just for fun and doesn’t really count. If you want a more optimistic look at what could’ve been, over at Baseball Reference, using an OOTP simulation, this team is 4-4.
Let’s call it what it is. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball sought to kill the Major League draft not because of the COVID19 pandemic. No, he used it as a ruse to facilitate his plan to contract minor league baseball.
Remember, Baseball America first reported Manfred’s plans to contract 42 minor league teams in November. That plan included reducing the draft to 20 rounds, and it was going to be pushed back from June to August. There was also going to be a limit of 150-200 minor leaguers for each organization. Currently, there is no limit.
By and through these plans, short season ball is going to be effectively eliminated. In terms of the Mets, that means no more Kingsport Mets, and it means the Brooklyn Cyclones will have to pay a fee in the ballpark from $8 – $12 million dollars to move from the New York-Penn League to Double-A.
That also effectively puts the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in limbo. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The Rumble Ponies have already been pegged as one of the 42 teams subject to contraction. It is something they are fighting fiercely.
One of the key elements to having no short-season ball is to not accumulate a larger number of minor league players. With fewer minor leaguers, you do not have enough players for leagues like the Appalachian, Gulf Coast, New York-Penn, and other leagues. By moving the draft back to August, you no longer have the need to have a league for college and high school players to get some playing time in before the end of the year.
This is exactly what Major League Baseball is doing a year earlier, and they are using the COVID19 pandemic as an excuse. They’ll say they didn’t have an opportunity to scout players who are entering this year’s draft due to high school and collegiate years being shut down, but that’s a lie. Major League Baseball has been well aware of those players they were going to draft, and they have been scouting them for years.
What they missed is the opportunity to see them grow or regress. Keep in mind, they have no issue using their big money on those draft picks as the first five picks receive the largest bonuses. This was more about cost control by prorating bonuses paid to minor leaguers over a few years, by capping the bonuses given to now undrafted players, and by taking a step forward in eliminating a significant portion of the minor leagues.
To show you how short-sighted this plan is look at the New York Mets roster by where they were drafted:
- Stephen Nogosek 6th
- Jacob Rhame 6th
- Dellin Betances 8th
- Tomas Nido 8th
- Jacob deGrom 9th
- Luis Guillorme 1oth
- Paul Sewald 10th
- Tyler Bashlor 11th
- Jeff McNeil 12th
- Robert Gsellman 13th
- Seth Lugo 34th
- Daniel Zamora 40th
- Brad Brach 42nd
Think about that for a second. Under this plan, the reigning two-time Cy Young award winner who has established himself as the best pitcher in baseball would not get drafted in 2020. Looking further, under Manfred’s master plan, Mike Piazza, one of two Mets in the Hall of Fame, would never have been drafted, and it is questionable if he ever would have received an opportunity due to the cap on minor league players.
Looking at this plan and agreement, there is one glaring omission. In addition to deferring payments to 2020 draftees, there was no provision in this agreement to pay minor league players their 2020 salary. On that note, both Rob Manfred and Tony Clark should be ashamed of themselves.
Really, this entire agreement is an embarassment for baseball. The sport needed better leadership than what they are providing, and worse yet, the commissioner is taking advantage of global pandemic to take away money and jobs from players and minor league employees.
The New York Mets signed Dellin Betances to be a big piece of their bullpen. The question for Betances and the Mets is when exactly that is going to happen.
Betances dealt with shoulder issues entering the 2019 season, and he would never quite regain his full velocity. When he was able to finally pitch he would partially tear his achilles. That set forth a trip into free agency with a number of questions marks and suppressed value on the market.
With there being just weeks before Opening Day, Betances has yet to play in a Spring Training game. Moreover, Betances’ velocity is still down, which isn’t all that unusual for him at this point in the year.
With the velocity down and Betances not appearing in a Spring Training game, the conversation about his availability for Opening Day needs to begin. While he COULD theoretically be ready, the Mets need to discuss whether he SHOULD be there.
No matter what the decision, one thing should be clear – the Mets don’t need to push Betances because the Mets have viable short-term alternatives at their disposal.
At the outset, it should be noted the Mets do have a bit of a Spring Training battle for the last spot in the bullpen. With Brad Brach, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo, and Justin Wilson guaranteed spots, there are three bullpen spots up for grabs. One of those is likely going to Michael Wacha, and when he is healthy, Betances takes the other leaving one.
It’s very likely that last spot goes to Robert Gsellman, but the Mets do have him spend the offseason preparing to be a starter. In the potential absence of Betances, he should be all but guaranteed a bullpen spot. That leaves some interesting options behind him.
Jacob Rhame is out of options, and as noted, he may be a sneaky candidate to make the Opening Day roster. Walker Lockett is in the same position as Rhame, but he does not have the same spin rates or velocity as Rhame, and he has also been more of a starter in his career.
Paul Sewald is continuously overlooked, but when he gets his chance, he does pitch well in spurts. He has shown versatility as a one inning reliever and as a late inning reliever. With the exception of one poor outing, he allowed one earned or less in 16 of his 17 relief appearances. His penultimate one last year yielded his first Major League win.
As enticing as Sewald may be, Daniel Zamora may be more so. With the new three batter minimum rule, left-handed relievers who can get right-handed batters out become all the more valuable. In his professional career, Zamora has reverse splits, and he has pitched well against them during Spring Training.
In terms of Zamora, with the three batter rule, you could argue he should be a leading candidate for the Opening Day bullpen even if Betances was ready.
Of course, Betances could be ready for Opening Day making this all academic. Still, the Mets need to prepare for that eventuality, and perhaps even if Betances might be ready, they could opt to give him some additional time. After all, Betances has thrown all of 0.2 innings over the past year.
If nothing else, you wonder how deep into the season he can go after not throwing many innings at all last year. No matter what the Mets do, they need to remember it is not about Opening Day. It is about October – how to get there and how to win when they get there. Fortunately, they have the depth options to get Betances there.