Jeremy Hefner

Mets Need To Be Careful Pursuing Blake Snell Trade

With reports the Tampa Bay Rays are willing to entertain trades for Blake Snell, this would seemingly be the perfect time for the New York Mets to act. When you look at it, Snell would presumably fill a short and long term fit for the franchise.

Even with Marcus Stroman in the fold, the Mets need to find at least one more starting pitcher. Ideally, they would want two more. Snell would not only fill that need, but he could help make the Mets rotation once again the envy of all of baseball.

Snell also would fill another starting pitching need. After the 2021 season, Steven Matz, Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard will be free agents. That will leave the Mets looking to fill at least 2/5 of their 2022 starting rotation. If you have Snell in the fold that will lessen that burden. The question for the Mets is how much Snell would be worth pursuing.

When many look at Snell, they see the pitcher who won the 2018 Cy Young Award. Our lasting impression of him was his dominant performance in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series before he was inexplicably lifted early. When you look at him from that lens, Snell is an ace level pitcher. When an ace level pitcher available, you need to pursue that pitcher heavily.

However, there are real questions if that is what Snell truly is. Really, when you break it down, Snell’s 2018 Cy Young award winning season has been a complete outlier in his career.

In Snell’s first two seasons, he had a 108 ERA+, 3.87 FIP, 4.5 BB/9, and an 8.9 K/9 while averaging 5.0 innings per start. In the two seasons since winning his Cy Young, Snell had a 111 ERA+, 3.65 FIP, 3.3 BB/9, and a 12.0 K/9 while averaging 4.2 innings per start. Certainly, these past two years have been a significant improvement over what he was over his first two years, but those stats are not remotely indicative of an ace level pitcher.

Of course, this is the Rays, so the analysis is not that simple. Remember, the Rays focus on not allowing their pitchers to go through the rotation a certain amount of times, and they are very strong believers in bullpenning. As a result, it is very arguable their handling of Snell has stunted his ability to again be what he was in 2018.

Taking a deeper look, Snell does have good stuff. Looking at his Baseball Savant page, Snell has elite to near elite fastball velocity and spin, and he has terrific whiff numbers. However, that is only part of the picture. When you dig deeper, you see his spin rates on his change and curve have significantly worsened since his Cy Young season. That said, after struggling with his slider in 2019, he was able to regain his slider spin rate in 2020.

All told, it is really difficult to ascertain what Snell’s trajectory will be. You could argue this is a pitcher who needs to get away from Tampa Bay to permit him to really focus on being able to become the ace level pitcher he can be instead of a five inning starter. You could also argue the Rays know his limitations and that their handling of him allows him to put up such high strikeout numbers, and as a result, with another organization, he may truly suffer.

In some ways, when you see the Rays dangling Snell, you can’t help but be gun shy due to the Chris Archer trade. For many, Archer was a pitcher who could thrive away from Tampa Bay. He was a pitcher with a similarly team friendly contract, and as a result, the Rays were able to extract a kings ransom for him. Now, Archer had his option declined due to TOS issues, and the Pirates are routinely chided for giving up Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz.

That’s not to say or suggest the Rays knowingly traded damaged goods. That is an unfair and unsubstantiated claim. Rather, this just highlights how well the Rays self scout their team, and it shows their ability to extract a significant price in return for their players. Assuredly, if the Rays do in fact trade Snell, they are likely going to try to command an Archer like return, and really, they should do that.

If you are a team like the Mets, and you want Snell, you better be right. You need the utmost confidence in Jeremy Hefner, Jeremy Accardo, and Phil Regan in their ability to not only return Snell to his 2018 form but to keep him there for the ensuing three seasons. If you are not, the Mets as an organization should not be pursuing Snell. Instead, they can look towards a very interesting starting pitching market which still has Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Jose Quintana, and others available.

Better yet, they could be using their financial capital to give Stroman and Syndergaard extensions while keeping their player capital in place to swing deals for other areas of need. That said, adding Snell to those two starters and Jacob deGrom is awfully enticing . . . .

Jake Odorizzi Is Fine But Mets Should Do Better

In what feels like Omar Minaya taking the helm in 2014, the Mets are real players in free agency, and right now, it appears they’re going to get in touch with every available free agent. That goes double for free agent starters.

Considering the Mets still have two slots to fill in their rotation, at least until Noah Syndergaard comes back from Tommy John, that’s quite understandable. The question is how the Mets attack it.

One rumor has the Mets talking to Jake Odorizzi. In some ways, that’s a move which makes a lot of sense.

In 2019, Odorizzi worked with current Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, who was then a Minnesota Twins assistant coach. That was Odorizzi’s best year as a pitcher.

In 30 starts, he was 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, and a 10.1 K/9. He had a career best 129 ERA+ and a 3.36 FIP. To date, it was his only All-Star appearance.

The hope with Odorizzi is this is the level of pitcher he can be working with Hefner again. There’s the added benefit of having a pitcher on the team who can help translate what Hefner is trying to accomplish to the rest of the pitching staff.

While all positives, there are some underlying problems with Odorizzi.

While he was an All-Star in 2019, he only averaged 5.1 innings per start. Still, if you’re the Mets or any team you take 5.1 quality innings every time. Of course, this would put increased emphasis on not just improving the bullpen, but also adding more multiple inning relievers.

The bigger issue for Odorizzi is he may not be the pitcher in 2019. In fact, that could have been nothing more than a career year. Another factor is Odorizzi attributes much of that success not to Hefner, but as Dan Laurila of Fangraphs wrote, to an offseason training regiment at the Florida Baseball Ranch.

Last year, in what was a bizarre year for everyone, Odorizzi really struggled. In his four starts, he was 0-1 with a 6.59 ERA. Certainly, back issues, blisters, and getting hit with an Alex Gordon liner didn’t help. To that end, for evaluation purposes, this season should be noted but largely disregarded.

On that note, we should consider what he was prior to 2019. Through six full MLB seasons, he was 47-47 with a 3.95 ERA, 1.240 ERA, 3.1 BB/9, and an 8.4 K/9. Looking towards his 102 ERA+ and 4.21 FIP, he was little more than a league average back of the rotation starter.

There’s value in that, but there are far better options in this suppressed free agent market. Certainly, the Mets would be better off with a Trevor Bauer or Charlie Morton.

If the Mets want to gamble on potential upside, Yankees starters Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton are free agents. Tanaka has shown postseason mettle, and when healthy, Paxton has been good with a career 114 ERA+.

All that said, Odorizzi has real value and could help this team. Certainly, there are a number of factors at play like how and where the Mets choose to allocate their budget.

Odorizzi can help, but ultimately, as the Mets enter this new era, you can’t help for a better starter than Odorizzi in this rotation. That said, given the people in charge, if they go and grab Odorizzi, we can probably trust this was the right decision and part of a larger plan.

Mets Should Keep Steven Matz

Make no mistake, Steven Matz was an unmitigated disaster in 2020. He had a very good start on the second day of the season, but he just kept getting worse and worse.

He had a 44 ERA+ and a 7.76 FIP. He allowed 4.1 homers per nine. His 9.68 ERA was unseemly.

Under no circumstances would you tender a pitcher like him a contract. You non-tender him and make decisions from there. However, the Mets are not really in a position to non-tender him, and aside from that, it would be unwise to non-tender him.

For starters, the free agent starting pitching market is a mess. Beyond Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer, the pitchers available are really not guaranteed to be any better than what Matz could give you on what will essentially be a one year deal.

As an organization, you’re in a better position to take a pitcher you know and work with him than go with another pitcher and start from square one. On that note, the Mets should be better equipped to get Matz right.

Entering next season, Steve Cohen has promised to beef up the Mets analytics departments and to upgrade the Mets technology. This means Jeremy Hefner, Jeremy Accardo, and even Phil Regan have more at their disposal to get Matz pitching to how we know he can.

We’ve seen that Matz not too long ago. In the second half of the 2019 season, he seemingly turned the corner.

While working with Regan and Accardo, Matz finished the season going 6-4 with a 3.46 ERA over his final 13 starts. This wasn’t a complete anomaly for Matz. At different points of his career, he’s shown this ability.

Matz was this good in 2015 through the first half of 2017. Again, he had a strong first half in 2018.

There’s a lot you can take away from this. It’s certainly possible injuries took their toll. Maybe, even to this point, he’s battling inconsistency. It’s also possible the Mets increasingly worse defense have had an impact on him. There’s many possible theories and explanations which can be proffered.

Lost in any of them is Matz is a good pitcher who has shown the ability to be a quality Major League starter. For a brief moment, it did appear as if 2020 was going to be the year he took his game to the next level.

During Spring Training, there were reports of his having increased velocity and being ahead of where he’s been in previous seasons.

The best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, was impressed with Matz before the 2020 started saying Matz was pitching “maybe the best I’ve seen him in a long time.” (William Bradford Davis, New York Daily News). He also said of Matz, “I think the upside’s unbelievable.”

That’s the real issue with Matz – the upside is there. It’s incumbent on them to unlock it.

Again, based on the free agent market, there’s not a definitive better option. Also, due to Brodie Van Wagenen’s stripping the Mets pitching depth for no good reason, there’s no one coming through the Mets pipeline to help in 2021.

That leaves keeping Matz as a necessity. They need to figure him out, or possibly, make him a left-handed Seth Lugo in the bullpen. With the state Van Wagenen will be leaving the Mets, that’s it.

Matz is a real asset. With Cohen, they’ll have the people and technology in place to help Matz take his game to the next level. With Sandy Alderson, they have the people in place who were able to help get consistent performances from Matz.

In the end, the Mets need Matz. They should be preparing to tender him a deal and set him up for his best season yet. If for no other reason, there’s really no better option available.

20/20 Hindsight: Mets Season All But Over

Lloyd Christmas may want to say there’s still a chance here, but there isn’t. Any realistic shot the Mets had faded when they lost this series to the Atlanta Braves:

1. Like Daniel Murphy before him, the Mets absolutely deserve Travis d’Arnaud become the next Mets killer.

2. People rightfully focus on the starting pitching and pitching staff as a whole when examining what a terrible job Brodie Van Wagenen has done. Looking at it Wilson Ramos‘ production against d’Arnaud, and his other moves, he might’ve bungled the catching position even worse.

3. Yes, we saw d’Arnaud be this player in a Mets uniform previously. Yes, it was fair to believe he’d return to his 2015 form post Tommy John. Yes, he has always been a very good catcher. Anyone saying otherwise is lying to you, pushing an agenda, or just doesn’t know that much about catching.

4. You’ll notice with the Wilpons selling Gary Cohen and Brandon Nimmo were quite vocal in their support for d’Arnaud and wishing he didn’t leave the Mets.

5. Nimmo has every right to talk as he’s come back from injury and proven himself to be a terrific ballplayer. He’s just not a center fielder.

6. On the note of people who have performed well, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, Andres Gimenez, and Jeff McNeil are part of the still young core who have had good seasons and are very much a part of the Mets future.

7. Seeing that young core, we should all celebrate Steve Cohen bringing back Sandy Alderson to the Mets organization. Hopefully, Cohen will right some other wrongs in due time.

8. David Peterson stepped up big time in what was the biggest start of his career. Hopefully, that’s a sign of his figuring things out and raising his ceiling.

9. Rick Porcello stepped up and was phenomenal yesterday. If the Mets truly invest in infield defense this offseason, he can be a part of the 2021 equation.

10. It’s beyond impossible to judge the jobs Luis Rojas and Jeremy Hefner did this year. They deserve another shot, and it looks like the Mets are building a front office who might do exactly that.

11. Sending down Luis Guillorme was stupidity. He did everything to earn not just the role he had but a much bigger one at that.

12. Amed Rosario lost his starting job, and he needed a recent hot streak to improve to a .266./283/.379 hitter. He should’ve been sent down.

13. J.D. Davis is hitting .248/.376/.383 since August 1, and he’s incapable of playing a defensive position. He should’ve been sent down.

14. Instead, it was Guillorme so Franklyn Kilome could allow six earned over 1.1 innings giving the Mets zero chance to win a game at a time when they can ill afford to punt games. Another great decision by Brodie Van Wagenen.

15. Speaking of brilliant Van Wagenen decisions trading Steve Villines, a promising reliever, for Ariel Jurado, a bad pitcher who gave up five runs over four.

16. The Mets are in a precarious spot with Steven Matz. After last year and in Spring Training, he appeared poised for a breakout. Since the return, he looks like a non-tender candidate. These are critical franchise and season altering decisions.

17. Alex Rodriguez confirming he’d have Jeff Wilpon in the front office in a prominent role shows just how much the Mets dodged a bullet when A-Rod failed to beat out Cohen in the bidding.

18. Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon thinking they’re smarter than everyone and watching their team failing to make an expanded postseason is the perfect way for them to leave this organization.

19. Normally, we’d be saying it was time to tear it down and rebuild. Thanks to Cohen and competent baseball people in charge, we know the Mets can build off this strong core.

20. This season has been a massive disappointment, but on the bright side, we got 60 games of Mets baseball. That’s a real positive.

Jacob deGrom Hurt Completely Overshadows Win

Yes, the Mets won this game 5-4 with a big comeback and go-ahead hit from Andres Gimenez off Hector Neris in the top of the ninth. With the Mets postseason hopes on life support, they could use this win and many others.

However, truth be told, the only thing that mattered anymore was Jacob deGrom winning his third straight Cy Young.

It’s a tight race between deGrom, Trevor Bauer, and Yu Darvish with deGrom being in the lead entering this start. That’s not the case anymore.

In the second, a clearly affected deGrom allowed three runs, and he’d go talk to Jeremy Hefner and the trainer in the dugout. After that conversation, he was pulled from the game with what was described as a hamstring spasm.

At the moment, deGrom’s ERA ballooned to 2.09. Due to the nature of hamstring injuries, no one can be quite sure when he can realistically pitch again and/or return to form.

So yes, it’s obviously great the Mets won. We all hope they go on the insane hot streak they need to make the postseason. However, this is all a pipe dream.

For a while, we’ve known this season was about deGrom winning the Cy Young, and that’s not happening anymore. That also hurts his future Hall of Fame chances.

In the end, today was a terrible day and not much else of what happened today really matters. Much like most of 2020, something good is accompanied by something far worse which completely overshadowed it.

20/20 Hindsight: Mets Season Falling Off The Wheeler

The Mets went into Philadelphia with a chance to make a statement. On the bright side, they made that statement. On the downside, it wasn’t the statement we wanted them to make.

1. This series only further cemented Brodie Van Wagenen as the worst GM in baseball.

2. It was poetic justice that after Van Wagenen chided Zack Wheeler when he signed with the Phillies, Wheeler not only beat the Mets, but he also beat Rick Porcello in the process.

3. Remember when Van Wagenen said the Mets had the deepest rotation in baseball? With Jacob deGrom dealing with a neck injury, Porcello and his 5.76 is now the Mets staff ace.

4. Oh, and Walker Lockett (career 8.66 ERA) and Robert Gsellman (last threw 5+ innings in September 2017) are now locked into the rotation.

5. Steven Matz had three good enough starts to begin the season before pitching terribly in his last three starts. Fortunately for him, the Mets don’t have other options to replace him in the rotation.

6. It’s easy to point fingers at Jeremy Hefner but even a pitching coach with a magic lamp would still be stuck with two incapable starters.

7. On the topic of Van Wagenen’s incompetence, Wilson Ramos has been beyond terrible this year. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, he completely whiffed on a tag allowing the game winning run to score.

8. Van Wagenen preached accountability and media access when he took the job. The Mets made Ramos unavailable after that lame tag attempt, and the Mets made every player who would rebut their fabricated version of events when Yoenis Cespedes opted out.

9. There’s a lot wrong with the Mets, but Luis Rojas isn’t one of them. The Mets are not losing games because of him. They’re losing because the GM is horrendous.

10. Knowing that and seeing all that has transpired since, everyone owes Mickey Callaway an apology for how he was maligned.

11. The weekend wasn’t totally lost as Dominic Smith and Luis Guillorme continue to play great.

12. Way too much was made of Drew Smith being optioned. The Mets bullpen has depth at the MLB level, and there were legitimate options in Brooklyn.

13. No, Smith didn’t deserve to be optioned as he pitched well, and yes, Brian Dozier had been terrible, but the Mets have nothing in reserve on terms of MLB caliber hitters.

14. Speaking of the Brooklyn site, the Mets added Francisco Alvarez and Matthew Allan which means they can now be traded.

15. We should be afraid they’ll be traded for pennies on the dollar with that being the defining characteristic of Van Wagenen’s tenure.

16. On the bright side, Van Wagenen is getting exposed, and the Wilpons will sell the team without winning a World Series as majority owners.

17. Mets fans deserve better. Hopefully, we’ll get that instead of getting Alex Rodriguez.

18. The St. Louis Cardinals have played eight games. The Miami Marlins are playing catch-up and have only played 15 games. The Cincinnati Reds aren’t playing games. Naturally, MLB’s response is to loosen COVID19 return to play restrictions.

19. Good for the Cleveland Indians for optioning Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger to the alternate site after breaking COVID19 protocols. It’s good to see someone in baseball take this pandemic seriously.

20. It’s the centennial of the Negro Leagues, and MLB did not do nearly enough to honor it. That goes double in a year where COVID19 prevented them from honoring Jackie Robinson. Shame on MLB.

Game Recaps

Wilson Ramos Cannot Be Allowed To Cost The Mets Another Game

Mets Lose Same Way They Have All Season

Zack Wheeler Comfirms Brodie Van Wagenen Is Worst GM In Pro Sports

Don’t Expect Too Much From David Peterson

With Marcus Stroman injured and the Mets senseless use of Corey Oswalt, the team put former first round pick David Peterson on the taxi squad, and they may activate him to make his MLB debut tonight. Certainly, this will be a popular pick among Mets fans who wanted him over Oswalt.

Hopefully, fans expectation levels are reasonable.

To a certain extent, this is like when the Mets called up Mike Pelfrey in 2006. Pelfrey was rushed up to the majors from Double-A because the Mets frankly ran out of starting pitching options. Pelfrey simply was not ready, and he’d pitch to a 5.48 ERA in four starts.

To a certain extent, Pelfrey profiled similar to Peterson. Like Pelfrey, Peterson is a sinkerball pitcher. Unlike Pelfrey, Peterson has a well developed slider with Pelfrey relying on a curve in college and the minors. While they struck out over a batter an inning in Double-A, they expectation for Peterson is he won’t do that in the majors.

It should again be noted Peterson pitched in Double-A last year, and he did not face higher level batters you see in Triple-A. His results in Binghamton were very much a mixed bag.

Overall, Peterson made 24 starts pitching 116.0 innings (4.2 innings per start). He was 3-6 with a 4.19 ERA, 1.345 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, and a 9.5 K/9. Part of the reason for the low innings per start was an injury suffered last year, and it was also the result of his not going deep into games on a consistent basis.

While his traditional stats were not promising, some of the analytical numbers were quite favorable. For example, he had a 3.19 FIP and 2.91 xFIP. Other numbers were not favorable like a 10.5% HR/FB which coincided with a dropping GB%.

These stats coincide with what has been a very mixed opinion on Peterson from the moment he was drafted. When the Mets selected him 20th overall in the 2017 draft, some thought the Mets got a steal. There were some who thought that was the right spot, and there were a few who thought it was an aggressive spot to grab him.

Putting that aside, Peterson does have the stuff which suggests he can be a Major League pitcher. He has a low 90s fastball with sinking action. The spin rates on his fastball and slider are relatively average albeit on the low end of that spectrum. With all of these pitches, there is promise and real hope for improvement.

Therein lies the rub. Peterson is not a finished product. He still needs work on his fastball, change, and slider. Many times, that gets exposed.

On the other hand, Jacob deGrom was able to take his game to a completely different level when he was promoted to the majors. This isn’t to say Peterson will be the next deGrom. He won’t. Rather, at times, the extra adrenaline of pitching in the majors coupled with better coaching, helps a pitcher improve significantly.

Overall, Peterson is a pitcher with real yet still somewhat raw talent. He’s yet to fully hone his arsenal, and we really haven’t seen him have the level of game-to-game consistency you want from a pitcher before calling him up.

That said, the Mets have put themselves into a box and may have to call him up. The hope there is Jeremy Hefner can work with him to accelerate his development, and that the work he’s been putting in translates to him being able to succeed at the Major League level.

It’s certainly possible, but that said, we probably should expect more early Pelfrey than early deGrom.

Best Mets Of All Time: No. 27 Jeurys Familia

For the first time on this Best Mets list, there is an active player with Jeurys Familia being the best Mets player to ever wear the number 27. Looking beyond that, Familia is one of the best relievers to ever don a Mets uniform. What makes that all the more remarkable is Familia didn’t even begin playing baseball until he was 15 years old. As a result, he’d be a largely unheralded intertional free agent signing in 2007 earning just a $100,000 signing bonus.

After two cups of coffee in 2012 and 2013, Familia burst on the scene in 2014 finishing seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting. He had a 2.21 ERA over 77.1 innings. This would begin what was arguably the best three year stretch for any Mets reliever in team history and what could be the best stretch by any Major League reliever over that time span.

With Familia’s 2014 season, many saw him as the closer of the future. The thought was that was going to have to wait as Jenrry Mejia had established himself as the closer. That was until the first of his steroid suspensions which eventually led to his banishment from baseball. Familia stepped up, and he successfully converted his first 13 save chances and 27 of his first 29.

It should be noted the Mets had VERY little margin of error for much of that season. After a great April start, the Mets suffered a number of injuries leaving them with little to no offense. That problem was compounded by a shallow bullpen. Oft times, Familia was left with a very little margin of error, and he was called upon to pitch more than just one inning. He was a huge reason why the Mets won the division that year.

As great as Familia was during the regular season, he was even better in the postseason. He appeared in four of the five games against the Dodgers in what was an epic NLDS, and he converted the save in all three Mets wins. That included him going four outs to preserve Jacob deGrom‘s great Game 1 start, and it was his pitching two innings to get the save in the clinching Game 5.

Throughout that postseason, he would have a 0.61 ERA. That includes a 1.80 ERA in the World Series. Unfortunately, he was saddled with a blown save in three of those games. However, that speaks more to poor defense and just plain bad decision making by Terry Collins.

Familia rebounded from the World Series disappointment to put together a truly great 2016 season. In that season, he would set a number of Mets records including consecutive saves and saves in a season. In fact, Familia would set a Major League record in the process by converting his 53rd consecutive save opportunity. This would garner him his first All-Star appearance (to date). His signature save conversion that season was in April when he got out of a bases loaded no out jam to save a 1-0 Mets victory:

From 2015 – 2016, Familia set the Mets record for most saves over a two year span with 94. In 2015, he tied Armando Benitez‘s single season record, and in 2016, he blew past it. Over that time span, no National League reliever had converted more saves, finished more games, or pitched more innings than him.

From 2014 – 2016, he pitched more innings than any other National League reliever, and he had the second highest WAR and FIP. Arguably, he was the best reliever in the National League and the best closer in all of baseball. Some of this gets lost in his postseason misfortunes.

Unfortunately, the 2017 season was a disaster. It started with a domestic violence arrest, and he would suffer a season ending injury.

After 2017, he hasn’t quite reached that peak he was at in 2015-2016. However, he did rebound in 2018 to have a very effective season leading to him being traded at the trade deadline. Familia missed New York, and he returned the first chance he got. His return did not go well in year one, but there is hope he can return to form working with former teammate and new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.

Through it all, Familia has arguably emerged as the best right-handed closer in Mets history. His two year stretch from 2015-2016 saw him close more games and finish more games than any Mets closer. At the moment, he is third all-time on the Mets saves list, and fourth all-time in appearances. Through it all, he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 27.

Previous

1.Mookie Wilson
2.Mackey Sasser
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

Mets 2020 Starting Pitching Depth

With Noah Syndergaard going down with Tommy John, suddenly the question isn’t who among Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha will make the rotation. No, the question now is who is up next in the event there is another pitcher injury or the need for a spot starter in the case of fatigue or other complication.

On the bright side, the Mets appear better poised than they did in 2019. On that note, that Mets team didn’t have to go that deep into their rotation as Mickey Callaway had a knack for keeping his starting pitchers healthy. He’s now gone, and now, there is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy in an environment where pitchers ramped up to start the season, were shut down, and now have to revamp it up to pitch a season.

The first pitcher who may be up in the event of an injury is Walker Lockett. Lockett has a step up on the competition because he is out of options meaning the Mets either put him on the Opening Day roster or risk losing him off waivers.

The downside he presents is that is if he is in the bullpen, he will not be stretched out enough to pitch as a starter. The other complication is he has not fared well as a Major League pitcher. In seven starts and six relief appearances, he has an 8.84 ERA and a 1.885 WHIP.

Another Mets pitcher who has struggled in his brief Major League appearances is Corey Oswalt. Of course, the biggest issue with him is how haphazardly the Mets have handled him. One minute, he is pitching in relief on two days rest after a cross country flight, and the next, he’s not being used for over a week.

If you want hope for him, he pitches much better when on regular rest and used normally. Still, in 12 starts and seven relief appearances, he has a 6.43 ERA and 1.458 WHIP. That’s not great, but it is much better than Lockett.

Similar to Lockett and Oswalt, Stephen Gonsalves struggled in his limited Major League appearances. In four starts and three relief appearances for the Twins in 2018, he was 2-2 with a 6.57 ERA, 2.027 WHIP, and a 0.73 K/BB. After that, he had arm issues leading to his release from the Twins, and the Mets claiming him.

Gonsalves is a former Top 100 prospect who Baseball America once described as a future middle of the rotation starter who ” reads hitters well and works effectively at the top of the zone.” When healthy, he can get his fastball near the mid 90s to couple with a very good change.

The issue with him now is health, getting his stuff back, and developing a third pitch. With this being a new organization and Jeremy Hefner having familiarity with him, it is possible.

On the topic of potential, there is also former first round pick David Peterson. He has reached the Top 100 just once in his career, but he has progressed through the Mets system, and he has had a strong Spring Training.

While his stats the past two years do not appear strong with an ERA of over 4.00 in St. Lucie and Binghamton, there are other stats which show he has pitched better than his ERA. First and foremost, his FIP the past two years was respectively 2.98 and 3.19.

He has also maintained a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio while keeping walks to just 2.5 per nine in his minor league career. When looking at him, he is not a pitcher who is going to beat himself when he gets the chance to pitch for the Mets.

When he does pitch, fans will see what MLB Pipeline says is “Solid bat-missing ability and a knack for inducing weak, ground-ball contact points to more of a floor than ceiling for Peterson, but it might not take him that long to reach that potential.

Finally, there is Kevin Smith, who appears further away than Peterson after making just six starts in Double-A last year. Still, the 2018 seventh round draft pick has far outperformed what was expected of him, and with another strong showing in the minors this year, he may find himself on the radar.

Overall, the Mets have interesting options in the minors, and that is before we take into account pitchers like Franklyn Kilome, who is returning from Tommy John. In the end, the Mets are likely going to have to go to the minors for at least a spot start or two, especially with baseball likely having scheduled doubleheaders in 2020.

The hope for the Mets is these talented pitchers can put it together and put some very strong starts together when the Mets need them. Time will tell.

Mets Problematic Tommy John History

The concern with Noah Syndergaard having Tommy John surgery isn’t just his being gone for the 2020 season and a significant portion of the 2021 season. The larger problem from a Mets perspective is this team has not had the best history with Tommy John surgeries and rehabilitation.

Jeremy Hefner

The Mets don’t have to look any further than their pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. Back in 2013, he was putting together a promising campaign when it was discovered he had a torn UCL. During his rehab from Tommy John, things were not going well, and it was discovered he would need to undergo a second surgery. He would only pitch one season in the minors after that before retiring.

Matt Harvey

Hefner was rehabbing at the same time as Matt Harvey. When it was discovered Hefner needed the second surgery, the Mets had eased the throttle off of Harvey who was pushing to pitch in 2014. In 2015, despite agreements on his innings limit, the Mets reneged and pushed him to pitch, and Harvey would throw more innings than anyone in the history of baseball after their Tommy John surgery.

In 2016, he was just not good with everyone trying to figure out what was  wrong with him. It took a while to discover he had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Despite noticeable muscle atrophy, the Mets pitched him in 2017 leading to a stress reaction. Really, that was all but it for him as a Met and possibly his career. The big unknown is how the Mets handling of him affected his shoulder and/or aggravated or caused the TOS.

Bobby Parnell

Harvey would not be the only Mets pitcher to return in 2015 from Tommy John. The other notable pitcher to return was Bobby Parnell. After discovering a torn UCL the day after the 2014 Opening Day, Parnell underwent the surgery. A year later, a Mets team hoping to stay in the pennant race activated him well before the end of the 18 month rehabilitation period. Parnell didn’t have his fastball, and his command was shot. By the middle of August, he had pitched to a 6.38 ERA before being put on the DL with arm fatigue. He’d only pitch 5.1 Major League innings after this season.

Zack Wheeler

While Parnell was someone whose injury was discovered a day into the 2014 season, Zack Wheeler‘s torn UCL was discovered on the eve of the 2015 season. Wheeler had surgery, and he was slated to return in the middle of the 2016 season to help the Mets return to the postseason. During his rehab, he’d have issues with his stitches, and he would suffer a flexor strain when he was finally able to step on a mound again.

He wasn’t able to step onto a Major League mound again until April 2017, and he would have to be shut down that season due to a stress reaction in his right arm. Really, Wheeler wasn’t right until the 2018 season, which was three years after the first surgery.

Steven Matz

A Mets pitcher having this level of difficulty in their Tommy John rehab is not anything new. In fact, that was exactly the case with Steven Matz when he was in the minor leagues. After being drafted in 2009, it was discovered he had a torn UCL, and he needed to have Tommy John surgery.

Matz really struggled with the rehabilitation, and there was a significant amount of scar tissue. At one point, they were concerned he was going to need a second Tommy John surgery. The advice was to just pitch through it. Matz would do just that finally making his professional debut in 2012. His Tommy John issues would not re-emerge until 2017 when he needed ulnar nerve transposition surgery.

Jacob deGrom

When Matz underwent the surgery, he joined reliever Erik Goeddel and ace Jacob deGrom in having the surgery. With respect to Goeddel, he had Tommy John when he was in high school well before he was a member of the Mets organization. However, with respect to deGrom, he had his surgery and rehab as a member of the Mets organization.

With deGrom, he had seemingly appeared to be the one Mets pitcher who had a normal Tommy John surgery and rehabilitation. Yes, there were difficult times when he told Frank Viola he wanted to quit, but that was part of the normally grueling rehabilitation process and return. Ultimately, deGrom would become a Rookie of the Year winner, and he would introduce himself to the world with an incredible All-Star Game appearance and a postseason for the ages.

As noted with Harvey and Wheeler, Mets pitchers were dropping like flies in 2016. In addition to Harvey and Wheeler, Matz went down with a massive bone spur. It was then discovered during a pennant race, deGrom needed the ulnar transposition surgery. As we have seen, the surgery went well, and after a pedestrian 2018 season (by his standards), he has returned to be the best pitcher in baseball.

Keep in mind, the Mets checkered Tommy John history isn’t just recent. Jason Isringhausen would have the first of his three Tommy John surgeries with the Mets. Looking back at Generation K, he, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher would all have arm issues leading to them never pitching in the same rotation.

Position Players

The Mets haven’t had Tommy John issues with pitchers only. T.J. Rivera underwent the surgery in 2017, and he attempted to return too soon struggling in 22 at-bats. The Mets would release him, and he would play in the Atlantic Leagues for the Long Island Ducks before landing a minor league deal with the Philadephia Phillies. We will see if he can return.

Last year, we saw the Mets botch the handling of Travis d’Arnaud. Even with the team playing well with a tandem of Wilson Ramos and Tomas Nido, the team rushed d’Arnaud back to the majors before one full year of rehabilitation. He would have one of the worst games you would ever see a catcher have leading to the Mets rage cutting him.

He would first land with the Dodgers and then the Rays. Notably, he didn’t start really playing well until July, which was roughly 15 months after the surgery, which is much closer to the recommended 18 months.

This is not an extensive history, but it is a good snapshot of the struggles the Mets have had dealing with Tommy John surgeries. Perhaps, it is of no coinidence much of this has coincided with the Wilpon taking over majority control of the Mets, and as Pedro Martinez and others have noted, Jeff Wilpon’s interference with medical decision making has been a real issue.

Seeing the Tommy John problems the Mets have had, we get a better sense of why Seth Lugo was so unwilling to go through the process, and we see some of the dangers which may very well face Syndergaard as he attempts to return from the surgery before hitting free agency.