The changing point in Jacob deGrom‘s career as a pitcher was arguably at its darkest moment. No, that wasn’t the pep talks he received from Frank Viola in the minors or Terry Collins in the majors. It was when deGrom, a 23 year old ninth round draft pick out of Stetson University, was rehabbing from Tommy John.
deGrom was at an age when big time prospects are already pitching in the Major Leagues. To put it in perspective, his current teammate Noah Syndergaard was a 22 year old rookie pitching in the World Series. His other teammate, Marcus Stroman, who also went to college, was a 23 year old rookie for the Toronto Blue Jays.
But deGrom, well he was a 23 year old pitcher who had not thrown a pitch in even full season Single-A. His career was potentially over before it started with his needing Tommy John. However, during that rehab stint, he was there with Johan Santana, who was rehabbing from his own career threatening injury. It was during this time Santana taught deGrom how to throw the changeup. It is a pitch which has completely altered the trajectory of deGrom’s career.
Well, it is a nearly a full decade later, and deGrom is following Santana’s lead, and he is taking the next generation of Mets players under his wing.
Specifically, he has taken fellow Stetson alum Patrick Mazeika under his wing, and he has worked with Mets top pitching prospect Matthew Allan. That was work which began during the offseason, and it is something which has continued into Spring Training. It is genuine with deGrom with him not only providing pointed advice but also insisting Allan “wear him out with questions.”
For Mazeika, a player who is very much in the same shoes deGrom once did, this is an invaluable experience. He gets to further understand what Major League pitchers look for in their catchers. He gets to experience catching the best pitcher in the game, and he can learn how to better work with not just other Major League pitchers, but also he can help out his minor league teammates down in Syracuse.
For Allan, he is getting a master’s course in how to pitch. He is not just learning how to throw this pitch or that pitch. He is learning when you need to throw those pitches. He is learning how to better comport himself and get the most out of his ability, and Allan has immense ability. It is not even arguable he has better stuff coming out of the draft than deGrom did.
As with deGrom, the question is what he does with his natural ability, and how he continues to develop as a pitcher. For deGrom, working with Santana taught him not only how to throw the changeup. It also taught him about preparation and developing your pitches. For Allan, it can be so much more.
In some ways, we are seeing this link that should be the envy of every organization. Santana, who was once the best pitcher in baseball, helped mentor deGrom. We have seen deGrom take that experience and himself become the best pitcher in baseball. Perhaps, not too long into the future, we will one day talk about Allan as the best pitcher in baseball. Not only should we be excited about that happening, but we should also be excited to see the pitcher Allan may one day help become great.
Typically speaking, you don’t like to see pitchers jump over 100.0 innings from one season to the next. The problem is with the 60 game season in 2020 nearly every pitcher in Major League Baseball is going to have to make that jump. How to combat this is going to be a concern for all 30 Major League teams, especially the New York Mets.
The Mets have Marcus Stroman, who didn’t pitch last year, and they have Noah Syndergaard returning from Tommy John at some point this season. Carlos Carrasco is still building up his endurance on the mound after battling leukemia. There is also the opportunity for David Peterson to crack the Opening Day rotation. Throw in protecting Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball, and you see how the Mets may want to find a way to limit everyone’s innings.
There’s more to it as well. None of these pitchers threw even 70.0 innings last year. We don’t know when, but it is reasonable to assume at some point the Mets starters may face fatigue and may hit a wall. As we typically see, there are going to be a few pitchers who battled ineffectiveness and hit the proverbial dead arm periods. That’s even with extremely well conditioned pitchers like deGrom and Stroman.
Really, the Mets need to figure out the best possible way to let their pitchers keep strong all season long, and hopefully, be in a position to be as strong as possible heading into October. In a different way, that was an issue the Mets had in 2015.
That season, the Mets opted to throw their five best pitchers to start the season. To a certain extent, Zack Wheeler‘s needing Tommy John forced the issue there. Beyond that, the Mets didn’t really plan for making the postseason. Their season as well as Matt Harvey‘s return from his own Tommy John surgery as well as Scott Boras forcing the issue with innings limits forced the Mets to confront the issue.
At times, we saw a six man rotation. That was something which was met with some resistance from the Mets young starting staff. To a certain extent, you could understand that as baseball players, especially starters, are creatures of habit. Considering that being the case, perhaps it would be better to start the season with a six man rotation to give the Mets starters a better opportunity to adapt.
Certainly, the Mets have the arms to pull that off. To start the year, they already have a strong top of the rotation with deGrom, Stroman, Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker. After that, they have a strong competition for the fifth starter spot with Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, and Jordan Yamamoto. There is also players like Jerad Eickhoff and Corey Oswalt who could force their way into the conversation.
In terms of Spring Training competitions, we should not that they’re terrible in nature. You’re judging a bunch of players against differing levels of competition. You may get to face a team full of Double-A to Four-A players and dominate while another player gets to face Major League caliber competition. That leads to skewed results.
One way to combat that is to take your best six pitchers up north. You can ease your four best pitchers into the 2021 season and then get a better look at the fifth starters against Major League competition. This means while you are saving your best pitchers for the end of the season, you are also getting a better look at your pitchers in what could be described as a protracted competition.
Keep in mind, you can easily skip this sixth starter in the rotation if need be and have them available in the bullpen. With early season rain outs and off days, you may not want to go right to the sixth starter. That also gives the team an added benefit to see how a Lucchesi or Yamamoto could look coming out of the pen for an inning or more.
Overall, there is a lot of benefit to having a six man rotation to start the season. Pulling it off properly requires a deft touch by Luis Rojas. If done properly, the Mets can secure a postseason spot, and they can have deGrom at full strength to have a similar run to what he had in 2015. In fact, imagine what he could do now! But before that, we just have to figure out a way for him and the rest of this rotation to navigate the 2021 season.
Look across the diamond. The New York Mets are a significantly better baseball team. It’s not just better in terms of the rotation and starting lineup, but it’s also better in terms of their burgeoning depth. Despite that, somehow, the Mets failed to address their biggest need of the offseason – third base.
J.D. Davis is the incumbent third baseman, and simply put, he has done nothing but prove he has no business playing the position at the Major League level. In his career, he has played 770.0 innings there, and he has amassed a -19 DRS. As previously put in perspective, that was worse than what Wilmer Flores posted as the position, and there was near unanimous consent Flores should never man the position again.
The Mets were well aware of this, and that’s why they seemingly went out of their way this offseason to say they were going to upgrade at third base. He said the position was “up in the air,” and the team went on what seemed to be wild goose chases for Kris Bryant and Eugenio Suarez. For all we know, they are still doing all they can to pry those players loose from their current teams.
When the Mets were unable to acquire a real third baseman before the start of Spring Training, Luis Rojas was reluctant to name anyone as the team’s third baseman. That would appear to be an indictment of Davis, especially with second base becoming vacant with Robinson Cano‘s season long suspension.
At least on the surface, it would seem Davis would keep his slot at third with Jeff McNeil becoming the everyday third baseman. However, that’s not entirely possible with Davis not being able to play the position. In fact, Davis is literally the worst fielder in the Major Leagues.
Over the past two seasons, Davis has amassed a combined -29 DRS. That includes a -17 DRS at third and a -12 DRS in left field. Just to put in perspective how bad that is, he is the only player to appear TWICE among the worst 30 fielders over the past two seasons. As we’ve seen, the Mets just can’t hide him in the field. That goes double for third.
Making Davis at third even worse is the current complexion of the Mets pitching staff. Overall, this is a heavy ground ball pitching staff. To wit, here are their GB/FB ratios since 2017:
- Marcus Stroman 2.66
- Noah Syndergaard 1.68
- Carlos Carrasco 1.35
- Taijuan Walker 1.34
- Jacob deGrom 1.34
- Joey Lucchesi 1.33
- David Peterson 1.22
- Jordan Yamamoto 0.80
Looking at the make-up of the Mets top eight starting pitching options, seven of them induce batters to hit the ball on the ground. That makes having a good defensive infield more of an imperative. Yes, Francisco Lindor goes a long way towards doing that, but by playing Davis next to him, the Mets are effectively neutralizing Lindor’s effect.
Digging deeper, the Mets are going to play Pete Alonso at first where he is not a good fielder. That means the Mets are going to trot out a ground ball staff and have the Major League worst defense at the corners. Really, this does not remotely make any sense whatsoever. Really, it’s ponderous the Mets would even consider going in this direction.
When you look at it from that perspective, Davis cannot play third everyday. It only serves to hurt the team. Ideally, the Mets would pull off that blockbuster we’ve been waiting for them to pull off all offseason to acquire a third baseman, or they need to play Luis Guillorme everyday at second pushing McNeil to third, where he is a better fielder.
No matter what the Mets do, they simply cannot make Davis the everyday third baseman. They’ve done far too much this offseason, and they’ve built their team a certain way. Allowing Davis and his defense, or lack thereof, diminish or neutralize it, makes zero to no sense.
The Mets have signed Taijuan Walker to join a rotation which already has Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and Carlos Carrasco. With Noah Syndergaard set to return from Tommy John this season, that means the fifth starter role on the Opening Day rotation is a temporary one.
Entering 2020, Peterson was the top pitching prospect in the Mets organization, and at one point in his minor league career, he was considered a top 100 prospect. Even though he pitched for the Mets in that bizarre and truncated season, in many ways, Peterson remains a pitching prospect, and he should be treated as such.
If you are an organization, you don’t take your best Major League ready pitching prospect and put him in the rotation for just two months with the plan of moving him back to the minors or even the bullpen. As a plan, that makes zero to no sense. It’s a gross mishandling of a prospect.
That’s before you also consider Peterson still needs to develop. He did walk 11.7% of the batters he faced. Even with the caveat of Wilson Ramos behind the plate, that’s terrible, and it will not be sustainable for the course of a full season. To be fair, this has not been a significant issue during his minor league career, and as Derek Carty, then of Fangraphs, pointed out ground ball pitchers can get away with a higher walk rate.
The control manifested itself in other areas than just walk rate for Peterson. Last year, he was below average in terms of barrel rates and 10.2% of fly balls against him went for homers. That’s a rate which followed him from Double-A, and that is a poor rate. If you are a pitcher who pitches to contact like Peterson does, you cannot yield that high of a home run rate. These are areas Peterson should be able to address and improve. However, that is difficult when you are bouncing between the majors and Triple-A.
The good news for the Mets is they have built depth sufficient to allow Peterson to continue to develop in the minors. They have both Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto. In terms of Yamamoto, he only has one option remaining, and you don’t want to burn it if you don’t need to do it. With Lucchesi, the Mets have a pitcher who had a much better FIP than Peterson.
That’s an important consideration here. Peterson is not definitively better than the pitchers in the Mets organization. Aside from Lucchesi and Yamamoto, the Mets also have pitchers like Jerad Eickhoff, who should not be completely discounted with his now being over a full season being removed from a biceps issue, and Corey Oswalt.
The point is for two months the Mets have options. Those options could also include bullpenning games with them having both Lucchesi and Yamamoto. When you examine all the options, you see the Mets don’t need to force Peterson into the rotation for two months only to remove him and send him down to Syracuse or the bullpen. No, the better course is for Peterson to start the year in Syracuse to develop and be ready for when the first pitcher in the rotation goes down with an injury.
The New York Mets needed to get just one more starter to make this the truly deep rotation they need. This doesn’t mean deep as in going 1-5 in the rotation, but also the type of depth needed to get through the rigors of a 162 game season. The later was of increased importance as pitchers did not throw many innings last season.
While we have seen some players sign with other teams, the Mets obtained Taijuan Walker. Walker, 28, is arguably the perfect fit for this team.
At 28, Walker is in the prime of his career. The once top 10 prospect in baseball dealt with injury issues limiting him to just 14 innings from 2018-2019. Last year, he finally proved healthy in the truncated 60 game season last year. Yes, it was just 37% of the length of a normal season, but it was a positive step.
Last year, Walker made 11 starts going 4-3 with a 2.70 ERA, 1.163 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, and an 8.4 K/9. He was at his career averages for hard hit rate. Believe it or not, his 30.9% hard hit rate was actually better than what Jacob deGrom yielded last year. This is an indication as to how difficult it can be to square up Walker at times.
Digging deeper into Baseball Savant, Walker was middle of the pack in terms of exit velocity while being above average in terms of hard hit rate. However, it should be noted he was way down the ledger in terms of spin, velocity, and whiff rates. Of course, one of the reasons for this is Walker is a sinkerball pitcher who has typically pitched to contact.
Keep in mind, Walker is evolving as a pitcher. Before the 2021 season, he spoke to Fangraphs about going to Driveline. While there, Walker refined his slider, worked on changing speeds, grips, arm placement, and generally speaking, being a better pitcher. We saw the early effects of that in 2020.
Now, in 2021, he is going to be another year removed from Tommy John allowing him to continue to increase velocity. He also has a better sense of what worked for him in 2020 and what didn’t. He’s also in a really good place for him to succeed.
Jeremy Hefner has had success in Minnesota working with sinkerball pitchers. Walker is reunited with Marcus Stroman, who can served as a mentor of sorts, and who is also blessed with a similar type of game. There is James McCann behind the plate, who has developed not only as an excellent framer, but early on in Spring Training, he has emerged as a true leader.
Now, Walker is on a pitching staff where he can thrive. He is also in an organization which is continuing to beef up its analytics department. At 28, he still has upside, and he certainly is putting in the work to get the most out of his talent. In all likelihood, last year was him just scratching the surface.s
As for the Mets, this now adds another established high ceiling starter to their rotation. That also gives them increased depth in the rotation. When Noah Syndergaard returns, the Mets rotation will now undoubtedly be the best in baseball. All told, while he may not have been the top choice by many, Walker fits in perfectly with the Mets.
When Marcus Stroman stepped to the microphone to speak with the media for the first time this season, he reminded everyone why the New York Mets need to extend him past this season. This is a great pitcher born to play in New York.
— New York Mets (@Mets) February 18, 2021
In that press conference, Stroman spoke about things we already knew about him. He believes in himself, and a huge reason why is because the man puts in the work.
Call it confidence, or call it ego. Just don’t call it hubris.
Stroman literally turns over every possible stone there is to improve as a pitcher. He trains to make sure he’s in exceptional shape. He focuses on the mental side of not just the game, but also his life. He keeps his family close, protects them, and appreciates them. He also is constantly evolving.
— Marcus Stroman (@STR0) December 29, 2020
Here’s what’s interesting about the splitter. Back in 2018, when the Toronto Blue Jays signed Matt Shoemaker, part of Stroman’s reaction was he wanted to learn the pitch. We’re seeing that again with the Mets.
Stroman has been unabashedly honest saying Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in the game. Fully knowing that, Stroman takes full advantage watching and learning from deGrom.
Stro don't lie. <audio> pic.twitter.com/8uuVczwHiY
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 19, 2021
He’s been actively talking with deGrom how to be a better pitcher. This is exactly who Stroman is. This is a pitcher who does everything he can to go out there to improve and beat the other team.
He really does all he can. Remember, this is an elite defender on the mound. Mets fans saw a glimpse of that in his first start for the team. He also works on varying his delivery and timing to throw off the hitters. Really, he leaves no stone unturned.
Honestly, as he ages, you can see Stroman being the type of guy who reaches out to Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey to learn the knuckleball. If for no other reason, he’ll do it so he knows it for the time in his career when he may need it.
This is also why he’s a big game pitcher. His belief in himself and his teammates manifests itself when he takes the mound. It’s why he was the World Baseball Classic MVP, and why he had some of the guttiest performances you’ll see returning from an ACL injury to pitch for the Blue Jays in the postseason.
Overall, if you look at Stroman, you see a pitcher who will age well because he d constantly working to improve. Yes, every Major Leaguer does that to some degree, but Stroman is at another level.
Stroman is a pitcher who loves and thrives on the big stage. He’s the biggest advocate for his teammates. He loves the game, and he loves improving. This is a man who belongs in New York, and the Mets should do everything they can to ensure he spends the rest of his career here.
With pitchers and catchers reporting today for the New York Mets, it is officially the beginning of Spring Training. This is an important time not just because it is the unofficial start of the 2021 baseball season, but also because the clock is officially ticking on the Mets trying to extend Michael Conforto.
This is Conforto’s last season before entering free agency. While Conforto has publicly stated he is open to signing an extension with the Mets, he has also indicated he wants this matter resolved one way or another by Opening Day. Put another way, Conforto doesn’t want negotiations to be a distraction during the season, and as such, if he is not extended by the start of the season, he will test free agency.
The question for Conforto is what exactly that extension would look like. For a point of reference, George Springer just signed a six year $150 million deal ($25 million AAV) with the Toronto Blue Jays. That was a deal the Mets were apparently unwilling to match, and it was a deal with exceeded Sandy Alderson’s preference for deals five years or shorter.
Now, there are differences between Springer and Conforto. Springer is arguably the better player, but he is also four years older. There’s also the matter of Conforto taking the mantle from David Wright in his being a beloved homegrown player and a leader in the clubhouse. Overall, when it comes to Conforto, he checks all the boxes from a team perspective.
That’s not to say the Mets should extend Conforto. For starters, the organization also has to have extension talks with Francisco Lindor. They also need to do the same with Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. After this year, they will have to do the same with Seth Lugo, Brandon Nimmo, and at some point, Jacob deGrom. It is fair to question where extending Conforto lies in the pecking order.
There are some questions with Conforto. While he exploded at the plate last year returning to his pre-shoulder injury levels, he declined significantly in the field. While he was a 1 DRS in right, he was a -5 OAA which was a steep drop-off from previous seasons. Part of that was Conforto’s sprint speed taking a significant hit from 27.5 ft/sec to 26.8.
What is incumbent on the Mets now is determining how much of that is due to the disjointed nature of the 2020 season, and how much of that is the first step in decline. It’s not an easy answer, but it is one the Mets need to reasonably be able to decipher during Spring Training, which just began today.
Overall, extending Conforto would be extremely popular with the fans, and it will likely be very popular in the Mets clubhouse. There seems to be the appetite for all involved to get it done. The question now is whether they can. With Opening Day on April 1, Conforto and the Mets have 43 days to get it done.
Look, the New York Mets still have work to do this offseason. That’s a result not just of how terrible Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon were, but it’s also representative of where the Mets aspirations are.
To that end, instead of looking at a rotation of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Carrasco, and eventually Noah Syndergaard buttressed by impressive depth, fans see a team in need of another starter. To be fair, the Mets organization does as well.
In light of that, the Mets pursued James Paxton, and they’ve pursued other starters as well. Except, the Mets didn’t get Paxton. He would return to the Seattle Mariners for a little more money to pitch at a place where he’s had success to rebuild his value.
Remember, Paxton has an injury history, and he’s coming off an injury. Would Paxton have made the Mets better? Sure. However, what he provides is fungible as compared to the free agent market.
If the idea is to add a starter for depth, wouldn’t it be better to add the guy you can count on to be healthy? With that being the case, Paxton and Odorizzi aren’t the answer. Walker and Porcello are.
Regardless, missing out on Paxton is not remotely a big deal when you have these other options.
The same can be said about the Mets missing out on Justin Wilson.
Undoubtedly, with Seth Lugo‘s injury, there is an increased need for the Mets to bring in another reliever. Losing Lugo turns a bullpen which was looking like a strength and turning it into a question mark.
Yes, Wilson was quite good with the Mets, and he’s likely to be quite good next year. To that point, it makes the Aaron Loup signing all the more curious. Wilson would’ve likely been far superior for that role, but for some reason, the organization thought Loup was the better fit.
Even with that, there still remains quality options available. There’s Trevor Rosenthal who seemed to put the injuries behind him to return to his dominant form. David Robertson is coming off Tommy John, and he’s been a dominant late inning reliever in his career. There are other interesting names like MVP vote getter Ryan Tepera.
If the Mets want a strictly left-handed reliever, Oliver Perez is available. Put the old nonsense aside, Perez has been a quality reliever. There’s also Tony Watson, who can provide every bit what Wilson could’ve provided.
In total, there’s still plenty of quality arms on the free agent market who can easily provide what Paxton and Wilson would’ve. In fact, there are pitchers available who are in fact better. Because of this, there is absolutely zero reason to get upset over missing those two or other similarly skilled pitchers.
Really, the only time to get upset is in the event the Mets don’t add another starter or reliever. That said, based on all we’ve seen this offseason, it’s hard to believe that’ll happen.
I had the privilege of appearing on the Simply Amazin’ podcast with the great Tim Ryder. During the podcast, names discussed include but are not limited to Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Carrasco, Rick Porcello, Francisco Lindor, J.D. Davis, Carlos Beltran, Bobby Valentine, David Wright, Bobby Thompson, Ralph Branca, Alex Cora, Luis Guillorme, Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Jonathan Villar, James McCann, J.T. Realmuto, James Paxton, Trevor Rosenthal, Aaron Loup, Mike Piazza, Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Jose Martinez, Alex Gonzalez, James Loney, Moises Alou, John Olerud, Davey Johnson, Pete Alonso, Wilson Ramos, David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Corey Oswalt, Luis Rojas, Jeremy Hefner, Jim Eisenreich, Alex Fernandez, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Darryl Strawberry, Albert Almora, and more
Please take a listen.
— Simply Amazin' (@SimplyAmazinPod) February 15, 2021
So, the Mets didn’t get Trevor Bauer. Instead, Bauer went to his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers for what might’ve been less money. Despite Bauer really not being better than the Mets fifth best starter, the over the top criticism started:
— Sal Licata (@sal_licata) February 5, 2021
Welcome back, @Mets.
— Brian Monzo (@BMonzoRadio) February 5, 2021
This is just scratching the surface of what we find at the bottom of the barrel. For their sake, you hope this is just schtick because these are purely horrid opinions.
Yes, we all know the Mets didn’t get Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, or George Springer. Instead, they got better players and a much deeper roster. In fact, just look at who they signed/acquired so far this offseason:
- Francisco Lindor
- Carlos Carrasco
- Marcus Stroman
- James McCann
- Trevor May
- Sam McWilliams
- Aaron Loup
- Joey Lucchesi
- Jordan Yamamoto
We’ve also just learned with the Bauer bidding the Mets have at least $40 million they can invest in the 2021 team. It can also be used to extend players like Michael Conforto, Lindor, Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard.
If someone can take a look at that and what the Mets can still do, and say to you this is the same old Wilpon run Mets, they’re either lying, trying to get attention, think you’re gullible, have no idea what they’re talking about, or some mixture of these.
Make no mistake, this has been a phenomenal offseason. Yes, we can quibble with a move or two, but in the end, calling this anything but a success is dumb. Really, the people pushing these narratives really know better.
Well, at least they should. They should because it’s absurd to think adding a top five player in the game on Lindor on top of everything else they did is disappointing or a failure. It’s really beyond absurd.
This has been nothing short of a great offseason. Arguably, it’s among if not the best the Mets have ever had.