When the Mets signed Taijuan Walker, the expectation was when everyone was healthy, he was going to be the team’s fifth starter. If his first start of the season was any indication, Walker is going to be much more than that.
Before delving into his first start as a member of the New York Mets, it is important to start with Walker the prospect. Before Walker was called up by the Seattle Mariners in 2013, he was a rated as a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.
John Sickels, then of Minor League Baseball, wrote Walker was in the conversation for “Best Pitching Prospect in Baseball honors.” Fangraphs said Walker “has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter.” Bleacher Report said “If you were to build a prototype for what you want in a potential No. 1 starter, Taijuan Walker would hit all the marks.” Baseball Prospectus said:
He produces seemingly effortless 92-98 mph velocity from his strong frame, presenting it to hitters on a steep downward plane. His cutter––which can touch 93 mph––is another potential plus-plus pitch; it has hard, short break with some late tilt, and he’ll use it as a weapon against both left- and right-handed hitters.
All told, the expectation was Walker was going to be a top of the rotation pitcher. It didn’t happen due to a combination of his being rushed to the majors and his dealing with injuries. In many ways, that made his 2020 season very important in that he had to prove he could stay healthy and that he could stick as a starter. By and large, he did that and more.
In 2020, Walker looked lack a solid middle to back end of the rotation starter. For a Mets team loaded with top of the rotation talent, this made New York a perfect landing spot for Walker. What no one really considered was what if Walker could be more than he has shown in recent years.
Notably, Walker has been about a five inning pitcher, but that was partially a function of the injuries. The same could also be said about his velocity dipping to the low 90s. On that point, Walker is a 28 year old pitcher reaching his prime, and he is a player who is another year away from injuries. It is very possible he is finally healthy again, and he is ready to pick up where his career left off before his first major injury.
Taijuan Walker, 96mph Fastball (foul) and 87mph Slider (Swinging K), Individual Pitches + Overlay pic.twitter.com/IUAc9lyxmF
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 8, 2021
Yesterday, Walker was throwing consistently in the mid to upper 90s. His average velocity was 95.4 MPH which is over 2 MPH faster than he threw last year. In fact, Walker hasn’t averaged 95 with his fastball since 2014. As noted by Michael Mayer of MMO, Walker hit 97 MPH with his fastball, a mark Walker had not hit in four years.
We also saw Walker was tighter with his release points. More than that, we saw Walker was able to get more spin on all of his breaking pitches. The end result was a pitcher who was more difficult to pick up. With him pitching like that, the Marlins went hitless through the first 4.1 innings, and when the Marlins did make contact, Walker generated weaker contact.
This should come as no surprise for two reasons. First, as noted, he’s healthy. Second, as noted in an interview with Fangraphs, Walker has been working at Driveline to see how analytics could help make him a better pitcher. He used the analytics to hone his pitching and get the most out of his talent.
In terms of his first start with the Mets, we saw what health and increased work on his craft could do for him. The Walker we saw yesterday did not look like the back end of the rotation starter we all thought the Mets were getting when he signed a free agent contract. Rather, Walker looked like the top of the rotation pitcher many expected him to be when he was first called up to the majors.
This is a very exciting development for Walker and the New York Mets. With more games like this under his belt, the sky is the limit for both Walker and the Mets chances of winning the World Series in 2021.
Being a starting pitcher isn’t always fair. You can have a great outing like Taijuan Walker and still not get the win.
Walker came out throwing heat hitting 97 MPH on his fastball. With a little help from Francisco Lindor, he’d keep the Miami Marlins hitless through 4.1 innings.
The problem for Walker was the Mets offense was non-existent. Well, their offense with runners in scoring position.
In the fourth, the Mets loaded the bases with one out, but Walker couldn’t help his own cause hitting into the inning ending double play. Finally, the Mets would break through in the fifth, but they were unlucky.
The Mets loaded the bases with one out with Dominic Smith at the plate. Smith hit a long fly to center which looked like it would clear the bases one way or another. Instead, Starling Marte would make a great read and play limiting Smith to a sacrifice fly.
Unfortunately, Walker gave the lead right back. Mets killer Jon Berti singled to lead off the inning. Walker came very close to picking him off, and it would cost him.
Corey Dickerson hit a double to right, and when Conforto fumbled with the ball which bounced off the wall towards center, Berti scored easily. Marte would later move Dickerson to third on a fielder’s choice.
Walker then battled Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar had a great at-bat battling back from 0-2, checking his swing on a nasty pitch, and then singling home the go-ahead run on a full count.
On the bright side, the Mets bullpen, who struggled in Philadelphia, was excellent. Miguel Castro, Trevor May, and Edwin Diaz combined for three scoreless innings which gave the Mets a chance in the bottom of the ninth.
Jeff McNeil, who for reasons beyond comprehension is only batting seventh in the lineup, led off the ninth after starting the season 0-for-10. Actually, make that, 1-for-11.
Bottom 9. Down 1. Home opener. Also your birthday.
Seems like a good time for a DINGER! 🥳 pic.twitter.com/joFGHyyD1f
— New York Mets (@Mets) April 8, 2021
That homer off Marlins closer Anthony Bass tied the score at 2-2. The Mets weren’t done.
Luis Guillorme pinch hit for Diaz, and he hit an infield single to second. After Nimmo doubled, the Marlins walked Lindor to load the bases to put the pressure on Conforto who has been struggling at the plate.
What looked like strike three nicked Conforto’s shoulder forcing home the winning run. Conforto successfully stuck his elbow out to get the win.
It was quite the redemption story for Conforto who needed that hit. It was also a great start to the season for Diaz getting that win. It’s even better the Mets won their first game of the season.
Maybe this is just the excitement which comes from Opening Day. Certainly, that is amplified by new ownership, the Francisco Lindor extension, and Jacob deGrom taking the mound. However, taking everything into account, this New York Mets team is the best one we have seen since 2015 and probably 2006.
Like most times the Mets are good, they are going to be led by pitching. Their starting staff is great, and when healthy, it is the best in baseball. Part of the reason why is deGrom is still the best pitcher in baseball. Behind him right now is Marcus Stroman. Stroman has made adjustments and added new pitches, and he looks set for a career year. That is really saying something considering he has been a gamer his entire career, and he was the World Baseball Classic MVP.
Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco may be the two most underrated pitchers in baseball. Looking at their FIP, they pitch at or near an ace level. In this rotation, they may be no better than third or fourth starters. It’s not just doing deGrom-Stroman-Syndergaard-Carrasco. This is one of the deepest rotations in all of baseball.
Behind that quartet is Taijuan Walker who was once a top 100 prospect, and he seems poised to take a big step forward after using analytics to help him improve. After Walker, the Mets have David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, and Jordan Yamamoto, each of whom could be around a three in most rotations. For the Mets, they will eventually be on the outside looking in.
They are all going to be better pitchers because they have the tandem of James McCann and Tomas Nido behind the plate. Both of these players are strong catchers who are excellent pitch framers. Having catchers like that behind the plate make good pitchers even better. When your starting pitching is great and operating at a high level, you are going to win a lot of games.
This is paired with an incredible lineup. They Mets have an embarrassment of riches on that front. Consider Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil have each been All-Star lead-off hitters, and they aren’t even the Mets best lead-off hitter. That’s Brandon Nimmo. With that group plus Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith, their 1-6 of their lineup can and probably should be hitting in the middle of the order.
Now, this Mets team isn’t perfect. Far from it. The first problem is their bullpen. The good news on that front is between Edwin Diaz and Trevor May, they have the last two innings covered well. The hope is at least one of Dellin Betances, Miguel Castro, or Jeurys Familia can figure it out to become that seventh inning reliever. That is at least until Seth Lugo is good to return. When that happens the Mets bullpen will be in great shape.
Another factor there is the Mets have some other interesting options. Sooner or later, Drew Smith will be healthy and ready to rejoin the bullpen. It should also be noted when the Mets have their full rotation, someone like Lucchesi can move down to the bullpen where his churve could be a weapon on par with Lugo’s curveball.
The other issue is the defense. Simply put, having J.D. Davis at third is unacceptable. He can’t remotely field the position. Having Dominic Smith behind him makes the left side defense one of the worst in baseball. To that, they may not be the worst in the division with the Atlanta Braves probably being worse with Austin Riley and Marcell Ozuna.
It’s very possible Brandon Nimmo can succeed with positioning in center. After all, he’s had positive OAAs in center most of his career, and he does have the speed for the position. Jeff McNeil seems more comfortable at second, and while Alonso has his defensive issues, he is quite adept and receiving throws around first.
While the lineup has serious defensive issues, the bench does not. Luis Guillorme is a Gold Glove caliber defender. Albert Almora and Kevin Pillar are also quite good. With the lead, we can and should see Luis Rojas run all three out with Smith moving to first base. When that happens, the Mets defensive alignment turns from questionable to really strong.
Therein lies the key. Aside from health, Rojas is going to be the biggest key to this Mets season. He is going to need a deft touch as to when to utilize his defensive replacements. He and Jeremy Hefner are also going to have to get their rotation healthy through the season, which is all the more challenging because of the shortened season last year. They are also going to have to find the right mix in the bullpen while making sure they don’t overuse their best relievers.
Right now, the Mets have the right mix to have a great season. They also have an owner willing to invest in the team, and they have Sandy Alderson in charge, who we know will not be shy making a key trade or two to improve this Mets roster.
Looking at the Braves, their pitching has durability issues, and their defensive issues may be worse than the Mets. The Phillies don’t have the starting pitching, and their bullpen was a disaster last year. The Marlins are young and not deep. The Nationals still don’t know what they are going at key positions on the field.
Taking everything into account, the Mets are the best team in the National League East. If Rojas is up to the task, and there is every reason to believe he will be, the Mets are well poised to return to the postseason again and let their pitching take them back to the World Series.
In case you were wondering just how much the Wilpons have scarred New York Mets fans, we see the reactions to the Francisco Lindor contract discussions. Seeing it, you’d think the Wilpons were again outbid for a borderline MLB reliever.
It should be noted the Mets have offered Lindor a 10 year/$325 million contract. That’s an AAV of $32.5 million which would pay Lindor until he’s 37 years old.
It would make it the largest contract in Mets history given to David Wright by more than double. It would fall only short of Mookie Betts and Mike Trout for the largest extensions in MLB history. It’s on par with the extension given to Fernando Tatis, Jr., and it would put him only behind Bryce Harper in the division.
Yes, Lindor has every right to negotiate for every last penny, and he’s in his right to reject that offer. After a big year, he could get a better offer, and perhaps he won’t. That said, you have to respect him betting on himself.
That’s what this is. It’s a mixture of Lindor thinking he’s worth more and betting on himself. You can say that because the Mets made an extremely fair and reasonable offer.
It’s part of a completely different offseason for the Mets where they added a lot of payroll. Seriously, you wouldn’t see the Wilpons make these moves in one offseason let alone two or three:
- Francisco Lindor $22.3 million
- Marcus Stroman $18.9 million
- Carlos Carrasco $12 million
- Taijuan Walker $10 million
- James McCann $8.15 million
- Trevor May $7.75 million
- Kevin Pillar $3.6 million
- Jonathan Villar $3.55 million
- Aaron Loup $3 million
- Albert Almora $1.25 million
- Jose Martinez $1.0 million
- Joey Lucchesi ~ $600k
Adding those salaries up, the Mets added $92.1 million. Read that again. The Mets added $92.1 million to the 2021 payroll.
What exactly about that is the same old Mets? If it’s missing out on Trevor Bauer, George Springer, or not extending Lindor yet, it’s over focusing on the negative. Likely, it’s schtick, scarring from the Wilpon era, or just a want to be miserable.
Whatever happens with Lindor will happen. We can judge that on Opening Day as well as the 2021 season and beyond. Whatever the case, this is a very different Mets organization than we’ve seen from the Wilpons, and it should be viewed and treated as such.
If this was just based on performance, Corey Oswalt has been one of the New York Mets best pitchers this Spring Training, and as a result, he should be on the Opening Day roster. If nothing else, we have heard on a number of occasions Luis Rojas has been impressed with how Oswalt has looked.
Corey Oswalt was dealing. ♠️♣️♥️♦️ pic.twitter.com/CWHzj2eo3E
— New York Mets (@Mets) March 15, 2021
One of the biggest developments for Oswalt has his finding that extra gear on his fastball. Now, this could be the result of his going shorter stints during the Spring. It could also be the result of the Mets making more advanced data available to their pitchers and coaching staff. Whatever the case, that velocity is there right now.
If the concern is he couldn’t maintain it as a starter, the Mets do have spots open in the bullpen due to injuries this Spring. In his first Spring appearance, he struck out five of the six St. Louis Cardinals batters he faced. Now, it should be noted that came against mostly minor league players for the Cardinals, but it did happen.
More importantly, as noted, the velocity happened, and according to reports, it is something that has carried forward into team workouts and B games. Long story short, Oswalt has seemingly made the jump that took him from a fifth starter ceiling to possibly something more as a Major League pitcher.
In years past, especially given the injury to Carlos Carrasco, that could have meant a shot at joining the Mets Opening Day rotation. However, with David Peterson‘s emergence last year coupled with the acquisitions of Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto at the moment, there is no spot for Oswalt in the rotation in the short or long term.
That would mean the bullpen is the best destination for Oswalt. In many ways, it makes sense to send him there. He’s shown the increased velocity and effectiveness in the shorter spurts. Moreover, with Seth Lugo down, the Mets really need someone to fill that role. No, no one is saying Oswalt could be a Lugo in the bullpen, but rather, he can definitively be the type of reliever who can give the Mets multiple innings out of the bullpen.
Given the truncated 2020 season, that is of increased performance. It is also noteworthy with Taijuan Walker and some combination of Lucchesi, Peterson, and Yamamoto for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, the Mets are running three 5+ inning starters out there. That puts a stress on the bullpen to pick up the slack, especially when that happens three consecutive games.
Having Oswalt out there can alleviate some of that burden. Really, of all the pitchers currently in camp, it is just him and Robert Gsellman who can fill that type of a role. Given the rotation, the Mets probably need two or more pitchers who can reliably give you 2+ innings.
In some ways, just picking a role for Oswalt is what can best help him succeed as a pitcher. Remember, this is a pitcher who has bounced between starting and relieving for three years now. That has been coupled with abusive use and inexplicable fallow periods. If nothing else, this would put Oswalt in the best position to succeed.
If he succeeds, he can then help the Mets succeed in 2021. He has the increased velocity, and he has the ability to eat some innings for the bullpen. Looking at performance and need out there, Oswalt should be in the Opening Day bullpen.
When teams assemble their pitching rotations, they typically assemble them in order of the talent of their top starters. Taking the New York Mets as an example, Jacob deGrom will be the Opening Day starter. After him, with Carlos Carrasco possibly delayed to start the season and Noah Syndergaard on the 60 day IL, it is fairly clear right now Marcus Stroman would be the second starter.
If you are taking the long term view of the season, Stroman should not be the second starter. Yes, he is the second best starter available, and if this was Game 2 of a postseason series, you would definitively be handing him the ball. However, in the regular season, that does not make any sense.
Looking at deGrom, since he has been the best pitcher in baseball, he has averaged 6.1 innings per start. If you look at the two seasons prior to 2020, he averaged 6.2 innings. That means whenever he takes the ball, the bullpen is getting a break. That is important when you consider the bullpen gets increasingly taxed and taxed with each start. To that, here is the average innings per start over the last four seasons for the Mets projected 2021 rotation options:
- Jacob deGrom 6.1
- Noah Syndergaard 6.0
- Carlos Carrasco 6.0
- Marcus Stroman 5.2
- Taijuan Walker 5.0
- David Peterson 5.0
- Joey Lucchesi 5.0
- Jordan Yamamoto 4.2
Now, the Mets seemed to be blessed with pitchers who tend to go deeper into games than most teams. Still, when fully healthy, this will be a rotation with two 5+ inning starters at the back end of their rotation. That means a bullpen who gets increasingly used after deGrom starts will be asked to provide a lot more without much of a break.
That was something which truly presented an issue for the Mets during deGrom’s first Cy Young campaign. Yes, he received little to no run support far too often that season. However, he also would see the bullpen blow a number of late leads for him. Part of the result is that the bullpen had been taxed heading into his starts. Rather than having the bullpen in the best possible shape to secure a win from their ace, they were on fumes hoping for deGrom to give them a break.
That is partially how you take a season for the ages and turn it into a 11-10 record for deGrom. That is both a reflection of how wins and losses for a pitcher are overrated. However, it is also an indication that something is going wrong that a pitcher who is setting records can’t buy a win.
If we were to look at the current Mets rotation, the bullpen is going to be well rested when deGrom takes the mound. Typically speaking, they will need to get about 6-8 outs in a game. That will leave them well rested. That is exactly the right time to line up the bullpen for a Walker start.
Typically speaking, Walker provides 5+ innings in a start. After deGrom, the bullpen will be well poised to provide that. Of course, after that, the Mets will have run through some of their bullpen. That is when you combat that by going to Syndergaard or Carrasco (if healthy) or Stroman. The Mets can then go to their 5+ inning fifth starter whether that is Luccesi, Peterson, or Yamamoto. Finally, the Mets could then go to Stroman who can eat some more innings before handing the ball back to deGrom.
By restructuring the rotation in that fashion, the Mets are positioning their bullpen to get breaks here and there. You are getting them regular work, and you are avoiding some fallow periods where they are not getting work because the top pitchers are eating up innings. Overall, the general concept is to stagger the pitchers by the innings they will reasonably provide instead of just lining them up without any concept on the impact it will have on the bullpen and staff as a whole.
Hopefully, that means a better rested Edwin Diaz. It could mean less of a need to rely on Seth Lugo for multiple innings when he returns. It could mean not needing to have the Triple-A to MLB shuttle for pitchers like Drew Smith. Instead, pitchers are put in a position where they get regular rest and work. That should help them succeed, and it should help prevent them from blowing games for deGrom.
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.
New York Mets fans really love their players. That goes double for those players who implicitly get it on some level. Those players become fan favorites.
It’s not necessarily limited to the David Wrights and Mike Piazzas of the world. We’ve seen it with Wilmer Flores with his crying on the field and walk-off hits. Curtis Granderson was as good and decent a man who ever donned a Mets uniform.
The key with most of these fan favorites is they let the fans know they’re loved and appreciated. On some level, the player just gets in. With respect to that, we’re seeing some of that already with Taijuan Walker.
Already, we have seen Walker give a nod to the late, great Tom Seaver, a pitcher who will forever be in Mets fans hearts, by apparently celebrating his new contract with GTS wine:
— Taijuan Walker (@tai_walker) February 20, 2021
Walker has also already engaged the fans. In his career, Walker has worn both 00 and 99. Apparently, he’s heavily considering both, and on that front, he’s invited Mets fans feedback:
— Taijuan Walker (@tai_walker) February 20, 2021
All told, Walker is already doing all the right things to show fans he gets it. He doesn’t just want to wear a Mets uniform. He wants to be a part of the fabric of the organization. Fans will notice and love him for it.
Don’t be surprised if Mets fans suddenly adore Walker. That will go double if he builds off a strong 2020 season to be a key cog in a rotation which carries the Mets to the World Series.