Now that spring training is in full swing, we examine which starting pitchers will break camp and head north with the New York Mets.
For Starters …Port St. Lucie, Florida — A group of 29 pitchers was invited by the Mets front office to attend spring training in 2017. Nineteen of them are currently on the Mets 40 man roster while 10 are non-roster invitees. Depending on how Mets manager Tery Collins wants to construct his roster, the group of 29 is competing for one of only 12 or 13 opening day pitching roster spots.
ESNY has broken down each of the pitchers invited to camp this year and determined which 13 we think Terry Collins should choose to break camp with the big league club.
This article will focus on the five or six starters that should break camp with the Mets. While the Mets will likely start the season with a five-man starting rotation, Terry Collins may elect to take one extra starter/reliever for emergencies, which brings us to six total.
Four of the six starter spots are locked in, as no doubt, you’ll recognize the names. The remaining two spots are up for grabs, though there are certainly leading contenders. We’ll examine all the Mets options here:
Four of a Kind
Noah Syndergaard — The AceThe man they call Thor is not only the unquestioned ace of the Mets staff, he’s also one of the best young starting pitchers in all of baseball.
Syndergaard joined the elite ranks last season by being one of only four pitchers to earn 14-plus wins with over 225 strikeouts and an ERA under 3.00. The other three were NL Cy young winner Max Scherzer, the late great Jose Fernandez and Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. The scary thing is that he may be getting better.
Syndergaard is considered by many scouts to have the best pure “stuff” in the game and it’s easy to see why. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound righty regularly hits 100 mph on the radar gun with his fastball. He has even hit 100 mph with his sinker. Combine those two pitches with a 90-plus per hour change up and you have a pitcher that is almost unhittable.
Syndergaard struck out 10.8 batters per nine and showcased five Ks for every walk he issued. Among starters who threw over 100 innings in 2016, those numbers were good enough to place him sixth and eighth overall respectively.
The one thing holding him back is the high number of hits he allows. While Syndergaard’s .89 hits per inning is not a bad ratio for a pitcher that doesn’t walk many batters, it’s not at the same elite level as the rest of his numbers. If he can improve in this area, even slightly in 2017, Syndergaard will have a legitimate chance to become only the fourth Met (Seaver, Gooden, Dickey) to ever win a Cy Young award.
Jacob deGrom — A Pair of AcesJacob deGrom is an extraordinary number two starter. The 28-year-old former rookie of the year had been enjoying an ace-like season in 2016 prior to a reoccurrence of elbow issues that negatively affected his second half.
deGrom’s first half was impressive. He was having quality starts, winning games, striking out nearly a batter per inning and pitching to a 2.61 ERA before regressing considerably in the second half. The Mets wound up shutting deGrom down near the end of September after the worst three-game stretch of his career (16 ER in 14 2/3 IP).
He would eventually have surgery to repair ulnar nerve damage in his pitching elbow, a procedure common amongst players that have undergone Tommy John surgery in the past as deGrom did earlier in his career. The surgery was a success and the Mets expect him to be a full participant in camp.
deGrom is more a pitcher than a thrower. He doesn’t really on power as much as teammate Syndergaard does, but he can hit 96 on the gun when he needs to. The combination of power and finesse is a rarity in the game today.
If deGrom can repeat his first half level of production for a full year in 2017, the Mets will be an extremely dangerous team, especially in a short series. The bigger question for Mets fans is not if he’ll be good, it’s whether or not deGrom can be the Koosman to Syndergaard’s Seaver.
Is this pair of aces alone good enough to lead the team to their first championship in 30 years? Probably not, but luckily they won’t have to do it alone.
Matt Harvey — Three of a KindMLB.com lists Matt Harvey as the Mets number three starter, so that’s where we’ll list him here. In reality, Terry Collins may choose to separate his three righties with southpaw Steven Matz when the season begins, thus pushing Harvey down to number four.
For those that don’t remember, Matt Harvey was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2013 and 2015. In both those years, he had sub 2.75 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning. Those are ace numbers. Having a healthy Harvey back full time as part of the rotation in 2017, whether as the three or four starter, will be vital to the Mets success.
The man Sports Illustrated once nicknamed the Dark Knight of Gotham, last pitched for the Mets on Jul. 4, 2016. At the time, he was not having a superhero year. Harvey was 4-10 and was carrying a pedestrian 4.86 ERA and 1.47 WHIP into the start. He pitched only 3.2 innings and left with, what he called, a “dead arm.”
Days later it was announced that Harvey had elected to have surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome between his neck and shoulder. He would go on to miss the remainder of the 2016 season and as we all know Gotham was dark in October once again.
While the health of a starting pitcher with Harvey’s track record can never be assumed, one can hope that Harvey, if healthy, will make more than 17 starts in 2017. If he does and can return to anywhere near the form that had him competing for Cy Youngs in 2013 and 2015, the Mets would have their third in a set of aces.
Steven Matz — Quad AcesSteven Matz is a 25-year-old lefty starter who owns a 3.16 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, with 8.7 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 ratios through his first 28 starts in the major leagues. On almost any other team in baseball, Matz would be a leading contender for an opening day start. On the Mets, he’s a number four starter.
Matz was having a remarkable rookie season before experiencing elbow and shoulder issues. The Mets shut him down in August. After several unsuccessful rehab attempts, Matz would go on to have surgery to remove a bone spur from his ailing elbow. Reports are that Matz is healthy in camp and he does not appear to have any restrictions.
Matz has high expectations for himself and the Mets in 2017. In a recent spot with John Harper of the New York Daily News, Matz said, “I don’t see why we can’t pick up where we were in 2015, getting to the World Series. Last year we had to fight through adversity and we got to the playoffs, so we know that we can fight through things as a team and have guys step up for us.”
If Matz can deliver a season similar to the one he was having in 2016 he can be the best number four starter in all of baseball. It’s awfully tough to beat four aces.
Robert Gsellman — The Wild CardThe Mets barely made the playoffs in 2016. They won the second NL Wild Card by a single game and Robert Gsellman was a big reason.
Prior to his call-up to the Mets in late August, Robert Gsellman was a 13th round draft pick struggling with a 1-5 record and an inflated 5.73 ERA in Triple-A. By season’s end, he was as big a reason the Mets had an opportunity to play in an NL wild card game as anyone.
Gsellman came up to the big leagues and was immediately asked to pitch important innings in division match-ups for a New York team in the middle of a playoff race. He responded by going 4-2 down the stretch with a 2.42 ERA.
Sure five of his eight starts in that month and a half were against Philadelphia and Atlanta. Yes, they’re the two worst offenses in all of baseball. But Gsellman also pitched three times against two of the four top offenses in the NL, the Nationals and Cardinals. In those three games, Gsellman pitched 15 1/3 innings and allowed only a single run.
The Mets schedule does not require a fifth starter until the middle of April. Zack Wheeler is hoping to return to the Mets by early May. There is a window here for Gsellman to make the staff.
Unless he implodes this spring, Gsellman’s performance down the stretch for the Mets last season has earned him at least a few starts to start this season. Who knows, maybe he can make it difficult for the Mets to hand Zack Wheeler the five spot in the rotation.
It Don’t Mean a Thing If it Ain’t Got That SwingToo much pitching is never a problem. Unless, of course, you happen to be the sixth best starting pitcher on an MLB staff.
Seth Lugo was great for the Mets last season. In 17 games, eight starts and nine relief appearances, the 27-year-old career minor leaguer compiled a 5-2 record, 2.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in the Show.
If not for the growing legend of Robert Gsellman and the return to the Mets of prodigal son Zack Wheeler, Lugo would be assured a spot in the opening day rotation. As it stands now, though, Lugo seems to be on the outside looking in.
As the Mets showed last year, professional baseball teams require more than five starters to get them through a season. At some point in 2017, Seth Lugo will be a starting pitcher for the Metropolitans. In the meantime, he could serve the team well in long relief.
Wheelin’ and Dealin’Zack Wheeler is returning to the Mets in 2017. When he does is still an open question.
Wheeler last pitched in spring training of 2015. Coming off of an 11-11 sophomore season in 2014, Wheeler was looking forward to an even better year in 2015.
Unfortunately, he experienced forearm tightness and elbow pain early in spring training and before long he was on the operating table. In March of 2015, Wheeler had Tommy John surgery. Nearly two full years later he is in Mets camp ready to resume his once promising career.
The Mets have been extremely patient with Wheeler. A part of the organization since 2011, they may be extra cautious with their asset so as not to risk a setback. He will get every opportunity to earn a spot in starting five at some point in 2017, but maybe not to start the season.
A Great StaffThe six starters the Mets should break camp with are quite possibly the best group in all the land. If you add Zack Wheeler to the mix, the Mets starting pitching depth is as good as you’ll ever find on one team.
The starting staff needs to be a strength for the Mets if they expect to compete for a division title in 2017. In 2016, the Mets showed that the way a staff is constructed to start the season is not nearly as important as how it is constructed to end the season. That said, this Mets staff is deep and getting deeper.
That depth and the quality of the depth should be able to withstand some hiccups and lead the Mets to another playoff appearance in 2017.