What better way to ring in the beginning of the MLB season than with a series of over/unders?
Eight days. Only eight more days until there is regular season baseball. Spring Training is one of the most exciting times of the year, spelling the near imminent return of the new York Mets and Major League Baseball.
But those last few weeks leading up to Opening Day can feel monotonous at times. Watching your favorite players only participate in a handful of innings only makes us yearn for games that count even more.
It reminds me of how I felt when Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out. When December rolled around, I couldn’t have been more excited and preordered tickets, but that last week up to the release felt like it was moving in slow motion.
As writers, our favorite thing to do in the Spring is make predictions. The amount of things we speculate about in the preseason is almost overwhelming, but forgive me, I’m going to throw out just a few more.
Let’s play a game. We’re going to take the six focal starting pitchers of the New York Mets: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Jason Vargas, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler. For each pitcher, we’re going to select one statistic from 2017, use it as an over/under, and make an educated guess of where it will land in 2018. No statistic will be used twice and where possible, I will try to stay away from ones that were heavily impacted by injury.
Here we go.
Matt Harvey — ERA (2017: 6.70) — Under
Look at it this way. Once you hit rock bottom, you can only go up from there. Matt Harvey was particularly awful last season and it makes you wonder if The Dark Knight’s best days are behind him. The short answer to that question is that they are, but all is not lost for Harvey.
After posting a 6.70 ERA in 2017, the UNC alumnus can only improve going forward. For the first time since his arm issues began creeping up, Harvey finally looks comfortable again. His 5.52 Spring ERA may not be indicative of that, but his ability to strike out batters without the substantial velocity he once possessed is a strong note in the right direction.
At some point, any fireballer has to transition into a pitcher from a thrower. With his physical ability diminished, it seems that Harvey is finally ready to accept that and get hitters out using a more cerebral approach.
Jacob deGrom — IP (2017: 201.1) — Under
Over the last four seasons, no pitcher has been more reliable than Jacob deGrom. As the club’s workhorse and the de facto ace, the right-hander topped the 200 innings plateau for the first time in 2017. While this is a monumental achievement for a player once considered an afterthought, I don’t believe he will be able to repeat the feat in 2018.
With a stiff back creeping up on deGrom already, you have to figure that the Mets will be extra cautious with him this season. A new staff focused on injury prevention and workload management should ensure that. The best case scenario is that the Amazins’ are competitive come September and Mickey Callaway electively chooses to space out deGrom’s starts and preserve him for a potential playoff run. Worst case scenario, deGrom’s hair was actually the source of all his power and durability and his injury luck runs out in 2018.
Noah Syndergaard — FIP (2017: 1.31) — Over
It’s 2018, which means sabermetrics are an accepted part of everyday life. FIP is a pretty simple concept to understand. Fielding Independent Pitching is extrapolating a pitcher’s ERA after accounting for the strength/weakness of the defense behind him.
To make a long story short, having a 1.31 FIP is kind of an insane number. I mean Thor was unbelievable in 2017 until his lat muscle tear sidelined him for the majority of the season. Bigger, stronger, and throwing harder, 2018 is going to be a huge year for our favorite Avenger. But it’s only natural with a larger sample size that his FIP will balloon to some degree. When you consider the Mets overall improvement defensively, that should play a role in synchronizing Syndergaard’s FIP towards his ERA this season.
Jason Vargas — Wins (2017: 18) — Under
Jason Vargas won 18 games for the Royals in 2017 despite posting a 4.16 ERA. That’s actually remarkable since Kansas City was a sub .500 team last year. Winning that many games would be a best-case scenario for Vargas’ second tour with the Mets. Unfortunately, an injury to his non-throwing hand will cost the left-hander at least a month and with that much time on the disabled list, reaching this feat is unlikely.
Steven Matz — Strikeouts Per 9 IP (2017: 6.5) — Over
Steven Matz is shaping up pretty quickly to be a career case of what if. When he’s healthy, he is dazzling. However, the crafty lefty has only made 41 starts over the last three seasons.
With a 2.51 ERA over his last three starts, Matz may be rounding into form again. To say he looked shaky when Spring Training got underway would be an understatement, but he finally seems to be on the up and up. Matz has 17 strikeouts in 16 Spring innings, nine of which he picked up against the reigning champs on Monday. If he can stay healthy, and that’s a big if, Matz will definitely pile up more Ks in 2018.
Zack Wheeler — WHIP (2017: 1.59) — Over
Zack Wheeler has always struggled with his control, but it was more manageable before he underwent Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, there is no indication that he will be able to keep runners off the base paths in 2018. The good news is that he has been able to maintain some semblance of his pre-surgery velocity. The bad news is that his lack of command may write his way out of the starting rotation. I’d love to be wrong about this, but I’m not optimistic that Wheeler can keep his WHIP down in 2018.