The Key For The 2012 Mets Is…

Starting Pitching.

This article could have been concluded with a bold-faced assertion like that, and it would’ve served better as a tweet. However, there are numerous reasons why starting pitching will make the Mets (if the pitching performances are as expected or better than) a possible dark-horse contender in the NL East, or even for the wild card.

Mets starters were middle of the pack last year in innings pitched, getting 974 innings out of a front-line that for the most part consisted of Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano and Jonathon Niese, not in that order. The rotation managed a 4.12 ERA and a K/9 of 6.53, but most of which was in Jonathon’s Niese 7.91 K/9 and Chris Capuano’s 8.17 K/9. Although the strikeouts aren’t horrible, and the innings aren’t anything pathetic, the WHIP was the downfall of the starters. With a 1.34 WHIP as a staff, the Mets were in the bottom fifth of the NL, and if not for R.A. Dickey’s 200+ innings of 1.23 WHIP ball, someone could only imagine how much higher it could’ve been. While this is more innings than a few other clubs, the disparity between innings between the teams is semantic, minus the Phillies. The Phillies managed roughly 100 more innings out of their starters, allowing them to rely on their bullpen the least.

Due to the Mets starters inability in some cases to get out of the sixth inning (Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano) many relievers were used, and the ERA and WHIP of the bullpen shows the wear and tear, being the second worst in WHIP and ERA, and tied for 5th lowest in strikeouts. Although the cast of characters relieving in some cases was almost frightening (Ryota Igarashi & D.J. Carrasco getting 84.1 innings to proceed to ERA & WHIP bomb the bullpen still amazes), the bullpen was constantly overworked. The Mets had EIGHT relievers over 40 appearances, including the traded K.Rod who didn’t don a Mets uniform after mid-July. The guys in the pen wear down, become less effective, and then hand games back to the other team. As some baseball people say, if the relievers were such good pitchers, they’d be starters.

In an ideal world, the Mets can get somewhere around 985-995 innings from their starters, and that 20 inning increase is 20 innings less that fans may have to be subjected to witnessing a “6th inning guy” or a mop-up guy coming out because one of the starters couldn’t get out of the early innings. In a perfect world, here are the inning totals that would make sense, and hopefully lead to the Mets being able to win more games

R.A. Dickey – 205 IP
Mike Pelfrey – 202 IP
Jonathon Niese – 185 IP
Dillon Gee – 175 IP
Johan Santana – 145 IP

Just from those who are expected to be the starting rotation, that equates to 912 innings. The miscellaneous Mets starters last year pitched roughly 76 innings, which if duplicated over again brings the innings to 988, a whole game and a half worth of innings pitched by guys who are the best on your team.

While these are all optimistic, they are based in realism. R.A. Dickey is a knuckleballer who has shown he is gritty, pitching numerous games last year on a  leg he could barely run on. Mike Pelfrey has proved to be if nothing else, durable. Jonathon Niese hasn’t proved durability, but did pitch 173 innings in 2010, so a 12 inning increase isn’t hard to believe pending health. Dillon Gee is the real wild card here, going 156 innings in 27 starts, or roughly 5.6 innings per start. If Gee could make 31 starts, and even keep up that 5.6 IP, he’d venture above the mentioned 175 IP. Johan Santana is being predicted lightly, due to the fact even if he pitches opening day, more than 25 starts from Johan seems to be out of the question.

If the starters can pull their weight and literally pitch 14 more innings as opposed to lesser pitchers, the Mets may stand a significantly better chance to challenge in the NL East.