Are We Better In 2014 Than 2013: The Mets’ Starting Rotation

harvey gee wheeler

We recently ran through the position players on the current Mets roster, and projected the opening day position players vs the 2013 opening day Mets.  It’s pretty safe to say that we are in much better shape, on paper at least, than we were last year at this time.  Let’s see how the arms stack up compared to 2013.

2013Johan Santana (Out for Season), Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hefner, Aaron Laffey, Shaun Marcum (DL)

2014 – Matt Harvey (Out for Season), Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Bartolo Colon, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jenrry Mejia, John Lannan

Last season was a very odd start, to say the least, in regard to our rotation.  After trading the reigning NL CY Young Award Winner to the Blue Jays, for what looks to be a really nice haul of young talent, our presumed No. 1 starter goes on the shelf and is done for the year before the 2013 season started, which included a very bizarre, seemingly angry and impromptu bullpen session.  What looked like an area of strength became a position of scarcity overnight.

On top of that, with $25 million tied up in Johan Santana, and moving R.A. Dickey to Toronto, Shaun Marcum wasn’t available to join the rotation until April 27th, and he wasn’t exactly 100% as his season ended in early June.

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The 2013 Mets actually went with a four-man rotation to start the season as we did not have enough healthy starters to fill out a big league rotation. It wasn’t until we signed Aaron Laffey, who made his debut on April 7th, that we actually had a full staff, and that included Jeremy Hefner pitching out of the bullpen in game two and starting game four.  Luckily for the Mets, the team had nine off days in the first five weeks of the season, as five of their scheduled games were postponed due to inclement weather.

It looks like we will begin our second consecutive season with our Ace hurler under the knife and out for the season.  We’re not gonna talk much about this.  I’m still heart broken.

Jon Niese

jon nieseNiese was the opening day starter in 2013, and has a good chance of getting the opening day nod again in 2014.  Niese took a small step back in 2013, as he dealt with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three weeks in late June.  Niese was 3-6 with a 4.32 ERA over 77 innings pitched when he went on the DL, but was sharp after returning, going 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA over 66 innings pitched in his final 10 starts of the season.  Niese was diagnosed with a slight tear in his rotator cuff.  As long as the tear doesn’t worsen, he will be able to pitch normally, but he will most likely need to rest a few starts if his shoulder flares up, similar to the 3 weeks he was unavailable in 2013.

Niese finished the year with 24 GS, 8-8, 3.71 ERA, 143 IP, 105 K, .281 BAA, 1.44 WHIP.

For his career he has a 3.99 ERA, .272  BAA, 1.38 WHIP

I want to believe that Niese will take a big step forward next season and post numbers similar to 2012  13-9  3.40, but I think the best we can expect from Niese is somewhere between 2012 & 2013. He was worth 1.6 fWAR and 0.7 rWAR last year.  He will probably be right around 1.5 range in 2014.

2014 WAR: Even

Dillon Gee

dillon geeGee started the 3rd game of the 2013 season and looked like he was fully recovered from the blood clot in his shoulder, and subsequent surgery, that ended his 2012 campaign at the All-Star Break when he opened the season with 6.1 innings pitched, allowing three hits and one earned run against San Diego. If you recall, Dillon was pitching so well heading into the break in 2012 that he had been named the starter of the first game of the second half.

Bad news…Blood clot…DL.  You know the story.

Gee was not quite back to where he was in 2012, as he struggled mightily over his next 9 starts and carried a 2-6 record and a 6.34 ERA into Yankee Stadium on May 30th.  Coincidentally, the Mets were going for a four game sweep against their cross-town rivals.  Gee was brilliant as he needed only 88 pitches to spin 7.1 innings pitched, allowing three hits and an earned run while striking out 12 Yankee hitters, or non-hitters on that particular night, to finish off the four game sweep.  Anthony Recker happened to be catching that night and Buck was behind the plate in all of Gee’s previous starts.

From that dominating performance through the rest of the season, Gee was 10-5 with a  2.71 ERA in 22 games started. Across 149.1 innings pitched he complied a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

He probably should’ve had at least three more wins over that stretch—two versus Atlanta alone.

For the season, Gee ended with a 12-11 record, a 3.62 ERA, and 1.28 WHIP over 199 innings pitched (Collins should’ve let him pitch the 7th in his last start).

Gee was one of the best pitchers in the NL over the season’s final four months.  He’s not gonna blow people away with 98 MPH heat, but he has pinpoint control, as he walked only 25 over his final 22 starts. He has movement on his fastball, deception with his change, and he can throw his breaking ball at any time in the count.  I really think 2014 will be a big year for Gee, but just to be safe, we’ll call 2013 Gee 1.2 fWar and 2.2 rWAR versus 2014 Gee (2.0-2.5).

2014 WAR: Even

Zack Wheeler

zack wheeler 3I’m pretty excited to see how Wheeler progresses in the upcoming season.  Let’s all get one thing very clear right now—he is not Matt Harvey.  It is not fair to this kid to put the expectations of what Harvey accomplished in his first 36 starts on Wheeler’s shoulders, or arm I guess.

Matt Harvey isn’t even the Matt Harvey we saw over the course of the last season plus.  Harvey was pitching at such a high level, game in and game out, with such intimidation and emotion.  There is no way his arm was able to hold up at that level.  We may never see the Matt Harvey of 2013 again.  He may have to tone it down a notch to prolong his career when he returns.

Wheeler does have good stuff.  He will really need to work hard on his command this spring, and his off-speed pitches will need to become much more consistent and refined.  However, 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in his first 100 innings pitched in the big leagues is nothing to take lightly.  He will, most likely, be on an innings limit similar to Harvey in 2013, especially considering he throws a high amount of pitches per inning.  He can lower that number with better command.  Wheeler started 17 games last season (0.6 & 1.1), and Marcum started 12 (1.2 & -1.0).  Those 29 starts combined produced a WAR of roughly 1.0.  I’m pretty sure Wheeler can make somewhere between 25-30 starts and top that number quite easily.

2014 WAR: +1.5

Jenrry Mejia

Phillies Mets BaseballMejia seems like he’s been around forever.  I’m still a touch upset at Jerry Manuel for selfishly rushing this kid to a major league bullpen at age 20.  He most likely would’ve had Tommy John at some point, but being jerked back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, with seemingly no plan in place didn’t do this kid any good, physically or mentally.

The good news, he will pitch the 2014 season at age 24, and he looked really, really good in his five starts last season.  The bad news, he’s coming off yet another surgery, this time to remove bone chips from his elbow, and could open the season at AAA.  He only has one option left, so it may be wise to keep him on the big club, and if he struggles, or isn’t fully recovered, we can send him down one last time.

As much as I love this kids stuff, I just can’t find any evidence to convince me that he will stay healthy for more than a handful of starts.  There is no doubt he will be on an innings limit, and closely monitored.  He has never thrown more than 108 innings pitched in any season thus far, and managed only 50 innings last year.  If he gets to 100 I’ll be stunned…excited, elated, and overjoyed, but stunned.

His five starts last season were worth about 0.5 WAR, so 10-12 starts from Mejia will still be better than five, and much better than the seven starts we got from Laffey, Collin McHugh and Harang that produced -0.3 WAR in 2013.

2014 WAR: +1.0

Daisuke Matsuzaka

daisuke matsuzakaThe Mets recently inked Matsuzaka to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.  He will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation with Mejia & John Lannan.  I actually really like this signing. It’s low-risk and he looked really good over his last several starts.  Worst case scenario, he is insurance if one of the starters goes down with an injury, but that would never happen……….

Let’s say he makes 10-15 starts and covers his seven starts from last season, and the nine starts Carlos Torres made.  I realize that Carlos Torres pitched very well last season, but he was much better in a relief role.  Torres compiled a 1.47 ERA, .203  BAA , 0.87 WHIP from the bullpen, and 4.89 ERA, .269 BAA, 1.29 WHIP as a starter.

2014 WAR: Even (but +1.0 is very possible.)

Bartolo Colon

BartoloColonThere have been mixed reviews over the Colon signing, 2yr/$20mil($9-2014 $11-2015).  Personally, I like it.  I don’t love it, but I do like it.  Look, starters go down with injury every year.  Last winter we assumed our rotation was a strength and we had plenty of depth, but after unloading Dickey, we could barely fill out a major league rotation.  What would we have done if Harvey didn’t turn out to be superman last year?

Twelve pitchers made at least one start for the Mets in 2013, and Anthony Recker pitched an inning.  There are worse ways we could’ve spent the money.  Is he old?  Yeah, 41 in May.  Is he overweight?  Yeah, 5-foot-11 and 265.  PEDs?  Check.

We can’t discount the fact that he was really good last year though, and with the contracts being handed out to starting pitchers this offseason, $215 & $155 million for Kershaw & Tanaka respectively, it’s a pretty small gamble in comparison.  I also think Sandy will move him at the deadline if we aren’t in the race, and next offseason, if we are.  Hopefully, he can bring back a high end shortstop, outfield or pitching prospect.

In 2013, Colon pitched 190 innings, compiling an 18-6 record, 2.65 ERA, 3 CG (Shutouts), 29 BB, and a 1.17 WHIP while facing a DH every night.

There have been many CY Young Awards handed out to pitchers with seasons that weren’t as good as Colon’s 2013.

Harvey was worth roughly 6.0 WAR last season in 26 starts.  Bartolo Colon was worth 4.5 in 30 in a much tougher league for pitchers.  I think Colon will regress this season, but I also know he won’t face a DH every time out.  He could certainly be worth 4.0 WAR in 2014 if he is anywhere close to the Colon of 2013, but let’s be conservative on this one.

2014 WAR: -3.5

Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard

jeremy hefnerSo we have all of the starts covered from 2013 with the exception of the 23 made by Jeremy Hefner.  From what I gather, Jeremy Hefner is not exactly a fan favorite, and I feel what he did last season went largely unnoticed.

Looking at his numbers as a whole, they seem rather pedestrian.  Fifth starter numbers or similar, but there was stretch last season heading into the All-Star Break when Hefner was throwing the ball as good as anyone in the NL.

He finished up the first half in the top 10 in ERA at 3.33 over 108 innings pitched in 18 starts, and from May 31-July 18, over his last eight starts heading into the break, he was 3-1 with a 1.76 ERA over 51 innings pitched. He allowed 42 hits and eight walks while striking out 40 over that span.  He had four no decisions in which he gave up a total of five earned runs, and sported a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Hefner was hitting 93 MPH with his fastball, and complemented it with a cutter, curveball, slider, and change up.  He came back after the All-Star break with an 87 MPH fastball, and had Tommy John in August.  He could potentially be back at the end of August to make some starts as the younger guys start hitting their innings limits.  Overall his production will not be hard to replace since he started eight games after the break when he was clearly injured, and those eight starts were as bad, as the previous eight were good.

Rafael Montero should make 10-15 starts, and prized possession Noah Syndergaard should make around 10 at the major league level.  Montero threw 155 innings across AA and AAA in 2013 and should be on a limit of 175 in 2014, while “Thor” pitched only 117.  He will be capped around 150.  We should see both of these guys by late June or July.  If these two are as good as advertised, they should have no problem covering the -0.2 WAR that Hefner’s 23 starts were ultimately worth.

2014 WAR: +1.5

Replacing Harvey is impossible.  We won’t have one starter that produces 26 starts like he did last year, but I think, as a whole, the rotation will be at least AS good as the 2013 rotation with the potential to be better.  Something would have to go decidedly wrong for it not to be.  If nothing else, we should have enough arms to start the season with a full rotation.  We have some exciting young arms about to show off their stuff in 2014. If even a couple of guys can take a step forward, we could have as much rotation depth as anyone in baseball when 2015 rolls around.  A rotation of Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Montero and Mejia/Niese/Gee/Colon with several intriguing arms in lower levels of the minors, is a bit overwhelming.  The future appears to be just on the horizon.

We’ll have something up on the bullpen in the coming days.