A.J. Hinch currently has his team one win away from a World Series victory. He has made a name for himself this postseason for his unconventional use of his bullpen. With closer Ken Giles struggling and a bullpen that has been inconsistent since the start of October, Hinch has turned to his starters to get critical outs at the end of games.
With a 4-0 lead after five innings of ALCS Game 7 against the Yankees, Hinch handed the ball to starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. Hinch never took the ball out of his hand again, as McCullers would complete a four inning save with six strikeouts while only giving up a single hit and allowing one walk.
Nearly a week later McMullers would be on the hill again but this time it was starting Game 3 of the World Series against the Dodgers. With the series tied at one game a piece, the Astros once again had a four run lead after five innings. As the Dodgers came to the plate in the sixth inning, McCullers began to falter and Hinch once again turned to a starting pitcher rather than his relievers.
This time it was Brad Peacock who got the nod and he responded by getting out of a jam in the sixth while throwing three more hitless innings en route to a save of his own and another win for the Astros. While using starting pitchers in the postseason is not a new phenomena, it is something that we rarely see in the regular season. With a potential surplus of starting pitching, it might be time for the Mets to turn a young hurler into a long man closer out of the pen.
The new metrics are very clear when it comes to starting pitching, most starters are very effective the first two times facing a lineup, then when the third time comes around, get him out of there. Robert Gsellman, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler are just a few of the Mets that fare much better the first two times through the lineup and fall apart after that. The question is, can the Mets bring the postseason formula to the regular season and use two starters rather than a starter and four relievers to win games?
The one problem with this strategy is that what used to be a surplus of elite starting pitching, does not look great after a horrid 2017. The only proven commodity after this season is Jacob deGrom. There should still be plenty of optimism in Noah Syndergaard‘s ability to return to Cy Young form, but other than that this rotation has a high ceiling and a low floor.
Seth Lugo is the one candidate that may be the most ready for a role as a reliever, because he has been successful out of the ‘pen in the past. Wheeler’s plus velocity might play the best out of the bullpen, which makes him an attractive option that was even discussed last spring. The Mets need to get creative to piece together the young talent they have, into a competent pitching staff.
One thing that the Mets lacked last year was the veteran presence that Bartolo Colon had brought to the rotation in the years prior. While Colon ended up having a rough year of his own, the Mets could benefit from signing a veteran starting pitcher that will take the ball each day. If they were to sign C.C. Sabathia for example, they would have a pitcher they could rely on to not have the same extreme highs and lows of their young staff and a pitcher that would hopefully stay on the field.
If the Mets were to sign a veteran free agent, they would potentially have eight or nine options out of their rotation. This would give some protection for the inevitable injuries and presuming some bounce back years, this can be a formidable rotation. If two or three of these starters land up as a reliever, you can have games where the starting pitcher goes through the lineup twice, and then hands the ball two the starter in the pen. That starter out of the pen can go through the lineup twice themselves and either finish the game or hand it of the closer. This can keep the back end arms of the bullpen fresh throughout the year, as well as limiting the inning of the young starters.
Mickey Callaway and whoever the Mets hire as pitching coach, have their work cut out for them to repair what was a broken pitching staff last year. Being unconventional with the talent in the room, might be the best way to utilize what they currently have on the roster.