Through three games this season, the Mets have shown promise. In the first two games, the offense seemed to click while Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom pitched like their usual selves, leading to two strong victories.
However, things didn’t go so well in game three. The Mets could never really get anything going against starter Luke Weaver or the bullpen, and Steven Matz did not provide a quality start, giving him three runs in four innings while walking three and throwing 89 pitches.
Matt Harvey, meanwhile, was great in his first start against the Phillies, allowing one hit, no runs, and only one walk in five innings while striking out five batters.
Assuming they stay healthy, Syndergaard and deGrom are both extremely talented and should lead the rotation. But they’re going to need guys like Matz, Harvey, Seth Lugo, Jason Vargas, and whoever else that starts games for the Mets to record quality outings. A team cannot be successful if it gets good starts 40% of the time and bad starts 60% of the time. One of the main reasons the Mets were bad in 2017 was because they couldn’t get much outside of their two aces (not to mention that one of their aces was hurt for most of the year).
In 2017, Mets starting pitchers not named Syndergaard or deGrom went 33-52 with a 5.75 ERA. Even if Syndergaard and deGrom both stay healthy and have ace-caliber seasons, the Mets aren’t going anywhere with that kind of production from their back-end starters. Sure, Syndergaard and deGrom both looked great in the first two games. But Matz did a poor job of keeping them in the game after posting a 6.08 ERA last year, and if he and Harvey’s struggles carry over to 2018, the Mets are in trouble.
To be a playoff contender, Matz doesn’t have to become the next Clayton Kershaw and Harvey doesn’t have to revert to his 2013 form. It would be unrealistic to expect that drastic of a turnaround. However, what the three starters after Syndergaard and deGrom need to do is to simply keep the Mets in games. They don’t have to post double-digit strikeout games, they don’t have to throw shutouts, they just need to last for at least five or six innings each time without giving up more than three or four runs. If they can do that consistently throughout the season, assuming the offense holds its own, the Mets should be fine.
A good starting rotation is arguably the most vital element to a playoff contender. The 2015 Mets succeeded despite a very mediocre offense for half the year because of the great consistency and performance of their starting rotation. They had the fourth best ERA in the Majors at 3.43, but the key was also that they were second in the Majors in quality starts with 101, behind only the Cardinals’ 106. That’s three earned runs or less in six or more innings in 62% of their games. Consistently getting strong efforts from their starters led to a 90-win season and an NL pennant, even with an offense that had the third worst batting average in the Majors. So yeah, starting pitching is that important.
Compare that to last year, when the Mets got just 62 quality starts, which is about 38% of their games. That means that in about 62% of the Mets’ games, the starting pitcher gave up four or more runs and/or pitched less than six innings. Plus, 25 of those 62 were pitched by either deGrom or Syndergaard, meaning that when one of the two aces was not on the hill, the Mets only got a quality start 37 times. Yikes.
The point is, this team has the talent to be successful, but if their starters can’t keep them in games, they don’t stand a chance. The final three starters in the rotation are likely going to be Matz, Harvey, and Vargas for the majority of the season, but there could easily be a surprise that jumps into the mix like Zack Wheeler or Robert Gsellman. Last year, nobody besides deGrom had a solid year from start to finish. If the Mets can get three even decent years behind Syndergaard and deGrom, the rotation and team as a whole could suddenly look scary.