A lot of improbable occurrences had to take place in order for the Mets to make their World Series run in 2015. The team had to get huge performances from two sketchy regulars in Curtis Granderson and Travis d’Arnaud. David Wright had to return from a spinal stenosis diagnosis that threatened his career, and then hit like he was never hurt. Yoenis Cespedes was not only acquired, but played like Andrew McCutchen until the playoffs started, at which point Daniel Murphy co-opted his magic and hit like Reggie Jackson. But the starting rotation? That wasn’t improbable at all. That went about according to plan; the plan was to absolutely shove.
The Mets’ starting pitchers threw more innings than any other team's but the White Sox. They threw harder (by average fastball velocity) than any but the Pirates … and if it weren’t for one particular soft-tosser, they would’ve certainly been first. Flamethrowers Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey were second and fourth in baseball, respectively, in number of pitches thrown above 100 mph, according to the New York Times. Best of all, the starting rotation is filled with youth as well as talent, which will serve them well leading into the 2016 season. With aces Jacob deGrom (28), Harvey (27), and Syndergaard (23), all on the sunnier side of 30, this is a club that may not regress much going into their defense of the NL pennant. If health holds up, it could actually improve.
If we know anything about trying to predict future performance, it’s that we should start with past performance. Let’s start with the top three starters in the rotation: deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard. When it comes to 2015 performance, that order matters—that’s the order their performance flowed from best to … well, not worst, but third-best. BP’s Deserved Run Average statistic measures what their performances should have been based on the quality of their pitching, and all three of these starters finished in the top 25 among MLB pitchers with 135 or more innings. The cFIP stat also tells a pretty good story—instead of measuring performance, it measures a pitcher’s true talent level over a season, based on their peripherals. By that metric, those three pitchers also placed in the top 25 leaderboard for 2015.
|Name||DRA||DRA Rank||cFIP||cFIP Rank|
PECOTA is notoriously impartial, regressing everyone toward the mean. What does that mean for Harvey and Syndergaard? They’re projected for roughly the same amount of WARP that they racked up this past season. For Harvey, PECOTA projects 3.3 WARP, compared to the 3.5 he earned in 2015. For Syndergaard, 2.5 WARP compared to last season’s 2.6. It’s possible that deGrom will regress from his incredible 2015, but he still looks to be a top-flight starter. PECOTA gives him a 2.6 WARP, which is a drop from 4.4 this past season but still a respectable mark. Projections mark this team as fairly likely to keep up the good work.
|Name||2015 IP||2015 WARP||2016 IP (projected)||2016 WARP (projected)||WARP Difference (projected)|
Overall? Those six pitchers are projected to have roughly the exact same WARP as they delivered in the past season. Also, the innings numbers for deGrom may be underselling him, as he threw plenty more than the projected innings amount last season. But the true terror for other NL teams? Both Syndergaard and Harvey could well improve on their 2015 performance, for reasons PECOTA may be overlooking. 2015 was Harvey’s return from Tommy John surgery, and he improved as the season went on. Command is often the last thing to return after that long of a break, and Harvey saw his improve considerably in the second half of the season. In the first half he walked about 2.1 batters per nine innings, but in the second half only gave out about 1.3 free passes per nine.
Not only is Syndergaard primed for a full season’s worth of innings, but he’s worked with pitching coach Dan Warthen to develop a slider to complement his fastball, curve, and change. The Warthen slider is something like the team’s secret weapon, a pitch with a huge spin rate and epic velocity, and part of the backbone of Harvey, deGrom, and closer Jeurys Familia’s success. Given that Syndergaard already touches 100 mph, he could very well have a Harvey-esque apotheosis if he figures out a way to harness the pitch. Perhaps the ceiling is even higher. The only catch is health—there have been whispers for almost a season now that the young righty’s elbow may be at risk for Tommy John surgery sooner rather than later.
The back end of the Mets rotation is good too, comprising polar opposites: lanky southpaw Steven Matz and crafty righty Bartolo Colon. Matz is the incredible young talent, a top-10 overall prospect on almost every important scouting list (including the BP Top 101) who proved he can compete in both the regular season and postseason last year. He’s another hard thrower, able to hit 94 mph from the left side, and PECOTA likes him enough to peg him for almost a strikeout per innings and 1.6 WARP in around 150 innings. Colon is almost the team’s mascot, a former power pitcher who has learned how to get by with diminished stuff by leaning on a fastball that he locates with miraculous care. He is the rock, the foundation, the fallback. And believe it or not, PECOTA sees him as posting 1.7 WARP—ahead of the phenom—in a full season of work.
By midseason Zack Wheeler should be ready to return to game action after missing all of 2015. PECOTA is bearish on Wheeler’s return from Tommy John surgery in terms of innings pitched, but not so much in terms of effectiveness. The system’s projection sees Wheeler throwing about a strikeout per inning, despite offering around league-average performance back in his last go-round in 2014. Wheeler also perhaps will give the team a slightly different look when he returns—in 2014 he was a pretty effective groundball pitcher (55 percent), which could be a real asset to the team if he can up his strikeout rate to complement those easy outs.
By my count, that’s five-and-a-half pitchers who could comfortably sit at least at no. 3 in many rotations … with Harvey and deGrom worthy of Opening Day nods for 20 or more teams. That’s a combination of top-end talent and depth that perhaps only one or two other franchises can boast (hey, Cleveland!), and a combination of youth and talent that no team can touch.
To get to the World Series, many dominoes must fall in exactly the right fashion, twisting lines of synchronized motion. It requires a combination of great luck and great skill to succeed throughout an entire baseball season, both planning and providence. The Mets appear to have such great skill in their rotation, that they don’t need great luck to be successful. Average luck should do the trick. It remains to be seen if that’s a possibility, or if they used up all their good fortune during last season’s surge.