I’m a huge advocate of pitching. You have to have good pitching as the solid core, the foundation. It keeps you in every game. – Tom Seaver, New York Mets Pitcher, Hall of Fame Class of 1992.
Prior to the 2017 season, Mets fans and baseball fans alike were treated to primetime commercials, magazine articles, SportsCenter profiles and Page Six stories about the Mets pitching staff. Most notably was the four horsemen commercial for the MLB. The Commerical begins with the camera following a waiter carrying a huge meatball on a plate. That presumably very spicy meatball is brought to a table occupied by Mets pitchers Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey, all of them laughing, eating, enjoying each others company. Over all of this is the following voice over:
“For the first time in a very long time, the Four Horsemen of Queens are back together. No more cancelled plans, the reservation is set. These guys are locked, loaded and hungry. Serious question: Are we looking at the best staff in baseball?”
I think it’s time we all say something out loud, something none of us want to say. The kind of thing that only cultivates more self-doubt, more self-loathing and drags you deeper into that abyss of New York Mets fandom. However, the time has come to face that fear head on and hope that this acknowledgment can lead to an easier mind and a more hopeful tomorrow. So let’s all take a deep breath and say it with me…
This is not the best staff in baseball.
Does this staff have the potential to be the best in baseball? Yes, that’s very true, but you start running out of potential after a while and it begins to lose its shine. Potential disappears. Webster’s Dictionary defines “potential” as “existing in possibility: capable of development into actuality.” Developing into actuality, that’s the important bit right there. We’ve seen glimpses of greatness, but glimpses do not a perennial juggernaut make.
What this unfulfilled potential creates is disappointment, and that’s the worst. This staff is young and vibrant, but they’re either injured, tired or beaten down as of late. Sandy Alderson talks about being in the “window” of time where the Mets pitching is very good and very cheap, once thought to be 5 Aces for the price of one. However, that “window” feels like it wants to close, as if we’re trying all we can do to force it open. The 2017 Mets staff has been disappointing, and it’s starting to feel exhausting keeping that window open.
Syndergaard is injured and that’s a major blow to the team’s pitching numbers and overall prowess, for sure. Honestly, while gathering the stats and doing the homework for this blog the biggest thing that struck me was how good of a season Noah Syndergaard was off to. Syndergaard has been out for almost 3 full weeks now, and it shows. Syndergaard’s numbers through five starts are staggering, and still, keep him within the top of the Mets staff in total Ks. Noah’s return, whenever it may be, will be welcomed with open arms.
deGrom is also having a solid year in a lot of respects but is also struggling to match his numbers from previous seasons. deGrom is striking out batters at a record rate, recording double-digit Ks in 4 of his 8 starts in 2017, something deGrom did once in 2016, 5 times in 2015 and 4 times in his Rookie of the Year season. However, deGrom’s walks are actually off the charts and that’s an issue.
For a guy who is not known for giving out free passes deGrom sure is tossing a lot of Ball Fours. So far in 2017, deGrom has dished out 23 walks, setting him on course to finish with a career-high total for 2017. deGrom only gave out 36 in 2016, 38 in 2015, and 43 in 2014. deGrom’s walk numbers were trending down, so what’s going on with this uptick in walks? Well, to start, deGrom’s throwing more pitches an inning than any year before. In 2015 and 2016, deGrom averaged 15 pitches an inning, whereas his 2017 numbers are two pitches higher. This is an average, of course, but what this tells me is that deGrom’s getting a little relaxed with his control. So far this has worked to deGrom’s and the entire Met’s staff’s advantage, getting 75% of their strikeouts from swings and misses. However, if you live by the out of the zone chase, you can also die by the out of the zone chase. deGrom has to tighten up.
Actually, no. EVERYONE HAS TO TIGHTEN UP. The Walks are an issue, and even if they weren’t an issue it’s cause for concern. Tommy Milone gave up 2 walks in the first inning yesterday, once intentionally to Mike Trout to load the bases and the other to Jefry Marte the very next batter. The following batter C.J. Cron hits a Grand Slam before an out was recorded the Mets were down 5 runs, two guys put on with walks. This is something the Mets have been struggling with for a while. In his last 4 starts, 25% of the runs scored against Matt Harvey have been the result of walks. In his first 4 starts? ZERO guys who walked crossed home plate. Walks will come back and bite you in the ass. Saturday Night the Angels scored 5 runs, 3 of those runs were thrown ball 4. This is a pattern. This is a problem.
SIDENOTE: Matt Harvey has given up a lot of homers to guys leading off innings. It’s happened a lot. We should look into that.
The biggest take aways from the weekend against the Angels should be that Zack Wheeler successfully pitched out of a bases loaded jam, something he was relieved of earlier in the season and Robles gave up a Grand Slam to the first batter he faced, as well as deGrom throwing 7 innings of shutout ball, the first time in 18 games that Mets starter has gotten an out in the 7th inning. That’s a good sign for the future, for sure. However, when Zach Wheeler goes out there and throws 99 pitches through 5.0 innings, that’s not great, this team doesn’t have starters that go deep, and it doesn’t have the bullpen depth to fill the innings left by them. We used to wonder about who would bridge the gap from starter to Reed to Familia, but now I’m wondering who can bridge from starter to reliever when your starters can’t go 7 innings. Anyone?
Things will become a lot easier when Matz and Lugo return which is still looking like early June, I promise you. The Mets bullpen is struggling and adding Gsellman who can go long will give them a break. I’m all about Gsellman moving to the pen, especially considering he’s got a 1.17 ERA as a reliever in his career. It’s going to be better for the bullpen once Matz and Lugo return, but once they do the starters better pull their weight again.
This team is beaten up and tired, that’s clear, but that doesn’t stop you from showing up and playing every day. Rene Rivera is hitting above .300. Michael Conforto is tearing the cover off the ball. You have to keep playing, you have to go out there and try to win. You get no points for giving up, and I think it’s time the starters step up. This pitching staff could be the best in the league, but by the way they’ve played so far in 2017, it seems they’re running out of time.