New York Mets: Potential 2014 Pitching Staff and Predictions
Sandy Alderson's "plan" took a big hit in October when the organization got word Matt Harvey would likely miss all of 2014 with a torn UCL. The general manager was looking for a veteran starter to fill that void in the rotation, and found that in free agent Bartolo Colon.
Most of Terry Collins' 2014 pitching is now in place. There is still one spot in the starting rotation and one spot in the bullpen up for grabs, but the "heavy lifting" needed to prepare for next season is complete.
Led by Harvey for most of 2013, the pitching staff was much younger and more improved as a unit than in 2012. Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen saw their hurlers put together a 3.77 team ERA (13th in MLB) and a 1.29 WHIP (12th in MLB).
More exciting things will happen on the mound at Citi Field this season. Fans will see Zack Wheeler pitch at the big league level for a full season, while top prospects Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are knocking at the door of the majors, ready to contribute.
In predicting performances for 2014, each pitcher is assumed to be healthy for the entire season. That in itself is an optimistic view, but if you can't be optimistic in December, when can you? What they accomplished last season was heavily considered, but their career numbers were also taken into account.
2013: 8-8 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 105 Ks, 48 BBs, 143 IP
2014: 13-9 record, 3.75 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 140 Ks, 52 BBs, 180 IP
Collins handed Jonathon Niese the Opening Day start in 2013. With Harvey sidelined, the southpaw will likely be given the same honor in March.
After having a career season in 2012, a stint on the disabled list hampered his progress last season. Shoulder issues forced Niese to miss a chunk of the summer months in Flushing. Prior to going on the shelf, the left-hander struggled to a 1-4 record in eight starts during May and June with an ERA north of 5.00.
Once he returned to the rotation, the coaching staff and fans started seeing the pitcher that emerged as a front-end starter in 2012. Niese went 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 66 innings to finish the year on a strong note.
It will be interesting to see how often Niese uses his cutter and changeup next year. He began using the cutter with more regularity in 2012, while he upped the frequency of his changeup in 2013. To compensate for that, he’s thrown his curveball less often as well.
Utilizing those first two pitches will make his big curveball more of a surprise pitch than one he leans on. That will keep hitters on their toes, allowing Niese to use it as his "out" pitch sporadically through a game.
2013 (w/ OAK): 18-6 record, 2.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 117 Ks, 29 BBs, 190.1 IP
2014: 12-8 record, 3.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 126 Ks, 48 BBs, 175 IP
The 40-year-old right-hander enjoyed his best year on the hill since he won the American League Cy Young Award for the Los Angeles Angels in 2005. There are concerns about Colon's age, weight and connection to PEDs, but this was a solid signing for the Mets.
Colon, of course, fills the void left in the rotation by Harvey. The latter is expected to be fully ready for 2015, but Colon provides insurance in case something happens. Having him around for a second year gives the organization more flexibility as well.
With all the pitching prospects on the cusp of being ready for the major leagues, Colon's presence could justify Alderson using someone like Dillon Gee or Niese in a potential trade for a top-tier position player. Or, if they want to hold onto all this young pitching and Colon is performing well, he's a relatively low-cost acquisition for a team in need of a rotation boost for a pennant race.
It's not fair to assume Colon will perform at the level he did in 2013. What Alderson wants out of him is to take the ball every fifth day and give the team a chance to win. He is able to provide that.
2013: 12-11 record, 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 142 Ks, 47 BBs, 199 IP
2014: 11-11 record, 3.85 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 164 Ks, 54 BBs, 210 IP
After missing the second half of 2012 with surgery to remove a blood clot in his throwing shoulder, Gee put together his best overall campaign last year. The first two months were not kind to the right-hander, but a dominant performance at Yankee Stadium turned his year around for good.
Gee slugged through April and May with a 3-6 record and an ERA approaching 6.00. On May 30, he allowed four hits and one run over 7.1 brilliant innings on the road against the New York Yankees. Gee struck out a season-high 12 hitters without walking anyone.
From that start on, he watched his season ERA steadily drop—the high point was a 6.34 mark on May 25. By the time the season finished, it ended up at 3.62.
Gee's early season struggles could be attributed to him not establishing his fastball enough to make his secondary pitches effective. By the end of the year, Gee threw that fastball 53.8 percent of the time, the most since 2011 (55.6 percent).
To get over the hump, he’ll need to be more consistent away from Citi Field. Gee put together a 2.75 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in the friendly confines of Flushing—compared to a 4.41 ERA and 1.34 WHIP on the road.
2013: 7-5 record, 3.42 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 84 Ks, 46 BBs, 100 IP
2014: 14-8 record, 3.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 167 Ks, 64 BBs, 200 IP
Wheeler received tremendous experience after being called up to the big leagues last June. Those 100 innings pitched will give him some confidence this spring.
The biggest challenges for Wheeler in 2014 will be to trust his pitches and keep his delivery under control.
Andy Martino of the NY Daily News provided a quote back on July 26 from Warthen about what Wheeler needs to work on:
He can physically do it, but he is still having trouble monitoring the adrenaline to let his mechanics or his delivery be repeatable. Slowing it down, and being able to repeat. He wants to jump, get out there, try to throw too hard.
According to Martino, Collins agreed with his pitching coach:
He’ll make a great pitch, and the next pitch will be out of the zone completely. And I don’t know if he is trying to make a perfect pitch, but it’s very important that he be able to repeat his delivery to where, you know what, if you make a good pitch, make another one in the same spot.
To Wheeler’s credit, he excelled with people on base—he stranded 77.8 percent of runners last season. He’ll need to settle down and trust himself to take that step forward in 2014, and his experience from 2013 will allow that to happen.
Options for the Fifth Rotation Spot
Alderson found the veteran pitcher he wanted to eat some innings in 2014 in Colon. He's probably not done pursuing some starting pitchers to compete with Jenrry Mejia for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring.
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reported he’s in the mix for that spot, according to Collins.
Mejia was shut down in August with a bone spur in his elbow that required surgery. He made five starts and threw 27.1 innings for New York last season, putting together an impressive 2.30 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with 27 strikeouts against four walks.
Out of the internal options the Mets currently have for their rotation, Mejia is the most seasoned and ready to contribute in the majors.
The most encouraging aspect of Mejia’s game last season was his 1.3 walk rate per nine innings. After posting a BB/9 rate of approximately 5.0 over his first 55 big league innings, this was a pleasant surprise to see him start putting it all together.
To give Mejia some competition in camp, Alderson will look to bring in some veteran starters on minor league deals.
In one of my previous articles on Bleacher Report, I cited John Lannan as a possible fit for Flushing. He's a Long Beach, N.Y. native and could be brought in on a minor league deal.
According to MetsBlog, the “Amazins” have an interest in bringing back Johan Santana and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The agreement with Colon shouldn't stop the Mets from being active via free agency to find a fifth starter.
2013: 4-5 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 41 Ks, 27 BBs, 51 IP
2014: 3-6 record, 3.90 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 51 Ks, 30 BBs, 65 IP
The acquisition of Scott Rice last winter went under the radar, but ended up being crucial. The southpaw made his big league debut last season after 14 long years in the minors and independent ball.
Collins made sure he got his money’s worth by using him in 73 games before hernia surgery ended his season prematurely.
Similar to his strategy with the outfield last winter, Alderson tried to find value in the bullpen with a handful of low-risk, potential high-reward signings. New York found that in Rice, giving them a “veteran” left-handed reliever to pair with Josh Edgin or Robert Carson.
He doesn’t throw very hard (89.3 average fastball velocity in ’13), but he only allowed one home run in 51 innings of work. Not giving up the big hit allowed Collins the confidence to bring Rice in during high pressure situations, saving his relievers with strikeout ability for later.
New York’s bullpen will be young in 2014, but it will have a lot of live arms. Rice hasn’t logged a ton of big league time, but his experiences in the game will help the younger hurlers get used to life in the majors.
Collins should feel most comfortable using Rice in the sixth or seventh inning to bridge the gap from a starter to the back-end of the bullpen. In 28 appearance in the seventh inning, Rice put together a 0.95 ERA, compared to a 4.66 mark in 38 eighth inning appearances during 2013.
2013 (PIT/NYM): 3-0 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 15 Ks, 6 BBs, 17 IP
2014: 4-5 record, 4.15 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 53Ks, 20 BBs, 60 IP
Vic Black earned experience being a closer in the minor leagues, saving 32 games over five seasons. Mike Petriello on FanGraphs feels Black could eventually be a closer in the big leagues. LaTroy Hawkins feels his former teammate is destined for great things:
Some guys have late life on the ball. Sometimes I play catch with him and he has, like, double life. The ball comes out of his hand and it picks up speed halfway and hits up another gear. It’s weird. It’s something I’ve never seen. That’s why I said he has a magical arm. I told him he has a magical arm.
For now he’ll be used as closer insurance in case Bobby Parnell’s rehab takes too long. He’s projected to primarily be the seventh and eighth inning guy, hopefully being paired with a veteran reliever that has experience in that role.
He’s only thrown 17 innings in the big leagues, so it’s tough to go into a season depending on him as a crucial contributor, but that’s what it sounds like the Mets are doing.
His biggest task for improvement will be his control. To be an elite set-up guy or closer, pitchers need to come in throwing strikes. He averaged 4.5 walks per nine innings in the minors and put together a 3.2 mark in the majors in 2013. That will need to shrink to Parnell's levels to maximize his other tools.
2013: 1-2 record, 3.93 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 33 Ks, 16 BBs, 34.1 IP
2014: 2-4 record, 4.10 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 55 Ks, 22 BBs, 55 IP
Gonzalez Germen was surprisingly effective during his time in Flushing. Before his promotion, the feeling amongst fans was curiosity as to why he was taking up a spot on the 40-man roster. Once he found himself in the bullpen, he began to prove himself to Collins and the coaching staff.
Like some of his other fellow pitchers and many young hurlers, Germen needs to harness his control. He allowed a walk 10.7 percent of the time in his 34.1 innings of work with New York. He’s put together a 2-0 record and 2.89 ERA in 9.1 Dominican Winter League innings, but his WHIP currently stands at 1.82.
Opposing batters hit .343 off him during that time, and Germen has surrendered 12 hits and five walks. This is a small sample size, but it would be less concerning if he was getting the ball over the plate.
The 2013 season was Germen’s first year of exclusively being a reliever, so this is a learning process for the young right-hander. He’s another live arm with a 93 mph fastball and mixes in mostly a changeup, but he sneaks a slider in, as well.
Other encouraging statistics going into 2014 include Germen’s first-pitch strike percentage (57.7) and his swinging strike percentage (14.7). He has the raw ability. Now it will be up to him to start putting it all together in one package.
2013: 1-1 record, 3.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 20 Ks, 12 BBs, 28.2 IP
2014: 4-4 record, 4.20 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 44 Ks, 20 BBs, 50 IP
Edgin is a curious case. He has shown more potential than Carson to be a productive member of a big league bullpen at this time. However, he’s had his ups and downs.
He had an awful start to 2013, posting a 9.64 ERA through his first 11 appearances. That earned him a demotion to Double-A Binghamton to start his journey back to the big leagues. Once he returned, he showed vast improvements and was trusting his pitches on a more regular basis.
The southpaw posted a 1.29 ERA in June followed by a 0.73 mark in July before his season was ended prematurely with an injury. He’s the hard-throwing lefty Collins needs to have in his bullpen for high-stress situations.
The National League East has a lot of strong left-handed hitters—Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, to name a few. Collins must be confident with Edgin so he can freely use Rice earlier in games when the situation calls for it.
2013: 0-0 record, 4.22 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 8 Ks, 9 BBs, 10.2 IP
2014: 5-4 record, 4.00 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 46 Ks, 21 BBs, 55 IP
Jeurys Familia is another unknown because of his lack of big league experience. He’s also reasonably new to relieving—prior to 2013, Familia had been used exclusively as a starter in the minors since joining the organization in 2008.
Once the right-hander started knocking on the door to the major leagues, the front office never swayed from their opinion that he projects best as a relief pitcher. He’s another one with a live arm (mid-90s fastball velocity) and is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher.
Familia is struggling to a 6.75 ERA in 10.2 innings pitched in winter ball, but the Mets are hoping he’ll be a major contributor to their bullpen next season. He has the ability to miss a lot of bats and pile up strikeouts, but he also has shown a propensity for missing the plate.
In 23 big league innings, Familia has walked as many hitters as he’s struck out (18). Again that’s a small sample size, but control has been an issue for him throughout his professional career. It all starts with throwing strike one. He needs to put himself in a better position to close hitters out—improving on his 47.1 percent first-pitch strike rate is where he’ll need to do it.
2013: 5-5 record, 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 22 saves, 44 Ks, 12 BBs, 50 IP
2014: 4-6 record, 2.40 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 35 saves, 54 Ks, 18 BBs, 65 IP
It’s been a pleasure to watch Parnell come into his own as a pitcher over the last two seasons. Instead of trying to throw as hard as he could to get hitters out, he’s harnessed his control and is utilizing other pitches to keep hitters on their toes. He's transformed from a thrower to a pitcher in front of our eyes.
With Frank Francisco sidelined for most of last year, Collins gave him the opportunity to be the team’s closer, finally thriving in the role. Surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck cut his season short, but he’s currently projected to be ready for the start of the season.
The emergence of Parnell is a welcome one for the organization—he’s another pitcher that can throw a mid-90s fastball, but he has control of the strike zone, induces twice as many ground balls as fly balls and is consistent.
His 5.06 ERA in June was one month where he struggled, but it was the only month in which he produced an ERA higher than 2.08. Parnell’s presence at the end of the game can in essence make the opposition feel as though they only have eight innings to score, not nine.
Free Agent Relief Pitcher Options
Alderson has been vocal in his desire to find a cost-effective, veteran relief pitcher with experience pitching in the eighth and ninth innings. He would have liked to bring back Hawkins, but that didn't work out.
Jim Duquette tweeted New York planned to meet with the agent representing both John Axford and Kevin Gregg. Adam Rubin reported the team is interested in Chris Perez, while Joel Sherman mentioned Mitchell Boggs as a target.
Boggs had a down year in 2013—after posting a 2.21 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals through 78 appearances in 2012, he struggled to an 11.05 ERA in 18 games last year. That performance led him to getting shipped off to the Colorado Rockies.
The right-hander seemingly got back on track in Denver, pitching to a 3.12 ERA in 8.2 innings of work. That wasn’t enough to get him a contract, as the Rockies non-tendered him.
Boggs has limited experience closing, but he could end up being a decent option in a set-up role, especially because he wouldn’t cost a lot of money.
Chris Perez has saved at least 20 games a season since 2010 and could be valuable insurance in case Parnell suffers a setback in his rehab this winter.
Acquiring Perez would come with some baggage—he was charged and convicted with misdemeanor drug abuse of marijuana during the 2013 season. That, combined with his uneven performance for the Tribe, led to him getting released following the end of the season.
There are plenty of options for Alderson and the Mets to consider rounding out the bullpen for next season. With the pitching staff almost set, he can then turn his full attention to the shortstop and first base positions.
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