Predicting the New York Mets' Starting Rotation in 2015
Next season, the New York Mets will be facing an interesting conundrum: There are at least nine quality starting pitchers, many of whom have ace potential, all vying for just five rotation spots.
The list includes (in no particular order) players like Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero.
Even Jenrry Mejia, who has been exceptional since becoming the team’s closer, is in no way locked to the bullpen and could compete for a rotation spot again next year. Daisuke Matsuzaka has done everything asked of him, and he too could be in a Mets uniform for another year.
There is plenty of time until next season, but clearly the Mets will need to address this issue eventually.
Here are my current predictions for the Mets’ 2015 rotation:
5. Noah Syndergaard
The man they call Thor should quickly secure a rotation spot after his long-awaited call to the majors this season.
The Mets acquired Noah Syndergaard in the deal that sent R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays. Since then, the 6’6”, 240-pound right-hander has climbed the Mets farm system and is mere weeks away from a call-up.
Syndergaard features a powerful tailing fastball, a solid changeup and a potentially devastating curveball. In spacious Citi Field, Syndergaard should be able to produce and build confidence right away.
Right now, the Mets are limiting Syndergaard’s innings, rarely letting him go more than five innings or 60 pitches. Thus, they can maximize the number of innings he will pitch in the majors, when the results count.
Interestingly, Syndergaard has been knocked around this season for the first time in his career.
His highest ERA at any stop was 3.11. This year, albeit in the extremely hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Syndergaard has a 4.47 ERA in 54.1 innings. As Syndergaard still has 57 strikeouts to 19 walks, it's clear the command he will badly need in the majors is still there.
When Syndergaard does come up, expect him to electrify the Mets and fully secure a rotation spot next season.
4. Zack Wheeler
There is no question Zack Wheeler has a long future with the Mets.
Wheeler is one of the prized pieces of GM Sandy Alderson’s era, when Alderson acquired Wheeler in 2011 for Carlos Beltran. They undoubtedly have a long-term plan in place for him over the coming years.
Indeed, Wheeler has rewarded the Mets with consistent, steady improvement.
This year, Wheeler has a disappointing 2-7 record and 4.38 ERA, but those numbers are not indicative of his performance. Compared to last season, Wheeler’s strikeouts are up and his walks, hits and home runs have all dropped significantly.
The real problem for Wheeler this season is that opposing hitters are hitting a crippling .360 with runners in scoring position, compared to just .173 against him last season.
Interestingly, per this tweet by ESPN's Mark Simon, Wheeler is the only Mets starter this season to rank in the top 60 in lowest hard-hit contact rate. The results may not be there yet for Wheeler, especially with runners in scoring position, but if only 15% of batters are hitting the ball hard off him then eventually he could go on a prolonged run of success.
In time, Wheeler will learn to pound strikes and use his secondary pitches more effectively. For 2015, the Mets should have a talented young pitcher at No. 4.
3. Bartolo Colon
The Mets signed Bartolo Colon to a two-year, $20 million contract this offseason. That alone is enough incentive for the frugal Mets to give Colon a rotation spot.
But Colon also brings a steady, veteran presence, which is vital for such a young team.
On the surface, the 40-year-old Colon has not been worth the money with a 6-5 record, 4.15 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Yet Colon has been much better this season than those numbers indicate.
Earlier this month, Colon was one out away from recording a quality start. Aside from that game, Colon had nine quality starts in 12 chances. His ERA and WHIP are so inflated because, in the three non-quality starts, Colon gave up six, seven and nine earned runs. Without those starts, Colon would have a 2.21 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.
In his last five starts, Colon sports a 1.78 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.
Colon provides the Mets with some much-needed stability in the rotation. Do not be fooled by the ugly season totals so far either, as he has been exceptional besides those rare implosions.
At No. 3, the Mets have a reliable pitcher in Colon.
2. Jon Niese
Jon Niese has worked hard and steadily improved over his six-year career. The 27-year-old has become a top-of-the-rotation starter as he enters his prime.
Right now, Niese is pitching even better than he was in 2012, when he finished with 13 wins and a 3.40 ERA in almost 200 innings pitched. In 13 starts, Niese is a potential All-Star with a 2.54 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 85.0 innings.
Opposing batters have a paltry .239/.289/.340 slash line against Niese so far, including a .211 batting average with runners on base.
Additionally, Niese has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a single start this season. He may not boast an electric fastball or devastating breaking pitch, but Niese is the picture of consistency. His consistency is even more impressive considering the Mets only score an average of 3.31 runs each game Niese pitches.
Of Niese's 13 starts, the Mets have scored two or fewer runs in five of them.
Niese has developed into a dependable presence in the Mets rotation, and he will continue to do so in 2015. Hopefully the Mets will give him more run support by that time, as well.
1. Matt Harvey
There is not much to say about Harvey as a pitcher that has not already been said.
Mentally, he is a relentless competitor, as his firm assertion of pitching this year shows. Physically, he is big and pretty fit. He has four elite pitches, all of which he can throw for strikes at will. Harvey is also an incredibly intelligent pitcher with a level of confidence, situational awareness and mound presence beyond his years.
Last season, the All-Star Game starter was an instant sensation.
In 26 starts, he finished 9-5 with an outstanding 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 191/31 K/BB ratio in just 178.1 innings. He finished in the top seven in ERA, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/9, HR/9 and K/BB. Despite just 33 career starts, Harvey is one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Harvey is a no-brainer as the anchor of a deep, talented Mets rotation for the next decade.
Dillon Gee is quietly an ace and definitely good enough to make any rotation. However, he recently had his second setback from a right lat injury. Since Gee has had shoulder surgery in the past, this could be a major red flag.
Furthermore, the Mets have been incredibly quiet about their Opening Day pitcher. Unfortunately, I believe something may be seriously wrong with Gee. If not, and Gee does fully recover, then I believe he has enough value that the Mets should seriously consider finding a viable trade partner. In short, they have too many pitchers and too few hitters to make a playoff run.
Rafael Montero is another name on the endless list of prized young starting pitchers. However, he is undersized and must rely on dominant command. Montero struggled with consistency at times in his major league cameo earlier this year, and there is simply too much depth to afford giving Montero a leap of faith. Montero certainly has a projectable future as a starter in the majors, but there are too many players in front of him that are more developed.
Jenrry Mejia rightfully earned the No. 5 starter spot this year. He was sensational at first, but slowly hitters began locking in Mejia later in games. Logically, Mejia moved to the bullpen where hitters will not face him multiple times a game. Since then, he has simply been too good out of the bullpen to think about moving him and messing with his groove. He may not be the next Trevor Rosenthal, who developed as a starter but surprisingly became such a dominant closer that the St. Louis Cardinals kept him there permanently. Nonetheless, Mejia should continue to pitch well out of the bullpen.
Because there will be such a deep competition, it was inevitable that someone would not make it who deserves to make it. With respect to the other omissions, who were left out for specific reasons, the most unfair omission is Jacob deGrom. DeGrom, who began his career with four straight quality starts, has not given the Mets a reason to take him out of the rotation anytime soon. Again, though, next year is a long time from now. Expect some regression on deGrom’s numbers. And with Harvey’s return and a deep talent pool to choose from, deGrom is sadly the odd man out.
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