New York Mets: Who Is Going to Crack Their 2015 Rotation?
Going into 2015, the New York Mets will be faced with a unique situation: The team will have far too many starting pitchers.
In addition to Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hefner returning from Tommy John surgery, the Mets will also sport at least two additional major league-ready pitching prospects in Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. And if you’re a believer in Jacob deGrom as a starter, he would bump that number up to three.
With the likes of current rotation mates Zack Wheeler, Jonathan Niese, Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon and, to a lesser extent, Jenrry Mejia, all under contract next season, the Mets will possess 10 very viable starting pitchers for just five rotation slots in 2015.
Assuming the Mets front office will look to improve the team’s collective park-adjusted 88 wRC+ for next season, dealing at least one of their starting pitchers only makes sense.
Below details the likelihood of each pitcher's chances of locking up a 2015 rotation spot, getting relegated to bullpen duties or possibly being shipped elsewhere.
Dillon Gee has proved to be a solid pitcher for the New York Mets since debuting in 2010. From 2010 to 2013, Gee has combined for a park-adjusted 3.89 ERA (versus a 4.16 FIP), 94 ERA+ and 2.28 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The right-hander has only continued to be a dependable source of quality innings in 2014. Gee has tossed a 2.73 ERA (versus a 4.29 FIP), 124 ERA+ and 2.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 52.2 innings.
At age 28, Gee could certainly emerge as a valuable, cheap trade commodity if the Mets were to dangle him. But in the event the team values his still ripe age and success in New York over veteran Bartolo Colon, Sandy Alderson could potentially extend Gee instead.
2015 Rotation Chances: 60 Percent
Before Matt Harvey stole the spotlight, it was the Jonathan Niese show in New York. Well, sort of.
Niese, 27, has become a reliable middle-to-upper rotation option for the Mets, owning a career 3.99 ERA (versus a 3.74 FIP), park-adjusted 94 ERA+ and 2.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 2008 to 2013.
The left-hander has helped ease the Harvey void at the top of the rotation in 2014, however, posting a masterful 2.17 ERA (versus a 3.03 FIP), 157 ERA+ and 3.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In fact, Niese has only surrendered three runs or more just twice this season.
Despite a slight rotator cuff scare in June 2013—and a much more minor hyperextended elbow injury at the beginning of this season—the southpaw has still averaged 166 innings and 28 starts per year since 2010.
But perhaps Niese's best asset is his contract. The Mets signed Niese to a five-year, $25.5195 million extension back in April 2012, with two club options in 2017 and 2018 (for a combined $21 million).
Even if Niese pitches more like his 3.03 FIP than his 2.17 ERA, pitching-starved teams would certainly line up for the young lefty’s services. And given Niese’s team-friendly contract, he makes for the most logical trade candidate.
2015 Rotation Chances: 55 Percent
One of the Mets’ biggest free-agent moves this offseason was signing Bartolo Colon to a two-year, $20 million contract. With Matt Harvey thought to be out for the season, the Mets needed to fill the rotation void with quality, dependable innings. And given Colon’s past three seasons, he seemed like a good fit.
From 2011 to 2013, the 40-year-old posted a combined 3.32 ERA (versus a 3.60 FIP), park-adjusted 119 ERA+ and 3.73 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But the 17-year veteran has endured a rough start in orange and blue, pitching to the tune of a 5.84 ERA (versus a 4.09 FIP) and 58 ERA+ over his first 49.1 innings.
In addition to the worrisome metrics above, Colon has also been surrendering more and longer home runs in 2014 than he has over the past three seasons too.
The good news is that Colon’s 4.09 FIP suggests he’ll come back to earth a bit—but he is still getting hit extremely hard, giving up 12.0 hits per nine innings.
When it comes to “who gets the boot?," Mets fans would obviously rather see Colon go as opposed to dealing Jonathan Niese, Dillon Gee or other, more fruitful starting pitchers. But in order for the Mets to get a decent return on the veteran's services, Colon will have to be pretty dominant between now and the deadline.
2015 Rotation Chances: 60 Percent
The key to becoming a popular star in the New York sports world is rather simple: consistently perform at a high caliber. It might be easier said than done, but Matt Harvey exceeded expectations in 2013, posting a 2.27 ERA (versus a 2.01 FIP), park-adjusted 157 ERA+ and 6.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
And if not for partially tearing his right ulnar collateral ligament in late August, Harvey would be leading the Mets rotation right now. Even though the 25-year-old is making an as-scheduled recovery from Tommy John surgery, it’s unlikely the stud right-hander will pitch for the Mets in 2014.
Barring a setback, Matt Harvey will undoubtedly be the Mets’ Opening Day starter in 2015.
2015 Rotation Chances: 100 Percent
With a farm system and major league rotation bursting with starting pitching talent, it’s easy to forget about guys like Jeremy Hefner.
Hefner emerged as a solid, bottom-of-the-rotation option for the Mets in 2013. The 28-year-old posted a 4.34 ERA (versus a 4.49 FIP), park-adjusted 81 ERA+ and 2.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 130.2 innings.
But August proved to be a bad month for Mets starting pitchers, as both Matt Harvey and Hefner fell prey to Tommy John surgery. The arbitration-eligible Hefner was non-tendered and then re-signed in the offseason and has since been rehabbing his elbow.
Considering how many pitchers are ahead of Hefner on the depth chart, the Oklahoma native is a long shot for nabbing a slot in 2015. That being said, the Mets will likely stick Hefner in the bullpen and use him as a spot-starter when needed.
2015 Rotation Chances: 0 Percent
While Zack Wheeler might not elicit the same zeal amongst the Mets fanbase as Matt Harvey does, the 23-year-old’s success is arguably just as important to the organization’s future as the injured ace’s. Wheeler enjoyed a respectable rookie campaign in 2013, posting a 3.42 ERA (versus a 4.17 FIP), park-adjusted 103 ERA+ and 1.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 100 innings.
And with the absence of Harvey atop the rotation, Wheeler felt a personal responsibility to step up his game in 2014.
“Last year I was coming in trying to win a spot,” Wheeler said in an interview with ESPN’s Adam Rubin in February. “This year I’m trying to get the Opening Day spot.”
The Opening Day honors were handed to Dillon Gee, but Wheeler has still attempted to fill the Harvey void this season. The right-hander has pitched to the tune of a 4.53 ERA (versus a 3.76 FIP), 75 ERA+ and 1.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 43.2 innings.
While the future ace has yet to kick his control issues (4.9 walks per nine innings in 2014), Wheeler has also shown a dominant side too. In addition to striking out 8.5 batters per nine innings this year, the Georgia native's 94.3 mph fastball average ranks eighth in the major leagues, according to FanGraphs’ PITCH/fx.
Needless to say, Wheeler has a rotation slot locked in 2015.
2015 Rotation Chances: 100 Percent
The topic of Jenrry Mejia’s pitching role has been a polarizing one within the Mets organization.
The 24-year-old began 2014 in the rotation, limiting opposing hitters to a .193 batting average and .598 OPS against over his first four starts (and 22.2 innings). But Mejia witnessed massive regression over his next three starts, surrendering 16 earned runs across just 14.2 innings.
With the Mets’ decision to recall Rafael Montero from Triple-A, Mejia found himself without a turn in the rotation. The move wasn’t surprising, however, as Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen informed ESPN’s Adam Rubin back in February 2011 that Mejia would likely stick around in the majors as a reliever.
In short stints, the right-hander has looked dominant as both a starter and reliever. Yet, Mejia’s inability to stay healthy or consistently be effective might prevent outside organizations from making a fair trade with the Mets.
While Mejia only appears to be a dark-horse candidate for cracking the Mets’ 2015 rotation and beyond, he could also serve as valuable late-inning relief asset for the team in the long term.
2015 Rotation Chances: 5 Percent
For the first time since the mid-1990s, the New York Mets again have a trio of next-generation aces coming up through the system. After the more established Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, there’s Noah Syndergaard, whom the Mets acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade.
Syndergaard looked as advertised in 2013, combining for a 3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 4.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 117.2 innings between High-A and Double-A. Due to the 21-year-old’s performance, Baseball Prospectus named him the 11th-best prospect in baseball in its pre-2014 Top 100 list.
The right-hander also earned a promotion to Triple-A in 2014, where he has pitched to the tune of a 3.92 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 3.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first 42.3 innings. Even though Syndergaard’s statistics have regressed at the higher minor league level, the Pacific Coast League (PCL) is a notorious hitter-friendly environment.
Syndergaard is not only a strong candidate to begin the 2015 season in the Mets rotation, but he’s also a highly anticipated September call-up too.
2015 Rotation Chances: 75 Percent
Jacob deGrom didn’t have to wait long to make his Mets debut. After tossing a 2.58 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 2.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 38.1 innings in Triple-A this season, the Mets recalled the right-hander on Tuesday, May 13.
As Mets Minor League Blog’s Toby Hyde pointed out, deGrom’s success in 2014 has likely been due to his improved ability to induce ground balls. According to Minor League Central, deGrom has sported an impressive 55.4 percent ground-ball rate—which ranks fifth best in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) amongst pitchers with at least 35 innings pitched.
Even though deGrom has started all 58 minor league games he’s pitched in since 2010, the Mets predominantly plan to use the 25-year-old as a reliever. And given the Mets’ starting pitching depth, the Mets might need the righty as a late-inning weapon more so than a fourth or fifth starter.
2015 Rotation Chances: 5 Percent
Even though Noah Syndergaard is considered the better prospect, his Triple-A rotation mate Rafael Montero was the one recalled to take Jenrry Mejia’s place in the Mets rotation on Tuesday, May 13.
Montero quickly put himself on the top-prospect radar in 2013, posting a 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 4.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 155.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
And the 23-year-old only continued to turn heads this season too. At Triple-A, Montero pitched to the tune of a 3.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 2.28 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 41.2 innings. The right-hander's .203 batting average against was also particularly impressive given how difficult the Pacific Coast League (PCL) is for pitchers.
While the “Rafael Montero Era” has officially begun in 2014, his rotation status for 2015 is a little more up in the air. Behind Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Syndergaard, Montero will have to hope two of Jonathan Niese, Dillon Gee and/or Bartolo Colon get dealt in order to secure a slot.
2015 Rotation Chances: 40 Percent