The Next Great Rotation: New York Mets
The New York Mets have been the laughing stock of baseball since their last trip to the post-season followed by a few seasons of epic late season collapses. Since then, they have slowly made it back to mediocrity and they soon could be primed to become relevant again. This season? Maybe, but I give that nomination for the 2014 breakout team to the San Diego Padres. 2015 could be the Mets year but we’ll save that anointment for next off-season. Why am I so high on the Mets becoming relevant again? Their young, good starting pitching of course! The Mets projected opening day rotation for 2014 based on the Mets depth chart is: Bartolo Colon, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, and Jenrry Mejia. The pitchers I will highlight are the cornerstones for the future and are likely to still be a part of the team in 2015 and beyond!
1. Matt Harvey– Unfortunately for the Mets and their fans, Harvey will likely be out for all of 2014, and even if he comes back early, the chances of his return having much of an impact on where the Mets finish in 2014 is very slim. Still, Harvey is the team’s undisputed ace when healthy and he has already started an all-star game at the age of 24. When Harvey returns to the mound, he will be 26, at full strength and ready to pick up where he left off. Harvey was 9-5 in 26 starts, which totaled 178.1 innings pitched. His ERA was a beautiful 2.27 and his FIP (fielder independent pitching) was an even 2.00, even lower than Clayton Kershaw who had a FIP of 2.39. Harvey K’d 9.64 batters per 9 innings while only walking 1.56 per 9 innings. Another impressive stat is only allowing a home run 0.35 times per 9 innings, and it helps when you plays in a spacious park like Citi Field for half of your starts. Harvey threw his fastball 57.6% of the time in 2013 and why wouldn’t he, with his four seamer he averages 95.4 MPH and his two seamer is even faster at 96.4 MPH. Harvey can even touch 98-99 when he needs a little extra to blow it by a hitter and he did that repeatedly, striking out 191 batters in 178.1 innings. Harvey also features a deadly slider, a curveball and a changeup. You get the point, Harvey is a stud. Mets fans should be counting down the days until he is next on the mound.
2. Zack Wheeler– Wheeler is the prized piece in the Carlos Beltran trade with the San Francisco Giants. People including myself are thinking the Giants might still be kicking themselves for dealing Wheeler, but that isn’t the Mets problem. Wheeler made it to the big leagues in 2013 where he made 17 starts for a total of 100.0 innings. Wheeler is currently 23 years old and will turn 24 during the regular season. Wheeler’s record was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA and 84 strikeouts. He averaged 7.56 K’s per nine innings but the problem that Wheeler has is his command. Wheeler walked 46 batters and his BB/9 innings was 4.14. Wheeler is still very raw but the talent level is through the roof with this guy. Wheeler can throw gas, as he averaged 94.3 MPH with his 4 seam fastball and 93.9 with his two seamer. He threw it 71.1% of the time in 2013, something that he will need to bring down a little to mix in his secondary pitches like his slider, curveball, and changeup. He only threw his changeup 2.4% of the time in 2013, so it’s not a pitch he has full confidence in throwing yet. However, opening the season at 23 years old and entering his first spring training with his name almost certainly penciled in to the Mets rotation, Wheeler can use this spring training as a chance to refine and work on his pitches more. Expect a great season from Wheeler.
3. Jonathon Niese– Niese was the Mets opening day starter in 2013. He is 27 years old and has flown under the radar as a quality starting pitcher. Niese has improved each season he has been to the big leagues and despite an injury riddled 2013, Niese still managed to post some good numbers. He pitched in 143.0 innings where he totaled 105 K’s. He had an ERA of 3.71, and an even better FIP at 3.58. Niese isn’t extremely flashy with his stuff as he K’s about 6.61 per 9 innings and he walks 3.02 per 9 innings. He averages 90.1 MPH with his fastball so it doesn’t overpower any hitters, so he uses his curveball to put batters away. He also features a cutter, two seamer, and changeup. He also likes to use his cutter as he threw it 25.2% of the time, 2nd most of any of his pitches. One thing which Niese needs to improve upon to take the next step of his career is to limit the amount of hits he gives up. Save 2012, every season saw Niese give up more hits than innings pitched. Whether its because of his average stuff or whatever it may be, he typically gets hit around. In 2013 Niese allowed batters to hit .278 against him, the highest of his career. If Niese limits the amount of hits, he will grow into a more complete starting pitcher. For now, I see Niese being in the Mets rotation as a 3 or 4 for years.
4. Noah Syndergaard– Syndergaard came to the Mets when they unloaded R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays. They also got Travis d’Arnaud in the deal and Syndergaard and d’Arnaud are now 1-2 respectfully on the Mets top 20 prospect list. Safe to say they got a gem in Syndergaard. Syndergaard has yet to reach the major leagues, but the imposing 6`5, 200 pound prospect might get to the majors at some point this season. If he stands out in Spring, there is an outside chance he makes the Opening Day roster, but he is likely to start in the minors. Syndergaard was dominant in AA this season, going 6-1 in 11 starts, totaling 54.0 innings pitched, where he proceeded to K 11.50 batters per 9 innings. That number is probably inflated due to a small sample size, but it is reasonable to think he will be able to have a good K rate once he begins his major league career. Syndergaard has been compared to Roy Halladay and he can throw gas, touching 96 MPH with his fastball repeatedly. He also features a power curveball which is downright nasty. Syndergaard probably won`t have a major impact on the 2014 Mets, but in my mind, in 2015 we will see Syndergaard on the mound in Queens.
5. Dillon Gee– Gee had a very nice 2013 season after a rough April. From May onwards, Gee was one of the best in the NL with regards to ERA. Gee, like Niese, doesn`t feature anything truly exciting but he gets the job done with his 89.2 MPH average fastball. He features a two seamer, cutter, slider, curveball, and changeup, so Gee has a wide assortment of pitches at his disposal, though none of them are anything special. Gee was one of the most consistent Mets starters in 2013, throwing 199.0 innings, where he K`d 6.42 batters per nine innings, while walking 2.13. Gee`s problem is the home run ball, where he averaged 1.03 per nine innings. His HR to flyball ratio was at 10.1%, or to put it simply, he gave up 24 home runs. Though, Gee`s ERA was 3.62, which is pretty good for a mid to end of the rotation starter. If Gee cuts down on the amount of home runs he allows, he could turn into a very nice starter for the Mets. Though, if the Mets are to move any of their starters anytime soon, I could see Gee on his way out should he get off to a nice start in 2014. This is to make room for the 6th and final pitcher I will highlight.
6. Rafael Montero– Montero has a good shot at making the 2014 New York Mets rotation. He made it to AAA in 2013 and performed very well. Montero went 5-4 in 16 starts, 88.2 innings pitched, with a nice 3.05 ERA. His FIP was even better at 2.87, so it is clear he can throw the ball quite well. Montero K`d 7.92 batters per nine innings in AAA and only walked 2.54, which was the first time in his minor league career over 2, expect for rookie ball in 2011 (only 4 starts). Montero has the control and the ability to strike batters out, using his 95 MPH fastball to do so. Though Montero isn`t the biggest guy in the world, scouts aren’t worried about his durability at all, because he is a very smart pitcher who works backwards, using his excellent changeup and slider. If Montero doesn`t make the 2014 opening day roster, he will probably be the first pitching call up for the Mets. He may also start off as a long man in the bullpen, but that remains to be seen with Vic Black likely in that role.
These 6 men I have highlighted could be integral parts to the Mets for years to come. They are all young and are likely to be led by Harvey, Wheeler, and Syndergaard for the bulk of the years of their careers. Yes, the Mets have Bartolo Colon under contract for two seasons, but I am not highlighting him because he is not a part of the long term future. These 6 men, are likely to be in some capacity, barring a move. The Mets and their young rotation are almost ready to be the talk of New York again, pushing aside the aging New York Yankees as New York’s team.