If the New York Mets are going to break through next season, they need their starting rotation to be consistently stellar.
On the surface, the Mets have one of the best starting rotations in Major League Baseball. Spearheaded by back-to-back National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman, first-year manager Luis Rojas has a potent pitching trio.
deGrom is arguably the best pitcher in baseball; Syndergaard is a strikeout machine; Stroman is one of the better ground-ball pitchers in the sport. Meanwhile, Steven Matz is a respectable, middle-of-the-rotation starter, and Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello, who the Mets signed to one-year deals this offseason, are seasoned veterans.
At the same time, all but one of the aforementioned hurlers is a given or consistently matches their peak production: deGrom.
When he’s on top of his game, Syndergaard is an ace-caliber pitcher. He throws an overpowering fastball, gets considerable movement on his off-speed pitches, and sports a career 3.31 ERA. On the other hand, Syndergaard is coming off a rough season — low-lighted by a 4.28 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, a 95 ERA+, and surrendering 24 home runs, which are all career worsts — and has been hindered by the injury bug for most of his big-league career.
Stroman can be great, and he can be an enigma. For example, after the 2017 season he was touted as one of the best young starters in the sport and a master of deception. The ensuing season he posted a 5.54 ERA across 19 starts. Acquired before last season’s MLB trade deadline, Stroman held his own but surrendered a worrisome amount of baserunners and struggled to provide length for the Mets.
The Met faithful keeps waiting for Matz to turn the corner. While he flashes glimpses of excellence and limits damage, Matz doesn’t pitch deep into games, and he has struggled to limit the long ball in each of the last two seasons, as he has surrendered 52 home runs since 2018.
Meanwhile, Wacha has dealt with injuries over the last two seasons, and Porcello recorded a 5.52 ERA last season and has been a shaky force on the rubber for the better part of the last three seasons.
Rotation health is a central talking point with the Mets on a yearly basis. “If their starting rotation stays healthy they can contend.” However, before last season the Mets’ biggest need was positional depth, which they now have. With the likes of Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Wilson Ramos, Amed Rosario, Robinson Cano, and J.D. Davis, among others in place, the Mets have a deep offense.
The Mets’ 2019 kryptonite was their bullpen, as they were 26th in the sport in strikeouts (556), 25th in ERA (4.95), and 23rd in opponent batting average (.258).
Sure, relievers such as Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and Dellin Betances, who missed most of the 2019 season and signed a one-year deal with the Mets this offseason, are capable of getting back on track, as they’ve found success in the late innings in years past. At the same time, what’re the chances they all have wake-up seasons or, as a whole, become a reliable unit? The Mets can’t bank on their bullpen: they need their rotation to play up to the esteem its held in.
Last season their bullpen was 28th in MLB in innings pitched (519.2). Essentially, their starters did their job but the pen couldn’t seal the deal in the late innings despite a small workload, comparatively speaking.
Can their starters pick up the slack? deGrom is deGrom; Syndergaard can be electric; Wacha and Porcello are capable of having bounce-back seasons. But is it realistic to expect all of them to pitch to their career ceilings?
Unfortunately for Flushing’s sake, if the Mets don’t get the best of their rotation, it’ll make an already tight NL East race overwhelming.
The defending World Series-champion Washington Nationals lost Anthony Rendon to free agency, but they did an impressive job filling voids around the diamond and improving their bullpen this offseason; the Atlanta Braves improved their bullpen and still have a relentless offense and compelling, young starting pitchers; the Philadelphia Phillies signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius.
There’s no margin for error for the Mets in their playoff pursuit. Winning 86 games again will be a challenge.
Starting pitching is this team’s identity. For better or worse, this is their rotation and they’ve invested a great deal of resources towards it; deGrom signed a five-year, $138 million extension last spring training; the Mets surrendered two of their top three pitching prospects (Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson) to get the Toronto Blue Jays to trade Stroman; Wacha and Porcello will make a combined $20 million this season — if Wacha meets his incentives.
The offense should be vibrant, and the pen should be slightly improved from a production standpoint. But if all stays the same on this pitching staff from last season, they won’t make the playoffs.
Starting pitching will make or break the 2020 New York Mets.