The Mets’ hopes coming into 2017 rested in large part on their starting pitching staff. Various health and effectiveness concerns provided cause for concern, but the quintet of Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz, and either Wheeler or Gsellman certainly looked like a major strength back in March. Even when Matz and 7th guy Seth Lugo both got hurt, the five arms the Mets started the season with showed great promise. Would they be enough to push a team with weaknesses elsewhere on the roster into the playoff picture?
Through five turns in the rotation, the answer appears to be a tentative “no”.
Let’s look at what we’ve seen and try our best to guess what it all means.
First, the fifth turn itself:
What I saw
Pitching on three hours’ notice thanks to Syndergaard’s late scratch, Harvey was not sharp, which he blamed on weight lifting the day before.
DeGrom showed pretty consistent location and velocity with his fastball, and did just enough with his secondary stuff.
96 pitches didn’t get him through 5 innings. Bad defense didn’t help.
That big dude throwing 100 mph is a very poor doctor. No one tears a lat when everything is fine.
Gsellman’s sinker was finally sinking, and he limited the free passes. Unfortunately he didn’t do much with his secondary stuff.
What I’ve seen overall, through five turns
Thor hadn’t always looked his sharpest this year… and that produced 30 strikeouts, no walks, and a 1.73 ERA. Cy Young contender? Check!
Then the big guy was unable to discipline himself and sacrifice some short-term frustration for long-term safety, and the Mets’ outrageously flawed medical process allowed him to roll the dice. He lost. Since the team is calling his lat injury a tear rather than a pull or a strain, I expect that it’s quite bad. That probably means that if we see Noah before September, he’ll be unwisely risking his health yet again. Tears to major muscles take time to heal, and this is one you can’t pitch with until it’s pretty much 100%. So, going forward, the Mets rotation will be without its ace. That might be enough to puncture those March/April dreams right there.
Jacob has been dominant at times this season, but has yet to show his trademark precision and intelligence for more than a few innings at a time. His insistence on Wednesday on throwing a slider he couldn’t command was baffling. Once again, Rene Rivera called mostly fastballs, and almost no change-ups or curves.
DeGrom’s velocity has been stellar, but his movement and location have varied greatly from start to start, and sometimes from inning to inning. Will he eventually put it all together and settle into an ace-like groove as in 2015, or will he remain good but erratic?
Overall, that’s not a bad pitcher to have fronting your rotation, but it’s also not a leg up on the Mets’ competition.
Also worth noting: deGrom talked to the media about mechanics and location and this and that when he pitched poorly late in 2016, never mentioning that his ulnar nerve was on fire. So, believe none of what you hear regarding any struggles he may have. Maybe he isn’t throwing his change-up because he can’t feel his fingers, or maybe he isn’t throwing his curve because of elbow soreness, or maybe he has blisters; we have no idea.
Entering the season, I thought Harvey might be done. After spring training, I thought Harvey might be done. Then I was pleasantly surprised by his first few starts. Then his last few starts have been straight out of 2016. His numbers with men on base are terrible; just like in 2016, he cruises until there’s trouble (.655 OPS w/ bases empty), and then the wheels come off (.896 OPS w/ men on). He’s also completely stopped striking people out, and is averaging nearly two homers per 9 innings. Yeah, he’s thrown a few nasty pitches, but he threw a few nasty pitches last year too.
Maybe Harvey’s just a work in progress coming off major surgery which will eventually have cured everything that was wrong with him before the surgery. Or maybe he’s one of MLB history’s many young flame-thrower flame-outs, having lost both his stuff and his confidence. There’s too much variability here to call, but the middle-case scenario is certainly short of “elite member of elite rotation”.
Wheeler drove me crazy in 2014 by nibbling and throwing too few strikes. Now in 2017, I think he’s nibbling less, but his command is even worse, so the results are similar. Every once in a while he’ll follow a late-sinking fastball at 97 with a diving curveball and remind us of his former elite prospect status. But that’s just every once in a while.
I haven’t spotted any health flags, so his performance may improve as he continues to shake off some rust, and anyone who had high hopes for his season probably doesn’t see much reason to be discouraged.
Personally, I had very modest hopes for his season, and don’t see much reason to be encouraged.
He’s young and has shown both serious strikeout ability and serious groundball ability. I like his future. I’m happy to see him developing against MLB hitters. Is he an asset on a team bent on winning in 2017, though? Not yet, it appears. Consistency generally takes time, and Gsellman doesn’t seem to be an exception.
The story of the next five months is obviously unwritten, but the Mets’ starting rotation doesn’t currently appear to be a major competitive strength. As such, I think the original premise of this “Rotation” series is dead, so I’ll be stopping the every-turn analysis, at least for now.
What have you seen?
Please share your observations in the comments!