Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 3-1

After reading the replies to a recent article here on MetsToday (Who are 2016’s Ten Most Important Mets?), I’ve come up with final rankings for this exercise, which I’ll proceed through in countdown fashion. For each player, I’ll list my subjective predictions, based on watching nearly every inning and every plate appearance over the last few years. I’ll do my best to identify something that I think the national experts and pundits have missed.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Second installment: Mets No. 6-4

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.



MetsToday voters overwhelmingly picked Yoenis Cespedes as the Mets’ most important position player, and five young arms as the team’s most important players overall. The feeling here in March seemed to be that the 2016 Mets would go as far as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Jeurys Familia would take them.

Here on May 18, the Mets are on a pace for 94 wins, but things haven’t exactly gone as planned. Familia hasn’t blown a save, but also hasn’t dominated the way he did for most of 2015. DeGrom hasn’t been sharp and hasn’t been able to throw hard, seeing his whiff rate cut nearly in half. Harvey’s been awful. The two pitchers with the least experience, Matz and Syndergaard, have been leading the way. Are they better than Harvey and deGrom? Are they just hot right now? Are some of the Mets’ ace hopefuls on the upswing of their careers, while others, still only in their 20s, are already on the downswing? Are Harvey and deGrom, purportedly healthy, going to find it tomorrow and return to their 2013 and 2015 selves, respectively? Or are Matz and Syndergaard destined to decline soon too, from throwing too hard for seasons that run too long?

To provide some perspective on these questions, I’d like to look back 18 years to one of the great untold stories of pitching greatness, and the decline thereof, during my time as a baseball fan. I’d like to talk about Greg Maddux.

Best Pitcher Ever?

On June 25, 1992, 26-year-old Gregory Alan Maddux threw eight innings of two-run ball to boost his season record over .500. From that date through August 6, 1998, Maddux made 202 starts that stand up against any other extended pitching run in history. He went 117-42 with a 2.02 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while averaging 7.46 innings per start. Those rate stats are spectacular if a pitcher can maintain them for a month. Maddux did it for over six years.

The End of Greatness

Then, on August 12, 1998, Maddux pulled an oblique. The Braves had the division in the bag, as that team would go on to win 106 games and leave the second-place Mets 18 games behind. But Maddux kept pitching. Tom Glavine had driven home the virtues of being a dependable workhorse and the honor of pitching in pain, and Maddux never missed a start.

No one seemed to notice, but that was when everything changed for Maddux. He struggled down the stretch in 1998. Posted a 3.57 ERA in 1999. Stopped leading the league in lowest HR rate every year. Saw his K rate decline. No one noticed, because over the next four years, he averaged 34 starts, 225 innings, and 18 wins on a loaded Braves team, continuing to add to his legend with crafty pitch selection, a refusal to walk anyone, and Gold Glove fielding to help himself out. But he was no longer in the Best Pitcher Ever conversation. A 1.18 WHIP, 3.15 ERA and HR allowed every 12 innings is very good, but it doesn’t compare to what he’d done the previous 6 years (when he allowed a HR every 26 innings). What I saw as a fan is that his pitches still had movement, but it wasn’t late and sharp like it had been in the mid-’90s.

The Point

Not every injury is a catastrophe. Not every pitcher who declines needs arm troubles and missed starts to get there. Sometimes a guy tweaks one thing to compensate for something else, and is still a viable major league pitcher, but sees his ERA go up by half. Maybe he loses some flexibility, or sees the precarious ratio of flexibility and strength shift a little too far in one direction or the other. Tim Lincecum didn’t rip his elbow in half when his ERA went from 2.74 to 5.18 at age 28 — he simply couldn’t do his Freak motion quite the way he used to.

Justin Verlander said he felt fine, as his ERA jumped from 2.64 to 3.46 to 4.54 in his age 29-31 seasons. Just like Maddux said he felt fine, claiming he was over the oblique pull by the start after it happened. Maybe they weren’t even purposefully lying! Regardless, something changed, and from then on, they clearly weren’t the same.

That’s what I’m seeing in Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. I don’t think the seven-month season of 2015 shredded their arms. I don’t think the delay in prep for 2016 rushed them onto the mound before their bodies could handle it. But I do think things have changed, for both pitchers. Neither is as explosive off the rubber toward the plate as he used to be. Neither whips his arm through quite as fast and late. Compared to 2015, they look stiff, or weak, or tired. I’m not saying they feel stiff, or weak, or tired — the changes I’m seeing are probably the result of something more subtle, something from the recoveries and adjustments made since deGrom’s gutty Game 5 against L.A. or Harvey’s fierce Game 5 against K.C.

I think both pitchers still have the tools to be good, and to help the Mets win a lot of games. But completely carrying the team, as part of one of the best rotations in memory? That may be a notion of the past. Right now, I’m hoping that MetsToday voters turn out to be wrong, and that the key Mets for 2016 turn out to include Michael Conforto and Todd Walker instead.


#3. Jacob deGrom


In March, here’s what I would have predicted:

Unfamiliarity has been deGrom’s friend, as he’s utterly dominated the teams that have seen him the least. He’ll have less of that advantage going forward. It’ll also be hard to replicate his 16-start stretch with a 1.44 ERA (and .223 BABIP) from 2015, just because nobody does that. I expect his K rate to decline a bit, but his pitching smarts to keep that ERA down. With better bullpen support, his ERA could be nearly as good as in 2015, and a better offense should mean more wins. I’ll say 2.79, 16-8.

Now, here’s my revised prediction:

His velocity may creep up to the 93-95 range at some point, but it’s hard to imagine consistent 94-97 coming back. With a decrease in speed differential, his secondary stuff is also easier to foul off. A pretty pedestrian K rate looks likely. As such, deGrom will be at the mercy of the Mets defense, and will have his share of outings where he gets hit.

My stat prediction:



#2. Matt Harvey


In March, here’s what I would have predicted:

Having made it through his Tommy John return in great form, Harvey will be given more rope in 2016 and notch well over 200 innings. His propensity for throwing strikes will help in this regard, though it will also hurt his K rate. The Matt Harvey of early 2013, who blew moving fastballs past hitters at will, may not return, but turning into Roy Halladay instead of Pedro Martinez should be no disappointment for a young pitcher. He did get a bit lucky in 2015, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him pitch better but post a higher ERA. I’ll say 2.89, 17-10.

Now, here’s my revised prediction:

Harvey’s push-off and take-back and plant all look different to me, compared to years past. Stiff or sore hips could account for that. Simply falling out of whack is another explanation. In either case, it’s a new hole in the armor of a pitcher who’d been pretty consistent in the past.

I hold out hope that the old Harvey is still in there, but the fact that he’s been so awful while he’s not right is alarming.

My stat prediction:



#1. Noah Syndergaard


You won’t find a higher-upside package than 6’6″ 240, triple-digit 4-seamer, moving change-up and 2-seamer, and sharp curveball. Thor’s rapid maturation in 2015 gave us all hope that he could be a true ace in 2016. The main calls for caution regarded pitch selection (rarely coming inside) and health (scary motion, jump in innings).

In March, I wasn’t sure whether to be a bold pessimist and predict a UCL tear, or to be a bold optimist and predict Cy Young contention, or to semi-randomly split the difference. So I’m happy to have more information, and I’m even happier that it’s pointing in positive directions.

Syndergaard’s throwing harder than ever, has added a high-velocity slider, and recently had some elbow stiffness that merited examination. So he remains something of an injury risk. At the same time, he’s getting his arm cocked a little earlier in his delivery (at least according to the random sampling of SNY’s slo-mo) and de-emphasizing the dart-thrower motion that did in Tommy Hanson.

That’s good to see.

So are the results.

9 walks and 65 Ks in 53 innings with a 2.19 ERA? I’ll take it.

I’ll also bet he can keep it up, after seeing him throw inside and mix pitches expertly against the Nats last night. He’ll probably get sore at some point, get hit around, and need to skip a start or two, but I’m feeling optimistic enough right now to predict nothing worse than a minor blip.

My stat prediction:



Agree? Disagree? What have you seen that the experts and their computers haven’t? Let us know in the comments!

David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
  1. VICTOR May 20, 2016 at 12:57 pm
    David – I’m no expert in pitching mechanics, but yeah, something is different in the way Harvey and deGrom are pitching … particularly with respect to any consistency in good command.

    Harvey has been leaving pitches over the heart of the plate at a slowly velocity or with limited break on his breaking pitches. And, those mistakes have been hammered. He has had his moments of dominance on the mound, but not over the course of any entire game yet … including the one 2 or 3 starts ago. Some of his issues may be mechanical (or even health-specific) but it is also clear that there is some mental issues going on as well. Let’s hope that he is actually healthy and can figure things out before he is moved out of the rotation or goes to the minors now to figure things out and then come back as something closer to his 2015 form.

    Jake has fared better but, he’s not putting hitters away like he did the last 2 years. A lot of foul balls in situations where he historical had gotten Ks or weakly hit balls. But, his mental frame of mind still looks strong, but his ability to work around mistakes has diminished (as shown in the game agains the Giants where a Flores error led to some unearned runs — in the past Jacob would have shrugged that off and gotten out of the inning unscathed). I’m not as worried about the lower velocity if he can improve on his command. He may not be a dominant starter again (at least this year), but still plenty good enough to keep the team in games with a “good-to-great” chance to win in most of his starts.

    • David Berg May 21, 2016 at 3:03 pm
      Maybe Joe’s got the scoop on Harvey, and Dr. Borelli’s caught the key problem with the back foot. Being off balance certainly sounds like an accurate description. I’m positive that no one on the Mets reads MetsToday or listens to The Fix, though, so I assume this issue will never be targeted. Maybe it’ll be fixed by accident? Not getting my hopes up.

      For all the talk about Harvey’s fatigue or mental issues or whatnot, I’m seeing what you’re seeing: bad pitches. Breaking balls that don’t break, fastballs with no life, and no command of anything. He really shouldn’t be out there handing his team losses while waiting for things to click. I’m disappointed that the Mets decided not to skip his next turn.

      As for deGrom, he hasn’t impressed the radar gun in a single start this year, but he has shown deception and movement on his fastball in some starts. If his command stabilizes a bit, I won’t worry about the velocity at all (though I will miss the dominator of 2015).