Projections for Mets starting pitchers confirm concerns

Mets starting pitcher Jacob DeGrom
Photo Credit: Brad Penner/Reuters

With winter comes the freezing of roads, lakes, and every so often, the Major League Baseball offseason. The ongoing lockout produced a flurry of moves at the crux of free agency. It also provided us with an exhausting pause, long enough to examine what is left to accomplish before games begin. For the New York Mets, that means taking a look at the current cast of starting pitchers, their projections, and the work that needs to be done.

As it currently stands, New York is set to trot out Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Carrasco, and Tylor Megill. David Peterson and Trevor Williams are their first reinforcements, and it’s possible both see time in the bullpen.

Sending out the best pitcher in baseball and his potential runner-up for 40% of your starts is a wonderful place to start making championship aspirations. However, both are a hop, skip, and a jump away from their age-30 seasons, and deGrom’s health is… on the decline. Expecting them to eclipse 200 innings is setting oneself up for disappointment.

That realization only increases the importance of the back half of the rotation. Unfortunately for the Mets, each option has its own set of question marks attached.

Taijuan Walker was the worst pitcher in baseball after his appearance in the All-Star game. Carlos Carrasco only pitched in 12 games, but his 11.42 FIP — or Fielding-Independent Pitching — in the first inning certainly wasn’t fun to watch. Heading into his age-35 season, he isn’t the guy Mets fans thought of at the time of his acquisition.

The younger rotation options have some pedigree to them. Megill offers an intriguing pitch mix and has already displayed his potential — he allowed a mere three runs in the 26 July innings he pitched.

Peterson’s 2021 was as short-lived as it was bad, but he’s a former first-round selection that showed off a nice arm-side fastball, glove-side slider approach during his rookie campaign.

Both have command issues that perturb them, with Megill missing inside the zone too often and Peterson failing to finish a season with a walk rate below 10%.

Projections for the 2022 New York Mets Starting Pitchers

My attempt at cultivating projections for the Mets starting pitchers started with Tom Tango’s Marcels system, based on a 5-3-1 weighted average for the last three years of a player’s career, and then regressing to the mean.

My model also starts with a weighted average, though the weights differ from Tango’s and more weights were added for one’s career average and the league average. Throw in regression towards both (with an age adjustment) and your projections are essentially complete. 

Anyway, enough with the nerdy stuff. How did they project?

Note: projected innings are from FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections. xERA and fWAR projections are estimates that do not mirror the exact formulas. 

As we can see, there are no real surprises at the top. deGrom should continue to dominate, even if it’s to a lesser extent than we’ve grown used to. Scherzer’s gray hairs dampen his projection, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair of aces.

These projections confirm the idea of the Mets back-end starting pitchers being a cause for concern. Walker and Carrasco both have bright spots in their profile and look to have fairly decent years. Still, if New York is competing in October, it’ll be necessary for somebody else to be starting the NLDS’ third game.

That somebody could very well be Megill. He’s got the highest ceiling of his depth-dwelling teammates. Of course, guaranteeing him a rotation spot runs a familiar risk: running out of pitching depth. Giving Megill every chance to prove himself is fine. Relying on him to deliver (and stay healthy) could result in yet another midsummer crash.

Thus, integration into the bullpen makes a lot of sense for New York. Carrasco has experience there; Williams is best suited for long relief. One can argue Megill’s stuff is a better fit for the bullpen, and Peterson can offer something the current bullpen cannot: left-handedness. Three of those four should either be in the bullpen or AAA by Opening Day.

Projecting Potential Free Agent Acquisitions

Say the Mets plan for Carrasco to start in the rotation, Megill to develop in the ‘pen, Williams to continue as the long-relief option, and Peterson to marinate in Syracuse. Who fills the cavity within the starting rotation?

Of the remaining free agents, these are the six I’d imagine have the most mutual interest. There aren’t many big fish left to catch in this lake, but it doesn’t mean some of them can’t contribute to a contender. The following contract projections are from Jon Becker’s (@jonbecker_) Free Agent Matrix.

The Dream

Carlos Rodón, 29, Projected Contract: 3 years, $48 mil, $16 mil AAV

A move I was bullish on heading into the offseason remains a possibility deep into the winter. Carlos Rodón was pitching at an elite level in 2021 before injuries capped him at 132.2 innings. He accumulated a 4.9 fWAR, a 12.55 K/9, and a 2.37 ERA, due in large part to a rise in fastball velocity from 93 to 95.4 mph.

This raises some important questions. Can he retain the velocity boost as he approaches 30? Will he ever stay healthy? To both of those, I lean “probably not.”

The adjustments Rodón has made clearly had the desired effect, and they didn’t add any injury risk. Hurt players stay hurt, and it has likely driven his price down. Regarding his heater, I think that the 95 mph mark is a reasonable starting point. Sadly, at 29 years old, it is only a matter of time before it falters. 

Moreover, Steve Cohen made it clear that when he goes over the luxury tax, he goes over the luxury tax. Thus, I’m not too concerned about a deal less significant than a qualifying offer scaring the Mets owner. The injury history increases the likelihood of a deal remaining short-term, too. 

There aren’t many ~3.6 ERA, 3 WAR pitchers on the open market, especially with this kind of upside. It’s a risk worth taking if New York wants a legitimate #3 without the burden of losing prospects via trade. 

Definitely Worth a Look

Danny Duffy, 33, Projected Contract: 1 year, $8.5 mil

Perhaps the best pure fit of any candidate is Danny Duffy. The ex-Royal beat the Mets in the 2015 World Series but hasn’t gotten back to the playoffs. Duffy can be the lefty New York needs and has rotation/bullpen versatility.

Duffy was weirdly good last year, and while he outperformed his peripherals, his 3.40 FIP was its first time sub-4.00 since 2017. The model didn’t totally buy in. Yet, a handful of teams would pay for an innings-eating Southpaw with an acceptable ERA. He’d make Buck Showalter’s life easier and won’t break the bank.

Zack Greinke, 38, Projected Contract: 1 year, $10.5 mil

Giving one of baseball’s beloved pitchers a retirement tour and a final chance to pitch in the playoffs would make for some memories, regardless of the result. If old age or the universal DH sends him into retirement, so be it, but for the time being, he should be on the Mets’ radar.

Greinke has managed to remain consistent and healthy with age. One could point to a 6.32 K/9 as a red flag that Father Time is looming, but the projections seem to have faith. Greinke’s projections of a 4.09 FIP and 4.04 xERA would rank third and fifth among Mets starting pitchers, respectively. 

He’s no longer an ace, but New York may find themselves in the market for more mid-level arms. You can never have too much depth, and Greinke’s playoff experience could prove fruitful. 

Michael Pineda, 33, Projected Contract: 2 years, $20 mil, $10 mil AAV

Honestly, this one was surprising. It wasn’t pretty, but Pineda fought his way to 1.4 fWAR in just over 100 innings. He also managed to retain some of the success he saw in his spectacular 2020. Pineda has been better than advertised since leaving the bright lights of the Big Apple. If he’s willing to pitch under the brightest lights once again, the Mets should consider it.

Mirroring Megill in frame and repertoire, Pineda offers a glimpse into what the sophomore may look like on the wrong side of 30: less dynamic, but equally consistent. I doubt he takes on bullpen responsibilities, but if the Mets feel Megill’s long-term development as a starter can be unlocked without a spot in the rotation, Pineda offers similar production. Like Greinke, if they aren’t making a move for a stud, they still need to add depth. Pineda fits the bill.

Thanks, But No Thanks

Tyler Anderson, 32, Projected Contract: 2 Years, $14 mil, $7 mil AAV

As much as the Mets should pursue left-handers this offseason, Anderson shouldn’t be one of them. A former first-round selection who sports incredible walk and chase rates, Anderson certainly has his fans across the league. The model, on the other hand, disagrees. 

For someone who pitches to contact as much as Anderson (7.22 K/9 last year), his ability to limit hard contact isn’t sustainable enough. A projected WHIP of 1.35 would be higher than all but five qualified starters from 2021. With Anderson’s profile, he needs to be exceptional at limiting base runners and extra-base hits. There’s a good chance that isn’t in the cards this season.

His projections aren’t inspiring and it’s doubtful he outperforms any of the Mets starting pitchers. It’d be a move simply for depth. With Anderson’s lack of upside, they are better off searching for analytics darlings at a discount. 

Yusei Kikuchi, 31, Projected Contract: 3 Years, $27 mil, $9 mil AAV

Another personal surprise, Kikuchi’s projections fell short of all but Trevor Williams. He’s long been a breakout candidate, perennially close to turning the corner. In his age-32 season, that ship may have sailed.

He’s gone through encouraging jumps in fastball velocity and pitched well in the shortened 2020 season. Yet he’s struggled to maintain success. He’s another contract that is affordable and not an overbearing commitment (three years might be a little rich, too). 

Unfortunately, in his price range there are just better options. Thankfully, there’s no cataclysmic move New York can make with this group of starters, and that includes Kikuchi. Unless the analytics department is sold on the Kikuchi breakout coming in 2022, anything more than a one-year “prove it” deal would be ill-advised.

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