Don’t believe everything you hear: The New York Mets can compete for a division title this season.
The starting rotation for the Mets this year looks to be Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese, R.A. Dickey, Chris Young, and Chris Capuano. Those five are better than a lot of people give then credit for, but let’s start with the returning Mets from last year.
Mike Pelfrey had a good year last year, and it’s not unreasonable to think he can have a comparable one. He had one really bad month that he’ll need to avoid and work through, and hopefully another year of experience can help him do that. He was one of the best pitchers in the game through April last year, and while he probably won’t be quite _that_ good again, if you balance it against him not being as bad as he was in July, the overall performance can probably be similar to what we see in the table above. I think there is some hope that he can cut down on the walks and hits a little bit and maybe get better, but that remains to be seen.
R. A. Dickey
R.A. Dickey came out of nowhere last season to have one of the best years in the league. In fact his numbers are better than all of the pitchers on the Phillies sans Halladay, so all the talk of the Phillies having four aces and the Mets having none is a little silly. The biggest question regarding Dickey is if last season was a one time deal. Sandy Alderson doesn’t think so, and he gave Dickey a two year contract to prove it, and I don’t think so either. It’s non unheard of for pitchers that utilize the knuckleball to suddenly find success later in their careers as Dickey has done. Dickey has proven to be a very intelligent pitcher and really understands what’s going on on the mound. He throws two knuckleballs and is able to change speeds with it. His fastball isn’t even completely washed up, so when he does throw one, it reaches the mid 80s in velocity and doesn’t need just trickery to get past the hitter. He was able to sustain success throughout the entire season last year, including multiple appearances against the same teams. Also, his walk rate was surprisingly low for a knucklerballer. Pitching to a 2.84 ERA might be a bit lofty, but he was also victimized by poor run support. Perhaps a more potent offense gets the Mets more wins even if Dickey’s ERA rises slightly.
Jonathan Niese is entering his second full season with the Mets, after a surprisingly good rookie year. He hit a wall late in September, something he vows not to do in 2011. He threw two complete games, and had a very nice 7.7 K/9 rate. He really showed good command with his curveball, something you know no opponents are looking forward to facing. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some improvement from Niese as he’s still a young pitcher learning and adjusting. You’d like to see him give up a few less hits and walks overall, while utilizing his pitches to get more strikeouts. He got 148 last year, and with a little improvement through a full season, he’s a guy that could reach 200.
Chris Young has been injured a lot, but as you can see from his career line he’s a pretty good pitcher when he’s healthy. The key is making sure he stays healthy, and can give the Mets numbers approximating his career line. All indications out of Spring Training are that he is healthy and pitching well. If that means strengthening the pen so you don’t over-stress Young’s arm, or occasionally giving him extra rest, then the Mets should do it. Young starts to make this rotation look pretty deep, and while he’s not going to overwhelm or blow anybody away, he gets the job done and induces a lot of weak contact. Other options loom the longer we can keep him healthy, even if he doesn’t make it all season. Johan Santana could return, Dillon Gee or another prospect or Buffalo starter could be throwing the ball really well and deserve a promotion.
Chris Capuano is not quite as impressive as Chris Young, but he’s got the benefit of having pitched enough last year to be over the “Is he healthy?” hump. If he does make the rotation I’m happy with his ability to contribute to winning games, and I’d certainly take a healthy Capuano over most of the 5th best starters other teams are using. In 66 innings last year, in the bullpen and the rotation, Capuano’s numbers were right around his career norms. I’m hopeful with those 66 innings under his ‘new’ belt that he can get comfortable and have a quality year. He’s healthy now, and maybe the lack of pitching of the last couple of years will actually mean his arm is fully healed and hasn’t been worn down by season after season of pitching strain. Despite Chris Young probably being a better pitcher, I’m more confident that Capuano can stay on the field all season and win games for the New York Mets.
Injuries and Depth
I’m not going to pretend that the Mets have a ton of depth to replace these guys if things go wrong. Certainly if the Mets rotation misses more than a handful of starts here and there, there could be problems. Pat Misch could be an emergency starter, but he’s league average at best. Maybe Dillon Gee or another minor league prospect can come up and contribute if they’re forced into it, and maybe someone emerges later in the season if someone gets hurt. There will be at least five starters in Buffalo, and presumably someone will warrant promotion at some point.
Then there is Johan Santana. You would have to to think removing Santana from the rotation and adding Chris Capuano would be a net loss of games for the Mets, but it’s never as clear cut as that. Actually, the Mets lost a lot of Santana’s games last year by scoring no runs when he gave up merely one. If the Mets are hitting, couldn’t they win more games than that even if Capuano gives up three? It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect Santana, coming off a anterior capsule tear, to contribute anything this year, but it’s not wrong to hope and wonder if he can return around the All-Star break and get stronger as the season reaches it’s conclusion. All baseball seasons are full of uncertainty and risk, and while it’s certainly a risk that one of the Mets pitchers could injure themselves and hurt the Mets chances, there’s also the possibility that Santana returns and contributes down the stretch.
So as it stands right now, the Mets rotation looks pretty solid from top to bottom and is full of pitchers with talent and ability. They should keep the Mets in the game, and create opportunities for them to win those games with some offense. The diversity of the staff plays into things as well; You’ve got a knuckleball, a curveball, a sinkerball, and two control pitchers. That’s a lot of prep work for opposing lineups to do to try to keep on top of all the different looks they’ll see when they face the Mets.