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New York Mets Position Previews: Starting Pitchers

Jacob deGrom Mets Starting Pitchers Preview

The wait is almost over. Just one day out from the start of the regular season, the New York Mets roster is finally complete. After a long offseason, complete with many new faces and multiple Spring Training battles, the Mets have assembled one of their best teams in years. Each week leading up to Opening Day, a new position got its own preview. Check out the previous breakdowns in the links below. For the grand finale, it’s time to take a look at the Mets starting pitchers.

Previous Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops, Third Basemen, Right Fielders, Center Fielders, Left Fielders, Relief Pitchers

The Best Gets Better

First up is the undisputed greatest pitcher on earth, Jacob deGrom. As the ageless wonder continues to improve each season, he’s once again the frontrunner for the National League Cy Young. Not content with his insane strikeout numbers in 2020 (13.8 K/9, 40.7% whiff rate), deGrom’s four-seamer has already increased to 102 mph this spring. Should he maintain this velocity throughout the regular season, he may finally clear the 300 strikeout mark. With improved swing and miss stuff and the new “de-juiced” balls, deGrom’s slightly concerning 33.6% hard hit rate last year should prove to be nothing more than an anomaly. If this ends up being the case, he can expect more hardware than just another Cy Young this year.

Something to Prove

With Carlos Carrasco missing the first few weeks of the season and Noah Syndergaard out until June/July, it’s up to Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker to fill the void until they return.

For Stroman, 2021 may be the most important year of his career. Having opted out of 2020 (after dealing with a calf injury), he enters this year looking to prove he can still be an ace. For what it’s worth, Stroman certainly believes he can. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have accepted the Mets’ $18.9 million qualifying offer instead of testing free agency.

Mets Pitching
Stroman (Photo by SportsNet New York)

There’s every reason to believe that Stroman can bounce-back this year. As a groundball pitcher (58.7% GB rate), the Mets’ improved defense should benefit him greatly. That means opposing batters probably won’t produce a .339 BABIP against him like in 2019. Combine that with his new split changeup and already improved strikeout rate (9.1 K/9 with the Mets in 2019) and Stroman looks ready to ready to put on a show.

With Walker, things are a bit more complicated. Nothing is ever easy with the most analytically polarizing pitcher in baseball. Though his 2.70 ERA last year certainly looks good, his peripherals paint a less promising picture.

Taijuan Walker Rankings
Stats courtesy of Baseball Savant

Still, there is reason to be optimistic. For one thing he didn’t re-injure himself coming back from Tommy John Surgery which is always a good sign. Furthermore, on top of ditching his ineffective cutter for a deadly slider (.236 xBA, 24.4% whiff rate) last year, he’s been working closely with the experts at Driveline and the Mets new and improved analytics department to further refine his mechanics. Time will tell if this is enough to make a true top-end starter out of Walker.

The Lone Lefties

While it wasn’t a given that both David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi would make the Opening Day roster, Carrasco’s injury gives both lefties a brief time to shine.

Despite an uneven spring, Peterson earned a spot in the rotation after his 2020 performance. Coming straight from Double-A, he exceeded expectations with a 3.44 ERA and 127 ERA+ in nine appearances (eight starts).

There is, however, some concern over his ability to replicate these results. For starters, Peterson only threw 49.2 innings last year, meaning there’s no telling how he’ll perform in a full season or if he’ll be able to go a full season. Moreover, his peripherals-from a 4.52 FIP and 4.3 BB/9, to below average fastball velocity (36th percentile) and spin rate (14th percentile)-are somewhat concerning. A .233 BABIP also hints that Peterson got incredibly lucky last year. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to pitch like an ace to give the Mets value. Even if he regresses a bit, his numbers would still be more than adequate for a back-end starter.

David Peterson Roster Battle
Peterson (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As for Lucchesi, a disastrous 2020 (7.94 ERA) threatens to overshadow his decent numbers from 2018-19 (4.14 ERA). Hopefully, his 2020 woes can be chalked up to any number of abnormalities that year. His strong showing in Spring Training certainly hints at this being case. Armed with his trademarked “churve” and funky delivery, Lucchesi generates some of the most vertical movement in MLB. Though he may not be in the rotation for long, any production the Mets can get out of Lucchesi should be satisfactory.

Depth

Unlike previous years, the 2021 Mets have several viable starters stashed away in the minors.

Having put up excellent numbers this spring, Jordan Yamamoto currently leads the pack. Although he hasn’t had much success in the majors (6.20 ERA), he’s still young and has good enough stuff to perform at a high level. His 2019 numbers in particular show a lot of promise, including a .213 xBA and 3.88 xERA.

Jerad Eickhoff and Corey Oswalt also figure to make a spot start or two this year. Eickhoff was one of the best young pitchers in baseball from 2015-16 (3.44 ERA). Unfortunately, injures derailed his career, culminating in him missing all of 2020. As for Oswalt, he’s struggled immensely since his 2018 debut. That said, his performance out of the bullpen (9.85 ERA) heavily inflates his stats. He may not very good as a starter either (4.68 ERA), but there’s enough here to warrant at least one more shot in the majors.

Jordan Yamamoto Traded to Mets
Yamamoto (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Beyond these three are multiple prospects, all of whom are vying to remain starting pitchers. Among them are Thomas Szapucki (#10 prospect), Sam McWilliams (#16), Franklyn Kilome (#22), Yennsy Diaz (#27), and, while not technically a prospect anymore, Sean Reid-Foley. Whether it be through injuries or inconsistency, each has faced numerous delays on their path to the majors. With all of them failing to develop viable third and forth pitches and struggling with control issues, 2021 may be their last chance to prove they can still be starters.

And with that, the Mets Position Previews series comes to a close. With the roster set and the starters ready, the only thing left to do is watch it all come together.

Featured Image Courtesy of Steven Ryan/Getty Images

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