Mets Rotation: Pretty Good?

This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, rotation, and bullpen) and will continue to break them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.

As Paul Swydan recently examined, the Mets’ hopes for success in 2015 largely depend on what happens with their rotation. How quickly will ace Matt Harvey return to form? Will Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom build on their potential? When will Noah Syndergaard arrive in the big leagues, and how good will he be during his initial transition to the Majors?

Indeed, these are likely the same questions that fantasy owners are asking as they search the Mets roster for 2015 value. One thing Swydan points out in the above-linked article is that Steamer and ZiPS envision different tracks for Mets starters in 2015. Per said: “Steamer paints them as having one legit good pitcher, and a bunch of guys who can be good on any given day but at the end of the season won’t amount to much. … ZiPS, on the other hand, paints them as having two leading men in Harvey and deGrom and a strong number three in Zack Wheeler.”

Which of these projection systems should we trust more as fantasy owners? Or, what might these projections be missing?

The Front End

Matt Harvey IP W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2013 178.1 9 191 2.27 0.93 27.7% 4.5% 2.00
Steamer 144.0 9 154 3.13 1.13 26.1% 6.9% 3.10
ZiPS 153.0 140 3.12 1.16 22.0% 7.7% 3.24
Fans 169.0 12 178 2.98 1.06 2.78

I’m including stats from Harvey’s excellent 2013 here because, duh, he didn’t pitch at all in 2014. I’m also including the FanGraphs Fan projections for Harvey because it’s extra difficult to know what to expect from a guy coming off a yearlong absence, so maybe more info is worth considering.

Jeff Zimmerman’s “Primer on Tommy John Surgery” cites some statistical tests done by himself and Brian Cartwright (for The Hardball Times Annual 2013) and similar tests from the American Journal of Sports Medicine, both of which discover a dip in a pitcher’s production in the year following Tommy John surgery. Zimmerman and Cartwright’s data found, on average for the pitchers surveyed, a 5.8% increase in ERA, a 7.2% increase in HR/9, a 5.0% increase in BB/9, and a -4.4% change in K/9.

Yet Harvey’s recovery process might not be typical of most recent TJ cases; his surgery timing was probably as good as it could have been, being in October. By the time Opening Day 2015 arrives, Harvey will be about 18 months removed from surgery; recently, recovery from Tommy John has taken about 9-12 months on average. It is possible that Harvey’s additional rest and rehab could allow him to regain form more quickly than many others who make their way back to the majors.

So it’s easy to dream on Harvey for 2015. The area in which I’d be most concerned is free passes. Harvey’s 2013 walk rate in the majors in 2013 was by far the lowest in his professional career, and command and control often take big hits in returning from Tommy John. But it’s not like Harvey didn’t earn that shiny walk rate in 2013: he threw in the zone, threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, and caused batters to miss on pitches both in and out of the zone. This is a minimal concern.

Even if you apply the full “penalty” for pitchers in their first year after Tommy John (i.e. if you adjust the respective stats by the rates found in the Zimmerman & Cartwright study mentioned above), and even if you apply them to Steamer’s projections for Harvey rather than his 2013 numbers, you’d still end up with a pretty damn good line:

ERA: 3.31
K/9: 9.24
BB/9: 2.69
HR/9: 0.86

This pushes Harvey outside of the top 10 starting pitchers for fantasy purposes, but would still make him an excellent #2 starter for your team. He’s currently going around #70 overall in mock drafts, being the 18th starting pitcher taken. This seems pretty close to spot on for me. If your leaguemates somehow forget about him or appear collectively afraid of his recovery and he falls below that, snap him up. This isn’t Jose Fernandez, who won’t return until at least mid-season—and after just 12 months of recovery time if he does return then. Harvey is a guy who will have had a full spring training and 18 months of recovery time, one who could pitch 180 innings or more in 2015.

Jacob deGrom IP W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014 140.1 9 144 2.69 1.14 25.5% 7.6% 2.67
Steamer 163.0 10 145 3.92 1.26 21.0% 7.5% 3.70
ZiPS 174.1 159 3.30 1.22 21.6% 7.2% 3.21

Jacob deGrom came out of nowhere to with NL Rookie of the Year in 2014. The Mets selected him as a college senior in the 9th round of the 2010 draft. He missed all of 2011 while recovering from Tommy John, and has subsequently been “old for his level” (on paper) as he’s worked his way through the Mets’ farm system. He’s a legitimate five-pitch hurler, both in terms of usage (five different pitches thrown 9.5% of the time or more) and outcomes (all five pitches had positive values in 2014). Back in August, Eno wrote about how developing those five pitches is a big reason that most of us would never have seen deGrom’s MLB breakout coming, and why he should continue to perform at a reasonably high level.

deGrom’s always posted decent walk rates—which one might half-expect of seasoned college starter at the low professional levels. Still, it’s not difficult to understand why both ZiPS and Steamer see slight improvement from him in that category, given his minor league track record.

In 2014, deGrom posted an above average F-Strike%, but a slightly below average Zone%. He had a slightly above average O-Swing%, and a good whiff rate. He didn’t have an inordinately high called strike percentage, so it’s not likely that he was relying heavily on pitch framing or umpire generosity to notch his K’s. Throw in his five-pitch mix, and I’ll definitely be taking the over on his K% projections. I’m with ZiPS on the rest of the rate stats.

He’s sitting at a 118 overall ADP right now, being the 31st starting pitcher off the board. Once again, I think this is just about right, maybe a little low, even. There’s risk, but he should be a solid contributor across the board, and a very good #3 for your fantasy team.

Zack Wheeler IP W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014 185.1 11 187 3.54 1.33 23.6% 10.0% 3.55
Steamer 153.0 9 149 3.88 1.31 22.6% 9.6% 3.68
ZiPS 175.2 172 3.48 1.29 22.8% 8.9% 3.59

I’ll say right off that I’m more bearish on Wheeler. The reasons:

Stat Rank
F-Strike% 87 (last)
Zone% 61
SwStr% 25
O-Swing% 77
Swing% 75
BB% 5

The above table displays where Wheeler ranked in various categories in 2014 among the 87 qualified starters. In sum, he doesn’t get batters to swing a lot, and he doesn’t get them to miss a ton when they do swing. He doesn’t throw a lot of strikes or get hitters to chase outside the zone, and so he walks a lot of guys. He’s only 24, though, and has 285.1 solid major league innings under his belt. Someone with his pedigree might be able to put it all together.

I will say that I think Wheeler has a good chance to continue to limit the long ball. He has a penchant for inducing ground balls helps, and Jeff Zimmerman’s expected home run leaderboard (xHR based on batted ball distance) actually saw Wheeler as being slightly unlucky in 2014.

With Wheeler, I think an averaging of ZiPS and Steamer would provide a good outlook. At a 182 overall ADP (48th SP), he’s being valued properly. It seems like mock drafters are being very reasonable regarding Mets pitchers so far. A decent guy with whom to start shoring up your fantasy staff, but not a world beater.

The Back End

2014 187.2 9 138 3.40 1.27 17.6% 5.7% 3.67
Steamer 173.0 10 124 4.09 1.31 16.9% 6.5% 3.93
ZiPS 171.2 132 3.77 1.27 18.0% 6.3% 3.72

The difference between Wheeler and Jon Niese—in terms of fantasy production, at least—is strikeouts. Their rates stats don’t look much different, but while Wheeler has relied on strikeouts and ground balls to remain viable, Niese has relied on control: throwing strikes and limiting walks.

Niese is what he is at this point, and what he is is a guy with some injury concerns with a track record of being a league average starter who doesn’t strike batters out. IRL, OMG, that’s totes useful. In most fantasy leagues, that’s streaming/waiver material.

Bartolo Colon IP W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014 202.1 15 151 4.09 1.23 17.9% 3.6% 3.57
Steamer 163.0 9 113 4.17 1.24 16.5% 4.0% 4.01
ZiPS 167.2 115 4.03 1.23 16.2% 3.8% 3.70

You always love a good Colon, which is why I am embarrassed to admit that often when I think of ol’ Bartolo, I think of this phrase.

It has been said that for every walk he allows in a game, Bartolo allows himself one fewer Stallone cut after the game. His minuscule walk rate allows him to keep pitching into his 40s, but his amazing 2013 in Oakland seems like an anomaly now, and you just never know when his delightfully strange and soon-to-be-42-year-old body will break down once and for all. When he’s running hot, he’s a good guy to stream, but in most leagues there’s no reason to draft him.

2014 137.1 7 94 4.00 1.25 16.5% 7.5% 4.52
Steamer 96.0 5 70 4.38 1.32 17.0% 6.6% 4.28
ZiPS 142.0 107 4.18 1.28 17.6% 6.6% 4.29

It’s looking like Gee is the odd man out right now. Even if one of the five men above him in this post suffer an injury, Gee will have to beat out the man below him to claim a rotation spot, and that might not be very easy. To the Mets, he’s a boon to have as a swing man (though he’s no Tanner Roark). To you, he’s dead.

The [Near] Future

Noah Syndergaard IP W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014* 133.0 9 145 4.60 1.48 24.9% 7.4% 3.70
Steamer 38.0 2 36 3.91 1.28 21.9% 8.2% 3.78
ZiPS 134.1 142 3.48 1.19 25.2% 6.8% 3.28

Syndergaard’s 2014 numbers above are from Triple-A. As you can see, the peripherals don’t really match the rate stats. He suffered through a ridiculous .378 average on balls in play and stranded only 67.2% of runners across 133 innings at the level. ZiPS, for one, is not buying it, and in fact projects him not only to post a very good ERA and WHIP, but also to best his walk and strikeout rates from Triple-A—in the majors.

That might be a little aggressive, and Steamer is much more reserved—and probably slightly more realistic—with the rates stats. The question is, how much will he pitch with the Mets in 2015? With a full healthy rotation and even a decent swing man ahead of him, it’s difficult to tell. Yet, he’s a potential top of the rotation guy, so it’s unlikely that Niese, Gee, and Colon are going to stand in his way for long.

He’s already owned in dynasty leagues (if he’s not, what kind of dynasty league are you in?), and in redraft leagues, he’s mostly not being drafted at all, at least not per ADP. If you have a deep bench, I see him has a flyer. Else, keep an eye on his progress and scoop him up when his time appears nigh. His upside, even for this year, is greater than Wheeler’s.

Steven Matz IP W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014** 71.1 6 69 2.27 1.12 24.0% 4.9% 2.64
Steamer 20.0 1 18 3.52 1.25 21.1% 7.4% 3.70
ZiPS 141.2 125 3.56 1.26 20.7% 7.3% 3.52

Steven Matz (2013 numbers above are from Double-A) probably won’t be a factor in redraft leagues this year. If your league has minor league keepers, read this and then read some other stuff and then maybe pick him up sometime.

Hire Robert J. Baumann to live-blog your next birthday party, family reunion, or corporate event. You will not want to forget it soon.

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Steamer really doesn’t seem to like the Mets pitchers. Checking out last year, Steamer projected the following:
Colon: Steamer 3.80; actual 4.09
Niese: 3.90; 3.40
Wheeler: 4.12; 3.54
Gee: 4.18; 4.00
deGrom: 4.56; 2.69

Of course, everyone missed deGrom, but only Colon was over-rated by Steamer last year. I think this year Steamer may be under-rating everyone. If 2015 ends and Harvey is the only Mets pitcher under 3.85 ERA I’ll slather my hat in maple syrup and sit down for a nice meal. Of delicious hat.