April 15, 2024

This week in Mets: Can the starters pitch deep enough into games?


“But how to establish the exact moment in which a story begins? Everything has already begun before, the first line of the first page of every novel refers to something that has already happened outside the book. Or else the real story is the one that begins ten or a hundred pages further on, and everything that precedes it is only a prologue.”
— “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” Italo Calvino

Since the start of spring, the New York Mets have talked a lot about their pitching depth — their depth of options in the rotation and the bullpen. But a different kind of depth could be a problem. Namely, do the Mets have starters who can go deep into the game often enough?

Jose Quintana didn’t finish the fifth inning on Opening Day. Luis Severino did on Saturday but only after allowing six runs. Tylor Megill was taken out after four frames Sunday with tenderness in his shoulder.

The 13 2/3 combined innings over the first three games were the fewest by Mets starters since 2020 (13) when the team was limiting innings following an abbreviated summer camp. It’s the fewest in the first three games of a normal 162-game season since 2004 (13).

It’s no secret that starters are getting pulled earlier and earlier with each passing year. In 2023, the average starting pitcher lasted just 5.14 innings. (Mets’ starters averaged 5.30 innings per start.) A starter finished the sixth inning in just under 40 percent of games.

The top nine starters in the Mets’ 2024 hierarchy — from Kodai Senga and Severino down to Joey Lucchesi and Jose Buttó — combined to make 153 starts last season. They finished the sixth inning 37 percent of the time.

Games Started of 6+ Innings, 2023

That’s not anomalous for these starters. Since 2021, that group of pitchers has combined to finish the sixth 36 percent of the time.

To be clear, that’s not disqualifying for a rotation; the Tampa Bay Rays made the postseason last year with starters going deep even less often. But Tampa Bay was, as it is in so many ways in the sport, the exception. Here are all the teams whose starters finished the sixth inning 37 percent of the time or less last season.

Pct. Games Started of 6+ Innings, 2023

The Rays are the only one of those 13 teams to qualify for the postseason. And I know, this comes across as a pretty obvious point. Teams whose starters don’t go deep into games are also teams whose starters, in general, aren’t very good (and thus don’t merit going deeper into games). But there is a trickle-down effect: Ten of the 13 teams on this list had bullpen ERAs in the bottom half of the league, and I find it reasonable to connect that higher bullpen ERA to having to pitch more innings consistently.

(The New York Yankees are the exception this time, having owned the best bullpen ERA in baseball. They still didn’t make the playoffs, in part because their rotation behind Gerrit Cole held them back as much as it did.)

The Mets start the season with 19 games in 20 days. Senga is on the injured list, removing the most reliable innings-eater from their rotation. (Their current starting five finished the sixth inning in an even one-third of their starts last year.) Megill’s shoulder required an MRI. They’ll be forced to play short unless Yohan Ramírez’s suspension is overturned.

It’s early, and there’s little worth overreacting to based on the opening weekend of the season. But the Mets’ starters didn’t project to go deep into games very often, they haven’t gone deep into games at the very start of the season, and a couple of other factors may exacerbate that weakness over the first few weeks of the season. It’s just something to watch.

The exposition

The Mets were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers at home. It’s their first 0-3 start since 2014.

The Detroit Tigers finished off a season-opening sweep of the Chicago White Sox on the South Side on Sunday.

The Cincinnati Reds won the rubber game of their series at home against the Washington Nationals on Sunday.

The pitching possibles

vs. Detroit

LHP Sean Manaea (7-6, 4.44 ERA in 2023) v. RHP Casey Mize (DNP in 2023)
RHP Adrian Houser (8-5, 4.12 ERA in 2023) v. RHP Reese Olson (5-7, 3.99 ERA in 2023)
LHP Jose Quintana (0-1, 3.86) v. LHP Tarik Skubal (1-0, 0.00)

at Cincinnati 

RHP Luis Severino (0-1, 10.80) v. RHP Hunter Greene (0-0, 3.86)
RHP Tylor Megill (0-1, 2.25) v. RHP Nick Martinez (0-0, 5.40)
LHP Sean Manaea v. LHP Andrew Abbott (8-6, 3.87 ERA in 2023)

I looked up a stat

When is the Mets’ schedule at its easiest, and when is it at its hardest? To figure this out, I took the over/under win totals from BetMGM, changed them into opponent winning percentages, did a basic adjustment for whether the series was at home or on the road, and examined the Mets’ average opponent strength by month and by rolling samples of six games and 15 games.

In general, the Mets’ schedule looks more difficult in the first half of the season than in the second. May is their hardest month and August the easiest, even when accounting for 18 of New York’s 27 games that month coming away from Queens. (That’s with a basic home/road adjustment, though. It doesn’t factor in back-to-back three-city trips that start on the West Coast.)

Mets Schedule Strength

Month

  

Opp. Win %

  

March/April

0.519

May

0.539

June

0.514

July

0.482

August

0.474

September

0.510

The Mets’ hardest six-game stretch of the season? Well, that’s next week, with road games in Cincinnati and Atlanta. Their hardest 15-game stretch? Starting with that series against the Reds and ending in San Francisco later this month.

New York’s easiest six-game stretch of the season is their homestand just before the All-Star break against the Nationals and Colorado Rockies. Their easiest 15-game stretch includes the preceding road trip to start July in Washington and Pittsburgh.

Overall, Mets’ opponents are expected to have a .507 winning percentage this season.

Inside baseball

When DJ Stewart was picked off by catcher William Contreras on Opening Day, Francisco Lindor jumped out of the home dugout, certain that first-base umpire Lance Barrett had missed the call. Not because Stewart had gotten his hand back safely, Lindor said, but because Brewers first baseman Rhys Hoskins had obstructed the bag.

Defensive obstruction is a point of emphasis in the sport this year, with umpires tasked with penalizing defenders for blocking the base. Lindor knows all too well. He was called for obstruction on a play in spring training.

Manager Carlos Mendoza talked with Barrett about the play again on Saturday, saying that the umpire admitted he missed the call. Even after the fact, Mendoza appreciated the honesty, because now he knows how to teach it to his players.

“There’s a gray area still,” he said Saturday morning. “It’s tough because you have to make the call in real-time and you can’t review it. Everyone’s learning the rules, and we’re going to have to adjust.”

Lindor said Saturday he still didn’t know what was and wasn’t obstruction.

“I don’t think anybody has a clear understanding,” Mendoza said. “The way they were calling it during spring training, we thought they were going to be aggressive. Then a play like that happens on Opening Day and it doesn’t get called.”

Mendoza said he would prefer that those plays be reviewable. Umpires can review whether a catcher improperly blocked home plate; they can’t do it for a defender at any other base.

“It’s going to impact games, especially with runners at third base,” Mendoza said. “When a catcher goes to back pick, that third baseman is probably going to put his foot in front of the base, and now a run is going to score. I wish it were reviewable, but it’s not.”

Injury updates

  • Senga first played catch on Monday, and Mendoza said he’s working up to a more formal throwing program that could start sometime this week. Remember, that throwing program is likely to take about six weeks before Senga is ready for a big-league return.
  • Sean Reid-Foley was healthy enough to return to Grapefruit League action at the end of spring, but the righty reliever told the team he didn’t feel 100 percent after a tough outing against the Yankees. Subsequent testing revealed a shoulder impingement that the Mets don’t expect to keep Reid-Foley out for long. Reid-Foley’s placement on the IL did allow New York to postpone an eventual roster decision for the final spots in the bullpen. He’d been competing with Michael Tonkin and Yohan Ramírez for the last two spots, with all three pitchers out of minor-league options.
  • Megill had some “tenderness” in his right shoulder Sunday, according to bench coach John Gibbons, which is why he came out after four innings. He was set to receive a precautionary MRI.

Last week in Mets

A note on the epigraph

“If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” is my favorite novel about reading a novel.

Trivia time

You know Jacob deGrom started Opening Day for the Mets in 2020. Who started the next two games?

I’ll leave the answer in the comments.

(Photo of Jose Quintana: Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)





Source