Johan Santana? Long gone. Jon Niese? On the shelf until at least after the All-Star break with a partially torn rotator cuff. The lefty is rehabbing and will not require surgery, but one has to wonder about his effectiveness for the remainder of the season and for keeper/dynasty players the possibility that Niese’s condition may further deteriorate and eventually require a surgical procedure despite his best efforts to rehab the issue. Niese’s strikeout rate has fallen to a sub 6.0 after three straight seasons of posting above a 7.0 and he has seen some minor velocity drop. Those will be key factors to watch upon his return from a shoulder injury.
Matt Harvey is atop the rotation and has emerged as the one of the top pitchers in baseball, showing not only tremendous stuff but the ability to command it at an elite level. There is no question that the Mets have found their ace and anchor, health permitting!
Beyond Harvey, Jeremy Hefner has emerged to offer the Mets some solid innings. The former Padre was a fifth round pick out of Oral Roberts University in 2007. Interestingly, the Mets had drafted Hefner twice previously in 2004 and 2005 but were unable to sign him, ultimately acquiring him via waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates in December of 2011 after a mediocre Triple-A campaign when he was the victim of 40-man roster maneuverings. Since then, Hefner has been able to translate his minor league skills to the Majors, showing good command of a four-pitch selection with his slider/cutter being his best pitch. Given a .285 batting average on balls in play as well as some ground ball pitcher tendencies, a slight upwards ERA correction could be coming. Hefner slots in nicely as a number four type long-term.
Statistically speaking, Dillon Gee is due for a more favorable correction given solid strikeout (7.8 K/9) and command skills (2.3 BB/9), a .335 batting average on balls in play and elevated home run rates. However, Gee’s stuff has always been considered average to fringy and the righty has lost over a mile per hour on his fastball and slider to boot. So again, we are talking about an innings eater/back end of the rotation type long-term.
The Mets took a chance on Shaun Marcum as the former Blue Jay returned from injury and the results have not been pretty, though there are some encouraging factors. The 31-year-old has never been a hard thrower, topping out in the high eighties, but is now averaging just 85 mph on his fastball, the lowest mark of his career. Still, since velocity was never something Marcum’s success has been about, we have seen some rather consistent career numbers in the strikeout (7.4 K/9 compared to 7.3 career) and walk (2.3 BB/9 compared to 2.7 career) departments. The primary concerning factors have been a woeful 61% left-on-base rate and career high .315 batting average on balls in play. In other words, Marcum is still displaying a skill set that suggests his ERA should be a run or more lower than what it is now. After pitching eight shutout innings on Wednesday, stick with him for now. The Mets, with the Niese injury, will be forced to, despite his up and down season, and it may be to their benefit.
The final member of the active roster rotation was the Mets’ haul for Carlos Beltran, Zack Wheeler. Wheeler has been showing his velocity, hitting the mid-nineties with regularity. The 23-year-old, however, is indeed pitching like a rookie. Wheeler’s stuff and potential is quite evident, but commanding that stuff has been an issue. There was also some talk in his second start of perhaps tipping pitches, but that remains to be seen. It would also be nice to see Wheeler utilize his changeup more often and to further develop it. While Wheeler has perhaps as much upside as Harvey, fantasy owners should note that the young righty is the most likely candidate to be demoted upon Niese’s return, barring Marcum melting down again of course.
That’s Not All
While the Mets currently have six rotation candidates, the Mets do have other young pitchers who could contribute this season. Rafael Montero is one option. The 22-year-old righty was recently promoted to Triple-A from Double-A Binghamton where he posted a 9.7 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 over 11 starts. Montero was hit fairly hard recently, but has still translated his peripherals pretty well to the higher levels with a strikeout per inning pitched. Montero is noted for having a plus fastball with excellent command as well as a slider and change that are at least solid average MLB pitches. Given that Montero has only four Triple-A starts under his belt, it is more likely that we will wait until at least September to see him, but that timetable could be sped up if the young righty dominates going forward.
Jake DeGrom was also recently promoted from Binghamton to join Montero. While not as highly touted due to his age (25), DeGrom has a good fastball and throws strikes. DeGrom could be a factor as a back end of the rotation option later this year or next season.
2014 and Beyond
Noah Syndergaard could be the Mets' top rated prospect in 2014. As a 20-year-old, Syndergaard dominated A+ ball. In 12 starts, the righty struck out more than a batter per inning while showing skills and a feel for pitching that one would expect from a much more experienced player (2.3 BB/9). Syndergaard is a harder thrower than possibly either Harvey or Wheeler and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to Double-A where he will no longer be able to simply rely on his fastball.
Cory Mazzoni has only made nine starts this season due to an early bout of elbow inflammation but is off to a good start with a 9.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. The former second-round pick has three quality pitches and could end the year in Triple-A and be a factor in 2014 if all goes well.