I love Rob Neyer’s work. Generally, I could just retweet his pieces and save myself a lot of time and energy. But I found his Mets piece from today a bit curious, since I only agreed with around half of it, plus his conclusion (I see the Mets at around a .500 team this year, too. My fearless prediction: 84-78.)
Specifically, Rob described the starting pitching this way: “The pitching’s a mess, though, and will probably continue to be a mess.”
He goes on to describe the extent to which the Mets don’t have an ace, which is absolutely true. But lost in that frequent refrain is this: if healthy, none of the five Met starters has a particularly low floor, either. And that makes for a likely staff outcome far better than their current 4.81 ERA, good for 13th in the National League.
Of the five starters: RA Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Chris Capuano and Chris Young, only Young is significantly beating his ZIPS projection, and he’s already missed 40 percent of his starts. Let’s put it in handy chart form:
PITCHER 2011 ERA PROJECTED ERA
Dickey 3.82 3.86
Pelfrey 7.23 4.12
Niese 5.10 4.27
Capuano 5.95 4.15
Young 2.65 4.53
In other words, if healthy, the Mets should expect a starter ERA around 4.19 from these five. They check in at 4.81. They’ve also received an average of just under 5.7 innings per start, well under what Dickey (6.7), Capuano (6.5 in last healthy season), Pelfrey (6.1), Niese (5.8), and Young (5.8 in last healthy season) should average. Needless to say, the more innings they provide, the lower the bullpen ERA is likely to be as well.
And all of this doesn’t include a single start by a certain Johan Santana, whose rehab has progressed to throwing off of a mound this week.
Now, you’ll notice I keep using the caveat “if healthy”. That applies to all pitching staffs, but particularly to the back end of this one, with both Capuano and Young attempting to pitch full seasons for the first time in several years. However, looking forward, it appears that Dillon Gee will be the sixth starter the Mets, like virtually every team, will employ this season. While he has also outpitched his ZIPS projection in his two outings so far (2.31 ERA vs. 4.88 projected ERA), notice that his projected ERA is A) only marginally worse than the rest of the group and B) still below 5. In other words, it is reasonable to think that the Mets can sustain an absence from either Capuano or Young without the bottom dropping out of the rotation. If both drop out, option seven is Pat Misch, whose projected ERA (4.75) is actually better than Gee’s, and better than the starters’ current ERA.
Johan Santana’s ZIPS ERA, by the way, is 3.39. So a healthy Santana would substantially improve the overall outlook of that group of five.
Putting it simply: it would be a mistake to assume that every best-case scenario for the Mets’ pitching staff will come to pass. But by median projection, the rotation should be significantly better than it has. And for the staff to perform as poorly as they have so far, nearly everything would have to continue going wrong. There’s no reason to assume that, either.