If you wanted to write an article that characterized the Mets rotation as somewhere between poor and bad, it wouldn’t be too hard to do. You could cite the loss of their Cy Young winner and the only guy on the team who ranked top 50 in pitcher WAR last year, R.A. Dickey. And you could talk about the fact that they used 13 starting pitchers last year. But that would be a mischaracterization. Sure, the loss of Dickey hurts, but this is a staff with a lot of potential.
Early Depth Chart:
Since we’re talking potential, let’s start with Harvey and Wheeler.
Harvey was Baseball America’s top prospect in the AAA International League last year, and he put his potential on full display in a 59 inning major league debut last season. Harvey struck out over a batter per inning at each stop in the minors and did the same and then some with a 10.62 K/9 in his debut that was backed up by a swinging strike rate of 12%.
The control is admittedly an issue. He walked just under 10% of the batters he faced in the minors and just over 10% in the majors. When you compare his likely strikeout and walk rates of something like 23-24% K% and 10-10.5% BB% to last year’s leader boards, he looks pretty similar to Tim Lincecum, Felix Doubront and Matt Moore. Those guys had SIERAs of 3.97, 4.08 and 3.84, respectively. That seems like a good place for Harvey’s SIERA to land in his first full season. And if his strikeout percentage manages to stay in the upper 20s, he’s got something more like Yu Darvish upside. So he’s definitely mixed league worthy, and as the 46th pitcher being taken in ESPN ADP, the price isn’t unreasonable.
Wheeler, who was the return in the Carlos Beltran trade, is currently rated as the top prospect in the Met system by Baseball America. The Mets sent him to minor league camp yesterday, but he’ll likely be the first to get the call if the Mets need another starter before Santana is ready. Like Harvey (and so many other stud pitching prospects), Wheeler has displayed strikeout stuff in the minors but has struggled with his control. He’s not quite as ready as Harvey seems to be, so when Wheeler does get the call, it’s probably best to let someone else take the gamble on picking him up.
With the more veteran options, there’s more to like.
Niese entered 2012 as a guy coming off two straight seasons in which his xFIP and SIERA outperformed his ERA (significantly so in 2011), and his BABIP and strand rate fell on the unlucky side of things. He screamed sleeper and those who saw that reaped the rewards last year when the luck finally went his way. Both his BABIP (.272) and strand rate (76.5%) were on the right side of things and his ERA (3.40) followed suit by outperforming his xFIP and SIERA. As a result, Niese finished as the 38th best starter on ESPN’s player rater.
Unfortunately, now Niese is probably in line for a touch of regression. His SIERA has been between 3.40 and 3.90 the last three years, but he hasn’t had an ERA anywhere near the middle of that range. It’s probably a safe bet to assume he ends up somewhere in that range this year. His strikeout and walk rates have leveled off, and he’s a safe bet for a strikeout minus walk percentage around 13.5%. With an ADP of 145 as the 39th pitcher being taken, Niese may be a touch overvalued, but the price is reasonable enough.
Gee was a guy I touted as a positive regression candidate for much of last year, but shoulder surgery shut him down in July before he had a chance to improve. Gee had a 4.10 ERA in 109 innings but a 3.53 SIERA and 3.54 xFIP. Of the 142 pitchers who threw 100 or more innings last year, Gee finished 32rd in K%-BB% (14.7%), 14th in swinging strike rate (10.6%) and 30th in ISO allowed (.130).
His K% jumped almost five percentage points from what it was in 2011, and that was probably a result of Gee using his slider more and it being more effective. He got zero whiffs on that pitch in the 35 times he used it in 2011, but he got 23 whiffs in 249 tries last year (9.2% SwStr%). With a slider that allows him to punch guys out, good control, and the ability to induce weak contact (50.3% GB% last year), Gee has some really nice skills and a lot of upside. You can (and should) get him for a buck in most leagues.
The Mets signed Marcum as a free agent for relatively cheap (four million plus incentives) hoping he can stay healthy. If he does, the Mets, and likely his fantasy owners as well, will get a good return on their investment. He can be had for a buck or two in shallower leagues, and it’s hard to find guys who can give you good control and WHIP late in a draft like Marcum will. His control and strikeout ability will be somewhere in the range of good to average for however many innings he’s out there. Unfortunately, it may not be many. But he’s worth drafting because he can give you a few good starts for a buck. If and when he hits the DL, just drop him and start streaming.
Rounding out the staff are Santana and, for the time being, Hefner. Santana is probably going to start the season on the DL, and Hefner will fill in until then. Hefner is nothing more than the place filler he appears to be as he lacks the ability to miss bats. Santana isn’t the stud he used to be, but he’s not entirely worthless when healthy. His walk rate has steadily risen from elite to average over the last few years, but he showed last year that he can still miss bats at an above average rate. If you can get him for a buck and stash him in a DL slot, he could give you a few nice outings at some point.
Harvey, Niese and Gee are a pretty decent top three, and if one of Marcum or Santana can get and stay healthy with Wheeler potentially rounding out the rotation, this could be a surprisingly good staff.