The Mets were poised to have one of the more imposing starting rotations in baseball entering the 2020 season — though seeing it in action has been dashed by the coronavirus pandemic and injuries.
While baseball canceled spring training and suspended Opening Day indefinitely, the Mets announced that Noah Syndergaard — their No. 2 starter behind Jacob deGrom — would need Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2020 season.
He successfully underwent the procedure on March 26, leaving the Mets’ rotation with an obvious void.
Behind the two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner, deGrom, Marcus Stroman will be the team’s No. 2 man while Rick Porcello, Steven Matz, and Michael Wacha round out the rotation.
The unit isn’t nearly as imposing without Syndergaard in the mix, especially when considering Stroman had difficulties acclimating to life with the Mets after he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline.
After a barnstorming start to his sixth MLB season in Toronto last year (21 starts, 2.96 ERA, 1.227 WHIP), Stroman’s number swelled after switching to the National League with the Mets. In 11 starts (59.2 innings), Stroman’s ERA shot up to 3.77 with a 1.475 WHIP.
Such an increase in those stats is rare for a pitcher going from the American League to the National League. It’s usually the other way around seeing as the pitcher doesn’t have to deal with deeper AL lineups that feature a designated hitter.
Chalk it up to the change in scenery or attempting to acclimate to his new settings — but Stroman’s recent track record indicates the Mets will have a dependable No. 2 starter if baseball starts up this season if you delve just beneath the traditional stat line.
Since the beginning of the 2017 season, only seven pitchers in Major Leauge Baseball have recorded two years in which they threw at least 180 innings and sported an ERA+ of 135 or better.
Before we go any further, ERA+ is a metric that takes a pitcher’s traditional ERA and accounts for external factors such as the ballpark that they’re pitching in and the opponents that they’re facing.
With pitchers starting with a league-average score of 100, the score is then adjusted based on how much better (or worse) it is compared to the league average.
For example, as MLB.com explains: “Mariano Rivera’s 2.21 career ERA was 105 percent better than the MLB average during the time he pitched (including adjustments for park and league). That gives him a 205 career ERA+ (the best all-time).”
With that, most of those seven pitchers that have pitched 180 or more innings with an ERA+ at least 35 points better than the rest of the league in two of the last three seasons are the usual suspects.
DeGrom is joined by the likes of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Zack Greinke.
But the seventh on that list? Marcus Stroman, who posted an ERA+ of 145 (201 IP) in 2017 and 136 (184.1 IP) in 2019.
No pitcher in baseball has recorded those numbers in each of the past three seasons.
If Stroman can recreate those numbers — even in a hypothetical truncated season, should it even happen in 2020 — the loss of Syndergaard will be cushioned.
But if there is no baseball, the Mets could once again be facing a future of wondering “what if?” when it comes to their top three starters.
Regardless of baseball being played this season, Stroman will be a free agent this winter where he will be one of the top starters available on the market.
Given the Mets’ track record, they aren’t normally a franchise that splurges for free agents, meaning they might never get a full season of their one-two-three punch of deGrom, Syndergaard, Stroman.