Don’t Blame the Mets’ Rough Season on Bad Luck

I am a huge Mets fan, but I get annoyed any time I hear someone complain about the Mets’ “bad luck” this season.  Bad luck is the Raiders being Super Bowl contenders, only to have Derek Carr get hurt and wreck any chances of a playoff run.  Bad luck is the Indians having the chance to erase the second-longest active World-Series-Championship drought, only to have the Cubs, they of the longest drought, show up on the other side and steal not only America’s hearts but also a lot of the World Series tickets for the games played in Cleveland.  Bad luck is NOT the Mets having an extremely disappointing 2017.

Image result for new york mets disappointment

You see, “bad luck” implies that forces out of your control have conspired to give you bad results.  On the other hand, the Mets had the ability to control their results this past offseason, and the team chose not to do so.  While many baseball writers tried this offseason to sell us on the Mets’ vaunted 2017 pitching rotation, I saw great reason for concern.  I know you might think I am Captain Hindsight, but I swear I would have voiced my concern on this blog if it had existed in November.

The prevailing belief around baseball was that the Mets’ pitching staff would be: Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz, Wheeler.  Yes, the big five young starters were finally supposed to be healthy at the same time.  Meanwhile, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman would be waiting in the bullpen or in the minors.  However, as soon as last season ended, I assumed a few differences from this prevailing thought:

  • I believed that the Mets could rely neither on neither Harvey nor Wheeler entering 2017. Let’s remember that Matt Harvey did not enter this season off a 2.71-ERA, 1.02- WHIP season capped off by an excellent playoff performance with a 3.04 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.  Those numbers come from his 2015 season.  Instead, he entered 2017 off a 4.86-ERA, 1.47-WHIP season that ended on the Fourth of July.  Of course, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome officially ended his season.  What we did not know was whether his disappointing 2016 had happened because of the syndrome or because of things unrelated to the syndrome.  Frankly, it does not matter which one was the case.  Either way, Matt Harvey was set to enter 2017 off a season in which he would have soon, if not for going on the DL, been removed from the rotation.  He was also entering the season having experienced both the serious TOC and Tommy John Surgery in a 3-year span.  Meanwhile, Zach Wheeler had missed both 2015 AND 2016 with Tommy John Surgery and other complications with his elbow.  While many pitchers bounce back well from Tommy John Surgery, it is a different proposition after missing TWO full years and having complications with the elbow.  Plus, even people who miss only one year with Tommy John tend to bounce back better the second year after the surgery.  As a result of all this, I felt that anything Harvey or Wheeler would provide in 2017 would be a bonus.

 

  • I did not think Lugo nor Gsellman had pitched to a large enough sample size in 2016 to be considered locks in 2017. Gsellman made 7 starts at the end of the year, and 5 were against the putrid Braves and Phillies.  Therefore, I did not think the Mets could count on Gsellman against a full slate of MLB teams, good and bad teams alike.  Meanwhile, Lugo gave me a bit more confidence, because he had 8 starts with only 4 coming against teams playing out the string (Atlanta, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Miami).  Plus, he had many solid relief outings before entering the rotation. However, the sample size was still too small to let me consider him a lock to stay as a staple in the Major League rotation. Long story short, I felt that it was reasonable to expect 1 of the 2 pitchers mentioned here to repeat their success this year.  Expecting both to repeat it would have been pushing it.

 

  • The Mets could not count on Steven Matz, because he always gets hurt. In 2015, he made only 6 starts after debuting in the majors on June 28.  In 2016, he made only 22 starts before injury forced him to be shut down in mid-August.

 

 

Summing up, I entered last offseason looking at a Mets team that had only two starting pitchers on whom they could rely – deGrom and Syndergaard.  There were so many question marks with the rotation that I had to have faith that deGrom would bounce back from his September season-ending elbow surgery.  Therefore, I figured the Mets would have those two pitchers and either Lugo or Gsellman.  That theoretically left two open spots in the rotation.  For those two spots, I wanted the Mets to re-sign Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey.  While I can understand the Mets not wanting to spend $12 million for Colon (They are fortunate the Braves gave him this deal, considering Colon’s awful 2017 performance), Dickey signed for much less money.  If the Mets were shrewd, they would have looked to sign Dickey and to sign or trade for another veteran starter.  This would have allowed the Mets to let Harvey and Wheeler start Spring Training late, with the plan for them to come up to the Majors in May/June, when the weather was warmer.  This would have also served to limit these two pitchers’ innings. Plus, if Matz were to be healthy this year, Lugo and Gsellman could have gone to the bullpen, which would have bolstered the pen.

Image result for steven matz

As you probably know, the Mets did not bring in any support for their starting rotation.  As expected, Steven Matz got hurt before the season began and did not start until June.  It cannot be considered “bad luck” for the Mets when a guy who always gets hurt gets hurt.  The Mets could have planned for that in the offseason by bringing in a veteran arm, but the team chose not to do it.  Even worse, Syndergaard has not pitched since April 30, because of a lat injury.  That is not “bad luck” either though, because this is a guy who added 17 pounds of muscle without throwing at all this offseason.  While I try to give the Mets the benefit of the doubt with injuries more often than most Mets fans do, I cannot do it here.  I am not a doctor, but I know that, if you add that much muscle and already throw 100 miles per hour, your body will need to practice throwing with the added muscle.  Therefore, Syndergaard hurt himself by being stupid, and the Mets are at fault for not having enough control over their pitcher’s workouts.  As for Seth Lugo; sure his getting hurt in the stupid World Baseball Classic was bad luck, but that is the only piece of this puzzle that I consider “bad luck”.  Plus, that “bad luck” is offset by the fact that Harvey and Wheeler have pitched more innings this year than I ever would have expected.  Granted, that has not been a good thing.  Harvey has pitched to a 5.25 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, while Wheeler has pitched to a 5.21 ERA and 1.59 WHIP.  Both pitchers are now on the “DL” with euphemisms for “These guys have been terrible enough that we are going to say it is because of injury, even if we are not sure that it is really the reason.”  Hey, that injury befalls many greats.  Both Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana spent time on the Mets’ DL with that injury.  Nevertheless, I would say that those performances by Wheeler and Harvey justify my offseason beliefs not to count on these two.

Image result for noah syndergaard trainer

The Mets have also had other injury-prone players get hurt.  Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker have both spent plenty of this year on the DL.  The Mets made the choice to bring back those players this year, even though the team knew of the injury risks.  I agreed with those re-signings, but you know you are rolling the dice with injuries with those two.  It is not bad luck when they get hurt.  Meanwhile, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lucas Duda, and Travis d’Arnaud are other injury-prone players who have spent time on the DL, but the Mets did not greatly miss any of them when they were absent.  The one injury – other than Lugo’s – that can be attributed to “bad luck” is that of Jeurys Familia, but I will explain shortly why his injury is not enough to claim the Mets’ season has been sabotaged by bad luck.

Bad defense and a subpar bullpen have hurt the Mets this year, but those finish a distant second in blame to the team’s starting rotation.  The Mets have had a bad season because they entered the season with a deeply flawed rotation and chose not to improve it.  In the first 97 games, the Mets have had an astounding 27 games in which the starting pitcher allowed as many or more runs as innings pitched.   The Mets have won only 4 of those games, which is honestly more than I would have expected.  Anyway, that 27 of 97 games is approximately 28% of the team’s games.  Teams are not supposed to win games when their pitchers pitch that atrociously.  When that happens roughly 3 out of every 10 games, your team is going to be terrible.  Suddenly, there is a lot of pressure to win the other 7 out of 10 games, and the bullpen also takes a beating when starters exit early.  If you are wondering about who are the culprits for this atrocious pitching, here you go:

 

Gsellman (6 times)

4 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER

5 IP, 5 ER

4 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER

5 IP, 7 ER

4.1 IP, 8 runs, 7 ER

3 IP, 3 ER

 

Harvey (5 times)

4.1 IP, 6 ER

5.1 IP, 6 ER

5 IP, 5 ER

5 IP, 6 ER

4 IP, 4 ER

 

Wheeler (4 times)

4 IP, 5 ER

1.2 IP, 8 ER

2 IP, 7 ER

5 IP, 5 ER

deGrom (2 times)

4 IP, 7 ER

4 IP, 8 ER

 

Matz (2 times)

4.1 IP, 5 ER

1 IP, 7 ER

 

Rafael Montero (2 times)

3.2 IP, 5 ER

3 IP, 3 ER

 

Tyler Pill (2 times)

5 IP, 5 runs, 3 ER

6 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER

 

Lugo (1 time)

5 IP, 6 ER

 

Tommy Milone (1 time)

1.1 IP, 8 runs, 7 ER

 

Syndergaard (1 time)

  • IP, 5 ER

 

Adam Wilk (1 time)

3.2 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER

 

That is quite a hideous list.  Robert Gsellman seems like a nice guy, but he did prove, before getting hurt, that last year was an aberration.  His 6.16 ERA and 1.62 WHIP were very responsible for his “injury”.  I believe he now has the same “injury” as Wheeler and Harvey.  Now, I cannot promise that R.A. Dickey would have dominated as a Met this year, but a combination of R.A. and any other journeyman veteran could have been an upgrade over these awful performances.  If these two guys pitched 6 innings and allowed 4 earned runs every start, at least the Mets would have a chance to win every time out – unlike with the brutal list you just read.

Yes, the starting rotation has been a disaster.  However, many people are quick to blame the Mets’ bullpen for this bad season, and the pen has been disappointing.  However, this does not change the fact that the starting rotation has been awful and is still the main culprit for the awful season.  I looked through the game results and found that 14 of the 97 games have seen the bullpen sink the Mets.  When I say “sink the Mets”, I refer to games where the pen either blew a lead while pitching few innings, lost a game while pitching few innings, took the Mets out a game that they were losing slightly, or turned a sure victory into a nailbiter of a win.  If you want to see my full list, please contact me.  I figured I did not need to put this full list in the post.   I will note that I did not count games where the bullpen pitched, for example, 5 innings and let up only 1 or 2 runs, even if those runs include the winning run.  I also did not include games when the Mets’ starter left early to a large deficit, only to have the mop-up relievers pitch equally badly.  Those losses are on the starters, not the Neil Ramirez types who are merely eating innings in lost causes.  Knee-jerk reactions blame the bullpen for cases like these last two, but the stat lines indict the offense and/or the starting pitching, not the pen.

Earlier, I mentioned Jeurys Familia and said I would return to him now.  His injury could be considered “bad luck”, but the fact that his replacement as closer, Addison Reed, is 17/19 in save opportunities and has a 2.49 ERA and 1.11 WHIP show that the Mets are doing just fine in the closer department.  The lack of Familia haunts the Mets more in the sense that they now have two reliable relievers (Reed and Jerry Blevins) instead of three.  Therefore, the whole pen is weaker.  I do not deny this fact.  However, I feel that the biggest problem for the pen has been that starting pitchers have pitched only 541.1 innings, the 22nd-highest total in the league.  The more innings a bullpen must pitch, the worse the relievers usually do.  For example, Fernando Salas has generally been a disappointment this year, but it sure did not help that he pitched in 8 of the first 12 games of the season (although Terry Collins really did not need to use him in some of those 8).

It is actually comical when fans across the league complain about their team’s bullpens.  Almost every fanbase thinks the team’s bullpen stinks, and it is supposed to be that way!  Typically, a team’s best seven pitchers are the five starters, the closer, and the set-up man.  Therefore, the other five pitchers in the pen are the 8th-through-12th-best pitchers on the team.  How many teams really have at least 8 good pitchers?  Most teams would die to have Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in their bullpens, but Yankees fans have hated their bullpen for much of this year!  At the trade deadline, every team’s weakness and need are “middle relief”.  Generally, the key to a good bullpen is not having to use it.  In 2015, the Mets survived much of the season with a relatively bad bullpen before acquiring Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed later in the year.  (Yes, Clippard was actually good in that regular season.)  The Mets a subpar pen because they avoided the atrocious starts that this year have forced the team to use the pen so early and often.

Speaking of 2015, most people think the keys to that year were Cespedes, Harvey, Syndergaard, deGrom, and Murphy.  I cannot disagree there.  However, there were two unsung heroes.  Bartolo Colon made 31 starts, and Jonathon Niese made 29 starts that year.  These two pitchers were not great, but they gave the Mets a chance to win nearly every time out and typically gave the team six or so solid innings.  That allowed the Mets to get by while managing Harvey’s innings, Matz’s injuries, and waiting until May to recall Syndergaard.  If only the Mets had brought in a few veteran starters this year, perhaps we could have been spared a good chunk of the 20 horrible starts (listed above) by Gsellman, Pill, Wilk, Milone, Montero, Harvey, and Wheeler.

Image result for mets 2017 bullpen

“Bad luck” is out of one’s control.  The Mets are having a bad year because of actions they made and did not make, not because of bad luck.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s