Player Profiles 2020: New York Mets Starting Pitchers

Michael Ajeto analyzes the New York Mets rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

 

Mets At A Glance

For years, the perception has been that the Mets’ starting pitching staff has underperformed. That’s probably because it has. Besides 2018, Zack Wheeler was a disappointment. And besides Jacob deGrom, not pitcher has pitched to their perceived potential. That is, perhaps, because their pitchers had not been their best. Despite being quite good, Noah Syndergaard hasn’t been the same, Marcus Stroman had struggles once he was traded, Steven Matz has had home run problems, and now they have Rick Porcello, whose appeal is more to due to the volume he provides rather than his actual skills. Michael Wacha is also still a thing.

Now with the hiring of the 33-year-old pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, there is reason to believe that the Mets will get the most out of their starters — at least relative to before. Each pitcher has their own flaws (well, except deGrom), but there’s a chance we see their entire back-four take a step forward.

 

Jacob deGromLocked Starter

Nickname: HellScream

 

2019 In Review

For the second season in a row, deGrom finished the year in the 97th percentile in xwOBA and with a K-BB% above 26%. While he had a slightly fortunate year in 2018, deGrom’s true talent level appears to be how he performed in 2019, which is quite spectacular. If deGrom isn’t the best pitcher in baseball, then he’s definitely the second- or third-best.

 

Fastball (48% usage)

deGrom has one of the best fastballs in the league. His pVAL and pVAL/C ranks eighth in the league, and so while it isn’t Gerrit Cole-level elite, it’s probably a top-five fastball in baseball, as it pertains to starting pitchers.

He does a fantastic job of elevating his fastball, but what I found interesting is that his vertical fastball location reverted to its 2017 average. I’m unsure of what the reason for this is, but — in viewing his fastball heat maps — his fastball command looked better in 2018. Given that deGrom’s vertical fastball location was higher in 2018 and it had a superior O-Swing% and SwStr%, I’m inclined to think that he made a tweak that he shouldn’t have.

 

Slider (32% usage)

deGrom increased his slider usage from 24% to 32% in 2019 and it didn’t lose much effectiveness, if any. He accumulated a 20.0 pVAL on the year, good for top five in the league. Last year, it missed Money Pitch criteria, needing just a 1.0% bump in O-Swing%. This year, he increased his O-Swing% to 44.3%, but its Zone% fell to 37.6%, missing Money Pitch designation once again.

This has historically been deGrom’s best secondary pitch. He’s comfortable using it in all counts, aside from 3-0 counts. He moved to it a touch more in 2019 in first pitch and pitchers’ counts.

But it still might not be his best pitch anymore…

 

Changeup (16% usage)

Since 2018, deGrom’s changeup is his best pitch by pVAL/C, xwOBA, wRC+, SwStr%, GB%, and LD%. It creates fantastically favorable contact, but it also misses bats. Since 2018, Luis Castillo, Zack Greinke, and Mike Minor best deGrom in pVAL, but he leads the league in pVAL/C since then. Obviously, it’s a fantastic offering, but it hasn’t always been this way.

deGrom has progressively added velocity to his changeup since 2016 (as with his fastball), but he’s also slightly closed the velocity gap between his fastball and changeup in the past two years. Perhaps most importantly, he has widened the gap in vertical movement between his fastball and changeup from 5.40, to 6.41, and now to 7.34. It profiles similarly to very few changeups, but it’s similar to Greinke or Stephen Strasburg‘s changeups, but with a few extra ticks.

 

Curveball (3% usage)

Because he has three plus pitches, deGrom has faded his curveball and turned it into a get-me-over pitch. While used about 10% of the time from 2014 to 2017, it’s down to 3% now, and is used simply to steal strikes every now and then.

 

2020 Outlook

Steamer and ATC both have deGrom projected for the lowest ERA and FIP. There’s no reason to think deGrom can’t continue dominating. I’ll be a little aggressive and say deGrom will put up a 31 K%, 6 BB%, and 1.00 WHIP. The pitch to keep an eye on is his fastball.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 3.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 28% K rate in 180 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 2.30 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 33% K rate in 210 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Jacob deGrom 2020 projection:

2.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 31% K rate in 200 IP

 

Noah SyndergaardLocked Starter

Nickname: Thor

 

2019 In Review

Despite not being quite himself (or perhaps this is who he is now?), Syndergaard struck out quite a few hitters, didn’t walk too many, and have a great home run rate. In spite of this, he put up career-highs in unfavorable categories: a 4.28 ERA, 4.02 SIERA, and .280 xwOBA.

I wrote an article about Syndergaard last month, and I found plenty to be worried about, including his lost extension in his delivery, a worse pitch mix, poorer pitch location, and potentially changed mechanics. That’s an awful lot, and yet Syndergaard is still a borderline-elite pitcher with worlds of potential.

 

Sinker (30% usage)

Nowadays, most pitchers shouldn’t throw a sinker. Some pitchers should — like Dylan Bundy or Sandy Alcantara. Syndergaard can get away with it because he throws so hard, but he certainly doesn’t need to feature it as his most-used pitch.

Despite being a good sinker, it’s still a sinker, and that means more balls are put in play relative to his fastball. As you’d have it, the Mets have the lowest DRS in the league since 2017, and the fifth-lowest UZR. It’d serve him better with a better defense, but for now, the Mets have multiple cataclysmically bad fielders, so Syndergaard should throw it less.

 

Fastball (29% usage)

As I wrote in my previously mentioned article, Thor has lost half of a tick in velocity on his fastball, but he’s lost nearly two ticks in perceived velocity. On top of this, he’s also been losing perceived rise on his fastball — his vertical movement has dropped from the mid-10s to 8.14:

 

This is pretty troubling, but at least he still throws gas. The pitch itself had a career-high 10.8 SwStr%, but it’s still an inferior pitch compared to his fastball pre-injury: he simply began elevated it more than he ever has.

There’s a lot to be worried about, but it’s not all bad — this is still a 97 to 98 mph fastball.

 

Changeup (16% usage)

This changeup should be thrown more. It was a Money Pitch — 42 O-Swing%, 46 Zone%, and a 16 SwStr% — all while returning a far better BAA than his heaters. It’s a pitch that can be featured at any point with ridiculous movement, and to see a sub 20% usage rate is leaving success on the table.

Even against right-handers, crimes are waiting to be committed!

 

Slider (15% usage)

Syndergaard has used his slider about 20% of the time every year from 2016 to 2018, but that dropped to 15% in 2019. While it was still incredible throughout the year — it had a 37.6 O-Swing%, 49.7 Zone%, and 18.1 SwStr% — he completely lost confidence in it, which is the reason he stopped throwing it as often. He barely threw it in May and June, but his slider started to regain its shape as the year went on. In any case, he completely lost the overall shape of his slider in 2019 — it had way too much vertical drop and lost several ticks of velocity. His 1.9 slider pVAL was its lowest since his rookie season.

If he regains its shape, he needs to get back to throwing it below the zone.

 

Curveball (10% usage)

He didn’t only lose his slider shape in 2019 — Syndergaard’s curveball also changed too. He lost three ticks off of his curveball and saw increases and horizontal and vertical movement. Despite his O-Swing% being down from his career average, its SwStr% and pVAL/C were up from their career averages.

 

2020 Outlook

There are so many directions Syndergaard can go in 2020, but I’m going to take the leap and infer that he’ll regain the feel for his breaking pitches, and we’ll cross our fingers that Jeremy Hefner can get him back to what he was in 2016. I’m inclined to think that he’s better than he was in 2018 and 2019, but I also think he’ll have trouble ever getting back to his 2016 levels of production. My educated guess is a 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 27 K% (although the K%, in particular, may be a tad aggressive).

 

Realistic worst case projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24% K rate in 160 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.00 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 30% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Noah Syndergaard 2020 projection:

3.80 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

Marcus StromanLocked Starter

Nickname: The Fallacy

 

2019 In Review

Stroman started off the first four months of 2019 throwing his slider more than ever before, but he significantly scaled back his slider usage in August and September which gave him a normal slider percentage on the year. It was very nice to see him come back from a down 2018, as he posted his best K% since 2014, with a typical BB% and HR/9. One thing of note was a GB% drop from 62.1% to 53.7%.

 

Sinker (36% usage)

Stroman’s sinker gets changeup movement with sinker velocity. This makes it sounds like a good pitch, but it’s rather unspectacular. While he put up a fantastic .320 xwOBA with his sinker on the year, his .367 wOBAcon did not match his (unsustainably low) .327 xwOBAcon, which is fairly typical for him. As with Syndergaard, these woes are likely to continue since the Mets have such a poor defense.

I don’t think it’s good, but…

 

Slider (31% usage)

With a .188 wOBA, 23 wRC+, and 21.1 pVAL, Stroman’s slider took a step forward. While the biggest reasons for his results are an unsustainably low BABIP and wOBAcon, he also started throwing it more. His overall numbers on his slider aren’t up, and yet it was a Money Pitch in 2019, with a 40.0 O-Swing%, 41.3 Zone%, and 16.5 SwStr%. So while his slider probably isn’t that much better, he might be a better pitcher as a whole since he’s throwing his slider more.

 

Cutter (24% usage)

While it’s not particularly amazing, Stroman’s cutter is another pitch that isn’t his sinker — he bumped up his cutter usage from 15% to 24%. He saw his cutter pVAL fall from 2.3 in 2018 to -2.9 in 2019. Although he lowered his Zone% on his cutter, he made up for it by throwing it to areas where he garners whiffs, so he didn’t see his SwStr% fall despite throwing it more.

Something to keep an eye on is Stroman’s cutter got a lot better after joining the Mets. The change he made was manipulating the shape of his cutter, a la Patrick Corbin with his slider. He nearly doubled its whiff rate and also throwing it in two-strike counts more.

This is one pitch to watch.

 

Changeup (5% usage)

Stroman has been searching for a changeup for a long time. He’s admired the changeup of Jake Arrieta, called Trevor Richardsthe best straight changeup in baseball, desired Zack Greinke‘s, and perhaps most longingly has talked about Kyle Hendricks‘ changeup too. You get the point. He hasn’t had a changeup, but he wants one!

Well in May, he claimed to have found the changeup he’s been looking for for 28 years, but his pitch usage doesn’t seem to suggest that it’s actually the pitch he’s been desiring. On the year, it had a 28.3 O-Swing%, 32.4 Zone%, and 10.3 SwStr% — those are all pretty underwhelming numbers.

Hopefully Stroman has indeed found his changeup, but we shouldn’t be counting on it. This is another pitch to watch.

 

2020 Outlook

On one hand, it’s good to see Stroman moving in the right direction with his cutter and slider. His changeup could be developing too, and he’s moved to the National League. On the other hand, his new defense is atrocious, and he’s also going to be held back by throwing a sinker that gets put into play a ton. Assuming he continues to lean on his cutter and slider, we could see a 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 23 K%.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 18% K rate in 170 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 23% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Marcus Stroman 2020 projection:

4.00 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 20% K rate in 185 IP

 

Steven MatzLocked Starter

Nickname: The Greeter

 

2019 In Review

Every year, Matz strikes out a decent amount of hitters, and doesn’t walk too many hitters. And every year, Matz gives up too many homers. This is why he’s perpetually average, and why it’s hard to love him if he doesn’t move in the right direction in strikeouts, walks, and especially homers. 2019 was no different for him, as he put up a 22 K% for the second straight year and a 1.46 HR/9 or higher for the third straight year.

 

Sinker (51% usage)

There aren’t many starters where I legitimately like their sinkers. The list is basically Sandy Alcantara and Andrew Heaney. While Alcantara thrives by getting whiffs on his sinker arm-side, Heaney gets whiffs upstairs (which is pretty much unheard of). Matz has a fantastic active spin rate on his sinker, but he doesn’t get Heaney’s rising action or Alcantara’s sinking action. Because of this, Matz is sort of a hybrid in that he can get whiffs both upstairs and to his arm-side.

For me, the biggest change for Matz from his 2016 success to his past three years, obviously, is his home runs. His sinker has played a huge part in that. His sinker had a 59.3 GB% in 2016, but has had a 44.5% and below in the past three years. Those have translated into an increase in fly balls, which means more home runs. He’s given up one home run on a sinker against left-handed hitters in his career, so, obviously, this is an issue with right-handed hitters.

Perhaps his success in 2016 was just a fluke, but that was also the last time he featured his four-seam fastball, which is potentially better than his sinker. His pitch location has also drifted from more sinkers elevated on his arm-side to more pitches over the plate. I wish I had an answer, but it’s safest to assume that Matz will continue to struggle here and hope for success.

 

Changeup (20% usage)

Matz’s changeup got barreled up quite a bit in 2019. Its whiff properties have remained intact — its 42.4 O-Swing%, 51.4 Zone%, and 14.6 SwStr% are basically in line with his career averages. The difference is that its home run totals are way up. The thing is, although it’s essentially a Money Pitch, it’s not an especially good pitch. By wOBA (.340) and wRC+ (121), it’s worse than his sinker (career .337 wOBA and 118 wRC+). It’s not just the Mets’ defense either, as his .345 wOBA is in line with his .350 xwOBA since 2016 on his changeup.

There is absolutely no reason that Matz should be throwing his changeup in the zone 51.4% of the time, as he did in 2019. He should bury it more.

 

Curveball (15% usage)

In the past two years, Matz’s curveball has been better than ever. It’s historically been his best strike-getter, and now he’s been getting more whiffs to complement its favorable batted ball profile. Relative to his changeup (career .340 wOBA, 121 wRC+), it’s a superior pitch (.267 wOBA, 73 wRC+). He strikes out more hitters with it, walks fewer hitters with it, induces more ground balls, allows fewer barrels, and its CSW is better.

As with his changeup, he would probably benefit from throwing this out of the zone a touch more — his 36ish O-Swing% in the past two seasons is good enough that he can bury it more, too.

 

Slider (15% usage)

Matz’s slider is steady, if not unspectacular. It had a miserable 24.2 O-Swing% in 2019, and threw it in the zone 49.5% of the time, as with most of his pitches. There’s not much to say here.

 

2020 Outlook

Overall, I’d love to see him throw his secondaries out of the zone more, and start to really hone in on his arm-side with his sinker. It might be long gone, but I’m still really interested in his four-seam fastball, too. In any case, a 4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 23 K% feels about right, but he’s one pitcher who could really benefit from a tweak or two.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.40 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 20% K rate in 130 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Steven Matz 2020 projection:

4.10 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 22% K rate in 160 IP

 

Rick PorcelloLocked Starter

Nickname: The Thief

2019 In Review

Not dissimilar from Matz, Porcello has a decent strikeout rate, a good walk percentage, and an awful home run rate. The dingers absolutely plummeted his value in 2019.

 

Fastball (32% usage)

Since 2016, the whiffs have trended down, and the barrels and slugging percentage have trended up on his fastball. By the contact it gives up (i.e., xwOBAcon), Porcello’s fastball is a lot like that of Yu Darvish or Chase Anderson. It gets a fair amount of whiffs, but it gets so hard that he would probably be best served using it more sparingly as he did in 2016 and 2018.

 

Sinker (26% usage)

His sinker is the opposite of his fastball. It hardly gets any whiffs, but it doesn’t get barreled up as his fastball does. Since 2017, his sinker has a 32.2% CSW, compared to his fastball’s 26.6%. It’s slightly less home run prone, so Porcello should probably throw this more than his fastball, and use his fastball as one of his out pitches. Since 2017, his sinker’s .360 xwOBAcon is significantly better than his fastball’s .445.

 

Slider (19% usage)

At this point, it seems like Porcello’s slider is his best secondary pitch. Unfortunately, it’s not great. He put up a 32.5 O-Swing%, 46.3 Zone%, and 11.1 SwStr% with it last season. There’s never been a pitcher where I don’t want to talk about any of their pitches, but Porcello is testing me.

 

Curveball (13% usage)

Sigh. With a 20.0 O-Swing%, 38.2 Zone%, and 8.9 SwStr%, his curveball isn’t good. It’s like his slider, but worse.

 

Changeup (12% usage)

At this point, it seems that Porcello’s changeup is far and away his worst secondary pitch. Its 25.7 O-Swing%, 48.6 Zone%, and 7.7 SwStr% in 2019 is bad, and its -7.8 pVAL is worse.

 

2020 Outlook

The Mets have what is probably a league-average pitcher in Porcello, but his lack of any upside makes him pretty boring. At best, I see a 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 21 K%. He could be a cool bullpen piece, though.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 17% K rate in 50 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 22% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Rick Porcello 2020 projection:

4.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20% K rate in 130 IP

 

Michael WachaFringe Starter

Nickname: Fela Kuti

2020 Outlook

Unlike Porcello, Wacha has a fantastic secondary pitch in his changeup, which is a Money Pitch, but the rest of his pitches are meh. He’s basically the same pitcher as Porcello, by overall outcomes, but at least he’s got a good pitch.

 

Nickname explanations:

Jacob deGromHellScream. Grom HellScream is from Warcraft. Also, for someone as good as deGrom, he deserves this kind of nickname.

Noah SyndergaardThor. Yeah, we know.

Marcus StromanThe Fallacy. He’s a “Stro-man argument.”

Steven MatzThe Greeter. He’s a welcome Matz.

Rick PorcelloThe Thief. He stole the 2016 Cy Young from Justin Verlander.

Michael WachaFela Kuti. He “walka walka walka many places.”

 

Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Michael Ajeto

Michael writes about the Mariners at Lookout Landing, while doing other analysis here at Pitcher List. You can follow Michael on Twitter @dysthymikey, or you can not.

  • Avatar Curious George says:

    So are you committing to drafting syndergaard this year? I have avoided him for the past couple due to the high price. What is the earliest point overall you would feel comfortable taking Thor? 50 overall? 60? 70?

    • Michael Ajeto Michael Ajeto says:

      I have him as the 74th player going off the board in the past month. There’s reason to be optimistic — a simple pitch usage change would make him much better — but I also worry about his loss in extension and mechanics repeatability. The hangup here is: what kind of changes will the Mets/Hefner make with him? I’m inclined to think that something will change.

      I think he’s a steal at his current ADP, and I could see myself drafting him as early as the 60s.

      Here’s my writeup on Syndergaard from last month:
      http://pitcherlist.wpengine.com/going-deep-lets-troubleshoot-noah-syndergaard/

  • Avatar Dave says:

    Michael, it appears you have Samardzija’s sinker writeup for Syndergaard’s changeup.

    • Michael Ajeto Michael Ajeto says:

      Just noticed that! Going to change that now (this is what happens when I write up the Giants!)

      Thanks for the heads up.

  • Avatar Bryan says:

    Seems odd that with how mediocre the Mets defense is, they would have 3 of their 5 pitchers relying so heavily on sinkers.

    THREE pitchers who prioritize the sinker above all other pitches seems excessive even on a good defensive team.

    • Michael Ajeto Michael Ajeto says:

      And Zack Wheeler just left, too!

      I agree, it’s very silly, but I have a feeling with Jeremy Hefner being hired that this may change.

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