Before the 2012 season began, even the most optimistic Mets fans did not think the team's starting rotation would be a major strength.
It was hard to believe that Johan Santana would be ready to take the mound in April after his return was postponed time and again during the 2011 season before he was officially shut down after a brief rehab stint in the minor leagues. R.A. Dickey was sure to be great, but Jon Niese was still a pitcher whose results had not yet lived up to his peripherals. Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee were seen as league-average starters for the back of the rotation but not much more. And if any of the starting five should go down to injury, the Mets' backup plan options were not all that enticing.
But as the team prepares to begin the second half of the season tonight in Atlanta, its rotation has been an outstanding surprise. As a group, the Mets' rotation has a 3.55 ERA that ranks third in Major League Baseball. Its 3.66 FIP ranks fourth, and its 3.63 xFIP ranks third. In short, the rotation has legitimately been very good through a little more than half of its games.
A great deal of the rotation's success thus far can be credited to its health, which obviously took a blow this week with Dillon Gee's pair of medical procedures to clear and repair damage caused by a blood clot. Prior to that, though, Pelfrey was the only starting pitcher on the team to experience a significant injury as he underwent Tommy John surgery and was put on the shelf for the rest of the season. After a brief collection of starts by the likes of Miguel Batista and Jeremy Hefner, Chris Young made a surprisingly quick return to the Mets after he underwent the same shoulder surgery that Santana did just about a year before he came back.
Johan Santana managed to throw the organization's first no-hitter in June, and he has looked much like himself over his first 17 starts. He's thrown 102.2 innings with a 3.24 ERA, 8.68 K/9, and 2.89 BB/9. He looked shaky heading into the break, but considering his status for the season was uncertain even during spring training, he has been great.
Dickey, of course, has surpassed the high expectations he set with a pair of excellent seasons in 2010 and 2011. While the rest of the baseball world is just starting to appreciate Dickey, we knew Dickey before he got big. In 77 appearances with the Mets, 75 of which were starts, Dickey now has a 2.92 ERA, and he looks better than ever with a 2.40 ERA and improved strikeout and walk rates so far this season.
Jon Niese had improved his season to the point of a 3.35 ERA before he got shelled by the Cubs in the last game before the break, but he still has a 3.73 ERA to begin the second half. He has traditionally struggled or gotten hurt down the stretch, but his results so far have been encouraging.
Gee was a very pleasant throughout the first half, and his 4.10 ERA is higher than he probably deserved. His 3.68 FIP and 3.50 xFIP are the result of drastically improved strikeout and walk rates, and it's a shame that he won't get a chance to pitch for at least six weeks and possibly the rest of the season. In March, I had hoped Gee would begin the season in Buffalo, and I'm glad to say I was very wrong about him this year.
And last but not least, Young has stepped in to do a very good job in Pelfrey's absence. His biggest problem has always been staying healthy, and he's traditionally issued far too many walks. Through six starts with the Mets this year, though, he's kept the walks to an absolute minimum and has a 3.41 ERA to show for it. While his 5.22 xFIP may be alarming — the metric assumes pitchers will all regress to the league average rate of home runs per fly ball — Young has significantly outperformed xFIP in his career.
The continued success of the Mets' rotation depends on its health. Having lost Pelfrey very early in the season and now Gee, the team is already attempting to patch a hole with either Batista or Hefner before it possibly gives way to top prospect Matt Harvey. If they need to reach down to the minors for another starter at any point this year, their options might start to get a little hazy.