The Mets entered the 2016 season with high hopes, based largely on the strength of their starting pitching. Their starting rotation was supposed to feature four young guns in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, with Bartolo Colon holding Zack Wheeler’s place until his return in the second half of the season.
Of course, things didn’t go quite according to plan. Of those six pitchers, only Syndergaard and Colon were left standing by season’s end, after a series of injuries decimated the rest of the rotation. As a result, the Mets’ rotation was not able to live up to the hope that it could be the best in franchise history. But it still came surprisingly close.
Despite all of the injuries to their starters, the Mets still had one of the best rotations in baseball. Mets starters posted a combined 18.3 fWAR, the most in the majors and more than those of the Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers, who finished with the second-, third-, and fourth-highest totals, respectively.
Of the 55 starting rotations in franchise history, the Mets’ 2016 rotation ranks ninth in WAR. The eight rotations ahead of theirs were anchored by either Tom Seaver or Dwight Gooden. The 2016 rotation’s performance is even more impressive when put in proper historical context. As the game becomes more specialized and starting pitchers throw fewer innings, it is increasingly difficult for starters to accumulate large WAR totals, as WAR is a counting stat that rewards higher workloads.
This year’s Mets starters threw the six-fewest innings and faced the fourth-fewest batters in team history. For that rotation to rank in the top 10 in WAR is quite an accomplishment. If you measure the rotation based only on efficiency—i.e., WAR per batter faced—it moves up to third on the franchise leader board.
Batter for batter, only the 1988 and 1990 Mets rotations were better than this year’s. The 1988 rotation featured Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling, and Bobby Ojeda. In 1990, Gooden, Cone, Fernandez, and Frank Viola occupied the top four spots, with a declining Darling and Ojeda splitting the remaining innings.
Mets starters posted a strong 3.61 ERA in 2016. When adjusted for the league, park, and year in which they played, that ERA ranks 10th in franchise history. The reason why fWAR rates this year’s rotation so highly, however, is because of its outstanding fielding-independent metrics. The 2016 rotation’s 8.07 K/9 were the most in team history, while its 2.44 BB/9 were the sixth-fewest. As a result, the starters’ 3.58 FIP, when adjusted, was the fourth-best mark in team history.
Simply put, the Mets’ rotation was excellent this year. That’s a credit not only to Syndergaard, deGrom, and Matz, who, when healthy, were the effective starters the Mets needed them to be; it’s also a credit to Colon, Robert Gsellman, and Seth Lugo, who went above and beyond what the Mets could have possibly expected from them. Given how good this year’s rotation was after being rocked by injuries, it’s exciting to consider how good the Mets’ rotation could be next year if all of their starters are healthy.