With Opening Day less than two weeks away, the Mets still have an open spot in their starting rotation. We already know that Noah Syndergaard is slated to start the opener, and Jacob deGrom will get the start in the second game of the season. Those two might have been flipped if not for deGrom’s lower back tightness early in spring training, but the duo is about as good as it gets in all of baseball.
Jason Vargas, a relatively late addition to the club, is pencilled into one of the remaining spots in the rotation, which seems perfectly reasonable given the way things went for the Mets’ staff last year. And there doesn’t seem to have been any inclination by the team to do anything other than put Matt Harvey into the rotation to begin the year, though his encouraging velocity early in spring starts hasn’t held up as those outings have gone on.
And that leaves two pitchers vying for the vacant spot in the five-man rotation: Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. Both have had success at the major league level, with Matz at his best clearly having been the better pitcher than Wheeler at his. But that success isn’t all that recent for either one of the two, and both have had a hard time staying healthy, having thrown a combined 153 innings last year.
The results in those innings weren’t good, either. Matz racked up a 6.08 ERA and 5.05 FIP in his 66.2 innings, struck out merely 6.48 per nine, and gave up 1.62 home runs per nine, a major spike from his previous home run rates at the major league level. He wasn’t alone in having that happen to him last year, but the drop in strikeouts certainly didn’t make things any easier. His season ended early, and he had surgery for ulnar nerve irritation in his left elbow.
Things went slightly better for Wheeler, who pitched 86.1 innings with a 5.21 ERA and 5.03 FIP. His strikeout and walk rates were similar to the ones he posted in 2014—his most recent season pitching in the big leagues until last year—but like Matz, his home run rate skyrocketed, ending up at 1.56 per nine. A stress reaction cut his season short, and his last appearance came on July 22.
Given the way things went last year and the brevity of both of these players’ seasons, comparing career numbers might be useful. Wheeler owns a 3.90 ERA and 4.06 FIP in his big league career, while Matz is at a 3.99 ERA and 3.89 FIP. Just by those numbers, it still seems like a coin flip. And according to Brooks Baseball, both pitchers threw at slightly lower velocities last year than they had in their most recent previous major league seasons.
If it’s going to come down to spring training stats, Wheeler thus far has a 6.75 ERA, but he’s racked up 11 strikeouts and walked just two opposing batters in 8.0 innings of work. Matz has an uglier 10.80 ERA thanks in large part to a couple of really bad spring starts, but he’s struck out eight and walked eight in 10.0 innings. Neither line is encouraging, but Wheeler’s has objectively been a bit better.
Either pitcher could be optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas to begin the season to be the first pitcher up in the event that the Mets have a need at the major league level. Faced with that reality, it wouldn’t be shocking for whichever pitcher it is to be open to pitching out of the major league bullpen. And making the rotation competition this simple—Matz vs. Wheeler with nobody else in the picture—might not even be giving the team its best shot at success to start the season.
It’s a little ironic that health might have finally allowed the Mets to get their long-sought-after five-man rotation to make a turn through the rotation together for the first time—but performance is now the reason that it might not happen. But given the state of everything, the team could justifiably choose either pitcher to begin the year in the rotation. For what it’s worth, I think I’d go with Wheeler. I just won’t be outraged if the team goes with Matz.
You must choose between Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler for one spot in the starting rotation. Who you got?
This poll is closed