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2020 Mets takeaways: The rotation

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Jacob deGrom was elite. The rest of the rotation, not so much.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

If the 2020 Mets had had a better rotation, they’re probably in the playoffs right now. Instead, the group ran a 5.37 ERA, the fifth-worst mark in the majors, consistently putting the team in insurmountable holes early and squandering a great group of position players.

While the rest of the rotation was mostly horrible, Jacob deGrom maintained the excellence we’ve become accustomed to over the past three seasons. Despite having to battle through a late-season hamstring injury, deGrom posted a 2.38 ERA, a career-best 13.76 K/9, and a 2.26 FIP. He probably won’t win his third consecutive Cy Young this season, but that’s much more due to the shortened season rather than any decline in performance. That COVID robbed us of the viewing pleasure of another ~140 deGrom innings this year is perhaps the biggest disappointment of this season.

The only other consistent starter the Mets had this year was Rick Porcello. We panned the signing when the former Cy Young winner was brought in last winter and his 5.64 ERA lines up with that assessment. FIP, which was designed before batted ball data was widely available, is kinder to Porcello, but Statcast’s predictive stats suggest that Porcello’s surface level results were essentially in line with the underlying performance data. To his credit, Porcello did manage to take the ball every fifth day and provide some innings, but that’s not what you’re looking for out of your de facto second starter.

Aside from Porcello and deGrom, no other Mets starter logged more than 50 innings, as the planned rotation fell apart in a hurry. Noah Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery before the season, and Marcus Stroman tore his calf in the spring before opting out and never appearing in a game. Michael Wacha, who was also brought in as a free agent last offseason, struggled mightily, with a 7.20 ERA in the 30 innings he managed when healthy. Steven Matz, meanwhile, totally imploded, running an ERA over 10 and struggling with both injury and greatly reduced stuff.

This series of unfortunate events prompted the Mets to turn to a number of unexpected options, most of whom performed poorly. Robert Gsellman pitched only 9.1 innings in four starts and ran an 8.68 ERA. Walker Lockett had a 7.50 ERA in his one start. Corey Oswalt actually looked better than he has before in his one start, but struggled in the bullpen and missed a month with biceps tendinitis. Seth Lugo was moved to the rotation and while he looked good in bursts, he finished the season with an ERA over seven (though most of those runs came in two particularly poor outings).

The lone bright spot was David Peterson. A first round pick in 2017, Peterson debuted and made nine starts (along with one odd relief appearance) with a 3.44 ERA. The peripherals were significantly worse—7.25 K/9, 4.35 BB/9, 4.52 FIP—but he generally did a good job of limiting hard contact and looked the part of the back-end starter we profiled him as. More a flickering torch than a blazing beacon in terms of bright spots, but Peterson can safely be penciled in to the back of the rotation for next season, where he should be able to provide innings and a mid-4 ERA.

Moving forward, the rotation picture is just as murky as it was in 2020. deGrom and Peterson anchor the top and bottom respectively, but there are essentially no other reliable options currently on the roster; Syndergaard won’t be back til midseason, Porcello and Stroman are free agents, Wacha will probably have his option declined, and Matz looked like he was toast. There’s an interesting decision to be made regarding Seth Lugo, but he’s been an elite reliever and it’s difficult to justify moving him out of that role given the significant issues there.

For whoever is in charge of putting together the 2021 team, this will likely be the most challenging area of the roster to manage. Re-signing Marcus Stroman should be a priority, and bringing in at least three arms seems like the minimum requirement. Hopefully whoever is on the mound for the Mets next year can perform better and give the team a chance at contention.