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Mets Player Performance Meter: Pitchers, April 1-11

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A quick review of how the Mets’ pitchers fared over the first week of the 2021 season.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

For the 2021 season, Amazin’ Avenue is bringing back another weekly feature that was absent during the abbreviated 2020 season: player performance meters. A quick refresher regarding what the player meters are all about: each week I will evaluate every Mets player’s performance from the previous week, assigning an up arrow for a good performance, a side arrow for average performance, a down arrow for bad performance, a fireball for exceptionally good performance, and a poop emoji for exceptionally bad performance. These posts will run every Monday—one for position players and one for pitchers—and cover the players’ performances from the previous Monday through Sunday. Starting next week, you will also be able to see how the player fared the week before compared to the current week.

These meters are meant as a quick birds-eye overview of how each player (and by extension the team) fared the previous week. There will be plenty of other coverage that features more in-depth analysis, but think of these posts as fun little snapshots. They are also subjective. While a player’s stat line for the week will be the major driving force behind their assessment, there are also other factors to consider. A player may be hitting .100 for the week, but if one of his only hits is a walk-off homer, then he is not likely to earn a poop emoji for the week, no matter how poorly he played otherwise. Similarly, a pitcher’s ERA for the week may look ugly, but if you break it down into one good appearance and one poor one that inflates the overall average, he may end up with an average grade for the week. As I think the old adage goes, the poop emoji is in the eyes of the beholder, so I also encourage the community to share their own opinions in the comments of these posts; they always make for fun and interesting discussion. Enjoy!

Due to the fact that the Mets have only played five of their nine scheduled games to start 2021, Jacob deGrom is the only starter to have pitched twice in 2021, but the first turn through the rotation has featured strong performances from the starters with the exception of David Peterson, who got touched up a bit by the Phillies. The Mets have not yet needed a fifth starter, but Joey Lucchesi has performed well out of the bullpen, which has otherwise been a mixed bag in the first ten days of the season. Other than Lucchesi, Miguel Castro has been the standout reliever of the group.

As I wrote so many times in 2019, we might as well rename the pitching meter the Jacob deGrom meter. It’s at the point where I have a fireball penciled in to my table next to deGrom’s name every week and his first two starts of 2021 have been no exception. “Routine brilliance” is a phrase that Gary Cohen has used to describe deGrom’s performance and as the English language fails to provide enough variety to come up with new ways to shower accolades upon deGrom, I think that phrase is one of the more on the nose ones I have heard. deGrom has struck out 21 batters in his first 14 innings of 2021. Ho-hum. He has only allowed one run over his first two starts. Ho-hum. He is the most valuable player on the Mets (0.8 fWAR). Ho-hum. And the Mets have lost both games he has pitched. Ho-hum.

So far the only Mets pitcher to actually get a win is Marcus Stroman, who earned the win for a very solid performance in Tuesday’s 8-4 victory over the Phillies, in which he gave up just one run over six innings, striking out three batters and walking two. Stroman put forward exactly the type of game you’d expect from him—low strikeout totals, but inducing ground balls like a well-oiled machine. In fact, 80% of the balls put in play against Stroman were on the ground, which leads Mets pitchers with more than an inning pitched in 2021. Unfortunately, Stroman’s second start of the season was cut short yesterday due to the weather and he likely will not pitch again until his turn in the rotation comes up.

Taijuan Walker pitched very well in his Mets debut on Thursday for the Mets’ home opener. His performance was somewhat eclipsed by the controversial walk-off hit-by-pitch that ended the game, but the Mets are not even in the position to win in the first place if it wasn’t for Walker, who tossed five scoreless innings before giving up two runs in the sixth—the only blemish on his day. Walker struck out four batters and walked two. But the biggest story out of his Mets debut was his velocity jump. His fastball touched 97 mph and sat in the mid-90s, even after any potential first inning adrenaline wore off. His average fastball velocity of 95.4 mph on Thursday represents an uptick of over 2 mph from his 2020 average fastball velocity. If that jump is here to stay, it could portend big things from Walker in 2021.

Thursday’s home opener was also a time of redemption for Trevor May, who had a disastrous outing in his first Mets appearance, taking the loss on Opening Day after failing to get out of the eighth inning and ultimately being charged with two earned runs. Since then, however, he has two scoreless innings to his name—one in each of the Mets’ two wins. As advertised, he leads the Mets relievers in strikeouts with four in 2 13 total innings of work.

Aaron Loup was the reliever tasked with getting out of the jam started by May on Opening Day and he failed to do so. He was brought in to face the lefty Bryce Harper with the bases loaded and promptly hit him with a pitch to force in a run. Because of the three-batter rule, Loup had to stay in to face J.T. Realmuto, who singled to drive in the tying run. The Luis Guillorme throwing error that allowed the inning to completely get away after that was not Loup’s fault and none of the runs that scored were charged to his account, but the fact remains that he did not do his job in his only Mets appearance so far.

Edwin Díaz earned the win in Thursday’s home opener, tossing a scoreless ninth that featured a walk and a strikeout prior to the Mets walking it off in the bottom of the frame. His second appearance of the season, however, did not go so smoothly. After Jacob deGrom did all he could do on Saturday in eight brilliant innings, the Mets were nevertheless down 1-0 going into the ninth. Díaz was tasked with keeping the game close to give the Mets a chance at another walk-off, but he was unable to do so. He gave up two insurance runs to the Marlins before requiring Jeurys Familia to bail him out to record the final out of the inning.

Familia did successfully retire the only batter he faced on Thursday via the strikeout. His appearance in Tuesday’s victory, however, was a poor one. He gave up two runs, but only one of them was earned due to a throwing error by Pete Alonso. However, the Mets were up big at the time and Familia was able to close the game out without allowing it to get away.

Miguel Castro has pitched in both Mets victories and has played a pivotal role in the Mets bullpen in the early going due to Seth Lugo’s absence. Lugo is set to return sometime in mid-May, but until then, Castro will likely see a fair bit of work in the seventh—and sometimes eighth—innings of close games. Although many protested deGrom’s early hook on Opening Day, Castro did his part in the seventh, pitching a scoreless frame before things went south in the eighth. He did give up a run in Tuesday’s outing, but was able to stop the bleeding given some cushion to work with. He rebounded with a scoreless seventh on Thursday, keeping the Mets within striking distance. Importantly, Castro has yet to walk a batter this season. Control is something Castro has struggled with in the past, so maintaining low walk totals will be a key to his continued success.

The only Mets starter to pitch poorly so far has been David Peterson, who was tagged for four first-inning runs in Wednesday’s loss to the Phillies. To Peterson’s credit, he did settle down after the first and pitch three scoreless frames after that, but all told, he was charged with six runs in four innings of work after being pulled in the fifth without retiring a batter in the frame. With two on in the fifth and the Phillies leading 4-1, Jacob Barnes was brought in to relieve Peterson and gave up a three-run homer to J.T. Realmuto, closing the book on Peterson and putting the game out of reach for the Mets. After a fielding error by Guillorme allowed another man to reach, Barnes did retire three straight batters after that, but the Realmuto homer puts a black mark on Barnes’ only outing so far.

Dellin Betances followed Barnes and gave up another run in the sixth inning. Betances struggled with his control, hitting a batter with a pitch and then walking the next batter before recording an out. The run ultimately came on a double steal followed by a run-scoring groundout. Betances limited the damage, but his shaky control and diminished velocity persistent from spring training were huge red flags. He topped out at just 93 mph and averaged just 92 mph with his fastball. He was placed on the injured list with a right shoulder impingement the next day. Trevor Hildenberger was called up to replace Betances and has not yet pitched. Robert Gsellman, the last reliever to make the team out of camp, also has not appeared in a game yet.

Perhaps overlooked in Wednesday’s otherwise ugly loss was the performance of Joey Lucchesi, who tossed two scoreless innings in mop-up duty and looked very solid doing so. His patented “churve” was working and he struck out three batters in the outing while walking none and giving up just one hit. Given the off days and cancelations so far in the schedule, the Mets have not yet needed a fifth starter, but they will need one eventually and the hope is that Wednesday’s performance is a preview of what we can expect from Lucchesi. The Mets have also hinted at using an opener when Lucchesi does eventually pitch, which may give Jacob Barnes an opportunity to show what he can do when starting an inning clean—a plan that was executed well in spring training. All Lucchesi and Barnes will need to do is hold down the fort until Carlos Carrasco’s return (he is said to be progressing well), at which point perhaps Lucchesi can continue to provide value as a long man out of the bullpen.