Despite the fact that neither Noah Syndergaard nor Carlos Carrasco threw a single inning in the first half of the 2021 season and the Mets have had to patch things together with the back half of their rotation time and time again, much of the reason the Mets went into the All-Star Break in first place in the National League East was because of their pitching. The Mets had a top five pitching staff in baseball in the first half by pretty much any measure. Their 3.43 staff ERA was fourth in baseball in the first half. Their 12.1 staff fWAR was fifth. Their 9.89 strikeouts per nine innings was fourth. Their DRA (4.16) and DRA- (90) were fourth. Of course, all of that is just a little bit easier to accomplish when the best pitcher in baseball is on your team. But, both Taijuan Walker and Marcus Stroman were among the top ten starting pitchers in the National League. And the bullpen, which had been an area of weakness so often for the Mets in recent years, has been a strength in 2021.
There is no logical place to begin other than with Jacob deGrom, who has earned every bit of the deGOAT fireball emoji for his first half performance, despite multiple injury scares. It wasn’t until after his very last start of the first half on July 7th that his ERA rose above 1.00. Let me say that again. It took until July 7th for Jacob deGrom’s ERA to rise above 1.00. At some point, you just run out of things to say. His ERA+ is 364. For reference, his ERA+ in his 2018 Cy Young Award season was 218, which led the majors. Once again, right now it’s 364. He continues to do things no one has ever done. Oh, and he’s striking out more hitters than ever, to the tune of 14.3 per nine innings—the highest rate of his career. His 4.8 fWAR in the first half is more than twice that of anyone else on the Mets. A refreshing change this year is that although the Mets offense was not very good overall in the first half, at least they have given deGrom enough run support such that the Mets win most of the time when he pitches. He’s already notched seven wins in the first half of 2021, in contrast to the eleven wins he had over the entire 2019 season and the ten wins he had over the entire 2018 season. Although he is currently on the injured list, he has been doing light throwing at Citi Field and the hope is that this latest ailment is minor, just like the others have been this season. Because the simple truth is that the Mets cannot hope to make a stretch run without a healthy Jacob deGrom, regardless of what they do at the trading deadline.
deGrom elected not to participate in the All-Star Game, likely in an effort to stay healthy. But Taijuan Walker represented the Mets in the game. It was a worthy addition. His 2.50 first half ERA was eighth among qualified starting pitchers in the National League. He was the Mets’ most valuable pitcher in the first half aside from deGrom, accruing 2.3 fWAR. He finished the first half with a 7-3 record in his 16 starts. It’s incredible to recall that Walker was unsigned until the end of February and that the Mets were the only team to make him an offer. One shudders to think where the Mets would be now if they hadn’t made him that offer.
Right up there with deGrom and Walker anchoring the top of the rotation this season is Marcus Stroman, who returned to the Mets on a qualifying offer after opting out of the 2020 season. If not for the incredibly strong crop of starting pitching in the National League this year, Stroman would have likely generated All-Star buzz in his own right. He threw the most innings of any Mets starter in the first half (98 2⁄3 IP) and pitched to a 2.74 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. In 2021 so far, Stroman has continued to do the things that have made him successful his whole career, posting a 52.3% ground ball rate in the first half and fielding his position as well as any pitcher in baseball.
Beyond the top 3 rotation stalwarts (who are the only three to pitch enough innings this year to qualify for the ERA title), the Mets were forced to use a lot of different starters due to injuries. David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi, now both currently on the injured list, pitched the most innings of the group. Both had uneven results in the first half and unfortunately both of them seemed to suffer their injuries just when they were beginning to figure things out. Peterson especially was maddeningly inconsistent following his strong showing as a rookie in 2020. There were times when he looked unhittable; a first half highlight for Peterson was his 7 1⁄3 strong innings against the Rays in May. But there was a period in early June where Peterson had back-to-back dreadful starts against last place teams in the Diamondbacks and Orioles when he may have lost his spot in the rotation if the Mets had any alternative to replace him. But Peterson bounced back, putting together three strong starts in a row—two of which were quality starts—before getting lit up by the Braves on June 30 and leaving that game due to an oblique injury. He was due to start throwing off a mound soon when we learned that he will require surgery to fix a Jones fracture in his foot—a freak injury he suffered while walking in the clubhouse, which is putting any return at all this season in jeopardy. All told, Peterson posted a 5.54 ERA in 66 2⁄3 innings in the first half.
Unfortunately Joey Lucchesi will also not be pitching again this season. The week before David Peterson went down in late June, Lucchesi was diagnosed with a torn UCL and had Tommy John surgery. Lucchesi appeared in eleven games in the first half, eight of them as a starter. In 38 1⁄3 innings, the churve-throwing lefty who inspired the Mets’ 2021 dugout celebration posted 4.46 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. Although Lucchesi was never able to go very deep into games, he had been in quite the groove before the devastating UCL diagnosis. From May 22 until June 18 (his final start before his surgery), he went on a run of five straight starts where he surrendered one run or fewer. It was a huge blow to Lucchesi and the Mets, who are now more desperate than ever for starting pitching help.
One of the only reasons why the Mets have not been completely and utterly buried by their starting pitching injuries has been Tylor Megill turning out to be such a pleasant surprise at the big league level in the early going. Although Megill did not go deep enough into the game to factor into the decision in any of his four starts in the first half, the Mets won all four of those games. Arguably even more impressive than his 3.50 ERA over his first 18 big league innings is Megill’s 13 K/9 rate. His stuff is incredibly impressive and clearly plays at the major league level. With Carrasco still rehabbing and deGrom out for the time being, Megill is essential to the Mets’ success in the second half, even if they make additions to the rotation at the trade deadline.
The other reason the Mets have been able to stay afloat despite the injuries has been the bullpen, which had a very strong first half. Although closer Edwin Díaz has struggled mightily lately (notably since the league began policing foreign substance use by pitchers), his overall performance in the first half this season was strong. He posted a 3.25 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 36 innings of work in 35 games. He collected 19 saves and the vast majority of his poor outings came in non-save situations. Although his strikeout rate remains high (12.50 per nine innings in the first half), he has walked too many batters (3.50 walks per nine innings in the first half) and that has been his bugaboo this season as opposed to the home run, which is what plagued him in 2019. In fact, Díaz did not give up a single home run in the first half. While that has notably changed between the start of the second half and this writing, the backbreaking home run he surrendered against the Pirates was on a ball that had an xBA of .040. That does not excuse all of his failings of late, but it is at least a reason not to be terribly concerned about home runs specifically moving forward. There are other reasons for concern, but the fact remains that Díaz was the Mets’ most valuable reliever in the first half, putting up 1.5 fWAR.
The Mets’ second-most valuable reliever in the first half was Aaron Loup (1.2 fWAR), which is perhaps not what one would have expected going into the season. But Loup has been a godsend for the Mets since he was signed to a one-year, $3 million deal in late-January to not much fanfare. He has been indispensable to the Mets in the first half, doing everything from coming in to record a key out of a left-handed batter to pitching multiple innings to even serving as an opener in the last series before the All-Star Break. He led the team in holds in the first half with eight. He will continue to be a key piece of the Mets’ bullpen moving forward.
Miguel Castro was also key to the Mets’ success in the first half, notching just one fewer hold than Loup with seven holds and also serving as an opener on more than one occasion. Although Castro had his rocky periods, particularly toward the end of the first half, he exceeded expectations, posting a 3.86 ERA and keeping his walk numbers down compared to what they were during his time in Baltimore.
Trevor May rounds out the triumvirate of relievers the Mets were relying on in the late innings to serve as a bridge to Edwin Díaz and he had a solid first half, posting a 3.58 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. May matches Castro with seven holds in 35 appearances. He also had two wins and a save. Like many of the other Mets relievers (and relievers in general, honestly), May has gone through his rough patches, but he has been one of the more consistent late-inning arms the Mets have had this season. And unlike concerns with Díaz and Castro with regard to sticky stuff, it doesn’t seem like May’s numbers have followed the same pattern of decline since enforcement began.
Moving beyond the bullpen inner circle of trust, we have Jeurys Familia, who may not be looking quite like his 2015-2016 self, but he’s looking a lot more like his 2018 self than his 2019 self, which is good news for the Mets. There have been times this season where he has looked just about as dominant and unhittable as the days of old, but there have also been stressful innings with traffic on the bases too. Sometimes that’s just a Jeurys Familia season for you. All of that evens out to a respectable 3.76 ERA (which is identical to his FIP, interestingly enough) over 26 1⁄3 innings of work in the first half this season. Familia also didn’t quite reach the number of innings as some of the other relievers that have been in the bullpen all year because he spent some time on the injured list with a hip issue. Luckily, unlike some of the other pitching injuries the Mets have had this season, it wasn’t serious.
So since I’m talking about serious injuries, I suppose now is the time to get into some of those. In addition to deGrom’s minor issues and Lucchesi and Peterson’s major ones, the bullpen has suffered some major blows this season as well, mostly to guys serving as long men and spot starters. After having a dreadful spring training and almost not making the team out of camp, it looked like Robert Gsellman was going to be a nice story this season, bouncing back from a horrific 2020 season. He pitched to a 3.71 ERA over 26 2⁄3 innings and was contributing a lot in long relief for the Mets. However, he made a spot start against the Nationals in a doubleheader in DC in mid-June and almost immediately hit the injured list after that with a torn lat. He is not expected to return any time soon, if at all.
Tommy Hunter is another guy that could have been a fun story in the first half. He still is, honestly, given his legendary postgame presser after his first big league hit, which resulted in him doing a little jig at first base. He was one of many pitchers who gave the Mets innings when they desperately needed them. And he pitched eight scoreless innings over four games before throwing out his back and never being seen again. In fact, even as he remains unlikely to pitch again this year and still on the 60-day injured list, he was traded (likely as a salary offset) for Rich Hill. The Tommy Hunter era was brief, but it was wonderful.
Sean Reid-Foley is another pitcher who had a promising start impeded by injury. A product of the Steven Matz trade, Reid-Foley burst on the scene for the Mets in late April, giving them 2-3 innings of relief per appearance, striking out guys at an impressive clip, and displaying his Kimbrel-esque stance on the mound. Unfortunately, a couple of really bad outings for Reid-Foley in June ballooned his ERA to 5.23 over 20 2⁄3 total innings in the first half, which doesn’t really reflect how well he pitched the majority of the time. He was placed on the injured list with right elbow inflammation retroactive to July 1 and we have yet to hear anything about a timetable for his return.
Familiar face and perennial seventh starter Corey Oswalt also fell victim to injury this year, as the Mets watched their pitching depth evaporate before their eyes. Oswalt appeared in three games—two as a reliever and one as a starter—and pitched to a 3.48 ERA over 10 1⁄3 innings before hitting the injured list with right knee inflammation just before the All-Star Break.
This resulted in Robert Stock, who the Mets picked up on waivers from the Cubs in late June, making his first start as a Met on July 7th. He gave up two runs on four hits over four innings of work in a Mets loss, striking out five batters and walking two. He made just one appearance after that (which will be covered in the second half pitching meter) and pulled a hamstring and is now out for the year. And so it goes.
Remember when Jordan Yamamoto appeared in two games for the Mets? Pepperidge Farm remembers. He was acquired as crucial pitching depth for the Mets in the offseason and likely would have been a big part of the team during the entire first half, given all of their injury woes, if he himself had not been a part of that. He appeared in one game as a reliever on May 5, giving up one run on four hits in 2 2⁄3 innings. He then started a game on May 23 and got lit up for five runs over four innings (only two of them were earned) before leaving the game early with shoulder discomfort. He has been on the injured list since. And so it goes.
Lather, rinse, repeat for Thomas Szapucki, who made his major league debut in less than ideal circumstances in what ended up to be a 20-2 loss to the Braves, had to wear it for 3 2⁄3 innings, and then got season-ending ulnar nerve transposition surgery (which both Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz have had in the past). And so it goes.
That still doesn’t take the cake though. Dellin Betances pitched just one inning this year before never being seen again. He was placed on the injured list after his first (and only) appearance of the year on April 7 with a right shoulder impingement. After pitching a couple of rehab games (which did not go well), we learned in late June that Betances would be getting season-ending shoulder surgery. It’s a shame for Betances, who was looking to have a bounce back year after 2020 and some redemption in general for his Mets tenure. But that did not come to pass.
Believe it or not, the Mets did actually have a couple of relievers who were previously injured return from injury in the first half. Shocking, I know. But it happened! Namely, this has been somewhat of a banner year for Drew Smith, who lost his entire 2019 season to Tommy John surgery, was shuttled up and down from the alternate site in 2020, and lost a chance at making the Opening Day bullpen because of shoulder inflammation this season. But Smith was activated from the injured list in May and put together quite the first half for the Mets, posting a 2.92 ERA and a 3-1 record in 24 2⁄3 innings across 19 games. He also served as an opener on one occasion. If he can remain healthy, he is a guy that will continue to see high leverage innings on occasion and opportunities to pitch multiple innings in long relief.
The Mets dearly missed Seth Lugo’s ability to serve as a multi-inning fireman during much of the first half. But he was activated at the end of May and has picked up mostly where he left off, to the tune of a 2.65 ERA over 17 innings in the first half with five holds and one save. Lugo had surgery in February to remove loose bodies from his elbow and has not been quite the same since his return. Still, “not quite the same Seth Lugo” is still a pretty darn good reliever to have.
With the brief injury recovery success story portion of the program already at a close, we now move to the “guys who are no longer with the organization” portion of the program. Jacob Barnes threw the most innings of anyone in this category, having made the Opening Day bullpen after the Mets claimed him off waivers in October from the Angels. Barnes did give the Mets some quality innings, but was blown up a few times and had a string of bad outings that resulted in him being designated for assignment in June. The Mets then traded Barnes to the Blue Jays for prospect Troy Miller. All told, Barnes posted a 6.27 ERA in the first half over 18 2⁄3 innings of work.
Jerad Eickhoff appeared in three games—once as a reliever and twice as a starter—in the first half. Although his first start went okay, his second start decidedly did not. He gave up hard contact in all three appearances, but it just so happened that the hard contact in his second start resulted in home runs. Several of them. We’ll cover his second-half appearances in that meter, but Eickhoff was designated for assignment last week.
The side-arming righty Trevor Hildenberger was designated for assignment in May after just two appearances for the Mets in April. The first one was a scoreless inning, but he got lit up in the second appearance during the Mets’ disastrous series against the Cubs in Chicago. He was claimed off waivers by the Giants and is currently pitching for their Triple-A affiliate.
Stephen Tarpley earns the infamous distinction of having the shortest stint of any pitcher for the Mets this season, as he failed to retire a batter in his only appearance in the first half. He had been on the injured list in the minor leagues and announced via his Instagram page that he would be getting some sort of surgery, but the exact nature of that injury and procedure is not known. The Mets released Tarpley on July 17.
Meanwhile, two pitchers who saw some innings toward the end of the first half with the big league club who are likely to continue to do so in the second half are Yennsy Díaz and Nick Tropeano. Díaz appeared in six games and posted a 4.50 ERA in eight innings in the first half, filling in when Familia was injured.
After a shaky stint with the Giants in the first half, Nick Tropeano was designated for assignment by San Francisco in June and claimed by the Mets. Tropeano’s only appearance with the Mets in the first half came on July 9 just before the All-Star Break when he pitched two innings in a blowout victory over the Pirates, surrendering one run in the process. Unless the Mets do more in the way of pitching reinforcements at the trading deadline, the likelihood Tropeano continues to see innings in the big leagues in the second half is high.