If you went back in time to the beginning of the year and showed yourself the basic numbers that David Peterson was going to put up in 2022, you’d probably think to yourself that the young lefty starter was about to undergo an encouraging season. Pressed into an almost permanent role in the starting rotation for much of the season thanks to injuries, Peterson made 19 total starts and put up a 3.86 ERA in that sample of games, a marked improvement over his 5.54 ERA in 15 2021 starts. As a starter, he also struck out an impressive 10.9 batters per nine innings thanks in large part to an impressive, sweeping slider that was capable of making batters look silly when it was working. These factors make Peterson a guy who will likely have an important role to play on the 2023 squad—who may, in fact, be given a permanent role in the starting rotation entering the season, given the departures of three starting pitchers in free agency.
However, what those numbers fail to tell you is that watching David Peterson pitch this year made me want to jam my eyes out with a rusty fork.
Is this too harsh a thing to say about a pitcher who, on an objective level, provided some measure of stability to a starting staff that had its share of injury challenges and who made legitimate contributions to a 101-win team? Probably. And yet, we can’t make an honest evaluation of Peterson’s performance this year without acknowledging all the ways in which he continued to be infuriatingly inconsistent. These factors did not stop Peterson from having his bright moments, but they do make him a pitcher that the Mets should be hesitant to place too much faith in as a building block moving forward.
Historically, one of Peterson’s biggest problems has been with his control. And that continued in 2022, which is shown in part by his continued high walk rate (4.1 BB/9, 10.6% BB%). But of course, those numbers only show part of the story for why his lack of command was such a problem for Peterson in 2022. After all, being able to throw strikes is not solely about limiting walks; it’s also about getting ahead of hitters and controlling the overall tempo of the game, and his failures to do these things were altogether far more frustrating than his propensity for simply issuing a few too many free passes.
Perhaps the biggest indication of the struggles Peterson endured was his first-pitch strike rate. While he has always been below-average in this area, he posted a career-worst 52.5% rate in 2022—well below the league average of 60.8%. And it’s not just that Peterson had trouble throwing strikes, but also that so many of the balls he threw were non-competitive pitches—pitches far outside the zone and without any deception to them to ensure that no batter would ever swing at them.
Was this failure to throw strikes because of a lack of confidence in attacking hitters? Or could he simply not control where the ball was going? Regardless, the problems that resulted from these issues were predictable enough—falling behind on batters led to high pitch counts, a lot of walks, and batters ahead in the count teeing off.
The first issue there is one of the main things that makes me skeptical about the idea of handing Peterson a permanent rotation spot. As a starter, he averaged just under 4.8 innings per start, an unimpressive number which put a lot of strain on an often beleaguered bullpen. One can look to his May 30th start against the Washington Nationals as an encapsulation of his challenges in this area. The Mets scored a whopping 12 runs in the first four innings, making Peterson’s job as easy as any starter can ask for. And yet, in a situation where he had all the run support he could ask for and had no reason to be overly cautious with a single hitter, he still walked four with half of his pitches being balls, and he failed to make it through five innings. Thus, the bullpen was forced to work far more than they should have.
These types of outings were not uncommon for Peterson. And honestly, even in the games where he pitched well—games where he kept the team off the board and where he even limited his walk totals—he still had these same general command issues. Honestly, he often looked like he was pitching the exact same whether he was giving up five runs in two innings or holding the opposing team scoreless through five. David Peterson, whether good or bad, was always at his absolute most David Petersoniest, and that meant that he was almost always frustrating to watch, even when the end result was a good one.
Partly because of the eventual return of injured starters and partly because of the lack of suitable lefties in the bullpen, the Mets eventually tried to move Peterson to the bullpen in the hopes that he could be a weapon they could turn to in the postseason. And indeed, the notion of him utilizing his slider more in shorter appearances holds a lot of appeal and could represent a feasible future role for him. His overall ERA as a reliever was 3.68 in 14.2 innings across eight appearances—however, that also includes his first appearance of the season, when he pitched four scoreless innings after coming on in replacement of an injured Taijuan Walker and essentially served as a starter taking over after an opener started the game. If we take that appearance out of the equation, his remaining numbers as a reliever—with most of those appearances coming in the second half—are much less encouraging, as his 5.63 ERA in those seven outings indicates.
No matter where you go, there you are. Starter or reliever, Peterson’s flaws followed him, and it makes it hard to have confidence in him in either role moving forward.
Again, this all may be an overly negative portrayal of Peterson’s season. If someone else were writing this overview, they might have been able to look at his overall numbers and painted a rosier picture of him. And it’s not like I’m suggesting the Mets should kick Peterson to the curb this offseason—in an ideal world, he will continue to serve as solid starting pitching depth for the Mets in 2023. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and it’s entirely possible that the Mets will acquire two starters this winter and head into spring training with Peterson, Tylor Megill, and perhaps a spring training invitee or two fighting for the fifth rotation spot. And while that may not be the worst outcome one could imagine, for a team that just won 101 games, it is a bit underwhelming to imagine the same pitcher who struggled to do some of the basic things you need a starting pitcher to be able to do occupying such an important role. If the Mets truly want to go into next year with the aspirations of matching this year’s regular season success, they will need to be honest with themselves about the type of pitcher Peterson truly is and the extent to which he is capable of overcoming his continued struggles.