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David Peterson still has something left to prove

The southpaw starter looks to rebound from a sophomore slump.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets - Game Two Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

After a breakout 2020 season, David Peterson looked primed to be a back-end rotation candidate for the Mets. And after a series of injuries during spring training last year, he was no longer fighting for a spot but locked into the rotation as the Mets’ fourth starter on Opening Day. But the first few months of 2021 were not the sophomore outing that Peterson and fans might have hoped. In some games, he looked sharp, but in others he performed so badly he was barely able to get through a few innings—if he could get through any innings at all.

Then, after starting to settle down some during June, Peterson imploded during his final game that month before being taken out with an oblique injury. He went on the injured list, and then, as he was starting to rehab, he fractured his foot in a freak injury, requiring season-ending surgery. That prevented Peterson from maybe rebounding over the second half of the season, making his second season an official sophomore slump.

Now, Peterson’s healthy and has had the offseason to fully rehab and is back in camp with a healed foot and less pressure to succeed. If Jacob deGrom is healthy, the Mets have a full rotation ahead of Peterson, keeping him at depth level. And whether deGrom misses significant time or not, it’s very possible, probable even that Peterson sees a number of starts at the big league level. But last season Peterson was relied upon to be the Mets’ fourth, or even third starter at times during the first three months of the season in his second year in the major leagues, his first in a non-COVID shortened season. Now he hopefully won’t be asked to do more than can be expected of him.

According to ZiPS projections, what can be expected of Peterson is 19 starts, totaling about 90 innings pitched, with a 4.23 ERA, 4.33 FIP, and good for 0.9 fWAR. He’s projected to average 8.16 K/9 and 3.63 BB/9, both slightly lower than last season. His projected 1.11 HR/9 would bring him much closer to his quality debut season than last year, but his projected 1.34 WHIP would be much closer to his 2021 campaign. If the projections held true his 2022 season would sit between his debut season and last season, but he would be worth the most fWAR in his career due to the fact that he’d be delivering more games and innings than he did in 2020.

In his major league career, Peterson has a 4.64 ERA, a 4.67 FIP, and has been worth a total of 0.8 fWAR. He averages 8.43 K/9, 4.10 BB/9, and 1.24 HR/9. But these numbers are out of whack due to a small sample size. He only got nine starts in the COVID-shortened season, and only 15 starts in his injury-shortened 2021 season. He doesn’t even have a full season’s worth of starts, making it difficult to judge these statistics, good or bad. Even his minor league career was somewhat short, having only spent four years throughout the Mets minor league system, with one of those years consisting of just three innings pitched after getting drafted in 2017. Peterson hasn’t pitched a single inning at Triple-A, jumping straight from Double-A in 2019 to the majors in 2020.

Currently Peterson is in the perfect position for this season coming up. There’s several better, veteran starting pitchers ahead of him, making him a solid depth piece for the Mets rotation. Depth that is sorely needed, as even last year when the Mets built up decent pitching depth, they still found themselves in spots where Peterson was their third starter just a couple of months into the season. Now, this doesn’t mean that this same situation couldn’t happen again this year. DeGrom and Scherzer, while two of the best pitchers in baseball, have both had multiple injury struggles over the last few seasons. Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco aren’t exactly paragons of perfect health themselves. And Bassitt, while having been a dependable workhorse over his career, is 33 years old, and it’s not inconceivable that his health and ability could start to decline the further he gets from the right side of 30.

But things would have to go seriously wrong for Peterson to climb all the way back up to third starter. Last year he had a guaranteed rotation spot in spring training, while this year he is pretty guaranteed to not make the Opening Day rotation, even with Walker already being a question mark due to knee surgery earlier this year. Trevor Williams is out of options, so Peterson will be behind him on the depth chart due to his multitude of options. And maybe going down to Triple-A will be just what Peterson needs. He hasn’t been able to gain any sort of consistency due to extenuating circumstances outside of his control. A COVID season, no Triple-A playing time before he got to the major leagues, and injury issues has forced Peterson under a lot of pressure and into circumstances where he is out of his depth.

Peterson isn’t some ace in the making, diamond in the rough type. He’s probably a solid back-end rotation guy, and that’s fine. Teams need those. And last season he even had some glimpses of unlocked potential. After a very tumultuous two month start to the season, Peterson had a pretty good month of June just before his injury. Excluding his injury start and the start where he only pitched a third of an inning on June 2nd, from June 8th to June 25th Peterson had four starts where he threw a total 19.1 innings and had a 2.79 ERA, 3.53 FIP, held batters to a .206 average and gave up just one home run. And that included a not great start where he gave up four earned runs in 2.2 innings. One of those games he held the Cubs to one hit over six innings. It’s not impossible to believe that, had he not gotten injured, he may have leveled out into a serviceable back-end rotation pitcher.

David Peterson, after a strong debut season, experienced a sophomore slump last season before it prematurely ended due to multiple injuries. It was enough to dash some hopes about the kind of pitcher he could be. But with less pressure on him this season, and better depth, Peterson could become a solid rotation piece for the Mets. There’s reason to believe there’s still something there for Peterson to give.