Look: I have never exactly been David Peterson’s biggest fan. I had a pretty grim outlook on his 2022 season a year ago despite the fact that his overall numbers were largely solid that year. To me, the brief flashes he showed did not negate the maddening level of inconsistency he demonstrated in throwing strikes and attacking hitters on a regular basis, and I remained very skeptical about his ability to be a long-term piece for the team.
A lot of people who are much smarter than I told me that this evaluation was a faulty one, that I was focusing too much on the aesthetic unpleasantness of watching him pitch when I should have been focusing more on the final outcome and on the positive traits he possessed. They may have been right—and it certainly wasn’t hard to understand how one could look at his positive traits (namely, a slider that is devastatingly effective when utilized appropriately) and think that a smart team could turn a pitcher like Peterson into a dangerous weapon on a pitching staff. Certainly, I wanted nothing less than for the Mets to accomplish that task, despite my distaste for what I had seen from the lefty in his first few big league seasons.
And yet, it was hard to watch the beginning of the year, when Peterson floundered in a seemingly endless mire of ineffectiveness, and not feel as though I was being vindicated for my lack of belief. Indeed, the first two months of the 2023 season was probably the worst we’ve seen from him in his big league career, and even with some improvements he showed later on, those early struggles cast a pretty dark cloud on both this year and his long-term projection as a major league pitcher.
Peterson had the opportunity to establish himself as a more consistent option in the rotation at the beginning of the year thanks to some predictable injuries to the starting rotation. Instead, he put up a laughably bad 8.08 ERA in 39 innings pitched across eight April and May starts. Some of the issues which plagued Peterson early on were the same ones that always have (the walks and the deep counts). However, his pitch usage also drew a lot of criticism from observers. David Capobianco noted early in the season that Peterson had the tendency to overuse some of his less effective offerings in lieu of the far more impressive slider. This bore out over the course of the 2023 season, as the two pitches he threw the most were his 4-seam fastball and his sinker (the latter of which increased in usage from 11.5% of the time in 2022 to 24.4% of the time in 2023, despite the fact that batters hit .317 and slugged .495 against it this year).
Of course, the previously dangerous slider that was such a weapon also was far less effective in the early going, as Peterson suddenly had the maddening (this is a word which shows up often when discussing this particular player, doesn’t it?) tendency of throwing the pitch in the strike zone instead of using it as a chase pitch, and hitters predictably started hitting it a lot more consistently then they’ve done in the past. Without that primary weapon, and with all of the usual faults that he brings to the mound, the results were predictably disastrous. Once the rotation returned to full health, Peterson quickly found himself demoted to Triple A, where he largely continued to flounder, putting up a 4.86 ERA and walking 5.6 per nine innings in seven starts there.
As was the case in 2022, the Mets did briefly flirt with the idea of utilizing Peterson as a reliever, as he spent most of July pitching out of the bullpen following his return from Syracuse. The experiment didn’t last long—the trade deadline sell-off forced the team to move him back to the rotation after Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander departed—but he did show some promise in the role, putting up a 2.25 ERA in eight innings across six relief outings. It’s too small of a sample size to take away any grand conclusions from it, but it does continue the lingering notion that the bullpen could be a future home for the lefty if he doesn’t last as a starter.
It was a somewhat slow start to Peterson’s reversion back to a starter; having pitched in relief for the better part of a month, he needed some time to build his pitch count back up, and it ended up taking him until his fifth start back in the rotation to last at least five innings. He also still occasionally lost control of the strike zone altogether, as he is wont to do—an example includes a start against the Pirates in which he walked six batters in 3.2 innings (though in typical David Peterson fashion, he somehow only ended up allowing one run).
Over time, however, we did see some improvement from him in comparison to his early season catastrophe. It seemed as though he had resolved some of the issues with the slider he was having earlier in the season—Peterson said as much following a September start against the Reds in which he utilized the pitch to great effect. The result of getting his best weapon back was, predictably, a lot more success at putting hitters away; his K% in September was 31.9% (his best in any month in 2023), and his BB% was 7.8% (his second best of the year—with his best coming in April, when batters were just smacking the crap out of the ball more often than taking walks).
All told, following that awful eight-start stretch at the beginning of the season, Peterson put up a 3.38 ERA across 72 innings. Essentially, then, he reverted back into the guy he was in 2022: someone who could put up solid numbers but would more often than not look pretty dreadful while doing it. Still, some of those outings towards the end of the season—including his final start of the year, when he tossed seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts against the playoff-bound Marlins—did offer a reminder of why many observers have had such hope for Peterson in the first place.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to say that my personal evaluation has changed all that much here. The Mets shouldn’t just kick Peterson to the curb—again, his good traits make him worth keeping around to see whether he can ever learn how to more effectively utilize them, whether that be as a starter or a reliever. But they also shouldn’t be rushing to give him a guaranteed prominent role on the 2024 pitching staff. At an absolute minimum, the Mets need to acquire at least two starters in the offseason and let Peterson compete in spring training with the likes of Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi, José Butto, Mike Vasil, and others for the final spot in the rotation. But really, they’d probably be even better served adding a third starter and reserving those guys as rotation depth and rotation depth alone. If I’m sitting here a year from now reviewing David Peterson’s 2024 season and he has once again made 20+ starts, then something has either gone very right—i.e. Good David Peterson started showing up more often, preferably with his slider being used much more consistently and effectively—or something has gone very wrong—i.e. see 2023 Mets.