(James Keivom / New York Daily News)
by Jared Wolff
Following their World Series appearance in 2015, Mets fans envisioned years of contention led by the starting rotation. The group was thought of as the best young starting rotation in baseball, with five guys potentially having ace potential.
The rotation featuring Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Noah Syndergaard has since taken a big step backward. Matt Harvey, “the Dark Knight,” was the National League starting pitcher in 2013, and then pitched a spectacular Game 5 in the 2015 World Series a year removed from Tommy John. He was on top of the world. Now, Mets fans are ready to sell him off. He had a 6.70 ERA this past year and battled injuries throughout the entire season. Steven Matz, the talented lefty, was a Mets first-round pick and helped them in their postseason push as a rookie. The following year he pitched to a 3.40 and was looked at as a star in the making. Injuries killed him in 2017, as he pitched to a 6.08 ERA. The Mets have never been able to count on his health. Zack Wheeler, once one of the top prospects in baseball, has never been able to fully recover from Tommy John. When he’s on the mound the talent is there, but durability is a big issue.
The Mets may have found the man who can have this group of guys finally live up to their potential. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway was hired as the manager, following the firing of Terry Collins. Callaway was the Indians pitching coach and helped them to have the best staff ERA in the entire league. On top of that, his pitchers walked the fewest number of hitters, had the most shutouts, and most complete games. All five starters in the Indians rotation had double-digit wins a year ago. The staff is talented, but coaching matters, especially with pitching.
Terry Francona, the Indians manager, used the word “star” to describe Callaway after he left for the Mets. Callaway is known for being very intellectual and getting the most out of his pitchers. He loves to make his pitchers throw their secondary stuff, which could be a big turning point for this pitching staff. Callaway stresses that his pitchers throw their best pitch as often as possible, which led to the curveball being a big weapon for many of his pitchers in the past. That could be big news for guys like Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, who both have nasty breaking stuff. Seth Lugo, another pitcher on the Mets roster, is also a player who could break out under Callaway. He is known for the high spin rate on his devastating curveball. With the new coaching, I expect him to flourish and make the curveball an even bigger part of his game.
For Matt Harvey, the Mickey Callaway hiring could be a career-saver. Harvey’s fastball is not what it once was, following a number of surgeries. That means he needs to find a new way to dominate. Callaway can help him lean on his secondary pitches, and command his fastball instead. Having an effective Matt Harvey could make the Mets a top contender.
The two guys that are still being looked as “sure things” are Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom. The two have a combined record of 69-50, both with career ERA’s under 3.00. I am expecting outstanding things out of both under Mickey Callaway. The two should be Cy Young candidates this season and years to come. Once again health is a question though, as Syndergaard missed most of last season due to injury. With a new training staff and a new pitching coach, the health of the staff as a whole should be different.
The bullpen will drastically change with the addition of the new manager. A lot of the bullpen was overworked under Terry Collins; injuries and ineffectiveness came as a result. Callaway has said the Mets will go with the hot hand out of the bullpen, with nobody really having defined roles. This type of system worked in Cleveland, where Andrew Miller was the workhorse. Jeurys Familia could take on this type of role, as he has dominant stuff. Injuries were a big problem for him last season but set the franchise record for saves in a season the year before. The managerial change could bring him back to elite status. AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins, and new addition Anthony Swarzak are going to be the other main guys out of the bullpen. Swarzak had his best season of his career with Callaway in Cleveland, and he gives him a ton of credit for his career turnaround.
I expect big things out of the Mets pitching under Mickey Callaway. He engineered greatness with the Indians and now will have the task of returning the Mets back to the top. A fresh start may be all that is needed for many of the players, and this is their chance.