How has the Mets rotation fared without their top pitchers?

New York Mets, Jacob deGrom
Mar 11, 2020; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) delivers a pitch during a spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With Max Scherzer signed and a presumably healthy Jacob Degrom set to return after missing the 2nd half of 2021, the Mets were poised to have one of the best rotations in Major League Baseball. With the addition of Chris Bassitt and a hopeful bounce-back season from Carlos Carrasco, fans of the orange and blue were sure this team could out-pitch just about any of their opponents.

But best-laid plans often go awry, as was the case for the Mets a quarter of the way through the season. Jacob DeGrom was diagnosed with a scapular injury after his 2nd spring training start and only recently began throwing from 60 feet. Max Scherzer was everything as advertised until he, too, went down with an oblique injury last week. Scherzer is slated to miss 6-8 weeks, and DeGrom may return around that time as well.

Despite the injury bug nipping the Mets’ two most valuable assets, the team is 29-15 with an 8-game lead in the National League East. Mets starters have an earned run average of 3.26 on the year, good for 2nd in the National League and 6th in baseball. They also have the 3rd lowest WHIP in the majors and the 4th most strikeouts.

Given the circumstances, to say things are going well would be an understatement. So how has the Mets rotation kept the team winning despite missing two of the top five pitchers in Major League Baseball?

Chris Bassitt Has Gone Deep:

The Mets traded former 2nd round pick, JT Ginn to the Athletics for Chris Bassitt immediately after the MLB Lockout was resolved. The Mets had already signed Max Scherzer pre-lockout, but after losing Marcus Stroman via free agency, the team was in need of another middle of the rotation arm. With Oakland’s firesale underway, the Mets picked off the 7-year veteran.

What the Mets have gotten was a crafty right-hander that has enjoyed success his entire career in the shadows of a small market baseball town. Bassitt is 4-2 with a 2.77 ERA, pitching into the 6th inning in all of his starts, including 7 complete innings vs the Atlanta Braves on May 2nd.

Bassitt has impressed with his array of looping breaking pitches and, in return, has limited hard contact from opponents. He ranks in the 96th percentile in average exit velocity and in the 77th percentile in hard-hit percentage. In fact, the last time Bassitt kept opposing batters’ exit velocity below 85 MPH came in 2018, when he had a career-best 3.02 ERA. With DeGrom, Scherzer, and Tylor Megill out, Bassitt has stepped up as the Mets most reliable starting pitcher.

That’s The Way the Cookie Crumbles:

Not much went right for Carlos Carrasco in 2021. Coming over as part of the trade that landed Francisco Lindor, the Mets were thought to be getting a reliable number 2 starter with postseason experience. Unfortunately, Carrasco was injured in the Spring and did not make his Mets debut until July 30th. In his 12 starts last year, Carrasco was victimized by opponents in the first inning. Cookie surrendered 18 earned runs in the opening frame last year, serving up 8 home runs in the process.

Through 8 starts this year, its been a complete 180 for Carrasco from his nightmarish 2021. Healthy from the start, Carrasco has pitched to a 3.50 ERA. Cookie has perhaps pitched even better than his ERA suggests. His FIP (Fielding independent pitching) is over half a run lower, sitting at 2.91. Taking away his lone clunker this year vs the Cardinals on April 27th, when he gave up 8 runs, Carrasco would have a 2.11 ERA on the year. His most impressive outing as a Met to date came in game 2 of a doubleheader vs the Atlanta Braves on May 3rd, when he threw 8 shutout innings vs the defending World Series Champions.

With a healthy and efficient Carrasco going deep into games, the Mets figure to have as strong a one through four in their rotation as anyone when deGrom and Scherzer do ultimately return.

The Replace-Mets:

When Jacob DeGrom went down, Tylor Megill was brought north with the big league club to join the rotation. But when Max Scherzer’s barking hammy delayed his start to the season, the rookie was tasked with an opening day start. Megill, who had a solid start to his career in 2021 before running out of gas down the stretch, has given fans a reason to believe he could be a front-line starter for years to come.

Megill threw 5 shutout innings on opening day vs the Nationals before throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings vs the vaunted Phillies lineup his next time out. He pitched 6 innings vs the Giants without his best stuff and gave the Mets the opportunity to win in walk-off fashion before giving up just 2 runs vs the Diamondbacks in 6 2/3 innings in a rubber game the Mets would go on to win. His lone rough outing vs the Nationals saw Megill surrender 8 runs in just an inning and a third and ultimately land him on the injured list with bicep tendinitis. Removing that start when he clearly was not in any condition to pitch, Megill’s ERA would be 2.43 over 33 1/3 innings this year.

Meanwhile, Mets 2017 first-round pick David Peterson may be coming into his own as well. After a lost season in 2021 due to various injuries, Peterson began this season in AAA Syracuse. When Taijuan Walker left the Mets 4th game of the season after just 2 innings, Peterson was thrust into action, firing 4 scoreless innings, and hasn’t looked back since.

This year, Peterson has made 4 starts and pitched into the 5th inning in each of them. His ERA in those starts is 2.57 over 21 innings pitched. His most impressive outing came Monday evening in San Francisco, pitching 6 innings- his lone blemish, a 2-run home run to Brandon Crawford. After the Mets staked Peterson to a 5-2 lead the following half-inning, Peterson threw 4 scoreless innings. With the emergence of Peterson and Megill, the Mets may have two young building blocks in their rotation for years to come.

While DeGrom and Scherzer are still at minimum 2 months away from returning, the Mets rotation has been holding its own. Thanks to contributions from two recently acquired veterans and two up-and-coming young prospects, the Mets rotation 1-7 could still come to be one of the best in baseball by season’s end.

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