Washington, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and….New York. The signs for the New York Mets were already there in 2014, when the Senior Circuit’s New York club posted the fifth-best offensive & pitching performance against their league and park. Despite a reputation for offensive shortcomings, the Mets bats were 28 runs better than CitiField, and the pitchers were just about average; this combination made the Mets the third-most improved team in the entire league. Only their actual winning percentage lagged behind their talent, with their run differential suggesting a sneaky-good ballclub that was improving enough to take the National League by storm.
So far so good for the 2015 Mets, who returned a healthy Matt Harvey to the rotation, and graduated some of their most prized prospects into prime roles. If the Mets front office was largely quiet during the offseason, it was for good measure: unlike another relatively quiet club like the Brewers, the Mets could add top talent from within their system to improve their big league club. Their pitching staff features a wide variety of pitching styles and stuff, while their offense now simply needs to weather the storm while Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright sit on the disabled list. Their offense currently sits seven runs below average after a rough series against the Cubs saw only 10 runs scored in four games, but their pitching is significantly better than average. Now that everyone is hunting for the Mets in the National League, one of the year’s best storylines will revolve around whether this club can continue their divisional lead.
Brewers (35 G): 133 RS / 179 RA (-14 RS / -29 RA)
Mets (35 G): 130 RS / 113 RA (-7 RS / +26 RA)
3-Year Park Factor Ranges from 102 / 103 (Brewers) to 95 / 96 (Mets).
The Brewers entered their series against the White Sox with a relatively strong pitching streak. In 18 games prior to hosting the White Sox, Milwaukee’s arms allowed four or fewer runs 13 times. Unfortunately, when the club is not allowing four-or-fewer runs, there’s no “in-between;” the pitchers have recently been shelled for 7, 7, 14, 8, and 9 runs within the last 20 games. Even two relatively decent performances against the White Sox could not help the Brewers win, as the club posted two consecutive 2-to-4 losses against the South Siders. As I mentioned yesterday, the bats have improved recently, but the club remains inefficient with their distribution of runs scored and allowed, since the offense is also feast-or-famine too frequently. Even though Craig Counsell‘s Brewers boast two one-run wins, they also have three close-game losses (one one-run loss, two two-run losses). In fact, seven of the last 11 Brewers losses have occurred with margins of two-or-fewer runs, which shows that for all their improvements, the bats still struggle with pushing across a run when it matters.
Brewers: Loss vs. White Sox
Mets: Swept by Cubs [Four Game Series]
|Best Qualified Bats||Brewers (OPS+)||Mets (OPS+)|
|#1||A. Lind (151)||L. Duda (133)|
|#2||G. Parra (116)||C. Granderson (104)|
|#3||K. Davis (106)||W. Flores (97)|
|#4||R. Braun (100)||D. Murphy (85)|
While the Mets’ offense is currently better than the Brewers’ in terms of park-adjusted runs scored, the Brewers have more firepower among their qualified bats. Unfortunately, since Carlos Gomez has had limited time and has yet to take off, it is impossible to run Gerardo Parra, Khris Davis, and Ryan Braun onto the field while Gomez starts. So, the Brewers feature a set of solid bats, but they currently have a roster inefficiency issue: their stars are injured, recovering from injury and starting anew, or stacked at similar positions (like the OF).
MLB.com Probable Pitchers
Kyle Lohse (39.7 IP, -12 runs prevented thus far in 2015) @ Bartolo Colon (46.3 IP, 4 runs prevented thus far in 2015)
After early success with his off-speed pitches, Lohse switched to his sinker and slider over the last three starts, with terrible results (17 IP, 11 R, 16 K / 5 BB / 5 HR). Granted, the homers are distributed evenly among his slider, change, and curve (one each), while his sinker saw two longballs allowed over the last three starts. However, the general approach by Lohse has changed quite a bit, as nearly 80% of his selections have been sinker / slider during that timeframe (compared to 63% prior to April 28).
|2015 Lohse||Prior to April 28 (LD / GB / FB)||April 28-present (LD / GB / FB)|
|Sinker||9.0 / 14.1 / 2.2||7.25 / 2.9 / 5.8|
|Fastball||16.7 / 0 / 4.2||12.5 / 6.25 / 0|
|Slider||4.4 / 6.7 / 3.3||4.2 / 4.2 / 5.0|
|Change||7.6 / 10.6 / 3.0||3.23 / 0 / 6.45|
|Curve||2.5 / 7.5 / 2.5||9.5 / 0 / 0|
What is stunning about Lohse’s pitches over his last few starts is not the line drives allowed, but the complete shift in flyball / groundball ratio. For each of his major pitches (excluding his fastball due to his overall low selections), Lohse’s groundballs have plummeted, as batters are hitting those pitches into the air. Given this development, one might expect Lohse to return to his high slider / change / curve selections that defined some of his successful early starts. One thing is certain: for a pitcher nearing the end of his contract, and a previous rotation-leader and top NL starter at that, Brewers fans will be watching Lohse closely to see if he can improve enough to serve as a midseason trade candidate to a contender.
Things to like about Bartolo Colon:
- 40 K / 1 BB / 6 HR (that’s good for a 0.02 FIPRatio in 46.3 IP).
- NL-leading 6-1 Record.
- 85% of his selections are either a sinker or fastball.
- He throws a “true” sinker / fastball split (91-92 MPH rising fastball, 88-89 MPH sinker).
Bartolo, I hope you pitch until you’re 50!
Matt Garza (42.3 IP, 0 runs prevented thus far in 2015) @ Jacob deGrom (41.7 IP, 1 run prevented thus far in 2015)
Matt Garza is finally the Garza many thought he could be: during a streak of four consecutive quality starts, the righty is hammering batters with a set of riding-and-running fastballs (between 93 and 94 MPH), and he has also increased his percentage of sliders and curves. Garza undoubtedly has the stuff to put together a dominant stretch for the Brewers, and now he appears to have found the magical ratio to succeed. Ignore those early, rough outings, as Garza has prevented three runs over his last four starts.
Last year, Jacob deGrom baffled NL bats and stormed the scene by selecting his change, slider, and curve more than 38% of his deliveries, distributing those offspeed pitches rather equitably. Now, deGrom is increasing his primary and secondary fastball offerings, while also settling on his slider ahead of his curve (it is worth mentioning that his change up selections have remained steady). This is notable because it appears that so many young NL pitchers focus on a hard-moving fastball and slider combination (see: Cubs, Chicago, or even the Brewers), which makes deGrom something of an oddity: a young pitcher willing to work with five pitches in a relatively balanced way. It will be interesting to see if deGrom continues to favor his slider in 2015, or if his pitch selections balance out as the year advances.
Wily Peralta (45 IP, 2 runs prevented thus far in 2015) @ Noah Syndergaard (5.3 IP, 3 R, 6 K / 4 BB / 1 HR thus far in 2015)
Like Garza, Wily Peralta is working on his own stretch of quality starts. Peralta enters the series-closing start with four consecutive quality starts, and the best part about those starts is that Peralta can improve. His line drive rate seems high, but Peralta is masterfully using groundballs to limit the damage. His 20 K / 5 BB / 4 HR ratio is solid, but Peralta can do more to limit those longballs. Overall, this stretch of starts is a good sign that Peralta has arrived and can build on his 2014 improvements: even when he’s not at his best now, he can limit the damage, which he has shown throughout 2015. Consecutive rough starts against the Reds and Cardinals early in the year did not derail the youngster; instead of continuing those rough starts, Peralta adjusted and improved. Now, he has a set of quality starts to work with, and he can use his fastball, sinker, and slider to further advance those quality outings.
I’m at a loss to discuss Noah Syndergaard’s curveball. FanGraphs almost immediately posted on Syndergaard’s curveball as soon as he threw one, and his curve looks about as unreal as Clayton Kershaw‘s “Public Enemy #1.” But Kershaw’s 10-to-4 curve is a completely different weapon (nevermind that the lefty has shifted to his slider more than his curve over the last few years); Syndergaard throws an absolute 12-to-6 hammer that reminds me of how far the game has come since even Ben Sheets. Surely, everyone talks about how ridiculous pitching is in MLB, and I feel like Syndergaard is a perfect physical representation of that: the game has seen plenty of big-guy fastball / curveball types, but Syndergaard takes both his fastball and curve a few notches above, working with the highest velocity in the league alongside his disappearing-hammer.
What seems so stunning about this pitch is that it appears to break so late that it really doesn’t curve. It disappears. Some of Sheets’s best curves could drop off a table, but even Big Ben did not spin that curve as tightly at his best. In honor of Sheets’s May 16th start during 2004, here’s how the curve looked during the 18-strikeout game:
Regardless of the “old school” fastball / curve guys I can think of, there just seems to be an extreme-element to Syndergaard’s combination of velocity and break that makes his arsenal appear unrealistic. It’s really fun to see pitchers like this emerge in the big leagues, since there’s nothing better than talking about curveballs and watching them fall off the map.