As we have now been blessed to see pitchers and catchers officially report to Port St. Lucie today, the Rising Apple staff felt it was appropriate to start making predictions for the 2013 season over the next month and a half before Opening Day. We decided to have our own roundtable discussion as to who we think will be the best starting pitcher, bench player, hitter, and relief pitcher. In addition to that, we’re also going to choose which player has the best chance to break out, and the player most likely to disappoint (too bad Jason Bay still isn’t on the roster…). First, we tackle who will be the best starting pitcher out of a rotation that lost R.A. Dickey during the winter months.
Matt Musico, Senior Editor: Johan Santana
I can say with confidence that Santana won’t have the best statistics on the staff by the end of the season, but he has a lot to prove in 2013. Once Dickey was traded to the Blue Jays, that meant the job to lead the rotation was all for Johan. Will he be the ace that he once was in 2008 for the Mets (16-7, 2.53 ERA, 234.1 IP)? That’s not likely, but it would be hard for me to fathom that he would turn in another year like 2012 (6-9, 4.85 ERA, 117 IP). This past winter was the first time since he joined the Mets that he didn’t have to spend it rehabbing an injury after a surgery. It’s all but definite that New York won’t exercise his option for 2014, so in his last guaranteed year in Flushing, he’ll be pitching to find himself a job next season. In a mosty young rotation, the Mets need someone like Johan (a true former ace) to show the younger hurlers like Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, and Zack Wheeler how it needs to be done when it’s their time to be in the spotlight. Terry Collins realizes that by already giving him the Opening Day start. If Johan is healthy and heads to the mound every fifth day, that will give this rotation a huge boost (if they’re in the playoff hunt and he’s not traded), one that they lost when he started to scuffle last summer.
Michael Lecolant, Senior Staff Writer: Jonathon Niese
Who projects to be the best starting pitcher this season? What a fascinating question. In comparison to each other, five pitchers enter the season coming off radically different 2012 experiences. Each additionally have much to prove. Johan Santana is trying to make a comeback in order to prolong his career. Before having his season shut down last year, there were signs the old Johan was not that far off. Of course, he authored the Mets first ever no-hitter. We should remember he was shut down in a battle against fatigue; not due to injury. After a regular off-season of rest, he can very well become the Mets best starter….again. The younger Dillon Gee is making a different comeback simply to get his career back on schedule. After shoulder surgery to remove a blood clot, Gee claims to feel better than he has in a long time. But count him out. Shaun Marcum, no offense, seems even less likely to lead this staff. That leaves Matt Harvey and Jon Niese. I like Harvey’s tenacity. I like what he brings. Even though still raw, I would love to say Harvey will be the Mets top starter. But I will go with Jon Niese over the rookie and Johan Santana. I only wish Niese were as tenacious as Harvey and Santana. After three full seasons as a starter, moving forward Niese now has knowledge to go along with ability. His yearly rate of improvement suggests Mets fans may be in store for a very very good season – perhaps fifteen to seventeen wins with any luck.
Danny Abriano, Staff Writer: Matt Harvey
I’m tempted to predict that Johan Santana will be the best starting pitcher for the Mets in 2013. On June 30th of last season, Santana had an ERA of 2.76. That night against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, five starts removed from his no-hitter, Santana tossed eight innings of shutout ball. In his next start against the Cubs at Citi Field, his ankle was stepped on while covering first base. From there, his season spiraled out of control. He made just four more starts, and was shut down for good after his start in Washington on August 17th. His ERA jumped from 2.76 to 4.85. His ankle was hurt, his recently repaired shoulder was tired, his season was over.
Johan has now had a full offseason of rest. No rehab, just rest. He’s an incredible competitor, and he’s pitching for his next contract. Still, taking into account his age (34 in March) and injury history, I’m simply not confident that Santana will put together another outstanding full season…which is why my pick for best Mets pitcher in 2013 is Matt Harvey.
Harvey raised his game last season after being promoted from AAA Buffalo. His makeup is off the charts, his drive is relentless, and he has the best pure stuff of any pitcher the Mets have drafted, developed and seen reach the majors for the team since Dwight Gooden. Harvey should be able to throw at least 200 innings this season, and I think those innings will be mostly stellar. I’m not into exact statistical forecasting, but I’d expect an ERA in the low 3′s from Harvey, to go along with about 200 strikeouts. Wins are highly team dependent, so as the offense and bullpen go, Harvey’s win total will go.
Dan Haefeli, Staff Writer: Jonathon Niese
Asking “best pitcher” is kind of a tough question, depending on what you consider “best”. If we’re asking upside, it’s Matt Harvey. If it’s improvement, I’m expecting Dillon Gee to take a big step forward this year. If we’re looking at day in, day out consistency and quality, it has to be Niese. After a 2011 season that saw him fail to pitch in September, Niese not only made it through the season unscathed, but edged on dominant down the stretch. Over the last four months of the season, Niese averaged better than 6.2 IP/start and posted a 2.93 ERA alongside a 4.33 K:BB ratio. His strikeout numbers, which hover just below 20%, will hinder his perception as a front-line starter, but his ability to limit walks (4.34% over the last four months of 2012) and consistently pitch deep into games will make Niese one of the National League’s top pitchers in 2013.
Kevin Baez, Staff Writer: Jonathon Niese
Coming off an 11-win season in 2011, Jon Niese made huge strides in 2012 with his overall development, posting a career high in wins (13) and ERA (3.40). Furthermore, Niese was able to make 30 starts, 22 of which were quality starts (tied for eighth-best in the National League) while standing just shy of the 200 innings mark with 190.1 innings pitched. If anything, Niese proved to be an extremely consistent left-handed starter. Entering his fourth-full season with the New York Mets, look for Niese, 26, to continue progressing into the quality pitcher the Mets’ front office envisioned Niese to one day become, when Sandy Alderson committed a five-year, $25.5 million contract extension. I expect Johan Santana to perform as the Mets’ second-best pitcher, as Santana will have to prove his ability to maintain healthy throughout the entire upcoming season, which is the final year of his current contract. And if Santana performs at a high level like he did for the first-half of the 2012 season, don’t be surprised to see the Mets make an attempt to trade Santana, if the team is out of contention by the trade deadline.
Rich Sparago, Staff Writer: Jonathon Niese
One thing some tend to forget about Niese is that he’s only 26. It’s hard to believe that he made his debut back in 2008 as a 21-year-old. If you look at his stats, essentially you see those of a developing pitcher. His WHIP has steadily improved, going from 1.46 to 1.41 to 1.17 over the last three years. Last year, he won 13 games, the most in his career. As Kevin points out above, last year Niese also posted his best ERA at 3.40, and he helped put to rest concerns about his endurance by making 30 starts. Finally, Niese K’ed 155 last year, also the best mark of his career. I agree that Jon is an “ace in the making”, and I expect him to have a solid 2013.
Will DeBoer, Staff Writer: Jonathon Niese
While Johan Santana’s no-hitter, Matt Harvey’s emergence, and R.A. Dickey’s Cy Young Award dominated New York pitching headlines last season, Jonathon Niese quietly went out and elevated himself to the next level, going the full season and knocking an entire run off his ERA. Even without Dickey this season, Niese will still be flying under a radar that will be zoomed in on Santana and Harvey, as well as the eventual promotion of Zack Wheeler. In spite of that, Jon Niese will be the Mets’ best starting pitcher in 2013.
Niese is the only starter on New York’s staff without legitimate questions, and therefore he’ll be the only one not under tremendous pressure to perform. Johan Santana will be under constant scrutiny after running out of gas last summer, and while he’ll be good this year, the pressure of re-becoming the Johan we knew will keep him from doing just that. As a future ace, Matt Harvey will feel the stress of making the future start now; that, plus the film the NL now has on him, means he won’t have as good a season as he did in 2012. Dillon Gee and Shaun Marcum are coming off of injury-plagued seasons, so their durability and effectiveness will be in question.
At age 26, Niese won’t reach his peak for another couple seasons. After signing a long contract extension last year, he won’t have thoughts of money hanging over his head. As long as he doesn’t try to be more than a #3 starter, expect Jon Niese to be the most consistent and best pitcher for a Mets staff that desperately needs it.
Who do you think will be the best starting pitcher for the Mets this season? Let us know in the comments section below.
Make sure you check the site on Wednesday for the second installment of this six-part series, as the we each choose who we think will be the best bench player in 2013.