Starting Pitching Will Keep Mets Contending in 2014


Dillon Gee tossed one of the best games of his career yesterday, delivering eight shutout innings to give the Mets a 4-0 win over the Marlins and a 6-4 record on the home stand. Gee put New York at three games over .500, and while we’re just 15 percent into the season, the Mets are on pace to reach Sandy Alderson’s 90-win plateau.

Apr 27, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee (35) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the first inning of a game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What’s most amazing about New York’s early run is that they’re doing it with offense that has been scant at best and, well, less-than-scant at worst. The Mets came into Sunday holding the National League’s worst team batting average, second-worst OPS, and third-worst home run output. Curtis Granderson is trying to get out of a dreadful slump, Travis d’Arnaud and Chris Young are just now getting going, and Bobby Abreu has more home runs than Daniel Murphy.

So how are they doing it? The way the Mets have traditionally won ballgames, of course: starting pitching.

It all starts with Dillon Gee, of course. Since his approaching legendary Yankee Stadium outing last May, Gee’s ERA sits at 2.75, good for what SNY reported in yesterday’s telecast as fourth-best in all of baseball during that stretch. As Ron Darling pointed out, Gee doesn’t get the attention that Zach Greinke, Max Scherzer, and Adam Wainwright do because he doesn’t “light up the radar gun.” Perhaps this works to Dillon’s advantage – less attention, less stress – but blistering heat or not, Gee gets the job done.

Apr 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese (49) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

New York’s other four starters are no slouches, either. Jonathon Niese has been outstanding in April, and he has his 2.45 ERA to prove it. Bartolo Colon’s ERA took an excessively hard hit in Anaheim, but take away that start and his mark (2.33) would be better than Niese’s. Jenrry Mejia is more than holding up in the rotation; he had tossed two scoreless outings before his Saturday shellacking against Miami (everyone has bad days; I’m not worried). And while Zack Wheeler hasn’t become the second incarnate of Matt Harvey in his first full season, he has quality starts in all but one of his outings.

Between their five starters, the Mets have had 17 quality starts in their first 25 games, or 68 percent of the time. The logic behind quality starts is that the pitcher gave his team a great chance to win. And while New York is not on pace to win 68 percent of their games – 110 wins would put them amongst the greatest teams of all time – they have for the most part taken advantage of their rock-solid starting pitching.

No, the Mets are not perfect. The offense needs to come around to a point where the team can win games on days when Gee and company don’t have quality starts. But for those who see New York near the bottom of the table in hitting and start to panic, there is simply no need. Might I remind you of another Mets team that struggled to put runs on the board? A team that handled itself pretty darn well.

Last year at Rising Apple, we honored the 1973 National League pennant-winning Mets, who upset the great Big Red Machine in the NLCS and fell one game short of interrupting Oakland’s eventual three-peat. Rightfully so, the conquering heroes of ’73 are treated as such. No doubt, Mets fans would sign up to see another ’73 every year.

When it comes down to it, though, the 1973 Mets were not a great team. They sported the NL’s second-worst batting average, second-lowest OPS, and second-lowest home run output. No one on the team hit .300, and John Milner’s .762 OPS was the best of the bunch. Milner, Wayne Garrett, Rusty Staub, and Cleon Jones combined to slug 65 of the team’s 85 home runs; fifth place was 42-year-old Willie Mays with six.

This was the tale of the offensive juggernaut that was the 1973 Mets. But they won the NL pennant because they didn’t need a juggernaut.

Tom Seaver won his second Cy Young Award in ’73. Jerry Koosman tossed one of the best seasons of his career. Jon Matlack was a 23-year-old All-Star-in-waiting. And George Stone, blessed George Stone, became the essential steady fourth starter, even finishing with the best winning percentage (.800) on the staff. Fill it in with solid campaigns from the Ray Sadecki/Jim McAndrew combination, and you’ve got a rotation that could, and did, make an offensive mess into champions.

With mediocre bats and a stellar starting staff, the Mets of ’73 were able to parlay an 82-79 record into a pennant and a near-world championship. The team’s .509 winning percentage is the lowest of any league champion, but they were one game away from baseball immortality.

Apr 27, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee (35) hugs New York Mets catcher Anthony Recker (20) after defeating the Miami Marlins in a game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not to say the Mets of ’14 are guaranteed to follow in their 41-year-old counterparts’ footsteps. Granderson will need to start hitting, Murphy will need to rediscover his power, and Ruben Tejada will need to magically transform into a different shortstop, one way or another. But the New York Mets have a history of winning on a foundation of starting pitching. Gee, Wheeler, and Mejia may not be Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack, but if they can emulate them, New York will have a good a chance as any to take the NL pennant.

As of now, the 2014 Mets are an incomplete team. But they are complete where it counts.

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