Mets Spring Training Battle: Steven Matz vs. Michael Wacha for fifth starter

One of the bigger Spring Training battles for the New York Mets is for the fifth starter spot between Steven Matz and Michael Wacha. Does either have an edge?

New York Mets Spring Training is fast approaching and although there’s no major battle we should expect, there are a few roster spots and roles to question. One of the bigger battles we can expect is the role of the fifth starter.

Unless there’s a trade, we can pencil in Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman for the 2020 rotation. I would also imagine Rick Porcello and his $10 million deal practically guarantees an Opening Day roster spot as a starter.

This leaves the Mets with a decision to make between longtime starter Steven Matz and newcomer Michael Wacha. While Matz looks like an early favorite, I wouldn’t grab a Sharpie and make it permanent.

Matz has only made two relief appearances since his Mets debut in 2015. Each came last year when the team didn’t need five starters due to scheduling. Even during some struggles, New York has yet to remove Matz from the rotation at any point in his five seasons.

The story for Wacha has been fully written as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He debuted back in 2013 in a year where he made 9 starts and had another 6 relief appearances. In the years since, he has only come out of the bullpen 8 times. His resume includes much more experience as a starter, but this could always change in 2020.

Wacha had one of his least productive seasons in 2019. In 126.2 innings which included 24 starts and another 5 relief appearances, Wacha was only 6-7 with a 4.76 ERA.

Meanwhile, in Flushing last year, Matz went 11-10 with a 4.21 ERA in 30 starts and a pair of relief appearances. It was a much better year than what Wacha put together.

The pair have had close careers. Matz owns a lifetime 4.05 ERA with Wacha besting him by a few points at 3.91. Matz is the owner of a 97 ERA+ with Wacha, again, better by a few points at 102.

What each has done in the past doesn’t necessarily matter much moving forward. Perhaps the deciding factor in all of this will revolve around Wacha’s contract incentives. It’s unfortunate an early-season decision may have a lot to do with paying Wacha as little as possible.

Wacha can earn a few million more dollars in 2020. The more starts he makes, the better. There are also incentives in his deal which will reward him for appearances and how many innings he reaches even out of the bullpen. So, even if Matz wins the rotation spot all year long, Wacha can still benefit financially.

My guess is Wacha will need to win the rotation spot out of Spring Training as much as Matz will need to lose it. If it becomes clear Wacha is the better choice, only then would the Mets go with the righty over the lefty.

The worry I have with Matz in the bullpen is how notoriously bad he is in the first inning. His 6.50 ERA in the first inning after 99.2 innings in his career is by far the worst of any frame. Second is the sixth inning at only 4.58.

Next: Three predictions for Jeff McNeil in 2020

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Spring Training doesn’t always matter for some veterans. For these two, they’re fighting for a bigger role on the 2020 Mets. Who will come out on top?

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