The New York Mets have become synonymous with the IL. No team has been dealt more significant blows with the injury bug than the Mets over the past several seasons. Just this year alone, they entered the season down two starters in the rotation, and starting third baseman J.D. Davis and center fielder Brandon Nimmo have both missed time.
After leaving the game against the Diamondbacks after the fifth inning, deGrom underwent an MRI for his right side tightness that he experienced during Sunday’s start. The good news for the Mets is that the MRI came back negative. The bad news is that deGrom will have to miss time.
This is, of course, the news that Mets fans never want to hear. deGrom was having a sensational start to the season, compiling a mere 0.68 ERA thus far in his six starts. An early contender for the Cy Young Award, deGrom managed to defy his own exceptional expectations thus far, only walking seven batters while striking out 65 hitters.
The New York Mets are dealing with injury woes once again, but in the case of deGrom’s injury, there is a rational solution.
During deGrom’s stint on the IL, which allows him to return on May 21st at the earliest, the team had two off days (one last Monday and the second later this week). Presumably, this will allow the team to go with a four-man rotation during deGrom’s absence, which is likely, given the lack of starting pitching options now that three of the team’s best arms are on the IL. The three starters Marcus Stroman, David Peterson, and Taijuan Walker will continue to start. But the fourth spot in the rotation, which has seen the Mets deploy an opener followed by Joey Lucchesi, is where things are going to get interesting.
Lucchesi has not been great to start the year. His “churve” has been incredibly hittable, and the result is through Tuesday he has compiled a 7.73 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP over 14 innings. That is simply not going to cut it, and the Mets should reconsider who they trot out in deGrom’s place come his turn in the rotation.
Although the opener is a questionable practice that subverts traditional thinking, the Mets will likely use an opener when deGrom’s place in the rotation arrives. Miguel Castro and Tommy Hunter (who is most likely to be used in that role again) are the likely candidates to get the ball then. Usually, Castro or Hunter would get the ball for a couple innings, and then turn it over to Lucchesi for three innings or so.
However, the Mets have another versatile fringe starter arm in the bullpen that is pitching better currently and would be a much better fit to take Lucchesi’s role in the rotation. That player is Robert Gsellman.
Gsellman, who struggled mightily in 2020, is off to a great start in 2021, and he is thriving by being an anti-analytics pitcher.
In today’s game, pitchers are throwing harder than ever before. Power pitchers are becoming abundant in the league, and they rely on their fastballs to throw the ball by the hitters instead of using finesse to get outs. Gsellman is abandoning this rote formula, and it shows in his pitch usage. Last season, Gsellman threw his fourseam fastball 19.1% percent of the time in 2021, and batters performed well against it, hitting .316. This season, because Gsellman was able to rediscover the effectiveness of his slider and sinker, he has only thrown his fastball 6.1% of the time.
Gsellman’s command of his slider and sinker last season was a point of concern, considering that those two pitches were his bread and butter. Opposing hitters hammered both pitches last season, and the amount of hard contact that was induced with those pitches indicated that hitters not only managed to stay on top of both pitches, but that both pitches did not have the zip that was necessary for them to be effective, particularly his sinker.
When deployed properly, a sinker has a well-defined downward movement that induces many ground ball outs. Last season, Gsellman’s ground ball percentage decreased, falling seven percentage points below his career average (41%). This season, Gsellman is getting ground balls at an above-average clip (54%), and his sinker has been a significant part of that rebound.
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Considering Gsellman’s results thus far, and that he has experience as a starter, the Mets should consider plugging him into Lucchesi’s spot in the rotation. There is no reason why Gsellman could not give the team a solid three innings as they look to withstand the loss of their Cy Young pitcher.