The New York Mets have been ravaged by injuries all around their roster, including their starting rotation. Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker have spent time on the IL so far, and projected starters Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco have not taken the field yet as they work back from their injuries.
Once they do, the Mets are going to have an even stronger rotation than they have right now. Even without Syndergaard and Carrasco, Mets starters have compiled one of the best ERA marks in the majors. Two of those starters, David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi, were expected to not be in the rotation at all, and as expected, their ERAs are the largest.
It is the Mets pitching that has allowed them to remain in first place despite devastating injuries to many of the Mets starting position players and the concerning lack of power from an offense that was expected to be much more high-powered. As a result, if the Mets want to contend for a World Series this season, they need to make sure their starters are well-rested and ready for a long, arduous postseason if the team remains in the position they are in now.
The Mets are pitching well despite the injuries, but a six-man rotation is a different option that the team should at least consider.
When Syndergaard and Carrasco return, the Mets should consider the pros and cons of adopting a six-man rotation similar to what the Seattle Mariners are doing this season, and whether it could help them during the stretch run.
The benefit to a six-man rotation, at least on the outset, appears rational when first considered. It allows a team’s starters to get one more day of rest, which means that their overall innings pitched would decrease as the sixth starter takes some of the workload off the other five starters.
However, right now, there is no clear answer as to whether a decrease in innings would improve player health because there is not enough analytical evidence available. Pitchers in the MLB are individually unique in their own way, and that makes it difficult to discern whether there is a tangible benefit to implementing a six-man rotation. A pitcher’s workload and rest days can often be tied to age, routine, or injury concerns. An opener could also dictate a starter’s workload as well depending on the effectiveness of the opener. The point is that with so few comparable situations, there is no way of knowing for sure whether pitchers benefit from throwing less innings over the course of a season.
So with the health benefit unclear, it may seem questionable why a team would adopt a six-man rotation. For the Mets, there are strong arguments for and against deploying this type of revolutionary rotation. First, as a con, it is important to point out that a hypothetical sixth starter for the Mets would take away innings from deGrom, who is having a MVP season, as well as Stroman and Walker, who are pitching like aces so far. For a benefit, it is relevant to note that Syndergaard and Carrasco are going to have depressed workloads as it is because they are set to miss half the season and when they return, the team will take a conservative and gentle approach with their workloads. Having a sixth starter would give both pitchers more time to heal between starts and ensure that their injuries do not reemerge as they get acclimated back to the big leagues.
So should the Mets adopt a six-man rotation? It depends on two variables: the quality of the existing starters, and the effectiveness of whoever the sixth starter would be. Right now, it would be hard to declare Peterson or Lucchesi as being an effective sixth starter. Lucchesi seems like a candidate who is destined to be a long reliever once the Mets rotation is completely healthy, and Peterson may find himself back in Triple-A if he continues to struggle.
However, the Mets could decide to look for an upgrade outside the organization if they find themselves interested in having a six-man rotation for the remainder of the season. In that event, keep an eye on the Cincinnati Reds as a potential trading partner. Currently situated in fourth place in the National League Central, the Reds are unlikely to be contenders. They are stuck in baseball purgatory: they’re good enough to be competitive, but not quite good enough to hang in the postseason hunt for the entire year. The Reds also happen to have pitchers who may be available at the trade deadline.
Luis Castillo is one of these pitchers. So far, he has had a nightmare of a start (7.22 ERA), but over the last four seasons prior to 2021, he has averaged a 3.51 ERA, which is a solid figure for a starting pitcher. Even more strange, Castillo’s velocity and spin rates have mostly remained the same. Coupled with an unrealistically high BABIP, there is reason to rationally believe that he could right the ship.
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Right now, the Mets are in a position where they do not need to make an impulsive decision. They can wait to see if Stroman and Walker continue to pitch well, and if Carrasco and Syndergaard come back healthy. Either way, their team’s pitching is not the problem despite the injuries. However, the Mets should keep this thought in the back of their mind, and consider not only whether acquiring another starter is in order, but whether a six-man rotation might be in their best interest. If they decide the latter, reaching out to the Reds should be considered.