Last year, the New York Mets surprisingly made it all the way to the World Series. They did so on the backs of a mostly-young starting staff that pitched and pitched and pitched some more.
And they were terrific. Five starters made at least 24 starts for the Mets in 2015, and their top three starters, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, led the team in fWAR. deGrom was worth 5.3, Harvery was at 4.4 and Syndergaard was worth 3.1. Steven Matz pitched in near the end of the season with a 2.27 ERA in six starts and made some key postseason starts as well.
And here was the best thing about the Mets rotation. They were so young.
deGrom was 27. Harvey was 26. Matz was 24, and Syndergaard was 22. New York had themselves a dynamic starting rotation that seemed poised to be around forever, dominating NL offenses for the next 5-7 years.
And that may all still happen. But here, in 2016, the Mets are showing why the Phillies are smart to continue stockpiling all the good, young starting pitchers they can get their hands on.
deGrom, Harvey and now Matz are all out for the rest of the season because of arm injuries. Only Syndergaard remains in the rotation, and he has battled bone spurs at various points this season. For the moment, Bartolo Colon is the team’s No. 2 starter, with Seth Lugo, Logan Verrett, Robert Gsellman and others stepping into the void in their places.
And somehow, the Mets are still in the wild card picture. That’s a borderline miracle.
But this is the way it is with young pitching. You can never, ever, have enough. Even when you think the shelves are stocked and the legs and arms of starting pitchers are hanging outside the over-stuffed drawers of the farm system, our rivals to the north are showing just how fragile a commodity pitching truly is.
It’s not like the Phillies aren’t somewhat aware of this. Aaron Nola was lost for most of the second half of the season after injuring his elbow. Nola had never had an arm injury before, and the hope is he’ll be able to avoid surgery and come back next spring all systems go.
But Vince Velasquez has already been injured, and as you know if you heard the great Jeff Passan on last week’s Felske Files podcast, pitchers who have suffered injuries, especially Tommy John surgeries, are at a greater risk of suffering a future injury than a pitcher who hadn’t previously gone under the knife.
Mark Appel, acquired in the Ken Giles deal, also needed surgery this year, for the same bone spurs in his elbow that Matz is getting surgery on. Zach Eflin has had surgery on one knee and will follow that up with surgery on the other this off-season.
This is why the Phils have been loading up on pitchers over the last 24 months. The arm is a mysterious beast.
This off-season, you’re going to hear people advocate the Phillies trade some of their young pitching for young bats. And while every deal is different, and there are certainly trades that would be worth making, the Phils will be cautious about trading away starters like Velasquez, Eflin, Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, or any of the multitude of low-minors lottery tickets playing in the GCL, Lakewood or Clearwater.
It’s also why, if the Phillies do decide to move a player like Odubel Herrera, acquiring more starting pitching is not a bad idea. Yes, the Phils desperately need some impact bats, and if some of their young pitching can bring a young position player with offensive ability to the roster, than the Phillies should strongly consider dealing one or more of their arms.
But if they do, they’ll need to supplement the dearly departed with reinforcements.
At the end of the day, no matter how strong your inventory of starting pitching looks, it isn’t that strong. A few elbow tweaks here and a few shoulder groans there is the difference between having the most dynamic starting rotation in baseball and heading into October with Seth Lugo starting Game 3 of a playoff game.
You can never have enough pitching. Just ask the New York Mets.