As the Mets’ offseason languishes and the available bats are crossed off the menu, the 7-trainers can take solace in one thing, if they’ve reached the point of needing solace just two months after the World Series.
Their pitching rotation looking forward from here isn’t just in the best position of any team in baseball. It might be in the best position that any team has seen in modern baseball history.
There’s another year of Big Bart, which won’t have anyone in the baseball Internet circles complaining. And then there’s what might go down as the best generation of homegrown pitchers that a single team has introduced to the game.
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Between 2012 and 2015, Mets fans got to see the debuts of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz — which should be the starting rotation next season, assuming Wheeler makes a full recovery from his March 2015 Tommy John surgery. To define a generation of starting pitchers — something the Mets are a bit familiar with as a franchise — isn’t the easiest thing in the world. But in one definition, this group has a legitimate shot at being the best ever.
If we look at five-year windows for debuts with each team and count only the typical team-controlled years — the debut year plus six more, the group of pitchers that the Mets debuted between 2012 and 2016 would have to reach 79 WARP to crack the top five in the WARP era (1953-present).
Right now, the group, which also includes Jeurys Familia and Rafael Montero, plus anyone who debuts this season, is at 24.9 WARP — the best in baseball.
If they make that top five, they would join groups with multiple Hall-of-Famers, best-of-an-era starters and some more unusually balanced teams.
T4. 1960-64 Giants — 78.9 WARP
Juan Marichal (41.1 WARP)
Gaylord Perry (20.3 WARP)
Bobby Bolin (8.0 WARP)
When your franchise has a couple of Hall of Famers debuting a season-and-a-half apart, it’s a pretty nice head start to getting on this list. Perry’s best seasons as a Giant came in years eight and nine, which is the only thing holding them back from a top spot.
The pair, born 11 months apart, largely missed each other coming up in the minors, with Perry repeating Double-A Corpus Chrsti, while Marichal skipped right from Class A ball to Triple-A Tacoma and graduating before Perry became a regular there. Once united, they helped the Giants finish top three in ERA from 1964-67, winning 90+ games each of those years. But with Perry not playing in the 1962 World Series, the two never played in the postseason together.
A 180-degree turn from the Mets’ eventual entry on this list, the Dodgers represent the star and supporting cast approach to rotation building. Kuroda’s and Billingsley’s best years never really matched up, but for a short time, there was a very legitimate homegrown No. 2 in the late 2000s.
The issues with such a construction have been well illustrated. When the No. 2 starters got injured or left town and the bullpen pieces that helped power the late-2000s teams — Broxton, Takashi Saito, Hong Chih Kuo — did the same, all that was left was more expensive and not-always-reliable replacements.
3. 2002-06 Angels â 79.7 WARP
Jered Weaver (27.6 WARP)
John Lackey (17.3 WARP)
Ervin Santana (12.4 WARP)
Francisco Rodriguez (10.9 WARP)
You could argue that this one was really two generations that happened to overlap by a couple of years. Lackey and the newly nicknamed K-Rod were not only there in time for the 2002 World Series championship, but they were critical pieces in helping the Angels win their first.
By the time Santana (2005) and Weaver (2006) came about, much of that 2002 team was gone. But the two of them joined with the still very effective Lackey and Rodriguez to ensure that while the Angels haven’t been back to a World Series since, they’ve been one of baseball’s most immune to bad years. If the Mets keep this group healthy and largely together, no matter the challenges they face (or self-impose) in acquiring bats, this would be a nice floor.
2. 1967-71 Mets — 87.7 WARP
Tom Seaver (37.7 WARP)
Jon Matlack (22.0 WARP)
Jerry Koosman (14.8 WARP)
Gary Gentry (7.4 WARP)
The Mets have done the generation thing before. Yes, there was the famous Generation K, the quick-fizzling trio of Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson. But there was also the pack of mid-1980s debutants including Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling and Roger McDowell. And then there was this crew, debuts separated by four years, helping the Mets win two pennants four years apart and also take home the 1969 World Series.
Seaver and Koosman were not only already established by 1969 but the stars of the rotation, finishing a respective fourth and fifth in the National League in ERA. Matlack — the No. 4 overall pick during that 1969 season — came along in 1971 and helped solidify the best rotation in baseball.
1. 1985-89 Brewers — 88.2 WARP
Teddy Higuera (28.9 WARP)
Chris Bosio (18.0 WARP)
Bill Wegman (11.0 WARP)
Jaime Navarro (10.5 WARP)
Dan Plesac (8.6 WARP)
Surprised? You’re entitled to be. The most accomplished homegrown pitching corps reached zero postseason games with the Brewers, neither as a group nor individually for any one of the set. They did serve as the homegrown nucleus for a couple of good teams, though — Higuera and Wegman anchoring the rotation of the 91-win team in 1987 and Wegman, Navarro and Bosio doing the same for the 1992 team that did one win better.
The Brewers put the unit alongside an inconsistent offense, which was first in the league in scoring in 1988 and 1992 but dead last in 1990. And the group that all came up together with such early promise was largely forgotten in the bigger picture.
This Mets rotation has higher upside, for certain. But even their projection, should they hold on to everybody and find them the playing time, would make this the best pitching generation we’ve seen in generations.
Looking at the starters and their long-term PECOTA projections for their years between now and the seven-season mark, the totals would push them not only to No. 1 but, with 81.8 WARP added to their 24.9 accumulated, put them there by a wide margin.
Mets starters’ projected WARP
Seasons left in first seven
Now, the projections aim for a middle ground on performance, but they don’t account for the fact that this is the strength from which the Mets may end up dealing before some of these players reach free agency. But even if one of them goes, they still have a very good chance of being the best group of homegrown starters — or at least home-hatched with two of them debuting after trades — over their team-controlled years.
OK, now about that offense.
Thanks to Rob McQuown of Baseball Prospectus for research assistance.