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On July 26th, 2012, the New York Mets called up a hard-throwing right-handed starting pitcher by the name of Matt Harvey. Harvey dazzled the Diamondbacks in Arizona that night, striking out 11 over 5 1/3 innings pitched without allowing any runs. This was supposed to mark a turning point in the Mets’ rebuild, the first of several impact top prospect pitching call-ups to come over the years as the projected dominant rotation finally started to take shape.

At the onset, things seemed be going according to plan. 2013 saw the arrival of Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom took his turn in 2014, and the 2015 National League Champion New York Mets were boosted by rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. While, the Mets did take home the N.L. Pennant in 2015 on the back of these young starting pitchers, things haven’t been the same since. Injuries and inconsistencies have decimated this rotation, which heads into 2018 with a ton of question marks.

We’ll analyze what went wrong, and determine which of these pitchers are worth the fantasy investment in 2018.

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The Aces

Jacob deGrom

Of all the players discussed, Jacob deGrom has turned out to be the most reliable – and he was by far the least heralded. His debut in 2014 did not receive much fanfare, but as the strikeouts started to pile up and the runs didn’t, people began to take notice. Four years into his career, nothing much has changed. deGrom owns a career 2.98 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 680 2/3 innings pitched, with 731 strikeouts and a 4.05 K/BB. He’s also been about as close to an embodiment of perfect health as one could ask for in a pitcher with his career-low of 22 starts coming in his rookie season when he didn’t start the year in Queens. There is no reason to expect anything less than excellence from deGrom in 2018.

deGrom is coming off a 2017 that saw a career-worst ERA (3.53), but a career-best K/9 (10.68). He walked more batters (2.64 BB/9), but the strikeout increase boosted his K/BB to the second-best of his career (4.05). Clearly, he wasn’t bad by any stretch, more of…less elite. Despite the higher ERA in 2017, deGrom wasn’t hit very hard at all; his 21.3% soft contact rate was the best of his career. With former Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway (who coached up starting pitchers Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, to name a few) now the Mets’ skipper, one would think deGrom will have a great chance of reverting to somewhere in-between his 2015-2016 and 2017 selves. An ERA closer to 3.00 should probably be expected, with fewer walks (likely somewhere in the 2.50 BB/9 range) and strikeouts (something around 9.10 K/9 seems reasonable). Expect yet another top-10 finish among all starting pitchers for Jacob deGrom in 2018.

Noah Syndergaard

Following closely on the heels of deGrom is 25-year-old Noah Syndergaard, who would easily top this list if not for health issues. While Thor doesn’t have much of an injury history overall, a lat injury limited him to only seven starts and 30 1/3 innings pitched in 2017. He returned for a few appearances at the end of the season and ended up finishing with a fantastic 2.97 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.09 K/9, and 11.33 K/BB.

The issue with Syndergaard going into 2017 was that, for whatever reason, he spent most of that offseason strength training in an effort to increase his fastball velocity – which was already the fasted of any starting pitcher. Many believe overdoing his strength training led to the lat injury, which Syndergaard seemed to have learned from. This offseason, he’s focused on staying more limber and agile, which should alleviate the issues we saw last year. Chances are, Thor will be just as good as his 2016: 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 5.07 K/BB with 218 strikeouts across 183 2/3 innings pitched. Entering his fourth major league season (but what should amount to only his second full season), there’s little reason to think Syndergaard won’t finish as a top-10 starting pitcher with top-five upside.


The Maybes

Steven Matz

Left-hander Steven Matz may be the most interesting name on this list. He’s nowhere near as automatic of a fantasy asset like Syndergaard and deGrom, but he’s also far closer to being one than Harvey and Wheeler. Matz’s ceiling is as high as the former two, but his floor is a question mark. Always brimming with talent, Matz just hasn’t been able to keep things together in the Major Leagues. He’s amassed only 41 starts across three seasons, pitching 234 2/3 career innings. He owns a career 3.99 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with a 8.09 K/9 and 2.53 K/BB, largely inflated due to a few horrendous starts in 2017. While inconsistency has plagued Matz on the mound, his health has been a bigger detriment. He’s dealt with a torn UCL, shoulder, bone spur, and nerve issues in his short career thus far.

So what are the reasons for hope in 2017? For one, if anybody is going to solve his inconsistencies, it’s Callaway. If Matz can’t improve upon his career 2.30 BB/9 under Callaway, he never will. It was only two years ago when Matz finished with a 3.40 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.77 K/9, and 4.16 K/BB across 22 starts. What Callaway likely can’t help much with though, is Matz’s health. The thought here is that the Mets’ entirely revamped medical/training staff will do more for Matz then almost any other player, but that won’t mean much if the guy is simply injury-prone. Early ADP indications indicate Matz isn’t being drafted at all. While we wouldn’t advocate using a draft pick on someone you don’t have to, he might be worth a flier in the last round if you can afford it. At minimum, monitor Matz throughout spring training; there’s some potential for high-level pitching production at a dirt cheap cost here.


The Avoid-At-Almost-All-Costs

Matt Harvey

By now, everyone knows the tragic tale of Matt Harvey. As referenced above, Harvey burst on the scene in 2012, and didn’t stop dominating until late-2013 when he was shut down due to a torn UCL. When Harvey returned from Tommy John surgery in 2015, his dominance wasn’t far off from the level we saw previously. From there, it’s been all downhill. For the better part of two seasons, Harvey has been getting destroyed on the mound due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and the results therefrom, which he had surgery for in 2016. Coming off a 2017 that saw him “pitch” to a 6.70 ERA across 92 2/3 innings, which would have been the worst in baseball by over a full run had he pitched enough innings to qualify, things aren’t looking any better for Harvey in 2018.

Until Harvey shows us he can either 1) ramp his velocity back up, or 2) change his approach to find success with diminished velocity, there isn’t much hope. In his disastrous 2017, Harvey’s fourseam fastball velocity fell to 94.42 MPH, down over two MPH from 96.46 in 2015. He also saw significant dips for his changeup, slider, and curveball. The industry buzz is that, given the injury he had, it’s doubtful he ever regains his velocity of old. Harvey tried to change his approach, and that didn’t work very well either. He threw his fourseam slightly more, significantly decreased his curveball use (6.94% in 2017 vs 12.98% in 2015) and used his slider much more (22.61% in 2017 vs 14.43% in 2015). All in all, Harvey was quite possibly the worst starting pitcher in baseball in 2017, and we know nothing that suggests any improvement for 2018. It’s possible Callaway proves to be a big help for Harvey, but we can’t bank on that. He shouldn’t be drafted in any redraft leagues and most keeper leagues, but given his past, you have to keep an eye on his early starts just in case.

Zack Wheeler

Zack Wheeler was originally the second-most heralded pitcher of this group, behind Harvey. A good but not great first two years in the Major Leagues followed up by two seasons missed due to Tommy John surgery, combined with a lackluster 2017 return, will understandably knock a guy down a few pegs. Wheeler was also looking like a solid pitcher in 2017, but spiraled downward and finished with a 5.21 ERA and 1.59 WHIP across 17 starts before being shut down with a stress reaction in his throwing arm.

There’s no doubt Wheeler is supremely talented, but he wasn’t exactly close to putting it all together even before the injury – and he hasn’t been back to pre-Tommy John form yet. Walks have always been a very big problem for Wheeler; he allowed a career-worst 4.17 BB/9 in 2017 (with 4.14 and 3.84 in 2013 and 2014, respectively). On top of his results being an issue, we don’t even know what his role will be yet. A common rumor since the end of 2017 has been that Wheeler is destined for the bullpen – which may be a good idea given how electric he can be in short bursts. Is it possible Wheeler gets it together and shows why he was a top pitching prospect? Of course. Is it likely? Not really. Give Wheeler the Harvey treatment and keep an eye on him, but outside of deep dynasty leagues he would be dead weight on your fantasy roster right now.


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