In July, a member of the Mets organization surveyed the baseball landscape and recognized opportunity.
“We just need to hit a little bit,” he said. “If we do, we have the pitching to win it all.”
The Mets tinkered with their lineup alchemy with the midyear acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, and Kelly Johnson to reach the postseason. Meanwhile, the October transformation of Daniel Murphy – who has now homered in six straight playoff games – into Joe Hardy has allowed that vision to come to fruition thanks to the constant: The Mets do indeed have a championship-caliber staff.
Stephen Matz did his part on Wednesday, delivering 4 2/3 innings in which he limited the Cubs to one run, as the Mets swept their way into the World Series with a dominant 8-3 win over Chicago. None of the four Mets starters – 27-year-old Jacob deGrom, 26-year-old Matt Harvey, 24-year-old Matz, or 23-year-old Noah Syndergaard – allowed more than two runs. As a group, they permitted six earned runs in 25 innings, good for a 2.16 ERA. With 26-year-old Jeurys Familia (4 scoreless appearances) behind them in the bullpen, the Mets never trailed in the NLCS.
The display of dominance from New York’s arms raised the question: Where are October’s most dominant pitchers found? The Mets, obviously, have gone the young and homegrown route, with deGrom, Harvey, and Matz all coming to them through the draft, Familia getting signed as a 16-year-old international amateur, and Syndergaard coming to them as a moldable minor leaguer in a trade. But is this typical?
A look at the last five Octobers suggests that the Mets were indeed typical in getting their most impactful innings from pitchers who were a) homegrown and b) on the right side of the dividing line of 30.
|2015||Marco Estrada||Blue Jays||19.1 IP, 2.33 ERA, 2-1, 15 Ks, 1 BB||Starter||0.5||31||Trade (age 31)|
|2014||Madison Bumgarner||Giants||52.2 IP, 1.03 ERA, 4-1, 45 Ks, 6 BBs||Starter||1.7||24||Draft (1st rd)|
|2014||Wade Davis||Royals||12 Gs, 14.1 IP, 0.63 ERA, 20 Ks, 2 BBs||Reliever||1.1||28||Trade (age 27)|
|2014||Greg Holland||Royals||11 Gs, 11 IP, 0.82 ERA, 15 Ks, 5 BBs||Reliever||0.9||28||Draft (10th rd)|
|2014||Yusmeiro Petit||Giants||12.2 IP, 1.42 ERA, 3-0, 13 Ks, 4 BBs||Reliever||0.9||29||FA (age 27)|
|2013||Justin Verlander||Tigers||23 IP, 0.39 ERA, 1-1, 31 Ks, 3 BBs||Starter||1.1||30||Draft (1st rd)|
|2013||Trevor Rosenthal||Cardinals||10 Gs, 11.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 18 Ks, 3 BBs||Reliever||0.8||23||Draft (21st rd)|
|2013||Jon Lester||Red Sox||34.2 IP, 1.56 ERA, 4-1, 29 Ks, 8 BBs||Starter||0.8||29||Draft (2nd rd)|
|2013||John Lackey||Red Sox||26 IP, 2.77 ERA, 3-1, 25 Ks, 6 BBs||Starter||0.7||34||FA (age 31)|
|2012||Darren O'Day||Orioles||7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 5 Ks, 1 BB||Reliever||1.1||29||Waivers|
|2012||Justin Verlander||Tigers||28.1 IP, 2.22 ERA, 3-1, 29 Ks, 6 BB||Starter||0.9||29||Draft (1st rd)|
|2012||Sergio Romo||Giants||10 Gs, 10.2 IP, 0.84 ERA, 9 Ks, 1 BB||Reliever||0.8||29||Draft (28th rd)|
|2012||Ryan Vogelsong||Giants||24.2 IP, 1.09 ERA, 3-0, 21 Ks, 10 BBS||Starter||0.8||34||FA (age 33)|
|2011||Chris Carpenter||Cardinals||36 IP, 3.25 ERA, 4-0, 21 Ks, 11 BBs||Starter||0.9||36||FA (age 28)|
|2011||Neftali Feliz||Rangers||11 Gs, 11.1 IP, 2.38 ERA, 12 Ks, 6 BBs||Reliever||0.8||23||Trade (age 19)|
|2011||Joaquin Benoit||Tigers||7.2 IP, 1.17 ERA, 9 Ks, 3 BBs||Reliever||0.7||33||FA (age 33)|
|2011||Yovani Gallardo||Brewers||19 IP, 2.84 ERA, 1-1, 16 Ks, 8 BBs||Starter||0.5||25||Draft (2nd rd)|
|Age 26-30||11||International Free Agent||1|
Using Win Probability Added (WPA) – which is essentially WAR as broken down on a play-by-play basis inside a game – to identify the four pitchers each October who had the biggest impact reveals that just one pitcher was acquired as a top-of-the-market free-agent starter: John Lackey for the 2013 Red Sox. Beyond that, there was one middle reliever who received a top-shelf contract (Joaquin Benoit, who was signed to a three-year deal by Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers in 2011) and three pitchers who landed with their teams as castoffs: Chris Carpenter, Yusmeiro Petit, and Ryan Vogelsong.
Of the other 15 pitchers in the group, 10 were acquired by their teams through the draft (though it’s worth noting that many of those pitchers were found in later rounds), one more (Familia) landed with his club as an international amateur, one (Darren O’Day) was acquired via waivers, and three were acquired in trades.
Meanwhile, 15 of the 20 pitchers who ranked among the most valuable in each of the past five seasons were age 30 or younger; of the other five pitchers, just one (Chris Carpenter with the 2011 Cardinals) was over 35.
Finally, it’s worth noting that nine of the 20 pitchers in this group that made the biggest October impact were relievers. That, in turn, underscores the magnified significance of back-end relievers once the playoffs arrive, given the ability to match up and to lean more heavily on bullpen arms given the built-in days off.
Do any of those patterns offer a blueprint for replicating the construction of the Mets’ dominant staff? Of course not. There are plenty of teams that have gone down in flames while trying to build around young, homegrown arms.
That said, as the Red Sox contemplate how to move forward in their efforts to transform a pitching staff that proved a liability in 2015, the logic of their strategy entering last season – bet on younger pitchers, limit the commitments to pitchers on the wrong side of 30 – has been in evidence this October.
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