How can the Mets manage workloads for their starting pitchers this winter, and in 2016?
One of the merits about the Mets playing so deep into the season is it makes for a very quick off-season.
Believe it or not, spring training is right around the corner, approximately 3 1/2 months before pitchers and catchers report to Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie.
So the Mets need to detox quick, starting thinking, start planning, and start considering how to reach the top of the baseball mountain pretty quickly.
Part of that planning will be how they consider tweaking their roster to get them over that hump.
But they also have to figure out a very under-discussed situation with some players currently on the roster.
That is, managing workloads and off-season programs for their starting pitching, all of which pitched into unchartered territory from an innings perspective in 2015.
Here’s a look at the innings counts of all five of the projected starting pitchers for the Mets heading into Opening Day:
Typically, the organization prefers it’s young starters to have a net increase of 30 innings over their previous full year.
Due to injury, Steven Matz saw the lowest net increase from his innings count last year. Jacob deGrom went modestly above that 30-inning preference by about eight innings, although Terry Collins suspected deGrom was suffering from fatigue at times in September and October.
Like deGrom, Harvey also went modestly above the 30-inning preference from his previous high. But he was coming off Tommy John Surgery, and there was of course the late-season controversy with both he and his agent regarding a hard 180-inning cap inclusive of the postseason.
But he went 36 innings above that threshold, which just goes to show where his heart and faith were in the end, especially after his epic performance in Game 5 of the World Series.
That doesn’t mean there can’t be ramifications. The concern from Harvey and his agent was genuine and understandable, and he threw a ton considering he was in his first year back from major elbow surgery.
Fortunately, he is two years removed from the procedure itself, which can only help his particular circumstance. But he needs rest first and foremost, no matter what he thinks.
Noah Syndergaard went well above the 30-inning preference by more than double, although he only seemed to get better with each start he made down the stretch and in the postseason as well.
That doesn’t mean the Mets shouldn’t tread lightly with Syndergaard. No matter how he looked, he endured a lot of extra mileage on his arm and body thanks to his postseason workload, and that cannot be overlooked.
But the Mets have a plan on how to manage their pitchers this winter, and in spring training as well.
According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, Dan Warthen said the plan is to delay all of their throwing and preparation programs in spring training, and not have them throw in Grapefruit League games until later in March.
“They wouldn’t miss any starts [in April], but we may wait until later in spring training for them to start throwing,” pitching coach Dan Warthen told Puma.
It’s unclear if Warthen and the Mets would ask their young starters to delay their off-season throwing programs as well, considering they only shut themselves down on November 1. They could conceivably determine their workload right now is adequate for them to delay their off-season throwing by a certain amount of time, thus allowing their arms and bodies to heal at a similar rate to that of an off-season excluding postseason innings.
Of course, there’s throwing to build and maintain arm strength, and then there’s throwing to prepare for competitive starts, which is a different animal both physically and mentally.
It’s worth considering Zack Wheeler is on-track to return at around the All-Star break. Given that timeframe, he should not be under an innings limit coming back from his injury. But he’s going to have to build his stamina, especially if the Mets intend to be in the postseason again a year from now.
Having said that, they could choose to use Wheeler at times to skip starts for their other starting pitchers and insert Jon Niese back into the rotation, who will presumably be dispatched to the bullpen once Wheeler returns. That way, they can avoid using a six-man rotation, keep everyone in a routine, maintain stamina and agility, and keep everyone happy in the process.
Its a tricky circumstance, and one neither the staff or the pitchers have experience dealing with. That’s not a bad thing, considering they just played in a World Series. But given the short off-season and the need for these guys to heal and be ready for the season plus be ready for another 162-game run relatively soon, it’s going to take some unconventional thinking and execution, which really begins right now.