PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
It’s one of the more fascinating questions around the Mets.
Which of their young, hard-throwing starting pitchers will have had the best career when all is said and done?
In Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, the Mets have five potential aces (assuming Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery this summer).
“The possibilities,” Syndergaard said the other day, “are endless.”
After Syndergaard’s first spring training outing, manager Terry Collins said: “There’s always a debate about who’s going to be the best. This kid’s got a chance to be the guy.”
At other times, Collins has suggested that Long Island lefty Matz could end up being the guy. But don’t tell any of that to Harvey. He’s the staff ace and freely admits that one of his goals is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday.
DeGrom, the converted shortstop who started pitching later than the others, already has something his teammates don’t: hardware. DeGrom won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2014. He’s also the oldest of the group at 27.
Syndergaard is the youngest at 23. He throws the hardest, an average of 97.1 mph with his fastball in 2015, according to Fangraphs. That was the highest average for a starting pitcher in all of baseball.
Harvey, deGrom and Matz also have had Tommy John surgery. Syndergaard admits it concerns him that he might need the procedure someday, just because it seems as if almost every pitcher eventually does.
So who’s going to have the best career? If you polled baseball executives, scouts, broadcasters, writers and fans, you’d probably get votes for all of them except Wheeler, who showed flashes of brilliance and also inconsistency before getting injured.
It’s a fun debate that won’t be settled for about 15 years. So we asked baseball projection expert Dan Szymborski of ESPN.com to run the career numbers for the pitchers using his ZiPS method.
“The numbers are relatively low-looking,” Szymborski said, “simply because injury risk long-term for a pitcher is so high.”
According to ZiPS, Syndergaard is going to end up with the most wins (152), lowest ERA (2.96), most strikeouts (2,586), highest ERA+ (121) and most WAR (46.6).
Szymborski agrees. “I think Syndergaard (and I think he’ll beat the projections),” he said in an email. “His stuff is just scary.”
DeGrom, not Harvey or Matz, is projected to have the second-best career. ZiPS gives deGrom 141 wins and an ERA of 3.00.
Harvey, who made his major-league debut in 2012, has only 25 real career wins. He turns 27 on March 27. ZiPS projects him with 116 wins — only two more than the 24-year-old Matz.
If that’s what ends up happening, the Hall of Fame will not be calling for the Dark Knight.
Wheeler, who made 49 starts before getting injured, has a career record of 18-16 at age 25. ZiPS projects Wheeler with a 93-89 record and 3.70 ERA, highest by far among the group.
Remember, it’s hard for pitchers nowadays to break 200 wins, let alone the old gold standard of 300. One cautionary tale can be written around Cliff Lee, who at age 27 had amassed 49 wins, or 26 more than deGrom at the same age.
At age 29, Lee went 22-3 and won the 2008 AL Cy Young Award. He had 76 wins heading into his 30s and was one of the top pitchers in baseball. He eventually was paid more than $143 million in his career.
But Lee finished his career with a total of 143 wins. (That’s $1 million per win). Lee’s career ended after the 2014 season because of injuries.
If you think all of the above projections are too low, you may be right. Chances are one (or more) of the aces is going to break out and beat the projections by a long distance.
But which one (or more)?