John Smoltz starred as both a starting and relief pitcher, and he came back from Tommy John surgery, all of which makes him as qualified an expert as anyone to assess the two biggest sources of optimism in New York baseball for 2016:
The Mets’ starting rotation and the Yankees’ bullpen.
Regarding the former, the Fox analyst said this when asked whether the Mets’ rotation can be historically good, along the lines of the dominant Braves staff of the 1990s that included Smoltz:
“Oh, yeah. Oh man, I’m telling you, especially today with the philosophical changes that exist.
“Look, we know they’re not going to stick together, so they have to make the most of the opportunities, and right now the window is good. I know a lot of people are talking about the Cubs and other teams, but I love the Mets. I said it last year and I’m going to say it again this year.
“Until you prove [otherwise] to me or until their health is not where it needs to be, that’s the toughest pitching staff you’re going to have to come across in a long time. They’ve improved their offense. Their defense has been improved. They have learned through the fire of one-half season, the second half, of what they can be, and a nice blend of some veteran guys.”
The rotation of young arms — Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz — and veteran Bartolo Colon gives Mets fans the “dynamic opportunity” they’ve been waiting for for a long time, Smoltz said.
“And if [Zack] Wheeler comes back in the second half, like I think he can, this is pretty, pretty darn good,” he added.
What about the Yankees?
Smoltz believes the strength is in their numbers.
“The bullpen for the Yankees is as advertised,” Smoltz said. “I am always fearful of the way the game is played and the rate at which guys are used out of the pen. The sustainability cannot be there for the long term; there’s just no way. So you have to make the most of it.
“I’m fearful that the rate of injuries in the bullpen is going to start catching up to the way it has been in the starting rotation. So three guys takes pressure off the one and hopefully you spread that out and not be able to go to the whip that many times.
“Look, the tendency in the game is to [use innings] 6, 7 8, 9 with your bullpen. Well, if you have to eat up those innings day in and day out, you can’t sustain it.
“So you have to still have find some starting staff that gives you the ability to shorten the game. There are 11 pitchers for a reason, but as you talk to most teams, they don’t want to use 11 pitchers. It’s almost as if conditioning for games that you’re not going to win, you’re going to have guys to eat up some innings.
“The games you’re going to win you’re only going to three guys. Or in the Kansas City Royals’ model, four.”