We took a look Tuesday at 10 position players from the National League East who are hoping 2020 goes better than last year did. Let’s now explore an even larger selection of pitchers seeking rebound efforts this season…
Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Braves:
Foltynewicz was an indispensable part of the Braves’ rotation two years ago, but the beginning of last season went so poorly for him that the team optioned him to Triple-A in late June. Upon his return in August, Foltynewicz was a much better pitcher, his horrid performance in the Braves’ NLDS elimination game against the Cardinals notwithstanding. The two-time defending division champion Braves will need his August-September to carry over, as their rotation’s dealing with some uncertainty because of Cole Hamels’ shoulder problems.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets:
To be clear, last season was not a poor one for Syndergaard by any means. He amassed a personal-high 197 1/3 innings, continued to average upward of 97 mph on his fastball and posted 9.2 K/9 against 2.28 BB/9. Moreover, Syndergaard was a Statcast darling, ranking near the top of the majors in average exit velocity against, expected weighted on-base average and hard-hit percentage, among other categories. On the other hand, his normally stellar run prevention hit career-worst levels. Syndergaard wound up with a 4.28 ERA/3.60 FIP. That’s fine, but it’s not the front-of-the-rotation type of production we’ve grown accustomed to seeing him log.
We’ll lump these two together because they’re both offseason signings who could factor into the back of the Mets’ rotation. Porcello, a former Cy Young winner with the Red Sox, continued to chew up innings last year (174 1/3), but he couldn’t keep runs off the board. His ERA (5.52) was dead last among qualified starters, while his 4.76 FIP checked in as the game’s seventh-worst figure. But the Mets took a $10MM gamble on the durable 31-year-old. That came after they spent $3MM on Wacha, a former Cardinal who – contrary to Porcello – has not been the picture of durability. Wacha has typically stopped runs at a quality clip, but that wasn’t the case last season – a year in which he shuffled between the Cardinals’ rotation and bullpen and concluded with a 4.76 ERA/5.61 FIP over 126 2/3 frames. Career-worst walk and home run-to-fly ball rates of 3.91 and 22 percent, respectively, dragged him down.
Lots of Mets on this list, aren’t there? Diaz was supposed to be the team’s end-of-game savior last season after coming over in a blockbuster trade with the Mariners. He turned in one of the greatest seasons in the history of relievers the year prior, so you can’t blame the Mets for expecting his excellence to continue. Instead, opposing hitters tattooed the 25-year-old for a 5.59 ERA/4.51 FIP and 2.33 home runs per nine across 58 innings, leading to seven blown saves in 33 attempts (Diaz went 57-of-61 in those situations in 2018). But if the HR rate and the .377 batting average on balls in play return to earth in 2020, Diaz should be OK. He did, after all, strike out 15.36 hitters per nine (against 3.41 walks) and average almost 98 mph on his fastball last year.
Like Familia, Diaz came to the Mets as a ballyhooed offseason pickup a year ago. As someone who pitched well for the Mets in his prior stint with the team, Familia was already a known commodity to the club. However, New York didn’t get the version of Familia it expected in 2019. He continued to throw hard (in the 96 mph range), but a bloated walk rate of 6.3 per nine contributed to an awful 5.70 ERA/4.88 FIP in 60 frames. Like Diaz, an inflated BABIP (.346) was among the contributors to Familia’s struggles, though he earned that to some degree with a 7 percent increase in hard-hit rate.
Betances is the lone member of this trio who’s not coming off a poor season. The longtime Yankee, whom the Mets signed to a $10.5MM guarantee on Christmas Eve, is just trying to bounce back from an injury-wrecked year. Betances only made one appearance last year after battling shoulder troubles. And when he was leaving the mound following that September outing, the four-time All-Star suffered a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon.
Doolittle was incredibly dominant for the Nationals two years ago, and though he helped the team to a World Series last fall, his regular season wasn’t as productive. His ERA and FIP (4.05/4.25) each increased by more than two runs, while his strikeout, walk and groundball rates (9.9 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 25.3 percent) were also markedly worse than they were during the previous season. Elias experienced a similar drop-off, and injuries limited him to four appearances for the Nats after they acquired him from the Mariners at the July 31 trade deadline. But he and Doolittle will head into the new season as the top two southpaws in Washington’s bullpen.
The hard-throwing Conley was a fairly solid piece out of the Marlins’ bullpen in 2018. That wasn’t the case last season – a 60 2/3-inning campaign in which he pitched to a 6.53 ERA/5.19 FIP with 7.86 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 37.9 percent grounder rate. Conley also saw his swinging-strike rate fall by more than 4 percent, though he did give up fewer hard-hit balls, and a .351 BABIP didn’t help matters.
Steckenrider joined Conley two seasons ago in seemingly emerging as a respectable late-game arm for Miami. However, thanks in part to elbow troubles, he never really got off the ground last year. Steckenrider only tossed 14 1/3 innings, in which he yielded 10 earned runs on nine hits – including six home runs.
Jake Arrieta, RHP, Phillies:
Arrieta’s a former Cy Young winner with the Cubs who hasn’t performed as hoped since the Phillies signed him to a three-year, $75MM guarantee entering 2018. The 34-year-old dealt with a serious elbow injury last season, holding him to 135 2/3 innings (his fewest since 2013) and a 4.64 ERA/4.89 FIP.
These two relievers were terrific out of the Phillies’ bullpen in 2018, but their health failed them last year. They combined for just 29 1/3 innings, most of which came from Dominguez. Whether they rebound this season will obviously depend in part on whether they’re actually able to take the mound with consistency. Arano, whom elbow surgery largely kept off the hill in 2019, does look as if he’s trending toward Opening Day readiness. That’s not the case for Dominguez, who just suffered a setback in his own recovery from elbow woes.