For a few years now, it’s been something of a given that the Mets develop pitching well … but it’s not often discussed how. Are they getting elite pitching talent into the system and just watching it grow? Are they excelling at bringing the most out of what they have? Intuitively, years of watching and discussing the farm led me to believe the latter—the Mets have never really been awash in extreme raw talent here. There’s no top-five amateur draft pick, and no big money international signing. A few pitchers have became top global prospects, but usually after years of maximization in the system.
Of course, the best way to look at these things is through data, but the problem is that minor-league velocity data isn’t widely available. As a result, I trawled through a bunch of different sources and came up with what I think are representative numbers. Much of the minor-league velocity information is from Eyewitness Accounts and team lists filed by Baseball Prospectus prospect team members; I also relied on information provided by Jeffrey Paternostro and Mike Newman, and my own personal notes having seen many of these players in Single-A and Double-A. All major-league velocity data is courtesy of Brooks Baseball’s player cards. Unless otherwise noted, for major-league velocities, I used 2016 data and what Brooks lists as four-seam fastballs.
|MILB FB SIT||TOUCH||MLB AVG FB||TOUCH||MILB SL VELO||MLB SL AVG||TOUCH|
|Matt Harvey||92-95||97||96.46 (2015)||100.23||82-83||90.24 (2015)||94.86|
|Jacob deGrom||91-94||96||95.81 (2015)||99.03||87||90.26 (2015)||92.90|
|Zack Wheeler||92-96||98||96.17 (2014)||99.43||High-80s||90.00 (2014)||94.27|
|Noah Syndergaard||96-99||100||98.88||102.30||Curve only||91.47||95.54|
|Steven Matz||92-94||95||94.39 (sinker)||97.24||Curve only||87.91||91.46|
|Jeurys Familia||94-97||97||96.65 (sinker)||99.29||83-85||87.43||90.89|
I think that’s a decent sampling of pitchers developed by the Mets in the last five years, with a slant towards guys that are contributing in 2016. With no exception, every Mets pitcher listed above is throwing their fastball at the top of or above the range of velocity they displayed as a prospect. Some are throwing their average major-league fastball harder than their hardest minor-league fastballs. The same is largely true for the slider— they’re being thrown harder. This is all happening at the major-league level or right below. Dan Warthen has rightly been credited with much of these gains, but some credit is also due to the player development and the Binghamton and Las Vegas staffs as well.
What the chart doesn’t directly say is that the sliders were better. Though not the most important factor in a fastball’s effectiveness, velocity certainly tends to go hand-in-hand with excellence. Since these Mets pitchers haven’t really been trading movement and plane for that velocity, the gains are real and chartable on the 20-80 scouting scale. And, if anything, the quality of slider improvement is undersold by the velocity chart alone. The first 10 guys on that list all have major-league average sliders or better, and some are way better than that. Velocity and effectiveness increased greatly on those pitches. Outside of Wheeler–and to a lesser extent deGrom and Familia–none of these sliders were notable at all during their prospect period. In most cases, the slider each threw as a prospect is a completely different pitch than the slider they throw today as a big leaguer. This wholly aligns with the narrative of Dan Warthen teaching nearly every Met his personal grip for a hard, unusually effective slider.
Montero, of course, is the glaring exception here. I discussed him last week in greater depth, but he’s the only pitcher in this group not throwing the hard slider, instead sticking with the same subpar pitch he had as a prospect. He’s also one of the guys that least maximized their fastball velocity. No surprise–he’s the only one that has vastly underperformed his prospect status.
Compare Montero with Seth Lugo, a prospect so non-notable that I couldn’t find any reliable public information about his minor league arsenal. Lugo was initially called up to the majors as a reliever, and he dialed up his velo in that role. But his improved velocity has stuck after transitioning to a starting role even as he’s stretched out. The Mets have somehow managed to max his stuff out at the major-league level and get him several times through the order. That rarely happens.
This is all leading to the biggest question I have about the Mets’ system: should we just start assuming that every Met pitching prospect of note–plus some of the ones not of note–will end up gaining a few ticks or more on their fastball along with an average-or-better slider?
I don’t know.
As a prospect analysis community, we’ve taken two positions that run counter to that. First, we generally evaluate what we see as what we’ve gotten, especially for higher-level pros. It’s abnormal development for a starting pitcher in, say, Double-A to add significant velocity between there and the majors. For instance, we almost always project fastballs to remain at within about a half-grade of where they are in the high-minors, and often to stay steady. Second, we almost always choose to simply ignore what system a prospect is in until that shows up in the prospect’s profile. (Whether the latter point makes any sense is an article for another day, but we generally don’t consider that Met pitching prospect outcomes are a gazillion times better than Oriole pitching prospect outcomes in ways that seem repeatable.)
What I can tell you is that before you dismiss the next pop-up fringy prospect like Rob Gsellman or Seth Lugo coming through the system—perhaps that’s Marcos Molina and Chris Flexen in a year or two?—you might want to consider how often the Mets seem to be turning coal into diamonds.
(And you might want to keep an even closer eye on Thomas Szapucki, because a maxed out Thomas Szapucki is a monster.)
Photo Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports