MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins

How To Achieve Maximum Thor

So you think you’re going to be in the Wild Card Game? As the Mets pull towards the end of September, they sit in a tight three-for-two scenario to get a berth in the Wild Card Game next Wednesday night. With Bartolo Colon being moved up to start Friday’s opener in Philadelphia, the options for how the Mets can proceed with their rotation coming home are still quite puzzling. How do you prepare your rotation knowing you’re going to have an elimination game on Wednesday, but not knowing if you’re going to have one on Sunday, Monday, or even Tuesday? And how do you balance that against a potential five-gamer against the best team in baseball starting two days later?

Perhaps the most critical question is this: how do you maximize the leverage of Noah Syndergaard’s innings given how large he looms as one of the game’s best pitchers?

The prevailing wisdom, up to this point, has been that the Mets would save Syndergaard’s next extended outing for their first true do-or-die elimination game. If the Mets were guaranteed a Game 163 on Monday, then they might push him back out of Sunday’s regular-season finale, to Game 163 if needed, or the Wild Card Game if not. Instead, the Mets seem to have chosen to start Syndergaard on Sunday unless they’ve already hit their magic number to clinch the Wild Card Game, a decision that on its surface seems a bit odd. So let’s lay out how the rotation would line up through the NLDS under various combinations:

Scenario A: Nothing Clinched, Syndergaard Starts Sunday

Syndergaard starts on Sunday. If a Game 163 is needed, the Mets have to start Seth Lugo. If a Game 164 is needed under a tiebreaker scenario, it’s basically a bullpen game with someone like Gabriel Ynoa or Hansel Robles leading off. Colon starts the Wild Card Game on Wednesday. The NLDS rotation is likely Syndergaard/Gsellman/Colon/Lugo/Syndergaard.

Scenario B: Game 163 Clinched, Hold Syndergaard Back

The Mets hold Syndergaard back on Sunday while having clinched at least a Game 163 but no more. They have to throw a bullpen game while trying to clinch, and lose. Syndergaard starts on Monday in Game 163. Lugo is available to start Game 164 if necessary. Colon still starts the Wild Card Game. The NLDS rotation is likely Gsellman/Syndergaard/Colon/Lugo/Syndergaard, since the Game 2 starter can pitch Game 5 on regular rest.

Scenario C: Wild Card Clinched, Hold Syndergaard Back

The Mets hold Syndergaard back on Sunday having already clinched, or get in without using Syndergaard. Syndergaard starts the Wild Card Game. Colon is available in relief on full rest. The NLDS rotation is likely Colon/Gsellman/Syndergaard/Lugo/Colon.

Scenario C certainly seems optimal, right? You want Syndergaard starting that Wild Card Game, all else being equal. But it’s not precisely equal, because starting Syndergaard on Sunday (or even Monday) gives you two Syndergaard starts against the Cubs in a potential NLDS. And there are a few more hidden advantages of Syndergaard starting Sunday:

  • Syndergaard, no matter how much he throws Sunday, is going to be available out of the pen on Wednesday for probably two innings or thirty or forty pitches. The Mets have used him as a bullpen weapon like this before, most notably in last year’s NLDS Game 5. If you wanted to give him an extra day after such usage, you could even push him back to NLDS Game 2 without changing his availability for Game 5 because of what we discussed in Scenario B.
  • MLB is starting all games on Sunday at 3:00pm ET to give no team a scheduling advantage on the last day of the season. If the Mets get up enough quickly–and remember they’re playing Philadelphia again here, hitting in the top of every inning as the road team–or whomever the Mets need to lose between the Giants and Cardinals is down early, the team can yank Syndergaard very early. If he gets out of the Sunday game quickly enough, you could safely wheel him back for more than the aforementioned two innings on Wednesday. You could even potentially start him again if the usage is light enough.
  • The Met bullpen on Wednesday–coming off two likely off days and going into one definite off day–will be rested and ready to go. Jeurys Familia should be able to give you two full innings, as will Addison Reed, and Lugo would probably be on full rest to back Colon up. If you have a couple shutdown relievers, you need less length out of your starting pitcher in that game than in any elimination game you’ll ever see, short of a World Series Game 7.

I don’t believe these hidden advantages are enough to want to avoid starting Syndergaard in the Wild Card Game if everything sets up for it to go down that way, because that game has such absurdly high leverage. But I don’t think it actually hurts the Mets’ pennant chances that much if they have to burn him on Sunday if that game is also highly leveraged. It does decrease the chances of getting out of the Wild Card Game a bit, but probably less than you’d think given what the Met bullpen would look like for such a game. And it also increases the chances you can beat the Cubs.

Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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