Everyone knows about the enviable pitching depth that resides in Queens, New York. A staff so deep, so young, and with some many years of controllable contracts that no team can compare. Except that’s not really true. There is a team so anonymous that not even their own fans know they have a great pitching staff. The Cleveland Indians can match up with the depth, youth, and contract situation of the Mets pitchers. But who really has the better pitching rotation for now and the future? Let’s compare each pitcher, look at contracts and stats and see who really has the best rotation. Note: All Stats as of August 9, 2015
Corey Kluber vs. Matt Harvey
Over the past two seasons only Clayton Kershaw (12.8 WAR over last two season according to Fangraphs) has been better than Corey Kluber (12.4 WAR) when it comes to pitching. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2013, Corey Kluber has struck out 591 batters in 554.1 innings, a rate of 9.6 strikeouts per 9 innings or 26.3% of the batters he has faced. For his career, Kluber has posted a 3.37 ERA, but take away an awful Indians defense, and Kluber’s FIP is 2.84, which indicates he is much better than his overall numbers suggest. With a Cy Young award already on his mantle, Kluber was awarded with a contract extension of 5 years, $38.5 million with two team options, which could keep him in Cleveland until 2021. However, Kluber isn’t exactly a spring chicken, as he will turn 30 next season.
After returning from Tommy John surgery this season, Harvey seems to have lost a little off his pitches, but that can be expected as it normally takes two years for pitchers to fully return to form. Just 26 years old, Harvey hasn’t even come close to his prime. Harvey has just 57 starts to his name, but has posted a career 2.53 ERA with 392 strikeouts in 377.2 innings. Unfortunately for the Mets, Harvey is about to become very expensive as he will be eligible for arbitration at the end of this season. Unless the Mets and Harvey come to a deal, he is set to become a free agent after the 2018 season.
Carlos Carrasco vs. Jacob deGrom
From 2009 to 2013 Carlos Carrasco was considered a massive bust, posting a 5.29 ERA over 238.1 innings. Things have been completely different since he returned to the rotation in August of 2014. In 32 starts since, Carrasco is 16-11 with a 2.93 ERA, 225 strikeouts, while walking just 39 batters and surrendering 165 hits in 205.1 innings. Something clicked last season, and Carrasco is a threat to throw a no-hitter every night, as he has already flirted with no-hitters on three separate occasions. Carrasco will turn 29 before the start of the 2016 season, but signed a 4-year, $22 million extension keeping him in Cleveland until 2018, and possibly 2020 if his options are picked up.
Much like Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom got a late start to his career due to his unspectacular minor league track record. deGrom turned 27 in June, but in his brief major league career, he has already won NL Rookie of the Year, and made an All-Star appearance. As good as deGrom was in 2014, he has been Kershaw-like in 2015. A 2.13 ERA to go along with 142 strikeouts has deGrom right in the middle of the Cy Young race. Look at the 2015 leader boards and deGrom’s name comes up a lot. deGrom still has two more seasons to go until he hits arbitration, which keeps him under team control until the 2021 season.
Advantage: New York
Danny Salazar vs. Noah Syndergaard
Experts have been drooling over Salazar’s stuff since he was called up in 2013. In fact, Salazar entered the majors with so much potential that Terry Francona gave him the start in the 2013 AL Wild Card game. Sure, Salazar is prone to giving up the long ball occasionally, but his strikeout rate is off the charts. For his career, Salazar has 328 strikeouts in 287.1 innings. He strikes outs 10.3 batters per nine innings and has a 27.5% K rate for his career. Despite having pitched in the MLB for three seasons now, Salazar is still just 25 years old and won’t hit arbitration until 2017, while being under team control until 2021.
Noah Syndergaard’s numbers in 2015 (his first time in the majors) look very similar to Salazar’s. Mets fans have been waiting for Syndergaard’s arrival since he was acquired from the Blue Jays in 2012. So far he hasn’t disappointed: 106 strikeouts in 98.2 innings shows that the league has yet to figure him out. Syndergaard sports a 3.01 ERA, but his FIP has been even better. At just 22 years old and under team control until the 2022 season, fans can expect some Cy Young votes for Synderaard in the future.
Trevor Bauer vs. Jon Niese
*Quick note, Zach Wheeler, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected back until late next season, would appear here if healthy*
Bauer seems to have finally found his place in MLB in Cleveland. One of the most analytically driven pitchers in the league, Bauer is the least likely of the four Indians pitchers to strike you out. That’s no knock on Bauer though, who is still striking out nine batters per nine innings. Bauer is nearly unhittable. He allows just 7.5 hits per 9 innings, but he does lead the AL in walks. Bauer is now entrenched in the rotation for good, after three years of shuttling between Triple-A and MLB. Bauer is surprisingly only 24 years old and still has five years of team control left.
Jon Niese is about as average a starting pitcher as you can get. Since 2009, Niese has put up an ERA in the 3.40 to 4.40 range; he’s never been elite, but he’s never been below replacement level either. Niese has been pitching in the league since 2008, but he will enter next season at just 29 years old. He has one more year left on his contract at $9 million, but can be extended until 2018 with a couple of team options.
The Farm System
Top 5 Pitching Prospects (est. arrival time)
Rob Kaminsky, LHP (2017)
Brady Aiken, LHP (2018)
Justus Sheffield, LHP (2018)
Triston Mckenzie, RHP (2019)
Juan Hillman, LHP (2019)
Over the past two years, the Indians have loaded up on high school pitching through the draft. The biggest coup was drafting Brady Aiken with the 17th pick in the 2015 draft. Aiken was the #1 overall pick in 2014, but failed to sign with the Astros due to elbow concerns. If Aiken recovers from Tommy John surgery, he could be one of the most touted pitching prospects since Stephen Strasburg. Currently, Rob Kaminsky is the only Tribe pitcher to be ranked among the top 100 prospects, coming in at #87.
Steven Matz, LHP (2015)
Marcos Molina, RHP (2018)
Gabriel Ynoa, RHP (2016)
Akeel Morris, RHP (2017)
Dario Alvarez, LHP (2015)
The fruits of the Mets farm system have already been making a difference, but all those guys are no longer prospects. Steven Matz was mowing guys down in Triple-A, and even got a cup of coffee with the Mets before going on the DL. He has the most potential out of anyone not named Brady Aiken, as shown by his prospect ranking at #18. Everyone else on the Mets list projects as back of the rotation pitchers.
It is clear. Cleveland boasts the best rotation for now and the future. The combination of current success, and having control of their assets pushed the Indians over the edge. Would a healthy Steven Matz or Zach Wheeler have swung the vote to the Mets? As it stands, the Indians win the voting with three wins, one loss, and one draw.