We are almost two months into the season and, as always, people have begun taking a look at the statistics and leaderboards. As such, several writers have taken a crack at announcing who they think is the “Best 1-2 Combo” or “Best 1-2 Punch” at the top of rotations around the major leagues.
I have seen many worthy candidates suggested for that title:
- Nationals: Max Scherzer – Steven Strasburg
- Giants: Johnny Cueto – Madison Bumgarner
- White Sox: Chris Sale – Jose Quintana
- Dodgers: Clayon Kershaw – Anybody (in this case, Kenta Maeda)
- Cubs: Jake Arrieta – Anybody (in this case, Jason Hammel)
But despite all of the articles and debate, there is one notable combo that I’ve noticed has been left out of the discussion:
- Mets: Noah Syndergaard – Steven Matz
It’s not the duo that many of us expected to emerge as the co-aces at the start of the year (although I did predict Syndergaard would lead the staff), but Syndergaard and Matz have been fantastic so far in 2016. And the best part? There’s no reason to doubt it’s sustainability.
I did a custom search on Fangraphs to take a closer look at these twelve pitchers.
To nobody’s surprise, it’s Clayton Kershaw and . . . everybody else, which is why you’re seeing articles about the “Best 1-2 Punch” rather than “best pitcher,” which would be a thoroughly boring article.
Kershaw paces all of the major leagues in WAR, ERA, WHIP, FIP and just about every other important stat you can imagine, including innings. But things become far more interesting when we make the comparison by team.
If you take the same twelve pitchers and sort them by team and by FIP, there is an unexpected leader: Syndergaard and Matz of the New York Mets.
The Mets lead in K-BB%, GB%, FIP and xFIP. They trail only the Cubs in ERA and only the Nationals in strikeouts per nine innings. They place 4th in this group in WAR, although that is primarily a function of the fact that they have the fewest innings of the bunch — the Mets have 17 starts from this duo while the other couplings have 19 or 20. This is owing to the fact that Syndergaard has yet to make his tenth start and Matz missed one turn in the rotation.
This is just a snapshot of the present, not a promise of the future, but it is easy to see the Mets duo continuing on this torrid pace, while some of these other pairs are outperforming what we might expect of them. For instance, Cueto and Strasburg are each veterans beating their career ERAs by about one run. Even though Strasburg’s emergence looks sustainable, it’s likely that Cueto is more of a 3.25 ERA pitcher than a 2.38 ERA pitcher. Other pitchers are wildly outperforming their peripherals, most notably Quintana who has a 0.14 HR/9 and is beating his xFIP by over a run, and Hammel who has a 2.17 ERA despite a K-BB% which is actually worse than league average. Even Arrieta, as great as he is, is probably closer to his FIP (2.71) than his ERA (1.72).
As for the young Mets, Syndergaard alone has staked a claim to “best pitcher, non-Kershaw division” by playing 2nd in FIP, 2nd in K-BB%, and 3rd in WAR in this group. Matz, for his part, has pitched to a microscopic 1.13 ERA/2.15 FIP with a sterling 23.2 K-BB% since his one disaster inning in his first start on April 11th.
There is a good argument to be made for most of these duos, although I would probably rank the Dodgers (Kershaw/Maeda), Mets (Syndergaard/Matz) and White Sox (Sale/Quintana) a little ahead of the rest, with the Nationals (Strasburg/Scherzer) as potential spoilers if Scherzer gets back on track.
Nonetheless, you’ve got to be impressed with Syndergaard and Matz, who lead in two other categories I forgot to mention: average fastball velocity (their average of 95.8 mph is more than 2 mph faster than the Cubs) and lowest salaries.
The future is bright in Flushing. It’s time these two got their due.