Some great starts and some terrible starts combined for a mediocre result.
David Peterson had a breakout rookie campaign in the shortened 2020 season, when he was given a rotation spot out of necessity after injuries took down both Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. He showed a calm and composure that was sorely needed on the Mets pitching staff, and he quickly became the Mets best starter not named Jacob deGrom.
During the 2021 offseason, the Mets kept Marcus Stroman with a qualifying offer, traded for Carlos Carrasco and signed Taijuan Walker, remaking most of their rotation for the upcoming season. Now Peterson was going into Spring Training with, at best, a strong shot to make fifth spot in the rotation. But even that wasn’t guaranteed, as the Mets had also picked up Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto to help bolster the rotation’s depth and all three could easily lay claim to the final rotation spot.
But when Carrasco went down with a prolonged hamstring injury, and Noah Syndergaard continued to recover from Tommy John surgery, there were now two rotation spots for three starters. Peterson was able to lay claim to one of them, and hopefully pick up where he left off in his rookie season.
Unfortunately, Peterson struggled through a decent portion of his sophomore season. In his debut season, he had a 3.44 ERA, 0.9 HR/9, and 1.208 WHIP over ten games (nine starts, one relief appearance) and a total of 49.2 innings, good for a 125 ERA+. In his follow up he sported a 5.54 ERA, 1.5 HR/9, and 1.395 WHIP over fifteen starts and a total of 66.2 innings, which amounted to a paltry 73 ERA+. He had difficulty getting batters out, and there were multiple starts where he was unable to get past the third inning, and one where he couldn’t get past the first out.
Now, digging a little deeper, there’s a few encouraging signs. His FIP between seasons didn’t actually differ that much, running a 4.52 FIP in 2020 and a 4.78 FIP in 2021. Not that that’s a considerably great number, but it signals that he may have had some good luck in 2020 and some worse luck in 2021. He was also able to reduce his walk rate a little, going from a 4.3 BB/9 in 2020 to a 3.9 BB/9 in 2021, and increase his strikeout rate, going from 7.2 K/9 in 2020 to 9.3 K/9 in 2021.
Peterson also only had 3 or so really bad starts that weighed his stats down significantly. He had two starts with six earned runs (his first and last of the season), and the aforementioned start where he gave up 5 runs and only got one out. But otherwise, he typically gave up at most 3 earned runs. His bigger problem was an inability to last into the middle innings. Only six of his fifteen starts saw him go at least six innings. Now, he was a rookie in a shortened season so he’s never thrown that many innings in his career. But it’s okay when only one starting pitcher in a rotation is having difficulty going deep into games. This rotation also had Lucchesi, who wasn’t lasting very long, deGrom, who kept getting injured and coming out of games early, and a handful of bullpen games.
Peterson did show flashes of greatness this season as well. His longest start of the season was 7.1 innings of four hit, two run baseball against the eventual AL East champions Tampa Bay Rays. He also had a six inning, one hit start against the then-good Chicago Cubs. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Mets southpaw starter in 2021. When he was on, he was on.
Peterson only having fifteen starts was not a result of poor performance. At a time when the Mets couldn’t afford to have any more injured players, the injury bug finally bit Peterson. After three bad innings in Atlanta on June 30th, he was pulled from the game with what would come to be known as an oblique strain. Then, as he was recovering, he suffered a fracture in his foot, which required season-ending surgery. Peterson’s season ended before he could have a chance to redeem it.
Peterson should be all ready to go for Spring Training in 2022. Currently, if the Mets make no moves, Peterson could be looking at a rotation spot again this season. With Stroman and Syndergaard becoming free agents, the Mets will have two empty rotation spots. However, if the Mets have any hope of contending, they should aim to make starters like Peterson depth pieces instead of rotation definites in 2022. Peterson could do with a little less pressure, and a little more time. He’s shown how good he can be, but also how bad. While good Peterson would be a fantastic back-end starter for the Mets, there’s the chance that he’s handed the spot and turns back into a pumpkin. And the Mets can’t afford to take that chance.