Steven Matz, the Mets, and the Super Two Rule

The Mets have, theoretically, too many starting pitchers. With top prospect Noah Syndergaard forcing his way into the rotation, the team experimented with a six-man rotation for a week, but has now reverted back to the standard five-man grouping, with Dillon Gee heading to the bullpen as a result. Gee is not particularly happy with this arrangement, and voiced his displeasure with the situation over the weekend.

“I’m almost at the point now where I just don’t even care anymore,” Gee said. “I mean, I’m kind of just over it all. I’ll do the best I can out of the pen now.”

Later, Gee was asked if he would have preferred being traded. “I mean, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not a G.M., so I don’t know. I mean — I don’t know. I’m done trying to figure out this whole situation.”

But even with Gee demoted to the bullpen, the Mets still have too many pitchers. Beyond their three young studs in Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, and the aforementioned Syndergaard, they also have Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese, both of whom are inoffensive back-end innings-eaters. With the first three guys locked in on talent and the latter two unlikely to get dumped for payroll reasons — Colon makes $11 million this year, while Niese is making $7 million and is due another $9 million next year — the Mets rotation remains full, even without considering pitching prospect Steven Matz, who is excelling down in Triple-A. Matz’s performances are forcing the team to consider promoting him sooner than later, even if they don’t have an obvious opening for him at the moment.

But despite the fact that there isn’t really a job opening for a starting pitcher in Queens, it’s become increasingly popular to suggest that the Mets are playing the Super Two game, holding Matz down to prevent him from reaching arbitration a year earlier, and keeping his future earnings down in the process. Joel Sherman, in this morning’s New York Post:

But their bigger short-term issue is assuring Matz does not become Super Two eligible. The top 22 percent of service time between two and three years do not have to wait until three completed seasons to become arbitration eligible. Thus, clubs keep down some of their better players to prevent them from qualifying in a few years. The Astros brought up their best prospect, shortstop Carlos Correa, on Monday, though the belief is the cutoff line is probably a week away, perhaps two just to be safe.

The first-place Astros are willing to gamble in a way the first-place Mets are not. They appear to be willing to wait until about July 1 to make sure. Remember GM Sandy Alderson told the Post’s Mike Puma that Matz has nothing left to prove at Triple-A – hence, he is ready now. This is another moment when Met fans might ask why is the organization counting dollars rather than putting the best team on the field.

Given the Mets lack of spending over the last few years, this is a very easy narrative to sell. But it also appears to be mostly lacking in fact.

Because the Super Two timeline is a moving target, there’s no clear line of demarcation that can be pointed to in real-time; the amount of days needed to qualify as a Super Two are only known in retrospect. But we can get a pretty decent sense of the range from past history, and helpfully, MLB Trade Rumors has been tracking the Super Two line for each of the last six years. From their records:

2014: 2.133
2013: 2.122
2012: 2.140
2011: 2.146
2010: 2.122
2009: 2.139

The numbers after the decimal reflect the number of days of service needed beyond two full years, so last year’s Super Two group had two full years and between 133 and 171 days of service, since 172 days of service counts as a full year. The number has dipped as low as 122 days a couple of times, but has generally been on the higher side, up near 140 days, which is what it is currently projected to be for this year’s class as well.

But it’s fair to say that anything in that 120-140 range makes a player a potential Super Two, and you probably need to come in under 120 days of service if you want to feel fairly safe about avoiding that tag with your top prospects. So, did the Astros really risk Super Two status with Correa, as Sherman asserted, rather than holding him down another “week or two” in order to ensure that he would miss the cut?

Let’s simply count the days. In every Major League regular season, there are 183 days of service, starting at Opening Day and finishing with the last day of the season. This year, Opening Day was April 5th and the season ends October 4th, so there were 26 available service days in April, 31 in May, 30 in June, 31 in July, 31 in August, 30 in September, and 4 in October.

The 57 service days available in April and May are gone, as are eight of the days from June’s total, so players who have been up since Opening Day have accrued 65 days of service this year, leaving 118 remaining on the year. Correa, who debuted yesterday, will end the year with 119 days of service; that’s three fewer than the lowest total of any Super Two cutoff line over the last six years. That was not a coincidence.

The Astros held Correa down just long enough to make it very likely that he’ll miss Super Two eligibility, and called him right in the sweet spot of when they can get the most value from him in 2015 at the lowest long-term cost possible. The Mets could call Matz up today, and likewise, he’d almost certainly be free and clear of Super Two status.

If they wait another week or two, as Sherman suggests they will, it won’t even be in question; the probability of Matz obtaining Super Two status will have moved from something like 0.1% down to 0.0%. But given that the Mets essentially guaranteed Super Two status for Syndergaard by promoting him back on May 12th — giving him 146 days of service this year, assuming he stays in the big leagues — when they didn’t need a starter, I think it’s a little shaky to suggest they’re holding off on promoting Matz because of service time issues. And it’s also probably incorrect to suggest that the Astros are “taking a risk” that the Mets are unwilling to take, because it was the Mets and not the Astros who promoted their best prospect back in May, when Super Two status actually was on the table.

Those cheap Wilpons putting profits before winning is an easy story, but in this case, it doesn’t appear to be a factually correct one. The Super Two deadline has very likely passed, and it seems more likely that Matz remains in the minor leagues because the Mets simply don’t have a spot for him right now.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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7 years ago

This doesn’t fit the narrative. How dare you, Dave Cameron.