Last Updated: 2019-03-04
I’ve started, stopped, and backspaced the introduction for the New York Mets a few times. Last season was bordering on inexplicable, but as a writer, you have to explain things that occasionally cannot be explained. Things couldn’t have started better for new skipper Mickey Callaway, as the Mets rolled out to a 10-1 start going into the off day on April 11.
Two months later, the Mets were 28-34 going into another off day. Noah Syndergaard’s arm was going to fall off, Jacob deGrom was forced to create his own run support, and there were already some calls to fire Callaway because of his handling of the bullpen and of other high-leverage situations.
Two months later, the Mets were 18 games under .500. Syndergaard was back, but didn’t look the same. Trade deadline deals had sent Jeurys Familia and Asdrubal Cabrera packing. Yoenis Cespedes went from May 14 to July 19 without playing an MLB game, played one, and then went out for the rest of the season. First base prospect Dominic Smith wasn’t playing enough and Peter (now Pete) Alonso was continuing his assault on minor league pitching with no hint of a call-up.
And, yet, through it all, the Mets somehow managed to finish with a mostly respectable record of 77-85. Given that Cespedes only played 38 games and Syndergaard wasn’t himself or wasn’t available for most of the season, that isn’t all that bad. By the end of year, Brandon Nimmo established himself as an everyday player, Michael Conforto got out of an early-season slump, Zack Wheeler returned to a middle of the rotation starter, and deGrom had some much-deserved hardware.
The season was like one of those “Choose Your Adventure” novels you read as a kid. At least it had something of a happy ending with a 38-30 mark after the All-Star Break and a +37 run differential.
Normally, when a team runs into the hardships that the Mets had in the first half and then puts together a good second half, I’m all about that team the following year. Let’s be honest. The Mets aren’t going 5-21 in any month next season, barring a catastrophic disaster with their rotation. The Mets lost 26 of their last 38 one-run games. The Mets will probably not score just 274 runs at home, even though Citi Field is a pitcher’s park by nature. The Mets even went 40-36 against division opponents. It was everybody else they couldn’t beat.
The division, minus the Marlins, of course, looks even stronger for 2019, so the Mets may not post a winning record against those teams again. Then again, they might actually score a GD run or two for Jacob deGrom (and others), which wouldn’t hurt.
We know that Callaway is gifted when it comes to getting the most out of talented pitchers and there are still a lot of them on the roster. Are the Mets a high-variance team? Are they a team with a high floor and a low ceiling?
Let’s see if we can choose our own adventure with the Mets for 2019.
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 77-85
Run Differential: -31
Pythagorean W/L: 78-84
BaseRuns Record: 77-85
BaseRuns Run Differential: -35 (4.15/4.37)
3rd Order Win% Record: 79.3-82.7
Record in One-Run Games: 16-26
Additions: Jed Lowrie, Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, JD Davis, Keon Broxton, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, Luis Avilan, Kyle Dowdy, Dilson Herrera, Sam Haggerty, Rajai Davis, Gregor Blanco, Adeiny Hechavarria, Danny Espinosa, Arismendy Alcantara, Braxton Lee, Rymer Liriano, Walker Lockett, Hector Santiago, Zach Lee, Chris Mazza, Ryan O’Rourke, Arquimedes Caminero
Losses: Jose Lobaton, Devin Mesoraco, Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes, Austin Jackson, Jerry Blevins, AJ Ramos, Justin Dunn, Jarred Kelenic, Gerson Bautista, Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Adam Hill, Felix Valerio, Bobby Wahl, Ross Adolph, Scott Manea, Luis Santana, Kevin Plawecki
The Mets were buyers in a big way with new GM and former agent Brodie Van Wagenen at the helm. The former head of baseball at CAA Sports is a Stanford-educated man with big visions and big dreams for the Mets. It’s hard to argue. The bullpen and the lineup needed attention and both areas of the ballclub got said attention.
Jed Lowrie and Robinson Cano will help a ton up the middle. Wilson Ramos is a legit starting catcher at the big league level. JD Davis and Keon Broxton could be very interesting bench bats for now and maybe something more if it all clicks.
Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, and Luis Avilan are all legitimate Major League bullpen arms. Diaz was obviously one of the best closers in baseball last season and Familia, a former Met, was part of the outstanding Oakland bullpen.
The losses really aren’t that significant either. The Mets were one of the big winners of the offseason as far I’m concerned. That doesn’t necessarily translate directly to wins, but this is a much better team than it was last September.
BA: .234 (29th)
OBP: .312 (21st)
SLG: .389 (26th)
wOBA: .305 (23rd)
wRC+: 95 (18th)
BABIP: .283 (29th)
K%: 22.7% (20th)
BB%: 9.2% (6th)
The Mets are never going to light up the scoreboard offensively. Citi Field is tailored too well for pitchers. However, last season’s performance didn’t cut it. The Mets just didn’t make enough quality contact. They didn’t stay healthy enough. Sixteen players had at least 149 plate appearances and only seven graded as average or better in wRC+.
Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores are gone, but outfielders Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jeff McNeil remain. When healthy, this is one of the more productive outfield groups. Conforto had problems getting back into rhythm early last season, but he eventually wound up turning it on and tore the cover off of the ball in September to finish the second half with a .273/.356/.539 slash and a .377 wOBA. Conforto finished with a 120 wRC+ and a .342 wOBA, which were big drops from 2017, but going into 2019 healthy is a big help.
Nimmo finally got everyday playing time and made the most of it with a .263/.404/.483 slash and a .385 wOBA. He’ll bat leadoff and be the table setter for the Mets with that elite walk rate of 15 percent. He was a 4.5-win player last season per FanGraphs’s WAR calculation. McNeil posted good minor league numbers and then slashed .329/.381/.471 in 248 PA to wrap up the 2018 season at the big league level. Hopefully he can keep that up because the Mets aren’t expecting much from Cespedes, whose ongoing heel problems still loom large. McNeil played over 400 innings at second base last season, but will be primarily used in the outfield with the addition of Robinson Cano.
The Mets were fifth in wOBA from the second base position last season between Cabrera and McNeil. They shouldn’t drop off at all there with Cano in the picture. The Mets were 27th in wOBA at shortstop, which won’t get much better with Amed Rosario, but they were also 27th at third base and Jed Lowrie will improve that quite a bit if he can keep up his solid performances from the last two seasons. Lowrie has posted wOBAs of .347 each of the last two years. Add in Todd Frazier, JD Davis, and maybe even Pete Alonso in the rotation at first base and in the other corners and there’s something to work with here.
It is worth mentioning, though, with Cespedes likely out at least through the All-Star Break and probably more that it won’t take much bad luck for the Mets to be in a tight spot. Lowrie turns 35 in April and Cano is already well past it. Frazier is approaching his mid-30s. The projected bench bats of d’Arnaud, Davis, Broxton, and Juan Lagares saw limited or no time in the second half last season. Other bench options Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco are also on the wrong of 35.
ERA: 4.07 (15th)
FIP: 3.97 (9th)
xFIP: 4.03 (11th)
K%: 23.4% (9th)
BB%: 7.8% (6th)
LOB%: 73.0% (15th)
There is so much to like about this pitching staff. Jacob deGrom was otherworldly last season en route to winning the Cy Young Award. deGrom had a career year with 8.8 fWAR, a 1.70 ERA, a 1.99 FIP, and a 2.60 xFIP. He set a career high in K% at 32.2 percent and posted just a 5.5 percent BB%. He also cut his HR/FB% from 16.1 percent to 6.3 percent. The only big usage change for deGrom was to throw his fastball a bit less and his changeup a bit more and he had a career year with that pitch. Opposing hitters batted just .139 with a .215 SLG on that pitch.
We saw it in Cleveland with the dynamic Indians rotation. Mickey Callaway is good at getting the most out of talented starters. Zack Wheeler bounced back in a big way to post a 3.31 ERA with a 3.25 FIP and a 3.81 xFIP. He, too, cut his HR/FB% down a ton and actually allowed just a .174/.237/.253 slash with a .220 wOBA after the All-Star Break. Noah Syndergaard had some health scares, but he wound up posting a 4.2-win season with a 3.03/2.80/3.29 pitcher slash.
Steven Matz was one code that Callaway couldn’t crack, as he posted a 3.97/4.62/4.13 pitcher slash in 154 innings across 30 starts, but his K% did bounce back, particularly in the second half with 67 in 58 innings for a 27.1 percent K%. That’s something to build on. Even Jason Vargas was solid in the second half, holding opposing batters to a .288 wOBA. As long as the rotation is healthy, it should be one of the best in the NL and could challenge for being one of the top-five in baseball.
You saw the overall ranks for the Mets. That doesn’t tell the story of how atrocious the bullpen was. The Mets were 28th in reliever ERA, 29th in reliever FIP, and 30th in xFIP. Edwin Diaz will go a long way in helping all three of those categories and so will the return of Jeurys Familia. Seth Lugo is the reliever whose stock I am buying, as he held opposing batters to a .245 wOBA in 308 plate appearances. Along with Justin Wilson, Robert Gsellman, and Luis Avilan, this group looks much stronger this year top to bottom.
As we know, though, injuries could dramatically impact the starting staff and you have to weigh the risks of that. deGrom has largely stayed healthy, but we know about Syndergaard. Wheeler, Matz, and Vargas are all recent Tommy John guys. Diaz did see his workload decrease as last season went along, but he was working a ton early in the year, as he was tied with three others for the most appearances in the first half with 48. He only appeared in 25 games after that.
Positives & Negatives
The Mets have a high ceiling. So high, in fact, that PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus initially had the Mets winning a share of the NL East title. The Mets also have a fairly low floor with a lot of players that have extensive injury histories or are at the age when players typically get ravaged by the aging curve. The depth is better than in past seasons, but still hardly a guarantee.
This is a stunningly tough division. The Marlins look like a bottom feeder again, but the Nationals, Braves, and Phillies are all very much capable of winning the division. Wins are not going to be easy to come by in those 76 games.
Pick: Over 84.5
Not only have the Mets changed in the dugout and on the field, but they have changed philosophically. Callaway was part of an Indians organization that embraced weighted balls and other training methods to keep pitchers healthy and also increase velocity, as deGrom did last season. They’re going in a different direction in the front office as well with Van Wagenen. These are all positives.
That being said, I can’t put money on the health of this team. My pick is to the over because every write-up needs a pick, but this would strictly be a gamble on the health of the Mets. While I think they’ve made significant strides, and last year is evidence of that, with the Big Four making at least 25 starts each. The offense isn’t particularly deep and that’s actually where I have more concerns. The Mets need to find a way to hit at Citi Field and the way to do that is to stay healthy.
Overall, I love the potential of this team, but the outcome to this season is extremely high-variance because of the injury risks. I can see why PECOTA is a big fan and especially with a limited projection for Cespedes, who is a butcher in the field, but I’m not looking to gamble. I’m looking to capitalize on what I believe to be edges with a team against the line. This is a gamble on health. With 29 other options, I don’t need to take this risk.
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