|Sportsbook||Win NL East||Win NL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 86.5 (BetOnline)|
There are never enough adjectives to describe the New York Mets. For the second straight season, the Mets got off to a pretty good start, fizzled out, and then finished strong. It wasn’t enough for Mickey Callaway to keep his job. Callaway did himself no favors with his handling of the team and the media at various points throughout the season, but he was also not on agent turned executive Brodie Van Wagenen’s good side.
The Mets were like a Coney Island roller coaster last season. They started 9-4 and spent 24 days in first place, but managed to carry a losing record into the All-Star Break at 40-50. They also managed to play .639 baseball in the second half with a 46-26 showing following the Midsummer Classic. The Mets looked like a different team. It was too little, too late, but it did provide some hope for the future.
Pete Alonso hammered 53 dingers. Michael Conforto had a really strong bounce back season. Jeff McNeil was simply outstanding until an injury cut short his season. Amed Rosario figured it out with the bat. JD Davis proved to be a cornerstone offensive player. Noah Syndergaard stayed healthy enough to make 32 starts. So did Jacob deGrom. So did Zack Wheeler, though the Mets are no longer worried about what happens to him.
A carousel of bullpen failures proved to be too much for the Mets to overcome, but the lineup looks pretty good. We’ll see what happens beyond deGrom, Syndergaard, and Steven Matz in the rotation, but the Mets have a pretty strong core group. They also have to deal with the winds of change again. Callaway was replaced by first-time manager Carlos Beltran, who was then replaced by first-time manager Luis Rojas. Beltran was caught up in the Astros sign-stealing scandal and the Mets and Beltran decided it was best to part ways.
The Mets also tabbed 33-year-old Jeremy Hefner as the new pitching coach. Hefner comes over from the Twins, where impressive things are being done on the pitching side. Hensley Meulens was a fine hire as bench coach and will provide some experience for the staff.
I’ll sound like a broken record with four of the five NL East teams. The Marlins are destined for the basement. The Mets are one of four teams with a legitimate chance at winning the division and it really wouldn’t be a stunning development if both Wild Card teams come from this division. The head-to-head meetings will determine a lot. The Phillies, Nationals, and Braves are all solid ballclubs. Add the Mets to the mix and head-to-head matchups make up over 35% of the schedule. If those teams largely split those games, or at least trade wins back and forth, it could lower the ceiling for the division as a whole.
The Mets were 40-36 in division play, including a 13-6 record against the Marlins, so they need to play better against their chief competitors. Ironically, they were 12-7 against the World Series champs. The Mets also went 15-5 in interleague play, so they were essentially a .500 team against the NL. That, too, needs to improve.
Let’s see if it does. Let’s see if the Mets stay as healthy on the pitching side as they did and if the new blood in the dugout produces some positive change. The atmosphere under Callaway seemed to be a little bit on the uncomfortable side. Every little bit helps in a division like this.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||+56 (4.97/4.63)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||87.9-74.1|
|Record in One-Run Games||24-23|
|Additions: Matt Adams, Rob Whalen, Erasmo Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, Yefry Ramirez, Francisco Rios, Johneshwy Fargas, Jake Hager, Dellin Betances, Pedro Payano, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, David Rodriguez, Jarrett Parker, Max Moroff, Chasen Shreve, Jake Marisnick, Stephen Gonsalves|
|Losses: Chris Flexen, Drew Gagnon, Donnie Hart, Joe Panik, Ervin Santana, Rajai Davis, Todd Frazier, Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares, Blake Taylor, Kenedy Corona, Sam Haggerty, Chris Mazza|
Amazingly, not all of the additions are CAA or former CAA clients of GMBVW. Jokes aside, the Mets made a lot of moves. It looks like Van Wagenen is continuing to put his personal stamp on the team, following up on the bevy of transactions heading into 2019 with a whole lot more.
The Mets lost Zack Wheeler, but they anticipated that would be the case. I’m not real big on Rick Porcello or Michael Wacha, but the winner of that rotation battle will be tasked with replacing Wheeler. At least the other four guys in the rotation all look pretty damn good.
The Mets swapped out their previous Major League depth for some new depth. All in all, I just see a lot of lateral movement for the Mets, with the exception of the Wheeler loss. Dellin Betances is a tremendous add to the bullpen, so it may all cancel out one way or another.
If you don’t like change, I present the New York Mets lineup. Of the top 11 players in plate appearances last season, nine are back. The only two not back are Todd Frazier and Juan Lagares. Frazier was a pretty valuable player, but Lagares was not. The most important players are all back and hopefully with better health.
Brandon Nimmo was limited to 254 plate appearances and just 69 games because of injuries. When he was out there, Nimmo slashed .221/.375(!!)/.407 with a .340 wOBA and a 114 wRC+. Nimmo walked or struck out in 46.1% of his plate appearances, so he didn’t have many chances to work on the batting average or the slugging percentage. Nimmo slashed .263/.404/.483 with a .385 wOBA and a 148 wRC+ in 140 games in 2018. The Mets are hoping for a return of that, but a 2019 stat line over more games is also okay.
Breakout sensation Jeff McNeil managed to stay mostly healthy until the end of the season. The oft-injured superutilityman started 24 games at second, 16 at third, 45 in left, and 38 in right and had a stellar season with 23 homers and a .318/.384/.531 slash, a .384 wOBA, and a 143 wRC+. McNeil was extremely valuable in 248 PA and 63 games in 2018 and then followed it up with almost a full season of being better. His health is an enormous key to the season for the Mets. He plays so many roles, puts a ton of balls in play, and has some really good extra-base hit power. If he can stay healthy, that would go a long way for this offense.
Pete Alonso hit 53 home runs in his rookie season. And that massive total didn’t even include what he did in one of the best Home Run Derbies ever in his head-to-head matchup with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Alonso slashed .260/.358/.583 with those 53 jacks. I’ll say this, I think Alonso’s power production goes down. League-wide, I am expecting a decrease, but nearly 37% of Alonso’s plate appearances ended in a homer or a walk. He actually hit a fairly high number of ground balls. His HR/FB% of 30.6% was the fourth-highest in baseball. Alonso will still be a highly productive hitter, but I’d probably look to regress him back to around 40 homers.
A healthy season from Michael Conforto was a good sign for the Mets as well. He posted a .358 wOBA with a 126 wRC+. Citi Field played a lot better for offense than it has in past seasons. Part of that was the health of the improved Mets offense, but the park actually played well for lefties all-around. In fact, by OPS, it was the 16th-highest park for left-handed batters. I wouldn’t have expected them given the pitcher’s haven it had always been, but maybe that was more of a commentary on the Mets lineup.
If all of these guys stay healthy this season, the Mets are ticketed for a top-10 offense. Robinson Cano just might be slowing down with injuries the last two years, but he was also in the 82nd percentile in exit velocity and the 87th percentile in Hard Hit%, so he is a bounce back candidate. He had a .256 average with a .280 xBA and a .428 SLG with a .450 xSLG. Let’s put it this way, Cano actually hit the ball harder on average than Alonso.
JD Davis is the guy that I’m watching closely. Davis made a ton of hard contact and posted a .373 wOBA with a 136 wRC+. He was terrible in the outfield and even worse at third, but his offensive profile looks really solid. Among hitters with at least 250 PA, he was 26th in average exit velocity and could do even more damage with a full season worth of PA. He only had 410 last season.
Amed Rosario’s sudden offensive outburst to be league average while providing great defense was a big step. Jed Lowrie will attempt to return just one year removed from posting a 123 wRC+ with Oakland over 680 plate appearances. Jake Marisnick will help in the outfield as a pinch runner and defender.
I can’t say enough good things about this Mets lineup if everybody stays healthy. This is a top-10-caliber unit paired with what should be one of the best rotations in baseball.
It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of people in the baseball world that like Mickey Callaway. One thing I can say as an Indians fan is that he is able to get the most out of elite talent. Jacob deGrom has always been good, but I don’t think it is a coincidence that the two best seasons of JDG’s career were on Callaway’s watch. He won the Cy Young in 2018 with a 1.70 ERA, a 1.99 FIP, and a 2.60 xFIP. In 2019, he followed it up with a lot of similar numbers with a 2.43 ERA, a 2.67 FIP, and 3.11 xFIP. deGrom was hurt by the baseball changes and the power surge. His HR/FB% went up from 6.3% to 11.2%. His pop up rate fell from 16.3% to 14.2%, which is essentially a decrease in strikeouts given the percentage of pop ups converted into outs. So, deGrom saw a small bump in his batting average against.
I don’t know how the baseball will play, but I have to assume deGrom exhibits better command this season and a league-wide power decrease would help bring that HR/FB% back down a bit. It was barely up above his career mark, but any slight improvement is going to help deGrom. I’m not saying he was bad by any means. Just saying as good as he was last season, I wouldn’t be shocked if he falls in line between 2018 and 2019.
Priority #1 for Jeremy Hefner is getting Noah Syndergaard to be consistent and live up to his potential. Syndergaard posted a 3.03/2.80/3.29 pitcher slash in 2018. In 2019, he had a 4.28 ERA with a 3.60 FIP and a 3.83 xFIP. His K and BB rates were about the same as 2018, but there were two big differences. Like deGrom, Syndergaard saw a bump in HR/FB%. Thor’s was just a LOT more noticeable. Unlike deGrom, whose LOB% stayed consistent, Thor’s LOB% dropped from 76.6% to 68.9%. That led to the big ERA, as evidenced by his FIP and xFIP.
It sure feels like what we saw back in 2016 should be the normal for Syndergaard. He posted a 2.60/2.29/2.67 slash over 183.2 innings that year. Let’s see if Hefner can unlock that consistency for one of the game’s most talented hurlers.
Something really odd happened with Marcus Stroman when he joined the Mets. His K% went up from 19.3% to 23%. Now, being in the NL with the pitcher batting helped, but what makes it odd is that Stroman’s usage didn’t exactly support a K% increase. His sinker usage increased 6.5%. It seems like it was a classification issue, but his SL% went from 35.2 to 21.4% with an increase of over 7% on cutters. I’m guessing that it was a classification bug or maybe the Mets changed the shape of his slider with a grip adjustment or a mechanics change.
Whatever the case, Stroman saw the K% bump, but also allowed a much higher rate of line drives and saw his HR/FB% go up. I really don’t know what to expect from Stroman this season. It was only 11 starts for the Mets, but it was so much different from what he did with the Jays that I simply don’t know. That concerns me. I feel like one of my strengths is in projecting players to be better, worse, or make changes. Stroman’s GB% went up 8% with the Mets, too, and ground balls are his bread and butter. I’m worried that he’ll be good, but not as good as he could be.
A third straight year of watching Steven Matz give up a bunch of homers was tough to swallow, but even with the high home run rates, he has still been able to carry some pretty decent ERA and FIP marks. He made 30 starts again last season, which was good. Hefner has another job to do here. If Matz can suddenly give up fewer long balls, the Mets could very well run four starters with ERAs under 4.00.
I am not keen on either Rick Porcello or Michael Wacha. One thing that I can say for Porcello is that he has been extremely durable. From 2014-18, Porcello was actually third in innings pitched behind workhorses Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber. His numbers won’t be great, but he is a lot more durable than Wacha and maybe getting out of Fenway Park and the AL East will help. Maybe he has a decent ceiling.
Seth Lugo’s elite curveball found a home in the bullpen and it couldn’t have come at a better time with all of Edwin Diaz’s issues. Lugo had an elite K/BB ratio with a 2.70 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 3.24 xFIP in 61 appearances over 80 innings. He’s one of the most valuable relievers in baseball with his ability to pitch multiple innings. Lugo’s emergence was really big with Diaz running a 5.59 ERA, a 4.51 FIP, and a 3.07 xFIP. Circle that xFIP, though. Diaz’s 26.8% HR/FB% is extremely likely to come down. His Barrel% against jumped from 3.8% to 10.1% last season. He still struck out 39% of opposing batters, but his command just wasn’t there all the time. I like him to bounce back and lead what projects as a very good bullpen with Dellin Betances and the return of Jeurys Familia.
Positives & Negatives
As is the case with all of the NL East contenders, those 57 games with each other will define a lot. They could very well decide the division winner, the season win totals for all four teams, and possibly more. A healthy Mets team is quite possibly the best of the bunch in my estimation.
I *think* Mickey Callaway being gone is a positive for the Mets. For starters, he wasn’t Van Wagenen’s guy. Every new GM wants to hire “his” guy as coach, manager, whatever. Second, Luis Rojas is very highly thought of and the Mets are very much going in that direction that so many other teams are that are run by Ivy Leaguers. It is about getting players to buy in with the numbers. Rojas is bilingual and served as the quality coach last season, a role that, as Tim Britton said at The Athletic ($), included “synthesizing advanced information and translating it into useful pieces for the rest of the coaching staff and the players”.
I think Minnesota Twins. I think Rocco Baldelli. The difference is that Rojas has a ton of minor league managing experience. I think this is a slam dunk hire and I think it’s actually quite a bit better than the Beltran hire.
Pick: Over 86.5
I may regret this when all is said and one, but I like the Mets a lot and I even like a piece of the Mets to win the NL East. This is a team that performed just about to expectation last season per the alternate standings metrics, but took a rather circuitous route to get there. I really believe that the second half Mets are what we can expect to see from this team going forward.
The bullpen is much improved with the addition of Betances and what should be a return to normalcy for Diaz. The starting rotation is deeper with a full season of Stroman and then the guys like Porcello and Wacha battling it out for the fifth spot.
My biggest worry with this team is health and it is very hard to overlook. There is not much depth in the minor leagues with the starting pitching, so the Mets will have to stay in tact in that department. A lot of the better talent in the minors is ticketed for High-A or Double-A. There are a lot of guys on this team that have had health issues or carry extra risk. I do think that the MLB bench is better this season than it was last season, particularly if Jed Lowrie can make it back.
When we talk about ceilings, the Mets have a very high one. They are going to carry an extremely high OBP and have plenty of power to go around. They have maybe the best pitcher in the NL with deGrom, a guy with elite upside in Syndergaard, and then Stroman and Matz, who both have shown flashes.
Also, with that kind of talent, the Mets have a high floor.
I’ll wait and make sure that all pieces and parts are in working order throughout Spring Training. If we get to the last week of March and nobody’s arm has fallen off or torn an ACL, the Mets season win total over will be a bet for me. This is one of my stronger picks in the National League and an NL East champions bet will also be coming.