Biggest Questions for the 2015 Mets
Many news outlets have listed their top Mets questions, many of them focusing on the team’s best players. Will Matt Harvey pick up where he left off? Will David Wright and Curtis Granderson return to form? Can Lucas Duda repeat? I agree that these are vital concerns, but I don’t see as much uncertainty surrounding them as many pundits do. The statistical projections for all these players seem quite logical to me — Harvey will be excellent though not Cy-worthy, Wright and Duda will split the difference between 2013 and 2014, and Granderson will continue to be the low-AVG, high-K guy he’s been for 4 of the past 5 years. I’d see any significant deviation from these projections as the sort of fluke every team goes through, and wondering about them makes no more sense to me than wondering about Robinson Cano‘s health as a key to the Mariners’ season. Anything can happen, but there’s no particular reason to foresee an injury there.
Accordingly, the biggest questions I’m looking at for the Mets are areas of true uncertainty, where a given player or position is a significant unknown, and could be either a big help or a major problem for the team. Here’s my list:
1) Can Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia locate well enough to make up for the shallow relief corps and give the Mets an average bullpen?
Bobby Parnell and Vic Black are two guys who’ve owed much of their previous success to velocity, and both have extremely troubling recent injury histories. Expecting anything out of these guys in 2015 is the height of optimism. With all the Mets’ top pitching prospects slated for minor league starting duty to hone their craft, the ‘pen will be composed largely of fill-in guys like Sean Gilmartin and Buddy Carlyle, which isn’t disastrous, but certainly isn’t a strength. That leaves us with one sure thing in Carlos Torres, who will eat innings with slight above-average results, and two big question marks in Familia and Mejia.
Question marks? The Mets’ two best relievers from last year?
Believe it. If you watched the games, you know that both guys rarely hit the catcher’s glove, had trouble with walks at times, and showed extreme platoon splits. Familia succeeded with an extremely low BABIP, and Mejia succeeded with an extremely high strand rate. You can say that Jeurys induced weak contact and Jenrry was clutch, but these have never been shown to be repeatable skills. Both guys probably need to walk fewer hitters and fan more if they hope to repeat their 2014 ERAs and save rates. That’s the big question â?? are these talented youngsters still improving, and refining their command? Or are they simply max-effort ball-chuckers, and missing the glove by two feet will remain the norm?
2) Can Travis d’Arnaud keep the Mets competitive in the running game?
After a solid 2013, opponents weren’t looking to take advantage of d’Arnaud’s arm. By the end of 2014, however, they were running on him at will. With his troubles and elbow surgery now known issues, other teams are starting to get greedy, with burners like Mark Teixeira taking advantage of Travis in spring training. Look, statisticians will tell you that stolen bases don’t effects wins and losses too much, and I agree at the margins, but a slow team like the Mets constantly getting out-run by its opponents would be a big problem. Mets pitchers aren’t going to pitch their best if they’re constantly worried about holding every runner close, and they aren’t going to log their most innings if they’re constantly throwing high-stress pitches with men in scoring position. In addition to his poor throwing, d’Arnaud also showed incredibly poor pitch-receiving ability, leading the majors in passed balls and wild pitches allowed. He doesn’t need to fix all these flaws at once and become an elite defender; slightly below average would be just fine. If he’s terrible, though, that could turn into an issue that loses the Mets a lot of games.
3a) Can Dillon Gee regain his command?
From June 2013 through May 2014, Dillon Gee was throwing his fastball where he wanted it. Every time he’s done that, he’s been an average or better major league pitcher. Unfortunately, that’s only half the story â?? when he has lost command of his fastball, he’s turned into a piÃ±ata for months at a time. That’s the guy who’s still battling for a rotation spot with one week left (if you believe his pitching coach); that’s the guy that not even the pitching-desperate Texas Rangers would trade for. If the Mets get Bad Dillon Gee, it will be a race against time to see how quickly Syndergaard can develop to replace him, and a matter of crossing our fingers in hope that the team won’t pile up too many losses in the meantime. On the other hand, if Gee’s command returns, then the Mets won’t miss Wheeler all that much in 2015, and their rotation depth will remain a legitimate strength.
3b) How many starts will Bartolo Colon miss?
Based on age and prior injury history, Colon entered 2014 as one of the statistically most likely starting pitchers in MLB to land on the disabled list (and that’s not even counting his elbow-stressing “ball to the ear” mechanics). Instead, he didn’t miss a start. Rather than treat him with kid gloves like the A’s, who DL’ed him preemptively whenever something wasn’t right, the Mets kept running Bart out there, and against all odds, he responded. I would have expected the opposite â?? without pampering, he’d turn a nagging injury into a major one, and need surgery â?? and I still think that’s highly likely. If it happens late in the year, that’s probably not a big deal. If it happens in April, look out.
3c) How ready are the minor league pitchers?
If Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are all ready to be average or better MLB starters, then the questions about Gee and Colon don’t matter so much. None of the three is a safe bet, though â?? Montero and Syndergaard both took their lumps in AAA in 2014, and Matz has only a half-season above A ball. They don’t have a single secondary pitch among them that consistently rates “plus.” I like their upside, and if the Mets need them to fill in here and there, I think they constitute a significant advantage over most teams’ fill-ins. But if the Mets wind up needing significant contributions from these kids (which a TJ/TJ/shoulder/old age/lat rotation says they will), the starting staff may not turn out to be the strength it’s being forecast as.
4) Can Michael Cuddyer and the team start out hot?
Every team goes into every year wanting to win, and finding reasons for optimism. Every team who didn’t win last year looks at the 2014 Royals or 2008 Rays and says, “Why not us?” The Mets have been doing this every year since Alderson took over, but there seems to be a conscious effort this year to turn hope into expectation, to replace patience with immediate success. Every team feels good about winning and bad about losing, but for this team, right now, the emotional balance is particularly fragile. This is the same group of guys from 2014, when the deposed hitting coach blamed the batters’ poor performance on fan negativity getting in their heads. If the Mets stink in April, the scene at Citi Field is going to be beyond awful. Fans who drive past “Wilpons must sell” billboards to see a slow and defensively challenged team get outplayed by opponents are going to lap up the reporters’ tide of “Isn’t this disappointing?” articles and fill the air with boos.
If that happens, it’s hard to imagine the team recovering quickly enough, and dramatically enough, to get to the playoffs.
The best way for the odds to tilt in the Mets’ favor would be a hot start. Lots of wins to build confidence, lots of scoring to take the pressure off batters who routinely try to do too much, and lots of help for the “try too hard” poster child, David Wright. If his childhood hero Cuddyer is batting behind him and driving in clutch runs, maybe Wright will go back to the selective approach and controlled swing heâ??s used when at his best.
Plus, if Cuddyer hits well in April, perhaps the team will feel that they’ve genuinely improved from their offseason. Perhaps Cuddyer’s voice will carry more weight in the clubhouse, and when he shares his veteran wisdom, it will be inspiring rather than trivial. This isn’t the kind of stuff that usually makes or breaks a team, but these Mets need every confidence boost they can get, and like the saying goes, “You can’t win a title in April, but you sure can lose one.”
So those are the biggest questions facing the Mets, as I see it. Agree or disagree? What do YOU think are the biggest questions for the Mets? Answer in the comments.