Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 6-4
After reading the replies to a recent article here on MetsToday (Who are 2016’s Ten Most Important Mets?), I’ve come up with final rankings for this exercise, which I’ll proceed through in countdown fashion. For each player, I’ll list my subjective predictions, based on watching nearly every inning and every plate appearance over the last few years. I’ll do my best to identify something that I think the national experts and pundits have missed.
The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.
#6. Yoenis Cespedes
Was 2015 the beginning of a new level of performance, or a career year? I’ll guess the latter. At the time he caught fire for the Mets, Cespedes was 29 with roughly 2000 MLB plate appearances under his belt, and it’s unusual for hitters to make big improvements at that stage. We also saw his flaws in late September and October, as his free-swinging ways were more costly once his timing was no longer perfect. This is who he’d always been, and this is who I think he’ll be going forward: an extra-base hit machine who makes way too many outs. It’s nice to know how much damage he can do when he’s hot, but when he’s not, you can forget the “lineup presence” narrative. Pitchers are not scared of a guy they can get to chase pitches above and below the zone.
On the positive side, the Mets’ deep lineup and leadoff walk machine (Granderson) should help make Cespedes’s doubles and homers extremely productive. 100 RBI from Yoenis would not surprise me, and that’s saying something in today’s game.
Beyond that, I expect him to play more than the projection systems do (I don’t see any particular injury vulnerabilities, he generally plays under control), but I expect his defensive value to take a hit with more time in his less-adept position, center field.
#5. Steven Matz
In his major league debut, Matz showed a great fastball, good curveball, solid command, nice composure, and excellent stamina. Then he got hurt, came back, and virtually all of those attributes went backward. The way Matz tore through the upper minors suggests that he might be one of those rare prospects who’s ready for instant big league success. What my eyes see, though, is more a work in progress. He telegraphs his slow stuff, can totally lose command for a pitch or a batter, doesn’t have a consistent secondary pitch, gets over-amped about minor adversity, and can throw too many pitches to go deep in games.
These may all be fixable, though, and I see enough raw tools to justify the optimism for his future. His fastball may rank behind only Kershaw and Bumgarner among NL lefty starters, and the way he pitches inside with it makes it even better. His curveball is a bit lazy but has enough depth to invite chases when thrown through the zone into the dirt. His slider occasionally has nasty bite. His change-up has good speed and fade, though who knows if that will persist if he learns to disguise the pitch with better arm speed.
My guess is that improvements will come throughout the 2016 season and Matz will wind up on a lot of “young player to watch” lists heading into 2017. I don’t think he puts it all together quickly enough to tally a great 2016, though. I expect him to be up and down.
I’ll also predict that he avoids arm problems and misses few starts beyond the results of scheduling and babying. His motion is far from perfect, but I don’t see any red flags.
#4. Jeurys Familia
The projections think Familia has been a bit lucky over the last two years. Virtually none of his fly balls left the park in 2014, virtually all of his baserunners were stranded in 2015, and his BABIP was well below other Mets (and the league) in both years.
Personally, I don’t think it will take much luck for him to keep up his recent dominance. The man has a sinker that produces weak choppers and whiffs aplenty, a slider that he locates well and almost never hangs, and a splitter that’s inconsistent but is completely unhittable when it’s on. He can turn it up a notch when he has to, doesn’t get rattled, and is getting better and better at minimizing the mistakes that opponents can do damage with. To beat Familia, the opponent will have to find some holes with grounders and steal some bases, and not every opponent is equipped for that.
So I’m not too worried about luck. What I am worried about is health. Familia has virtually all of the risk factors of an injury about to happen. Top-end velocity from max-effort delivery? Check. High arm angle for sinker, putting stress on the shoulder? Check. Sharp bite on high-speed slider and splitter, putting stress on the elbow? Check. Pattern of overuse and insufficient recovery time? Check. Repetition of that pattern over a very long period of time? Check. Signs that something is bothering him? Well… it’s hard to say. He mostly shelved his splitter and stopped striking people out last October, and showed reduced velocity and lack of sink in spring training. So stay tuned.
Rather than predict that he tears something and misses most of the season, I’ll predict that he develops enough tenderness to make usage an issue and earn him some breaks, possibly including a DL stint. I’d also expect more sinkers and fewer strikeouts as he favors his arm.
Agree? Disagree? What have you seen that the experts and their computers haven’t? Let us know in the comments!