Is this 2016 or 2012?
Do you remember the 2012 Mets? If you’ve chosen to forget, that’s understandable. Outside of a certain knuckleballer, it was a dark time for the organization, just part of a years-long spiral deeper and deeper into laughingstock status. The 97-win run of 2006 was followed by two straight choke jobs, a plague of injuries, a regime change, and a wishy-washy rebuild through a pretender 2011. In 2012, a slightly improved roster got off to a very respectable start, spending their first 93 games over .500 and giving fans hope that if they could overcome an awful bullpen, they might make a wild card run. Most fans wanted the Mets to either acquire relief help and make a run, or commit fully to 2014 and beyond by cashing in on Scott Hairston, Bobby Parnell and others at the trade deadline. Mets GM Sandy Alderson did neither, and stood pat. Before long, Mets news was once again the news of disgust and dithering and Ponzi schemes and LOLs.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2016, and the word was that everything had changed in the Mets’ universe. After a wheel-spinning 2013 and a promising 2014, 2015 brought us Yoenis Cespedes, a healthy Matt Harvey, a rebounding Curtis Granderson, an improved Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia, an emerging Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto, and a run to the World Series. With Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, and Juan Lagares already on board, and with Steven Matz and Asdrubal Cabrera expected to provide further improvements, the 2016 Mets looked miles away from their 2012 counterparts.
Do they still look that way today?
Both the 2012 and 2016 teams started off 8-7.
Both teams then put together some win streaks to get to 31-23.
Both teams then played under .500, achieving records of 39-33 and 40-36.
The 2012 Mets then won 6 of 9 to get to 46-39 before utterly collapsing with a 28-49 finish to a 74-88 season.
Are the 2016 Mets at risk of a similar fate? Unfortunately, I see a disturbing number of parallels in the player roster.
Let’s look back at who did what in the first half of 2012, who’s doing the same so far in 2016, and how it panned out in each case in 2012.
David Wright: The 2012 team’s best player put up an MVP-level first half.
2016 version: Yoenis Cespedes
In the end: Wright regressed to his career norms in the second half. After the season, the fan favorite signed a huge contract for his 30s, which would currently be crippling the team if not for insurance provisions.
R.A. Dickey: Took a jump from good to great, establishing himself as a Cy Young contender.
2016 version: Noah Syndergaard
In the end: Dickey didn’t quite keep it up in the second half, but was still excellent and took home the award (from a much easier field than the 2016 NL).
Johan Santana: Former dominator showed brief flashes of his former self.
2016 version: Matt Harvey
In the end: Fell apart amid much speculation (ankle? workload?). Turned up a serious injury in the second half.
Ike Davis: First-round slugger who scouts saw as a middle of the order bat. After a great rookie year, things went downhill. Was it the foot injury that derailed his career, or was it the Valley Fever, or was it a high-maintenance swing? After a brutal first half, was sent to the minors.
2016 version: Michael Conforto and his sprained wrist cartilage
In the end: Ike ran into some homeruns in the second half of 2012 but was otherwise done as a productive player.
Andres Torres: Great attitude and effort but not enough talent to warrant the everyday job he was handed. His previous great season wound up looking like a fluke.
2016 version: Curtis Granderson
In the end: Torres was consistent, playing the same mediocre baseball in both halves of 2012.
Jordany Valdespin: An enticing talent with good pop but OBP issues and no true position, Valdespin elicited both hope and caution. Evaluators spoke of his chance to be something more than a utility guy, but he was basically used as a utility guy.
2016 version: Wilmer Flores
In the end: Valdespin had a nice power spike in July, but never really made permanent gains. He’s since established himself as a classic AAAA player, getting chances when someone on an MLB roster gets hurt.
Jason Bay: Once counted on to be a middle of the order force, but couldn’t stay healthy. His high-maintenance swing made him ill-suited to playing in fits and starts.
2016 version: Travis d’Arnaud
In the end: Bay got healthier in the second half, but the injuries and missed time had taken their toll, and he was terrible.
Josh Thole: A bat-first catcher who showed great contact skills in the minors. Power and defense were question marks, but everyone expected him to spray line drives. His first half wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad enough to completely dispel all hope.
2016 version: Kevin Plawecki
In the end: His one contribution, batting average, eventually declined, leaving Thole as a minor leaguer (well, if not for R.A. Dickey).
Daniel Murphy: A capable hitter holding down a demanding defensive position, Murphy was cause for much debate. Was he a major asset, or were his deficiencies hurting the team as much as his bat was helping it?
2016 version: Asdrubal Cabrera and his limited range
In the end: Murphy spent 2012-2015 as basically the same guy throughout, averaging 1.7 WAR. Not the team’s biggest problem, but not a significant asset either.
Chris Young: Crafty veteran confusing hitters with unusual fastballs.
2016 version: Bartolo Colon
In the end: Young eventually got hurt, which has been the norm for him. What Mets fans forget is that, before joining the Mets, Colon was ranked #1 on a list of pitchers most likely to suffer injury, based on his age and past injury history.
Dillon Gee: Second-year pitcher with great peripherals but a few too many blow-ups. Looked like a fixture before shoulder discomfort turned into an aneurysm.
2016 version: Steven Matz and his bone chips and elbow pain
In the end: Gee missed the entire second half after surgery for the aneurysm.
There are also some parallels between Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Juan Lagares (great athletes with holes at the plate and trouble staying healthy), Jon Niese and Jacob deGrom (third-year pitchers seeing declines in stuff and strikeouts), Justin Turner and Matt Reynolds (solid base of skills but not great at anything), and Ruben Tejada and Dilson Herrera‘s scouting reports (precocious young guys whose physique and athleticism limits their ceilings).
None of these situations are exactly equivalent — Flores doesn’t have an attitude problem like Valdespin, d’Arnaud isn’t in his 30s like Bay, Niese was never half the pitcher deGrom was in 2015 — but the overall picture I’m seeing looks eerily familiar.
Cause for concern?
Is this similarity between the 2012 and 2016 teams real, or an illusion? Are the Mets still in great shape heading forward, or have a few flops and injuries changed their whole future landscape? Even if we can’t predict the distant future, should we expect a better or worse second half from the current squad?
Please share your thoughts in the comments!