Browsing All Posts By David Berg
Through the Mets’ first 21 series of the year (69 games), they looked like a champion. Every time someone got hurt, someone else stepped up. Every time a big hit was needed, a different hero came through. The team never lost more than 2 games in a row, and won 16 of those 21 series, losing only 3 and tying the other 2.
The Mets went 45-24 (a 106-win pace) with an offense that was arguably the best in MLB:
.262 batting average, .289 with runners in scoring position. .739 OPS, 5.1 runs per game.
Unfortunately the last 12 games have not been so kind. The offense has suddenly disappeared, especially in the clutch. As skids go, 5-7 really isn’t bad, but since the Braves have gone 25-7 over the last 5 weeks, the Mets’ division lead is nearly gone. Plus, this really doesn’t look good for the Mets:
.217 batting average, .146 with runners in scoring position. .628 OPS, 3.0 runs per game.
Let’s take a look at who’s done what to get us to this point.
Pete Alonso – A
Pete’s strike zone judgment and pitch selection is the best it’s ever been, and he’s become more versatile as a hitter, taking the opposite-field single when the opponent is giving it to him. He’s not lining HRs on pitches away like in 2019, but he’s demolishing mistakes with enough regularity to challenge for the HR crown. His defensive effort remains top notch, though some poor decisions and awkward moments have cost the Mets some outs.
Starling Marte – A-
At age 33, Marte still looks like himself. Not many walks, but more than enough line drives to make up for it, and his glove plays very well in RF (as does his arm).
Jeff McNeil – A-
McNeil is largely back tot he player he was in 2018, hitting over .300, generally being a tough out with few Ks, and delivering plenty of singles in the clutch. The main strikes against McNeil are a few slumps, a hamstring injury, and a decrease in speed which has reduced his value in the field and on the bases, where he’s now more average than above-average.
Brandon Nimmo – B
Nimmo has parlayed a more aggressive approach into some big hits, but his walk rate is barely 2/3 of his career norm. Overall his bat has still been a plus, and his CF defense is the most consistent it’s ever been.
Francisco Lindor – B-
Forgetting Lindor’s contract, he’s been a significant asset, as an above-average hitter who plays shortstop. He’s also been an excellent clutch hitter for most of the year (except when mired in a slump). The main downsides have been an increased K rate (higher than last year’s previous career high) and a lot of mistakes in the field (where he currently rates as well below average at the shortstop position).
Luis Guillorme – B-
Luis would have warranted an A a month ago, but his bat has cooled in July. Before that, the patient, high-contact approach that got him through the minors was finally working in MLB, with an OBP near .450 in June. Now that that’s down to .360, his complete lack of power is more glaring, but he continues to wow at 2B (and occasionally 3B or SS) with his glove.
Mark Canha – B-
Long ABs and an excellent OBP (until a recent slump) has made Canha an important part of the lineup. Unfortunately he’s shown minimal pop and is limited in the OF by his subpar speed and arm.
Eduardo Escobar – C-
A hot last week has validated him keeping his job, at least for now. He’s been roughly replacement level, with an OBP below .300 and plenty of errors in the field. Bonus points for having a great attitude and being beloved by his teammates.
Tomas Nido – C-
A few clutch hits prevent this from being worse. Even for a defense-first catcher, a sub-.500 OPS is a problem.
James McCann – D
Mostly injured, but has been an automatic out when he plays (.181 avg). At least he continues to call a good game.
J.D. Davis – D
A DH who strikes out in a third of his ABs and hits only 2 HRs is problem, no matter how elite his exit velocities (at one point #1 in baseball).
Dominic Smith – F
Same as Davis but with 0 HRs and without the special exit velo. Good defense at 1B isn’t enough. I suspect his shoulder is still an issue and he won’t be a major league hitter until it heals. A sub-.600 OPS just isn’t him.
Max Scherzer – A
I guess we could ding Max for throwing too many pitches with a tight side instead of coming out before pulling an oblique? Not sure we hold anyone else to that standard, so I’ll just grade him on his pitching, which was at the Hall of Fame level we expect. He’s not throwing his fastball by people as often as in the past, but his pitch sequences are better than ever, and his secondary stuff has lost none of its sharpness.
Taijuan Walker – B
Just like last year, Walker has had a minuscule HR rate to start the season. It’s not clear why he’s getting so many grounders or why so few of his flies are leaving the yard; unfortunately I suspect it’s not sustainable, and his tiny K rate will prove to be a problem. So far so good, though (2.86 ERA)! His spiffy new splitter appears to be a solid out pitch.
David Peterson – B
Peterson’s fastball has been unreliable, but he’s shown improved consistency with a slider that he uses the way Kershaw does, sweeping it across the knees to finish down and in on righties, who can’t lay off it. He’s also thrown a few key change-ups on the outside corner. He’s outperformed his BB and HR rates, so far avoiding the game-breaking HRs that plagued him last year. As an injury fill-in he’s been a godsend, but he looks miscast as more than a #5.
Chris Bassitt – C
A good number of Ks and BBs; a 6-5 record and league average ERA; tons of HRs. It’s been a weird mixed bag for Bassitt, whose stuff has often looked fantastic, but his location has generally been poor, and his command has left him at key times. When he falls behind in counts, he doesn’t seem to have a great Plan B, often coming in with hittable fastballs. His explanation for a series of poor starts was failing to get on the same page with his catchers, but he needs to improve some other things too.
Carlos Carrasco – C
On his good days, Carrasco has parlayed pinpoint command of a sharp slider and splitter into lots of quick outs. On his bad days, those pitches aren’t quite on the corners, leading to some walks and too much use of his fastball, which has been one of the most hittable in MLB. His ugly ERA reflects some blow-up starts where he torpedoed the team early; in his other starts, he’s been quite good. Unfortunately, the trend is going in the wrong direction. As he looks more and more like his pre-elbow cleanup self from last year, the team may need to rest him for a bit or come up with another plan.
Tylor Megill – C
Megill was utterly dominant, then hurt his arm, then was working his way back, then hurt his arm in a different way. Most of the damage done against him was as the injuries were forming. Hopefully he can get better at noticing when something’s wrong and speaking up before it’s too late. When he’s on, he looks like a potential ace. The size, the stuff, and the fragility are making me (optimistically) think of Josh Johnson.
Edwin Diaz – B
Diaz continues to strike out an absolutely ridiculous number of batters, but he also continues to make enough big mistake pitches to be far from a sure thing. 18-3 in save chances may not be stellar, but it’s good enough, and watching him completely blow hitters away on his good days is a lot of fun.
Seth Lugo – C
Lugo has given up a lot of big hits due largely to poor fastball command. If he can begin hitting the glove and become more reliable, it’d be a huge lift for the Mets bullpen; but at this point we’ve been waiting a few seasons for that, so it may be time to accept him as a merely average reliever.
Drew Smith – C
Smith has looked like a revelation on some days, but he’s allowed a ton of walks and homers, as well as a few game-changing rallies. It’s nice to see him throwing hard and posting a solid number of Ks, but he’s far from a sure thing just yet.
Adam Ottavino & Joely Rodriguez – C
The Mets’ specialists have been erratic, being very effective against same-handed batters on the days when they are locating, and useless otherwise.
Buck Showalter – A
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I love how he occasionally uses his closer against the other team’s best guys even if that isn’t in the 9th inning. I love how the Mets have started rallies by doing little things he’s brought up (sliding between bases to slow down tag plays, advancing on appeal play, etc.). The team has hustled. I’m not thinking of any awful decisions that arguably cost the Mets games, which is pretty astonishing.
Written one the eve of the 2022 season but not published due to technical issues, here at last is the annual installment in this series tracking the Mets’ changing fortunes from year to year. Half-season grades will follow shortly in a separate article.
Links to previous editions: 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021
The story so far…
In 2021, as in many recent seasons, the Mets began with plenty of causes for optimism. Unfortunately, the organization suffered its biggest setback since the so-called Five Aces rotation fell apart in 2016 and 2017.
Optimism had been building since 2019 with the emergence of a core of homegrown studs, something every dynasty seems to start with, and something virtually every perennial playoff contender features. In 2021, the Mets’ new additions seemed primed to take the home-grown core of Conforto, McNeil, Smith, Alonso and Davis to the next level.
Instead, almost to a man, that homegrown core utterly collapsed.
Why was the optimism so high? Well, for starters, the previous year’s lineup could rake. They just couldn’t do it in the clutch. The 2020 team OPS+ stat was historically great, but the Mets couldn’t drive in runs, especially not with the game on the line. Heading into 2021, some hoped that random statistical regression and/or a mental reset would turn all those line drives into elite run production.
Unfortunately, the 2021 Mets came out of the gate with more of the same. As the team’s core hitters wallowed in unproductive funk, urgency built for some sort of change. On May 4, popular hitting coach Chili Davis was fired and replaced by minor league coach Hugh Quattlebaum. From there the offense only looked more and more hopeless, as it seemed that no one in the lineup could hit a fastball or a hanging breaking ball. Long after the season ended, reports surfaced of hitters suffering analysis paralysis from information overload.
For the first several months of 2021, however, offensive futility did not seem to be the story of the Mets’ season. The Mets’ backups and role players came through with just enough clutch hits to support the team’s elite pitching and defense in surging to the top of the National League East. With all of their rivals sputtering to start the season, the Mets took over first place in early May and held on to the top spot through early August. Mets pitching began the year with an epic feat of homerun suppression, especially at home. While home run rates were slightly down across the sport, the Mets seemingly weren’t giving up any long balls, and their new commitment to shifts and probability-based defensive positioning turned lots of hard-hit balls into outs.
For a team to be in first place at the All-Star break, while expecting several returns to form from injury and underperformance, seems like an enviable position. That is how most fans and pundits viewed the Mets: get a few guys going, get a few guys healthy, and the lead they’ve built will hold up, if not increase.
Instead the offense did not improve, and the starting rotation completely fell off a cliff. DeGrom got hurt, and everyone else started serving up the home runs they had denied in the first half. The bench players were still fine, and the bullpen was still fine, but with a floundering lineup and rotation, the Mets were doomed. Their final 60 games were ugly as the Braves left them in the dust, all amidst embarrassing player antics and a few bad moves from manager Luis Rojas.
After the season ended, owner Steve Cohen set out to hedge his bets and build a roster that wouldn’t repeat 2021’s dismal disappointments. It wasn’t a smooth process, as the Mets lost out on a few key pieces while searching for a general manager and/or president of baseball operations. (GM Zack Scott was let go after several months of waiting to see how his DWI case would resolve.)
Once GM Billy Eppler was on board, Cohen attempted to fix the roster by opening his checkbook, with Eppler signing many free agents to large, short-term deals. Buck Showalter, regarded by many as a great manager but unemployed since 2018, was brought on to manage.
Stock Up, Stock Down
A promising 2021 start, a disastrous 2021 finish, and a frenzied offseason overhaul – what does it all add up to for 2022? Are the Mets in a better position than they were entering 2021, or should we Mets fans be steeling ourselves for a sixth straight year of disappointment?
FanGraphs’ preseason projections are very similar to last year’s, with the Mets around 93 wins. Oddsmakers are less sanguine, showing 87-90 wins.
James McCann – stock: down
After an offensive surge for the White Sox, McCann returned to hitting like a backup catcher for the Mets in 2021. He had no chance against pitches low and away, and his pop largely disappeared as well. At least he played excellent defense, including much better game calling than the Mets’ recent primary catchers.
Tomas Nido – stock: unchanged
Tomas Nido led the team in Win Probability Added at the All Star break, as his clutch hitting early on led the Mets to some low-scoring victories. After that blaze of glory, Nido regressed to his usual mediocre hitting. His defense remains a positive.
Pete Alonso – stock: unchanged
After a spring training straight out of 2019, Pete showed up for 2021 with the same pull-happy swing he used in 2020. On the positive side, his pitch selection was better overall, and continued to improve as the season went on. He continued to add to his track record of durability, and his counting stats looked pretty good. Even if Pete can’t replicate his 2019 feat of spraying line drives into the seats, the Mets seem to have one of the more reliable home run bats in today’s game.
Jeff McNeil – stock: way down
McNeil did tinker with lowering his crouch and closing his stance a bit to approach the style that had worked for him in the past, but he was never able to replicate the level swing that made him such a tough out from 2018 to 2019. For whatever reason, McNeil rarely made good contact at the plate, leaving him a huge drain on the lineup. His constant yelling after making outs seemed to annoy some teammates, and he eventually toned it down, but I miss the days of him sprinting through the bag with his hair on fire. Leg injuries have slowed him a bit, and it is unclear what his defensive value is now. There is also some speculation that a dust-up with Francisco Lindor was prompted by McNeil ignoring defensive shifting plans.
Late in the season, Javier Baez came over from the Cubs as a rental (for first-rounder Pete Crow Armstrong) and got hot as the Mets were falling out of the race. He did more than most to excite fans down the stretch, but first he gave the year’s most ill-advised interview, proclaiming that the “thumbs-down” gesture he’d made prominent on the team was a “see how you like it” statement directed at the fans over their booing.
Eduardo Escobar – stock: up
Escobar is not a star, but he is a proven performer on both sides of the ball, which is a lot more than could be said for J.D. Davis entering 2021. Davis was backed up by Jonathan Villar, who wound up having a pretty solid season, so Escobar will need to top that in order to provide the Mets with improved Third Base production.
Luis Guillorme is the likely back-up, though his great hands and quick actions are more valuable at second or short. His minor league success with the bat, based on plenty of walks and few strikeouts, seemed to finally translate to the Majors in 2021 at age 26.
Francisco Lindor – stock: way down
Like many successful athletes coming to New York, Lindor’s intelligent media presence early on eventually devolved into defensiveness as the pressure got to him. Not only did he apparently grab McNeil by the throat during a game, but he also came up with a ridiculous lie about it afterwards (“We saw a raccoon!”), making a farce out of what could have been a “passionate about baseball” moment. Far worse, though, was when Lindor jumped on the “thumbs down” gesture that Javy Baez used to boo the fans in August. Once this gesture was noticed, Sandy Alderson expressed his disgust, and the main culprits quickly went to the media to apologize.
For a player who eagerly assumed the reins of leadership shortly after he arrived, this sort of behavior may have been a factor in the team’s failure to live up to expectations. After the season, many reports cited a lack of leadership as a problem for the 2021 Mets. Although that may primarily reflect manager Luis Rojas’s disinclination to push players harder or govern with a sterner hand, it also cannot reflect well on Lindor.
On the field, Lindor underwhelmed in all aspects, showing an inability to square up the ball left-handed, a weak arm, and inconsistent hustle. His season stats were saved by a hot last 3 weeks after the Mets were essentially out of the race.
To see Trevor Story and Javy Baez each sign deals for $200m less than Lindor’s in the offseason rubs a little salt in the wound.
At the end of the day, however, Lindor is a shortstop with good range, solid contact rates and extra base power, which makes him a valuable player even if he’s not the MVP candidate the Mets envisioned.
Mark Canha – stock: unchanged
Free agent Mark Canha replaces Dom Smith as the presumed left fielder. No one is predicting Canha to put up the big offensive numbers expected of Smith after his spectacular 2020. On the plus side, Canha is an actual outfielder, rather than a first baseman shoehorned into left field, and there was never any certainty that Dom would slug .600 again.
Brandon Nimmo – stock: down
Nimmo continued to be one of baseball’s best OBP guys, but he also missed another 70 games due to injury, firmly establishing him as brittle. The Mets should expect to rely on their outfield depth this year, which is solid, but the team will definitely miss Brandon when he’s not on the field.
With deeper positioning, Nimmo’s defensive numbers improved dramatically in 2021; as long as he doesn’t have to go back on the ball, his speed helps him chase down his fair share of flies. The Mets may have been lucky that his weak arm wasn’t challenged often.
Starling Marte – stock: unchanged
It’s hard to compare Marte this year, coming off a .310 average and 47 steals, to Conforto last year, coming off a .927 OPS. The Mets lose power and patience, while gaining speed and average. A fantastic defender in his twenties, Marte’s metrics have been unimpressive in center field for several years now, but he still may be well above average when used in right.
One of the longest-tenured Mets, Michael Conforto went out with a whimper, showing no pop and minimal bat speed in 2021. He’s currently looking for his next team. The Mets are hoping for a high draft pick from whomever signs him, but his market has been slowed by an offseason injury.
Dominic Smith – stock: way down
Dom looked terrible at the plate for almost all of 2021, to the point where many fans wanted him benched in favor of back-ups. Just recently, it was revealed that he messed up his shoulder after altering his swing follow-through due to a hand injury, which is a much more promising explanation than suddenly losing every hitting skill he had. Hopefully, with an improved shoulder and swing, Dom will be confident enough to be more selective, instead of constantly offering at pitches above and below the strike zone.
J.D. Davis – stock: down
Davis showed early on that he could still hit, but a hand injury kept him out for much of the season, and he showed no power upon his return to the lineup. It remains to be seen whether he will get significant at bats for the Mets in 2022. His spectacular 2019 is looking more and more like a distant memory.
Robinson Cano returns from a PED suspension at age 39. Instead of cutting him, the Mets seem intent on mixing him in with their younger DH options who are very much in need of ABs.
Jacob deGrom – stock: way down
In his first 12 starts, deGrom allowed 4 earned runs and drove in six. With Jake providing his own offense, the Mets won the last 7 of those starts. After June 21, this was deGrom’s stat line:
- 72 IP, 27 H, 3 HR, 4 ER, 10 BB, 117 K
- 0.51 WHIP, 0.88 FIP, 0.50 ERA
- 3.38 H/9, 0.38 HR/9, 1.25 BB/9, 14.63 K/9, 11.7 K/BB
- .113/.148/.205 opponent slash line
- 2.94 Win Probability Added
- 2 SB / 1 CS
- Did not allow a baserunner in the first inning after his initial start.
- Went 11 for 27 as a batter, hitting .407 with 1 double, 4 runs and 6 RBI.
In terms of everything except durability, this was the most dominant 12-start stretch since the deadball era.
Oh, that durability, though…
- DeGrom missed his May 4 start with inflammation in his lat.
- He missed 2 starts in mid-May after straining his shoulder on a swing.
- He came out of his 11th start after 3 innings due to an injury from another swing (pulling a 98-mph fastball for an RBI).
- In his 12th start he was limited to 70 pitches as he worked on rebuilding his pitch count.
DeGrom would make only 3 more starts before he was shut down – initially for a few weeks (with a sore elbow), and then for the rest of the season (when he sprained his UCL trying to ramp back up). Now his attempt to gear up for the 2022 season has cracked his scapula.
It may be that starting pitchers simply can’t throw 100 mph over and over unless they’re Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson.
In case we never see it again, here’s how deGrom went about it in 2021: almost all fastballs and sliders to the glove side, but with absolute pinpoint location on that edge of the plate, from top to bottom. The fastball sat 99 with rise. The slider had a sharp bite, and deGrom varied the speed and size of the break on it. If any righty looked decent against the fastball away, Jake would lean on the slider. If any lefty survived the fastball and slider in, Jake would mix it up with a fastball and change-up away (these were not as precise, but often more than sufficient after all the hard stuff in).
Of note: deGrom had no elbow complaints until the league cracked down on sticky substances heading into the hotter months. Everyone on the team (especially his catchers) made a point of saying that deGrom never used the sticky stuff, but one can’t help but wonder if his fingers could have used a little help in the July heat to avoid what felled Tyler Glasnow (squeezing the ball to keep it from slipping is what did in Glasnow’s UCL).
Max Scherzer – stock: way up
Marcus Stroman had a fantastic year for the Mets in 2021, and he’s being replaced by a 37-year-old. However, that 37-year-old is a surefire Hall of Famer who just missed adding a 4th Cy Young to his trophy case last year. Max Scherzer brings an arsenal of nasty pitches, a championship pedigree, fierce intensity on the mound, and a unique motion that has been keeping hitters from squaring up his fastball for over a decade. The Diamondbacks thought his odd finish, snapping his upper body forward and keeping his arm straight through his follow-through, would lead to injury, but Scherzer has been almost as durable over the years as he has been dominant.
As for Stroman, the Mets made no attempt to re-sign him, and Marcus signed a 3-year deal with the Cubs. Stroman clashed with the NY media at times and wasn’t afraid to have opinions on Twitter, leading some to suggest he was a clubhouse problem, but I never heard anything but praise from his teammates, especially the young pitchers he helped mentor.
Chris Bassitt – stock: up
Bassitt joins the Mets with a reputation as a control pitcher with a deep arsenal who doesn’t rely on velocity. He sports one of the A.L.’s best ERAs over the last few years, and starts the season healthy, which is better than the 2021 Mets could say about their prospective #3 starter.
Carlos Carrasco – stock: down
Carrasco showed only the briefest hints in 2021 of the pitcher who dominated in Cleveland. Opponents crushed him in the first inning, regularly putting the Mets in a hole. His command tended to improve as games went on, but he remained homer prone. He almost never threw his curveball, a key pitch for him in Cleveland. After several injuries, it remains to be seen if he has anything left at age 35. The Mets have to hope that an offseason elbow “clean-up” will make a big difference.
Taijuan Walker – stock: unchanged
Walker entered 2021 as a relative wild card, then looked like the find of the offseason in the first half, pitching his way to the All-Star Game. Walker showed great late movement on a variety of pitches, and although he was a bit wild early on, he threw more and more strikes as the first half progressed (though not always to the catcher’s target). In the second half, unfortunately, that formula completely fell apart, as Walker was clubbed to the tune of a 7.13 ERA and didn’t look like a competitive major league pitcher by the season’s end. With no injuries announced, Mets fans are hoping that Walker simply ran out of gas and will hold up better in 2022 with a full season finally under his belt after fits and starts earlier in his career.
David Peterson – stock: down
In 2020, Peterson came out of nowhere (well, AA) and instantly looked like a clutch performer with a good slider and some late movement on his fastball. Unfortunately he couldn’t repeat any of that in 2021, with only a few really good starts, and plenty of meltdowns. Mets fans have to wonder whether he can bounce back, or whether there’s a reason we’d never heard of him two years ago.
Tylor Megill – stock: way up
Megill was the latest in the Mets’ parade of “great then terrible” starting pitchers. With only a handful of starts above A ball, Megill broke into the majors with a 2.04 ERA over his first 7 starts, showing great velocity, good late movement on his slider and change-up, and a “slow heartbeat” that kept him looking calm in all situations. He also threw plenty of strikes without leaving anything in the middle of the plate.
Then things suddenly turned, with Megill getting his secondary stuff up and becoming a homerun machine, for a 6.13 ERA over his last 11 starts.
As with Walker, Mets fans have to hope the increased workload was to blame and that Megill will have more endurance in 2022.
Trevor Williams – stock: unchanged
Formerly known to Mets fans for giving up a homerun to Jacob deGrom, Williams joined the Mets at mid-season and was extremely reliable, avoiding walks and getting ground balls as both a starter and reliever. Ticketed for the bullpen to start 2022, Williams probably also represents the Mets’ best starting rotation depth option.
Meanwhile, old friend Noah Syndergaard initially gushed about the Mets extending him a qualifying offer early in the offseason, then took a few million more to jump ship for the Angels. It’s hard to know what Thor’s thinking really was, but his line to the media was uncertainty over the Mets front office. So he could be a casualty of Alderson taking too long to settle on Eppler. Given that Noah’s last good year was 2018 and his only pitches since 2019 were two cameos in 2021’s final week, the Mets may be lucky that the Angels outbid them.
Edwin Diaz – stock: unchanged
At this point, Mets fans know what to expect from Diaz: nasy stuff, erratic control, plenty of dominant outings, but far too many clunkers for your ninth-inning last line of defense. There are some days when Diaz is getting under the ball, and his slider is flat and his fastball is wild, and on those days what he really needs is a quick hook. If Showalter has the guts to yank his closer at those times, then we can just appreciate how Diaz blows opponents away when he’s on.
Trevor May – stock: unchanged
May had some good stretches and some bad stretches, putting up similar overall numbers to his recent seasons as a Twin. While not exactly a shut-down asset, May is a perfectly fine member of the late-inning relief corps.
Seth Lugo – stock: unchanged
Lugo was less reliable in 2021 than he had been for the past few years, with a few costly mistakes at big moments. His velocity and secondary stuff looked the same, so if he can locate a bit better and command his fastball, it’s easy to imagine better in 2022.
Adam Ottavino – stock: down
Ottavino’s had some good years, but not recently, as he hasn’t been able to consistently locate his wipeout slider. He might be primarily a righty specialist, which is less than what Miguel Castro offered the Mets.
Joely Rodriguez – stock: down
Established LOOGY Aaron Loup is replaced by LOOGY-hopeful Rodriguez, a desperation last-second lefty acquisition in exchange for the much more talented Miguel Castro.
Loup leaves the Mets after posting one of the team’s all-time best relief performances in 2021, with an 0.95 ERA and a team-leading 2 WPA. In a season of up-and-down pitching, Loup was the one constant who the Mets could rely on to slam the door on opponents’ rallies. He expressed a desire to return, but quickly signed elsewhere when the Angels made an aggressive bid for him early in the offseason and the then-in-progress Mets front office didn’t match.
Bullpen depth – stock: unchanged
Chasen Shreve has had some recent success, while Sean Reid-Foley and Drew Smith have both struggled to stay healthy.
Gone is Jeurys Familia, who looked like his old self for a few months in 2021 before he started getting the ball up and allowing big homers.
Minor leaguers of note
The Mets dealt Pete Crow-Armstrong for a few months of Baez and J.T. Ginn for a year of Bassitt, while Matthew Allan got Tommy John surgery and had a setback in his recovery. That leaves the Mets’ top prospects as Ronny Mauricio, who still impresses with his tools and tantalizes with his youth despite poor offensive stats; Brett Baty and Mark Vientos, who can crush the ball but have serious contact issues; and the system’s crown jewel, Francisco Alvarez. Alvarez tore up high-A ball, something 19-year-old catchers don’t do very often, vaulting him to the status of a top-ten prospect in baseball.
None of this group projects to help in 2022 except perhaps for Vientos, who clubbed 25 HRs in 83 games in AA and AAA.
Summing it up
Changes since a year ago
Stock way down: Jeff McNeil, Francisco Lindor and Dominic Smith (performance); Jacob deGrom (injuries)
Stock down: Nimmo, J.D. Davis, McCann, Carrasco, Peterson, the middle of the bullpen
Stock unchanged: most of the bullpen, the bench, and the new OFs replacing their 2021 counterparts
Stock up: new acquisitions Escobar and Bassitt
Stock way up: Alvarez achieving top prospect status; Megill making the majors out of nowhere; the arrival of Scherzer
Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis continued to fall from their 2019 peaks. At virtually every other position, the Mets have either stayed the same for a while, or have been up and down.
What it all means
The 2022 roster looks good on paper, but so did the 2021 squad that finished 76-86. The hope now is that a new manager, a few key new faces, and better luck on the injury front will help the team turn the page from recent disappointments. With an expanded playoff field in 2022 and a record payroll, the Mets really need to earn a postseason berth at minimum. Replacing the reviled Wilpons with a big-spending owner was supposed to change the team’s fortunes, and if that doesn’t happen this year, Mets fans may be wondering if their team is cursed or broken in some more intractable way.
Fans would also love to see some signs of a model for future success, seeing as how no team can simply buy top free agents year after year. With several high picks coming their way in the next draft, it seems likely that the Mets hope to follow the Dodgers’ blueprint from a decade back, spending money for success in the short term while laying the building blocks for a sustainable winner in the future. Certainly it would help the Mets if they can draft and develop players like Corey Seager, but they’ll also need a front office and analytics team that’s ahead of the curve, able to spot players like Max Muncy and Chris Taylor and help them take their performance to new levels. Billy Eppler’s time with the Angels was not at all promising in this regard, as the team consistently failed to fill out a useful roster around its superstars. Some claim owner Arte Moreno was overly involved, but Moreno, like Cohen, was certainly motivated to shell out big bucks for a winner. The Angels simply failed to develop young talent, and to identify and nurture pitching talent more generally.
Based on the 2021 hitting coach debacle, the Mets have yet to learn that more analytics and more effective analytics are two different things. Today’s best franchises don’t use pitcher tendency data to flood hitters’ brains; they use biomechanical metrics and training to improve swings and pitches. Hopefully Cohen will outgrow Alderson at some point and put baseball infrastructure decisions in the hands of a more innovative brain trust. We don’t know for sure that Eppler isn’t that guy, but we have no particular reason to think that he is, either. Much of Billy’s experience came under Brian Cashman, so if Eppler can turn Yankees-like budgets into Yankees-like results, that would certainly mean a lot more wins than the Mets have seen lately. That may not be the same as catching up to the Rays, er, Braves, though.
In 2021, Mets fans looked to see the start of a new era, both on the field and in the front office. They’ll be looking even more desperately for that in 2022.
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There are now two weeks to go before the midway point of the season. I’m hoping that a lot happens in those two weeks to clarify what kind of team the 2021 Mets can be. Will hot players cool off? Will slumping players bounce back? Will injured players return and contribute? Before we get the answers to those questions, let’s take stock what we’ve already seen.
Luis Rojas – B
The team has been hit as hard by injuries as any team I’ve seen, and the healthy lineup anchors have underperformed. And yet, somehow, the Mets’ fortunes climbed as high as a 35-25 record with a 5 game lead in the NL East. That’s the stuff Manager of the Year campaigns are made of.
The 2021 team has stayed positive and pretty focused. The pitching has excelled despite all sorts of disruptions which have required multiple bullpen games.
Rojas does make the occasional strategic blunder, which is why I’m not giving him an “A”, but no manager is perfect, and Luis has done an admirable job overall with what he’s had to work with.
Jacob deGrom – A+
Jake has had trouble staying on the mound due to various arm issues, but on a per inning basis is off to the best start in MLB history. Two 1-0 losses leave his record less than perfect, but team has actually held leads for him for a change. He’s 7-2, with the team 9-3 in his starts.
Taijuan Walker – A
Walker has given the Mets more than they could have possibly expected. He doesn’t always hit the glove, but he has decreased his walks as the season’s gone on, while keeping hitters off-balance with pitch variety and movement.
Marcus Stroman – A-
Stro’s rate stats are nothing special, but he has been consistent, tough with men on base, and a groundball machine. His 2.32 ERA is spectacular, and he leads the team in innings.
Edwin Diaz – B+
Diaz has 2 losses, and his ERA is nothing special, but he’s 15 for 16 in save chances, and his walks are down.
Aaron Loup – B+
Loup has been tough on lefties and has survived against righties. He’s gotten a lot of big outs.
Jonathan Villar – B+
He’s only hitting .240, but Villar has been stellar in other areas. He’s currently fourth on the team in plate appearances (due to injuries to the planned starters) and the Mets would have been lost without him. Villar has contributed some great defense, some great baserunning, some walks and some homers. He’s prone to the occasional gaffe, but he more than makes up for it.
Kevin Pillar – B
Pillar hasn’t gotten on base much, but has provided more power than expected. His speed is not what it used to be, but he’s still a good OF. Also a fantastic leader by example.
Tomas Nido – B
Nido got hot and carried the offense to a few low-scoring wins when everyone else was cold or hurt, leaving him as the team leader in Win Probability Added even now, after he’s regressed to his usual levels of offense. Solid behind the plate as always.
Miguel Castro – B
Castro has had a few clunkers and a lot of walk-induced nail-biters, but has gotten the job done more often than not. His change-up was dominant in April, but now he’s throwing all sliders. His fastball command remains poor, but its velocity complements his other pitches well.
Seth Lugo – B
Lugo has jumped right into a high-leverage role off the injured list. He was great at first, but has struggled recently.
Jeurys Familia – B
Recently Familia has been worked hard, and his performance and health have suffered. Before that, though, he looked the best he has since 2016, getting lots of weak grounders. Some of those have found holes, making his numbers look worse than how well he’s pitched.
Sean Reid-Foley – B
Sean has provided great value as multi-inning reliever. After seven excellent appearances, he got lit up in his last one.
Robert Gsellman – C+
His sinker was actually sinking again, and his walks and HRs were down… until he tore a lat muscle and now will miss 2 months.
James McCann – C+
MCCann has looked more like the hitter he was in Detroit (poor) than Chicago (good), but his defense has been even better than advertised, as the best game-caller in recent memory among Mets primary catchers.
Pete Alonso – C
Pete has been excellent with the glove, but has rarely squared up the ball at the plate, and has already had several slumps where he’s waved at junk and popped up meatballs. He looked like 2019 Pete in spring training, but hasn’t carried it over to the games that count.
Joey Lucchesi – C
Lucchesi initially struggled while pitching irregularly, but became quite effective two times through the lineup as a regular starter. Pitching his best baseball of the year, he tore his UCL last week and is now finished for the season.
Trevor May – C-
Erratic; dominant one day, batting practice the next.
Dominic Smith – C-
Smith has gotten better in LF but is still below average. 2021 has seen a huge decline with the bat. He’s rarely squaring up pitches to hit, and he’s also waving at a ton of stuff above the zone or in the dirt middle-to-in. The back foot breaking ball is an almost automatic chase.
Michael Conforto – C-
At the start of 2021, Conforto did not resemble the hitter he was in 2020, when he hit a ton of opposite-field, 2-strike singles. Instead, he looked back to his old all-or-nothing self… but without the power. Then he got hurt.
Jeff McNeil – C-
McNeil rarely struck out, but he couldn’t square up many pitches, looking bad on anything up or away. He got hurt in the same game as Conforto.
Lindor – D
Anyone who expected Lindor to save the Mets has to be very disappointed. He’s provided great first-step quickness and range in the field, and he’s always talking and effervescent, but the positives stop there.
Lindor has shown an ugly swing, terrible situational hitting, and a propensity for choking with RISP. His arm is mediocre, and he’s made several questionable decisions in the field, such as turning down DPs in favor of one easy out. He sometimes runs hard to first, but sometimes not. He didn’t attempt any steals until he got hot at the plate, despite having drawn plenty of walks.
As one of two healthy guys in there all year (alongside Dom Smith), Lindor had the chance to be an enormous difference maker in all the low-scoring games the Mets played. Instead, he’s slashed .212/.304/.351 and contributed -0.3 WPA.
He’s appointed himself the leader of the team, and perhaps his positive attitude is helping, but he certainly isn’t leading by example at the plate.
David Peterson – D
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Two excellent starts, six okay starts, and five absolute disasters. Peterson has tended to lose control very badly and not get it back, resulting in both walks and homers.
Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2020?
This is the eighth annual article on this topic.
Links to previous editions: 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020
The story so far…
The 2017-2019 Mets gave fans ulcers, finding myriad ways to disappoint, from starting pitching (2017) to health and defense (2018) to the manager and closer (2019). Each year, preseason forecasts saw the Mets as contenders, and each year, they failed to live up to the predictions.
Nevertheless, a certain amount of optimism surrounded the team after their 86-win 2019, thanks to huge breakouts from young players Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, and especially Pete Alonso. If the starting pitching could hold steady while the offense continued to mature, then perhaps new manager Luis Rojas and a return to form from relievers Jeurys Familia and Edwin Diaz could get the Mets over the hump in 2020 for their first playoff games since 2016…
More ulcers! More disappointment! More great individual performances wasted! National pundits have latched onto the Mets franchise as a punchline for self-sabotage, and in 2020 they were at it again, as the Mets offered a clinic in choking.
The Mets offense put up exceptional numbers, leading the league in batting average and OPS+ while finishing 3rd in OPS overall… but they were only 7th in runs. With men on, and especially with men in scoring position, the bats went silent time and time again. Boasting a .272 average and a .245 mark with RISP, the Mets’ -27 point difference was the worst in the majors.
This sort of choke fest can be a sign of a fractious and dysfunctional team or clubhouse, but the 2020 Mets actually seemed quite harmonious. The guys seemed to really like each other, and Luis Rojas showed a much better knack for communication than his predecessor. From all appearances, Rojas did his best to run out the best lineup every day, and he didn’t make any enemies among the players he had to bench or demote in the process. Luis managed to be honest with the media while keeping any criticisms of players professional and goal-oriented. By all accounts, he kept a very even keel, and the players loved him. The team-wide failure in the clutch defied any simple “bad environment” explanations.
To be fair, clutch hitting wasn’t the Mets’ only weakness. Their defense rated near the bottom of the league, and their pitching was unreliable. Late in the season, it seemed like every time the offense did turn hits into runs, a pitcher would blow a lead. The starting pitching was terrible all year, and the up-and-down bullpen was not very clutch in the second half.
The bar for making the MLB postseason has never been anywhere near as low as it was in 2020, and the Mets just couldn’t scratch out wins. They ended the year tied for the 3rd worst record in the league.
Despite all that, the team’s poor play wasn’t at the forefront of fans’ minds in October 2020. The main storyline was the sale of the team from the resented Wilpons to billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen. By early November, the sale to Cohen was official, and he was telling Mets fans exactly what they wanted to hear: that he wanted to build a World Series winner, and was willing to pay to make that happen.
Cohen’s regime got off to an odd start, when he brought recent (and largely unsuccessful) Mets GM Sandy Alderson back to be team president, then couldn’t find a taker for the team’s President of Baseball Operations position, meaning Alderson had to fill that role himself.
Fortunately, new GM Jared Porter quickly diverged from Alderson’s previous strategy of “waiting out the market” for everything, instead pouncing quickly on some useful pieces and then swinging a trade for the most talented available player in Francisco Lindor.
The Porter era came to an abrupt end 12 days later: he was fired after news broke that he’d spent a good chunk of 2016 making unwanted advances on a reporter. Zack Scott, who’d interviewed for the GM job before being hired to assist Porter, was named Interim GM.
Stock Up, Stock Down
Let’s take a deeper look at how the players performed in 2020, and see what we can take away for 2021. Given those performances, as well as the subsequent changes in personnel, should we be more or less bullish on the Mets now than we were heading into last season? Is the team trending up, or trending down?
James McCann – stock: unchanged
Wilson Ramos was a complete disaster in 2020, but he came in with a much better offensive track record than McCann brings to the Mets. Ramos was a solid hitter for most of the previous 9 years, while McCann was a terrible hitter for 4 years in Detroit before putting up good numbers over 149 games with the White Sox.
On the defensive side, McCann and Ramos boast similar Caught Stealing numbers, and McCann’s framing stats have been all over the place, but it’s a safe bet that McCann constitutes a defensive upgrade from Ramos. Ramos showed no mobility, failing to get down multiple tags at home, and the leg-extended crouch he used to better frame low pitches left him completely unable to move side to side to stop any potential wild pitches.
Tomas Nido – stock: unchanged
Nido missed time due to COVID-19 and only got into 7 games.
Pete Alonso – stock: down
Few expected Pete to repeat his 53-homer 2019, and his strikeout rate was always going to be an issue, but 2020 still had to qualify as a disappointment. Something about his set-up, stride, and swing looked different from 2019, and he wound up spinning and falling over the plate on every hack, completely unable to cover the outside edge (which was a strength in 2019). A surge in the season’s final week elevated his stats, but up until then, Pete was an easy out.
Fans now have to hope the Polar Bear can rediscover his 2019 form, as the only thing he really needed to improve on from there was pitch selection and chasing fewer balls out of the zone.
Jeff McNeil – stock: down (personal), way up (Mets 2B)
It looked like the Mets were going to play 2020 with a washed-up Cano at second base, so using McNeil there in 2021 certainly has to be seen as a better way to head into a season. In reality, Cano had a fantastic 2020 at the plate, one McNeil will be hard-pressed to match.
McNeil kept the open stance he adopted halfway through 2019, and suffered the worst of both worlds, failing to retain his power while also keeping the uppercut that ruined his previous line-drive ways. Although no longer the impressive force he was in early 2019, McNeil still proved to be a good hitter overall, mixing in one red-hot stretch with some more pedestrian periods.
Robinson Cano – stock: unchanged
In 2020, Cano showed a much quicker bat than in 2019. He still wasn’t great in the field, but looked like he old self at the plate. Was he juicing again? Yep. He eventually got caught and will miss the 2021 season due to the resulting suspension.
J.D. Davis – stock: down
J.D. did not reprise 2020’s offensive breakout in 2021, hitting the ball with much less authority. He did show a good eye, and his high OBP meant he still qualified as an above-average bat in the lineup. Unfortunately, regular playing time did not improve his defense, which was awful in just about every way.
Francisco Lindor – stock: way up
Even though hopes were high for Amed Rosario after a solid 2019, Lindor has to be seen as a huge upgrade. Francisco is universally regarded as one of the best shortstops in the game, a good-to-great fielder with great contact ability, good speed, and above-average pop. With the Mets locking him up for 11 years and $363m, there’s every reason to think he’ll be a star for the next 3-5 years and a payroll black hole for much of the subsequent 6-8, so here’s hoping Steve Cohen doesn’t care about luxury taxes!
As for Amed Rosario, he’s gone to Cleveland after reverting to his wild-swinging ways in 2020 (he got an ovation when he drew his first walk at 100+ ABs). It was a disappointing ride for a prospect once regarded by some as #1 in baseball. Also gone in the Lindor trade is Andres Gimenez, who had an impressive 2020 debut, showing speed, defense, basestealing ability, and flashes of being a legitimate hitter.
Dominic Smith – stock: up
Though clearly miscast as an outfielder due to his lack of speed, Dom didn’t let his journey between 1B, DH and LF affect his swing. Smith absolutely raked in 2020, until a slump at the very end of the season got his OPS under 1.000. Dom nearly led the league in doubles, and was easily the Mets’ best RBI machine and clutch hitter.
Along the way, Dom wound up as one of the faces of MLB for racial justice, not due to any brilliant speeches or campaigning, but rather by being vulnerable and honest in public, and being so well liked by his teammates that they wanted to support him and the issues that mattered to him. Smith was one of MLB’s good guys of 2020.
Meanwhile, Yoenis Cespedes disappeared on the team one day and never came back, eventually claiming COVID-19 concerns, but actually upset about not being given enough playing time to earn his performance bonuses. This after a .161 start. The team’s star of 2015-2016 will not be missed.
Brandon Nimmo – stock: up
Back to full health after neck problems in 2019, Nimmo returned to his .400-OBP ways in 2020, while posting the lowest K rate of his career. Unfortunately, he was still terrible in center field. With the Mets prioritizing upgrades in other areas this past offseason, and currently using LF to shoehorn Dom Smith’s bat into the lineup, Nimmo returns for another go in center, this time with a plan to play deeper.
Michael Conforto – stock: up
In 2020, Conforto suddenly learned how to fight off pitches to the opposite field, producing lots of singles. That .322 avg looks like a whole new hitter, but Michael posted the same strikeout rate as every other year of his career, which makes me wonder if his huge BABIP jump was mostly luck.
Jacob deGrom – stock: unchanged
With two Cy Young awards already on his mantle, deGrom threw harder than ever in 2020 and struck out more batters than ever, whiffing a ridiculous 13.8 per 9 innings, which would have been an NL record in a full season.
Earlier in his career, Jake used to keep hitters off balance by mixing pitches, but by 2020 he had evolved into more of a pure power guy, identifying a pitch for each hitter that the hitter couldn’t handle, and largely just sticking with that pitch. In 2020, that was often his slider, which was more of a true slider than ever before. Back in 2018, the pitch looked more like a slider-cutter hybrid — it had a very short break and deGrom was able to locate it very consistently, without a single “hanger” of the type that happens from time to time with a true breaking ball. In 2020, the pitch no longer resembled a cutter — it had a sizable two-plane break that missed bats, but deGrom also hung a few that were clobbered.
It was strange to watch deGrom throw the same one or two pitches over and over, allowing hitters to time them and lineups to predict them. His strike-throwing was also bit less consistent than in the past, with fewer pitches at the knees. In the end, though, he finished 3rd in the Cy Young vote and is still regarded by many as the game’s best pitcher.
Marcus Stroman – stock: unchanged
Stroman sat out 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, but looks ready to go for 2021. Based on an up-and-down career so far, Marcus offers serious upside but minimal certainty.
Carlos Carrasco – stock: up
Carrasco’s track record with the Indians as a dominant breaking ball pitcher would make him the Mets’ clear #2 if he were healthy. Unfortunately, Carlos tore a hamstring doing routine conditioning drills in the spring. For this 34-year-old veteran, is this just a blip, or the beginning of the end? Assuming he makes it back at all in 2021, one would expect Carrasco to be an improvement over the Mets’ #3 candidates in 2020.
Gone is longtime Met Steven Matz, who really didn’t do anything well at any point in 2020. Rick Porcello occasionally looked really good, going right after batters, but his propensity for throwing 0-2 pitches down the middle with men in scoring position was maddening, and his final line was ugly. Michael Wacha showed strikeout stuff between his elite change-up and weird arm angle, but made way too many mistakes over the middle for homeruns.
Taijuan Walker – stock: up
Walker’s stock over the years has been as up and down as any player in the game, from ultra-elite prospect to underwhelming big leaguer to injury casualty to stretch drive hero. In his final six starts with Toronto in 2020, Taijuan posted a 1.37 ERA to help the Blue Jays clinch a wild card spot, leading some to think the once-hyped hurler had finally “figured it out”. Less encouragingly, Walker’s key rate stats – walks, strikeouts, homeruns – were all below average, suggesting he may have gotten lucky. He’ll probably need to improve those numbers to be anything more than a back-end starter in 2021, but he’s definitely a better bet than Wacha was!
David Peterson – stock: way up
With Jacob deGrom followed in the rotation by a bunch of total disasters, emergency promotion David Peterson stepped up as the team’s #2 in 2020. Although he walked far too many batters, he showed a knack for getting out of trouble, often making a big pitch when he had to. He didn’t look fazed by the big stage, with his walks resulting more from occasional lapses in control than from nibbling.
Peterson showed a good slider, an adequate change-up, and a fastball that didn’t get barreled up too much. It’s unclear what to expect from him going forward, but simply having a chance to stick in the 2021 rotation has to be seen as a huge leap forward.
Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto – stock: up
I’m not sure if these pitchers provide any more guarantee of quality than 2020’s back end starters did, but I’ll take the upside and years of team control. As a lefty with a weird motion (dramatic front shoulder lift a la Chris Young) and unusual pitch (“churve” change-up curveball hybrid), Lucchesi has the potential to give hitters fits. Yamamoto starts the year in the minors.
Noah Syndergaard – stock: unchanged
Thor continues his Tommy John rehab, with a possible return in June. Some look at him as a mid-season difference-maker who warrants an extension before free agency. I see a pitcher who needs to prove he can perform after disappointing in 3 of the last 4 years.
Edwin Diaz – stock: unchanged
Diaz posted some dominant rate stats in 2020, but was extremely un-clutch and couldn’t be trusted in a big spot. He also didn’t show much control, and was a bit lucky that all those walks didn’t lead to more runs. His astronomical K rate declined as the year went on, and he seemed to have lost some gas by the end of the shortened season. His elite stuff is a welcome inclusion in the Mets bullpen, but employing him as the last line of defense with no safety net rightly makes many Mets fans very nervous.
Trevor May – stock: unchanged
A high fastball pitcher with tons of strikeouts and tons of homeruns on his resume, May signed early in the offseason to be the Mets’ set-up man after the Twins let him walk. Whether he’s a big asset in the 8th inning remains to be seen, but at least he adds another capable arm to offset the loss of Justin Wilson, who the Mets did not re-sign.
Seth Lugo – stock: unchanged
Lugo pitched very well in relief in 2020, although nowhere near his utter dominance from late 2019. Moved to the rotation to finish the year, Seth alternated excellent starts with terrible ones, unable to avert meltdowns once they started. He’s ticketed for the ‘pen in 2021 once he recovers from “minor” elbow surgery.
Miguel Castro – stock: unchanged
Castro has eye-catching stuff but little ability to harness it. At age 26, the Mets hope he still has some time to figure out how to get his 100 mph heat where he wants it on a regular basis.
Tantalizing upside plus known issues? This reminds me of how Dellin Betances entered 2020. Betances, though still with the team in 2021, turned out to be finished.
Jeurys Familia – stock: unchanged
After being unusable in 2019, Familia returned to getting grounders and limiting homeruns in 2020. Unfortunately his strikeouts declined and he averaged 6.4 walks per 9 innings. He enters 2021 somewhere in the middle of the bullpen depth chart, mostly out of necessity.
Bullpen depth – stock: down
Aaron Loup was acquired to be a lefty specialist, an interesting proposition in the 3-batter era. He’s also the only lefty on the staff. Robert Gsellman, Jacob Barnes, Trevor Hildenberger, Stephen Tarpley, Sam McWilliams and Drew Smith are all in the running to soak up some low-leverage innings. This group has even less of a track record than 2020’s back-end corps.
Minor leaguers of note
The minor leagues didn’t play in 2020, so the Mets are still waiting to see the next step from talented kids Ronny Mauricio, Francisco Alvarez, and 2019 draftees Brett Baty and Matthew Allan, plus new draftee Pete Crow-Armstrong. No prospects are currently knocking on the big league door.
Summing it up
Changes since a year ago
Stock way down: The Mets haven’t really had any player or position fall off a cliff since opening day 2020.
Stock down: Pete Alonso, J.D. Davis, and Jeff McNeil. Three 2019 breakouts couldn’t reach those levels in 2020, but were still solid.
Stock unchanged: deGrom, the bullpen, the catcher, and the MIA list
Stock up: Carlos Carrasco is a nice addition, while Nimmo, Conforto, and Dom Smith all had good years in 2020. Walker, Lucchesi and Yamamoto upgrade the starting pitching depth.
Stock way up: David Peterson skipped AAA and found success in the majors, and Francisco Lindor joins the Mets as an established star.
With most of the Mets’ ascending players having leveled off, only Dominic Smith continued a multi-season rise in 2020.
What it all means
Did Francisco Lindor just get handed the largest assignment in baseball? He just signed one of the richest contracts in sports history, and he’s being asked to address many of the team’s biggest needs.
- The Mets have been a bad defensive team for a long time. Lindor is a gold glove shortstop.
- The Mets have underachievd for years, with many viewing the organization as dysfunctional losers. Lindor is a charismatic leader known as “Mr. Smile”, and he’s played in four of the last five postseasons.
- The Mets have looked good but not great to most prediction models over the last four years, a probable contender but not a favorite. Lindor’s big WAR boost vaults the Mets to the top of the projections (or just behind the Braves, depending on the model).
Whether anyone in the Mets organization really expects all that of Lindor or not, he certainly was the centerpiece of the Mets’ offseason. With Steve Cohen talking about building a champion, some expected him to land multiple top free agents from the group of George Springer, J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer. The Mets acquired none of them (they did outbid the Dodgers for Bauer, but Bauer decided to join the proven winner).
With most of the Mets’ other offseason moves being relatively modest, spring training saw some fans getting anxious to see Cohen back up his words with dollars. Giving Lindor another $341 million probably puts that question to rest. Now the question is whether Cohen, Alderson, and the rest of the front office can spend effectively.
If the 2021 Mets are going to succeed, they need to overcome more than just their own history: three out of their four division rivals are stacked with talent, and the fourth one (Miami) made the playoff last year and boasts a nasty young rotation. Lindor and improved starting pitching should make the Mets a better team than 2020’s 26-34 squad, but the huge leap forward they’ll need in order to take the NL East crown will require better performances up and down the roster, including everything from fielding to baserunning to clutch hitting. If they can’t quite make it past the Braves, a wild card may be a longshot, given the easier competition faced by West and Central contenders.
Cohen said his goal was a championship in 3-5 years, not in year 1. But it sure would be nice if the Mets made the playoffs in 2021 to show they’re on the right track. If not, don’t be surprised if Luis Rojas’s mild demeanor gets painted as a lack of urgency and competitive fire, and a new manager gets brought in to “teach the Mets how to win”. Mets fans will be watching closely this year to see whether the play on the field looks like a new era or just more of the same.
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The 2019 Mets were an erratic bunch, a team that could go toe to toe with the Dodgers in one series and get swept by the Marlins in another. Although few individual performances went as anticipated, the team overall did about what was expected of them: most projection models had them at 83-89 wins, and they finished with 86.
Now for the next task: how do the Mets go from a wild card contender (86 wins) to a wild card favorite and division title contender (92 wins)?
The Current Team
The Mets have an interesting array of assets to keep, trade, or shuffle around the field. By my estimation, the best use of the current roster would be:
C Wilson Ramos
1B Pete Alonso
2B Jeff McNeil
3B J.D. Davis
SS Amed Rosario
LF Brandon Nimmo
RF Michael Conforto
CF new acquisition
Bullpen: Seth Lugo, new acquisitions, Justin Wilson, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, re-sign Brad Brach
Bench: Robinson Cano, Dominic Smith, Jed Lowrie, Luis Guillorme, new acquisitions
(I’m sure that some of that assessment will be controversial, but in brief: I saw a free swinger who did little damage on fastballs and showed minimal range in Robbie Cano; I saw a terrible fielder with a great arm and bat in J.D. Davis; and I saw a player miss his entire age-35 season in Jed Lowrie.)
Can the Mets land a fifth starter, set-up man, center fielder and depth in free agency? Possibly. Brett Gardner, Tanner Roark, and Will Harris would add up to a significant cost, but if the Wilpons figured that would push them into the playoffs, I’m sure they could afford it.
Does that sound like a 92-win team to you, though? Aside from Harris (possibly the best free agent reliever out there), I think the Mets need to aim higher.
If I had to pick one free agent to target, it would be Madison Bumgarner. He’s not the strikeout pitcher he once was, and his flyball ways are dangerous with today’s rubber rocket ball, but he limits walks, takes the ball, and is as clutch as they come. Plus, the Mets cannot hit him at all, and his top rumored suitor is the Braves.
My back-up plans would be Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu. All three pitchers are way better than what the Mets have in-house or could get from the free agent bargain bin.
If the Mets can’t spend big in free agency, then I’d target Tyler Clippard to stabilize the ‘pen and Michael Pineda to hold down the #5 spot (with Robert Gsellman making starts in AAA to hedge against injury).
Stay away from Starling Marte. Kazmir fiasco architect Jim Duquette recently proposed a swap of Andres Gimenez, Franklyn Kilome, and either Mark Vientos or David Peterson. That package might be appropriate for Marte three years ago, but it’s not appropriate for Marte now, and if he costs anything like that, the Mets should pass. Starling used to be a gold glove speedster with no plate discipline and good contact ability. Now he’s an average-to-below center fielder with no plate discipline and good contact ability.
I’m honestly not all that high on any of those prospects, but I think the Mets ought to hold onto them to fill other needs.
I am pretty high on J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, and Noah Syndergaard, but I think trading them might get the Mets players that would greatly upgrade the team. Here are a few trade ideas:
A risky move for both teams, as Buxton could still wind up as an All-Star or a tragic flame-out. He may never stay healthy, and he may never hit much. But he’s still one of the fastest men in the game and one of the best defenders. The Twins, in a great position to contend, may need a proven starting pitcher with ace potential much more than they need Buxton. Depending on how both players are viewed, the Mets might also ask for the Twins’ curveball-specialist reliever.
Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, Jed Lowrie and cash for Corey Kluber or Jose Ramirez
Reports claim that the Indians need to cut payroll and do some level of rebuilding, but they’re not in a position where they have to tank to do so. I would think the ideal fit for a team in this position would be players who have proven themselves as major leaguers and who still have tons of service time left at cheap salaries. Dom and J.D. might be exactly what Cleveland is looking for. If so, the Indians might be persuaded to move their high-salaried ace, or even their former MVP candidate (though his contract is a great deal, so perhaps not).
If the Mets hold onto Thor and still need a center fielder, they could consider offering Kluber or Ramirez for Buxton and Duffey. A three-team trade with additional prospects involved might be the best way for each team to get what they want.
I realize that many of the above scenarios are improbable for various reasons, but I think this one has a real chance. Naquin’s bat and health are no sure thing, and he’s about to stop being cheap as he hits arbitration, but all the defensive metrics love him. Smith can pinch hit and share time at 1B, LF, and DH in 2020. Then Dom can take over 1B when Carlos Santana leaves in 2021, and he still won’t be arbitration eligible.
What are your thoughts on how to improve the Mets roster? Zany trade ideas obviously welcome.
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When Mickey Callaway was first brought on board, I thought he was the perfect hire in every way except for one big unknown: experience.
He seemed like a sharp enough guy to figure out the right tactical moves, but as it turned out, when it came to the heat of the moment… not so much.
There was really no way to predict that, one way or the other, before Mickey actually went out there and managed. So it was a risky hire, and in that respect, it didn’t work out.
Accordingly, I assumed that if the Mets were to replace Callaway this offseason, their main reason for doing so would be to get a proven, experienced in-game tactician.
Instead they just tabbed a guy who’s never managed or coached at any level.
I don’t have anything against Beltran for the final out in 2006, or for being hostile to the press for most of his time as a Met. He was a great player! But of all the manager candidates remaining, I had him pegged as probably the worst option.
Tim Bogar, Derek Shelton and Pat Murphy have way more experience. Eduardo Perez has a little more experience, and is 1000 times better with the media. After Maddon & Girardi signed elsewhere, I sort of figured we’d get Perez, because he’s loud and fun and analytics-savvy and is great in front of a camera. It would have been a gamble, and I wouldn’t have agreed with it, but I’d have understood it.
Picking Beltran, I don’t understand at all.
I don’t find Girardi at all likable, but he has proven he can do the job. That’s really what the Mets needed for 2020. If they weren’t going to get that, I’d have just as soon stuck with Callaway.
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How badly do the Mets and their much-maligned owners and their brand new GM really want a title shot in 2019?
How badly do they want to build an affordable core that can promise contention into the future?
These two goals may be directly opposed. Which will win out?
Mets fans, which do you want to win out?
The Seattle Mariners have provided Brodie Van Wagenen with exactly the sort of opportunity I often chastised Sandy Alderson for not pouncing on. The opportunity has arrived to shop at a fire sale. Surely the Mariners will have plenty of buyers dropping by for a look, but the rumor mill currently has the Mets leading the charge to mine Seattle for valuables in exchange for taking on Robinson Cano’s contract.
The Mets and Mariners have an enormous number of potential matches:
If the Mets want to win in 2019, they’d be wise to upgrade at center field, catcher, shortstop, another infield position, and closer. The Mariners have good but expensive players at second and short, and players in their primes at center and closer.
If the Mariners want to launch a rebuild, they’d be wise to acquire a bunch of talented first- or second-year players, as well as minor leaguers on the cusp of bursting onto the MLB scene. The Mets have several intriguing prospects at various positions in the upper levels of their system, as well as some very young talent on the major league roster.
What would happen if the Mets swapped Amed Rosario, Peter Alonso, Andres Gimenez and Justin Dunn for Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and Mallex Smith?
Would the Mets win 90 games in 2019 but then feature $45M in dead weight in 2022, with no good young players on the roster?
And if so… would that be worth it?
How much would this trade help the Mets?
Segura, Cano, and Diaz each project to be worth about 2 wins above the players they’d be replacing on the Mets. Add another win or so for Smith. If the current Mets are an 83-win team, they would jump to a 90-win team with a single trade. That’s hard to do.
How much would this trade help the Mariners?
The Mariners would get two middle infielders, one slugging first baseman, and one hard-throwing pitcher. Rosario and Alonso are ready for the big leagues, with Dunn not far behind, and Gimenez an extra year away. They won’t all be good players, but maybe more than one pans out, and maybe there’s a star in there somewhere. This is exactly what a rebuilding team needs.
How much would this trade hurt the Mets?
I don’t think the Mets would miss the talent they’d give up. Dunn struggles with command, lacks a great build, and is viewed by some as a future reliever. Rosario’s hitting fundamentals are woeful, and he’s been surprisingly ineffective in the field for someone with such athletic grace. Gimenez looks to be good at everything, but maybe not good enough at hitting to be a real asset. Alonso will hit homers, but also be a whiff-prone first baseman, offering an eminently replaceable skill set.
The real cost I see is money. Even if the players the Mets lose will be barely average, they’ll be barely average for the minimum salary, allowing the Mets to spend elsewhere. As for the players the Mets get back, Segura will rapidly go from underpaid to overpaid as his range and offense decline with age, while Cano is already overpaid and may claim the crown for most overpaid by the time his contract ends.
How much would this trade hurt the Mariners?
Mallex Smith is young, cheap, and exciting, with room to grow. He’s exactly the sort of player a rebuilding team should keep (unless they’re planning a very long rebuild). Edwin Diaz is the type of dominant reliever that a contender might overpay for at the trade deadline, bringing back great prospects without moving Smith and Segura at the same time. Also, maybe the Mariners see the same limitations in the Mets’ players that I do.
What’s the verdict?
I would make this trade. It’s hard to put too high a price on getting exactly what you need to compete. Yes, this will ruin any chance of the Mets competing as a mid-payroll team, but I don’t see that happening anyway. Their prospects and young players just aren’t elite enough to do what Cleveland did. Now is a time for the Mets to make bold moves, crack open the wallets, and start winning. The Wilpons can plan to recoup those payroll costs in the form of ticket sales and playoff games.
And yes, to win in 2022 they’ll have to spend even more… and a business model of escalating costs can’t be sustained forever… but no MLB team stays great forever. Give me a solid boom before the next bust, and I’ll be happy.
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Does the Mets’ 2018 season seem eerily familiar to you? Are you reminded of the beginning of the Alderson era, when the Mets failed to properly rebuild in the name of “maybe we can contend” every year? For those who’ve since managed to forget, this summed up the Mets from 2011-2013, and only the unexpected brilliance of rookies Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia carried the team closer to .500 in 2014.
Personally, when I look at the 2018 squad, I see a lot of 2012. Let’s indulge in a wistful reminiscence of that knuckleball-filled season, and see if it provides any takeaways for the Mets’ current roster.
The cast of characters
The Cy Young candidate
With all hopes of contention gone before the end of July, 2012 Mets fans had one reason to tune in every five days: the brilliance of R.A. Dickey. Some historic feats early in the season (back-to-back one-hitters in June!) put him on the map as one of the best stories of the year, and he charged into August and September pursuing 20 wins and a Cy Young award.
When he had his A+ knuckleball he was a strikeout machine, and when he didn’t, Dickey got by on guts and determination. Whenever he was in trouble, he seemed to find a way to dot the corner with a surprise fastball, or induce a chopper for a double play. R.A. seemed to single-handedly will the team to victory on the days he started; rarely has a Mets pitcher fielded his position with more gusto or run harder to first base than the 37-year-old journeyman with the thick beard.
Of course, all those wins weren’t really single-handed. The team still had to score a few runs, catch some deep fly balls, and close the door in the 8th and 9th. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it, Jacob deGrom?
The blossoming #2 starter
Jon Niese had teased the Mets for years with various combinations of a nasty cutter, a nasty curve, and elite velocity for a lefty starter. In 2012, he improved his control and went on his first sustained run of excellence.
We can see some parallels in the Mets tenure of Zack Wheeler, though Zack’s 2018 turnaround has been far more dramatic.
The young catcher playing himself into a back-up role
Josh Thole and Kevin Plawecki were both supposed to hit for high enough averages to make up for their mediocre arms. Nope.
The slugging first baseman with contact issues
Back in 2012, most teams still valued a guy who could hit 30 homers and not do much else. Ike Davis was viewed as a probable cornerstone of the Mets’ lineup, despite his whiff rate. Now, in 2018, with such players often available in the free agent bargain bin, poor Peter Alonso can’t even get a call-up.
(In case this is news to anyone, Alonso struck out 77 times in 65 games for Las Vegas.)
The contact-hitting second baseman
It’s still early for Jeff McNeil, but he shows all the signs of becoming a Mets-era Daniel Murphy: great contact ability, occasional pop, few walks, not exactly a natural at second base. Hopefully McNeil can avoid the injury bug that bit the Mets’ last Murphy clone, T.J. Rivera.
The really, really young shortstop
In 2010, Ruben Tejada blew our minds by showing himself to be a capable MLB shortstop at the age of 20. Despite his lack of exceptional tools, he showed enough quickness, contact ability, and intelligence both in the field and at the plate, to raise hopes very high indeed. In 2012, Ruben hit .320 into mid-August while rating as an average defender at short. Terry Collins named him as the team’s cornerstone player to build around heading into the future.
From there it was all down hill.
Amed Rosario likewise impressed onlookers at an early age, though in a very different way, flashing tools in AAA rather than poise in MLB. Handed the Mets’ starting shortstop job at age 22, Rosario is still viewed by some as a future cornerstone, but his lackluster results are beginning to dim those hopes.
The future middle of the order hitter, or maybe not
Lucas Duda absolutely destroyed the minors in 2010 and 2011, but his early days in MLB were mixed. Showing the quickest bat and most natural power on the team, Duda alternated between great at bats and terrible ones. When hot, he was very selective, drawing walks and murdering the pitches he got to hit. When cold, he’d consistently wave through anything sinking below the knees, with little ability to read change-ups and breaking balls. He was also toast against lefties.
Michael Conforto has been much the same so far in his major league career, but with more prolonged slumps and more prolonged streaks. With a torrid first half of 2017, Conforto had everyone dreaming of a perennial All-Star hitter, but that hitter hasn’t shown himself once in 2018.
The toolsy outfielder on the rise
The 2012 Mets featured an athletic outfielder who had recently put together a very impressive minor league season, and instantly showed a decent combination of pop and patience in the majors. His name was Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and scouts were torn on whether he’d be a future regular or future fringe player.
Brandon Nimmo entered 2018 in much the same position. Like Kirk, he got off to a good start. Unlike Kirk, he’s kept it up. Look out, though. That whiff rate that proved to be Nieuwenhuis’s undoing? Nimmo’s is nearly identical.
The part-time masher
Scott Hairston was the 2012 Mets’ second-best hitter after David Wright. Scott never provided enough consistency or defensive value to be a regular, but he could certainly hit rockets when he was on.
While Hairston was a two-year free agent, his modern counterpart, Wilmer Flores, is one of the longest-tenured Mets and a fan favorite.
The giant pile of wasted money
Johan Santana gave the Mets one great season and a few good ones before his body betrayed him. Jason Bay fell apart very quickly after donning the orange and blue. In 2012, the pair contributed a combined -0.9 WAR for $40M.
Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce have provided -0.1 WAR for their $40M salary in 2018.
After 2012, the Mets continued to sputter along until everything converged late in 2015. Of the 2012 players mentioned above, only Murphy and Duda were regulars, with Tejada and Niese useful in part-time roles. Dickey was traded for a serviceable catcher and a hard-throwing kid who took off in the Mets’ system. Santana and Bay were gone, with Nieuwenhuis a 25th man, on and off the roster.
Will history repeat itself?
Can you imagine this Mets team reaching the 2021 World Series?
• A red-hot Jeff McNeil, coming off a merely decent season, anchoring the playoff lineup from the #3 spot with lots of tough at bats and surprising pop.
• Michael Conforto batting 5th against righties, with enough easy whiffs to frustrate, but enough walks and homers to be useful.
• Amed Rosario as a part-time shortstop, allowing the Mets to switch and pinch-hit for another mediocre option at the position.
• Zack Wheeler bumped from the rotation due to health and consistency issues, but contributing out of the bullpen.
• Nimmo subbing in to hit the occasional triple or make the occasional diving catch.
• Bruce and Cespedes a distant memory.
• Some emerging ace and catcher stepping into the spotlight after being acquired for deGrom in 2018.
That team is still missing most of the key components that would make it a winner. However, way back in 2012, we didn’t see deGrom, Familia, and Cespedes on the horizon either.
Now, if only we had a young Matt Harvey bursting onto the scene and a David Wright still playing like a star when healthy…