David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
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Biggest Surprises of the first Quarter

Now that the Mets are one quarter of the way through their 2016 schedule, what have we learned? Who has been better than expected? Who has disappointed? Here are my top 15 surprises so far. Chime in to the comments and let us know what’s surprised you!

The good:

Hitting homeruns

The Mets lead the National League with 60 HRs!

Asdrubal Cabrera‘s defense

I didn’t figure a shortstop with limited range could be that much of an asset. Cabrera’s been stellar on every slow-developing play, though, and his reliability (up until Thursday night) is a truly stark contrast to the Mets’ previous options at the position.

Michael Conforto seizing the #3 spot

Conforto allowed us to dream of an MVP candidate before proving himself to be as vulnerable to slumps as the next guy. Even with some inconsistency, he looks prepared for a spectacular sophomore season, hitting third for a contender. It’s still to be determined whether he can hit MLB lefties, however.

Yoenis Cespedes‘s patience

Ever since the Mets’ first homestand, Cespedes has been chasing fewer really bad pitches than in the past. With plenty of respectable hitters behind him, even a fair walk rate will help score the team some extra runs.

Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz

Thor’s stayed healthy and added weapons, while Matz has been tough for batters to square up despite inconsistent secondary stuff. It’s not a surprise that both youngsters continue to improve, but their rate of improvement has to be seen as great news.

Antonio Bastardo

After looking awful in March, and despite diminished velocity, Bastardo has been fantastic in most of his outings, getting back to his bread and butter: a fastball with the most vertical rise in MLB.

Addison Reed

94 mph and a decent-to-good slider is nothing special in today’s relief pitching. Yet Reed has racked up a ton of whiffs and gotten a bunch of late-inning leads to Familia.

Stellar relief pitching in general

Out of a group like Reed, Bastardo, Robles, Blevins, Henderson and Verrett, you expect some ups and downs. At any given moment, some will be hot, and some will be cold. Well, not so to begin 2016! In addition to Familia’s expected effectiveness, every single member of his supporting cast has been good, giving the Mets the deepest ‘pen in the league.

The bad:

Not hitting except for homeruns

The Mets are hitting .235, tied for second-worst in the NL. Their hitting with runners in scoring position is dead last at .208, and their Clutch WPA stat is 35% worse than any other team in baseball outside of Houston. We’ve seen a high number of HRs, an average number of walks, and a whole lot of choking.

Matt Harvey

Except for 6 innings against the Padres and his first 2 innings against the Reds, the guy wearing the Matt Harvey jersey has shown nothing in common with the guy who wore it in 2013 and 2015. Velocity down, command erratic, and no idea where the ball is going in the strike zone. We didn’t know it was even possible for him to be this bad with his right arm still attached.

Jacob deGrom

He’s gone from elite at 95 to merely effective at 92. This team might need him to be elite.

Wilmer Flores

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that a young player playing sporadically would struggle, but .180 with 2 RBI and bad defense is bad enough to make me wonder if he’s better off developing in the minors.

Alejandro De Aza

With that little playing time, I guess even veteran bench guys can struggle.

Travis d’Arnaud

His body can’t even survive a routine thing like throwing? It’s looking more and more like he’s too fragile for this sport. It doesn’t help his stock that the Mets’ pitch-calling and basestealer-catching improved dramatically once Travis went down.

The impossible:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Bartolo Colon steps to the plate…

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Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 3-1

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.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Second installment: Mets No. 6-4

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.

 

Prelude

MetsToday voters overwhelmingly picked Yoenis Cespedes as the Mets’ most important position player, and five young arms as the team’s most important players overall. The feeling here in March seemed to be that the 2016 Mets would go as far as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Jeurys Familia would take them.

Here on May 18, the Mets are on a pace for 94 wins, but things haven’t exactly gone as planned. Familia hasn’t blown a save, but also hasn’t dominated the way he did for most of 2015. DeGrom hasn’t been sharp and hasn’t been able to throw hard, seeing his whiff rate cut nearly in half. Harvey’s been awful. The two pitchers with the least experience, Matz and Syndergaard, have been leading the way. Are they better than Harvey and deGrom? Are they just hot right now? Are some of the Mets’ ace hopefuls on the upswing of their careers, while others, still only in their 20s, are already on the downswing? Are Harvey and deGrom, purportedly healthy, going to find it tomorrow and return to their 2013 and 2015 selves, respectively? Or are Matz and Syndergaard destined to decline soon too, from throwing too hard for seasons that run too long?

To provide some perspective on these questions, I’d like to look back 18 years to one of the great untold stories of pitching greatness, and the decline thereof, during my time as a baseball fan. I’d like to talk about Greg Maddux.

Best Pitcher Ever?
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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.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Third installment: Mets No. 3-1

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

SourceGAVGOBPSLGOffDefWAR
Steamer129.256.303.4597.91.62.9
ZiPS140.270.314.50016.02.53.9

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.

My prediction:

GAVGOBPSLGWAR
150.267.311.4693.6

 
 

#5. Steven Matz

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Mets Game 7: Loss to Marlins

Marlins 2 Mets 1

Noah Syndergaard was utterly dominant, but the Mets again didn’t hit, and the Marlins did a better job of executing when they had to.

Mets game notes

A friend of mine was irate over the 8th inning match-up between Jerry Blevins and Martin Prado, which Prado won with a lead-grabbing sac fly. Personally, I don’t think Terry Collins botched that one — the likely alternative was Addison Reed vs Justin Bour, which I don’t like any better.

The mistakes I saw were elsewhere:

Mistake 1

By the time he’d retired Marcell Ozuna for the first out of the 8th inning, Jim Henderson had nothing left. However he might normally match up against Yelich and Stanton, Collins would have been wise to ignore that, as Henderson could no longer finish his pitches, with everything sailing up and away. Maybe that wasn’t obvious until a few pitches into the Yelich AB, but what was obvious was the health risk. 33-year-old guy coming off shoulder surgery throwing max effort in the cold and showing obvious fatigue? It wouldn’t surprise me if his Mets career is done before it even gets started.

Health risks aside, you certainly had to see the walk to Stanton coming, which pushed the winning run to 3rd. Better to have a pitcher (even a lesser one) who isn’t totally gassed in that spot.

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Mets Game 3: Win Over Phillies

Mets 7 Phillies 2

The pitching-poor Phillies showed up in Queens to subject their #4 starter and a parade of 5 relievers to the mighty NL champs, with predictable results. Good hitting from Michael Conforto and clutch hitting from Neil Walker led the way. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom held down a Maikel Franco-free lineup, despite not having his best command. Unfortunately, he pitched through a tight lat in the 6th, and now Mets fandom must hold its collective breath.

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Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 10-7

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.

Second installment: Mets No. 6-4
Third installment: Mets No. 3-1

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any. The “Off” and “Def” columns are included to illustrate how the projections arrive at their WAR numbers. Note: “Def” includes a positional adjustment, where d’Arnaud’s numbers get a boost simply from playing catcher while Granderson’s numbers take a hit simply from playing right field.

 

#10. Sandy Alderson

We all know how crucial 2015’s deadline deals were to reshaping the team. Alderson acted to address multiple needs, and all his moves paid big dividends in the short term. With the 2016 National League boasting a number of teams that look great on paper, it’s unlikely that the Mets will simply run away with a playoff spot, meaning that adjustment on the fly should be important once again. If the Mets are neck and neck with another playoff hopeful in late July, Mets fans should certainly hope the trade deadline will unfold more like 2015 than 2007 or 2008. Standing pat in 2008 allowed that team’s holes — primarily a weak bullpen — to ultimately destroy their season.

While some may focus on the Wilpons’ purse strings and how those set the parameters for any deals, I suspect there’s plenty of room for things to go well or poorly within any given budget for trade acquisitions. Uribe, Johnson, Clippard, Reed and Cespedes were all the right players at the right times, but we shouldn’t forget the cost or the luck involved. When the time came to trade Scott Hairston and Bobby Parnell, rough analogs to Uribe-Johnson and Tyler Clippard, Alderson claimed he couldn’t find any worthwhile return, and thus stood pat. Then, on the other side of that equation, he parted with John Gant and Casey Meisner, two pitchers who many now view as having futures as MLB starters. That might be more a reflection on the lack of a coherent plan in 2011-2012 than on what Alderson will do going forward, but in the context of Alderson’s Mets tenure, it’s one more note of caution. Angel Pagan for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez is a bigger red flag, and the attempt to trade Zack Wheeler for Jay Bruce is bigger still.

My prediction:
No longer having a surplus of arms to deal from, and with few minor league Mets position players who other teams would want, Alderson mostly stays passive at the deadline. Maybe an athletic A-ball shortstop gets shipped out for a roll-of-the-dice bullpen arm.

 
 

#9. Travis d’Arnaud

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Spring Training Worries

Should Mets fans be worried about the team’s showing in Florida? After all, the Mets finished their Grapefruit League schedule with a 7-16 record (and 5 ties) – not exactly the best indicator of a talented team on a mission.

In 2015, spring training went much differently. It began with voluntary offseason Mike Barwis workouts, which had a large number of Mets position players coming into camp gushing with confidence about how they’d have a physical edge over their opponents. Next up was all the talk about “no one expects us to win, but we expect to win” and fire and energy and a new and improved hitting coach, which segued into a raging hot start at the plate. For the first half of Spring Training 2015, the Mets looked like the 1927 Yankees. Even when the bats cooled against better pitching, the team kept winning, finishing a Florida-best 19-12. When the regular season began, the Mets started out 13-3, and it was that stretch that kept their season record near .500 and the playoffs within reach despite a poor May and June.

Contrast that to 2016. The talk has been just about the only element in common. “Getting that close to winning the World Series makes us even hungrier!” Well, that sure didn’t manifest in the results. As a whole, the Mets did not hit well, or pitch well, or field well, or run the bases with any great skill. As other teams rounded into form, the Mets did not, failing to win any of their last 13 games. The news out of camp has been about cars and contracts and diminished velocities and bumps and bruises and bladders and last year. Are these the warning sings of a team that’s coasting? Or perhaps a team that’s not that good?

Here’s my take:

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