Archive: July 6th, 2022

Mets half-season grades

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.

Position Players

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.

Starting Pitchers

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.

Relief Pitchers

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.

Manager

Buck Showalter – A
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.

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Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2021?

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.

2021 developments

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.

Catcher

James McCannstock: 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 Nidostock: 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.

First Base

Pete Alonsostock: 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.

Second Base

Jeff McNeilstock: 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.

Third Base

Eduardo Escobarstock: 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.

Shortstop

Francisco Lindorstock: 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.

Left Field

Mark Canhastock: 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.

Center Field

Brandon Nimmostock: 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.

Right Field

Starling Martestock: 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.

Designated Hitter

Dominic Smithstock: 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. Davisstock: 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.

Starting Pitcher

Jacob deGromstock: 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 Scherzerstock: 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 Bassittstock: 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 Carrascostock: 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 Walkerstock: 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 Petersonstock: 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 Megillstock: 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 Williamsstock: 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.

Bullpen

Edwin Diazstock: 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 Maystock: 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 Lugostock: 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 Ottavinostock: 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 Rodriguezstock: 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 depthstock: 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

Multi-Year Trends

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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