Now to “win in the future”

So the bell has rung on the Mets in their 58th season. What became certainly a memorable one was marked by fantastic individual performances, massive momentum swings, and many back-page headlines. Ultimately they did not “win now” as Brodie Van Wagenen once decreed they would, unless your definition of winning is merely a season above .500. While these Mets did indeed accomplish that feat, and will end up finishing in the upper range of their preseason projections, at the end of the day not making the playoffs equals failure. Now seems like as good as a time as any to take a look back at what went wrong in 2019, and what needs to change going forward.

Rarely do teams have the second half turn around the Mets had this year. A 43-25 record with countless late-inning comebacks coupled with jersey tearings made for an exciting season for sure. There were a number of “this is something special” moments reminiscent of the 2015 summer run. Unfortunately for every uplifting special moment there were moments that were absolutely demoralizing, almost to the point of seemingly ending the season. Every game like the angelic August 9th game against the Nationals, where Michael Conforto ripped a walkoff double to cap off a four-run ninth inning rally, had a demonic counterpart like the September 3rd 11-10 game against those same Nationals. Walk-off, blow-up; the Mets season was a microcosm of the dinger-derby hitters have been having against relief pitchers all season.

This team has the MLB home run leader and the closer with the highest HR/9. Also in line with the trend of baseball, the Mets this year were a team led by youth. As the average age of an MLB hitter dropped so did the makeup of our team. After decades of failing to develop home grown stars the team now has five everyday players from the farm system.

Most of what went right this year had to do with this core of hitters in addition to the once again brilliant Jacob deGrom. On the topic of deGrom and his Cy Young bid, Joel Sherman had an interesting stat that summed up just how crazy this year has been for the team. You have to go back to 1976 for the last time a team missed the postseason while fielding two of the three major award winners. What perhaps stings the most is that through all the disasters, doubt, and downright awful bullpen play this team still finished just shy of putting it all together to make the playoffs. As Mets fans cursed the team at the All-Star break, suddenly they were convincing people they were buyers at the deadline, and contenders down the stretch.

Now in the fallout of it all, it is difficult to determine the course of action going forward. With most players on this team providing pretty convincing cases to be kept, it will be interesting to see how the front office decides who will stay, who will go, and who will come. The flaw of this franchise in recent offseasons was to trot out the same team while expecting different results. Under new management, this year’s team proved that you need to add new talent to expand success.

Going forward, to win in the future this team needs to fill out a roster of players who are good in two respects: talented on the field and positive in the locker room. While many fans will roll their eyes at this, it is important to remember that what statistics fail to capture shouldn’t be discredited. Was it Conforto’s wOBA that led to the aforementioned walkoff? Or was it also the heart this team had in never letting a game or the season end on them. Even though they came up short, the lessons and experience acquired this season did more than any single player acquisition can accomplish. The never-say-never belief we saw this team have day in and day out is truly inspiring for what is to come next year. Although this season ends in sadness, hope springs eternal for us Mets fans. The boys in orange in blue certainly had the right stuff to be champions, but now all is needed for the next six months is to refine and replenish in preparation for opening day next spring. Let’s Go Mets!

The Edwin Diaz Mystery

Playoffs or not, the story of the 2019 Mets will inevitably be about the offseason that proceeded it, and specifically about the Edwin Diaz trade. Surprisingly enough, the trade that netted the Mets a 36 year old second basemen set to make $120 million was not even the most controversial piece acquired in the trade. Diaz, and his 5.83 ERA, currently are and will continue to be the talk of the town. The displaced closer has had a dreadful year for sure, and has visibly lost all confidence in his stuff no matter how terrific it may be. The Mets’ manager finally lost faith in him as well, despite believing that this team didn’t stand a chance of making the playoffs without Diaz right. He wasn’t wrong, as the team’s playoff hopes have dipped to 5.8% now with a mere ten games to play. That figure is still higher than the season low right after the All Star break, but the point remains. 2019 has been about the failure of Diaz, both when considering the most memorable games and when considering statistics.

Well, saying all of 2019 was about Diaz may be a stretch. There is of course Pete Alonso’s home run quest, and Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young bid. There were the ups of 15-1, and the lows of Gary Apple calling games in the booth. Amid all of this was a Mets team expecting to have a great back end of the bullpen but who instead had a crew that more resembled TNT.

And the Mets were not alone in these problems. Prior to 2018 the Rockies invested almost as much as the Mets invested in Robinson Cano to their bullpen, yet the results in 2019 are far from worth $106 million. Wade Davis and his 7.87 ERA rivals that of Diaz. Two playoff-level teams in the Dodgers and Nationals have also seen their fair share of bullpen disasters, but the Mets were alone in investing so much draft capital and faith into one arm, the arm of Diaz.

And can you blame us for that faith? After the 2018 he had 57 saves and a sub-2.00 ERA, and we were excited to have him. But instead of 57 saves we were left with 25 saves, and since May 25th it has been 13 saves and seven blown saves. What happened to the young star that was worth multiple high prospects?

To conduct a study on how relief pitchers are the most inconsistent position in baseball, look no further than the career of Edwin Diaz. Despite putting up a reasonable xFIP and one of best K/9 of all time, he has been a 0 fWAR pitcher in 2019. It all has to do with the HR/FB rate, also a figure of historic proportions. He has pitched seven outing where he strikes out every batter he faced while still giving up runs, including seven home runs in those outings. That comprises almost one out of every eight outings.

One doesn’t need to scour the box scores to see these trends. His fastball has been electric at times and has even touched triple digits. It is still hittable, especially when his only other pitch the slider is ineffective. You simply can not get every major league hitter out with only one pitch, and there have even been times when he doesn’t have that one pitch as evident from the high walk rate.

I don’t mean to overstate how poor Diaz has been in 2019, it just is important to bring up how unreal these numbers seem. This inconsistency brings us back to the question of what happened to the young stud at only 25 years of age?

It again ties into the greater question around the league surrounding bullpen blowups. While relievers are often failed starters, historically their collective ERA has been better since they face hitters in limited quantities. That same fact often leads to inconsistency due to a small sample size of innings. Even deGrom has had 60 inning stretches of high-4 ERA mediocrity.

But how is it that one pitcher can go from 1.96 to 5.83? This begs questions of bullpen management; which Mickey Callaway and all managers are forced to answer each and ever day. Should we really have been surprised that Diaz has flamed out this year? During the early going of the season the big controversy this team had was over the management of Diaz. People in the organization were pointing fingers at each other, and ultimately no clear decision was made whether to treat Diaz like a pure closer, or to bring him in if high leverage situations arise prior to the ninth. The other side of the argument was about whether he could pitch multiple innings or not.

I come from the school of thought that your best pitchers should be pitching during the most important moments, but I understand this is difficult to implement in practice. Some fans were fine with Diaz playing the typical closer role, and that he was not able to get six-out saves like Jeurys Familia did before. At the end of the day, one role or the other needed to be established and upheld instead of flip-flopping. Diaz became uncertain in his role and disillusioned by the New York media. Baseball is too hard of a sport to expect success when not focusing on fine-tuning mechanics. Hopefully the upcoming offseason will allow Diaz to reset and find himself once more, but that alone will not solve the issue of bullpen blowups. Consistent management is necessary as well, and if managers don’t figure this out sooner there will be many more pitchers like the 2019 Diaz.

Mets’ October charge led by bats once more

The 2018 Red Sox, a far cry from this year’s version, boasted a lineup that was young, star-studded, and incredibly deep; not just one through nine as necessitated by the rules of the Junior Circuit, but it was a lineup that was deep one through twelve. Yes, even in the American League they had productive bench and platoon players which was one of the main reasons they currently possess the Commissioner’s trophy. Players like Steve Pearce, Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt played part-time yet big-time roles in the series win. Similarly, the 2017 Astros had a lineup full of thriving young bats complimented with a wide array of role players like Carlos Beltran. Both Dodger teams that finished just shy of a ring also showcased impressive lineups filled with young stars and a deep bench. One could continue even further and look at the Cubs’ and Indians’ lineups from 2016 and seem a similar trend. Not only do you need young studs to make it to the season’s final series, you need deep talent as well.

There is nothing particularly astounding about these observations. It is proven that these were excellent teams that broke records and appeared in the World Series. What is not proven is what this Mets team has to offer at the plate.

“How can you say this team’s lineup can be compared to the best of the best from the last two years?” Well although they only rank a little above average in most offensive categories for 2019, during the team’s 35-20 post All-Star break run there have been few better lineups. They are second in AVG, fifth in OPS, and third in wRC+ in that time in the NL to name a few metrics. These numbers stand even considering the tough string of injuries that allowed a starting lineup to for one game contain Joe Panik, Luis Guillorme, Juan Lagares, and Aaron Altherr.

Now, with the likes of Brandon Nimmo and Jed Lowrie in the mix combined with the quick returns of Robinson Cano and Jeff McNeil, all of a sudden the Mets have a lineup that looks amazingly good.

All positions are filled with players who have proven themselves in the bigs, with a few extra hitters to spare. The core is young yet astounding, with home run records and batting titles in sight. The September stats show them just second to the Dodgers in most offensive categories. This is no longer a team of “let’s just score enough for our starters and give them no margin for error,” this is a lineup that can win games all by itself. I think we have only begun to see its might.

The closest comparison must be the 2015 Mets, when a poor first half was met by a second half where they led the NL in runs.

A difficult series against those Dodgers awaits, with some stellar starting pitching coming to town. The team also needs to talk care of business today. Afterwards a series in Colorado next week could certainly be a show, and hopefully give this team the confidence it needs to make an end of the season push. Make no mistake, October baseball or not this team has not failed in 2019 from the plate, and looks impressive heading forward.

Thus ends the Wilson Ramos hit streak

Wilson Ramos has often been a polarizing figure among Mets fans this season. An offseason deal of two years $19 million was praised across baseball as a great deal for a free agent catcher who led the league in wRC+ the previous year. While not their first pick for the position, it appeared to be a move that locked down a position that has been a problem for the Mets (and for many teams) the past few seasons. There were; however, some difficult memories to overcome from Ramos’ tenure as a division-rival Washington National.

Ramos indeed did beat up on the Mets during his time in Washington and from his brief stint in Philadelphia at the end of last season. His 12 home runs and 63 RBI against the club are his career best against any team. He used to make Hansel Robles point his finger to the sky signaling an extra base hit. After eight seasons in the division fans learn to detest a player.

These initial thoughts were combined with early season struggles and poor defensive skills. His arm was not as-advertised, his framing was considered atrocious, and he was even benched for Tomas Nido for these defensive deficiencies. The catcher of choice for the team’s two best starters was not the $19 million man but a man with a career split of .194/.225/.294 in the majors. Ramos could not have been more understanding, saying the following about the reduction in playing time: “This is the first time it happened in my career when I am healthy, but like I say every single time: I respect the decision the manager makes when he makes the lineup. I have to follow the rules. I am that kind of player. I don’t have to go to the office every single time and say, ‘I want to play.’ I like to go one time and if they want to do what I say, perfect. If they don’t, I will always respect the decision the manager makes.”

What an amazing team attitude shown by the veteran. This was back in early July near the valley of the Mets’ season.

The offensive struggles went away pretty soon (he hit for an .843 OPS in May) despite hanging views caused by the over analysis of early season numbers. The defensive troubles remain. Still he has allowed 79 SB, but the passed balls have decreased. His pitch framing and game calling has improved tremendously as evident from the comments of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. The later of the two was originally adamant about pitching to Nido instead, but after a productive start last month had this to say of Ramos: “I just trusted the fingers he put down. I really trust his judgment when it comes to those hitters coming up to the plate.”

When confidence grew in catching, the bat went from normal to incredible. His 26-game hit streak ties him for second on the all-time Mets mark. David Wright hit 26 across 2006 and 2007, and then Moses Alou set the club record at the end of that 2007 season with 30.

These were not unknown waters for Ramos, as this is actually the third time in his career he has led the National League in a hit streak. We learned in yesterday’s broadcast by the National’s color F.P. Santangelo that Ramos was not aware during the first of his streaks, back in 2015, what the major league record was. He certainly was surprised to hear of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak. While this streak failed to even reach the halfway point it is still impressive in itself, and perhaps what is more important is that it has propped up a Mets offense during a critical stretch. Not only did he hit in 26 games, he also slashed .430/.452/.590 and even extended the streak three times as a pinch hitter.

Now how does this impact the team going forward? His signing now shines positivity on the previous offseason and gives the team confidence at the position for next year. What perhaps is more important for this stretch run is the full fan acceptance of Ramos as one of our own. Now he is remembered for hitting as a Met and not against us. The Buffalo fist bump is finally celebrated and loved. Most of us were hanging on to the game yesterday not because we wanted to see if the Mets would collapse yet again in the ninth inning, but if Ramos could squeeze out a base hit to extend his magical run. While he ended a step short, the streak as a whole gave the team a big step forward as they look to the future.

Pete Alonso’s season impressive despite new ball

It might be the storyline of 2019, especially if the Mets make the playoffs. Pete Alonso the joyous innocent rookie slugger has amped up a fading franchise and pushed them to back competitiveness with 400+ foot bombs and the tearing of jerseys. As a fan, it doesn’t get much better than that. Unfortunately for Alonso and the Mets, the story of his meteoric rise may get superseded by the other storyline of 2019: the new baseball.

Ever since the 2015 All-Star Break the seams on the major league baseball (which is also now used in AAA) have become ever so slightly lower making it harder to throw breaking pitches as well as harder for forces of drag to slow down fly balls. This has led to an unprecedented home run rate where hitters are hitting more home runs than in the height of the steroid era.

It is not merely just because of a different ball. Advances in health and training methods make athletes generally stronger over time. Pitchers are throwing faster and hitters are swinging harder. Today’s hitters have also learned to use this strength to go against what most were taught growing up and try for fly balls instead of line drives. Our own Daniel Murphy was one of the first to figure out this new style of hitting back in 2015.

One can not fault Alonso for coming up at the all-time high for home runs, but it is interesting to put his season in comparison to the Mets that have come before him with adjusted home run rates.

The season with the least amount of home runs was, as you could guess, 1968 with a grand total of 1,995 home runs. Now back then there were less teams, so we will use the percentage (HR/PA) which was 1.65%. Today in 2019 the percentage is 3.65%. The league average home run rate during the existence of the franchise is 2.42%.

Using these percentages, extrapolating some great Mets seasons to today’s environment we see that Pete Alonso would not have quite broke the season home run record yet. Darryl Strawberry’s league-leading 39 home run campaign in 1988 which had a league rate of 2.00% gives him 71 home runs by 2019 standards! This figure is ridiculous to compare to making the extrapolation unbelievable and gives validity to Alonso’s season despite friendly hitting conditions. For some other comparisons, Mike Piazza would have hit 50 in 1999, and Todd Hundley would have hit 53 in 1996.

This comparison is reminiscent of the Roger Maris debate back in 1961 when fans cried that Babe Ruth still held the record because the lengthened season allowed Maris to hit number 61 on the season’s final day. That record was then broken during the steroid era, but again the modern feat remains ingenuine, this time due to steroids. When comparing eras, where do we draw the line?

These are difficult questions, but I believe Alonso’s season should be celebrated as the crowning achievement of Mets’ sluggers for two reasons. One, he without the use of extra game or steroids did indeed hit the ball over the fence more times than any other Met and two, he did it with still a month to play. There should be no doubters, and we should now look to what the future holds instead of what the past portrays.

Inside the Juan Lagares turn around

Back on January 5th, the Mets traded for Brewer’s outfielder Keon Broxton in a trade that appeared to signal the end of the Mets’ second longest tenured player. Juan Lagares for seven seasons has been their right-handed defensive-minded outfielder, but this seventh and potential contract year for him was set to be his last. After years of injury and underperformance on offense the team looked to move on, and this was cemented by the addition of Broxton who had a similar profile.

As much as Lagares struggled in the first half (he was the worst player in the National League with a fWAR of -1.1), Broxton somehow performed worse and was released by the team in mid-May despite possessing tree more years of team control. Afterwards it was Lagares, playing on the final year of a 4-year $23.5 million extension, to hold down the 5th outfielder spot on the team.

It was difficult to recall why the Mets had exactly rewarded Lagares with such a lucrative contract extension back on the eve of the 2015 season. Then he was a 25-year-old fresh off a gold glove 2014 campaign where he increased his batting average by nearly 40 points. In his rookie and less-injury restrained year he led the league in centerfield assists, and showed promise of being the team’s best home-grown centerfielder since Carlos Gomez.

But in 2019, it was an aging Gomez that took time away from Lagares in late-May. They continued to split center until Gomez’s release at the end of June.

Not only were Lagares’ hitting numbers down (.175/.242/.252 while striking out 30% of the time), his fielding was strangely normal. Playing deeper some balls fell in front of him, and many gappers fell just out of the reach of his glove. The numbers support this downfall as well, with him posting the worst UZR and DRS metrics of his career.

Since August 13th he has started every game for the team, made some incredible plays in the outfield, and has swung a pretty good bat as well. Starting with that four-hit game in Atlanta on the 13th he has gone 13/29 and given some tough at bats. His eight-pitch walk in the 7th inning last night was an example of this.

As has been the case for all of Lagares’ hot streaks, this one has come with a high BABIP that would be impossible to maintain. However, there is one aspect of this streak that offers room for hope. Comparing his batting stance from May and now it appears Lagares is standing noticeably farther from the plate. He has had a pretty sharp eye for the outside part of the plate, and has been able to go opposite-field on some balls pitched to that side despite standing so far away. This adjustment to his stance could be another reason for his success, and the BABIP number is just a symptom of this better approach instead of a statistic of fortune.

The hits have been nice, but the defensive improvements are what might really help this team down the stretch. Playing shallower but still able to track down the deep fly balls, Lagares will hopefully provide some memorable plays as a defensive replacement once Jeff McNeil returns from the IL. It makes sense to put him in the game for JD Davis and have Michael Conforto or McNeil move over to left field.

Mets fans have always rooted for Lagares to be our everyday centerfielder. After showing time and time again his health and hitting could not justify that investment, it has been a shame to see a healthy year of his go along with worse defensive numbers. Now with bat and glove clicking it has been fun to watch. Let’s hope the stance change lets these hits keep falling and we see Lagares come through as so many players during this stretch.

What to expect from Mets currently on the IL

Encouraging news was released yesterday from the Mets’ training staff about the healing progress of Jed Lowrie and Brandon Nimmo. First of all, merely knowing that Lowrie, who has been out since February with injuries, is still with the organization is a surprise. The idea that he could be back on the team this season is reason to celebrate, especially when considering the infield depth the team has had to deploy in recent weeks. With this good news and just six weeks of baseball left after this week, it makes sense to take a look at each member of the Injured List and project what to expect from a performance standpoint, as well as to attempt to pinpoint a return date.

Let us begin with the aforementioned Lowrie. At 35 years old and without seeing a live pitch in ages it will be hard to expect the .267/.353/.448 slash line we saw last year where in Oakland he earned his first All-Star nomination. However, what this team needs is depth, and Lowrie could very well be this year’s Kelly Johnson as John wrote about on Tuesday. While the team needs him now, we likely will not see Lowrie in a major league Mets uniform for another month since he has missed so much time. He will need a lengthy rehab assignment, but the minor league season ends in less than three weeks. With the final season of 40-player rosters in September, we may see the Mets stash him on the roster in mid-September. Lowrie’s return is the most difficult to predict, but during the first homestand in September is as good of a guess as any. Prediction: September 13th.

The other Met to receive good news yesterday was Nimmo, and all signs point a return before Lowrie. Out since May 20th with a bulging disk in his neck, an injury that stemmed from a collision with the wall at SunTrust Park back on April 14th, Nimmo has been progressing slowly with an injury that really does not allow for much activity. In hindsight the team should not have allowed him to play through the injury, as his .177/.340/.266 slash line between April 14th and May 20th did not suggest he was healthy. Being cautious now with his recovery, Nimmo has been performing baseball activities for almost a month now and is ready for a rehab assignment. We can expect him to play out the minor league season and join the team once rosters expand in September. Prediction: September 6th.

Dominic Smith is still traveling with the team, offering moral support and funny antics on his scooter, but it is doubtful he will be able to provide much more during this regular season. The stress reaction in his left foot, which is similar to a stress fracture, will take a long time to heal. Three more weeks in the boot are still required and even then it will be some time before he can run on it. Prediction: if there is October baseball…?

Robinson Cano similarly looks doubtful to return this season with a torn hamstring. Hamstring injuries always seem to take more time than originally stated to heal, so while the four to six week usual diagnosis for this type of injury is promising, given his age and recent leg issues it seems unlikely Cano will return to the Mets this season. It is good to see him hang out in the dugout along with the injured Smith, but this probably all we’ll see of Cano this year. Prediction: still under contract next four seasons.

Now for more a positive update, it appears Jeff McNeil could only miss the minimum 10 days for his hamstring injury. While he probably should be given at least two weeks off, given the nature of the pennant race it seems the Mets will try to get his bat back in the lineup as soon as possible. Prediction: August 27th.

The rest of the injured Mets are done for the season after undergoing various surgeries: Yoenis Cespedes, Jacob Rhame, and Drew Smith. The Mets have been more fortunate this year in the injury department than in years prior, but they cannot afford to lose too many pieces. Let’s hope these important players with a possibility of returning soon do indeed return and get the team through the difficult road up ahead.

In defense of fielding

If you watched Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins you saw something the Mets had not done in ages. No Zack Wheeler did not pitch a No-Hitter, but he did have a good outing in which he scattered eight hits and a walk perfectly across eight innings; allowing two to reach base in only one inning. The unprecedented accomplishment done by the Mets was merely that they looked like a real major league team fielding in the infield, and specifically up the middle.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Luis Guillorme put on a clinic as Wheeler forced groundball after groundball. A total of 18 outs were recorded in the game due to groundballs thanks in part to three double plays. Groundballs made up 75% of the Marlins’ contact. With base runners in every inning, Wheeler and the Mets were able to not allow any runs in part to some fantastic infield defense.

Now Mets fans know middle infield defense has not been this team’s strong suit in decades, and especially not this year with their two main middle infielders, Amed Rosario and Robinson Cano, contributing a combined -19 Defensive Runs Saved per Fangraphs. Funny enough the duo has committed exactly that many errors on the season as well. While Rosario’s defense has noticeably improved as of late, this has been an ongoing issue for years on this team.

Everyone remembers the Rueben Tejada and Daniel Murphy years where there was a depressing lack of range, and every double play ball made you hold your breath. Mixed in there was the aging Asdrubal Cabrera who was never a highly-esteemed fielder, as well as Wilmer Flores playing everyday shortstop for a time. 2010 was probably the last time the Mets had solid infield defense with Ike Davis, Luis Castillo, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. However, just the year before Reyes was hurt, Murphy was playing first, and Castillo infamously dropped a popup in a subway series. I apologize for bringing this up, but it serves to drive the point home.

What was shown Tuesday night seemed to defy the laws of Mets baseball. The steadiness of Hechavarria combined with the quick hands of Guillorme, even though they overturned the neighborhood rule on one play, make for an impressive double play combination. This is something that the Mets need when they have groundball pitchers on the mound, and really maybe any pitcher.

The formula going forward may be as follows: expect great starting pitching, have the big bats hit a couple of solo home runs, have good defenders at every other position, and pray the bullpen can hold it down. Obviously, each game is unique, but it is hard to imagine the Mets celebrating much success if they are a team built on pitching that cannot field. As much as fielding is overlooked in sabermetrics, it is hard to not see the mental drain errors have on both a pitcher and the team as a whole.

The Mets still committed nine errors in the 14 games of their recent hot streak. That matches their season pace of errors per game. They simply cannot afford these mistakes against the Nationals, Braves, and other stronger squads they play in the upcoming weeks. While Hechavarria and Guillorme cannot hit, one of them needs to be in the infield every day and maybe even both if Rosario cools. Hopefully we see more games like Tuesday throughout the rest of this month and into September. Perhaps if we do, we’ll even see some in October.

Has Noah Syndergaard just been trade bait?

To paraphrase Mark Twain: “The reports of his trading are greatly exaggerated.” Time and time again Noah Syndergaard’s name has come up in trade talks, but then each time any trade appears to get shut down. Last Friday an anonymous report came out expressing that Syndergaard was definitely being traded only to have new reports on the night before the deadline state he was apparently taken off the block.

Similar events transpired over the winter, when for a few weeks Syndergaard trade rumors were the only thing keeping the hot stove warm.

Perhaps Brodie Van Wagenen is up to more than we can see, and operating in a way that is less familiar to our fanbase and to baseball. Amid of the rumors and ambiguity of what would happen at the deadline, the one certainty was that the rookie GM was very busy.

By putting Syndergaard’s name for sale, he accomplished two jobs: one proving to the league that he is not overly attached to his former clients, and two helping the team enter trade talks with other teams. This was true in December and it was true in July.

Let’s elaborate on that second point. What do the Mets have to offer to other teams if they want to “win now and in the future” as they say? Threading the needle between buyer and seller has not been a preferred option for front offices in the past, and certainly does not make entering trade negotiations easy since a team is essentially trying to improve itself without giving up major league or upper minors assets. This combined with the Mets’ frugal spending habits would appear to make them a poor trading partner.

However, by talking to as many teams as possible (reports said they were in contact with nine teams about Zack Wheeler up until the deadline) and by discussing many possibilities, a team is able to uncover some creative deals. The surprise Marcus Stroman trade was an example of this.

That is where Syndergaard comes in. What team wouldn’t want Syndergaard? A starter with a 99 mile per hour fastball to go along with a charming personality and two years of team control at just 26 years old, he is an ideal fit for almost any team. Dangling him is how the Mets were close to making some of the biggest deals of the offseason and season. You always need some piece to get a foot in the door.

However just coming close to a deal doesn’t accomplish anything, or does it? I doubt the Blue Jays were interested in Syndergaard, but putting him out on the market sure seemed to allow the Mets to corner the starting pitching market, as well as to see what was out there.

Another effect the trade rumors had were with the catching market in the offseason. While his season has been up and down, the Mets were able to sign Wilson Ramos at a discount because of close trade talks with the Marlins. Wilson Ramos’ 2-year $19 million deal appears to be a bargain for the player who led all catchers last year with a 131 wRC+. By making a J.T. Realmuto trade with the Marlins for Syndergaard seem likely (either via the Yankees or another team), the free agent catcher was pressured to sign earlier before the narrow market for them dried up. Maybe that is how the Mets were able to snag Ramos for under his projected value.

Did Van Wagenen use Syndergaard as bait to get the wheels rolling on the free agent catching market as well as to drive down the price? We can’t be sure, but what we can be sure of is he is using creative ways to make this team better. Many people myself included doubted the hire of the former agent, but he could be just what this financially-constricted team needs to compete.

And if this trade deadline revealed anything it is that the age of distinct buyers and sellers is over. With the new “final” trade deadline more teams are stuck in the in between of being a competitor and a rebuilder. With this change we saw many more strange deals such as the Stroman trade, or the deal between the Indians and Reds. We saw top trade candidates remain with their team and some players never thought of as trade options shipped away. It made for an exciting deadline, and it made the Mets who were 10 games under .500 at the All-Star Break a team not gunning for the playoffs. Front offices were forced to be more creative and break the typical buyer and seller market of yesteryear.

Back to Van Wagenen, it was a small move to put Syndergaard on the block, and it probably only achieved marginal results, but it just goes to show how crafty the new administration is willing to be. If the team really wanted to move on with Syndergaard they would have, as they did with Jason Vargas. In the end, it seems the trade rumors were just a way to move the market into the Mets’ favor.

Robinson Cano’s recent power rise shouldn’t be a surprise

On Tuesday Night Robinson Cano was the center of attention as he delivered three home runs which accounted for all of the Mets’ scoring in their 5-2 win over the Padres. With the Mets making a nasty habit of losing games late into them, it was refreshing to see them not blow this one away and instead hold on to win.

There was a particular moment where I was about to leave the room but saw Cano coming up and instead stayed. “Perhaps he could do it?” I pondered with excitement, and for the first time in a long time I was truly excited by the Mets. When he launched that first pitch fastball down the middle to the right field upper deck, dropping the bat, it gave us all something to cheer about.

Now critics will be quick to point out that those three home runs still did not get him above single digits for the season, but the broadcast booth was also quick to point out that they had been seeing a different Cano since the All Star break, and the statistics back it up.

In 11 games since the break Cano has slugged .714 with five home runs and an isolated power of .405, albeit with a limited sample size. In the larger sample size of the first half he only slugged .360 with an ISO of .120, a far cry from his steady career rates of .491 and .188 respectively.

Now these rates are certainly not going to last, but there is reason to believe we will see Cano closer to his career averages despite his age and first half. This season even through the struggles he still has managed to have an average exit velocity of 90.4 which is very close to his Statcast era average of 90.8 and noticeably above the MLB average of 87.5. In fact, just last year he was in the top 2% of the league in hard hit percentage.

As a player ages their contact skills will decrease, and this is true for Cano, but he still possesses the power to hit in the middle of a major league lineup.

A big reason for his first half struggles may have been this decrease in contact skills combined with a worse approach at the plate. Cano seemed to have been going after more pitches than he usually does, and the stats do indeed back this up as well. He struck out nearly 20% of the time which was higher than any other first half of his career. This change in approach may be attributed to the pressure to perform on a new team, and with every whiff the pressure only grew and he chased even more.

Another factor to consider was a hand injury that could have altered his abilities at the plate. A pitch hit his right-hand which just last season had to be surgically repaired due to a pitch hitting it. While the X-rays were negative, that does not mean he was not fighting any pain up there at the plate.

Going forward hopefully his hand remains healed, he can feel more comfortable at the plate and in a Mets uniform, and he can continue to demonstrate the power abilities that landed him this massive contract in the first place. That’s a lot of hoping, but at least it is statistically backed-up hope.

Dominic Smith’s value going forward

Where will Dominic Smith be come the beginning of 2020 Spring Training? It is a thought many Mets fans have on their minds as the July 31st trade deadline approaches. After a night of late inning heroics where he hit a three-run blast to put the team up, most of these Mets fans are probably also Smith fans. With the best offensive rookie in the history of the franchise blocking Smith’s way to a proper everyday role, we have to wonder if the fan-favorite will be wearing different colors come next season.

And oh how the tables have turned from the beginning of last Spring Training. The sluggish, disappointing former first-rounder whose main critique was a lack of power has now blossomed into a slugger off the bench for the 2019 Mets. It’s a feel-good story of a player making the most of his limited opportunities. Recently he’s taken an outfielder’s mitt to try once again his hand in left-field in order to get everyday playing time, but no one admits they see him out there for a career. Again, with home-run champ Pete Alonso at first, where does that leave Smith?

A few possible trade suitors have been rumored. Some names spit out have been the Red Sox, the Rockies, and the Royals. While Smith fields well at first base, his limitations at other positions make the American League seem like a good possibility, which minimizes the Rockies’ interest. They also have our old friend and lefty Daniel Murphy at first, so a trade with them seems unlikely.

The Red Sox would be an interesting scenario, as they have favorable dimensions for a left-hander (although Smith recently hit oppo-tacos in three consecutive games) and not much in the way of competition at first. Currently they are fielding righty Michael Chavis who, while only 23 and playing well, could be a platoon candidate. The Royals also have a right-handed first basemen in Cheslor Cuthbert (had to look that one up), but an out-of-contention team buying at the deadline seems unlikely. They also already have Lucas Duda somewhat platooning as well.

While Smith is narrowed down to the Red Sox; Boston is certainly not narrowed down to Smith. The market is rich with corner players, so it’s doubtful the Mets can get anyone in return for the blossoming first-rounder. It is of note that the White Sox have recently said they were planning on resigning first basemen Jose Abreu which takes one name off the list, but there are still plenty of rentals that would appeal more to contenders.

Another idea to consider is that while Smith has only had 173 PA’s this season, 14% of them have come in high-leverage situations. Most of the everyday Mets hovered around 10% in this. Many metrics undervalue the importance of later innings; it is part of the reason why bullpens are often undervalued. Smith isn’t able to get as many PA’s as other Mets hitters, but if used correctly off the bench he can be at the plate for the biggest moment in every game. The power of that is incredibly undervalued, and Smith is actually fourth on the team in WAR for hitters because of this (4th on Fangraphs and 5th on Baseball Reference).

The Mets have Smith until 2025, and that can give them potentially the best bench bat in baseball. Can they really expect to receive that kind of value in return?

What does Pete Alonso’s All-Star Break performance mean going forward?

Pete Alonso was positioned in the National spotlight this week and could not have performed any better. Already making a name for himself with 30 home runs in the first half (remember how big of a deal it was when Ike Davis hit over 30 in a season?), Alonso was on full display in ESPN’s broadcast of the Home Run Derby. It was really fun to see him treated as a special as some of the greats of our game. He got the first interview with the commentators and was featured in a number of interesting graphics showing his accomplishments to date. ESPN even made the comparison to a rookie Mark McGwire which struck me.

In the actual competition itself Alonso also obviously impressed. While maybe not impressing as much as the runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alonso put on a show in his own right. I can remember as a kid staying up late watching David Wright faceoff with Ryan Howard back in the 2006 Derby, only to come up short. Surely many other fans felt the same and have had a long hunger for seeing a Met hold up the trophy.

Alonso’s success carried over to the next day going one for two with a two-out two-RBI knock to give the National League a chance in the eighth inning. He also added a steal and some nice defensive work, including one play while mic’d up where he surprised even himself in staying on the bag for the putout.

Jeff McNeil flew out in his one at bat, but he did not mess up in the field and carried a good presence on camera. Jacob deGrom was back to his usual All-Star Game beast by throwing a perfect inning in seven pitches, only one strike out this time though.

Going back to the star of the show of stars, Alonso has a lot to look forward to after this performance. He has risen to a prominence in the national spotlight we have not seen before in a Mets Rookie perhaps since Dwight Gooden. Michael Conforto had a great first season and hit three clutch post season home runs, and DeGrom won Rookie of the Year honors back in 2014, but Alonso right now is on a whole other level.

In the NL MVP conversation, Alonso with his power has quickly become more than just a really good player, but a star. He is now the type of player even non-baseball fans hear about. He is the type of player that gets all the interviews and cool graphics on a national broadcast. While his career will certainly have its ups and downs, this sort of public knowledge of a player is hard to take away, and he gives this New York Mets team a needed face. As disjointed the Mets are right now, they have to feel good about their new star, and they have to like the idea of having him at first base for years to come.