Mets360 2017 projection review: Asdrubal Cabrera

Will they or won’t they? That’s the question on Mets fans minds with regard to the next player in our projection review series, Asdrubal Cabrera. The SS/2B/3B has a team option for 2018 worth $8.5 million that, realistically, the team is likely to exercise. Whether that is a okay thing or an not so okay thing depends on his role, as his future offensive outlook up the middle is more appealing than at the hot corner (though his defense is certainly not). Below was our official projection:

PA – 526
AVG – .270
OBP – .329
SLG – .437
HR – 17
RBI – 64
HR/FB% – 9.8

Here’s how Cabrera actually did, with the best and worst individual projections among our group:

PA – 540
Best – Rogan (540)
Worst – Joura (444)

AVG – .280
Best – Netter, Hangley (.281)
Worst – Allison (.265)

OBP – .351
Best – Barbieri (.340)
Worst – Koehler (.320)

SLG – .434
Best – O’Malley (.437)
Worst – Allison (.472)

HR – 14
Best – Hangley (14)
Worst – Koehler (21)

RBI – 59
Best – Koehler (60)
Worst – Ryan (83)

HR/FB% – 9.7
Best – Ryan (9.8)
Worst – Koehler (13.5)

As a group, we were very close to his actual performance, indicating he had a very Cabrera-like year (complete with a late-season surge). In fact, offensively his 2017 was similar to his 2016 mostly across the board (111 and 119 wRC+, respectively). His performance was almost two full wins (fWAR) less this season than last, however. Some of that has to do with a noticeable drop in power. Most of it is because, while he played shortstop exclusively in 2016, he played more than half of his games at second base and third base in 2017.

This is worth keeping in mind when it comes to the team option on his contract for 2018. With Amed Rosario taking over at shortstop, Cabrera will never match the 3.0 fWAR he provided in 2016 at third or second. Is that worth $8.5 million? At 1.0-1.5ish fWAR, sure, technically. It would be nice if the Mets could upgrade at both second base and third base, but the options are limited.

Mets360 2017 projection review: Robert Gsellman

Next up in our preseason projection review series is Robert Gsellman. I don’t think many folks expected such a terrible season for the young righty who dazzled in his 2016 audition. In fact, our reader poll back in February overwhelmingly chose him as the preferred fifth starter heading into the season. To say things didn’t go as planned is an understatement, but below was our official projection:

IP – 137
ERA – 3.50
K – 120
BB – 41
HR – 11
FIP – 3.39
LOB% – 74.5

Here’s how Gsellman actually did, with the best and worst individual projections among our group:

IP – 119.2
Best – Netter (120)
Worst – Joura (178)

ERA – 5.19
Best – Barbieri (4.11)
Worst – Hangley (2.96)

Ks – 82
Best – Koehler (78)
Worst – Fox (160)

BB – 42
Best – Koehler (39), O’Malley (45)
Worst – Hangley (22)

HR – 17
Best – Walendin (16)
Worst – O’Malley (5)

FIP – 4.89
Best – Koehler (4.24)
Worst – O’Malley (2.79)

LOB% – 62.7
Best – Barbieri (72.4)
Worst – Ryan (80.5)

Hey, we almost pegged the walks! Unfortunately for the Mets and Gsellman (and fans), the most pessimistic of our individual projections were generally the most accurate. He had a tough time straight out the gate this season, with only a few performances of note. It should be pointed out that, beyond his poor performance, many of our projections took a hit simply because of the time he spent not pitching. Specifically, his innings were reduced due to injury, getting yanked from the rotation, and ultimately getting optioned to AAA.

Top the poor results off with a brief but public spat with the General Manager, and you have yourself a year to forget. It’s tough to say what Gsellman’s role will be on the 2018 team, but with the dumpster fire that was the 2017 pitching staff he has as good a shot as any to end up either in the rotation or the bullpen.

The Terry Collins era is over in Flushing

The New York Mets and manager Terry Collins have parted ways after seven seasons, a move that was neither surprising nor unexpected. It brings an end to an era of Mets baseball in which fans experienced a roller coaster of highs and lows both on and off the field. Regardless of how you feel about the manager, the man has left an indelible mark on the franchise and will remain as big a part of team history as any that came before him. That’s undoubtedly a tough pill to swallow for some, particularly when his faults become so phenomenally glaring in a down year like 2017, but his name will forever grace the Mets’ history books for several reasons that we’ll briefly touch on later.

The Mets’ hiring of Collins after the 2010 season was met with a healthy amount of skepticism from both fans and pundits. He hadn’t managed at the major league level since 1999 with the Angels, and his tenure in Anaheim met with an inauspicious end after he resigned with 29 games left to play. It was reported that he’d lost the clubhouse and, allegedly, the players petitioned the general manager to let him go. His prior stint in Houston didn’t end much better, and his notoriously cantankerous temperament presented a potential flashpoint when combined with a bad team and an unrelenting New York Media.

Collins certainly had the managerial chops to merit the nod, but his selection over more popular picks like Wally Backman had clear connotations of a cultural change bearing down on Flushing. The Collins hiring, combined with the enlistment of Sandy Alderson less than a month prior, signaled a shift from what many felt was an increasingly chaotic and undisciplined organization. Indeed, Collins’ reputation for being a stern disciplinarian and constant professional portended a new dynamic in a Mets clubhouse poised to endure several seasons of losing baseball and growing pains.

More importantly, however, Collins’ reputation for player development would be vital for the team as it slashed payroll and stumbled through a rebuild to which it never fully committed. He only received a two-year contract, which was odd at the time but in retrospect made perfect sense for a man tasked with treading water and leading young players through a transition period. That his original two-year contract ultimately ended seven years later seemed to speak volumes about the job Collins had done and how he had grown as both a manager and an individual.

Recent revelations counter that perception, though, with Mets sources claiming that it was owner Fred Wilpon’s taking to Collins that ensured the relationship endured longer than most in the organization found palatable. Indeed, it’s been reported that the elder Wilpon prevented Alderson from dropping the ax several times during his seven-year stint. There’s nothing particularly shocking about these recent disclosures regarding Collins when we consider that his tenure has not been without its issues. Rumors of his demise weren’t uncommon, and Alderson himself noted that he nearly pulled the plug after the 2014 season.

As recently as this season’s final homestand, it outwardly appeared as though his players genuinely liked playing for him, which wasn’t something we could say about many of the Mets’ managers over the last two decades. Recent reporting suggests this was not the case, at least when it comes to young players. One would certainly be forgiven for believing that, if they didn’t love him, they certainly had no qualms playing for him. Instead, Collins will allegedly part with the Mets leaving in his wake a situation similar to that of his time with the Astros and Angels: a soured clubhouse relieved by his ouster.

There’s no arguing that Collins had several warts on his management skills, and his overall performance has been uneven to say the least. He was never quite able to embrace the modern managerial style, where analytics and data feed heavily into tactical in-game decisions. Mind-bogglingly, Collins increasingly resisted input regarding his blunders and his bullpen management when compared to earlier in his tenure. It may be that he lost faith in the data when it conflicted with his gut and resulted in negative outcomes. It may also be that he grew bolder in his rejection of modern baseball decision-making strategies because he had the support of ownership. We may never know.

His preference for playing veterans at a time when the team was in a quasi-rebuilding mode was baffling, and his aforementioned bullpen management may have legitimately ended careers. Despite the front office’s protestations regarding back-to-back-to-back use of his preferred relievers, Collins consistently leaned on his favored arms to the point of recklessness. We also now know that his penchant for giving veterans playing time led to active resentment from younger players, presumably generating a toxic atmosphere at odds with his charge to develop a young team into a contender.

Still, in 2015 he led the Mets to its first pennant and World Series appearance since 2000. Sure, he had a hand in squandering the chance to raise the championship flag in Queens, but you could also argue that they wouldn’t have made it there without him. The same man that caved and kept Matt Harvey in too long in the Game 5 was also the man that kept Johan Santana in for 134 pitches to lock down the Mets’ first ever no-hitter. You take the good with the bad.

Whether you love him or you hate him, Collins has solidified his place in Mets history in several ways. He’s tied for the longest serving manager at seven seasons, sharing that honor with both Davey Johnson and Bobby Valentine. He moved ahead of Valentine this season as the second winningest manager in franchise history, though he also earned the unfortunate honor of having the most losses as well. He managed the team to one of only five World Series appearances and joined Valentine as the only Mets manager to lead the team to consecutive post season appearances.

Despite his flaws, Collins was exactly what this team needed when it needed it. He was a steady presence during a turbulent period where finances and poor performance were the hallmark of a franchise struggling to stay relevant and solvent simultaneously. Unfortunately, he overstayed his welcome to the point where he left the franchise at odds with both his players and his front office. It’s likely he would have left on a more positive note had his departure been a few years sooner, but it’d be monumentally unfair to place the blame for the state of the franchise squarely on his shoulders. There’s plenty of blame to go around for the Mets’ descent into discord, from ownership to the front office, though Collins certainly contributed in his own way.

His departure will, hopefully, pave the way for a more modern manager to cultivate the remaining seeds that may yet bear fruit and take this team to the highest peaks. You may not always have agreed with him, and he probably angered you to no end, but you will never forget Terry Collins.

Jerry Blevins and closer by committee

Reports suggest that the Mets player drawing the most interest from teams as we approach the trade deadline is interim closer Addison Reed. This isn’t surprising, as contending teams seek to bolster their bullpens heading into the season’s final months. For his part, Reed is having another solid year, though not quite as impressive as his 2016. It’s more likely than not that Reed will be wearing a different jersey on August 1st, which leads to obvious questions regarding the Mets’ closer role while Jeurys Familia remains sidelined.

The most reasonable answer, based on the dearth of high-quality talent in the Mets’ bullpen, would be some form of closer by committee. Of course, reason and rationale haven’t necessarily been at the forefront of Mets personnel decision-making over the last few years. With that in mind, last night against the A’s we bore witness to what was very likely a preview of the Reed-less Mets: Jerry Blevins saving games.

That Blevins is one of Terry Collins‘ most trusted relievers is without question. Things get a bit murky when we consider that he’s deployed him more against left-handers generally, despite Blevins actually having okay (to be a tad kind) numbers against right-handed hitters over his career. Still, he’s not someone you’d expect to take on the role considering how he’s been used and his results this season. Sure, he’s been the third most valuable Mets reliever (by fWAR) behind Reed and Paul Sewald (who also merits consideration), but that value is mostly tied up in his performance against lefties. Consider his triple slash against left- and right-handed batters in 2017:

  • LHB – .180/.238/.192
  • RHB – .333/.489/.667

The three home runs he’s given up this season were to righties. His striking more than 10% fewer and walking almost 20% more of them. It’s not just the raw results that are damning here, either. Right-handers are hitting more line drives against him and making exceptionally harder contact against him as well (17% vs 44% hard-hit rate). The Mets’ poor defense has only played a limited role here, in case you were wondering. His xFIP against lefties in 2017 is 2.68 while it’s 6.82 against right-handers.

I like Blevins, and I’m sure I share that feeling with most fans. He’s immensely effective against southpaws and, in what may have been his first audition, looked good shutting down the A’s for a five-out save last night. He simply hasn’t shown that he can get right-handers out this season effectively enough to warrant handing him the closer’s mantle, though. The sad part is, beyond Reed, nobody else in the bullpen has shown much to warrant taking on the role either.

We may be a bit premature here. It may be that Blevins does not inherit the role if Reed is traded. It may be that the team actually does go to a closer by committee construct if he is ultimately sent packing. Of course, the counterargument would be a distrust in how Collins manages a bullpen as a whole, let alone selecting the appropriate closer on a game-by-game basis. Either way, if you thought late innings are stressful now…

Lucas Duda and Jacob deGrom must lead second-half surge

Earlier this week, the always insightful Charlie Hangley asked a question sitting at the forefront of most Mets fans’ minds: are they a second-half team? More specifically, can we expect a mad dash towards the postseason in the season’s second half as we’ve witnessed the last two years? It’s a shining, albeit dim, beacon of hope in an otherwise lost season. Is this a reasonable hope, though, or have we reached the point of no return?

First, let’s take a look at where the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Mets stood at the break.

  • 2015: 47-42
  • 2016: 47-41
  • 2017: 39-47

Well, that certainly doesn’t look promising. Still, the break wasn’t the low point for those 2015 or 2016 teams. “Low point,” however, is very much relative here. The 2015 low was their 52-50 record on July 30th before their surge. In 2016 it was on August 19th, when they sat at 60-62. Their low point so far this year was on June 22nd, when they were 10 games under .500 at 31-41. You can see that the low this year, and for sure there’s still time for worse, is nothing like 2015 or 2016. Those teams were good teams that struggled but ultimately turned it around. The 2017 version of the Mets have just not played well at all.

Ya gotta believe, as we say. But does the team have the second-half horses to pull it off? Are there any “second-half players” on the roster to whom we can look to light the way? To keep this bit of analysis from getting too overwhelming, we’ll take a quick look at a couple of key, historical second-half stats for hitters and starting pitchers likely to have a prominent role on the team (if they’re not traded) as we head out of the break.

This is obviously far from perfect, but it frames what we’re trying to assess at a high level. Note that some of these players have much longer track records than others.

Hitter wOBA wRC+
Lucas Duda .358 131
Yoenis Cespedes .358 129
Michael Conforto .353 126
Neil Walker .347 121
Curtis Granderson .349 116
Asdrubal Cabrera .334 108
Jose Reyes .333 104
Jay Bruce .326 101
Travis d’Arnaud .313 100
Wilmer Flores .310 98
Juan Lagares .293 87
Rene Rivera .260 63

Assuming most of these players are still on the roster after the trade deadline, the Mets are not without firepower. Lucas Duda leads a pack of strong second-half performers that should, theoretically, keep the Mets a top ten offense in baseball through the remainder of the season. Yes, you read that right. By most measures, this team is mashing with the best of them this year.

Pitcher WHIP xFIP
Jacob deGrom 1.08 2.87
Noah Syndergaard 1.12 2.91
Matt Harvey 1.01 3.01
Steven Matz 1.27 3.05
Robert Gsellman 1.28 3.38
Zack Wheeler 1.31 3.67
Rafael Montero 1.66 4.56
Seth Lugo 1.1 4.71

This is where things get dicey, both in terms of current performance and lack of a track record for many of these players. On the whole, however, if the pitchers on this list put forth the performances suggested above then the second half would take on a decidedly better tone. It remains to be seen how much of a factor Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard will be the rest of this year, but the team will obviously be in a better position with those two healthy and pitching near their norms. Jacob deGrom will need to lead this staff in some manner of turnaround if they hope to salvage this season. While the above stats don’t particularly make us warm-and-fuzzy, they’re notably better than we’ve seen so far this year.

So, do we believe that the Mets have it in them to perform an even bigger miracle than in 2015 or 2016? It’s not impossible, but it sure as heck isn’t probable considering their current predicament. Stranger things and all that, but there are enough strong second-half performers to at least entertain the notion. The more important question is this: does the Mets front office believe? Their activity at the deadline will shed much light on that and determine whether we should continue to believe or not ourselves.

Amed Rosario’s defense will not save the season

There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the Mets defensive woes after Terry Collins
essentially called his team on it this week. “When you’re a team that relies on pitching the way we do, that’s built the way we are, it’s disappointing when your defense isn’t sharp,” he noted before the Mets’ rained-out game against the Nationals. This isn’t a shocker to any Mets fan, but it brings into focus one of the more ridiculous philosophies in how this team was built. How on earth can a team built on pitching put so little stock into its defensive chops, particularly on the infield?

The common thinking is that the current front office doesn’t put much of a premium on defense in general, instead embracing the assumption that the strikeouts their elite staff racks up would limit any potential damage a porous defense would cause. There’s a certain mad (yet understandable) logic in that, and let’s not pretend that baseball as a whole has been valuing defense (or speed) as much as they did in the past.

To get a rough idea of where Sandy Alderson seemed to place defense on his team-building priority list, let’s take a quick look at the Mets’ team defense since he took the helm.

Season DRS UZR UZR/150 Def
2011 -58 -61.9 -9.8 -72.5
2012 -43 -34.5 -6.6 -38.9
2013 -8 9.8 2.8 7.2
2014 14 7.3 1.3 0.9
2015 -5 6.3 1 2.3
2016 -21 0.5 1.1 -8.5
2017 -21 -8.4 -0.8 -12.4

The first thing to point out is that, no, your eyes have not been deceiving you. While we tend to deride the “I saw it with my eyes” method of evaluating defense, it’s quite clear that the team’s defense this year has been particularly bad. In fact, it hasn’t been this objectively bad since 2011 and 2012 when Lucas Duda and Scott Hairston were lumbering around in the outfield. An interesting note here is that those 2013-2015 defenses weren’t half bad. In fact, they were firmly in the middle of the pack all of those years. What happened in 2016 and 2017?

Well, in both years there were various toxic combinations of both infielders and outfielders. There’s plenty of blame to go around, honestly. Wilmer Flores has been terrible everywhere he’s played, Brandon Nimmo has been awful in the outfield, David Wright is a shell of his former self, Yoenis Cespedes was a butcher in center field, and other various fielding alignments were generally a net negative. This season has been especially brutal for the infield in terms of DRS, with Asdrubal Cabrera (-10/SS, -3/2B), Jose Reyes (-5/SS, -4/3B), and Flores (-4/3B) being particularly bad on the left side.

You can see why calls for the potential defensive improvements the likes of Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith are likely to bring are getting louder as the team falls deeper into the cellar. The problem is that this solution will account for very little improvement in the grand scheme of things. First, it does a disservice to how well Duda has played first base. He’s actually hovered around average over his career and is quite possibly in the midst of his best defensive year ever. Second, and more importantly, it’s disingenuous to assign blame to the defense for the team’s woes in any meaningful way when we consider pitching performance.

As regular readers have no doubt noticed, I’ve made it a habit of piling on the criticism of the team’s pitching this season. It’s been bad, plain and simple. The left side of the Mets’ infield defense has been bottom-of-the-league bad, also plain and simple. These two don’t really tie together in this scenario, though, at least not to the point where the defense has noticeably dragged down the pitching.

For instance, the pitching staff has not given up a noticeable increase in groundballs when compared to 2015 and 2016. Instead, they’ve actually given up an absurd number of home runs this season. As a matter of fact, their current HR/9 rate (1.40) is the highest in their history, beating out their second worst of 1.21 in 1962*. Sure, we have to acknowledge that pitchers may have given up home runs to batters they may not have faced if not for defensive miscues. How do those scenarios stack up when compared to the number of runs given up as a result of the sharp increase in batters walked by the pitching staff, though?

Look, the Mets need to improve the defense surrounding what they thought to be an elite pitching staff if they intend on being a consistently competitive team. There’s no arguing that point. They have no one to blame but the pitching staff for the debacle that is this season, however, and they need to figure out what the heck happened if they’re going to right the ship for 2018 and beyond.

*I’d be remiss not to point out that the current league average HR/9 rate (1.27) is the highest it’s ever been and that we’re currently seeing levels of home runs we haven’t seen since the late 90s/early 2000s. Nevertheless, the Mets actually led the league in 2016 with a HR/9 of 0.95.

Robert Gsellman down, Ron Darling’s ire, and Mets conditioning

After their win against the Phillies yesterday, the Mets’ record sits at a paltry 37-42. They’re 9.5 games behind both the division-leading Nationals and the second wild-card spot and, despite a recent run of success, obviously playing well below expectations. It’s not quite an insurmountable challenge, but it’s highly unlikely considering players continue to drop with Josh Smoker , Neil Walker, Matt Harvey, Juan Lagares, Zack Wheeler, and Robert Gsellman all hitting the DL in June.

The Mets have had their fair share of injuries this year. Their ace and closer may be out for the remainder of the season, and most of their best players have lost at least some time due to various ailments. Still, according to spotrac.com, the Mets are only 12th in the number of days lost to injured players in the MLB in 2017. This seems to paint a misleading picture, though, as most points taken out of context tend to do. When we consider the amount of money spent on the players on the DL in 2017, the Mets wind up second on that list. This suggests the specific Mets players that have been injured have had more impact on their season than just the number of players they’ve lost to injury. Except this is not entirely true, either.

The 2017 season has been flipped on its head in terms of what we all expected to be the team’s strengths and weaknesses heading into the year. Rather than a passable offense buoyed by stellar pitching, the team has had a unexpectedly strong offense and remarkably poor pitching. The team is currently seventh in the MLB in team offensive fWAR and wRC+ (seventh!) and 20th in team pitching fWAR. Of course, you knew all of this because we’ve been talking about it for weeks.

The loss of Noah Syndergaard is obviously a major hit, and the delayed starts of Steven Matz and Seth Lugo have led to multiple starts by players like Tyler Pill, Tommy Milone, and Rafael Montero. Team-wide pitching performance would obviously be dragged down when so many pitchers spend so much time on the DL. This too, however, does not paint an accurate picture. Mets pitching, from Harvey to Wheeler to Gsellman and the bullpen, has largely stunk up the joint this year.

Injuries themselves obviously play a role here, but what about the potential underlying problems with player conditioning as it pertains to those injuries? After Gsellman pulled up lame against the Marlins this week, resident curmudgeon Ron Darling went on a mini rant about how today’s ballplayers focus too much on weightlifting and not enough on actual baseball conditioning.

Injuries have been on a sharp incline over the last couple of seasons, and no one has been able to find a definitive answer to the injury issue yet. Still, some teams seem to clearly be “better” at it than others, and the Mets in particular have been called out many times for their handling of injuries and player conditioning.

We can lament the Mets’ handling of injuries, as we rightfully should, but shouldn’t there be more of an outcry against the team’s overall conditioning program? We watched Syndergaard boast about adding 17 pounds of muscle this off-season for seemingly no good reason, only to see him quickly injure himself as he placed an outsized premium on velocity. Is this the mindset being drilled into the Mets culture by their condition coordinator Mike Barwis? It should be noted that Barwis had no prior background in baseball before being hired by the Mets, instead making a name for himself with his reputation for training football players. Has he altered his approach in conditioning to account for how even the slightest mechanical changes can affect a baseball player’s performance, particularly a pitcher? Is it possible that the types of conditioning Mets pitchers underwent have somehow altered their mechanics in imperceptible ways as an unintended consequence, leading to poorer performances?

That may seem a bit far-fetched and grasping at straws, sure. It could be that an almost universal decline in performance for the rotation is an anomaly relegated to a single season because baseball is weird. It could also be that we underestimated the overall effect an entire rotation returning from some form of injury would have on performance as a whole.

We tend to search for a bogeyman to explain why things don’t go according to plan. For the Mets of the last decade or so, that has been the injury bug and how the team handles those injuries. Even if there’s no fire here, there’s clearly enough smoke to warrant a concerted effort to evaluate their strength and conditioning program. Perhaps they’ll join teams like the Pirates and Astros, who’ve gotten serious about overhauling their own performance and conditioning programs. Perhaps they’ll continue to wave away critiques while dismissing the growing concern about the organization’s decision-making structure on these issues. As fans, all we can do is watch with despondency as the season goes down in flames with more questions than answers.

First-half Jay Bruce is the best Jay Bruce

It’s tough to find something positive to write about the Mets as they continue to find ways to lose. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say they can’t seem to find ways to win. Either way, in losing to the Braves in walk-off fashion yesterday the Mets fell to a rebuilding team that currently sits above them in the standings. Let that sink in for a minute.

Last week I wrote that the season isn’t over and that there’s reason to hope that the pitching staff can get on the right track. Since that writing, the team has gone 2-3 with a team ERA of 5.61, a WHIP of 1.66, an xFIP of 4.23, and a BA against of .314. In those five games the offense put up a wRC+ of 125, good for fourth best in baseball over the last seven days. Pretty much par for the course this season, when you get down to it.

No amount of placation is going to change the fact that it’s getting late early. But hey, Jay Bruce!

The much maligned outfielder was an easy villain heading into the season because of how awful he played for the team after they traded for him last year. His performance was a huge question mark and source of fan ire, particularly since it was clear that the team’s failure to trade him during the off-season solidified his starting role to open the season.

What has Bruce done so far this year? He’s slashing .255/.325/.518 through 55 games with 15 home runs, 40 RBI, and a wRC+ of 123. That’s pretty good, and it’s more than most folks were expecting. He’s been a very solid contributer to an offense that’s been better than it was last year through as many games. It’s something to cheer about in a season with very little to show for the expectations heading into it. Well, it’s something positive for now, anyway.

I’m loathe to be the bearer of bad news given the team’s current state, but in researching Bruce’s performance it became clear that there’s danger on the horizon. Specifically, Bruce is climbing towards the top of a familiar mountain from which he’ll inevitably tumble as the season progresses. The table below outlines a few stats for his career and breaks them down by first- and second-half performances for each season.

Season
AVG
OPS
HR
wRC+
1st 2nd 1st 2nd 1st 2nd 1st 2nd
2008 .270 .244 .765 .768 6 15 97 96
2009 .207 .326 .725 1.078 18 4 84 182
2010 .266 .306 .785 .951 10 15 108 151
2011 .268 .241 .852 .764 21 11 129 106
2012 .249 .255 .831 .853 18 16 116 124
2013 .277 .239 .832 .768 19 11 124 106
2014 .229 .201 .719 .568 10 8 98 53
2015 .251 .199 .806 .644 13 13 116 66
2016 .267 .226 .853 .762 18 15 119 99
2017 .255 ? .843 ? 15 ? 123 ?

With a few exceptions, Bruce has performed worse in the second half than in the first half for most of his career. The last few seasons in particular have seen his second-half performance plummet fairly dramatically. What does this mean for the Mets? Well, they should certainly ride out his success as long as they can during the season’s first half. If any team shows even a glimmer of interest near the deadline, however, then they should send him packing. Whether or not the team is selling by that point should be irrelevant, as Bruce will do them more harm than good should he be on the roster beyond July 31st.

The Mets’ season is not over

What do you do when your team built on pitching is, well, bad at pitching? To be fair, it’s more a case of “pitching badly” than “bad at pitching,” but this team was explicitly built on the concept of run prevention vice run production. That was the understanding, anyway, with the hope that a possible offensive improvement could propel this team to great heights in 2017. Well, that’s only been partially true so far this season, and maybe not in the way you think.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. The Mets were 47-41 at the All-Star break last season and tied with the Marlins for second place in the NL East. It wasn’t necessarily a bad spot to be in, but certainly not quite what fans expected from a team mere months removed from the World Series. Do you remember the issue dominating discussions on their performance up to that point last year? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t the pitching.

The Mets’ offense had a wRC+ of 96 during the 2016 season’s first half. It was a middle-of-the-pack performance that technically should have been just fine for a team with an elite-level pitching staff. The problem was that the team just wasn’t turning that average offensive performance into actual run production. Their 335 runs scored in the first half last year was better than only the lowly Phillies and Braves.

Their pitching staff, on the other hand, was performing as hoped. The staff ERA- of 85 was third in the MLB and their FIP- of 84 was tied for first. We waxed poetic about where the team would be if they could just score some damn runs. The lack of execution with runners in scoring position seemed to be a very “Metsian” statistical anomaly in that something has to go wrong for this team in any given season.

It was maddening but not something we should have feared a consistent issue nor expected to be a problem this season. Of course the other side of that coin was what the 2016 team would have looked like had the pitching staff not been so stellar. We’re getting glimpses of that in 2017 and the results aren’t pretty.

The Mets currently stand at 23-30, barely hanging on to second place in the NL East and a full 11 games behind the Nationals. It’s no secret that the pitching has struggled, and we’ve been harping on it for a while now. But it could be so much worse than it has been, and the Mets should be thanking their lucky stars that the RISP issue from last year actually turned out to be just an anomaly.

The Mets’ wRC+ is at 99, 10th in baseball and only a slight improvement on where they sat at the break in 2016. The difference this season is that they’re bringing runners home, as their 264 runs scored places them ninth in the MLB. On the other hand, their pitching staff ERA- is 121 (dead last) and their FIP- is 19th at 105.

Just as our dream hypothetical scenario in 2016 brought frustration as to what could have been, the pitching staff’s poor performance in 2017 coupled with another lack of run production would have led to an absolute disaster scenario. Think about that. This team has had three separate stints of losing four or more games in a row, including six- and seven-game losing streaks, in just the first 40 games, and it still could have been worse.

Instead, and despite how it may seem, there’s still reason for optimism. We’re just a third of the way through the season, and there’s a lot more ball to be played. More importantly, there’s room for improvement with the pitching staff. Sandy Alderson will not be acquiring a front-line starting pitcher (and there’s no need to), but he’ll surely look to bolster the bullpen. Jacob deGrom‘s elevated strikeout rate will likely pay more dividends as his uncharacteristically high HR/9 settles back to his norm. Steven Matz and Seth Lugo will be coming back soon as well, and Robert Gsellman is better than he’s shown.

Yes, Matt Harvey is still a major question mark. Zack Wheeler is sure to keep running out of steam as he barrels towards some innings limit in his return from an extended Tommy John recovery, too. This staff can survive even without Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia, though, and the offense has performed better than reasonably expected considering the injuries. They’ve got an .877 OPS with RISP for goodness’ sake.

The point is that there is still hope for a successful season of Mets baseball in 2017. It starts with the starters getting their act together and includes some tweaks the team should consider to put the staff as a whole in a better position to succeed. Top it with a small dash of “seriously it can’t get any worse” and a pinch of realistic expectations, and we have every reason to be cautiously optimistic. There isn’t much else we can do but believe, after all.

Robert Gsellman must rediscover the magic

This past Wednesday, Robert Gsellman made his first start since the May 13th stinker that finally prompted the Mets to skip his next start and use him out of the bullpen. He threw six innings of six-hit ball while giving up three earned runs and striking out three. Although it was against one of the worst offenses in baseball, it was a positive sign for a pitcher struggling mightily to follow-up a fantastic 2016 debut where he seemingly came out of nowhere.

It was his best start since his outing against the Phillies on April 19th when it looked as though he was getting his season on track. Unfortunately, the wheels came off shortly thereafter and he hasn’t come close to resembling the surprising revelation he was for the Mets last season.

He now sits at 44.2 IP for the season, the exact number of innings he pitched last year. The results couldn’t be more disparate, however. Take a look at the table below for some comparisons.

Season IP K/9 BB/9 BABIP LOB% HR/FB ERA WHIP FIP xFIP
2016 44.2 8.46 3.02 .325 81.3 % 3.6 % 2.42 1.28 2.63 3.38
2017 44.2 6.65 3.02 .355 56.3 % 13.5 % 6.45 1.66 4.29 4.25

There are four things that clearly stand out here: his strikeout rate, his home run rate, his FIP, and his left on base percentage. Interestingly, and when we take into account his other periphery stats, these all kind of tie into each other when explaining the poor results. The largest swing in the above table is in his LOB%, which went from an excellent 81.3% in 2016 to a devastatingly poor 56.3% so far this year. This is particularly interesting because our Mets360 projection for Gsellman included LOB% as something to keep an eye on this season. His 2016 LOB% didn’t reflect his typical minor league numbers, so it was a valid data point to keep in mind.

Why such a dramatic swing? His lower strikeout rate is a partial explanation, obviously, but the more telling stat above is his HR/FB ratio. Now, he’s not giving up more fly balls this season. In fact, his GB%, LD%, and FB% are all very similar to last season. The problem is that more of those fly balls are going out of the park for home runs. Did you notice the difference between his 2016 FIP and xFIP? The xFIP stat replaces a pitcher’s home run total with how many they should have given up based on their fly ball rate (among other factors). As we can see this year, his FIP now more closely resembles his xFIP as those fly balls turn into homers. In addition to home runs, he’s simply given up hits at a higher rate than he was last year, despite walking the exact same number of batters.

Hitters clearly have a better read on him this year, leading to worse results. What’s the root cause of this, though? The answer to that question goes beyond the scope of this article, but we can quickly note two things. First, the average velocity on each of his pitches is mostly similar, though there is a slight dip in them save his slider (which has actually gone up a tad). Second, and most telling, the Pitch/FX values on his pitches have nosedived this year. This is especially true for his fastballs and slider. The higher overall contact percentages against him in 2017 bear this out.

We’re left to ponder a few things as we watch Gsellman struggle to capture the magic of his debut. Was last year an anomaly stemming from a league unfamiliar with him? Is this year simply a sophomore slump? Based on the noticeable decline in his “stuff” this year, I’d wager the issue is either mechanical or medical. The latter would be a gut punch, given what we’ve already seen this season with the team’s health. The former at least leaves hope that whatever is ailing him can theoretically be corrected. We’ll know more as the season progresses, but one thing is clear: the Mets need Gsellman to rediscover whatever it was that propelled him into multiple top prospect lists this offseason if they hope to stand a chance.

Michael Conforto is thriving

There’s a lot of bad news surrounding the Mets these days. Most of it has to do with injuries, and boy do they just keep piling up. It’s tough to look on the bright side when so many important pieces keep going down and the season looks increasingly bleak. One shining beacon of hope for Mets fans, though, is the performance of Michael Conforto.

The young outfielder is currently slashing an outstanding .337/.430/.652 and his 1.2 fWAR leads all Mets offensive players. His slash numbers also lead all MLB left fielders, as do his wRC+ (178), ISO (.315), OPS (1.082), and wOBA (.444). He’s fourth in homers with 8 and his 21 RBI are the fifth most among left fielders. In short, he’s mashing and blossoming into the player we all thought (and hoped) he would become.

One of the major concerns with Conforto was his performance against breaking pitches. Three weeks ago I followed up a 2016 piece documenting his struggles against breaking stuff. His ability to adjust to the breaking ball is ultimately going to determine how close he comes to reaching his ceiling, but early on this season he seemed to continue struggling to make those adjustments.

What’s happened since then? The table below, compiled with data from Brooks Baseball, compares his approach and results on different pitch types up to that article on April 22nd and since then.

Ball
Strike
Swing
Whiffs
Pitch
4/22
Since
4/22
Since
4/22
Since
4/22
Since
Fourseam 47.62% 38.55% 28.57% 21.69% 33.33% 46.99% 9.52% 7.23%
Sinker 37.14% 36.84% 20.00% 23.68% 42.86% 44.74% 0.00% 5.26%
Change 37.50% 42.22% 33.33% 33.33% 54.17% 53.33% 25.00% 28.89%
Slider 0.00% 27.66% 58.33% 40.43% 66.67% 48.94% 33.33% 17.02%
Curve 52.94% 58.82% 23.53% 29.41% 35.29% 17.65% 11.76% 5.88%
Cutter 100.00% 25.00% 0.00% 50.00% 0.00% 50.00% 0.00% 25.00%
Split 0.00% 0.00% 50.00% 0.00% 100.00% 100.00% 50.00% 0.00%
Knuckler N/A 33.33% N/A 23.33% N/A 50.00% N/A 6.67%

What jumps out immediately in the numbers above is the marked improvement in his approach against both the slider and the curve. We can see that not only is he swinging at them less, he’s also missing less often when he does take a crack at them. While he’s still not seeing positive outcomes against the curve ball, his batting average against the slider has been a healthy .308 since the 22nd of April. Additionally, the table below highlights some of his batted ball outcomes during these two time periods.

PA
LD%
GB%
FB%
Pull%
Cent%
Oppo%
Soft%
Med%
Hard%
On 4/22 40 11.5% 46.2% 42.3% 15.4% 57.7% 26.9% 19.2% 46.2% 34.6%
Since 71 26.7% 40.0% 33.3% 31.1% 51.1% 17.8% 17.8% 37.8% 44.4%

There’s a sizable increase in his line drive rate at the expense of his fly ball and ground ball rates, which coincides with an uptick in his hard hit percentage. It’s no surprise that he’s seeing even more success than he was earlier in the season. What’s interesting is the large increase in his pull percentage since April 22nd and how it relates to where pitchers are placing their pitches against him. The two zone profiles from Brooks Baseball below are broken into the two time frames we’ve been working with throughout this article.

He’s clearly getting more stuff to hit in the zone, and it’s likely his increased patience on breaking balls is paying off in this way. Pitchers keep pounding him inside and middle, which plays into his power as he turns on them and pulls them to the right side. We can’t completely ignore his elevated BABIP (.367), but his numbers are so good right now that even when it normalizes a bit his overall performance stands a good chance of staying very strong.

All of this is to say that, hey, Conforto is doing what he needs to do to turn his potential into results right before our eyes. That’s something to be cheerful about amid all the gloom and doom, right? Of course, there’s that hamstring and the Mets’ medical staff to worry about…

Travis d’Arnaud, the forgotten injury mismanagement victim

Surprise! Travis d’Arnaud is hurt again. The Mets placed the injury magnet on the disabled list with a bone bruise on his right wrist on Friday and he’s expected to miss at least a couple of weeks. This is an annual event at this point, but the circumstances surrounding it fall in line with what Mets fans have become accustomed to in recent years: poor injury management. Specifically, we’ve watched the Mets rest players for short spurts before sending them back to the field where they inevitably sustain a more serious injury for being rushed back.

This year we’ve seen some high-profile cases in Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard gain large-scale attention, but d’Arnaud has fallen victim to the same mismanagement. He actually hurt his wrist back on April 19th while trying to throw a runner out at second base. Rather than keeping him from any kind of baseball activity, however, the Mets had him pinch hit for a few games before getting him back into full-time action just a week later. You read that right. In their infinite wisdom, the team let him continue to bat with a wrist injury. Unsurprisingly, he re-aggravated it on a swing on Tuesday, leading to tests that revealed the bone bruise.

Back in February Brian posted a quote from a Baseball Prospectus article outlining how d’Arnaud’s increased contact on balls outside the zone, and generally poorer contact quality, versus his 2015 may have correlated with a surge in his ground ball rate and thus a poorer performance in 2016. We’ve been seeing a similar trend so far in 2017, with an elevated ground ball rate and decreased line drive rate.

But frequent commenter Jimmy P brought up a very interesting point in the comments section of that post, noting that we tend to analyze results outside the context of circumstance. Specifically, d’Arnaud was battling a rotator cuff injury he sustained early in the season that very likely affected him even after he returned from his trip to the DL in late June. While he wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire before he went down, it stands to reason that the shoulder was a lingering issue for both his bat and his ability to throw out runners through the season’s duration.

We may have already seen hints of this in 2017. Leading up to that April 19th injury, d’Arnaud had been slashing .286/.375/.571 with an OPS of .946. Seven of his 10 hits were for extra bases and he knocked in nine runs in 11 games. He then slashed .083/.154/.333 with an OPS of .487, including his 2-homer and 5-RBI game, in the 11 games from April 19th until his last on May 2nd. We always have to caution that small sample sizes play a role here, but there is a clear demarcation point within the extremes of his 2017 performance thus far.

This isn’t meant to dismiss the fact that he gets injured way too often, of course, but it may go a long way in explaining why he’s been so maddeningly inconsistent during his time in the majors. He was fantastic in 2015, but even then he only played in 67 games. The key there, as it relates to the discussion at hand, is that the severity of each injury was immediately obvious and allowed little room for the Mets to misdiagnose or mismanage. Additionally, the 2015 Mets (particularly their first half version) didn’t have the expectations of the 2016-2017 teams. The pressure to win can lead to questionable decisions, to say the least.

I would be remiss not to point out that this is all mostly circumstantial. However, the fact of the matter is that this team has become notorious for mishandling the injuries of their biggest stars as well as players at the end of their bench. D’Arnaud has shown that he can be an offensive force behind the plate when fully healthy. It’s on the Mets to ensure that he and the rest of the roster are put in the best position to succeed rather than playing through injuries that put the player and the team at a disadvantage. Half a season of 2015 d’Arnaud is much more valuable than a full season of the 2016 version.