With Steve Cohen and his billions replacing the Wilpons and their Ponzi schemes, a lot has changed around the Mets the last few months. There’s being attached to every major free agent available, there’s blockbuster deals and there’s the beefing up of off field departments. Those are all great. But one thing that’s changed and maybe not for the better – at least for the newshounds among the fanbase – is that the info coming to the public domain is neither as voluminous nor as accurate as it was for at least the past 10 years.
When R.A. Dickey was being shopped and ultimately traded, it seemed like we had regular briefings about what was going on. When the Edwin Diaz trade was in progress, we knew days ahead of time what was coming down the pike. Now, in 2021 the Mets can trade for Francisco Lindor and while not exactly from out of left field, the contrast between the info being reported with Diaz and Lindor was striking.
And it’s not just trades. The intel in the public domain on free agent acquisitions has been shaky, at best. James McCann was supposed to be a done deal and it took about 10 days for it to get done from a point where it was portrayed as imminent. It seems that George Springer has been coming here for awhile and now odds are against it happening at all. Then two sources indicated Brad Hand was all but signed, sealed and delivered and then that had to be walked back.
It’s likely that the pandemic is affecting the quality of reporting in the hot stove season. It’s also likely that someone high up in the Mets’ structure is no longer around to give out details the GM would prefer to keep quiet. A reasonable guess would be Jeff Wilpon or a subordinate that the younger Wilpon would feed info to that would find its way to the beat reporters. Maybe it was someone else entirely. Whoever the source was, they don’t seem to be sharing the latest news. No doubt Sandy Alderson is relieved, even if the rest of us feel just a tiny fraction of remorse.
METS SETTLE ARBITRATION CASES – WELL, MOST OF THEM – After their non-tenders and the Lindor trade, the Mets had 12 impending arbitration cases. Some of them came to terms before the Lindor deal went down but, still, that seems like a large number of cases. The Mets work very hard not to actually go to a hearing with their players and they got deals done with 11 of their arbitration-eligible guys. Now, some – like Robert Gsellman and Steven Matz – should be grateful for whatever offer came their way. But others are at least a little surprising didn’t try to roll the dice. The lone holdout was J.D. Davis and he’s the first player since Wilmer Flores not to settle with the club. Michael Conforto, health permitting, will get more PA than Davis. It just seems odd that Mets could reach agreement with a guy like Conforto coming off a great year, while they couldn’t do the same with Davis, who was nowhere near as good. Of course, Flores took the Mets to arbitration coming off a season with fewer than 400 PA. Maybe it’s harder to come to an agreement with a role player than a star or starter.
UPDATE ON INTERNATIONAL SIGNINGS – Because of the pandemic, the July 2 date for signing international players was pushed to January 15. It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Mets in this department. For years, we heard about how good and connected Omar Minaya was in this area yet the best international signing under his tenure was Jeurys Familia – a solid MLB player but hardly in the Ronald Acuna or Juan Soto level of stardom. Then after a slow start with Sandy Alderson, it seemed the Mets built up an impressive cache of prospects from the international levels. The Mets continued to sign big-name guys with Brodie Van Wagenen. But this year, the Mets did not get a single guy considered to be among the top 50 players available. Friend of the site Mack Ade has a list of players the Mets signed but it’s unlikely you’ll know any of the names. As anyone who followed Alex Escobar or Fernando Martinez or Flores can tell you – being ranked high as a 16 year old does not guarantee future success. It’s just been a few years since the Mets were shut out of the top international players.
CHASE FOR A LEFTY RELIEVER – With the new rules in place that eliminated many chances to deploy a LOOGY, the Mets had pretty good production from the lefty relievers in 2020. But Justin Wilson’s contract was up and the Mets non-tendered Chasen Shreve, leaving them without a lefty reliever among the club’s top 10 bullpen guys. A few days ago, it seemed Hand would replace Wilson but it seems there’s a stronger market for Hand than originally thought. It’s at least a little curious that there’s been no talk of reuniting with Wilson, who was very good in his two years with the club. In 68 games with the Mets, Wilson had a 2.91 ERA, with 67 Ks in 58.2 IP. Hand is better, so it’s not surprising the Mets are showing a preference for him. But if another club ends up with the former Padres and Indians closer, hopefully the Mets will bring back Wilson. And while they’re at it, they should look to bring back Shreve, too.
CENTER FIELD RANKING BY MLB NETWORK– Brandon Nimmo was recently ranked as the fifth-best center fielder by MLB Network’s The Shredder. This seems to have caught some people off guard. Last year, Nimmo was much worse than expected defensively. Everyone thought he’d be below average defensively in center. Instead, he was the worst defensive player among center fielders with enough playing time to qualify for the leaderboards. On top of that, Nimmo had a BABIP 16 points below his career average coming into the season. Despite these things, Nimmo finished the year with the eighth-best fWAR among MLB center fielders. With positive regression in both of these areas, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Nimmo put up an even better season in 2021 than he did in 2020. If he kept up his pace last year over a 162-game season, Nimmo would have finished with a 4.1 fWAR. In his last healthy season, Nimmo had a 4.5 fWAR. There have been only 28 seasons since 2015 where a CF has posted a 4.0 or greater fWAR and five of those were turned in by Mike Trout.
There are a lot of contenders for “Best Surprise of 2020” for the Mets. There’re the offensive explosions by Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith, the overall exciting play of Andres Gimenez and the return to form by Edwin Diaz. But all of those seem to be vying for second place behind the unexpected performance of David Peterson. Just about no one anticipated a guy who opened the year at the alternate site, after a 2019 season that wasn’t exactly overwhelming at Double-A, to come on and post a 6-2 record with a 3.44 ERA. And outside of one lousy outing against Philadelphia, where he allowed 5 ER in 2 IP, Peterson had a 2.64 ERA. It’s still hard to wrap one’s head around it, even months later.
Let’s start by looking at his 2019 season for Binghamton. He made 24 starts and finished the year with a a 3-6 record and a 4.19 ERA. But Peterson’s peripherals painted a different picture. He had a 3.19 FIP and a 2.91 xFIP. Peterson was done in by a .340 BABIP and a 66.3% strand rate. While he was unfortunate in the “luck” categories, Peterson put up a 9.47 K/9 and a 2.87 BB/9. But those strong numbers were being dwarfed by hits falling in at the exact wrong time.
In the majors last season, Peterson had the exact opposite thing happen to him. His 3.44 ERA flies in the face of his 4.52 FIP and 5.11 xFIP. He succeeded last year due to a .233 BABIP, and a 76.8% strand rate didn’t hurt, either. And if that wasn’t enough good fortune, Peterson was supported nicely by the offense, too. In his starts, Mets’ hitters averaged 5.73 runs per game for him. While it was a different team, the offense in 2018 supplied Jacob deGrom with an average of just 3.49 runs per game.
With the rest of the non-deGrom starters either injured or imploding, Peterson gave the club a much-needed shot in the arm in 2020. But there’s a reason to be concerned about him repeating his performance in 2021. Hopefully the experience he gained will help and he can work on that ugly 4.35 BB/9. With more runners reaching base with hits next year, he’ll need to compensate by allowing fewer walks.
THE CENTER OF ATTENTION – With all of the trouble that Brandon Nimmo had in center field last year, it’s at least a little bit surprising that the club didn’t try Conforto out there. After all, Conforto has experience at the position, playing a handful of games there in each of the previous four seasons, for a total of 1,137.1 innings, or nearly a full year’s worth of games. The problem with Conforto in CF is range, with DRS showing 14 of his 16 runs below average in center due to his lack of range. Surprisingly, that range was also an issue in right field for Conforto last year. DRS shows him with a (-3) while UZR had him at (-4.1) in its range component. Statcast also measures range with its Outs Above Average metric, which give a little more detail than either DRS or UZR. Conforto had a (-5) in this department, compared to Nimmo’s (-4) in this position-adjusted metric. Conforto was average going to his right but struggled going towards the foul line (-3) or going back on balls (-2) – not exactly what you want from a center fielder.
A LOOK AT THE SEPTEMBER SURGERS – The Mets had a great year offensively in 2020, one that got better each month in the truncated season. In July, they posted a .759 OPS, in August that number went up to .787 and in September, the hitters slugged their way to an .843 OPS. Here are the numbers for everyone with at least 50 PA in the season’s final month:
For the people who are ready to ship Alonso out of town at any type of discount, his numbers in the final month track nicely with his 2019 production. In his rookie year, Alonso put up a .941 OPS. On the other end of the spectrum, we see Cano was already fading. After a 1.058 OPS in his first 26 games, thanks in part to a .375 BABIP, Cano was unable to maintain the pace that Conforto and Smith – the other BABIP overachievers – did in September.
A QUICK LOOK AT THE 2021 SCHEDULE – A tentative 2021 schedule is out and again the Mets play Interleague games against the AL East. They were going to play the Yankees, regardless, but it would have been nice to play the Tigers rather than the Rays. A couple of other things that jump out is that unlike 2020, when the Mets played the Braves seven times in their first 11 games, New York does not face Atlanta until May 17th. Hopefully their pitching will be straightened out by then. Perhaps the key stretch of the year will be from July 5 – July 21, when they play 13 straight games against the NL Central, including seven games in a row against the Pirates, with four of those coming at Citi Field.
MARCEL FORECASTS ARE AVAILABLE – Baseball-Reference displays Marcel projections on its player pages and those are now published. Let’s look at the eight players from the chart above who are still currently on the team:
McNeil – .849 OPS
Davis – .793
Alonso – .877
Smith – .852
Conforto – .836
Cano – .769
Nimmo – .845
Gimenez – .769
It’s hard not to notice that Cano and Gimenez are tied here. That’s either great news for Gimenez or rotten news for Cano. Or maybe both. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is that Smith is projected to edge out McNeil. We should probably take the under on Davis’ forecast but that number is not a surprise given his strong 2019.
METS LIKELY TO STAY THE COURSE ON THE MANAGERIAL FRONT – In the introductory news conference welcoming Steve Cohen and welcoming back Sandy Alderson, the latter indicated that Luis Rojas was expected to return as the team’s manager. Alderson did leave the door slightly ajar, saying the new GM would have a say in the matter. But it’s difficult imagining Alderson hiring a guy who would turn around and ax Rojas immediately. Alderson did address the dugout blunders of Rojas but also dismissed their significance, claiming that it was the easiest thing to improve upon or fix.
Here’s a thought – if it’s so easy, how about we don’t screw them up so often in 2021?
David Peterson opened the year as a depth starter. Saturday night he allowed just 1 ER in 6 IP against the East-leading Braves to pick up his fifth win of the season, tops on the Mets. He pitched out of some trouble in the second inning, escaping without a run after starting the inning with two runners in scoring position and no outs. On a night where the Mets desperately needed a good outing from their starter, Peterson came up big.
Perhaps the most surprising thing of all was that Peterson delivered 10 Ks on the night. He became just the fourth rookie LHP for the Mets to post a double-digit strikeout game. The last one was by Hisanori Takahashi but as he was 35 years old and had already pitched for 10 years in Japan, he’s not your typical rookie. The previous lefty rookie was Pete Schourek in September of 1991 and the first one to do it was Jerry Koosman, who turned the trick four times in 1968.
Rarity of the feat by a Mets’ LHP aside, Peterson entered the night with 26 Ks in 36.2 IP, hardly the mark of a guy who’d you expect to put up a big strikeout night against a potent Braves lineup. Only one other time this year had Peterson reached at least four strikeouts in a game and that came against the Braves, too. In two games against Atlanta, Peterson has 12 IP and 18 Ks. In his other seven games, which includes one 4-inning relief appearance, Peterson has 30.2 IP and 18 Ks.
At times it feels like strikeouts for a pitcher can be overrated. Friday night, when the Mets’ pitchers gave up 15 runs, their pitchers combined for 12 Ks. Michael Wacha has a 10.61 K/9 and no one considers him a worthwhile pitcher. But it’s hard to imagine Peterson having long-term success with a K/9 of 5.3 like he has in his non-Braves outings this year. Hopefully Saturday is the beginning of a new trend for Peterson, one which he carries forward to his last outing of the year against the Nationals.
CONFORTO’S WACKY WEEK – Michael Conforto has played in every game this year and he’s been the guy that Mets fans love to see come to the plate. He’s hitting to all fields and because of that, he sits with a .335 AVG. It should be noted that Conforto also enjoys a .418 BABIP, which is 113 points above his career average in the category.
In his past seven games, Conforto has a .292 AVG but it’s taken a .538 BABIP to produce that result. How can that be? Well, Conforto has struck out in 11 of his 24 ABs in the last seven days. Despite the super-high BABIP, Conforto has a .705 OPS in this span. Contrast that to Robinson Cano, who has a .500 BABIP but a 1.172 OPS in the same time period.
In a time when the hits are falling in at a remarkable rate, it’s tough to see Conforto with a 37.9 K%.
SHREVE HAS BEEN A PORT – When people think about the 2020 Mets, they’ll mention how good the offense has been or how bad the starting pitching has been most games. What they never list is how good Chasen Shreve has been this season. Nobody did any cartwheels when the Mets signed Shreve but he’s given the team both quantity and quality out of the pen this year. He’s pitched two or more innings eight times in his 13 games and he has a sparkling 1.99 ERA.
And he’s done that even with a rough start. Shreve allowed runs in the three of his first four outings. Since then he’s thrown 14.1 IP and had a 0.63 ERA and a 0.907 WHIP. He’s limited batters in this span to a .465 OPS and he’s fanned 17. It’s gotten to the point where his availability in the game is as important as the closer. After sitting out the last two nights, Shreve should be ready to go if needed on Sunday.
THE WEIRD CHIRINOS NUMBERS – With Tomas Nido on the IL, the Mets traded for Robinson Chirinos to give them a veteran option behind the plate. He had a two-hit game Saturday night but his batting line with the Mets is an ugly .174/.174/.261 in eight games and 23 PA. Despite those lousy numbers, the Mets are 5-2 in games he starts. Clearly, he’s making up for his offense with superb defensive play. Well, not exactly.
With Chirinos behind the plate, Mets pitchers have a 5.49 ERA, almost a full run worse than Wilson Ramos and his 4.54 mark. Opponents have an .843 OPS with Chirinos calling the pitches, almost 100 points worse (.750) than with Ramos. Mets pitchers have a 3.0 K/BB ratio with Ramos behind the plate and a 1.7 mark with Chirinos. He looks good back there but in this case the looks have been deceiving.
PLAYOFF CHASE UPDATE – Before Friday’s games, we looked at the eight clubs chasing the last four playoff spots in the NL. Two days later things have gotten harder. The hope was that the Mets could tread water in the next six games and then clean up in the last series of the year versus the Nats. The Mets are doing what we hoped, splitting the first two against the Braves. But Philadelphia has gone 3-0 in the past two days, adding 1.5 games to the Mets’ deficit. Here’s another look at our eight contenders:
Marlins (25-23) – Went 2-1 and are now 27-24
Giants (25-24) – Went 0-2 and are now 25-26
Reds (25-26) – Went 1-1 and are now 26-27
Phillies (24-25) – Went 3-0 and are now 27-25
Cardinals (22-24) – Went 3-0 and are now 25-24
Brewers (23-26) – Went 2-0 and are now 25-26
Mets (23-27) – Went 1-1 and are now 24-28
Rockies (22-27) – Went 0-2 and are now 22-29
The Rockies were a long shot when Friday began and it would take a miracle for them to make the playoffs now. But they still have a chance to be a factor in the race, as they take on the Giants next. No matter how you slice it, the Mets need help and they haven’t gotten much in the past two days.
It used to be that you talked about a team’s performance with runners in scoring position and people’s eyes would glaze over. And then 2016 happened, when for nearly five months out of the season, the Mets had the worst performance in the category since the expansion Padres in 1969. Then people started taking notice. Earlier this year, it was a common refrain to point out how poorly the Mets were doing in this split.
The 2020 version of this is a team’s record in blowout games compared to its overall record. Conventional wisdom is that good teams win the close ones. And as a general rule of thumb, they do. But you’ll always find multiple teams with winning records who finish below .500 in one-run games. It turns out luck plays a significant role in these games, too. But if you want to see a mark of a team’s quality, you should check out their mark in blowout games, defined as ones with a margin of five runs or greater.
The 2019 Nationals, the team that won the World Series, won 93 games during the regular season, yet were 17-21 in one-run games. But they were 29-19 in blowouts. That’s just one example. Let’s look at all of the clubs in 2019-2020 and see what their records were in blowouts. While this is just a partial season, it will still give us a 60-team sample.
|Team||Year||G||W||L||W-L%||BL W||BL L||BL %||BL% – O%|
It’s really easy to get lost in a 60-line chart. But you should know of the 32 teams to have a .500 or better record overall, 30 of them finished with a .500 or better record in blowouts, too. Only the 2019 Brewers and the 2020 Marlins failed to have a winning record in blowouts. And when this season is finished, no one will be surprised if the Marlins finish with a losing record overall.
On the flip side, of the 28 teams with losing records, only the 2020 Mets and the 2019 and 2020 Reds had winning records in blowouts. The Mets’ 2020 blowout winning percentage of .692 is the seventh-best mark in the majors over the past two seasons. Is it a small sample illusion? Perhaps. You’d think the Mets would be in line for a few more blowout losses, given the shaky status of their starting pitching. But their offense is really good, so it’s not a surprise they have a bunch of blowout wins.
And tying it back to RISP, a better performance in that category will help the overall record.
THE SQUIRREL GETS HIS WINGS – Jeff McNeil is flying high, shaking off a mediocre start to pound the ball in the past two weeks. In his last 12 games, McNeil has a 1.330 OPS, thanks to a streak where he homered in four straight games. He has 11 extra-base hits in his last 54 trips to the plate. There were quite a few people before the season started who wanted McNeil to go back to be the hitter he was when he first came up, one who concentrated on putting the ball in play and one who posted a high average. But the McNeil who cranks XBH is the one we should want to see. After years of watching Daniel Murphy being content to flick the ball the other way for a single, it’s amazing that people want McNeil to follow that path, after what we saw Murhpy do down the stretch in 2015 and his next two years with the Nationals. And with what we saw McNeil do the last two months of 2019 and the last two weeks here.
NOT EVERYONE IS HITTING – The Mets’ offense has been pretty good this year, usually with multiple guys hitting lights out at the same time. But there are always guys who are scuffling. And right now, the three who are acting as anchors are Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano and J.D. Davis. Everyone wants Alonso to be the guy he was last year and anytime he does anything positive at all, the broadcasters trip over themselves to praise him. But in his last 19 games, Alonso has just a .186 AVG. Luckily six of his 13 hits have been homers. Otherwise it’s just been dreadful. Cano got off to a terrific start but has just five hits in his last 34 trips to the plate. And that includes a 3-hit game in Friday’s blowout. Davis is mired in a 4-25 slump. It’s tough when the two primary RHB are struggling at the same time.
A REBOUND FROM A FAMILIA FACE – Last year, Jeurys Familia was terrible. After 12 games this season, he stood with a 5.11 ERA and a 1.541 WHIP, as he allowed 7 ER and 9 BB in 12.1 IP. He was about the last guy you wanted to see on the mound in a tight situation. It got so bad that in his 13th game, Familia entered in the fifth inning. But starting with that outing, Familia has allowed just 1 ER in 8.1 IP and has held batters to a .188 AVG. Walks are still a problem and he’s probably never a guy you’ll want to see on the mound in the ninth inning with a one-run lead. But for the year now, he has a 3.48 ERA and we likely won’t see him pitching in the fifth inning again anytime soon.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR – There’s been no shortage of people moaning about Wilson Ramos and wanting a better defensive backstop behind the plate. The white whale is J.T. Realmuto, a guy who’s been a strong player on both offense and defense for a number of years now. Realmuto is an impending free agent and it would be a nice story if the Mets took him away from the Phillies one year after they took Zack Wheeler from the Mets. But if not Realmuto, then who? People are quick to say any defensive guy will be an improvement. Those people would be advised to check out Robinson Chirinos‘ numbers. It doesn’t matter how good you are defensively, you can’t make up for a sub-Plaweckian OPS.
At the time of the deal to acquire Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, popular results among Mets fans was mixed. Maybe it tilted more towards those who thought it was a bad idea but certainly no worse than a 55-45 type of split. Then, after just about everything that possibly could go wrong from a Mets perspective happened during the 2019 season, popular opinion was heavily against the trade. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that on January 1, 2020 that 98% of fans would have voided the deal if given the chance.
So, it should be noted that both Cano and Diaz are performing quite well in this shortened season. Cano sits with a .958 OPS after 115 PA. And Diaz, after giving up runs in two of his first three appearances and losing his closer’s job, has battled back to post a 1.23 ERA in his last 14 games, with a 4.0 K/BB rate, thanks to 32 Ks in 14.2 IP. The walks are a concern but he’s only allowed 1 HR in that span, a far cry from last year’s gopher ball issues.
Meanwhile, Justin Dunn is 3-1 with the Mariners but has hardly been overwhelming with a 4.09 ERA, good for a 103 ERA+. Absolutely, the Mets could have used him in 2020 but he hasn’t been as good as either Cano or Diaz. And with no minor league season, we haven’t had any Jarred Kelenic exploits, either. Kelenic made the Mariners’ 60-man roster but he’s yet to make an appearance in the majors, despite Mallex Smith’s .348 OPS.
In 2019, the trade was a big win for the Mariners. In 2020, it’s shaping up to be a big win for the Mets. It’s the type of deal that the Mets were supposed to win in the immediate term. The hope was that the Mets would win the first 2-3 years while Kelenic was in the minors. And not just win from a production standpoint but win as in have Cano and Diaz lead them deep into the playoffs. That could happen in 2020, with the Mets now having a 53.8% chance of making the playoffs despite a current sub-.500 record. With a top-heavy pitching staff and a strong offense, they could win a playoff series or two.
It’s important to recognize how the deal is working for the Mets here in 2020. But let me state for the record that this was still a bad trade.
SPINNING THROUGH THE METS ROTATION – At the beginning of Spring Training, the Mets expected their 2020 rotation to feature Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello and a battle between Steven Matz and Michael Wacha for the fifth spot. Of course, neither Syndergaard nor Stroman threw a single pitch for the club. And Matz, Porcello and Wacha have been varying degrees of terrible. The injuries are bad luck and the rotten performance – well, it happens. But let’s recount how the Mets reacted to openings in their rotation.
Matz won the last spot and when Syndergaard went down, they moved Wacha to the rotation. Few were upset with the way this was handled. But when Stroman was lost, the Mets called up David Peterson. This was overwhelmingly approved, too, even if not to the same degree as the first move. But then the Mets used Robert Gsellman for their next SP opening and not many people approved that move at all. Then Walker Lockett got a shot, followed by Corey Oswalt. Those last three pitchers combined for 19.2 IP in six games as a starter. If that wasn’t bad enough, they allowed 16 ER. Finally, the Mets moved Seth Lugo to the rotation. In three starts, he has a 1.54 ERA in 11.2 IP. And just for kicks, the Mets gave a start to Ariel Jurado, too. That went as poorly as expected, as he allowed 5 ER in 4 IP.
It’s my opinion that the rotation was mishandled and not by a little. At the very least, Lugo should have gotten the third shot. That would have allowed Gsellman more chances to pitch in the majors, both to stretch out and to get acclimated to MLB action. Before making his first start, Gsellman had pitched a total of just 1 IP in the previous 365 days in the majors. How he was allowed to start doesn’t get the scrutiny and disdain that it deserves.
With the way the Mets handled things, Gsellman’s confidence is shot and they lost Lockett due to the necessity of a waiver move. Oh, and they also lost Jordan Humphreys, another depth rotation piece. One can argue that Lockett is no loss (disagree) and that Humphreys wasn’t likely to do anything, anyway (agree.) But one could also say that they lost time in the rotation that could have been better used with Lugo, lost a potential valuable bullpen piece in Gsellman and that perhaps a regular turn in the rotation for Lockett or Oswalt would have delivered better results. We can all agree that the way the Mets handled it didn’t work at all. And they had other options.
WINNING BIG IN BLOWOUTS – Conventional wisdom is that good teams know how to win the close ones. The reality is that winning one-run games is just as likely to be about luck, while good teams thrive in blowouts, defined as when the final score results in a 5-run or more advantage for the winning team. The Mets are 19-22 overall after Sunday’s big win, which upped their record to 8-3 in blowouts. It’s tough to rationalize the Mets’ overall record when their blowout record is so good. Here’s how all winning teams did in blowouts and one-run games in 2019:
Five of our 15 teams with winning records had losing marks in one-run games, while the Mets and Red Sox were both just one game above .500 in this split. By comparison, only one team had a losing record in blowouts and 10 of the 15 teams were 10 games or more above .500 in the blowout split. The 2020 Mets have their work cut out for them to finish above .500 for the season. But in a normal year we’d be pretty confident that a .727 mark in blowouts would mean they were a pretty good team.
A HIT WITH A SWING AND A MISS – In 2020, the MLB rate for a swing and a miss is 11.3, noted as SwStr%. This means that for every 1,000 pitches, MLB hitters will swing and not make contact 113 times. In Sunday’s game against the Phillies, deGrom threw 108 pitches and recorded 35 swings without contact. That’s a 32.4 SwStr% or nearly three times the average rate this season. It marked the first time since 2016 that a pitcher recorded that many empty swings in a game. Danny Duffy completed eight innings when he notched 35 while deGrom accomplished his in seven. Just another log on the fire for the greatness of deGrom.
A MISS WITH RISP – There are four teams in the National League with a team OPS over .800 and they are: San Diego (.822), Atlanta (.821), New York (.812) and Los Angeles (.808). The top three teams in the NL in runs scored are the Padres, Dodgers and Braves. The Mets fall to sixth in runs scored because of their dreadful results with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers are just about equal with the Mets in overall production. Yet they’ve scored 40 more runs than the Mets. And that can’t be explained by the Dodgers having played one more game. Rather, it’s because the Dodgers have a .911 OPS with RISP while the Mets have a .690 mark. With RISP, the Dodgers have produced 162 runs. The Mets have pushed across only 129.
If you ask 10 people about the pandemic in general, and MLB trying to have a 60-game season in the middle of a pandemic in particular, you might get 10 different answers. One thing that seems clear, at least to me, is that people who haven’t been affected directly are the ones most vociferous about pushing onwards. It’s human nature – nothing matters until it happens to me or someone in my circle.
Some might say that it’s only a matter of time, that eventually your luck runs out and the disaster happens to you. For the Mets, that happened while playing in the known Covid hot spot of Miami. By all indications, the Mets were doing everything “right,” in that they were following all of the rules and not skipping out to participate in risky behaviors. If this is true, perhaps the negative tests will continue and their time on the sidelines will be relatively brief.
We all want answers. Who was the player and coach who tested positive? Did one or both of them break protocols? How many people did they come into close contact with? These, and others, are all legitimate questions and perhaps one day we will get the answers. But for right now, it’s impossible for me to get those answers. Because of that, my mind wanders to questions that can be answered. And one of those is this: How did teams that did miss multiple days (three or more) fare when they returned to action? Here’s a list of teams and how they did once they returned to the field:
|Team||Last game||Resume Play||Return record|
|Marlins||Jul 26||Aug 4||5-0|
|Cardinals||July 29||Aug 15||3-1|
|Reds||Aug 14||Aug 19||2-3|
|Phillies||Jul 26||Aug 3||3-2|
|Nationals||Jul 30||Aug 4||1-4|
|Blue Jays||Jul 30||Aug 4||2-4|
|Tigers||Aug 2||Aug 7||4-0|
|Cubs||Aug 6||Aug 11||3-0|
|Pirates||Aug 9||Aug 13||1-4|
The overall record is 24-18 but it’s not a slam dunk that the layoff is actually good for teams. Five teams started off good after resuming plays and four teams didn’t. And maybe that’s the takeaway – missing a few games doesn’t necessarily mean anything. For the Mets, it gives their relievers some time off and they’ll be able to reset their rotation however they’d like. Here’s hoping this isn’t the latest thing that screws Seth Lugo from being a starter.
OH, THOSE LEFTY RELIEVERS – If you’ve read this site for long, you no doubt recall me railing against the team’s LOOGY fetish, the idea that lefty relievers were the key to a good bullpen. There’s no shortage of ways to point out how poorly the Mets’ lefties performed, despite having every favorable matchup possible. Perhaps my favorite one is in 2015, when the Mets tried oh so hard to make Eric O’Flaherty into their LOOGY, how he failed miserably and how the Mets made the World Series that year without a situational lefty.
Flash forward to 2020, with the rule in place stating that a reliever has to finish an inning or face a minimum of three batters. The league in general – even if not the Mets – was trending in this way even without the rule. Teams were learning that the LOOGY gambit was a bad use of resources at least as often as it was a good one. But this rule was a necessity for the Mets. The new rule forced the Mets to look at pitchers who could get batters out, rather than focus on guys who simply threw with their left hand.
So, instead of Robert Carson and his 25 ER in 33 IP or Scott Rice and his 5.93 ERA and 1.976 WHIP – while facing a majority of LHB!!! – the Mets have Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve. Those two have combined for a 3.60 ERA while facing 51 RHB and 29 LHB. Somewhere Josh Edgin sheds a tear, wishing the Mets had used him this way before he got hurt.
THE ABUNDANCE OF SHORTSTOPS – Longtime Mets fans can no doubt recall multiple times that it seems the team didn’t have one good shortstop, much less three guys capable of playing the position like they have now. Amed Rosario is the incumbent and while he’s struggling mightily now, few doubt his potential. Andres Gimenez was long considered one of the club’s top prospects and has skipped Triple-A to show he belongs at this level, impacting the game with his speed and defense. And there’s also Luis Guillorme, who entered this year with a good defensive reputation and a giant question if he could hit enough to be worthwhile.
The BABIP gods aren’t smiling on Guillorme – they’re tripping over themselves to give him the biggest gifts possible. Guillorme sits with a .542 BABIP. Last year he had a perfectly normal .304 BABIP and ended the year with an 87 wRC+. This year, he’s cut down on his strikeouts and increased his walks. If we normalized his BABIP, his wRC+ would probably creep into the 90s. Maybe you want more from your starter but that’s a very good total for your backup. Let’s look at NL East teams last year and their middle infield backups and see what they produced offensively. We’ll look at those infielders who got between 100 and 300 PA:
Mets – Adeiny Hechavarria, 151 PA, 62 wRC+, Joe Panik, 103 PA, 99 wRC+
Nationals – Asdrubal Cabrera, 146 PA, 145 wRC+, Wilmer Difo, 144 PA, 60 wR+
Braves – Johan Camargo, 248 PA, 67 wRC+, Charlie Culberson, 144 PA, 85 wRC+
Phillies – Sean Rodriguez, 139 PA, 94 wRC+, Brad Miller, 130 PA, 137 wRC+
Marlins – Jon Berti, 287 PA, 104 wRC+, Martin Prado, 260 PA, 49 wRC+, Isan Diaz 201 PA, 53 wRC+
Some of these guys aren’t really traditional backup infielders, like the Braves’ duo, Miller and Berti, but they saw time in the infield. Some like Panik and Cabrera were mid-season acquisitions that played better than their clubs had any right to expect. Then there are guys like Hechavarria, Difo and Diaz and that’s what a good field, backup middle infielder looks like. Guillorme seems better than that, perhaps a good deal better. And maybe his presence as a good backup makes trading Rosario or Gimenez in the offseason a possibility for the Mets.
PORCELLO AND THE GROUND BALLS – From 2015 onwards, we’ve seen a steady decrease leaguewide in the GB/FB ratio of MLB pitchers. In 2015, the ratio was 1.34 and it was 1.20 last year. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, as more and more hitters embrace the launch angle philosophy. While not as steady as the leaguewide results, Rick Porcello has seen his GB/FB ratio go from 1.40 in 2015 to 0.92 in 2019. We know all about how the Red Sox tried to get Porcello to pitch up in the zone more last year. So, again, not a surprise where the numbers sit.
But looking at Porcello’s individual game logs for 2020, we see he has two awful starts, two good starts and one in the middle. In the two awful starts, Baseball-Reference has him with 9 GB and 15 FB. In his two good starts, B-R has him with 20 GB and 19 FB. And the start in the middle has 8 GB and 13 FB. On the surface it seems like he should be looking for more grounders but his two bad starts both came against the Braves and his two good starts both came against the Nationals. Maybe it’s just matchups.
The Pitch Info Pitch Types at FanGraphs show Porcello throwing more sinkers and sliders this year for the Mets than last year with the Red Sox. He’s thrown fewer fastballs and curves. On a per 100 pitch basis, neither the sinker nor slider have been better than the pitches they’ve replaced from last year. Maybe there aren’t enough pitches thrown by Porcello in 2020 to make meaningful comparisons yet. But it seems obvious if he’s going to throw those pitches more, he’s going to have to get better results with them.
Right before the start of the season, a story was posted here about the top 10 worries for the Mets. One of those was that Wilson Ramos would suffer another drop in SLG. Unfortunately, that one has turned out to be true here in the early going of 2020. After posting a .483 SLG in the three years before joining the Mets, Ramos notched a .416 mark last season. And right now he has a .214 mark. Ramos isn’t hitting at all, going 5-28, but he carries a woeful .036 ISO, one of three players with at least 5 PA on the club to not have a triple-digit ISO and easily the worst mark on the team.
Surprisingly, what’s keeping Ramos from getting more flack has been his defensive work here in the early going. There were offseason reports of how Ramos was going to adopt a one-knee-on-the-ground approach when no runners were on base in an effort to get the low strike called better. It’s beyond the scope of this piece to determine if that’s actually been helpful but it should be noted that Mets pitchers have done significantly better with Ramos behind the plate than with either Tomas Nido or Rene Rivera. Mets pitchers have a .710 OPS allowed with Ramos and a .797 OPS overall. And one of the non-Ramos starts was a game by Jacob deGrom. Pitchers have a 3.45 K/BB ratio with Ramos behind the plate and a 1.44 mark with Nido/Rivera.
Even Ramos’ throwing in the running game, which had to be one of the biggest disappointments about his defensive work last season, looks improved from a year ago. He’s already caught one guy stealing and thrown out another runner who tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt which was not technically a stolen base chance. His throws to the bases are on target and are not bouncing like they were in 2019.
As with all numbers after just nine games, we’re talking about tiny samples that can change drastically in just a few days. Regardless, it’s nice to see Ramos’ work with the pitchers here in the early going when there were definitely concerns about his defensive work. Hopefully, the hits will start falling in for him soon and perhaps his power will revert back to his pre-Mets days.
TOP OF THE ORDER STRUGGLES – In the Boston series at Citi Field, everyone was disgusted about how the Mets couldn’t get a timely hit. But what’s been going on for much longer than those two games is the lack of production at the top of the order. With the Mets seeing so many lefties start for the other team, Luis Rojas has insisted on batting Amed Rosario and his lifetime .305 OBP coming into the season as the team’s leadoff hitter. That move has worked out even worse than expected, as Rosario is 4-24 with no walks when he bats first in a game. That’s a .167 OBP and a .459 OPS. Numerous players have batted second for the Mets but the club has just a .678 OPS from what should be one of the most productive spots in the lineup. Pete Alonso has done particularly bad when slotted here, as he’s 1-12 with 4 Ks when batting second.
Rojas would be best served by batting Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil one-two in the order, regardless of the handedness the other team’s starter and the invitation to use a LOOGY in the middle to late innings. Nimmo has a .366 lifetime OBP against LHP while McNeil has an .811 OPS lifetime versus southpaws.
CANO ANSWERS THE DOUBTERS – Few people were high on Robinson Cano at the start of the 2020 season. While you’ll have no trouble finding people who were optimistic about him when the trade first happened, last year’s dismal season caused virtually all of those people to jump ship. And after getting off to a poor start in the first series against the Braves, Cano has been on fire here lately. In his last five games, he’s 10-17 with two doubles and a homer. Overall, Cano has a .393/.438/.571 line. It’s like someone switched the batting lines for Cano and Alonso. It will be wonderful if Cano can be a productive member of the offense all season long. However, everyone looks good when the hits are falling in and Cano stands with a .400 BABIP.
IS IT TIME TO MAKE A MOVE AT DH? – Most fans were happy with the news that the NL would utilize the DH in this shortened season, as it would give the club a chance to get Yoenis Cespedes’ bat in the lineup. Cespedes homered on Opening Day and we all had visions of great things from him. Woops. In 34 PA, Cespedes has just five hits and a .161 AVG. And it’s more than just bad luck, as he has an unsightly 44.1 K%, with 15 Ks. The announcers talk about how the bat speed is still there. But it’s fair to wonder if Cespedes is adopting the old “swing hard in case you make contact” approach. It was unrealistic to expect there to be no bumps in his return to action after missing so much time the past three seasons. But he’s got to make more contact if he expects to keep playing, especially with the team sitting either J.D. Davis (.953 OPS) or Dominic Smith (.889 OPS) in order to play him.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE … – Earlier the team’s inability to come up with the big hit in the Boston series was referenced. And those numbers are contributing to a lousy performance with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP) for the Mets. It’s not a lack of chances, as the Mets rank 8th in the majors in PA with RISP. But they’re 15th in Runs and 25th in OPS with RISP. And they’re only that high in Runs due to several teams having played fewer games. The team’s failures so far have been more on the pitching side of things. However, it would be nice to see what life is like on the other side of the RISP coin. With only five more PA with RISP than the Mets, the Padres have scored 47 runs – the Mets have scored 24 – thanks to a 1.147 OPS in this split.
Before the first game of the 2020 season, Keith Hernandez speculated that the hitters would be ahead of the pitchers. Then the first game the Mets won, 2-1 and the second game was 2-2 before the Mickey Mouse rules of extra innings added four more runs to the final ledger. But is that because the pitchers are ahead of the hitters? Or is it because the starting pitchers in those two games were of a higher caliber than what we’ll typically see?
In 2019, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Mike Soroka and Max Fried combined to allow 256 ER in 704.2 IP for a 3.27 ERA. And this came with the happy ball. As a whole last year, NL pitchers posted a 4.38 ERA. And we’ve heard all throughout Spring Training and summer camp how much better Matz is throwing the ball this year. And Fried was a 17-game winner last year who has claimed the No. 2 starting spot for the team that many feel will win the division.
In the two games, the four starters combined to allow 3 ER in 22 IP for a 1.23 ERA. By contrast, the relievers for both teams combined to allow 6 R in 15 IP – and that includes four scoreless innings by the Mets’ pen on Opening Day.
Overall, there have been 30 games played in MLB so far. And we see that the pitchers in those games have combined for a 3.93 ERA. This is down from last year’s 4.49 MLB-wide ERA. But how much of this is due to the quality of a team’s top two starters? At the end of August, when every team has used their fourth and fifth starters five or more times each – do you expect to see a rise in MLB’s ERA from it’s current sub-4 mark? If so, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to say that the pitchers are ahead of the hitters.
HOT AND COLD STARTS – At any given time in the season, you expect that roughly equal parts of the hitters will be doing well and doing poorly. And after just two games, we see that pattern already forming. Four starters are batting .286 or better while five are hitting .167 or worse. Leading the quick starters is Michael Conforto, with a .600/.714/.800 line. And bringing up the rear is J.D. Davis, who is 0-6 with two strikeouts. To be fair to Davis, he was robbed of a home run on Opening Day. But as the starter with the least-solid hold on a starter’s job given his poor defense, he probably needs the hits to fall in sooner rather than later.
THE MAGNIFICENT JACOB DEGROM – No matter when you started following the Mets, you’ve seen some outstanding pitching performances. The greybeards will tell you all about Tom Seaver. Even in the dark days of the late 70s, there was strong pitching from Pat Zachry on the rare times he was healthy and an ERA-winning season from Craig Swan. And no one who ever saw him pitch will forget Dwight Gooden. More recently we had a 20-win season and a CY Award from R.A. Dickey and the brief brilliance of Matt Harvey. But deGrom is trying his best to eclipse them all.
In his last 68 games, dating back to the tail end of the 2017 season, deGrom has a 2.04 ERA. While Seaver had a 1.76 ERA in 1971, neither the end of his 1970 season nor the beginning of his 1972 campaign were of similar quality. And that’s not even taking into account the offensive levels of their respective times. Seaver had a 194 ERA+ in ’71 while deGrom posted a 218 ERA+ in 2018. We could rip off another 10 ways of showing deGrom’s brilliance but chances are you already know them by heart. There are many, many reasons why the delay of the 2020 season stinks. But missing out on 20 or so starts from peak deGrom should be near the top of the list.
WHAT’S THE OPPOSITE OF THE PETER PRINCIPLE? – In business, The Peter Principle refers to a person being promoted to the level of their incompetence. You excel at your first job and you get a promotion. You master that job and you get promoted again. You stink in that job and stay there the rest of your career. The opposite phenomenon should be called the Seth Lugo Principle. Lugo’s been so good at his current job as a reliever that he’s deemed too valuable to move into the more important – and lucrative – role as a starter. Since 2018, Lugo has made 111 appearances as a reliever and has allowed 44 ER in 160.1 IP for a 2.47 ERA. He also has 183 Ks and 38 BB in that span, for a 4.8 K/BB ratio. Last year, the Mets had good health from their starters and just about no one else reliable in the bullpen, so Lugo didn’t make a single start. This year, we’ve already seen two starters go down. And even with (seemingly) better bullpen depth, there’s been no serious talk about moving Lugo to the rotation. He’s a victim of his own success. The Lugo Principle.
PLAYERS WHO BENEFITED FROM THE DELAYED START – We can’t pretend that the delayed start wasn’t a blessing for some players who probably wouldn’t be ready to go at the end of March. And we’ve seen those guys come up and contribute right away. The most obvious was Yoenis Cespedes, who delivered the game-winning homer on Opening Day. But there were others, too. Conforto injured his oblique during Spring Training and likely would have opened the year on the IL. As noted earlier, he’s off to a terrific start. Dellin Betances had appeared in a Grapefruit League game but not with MLB velocity. He likely would have stayed behind in Florida to build up arm strength. He’s already seen action. And Drew Smith, who missed all of last year due to TJ surgery, was likely going to miss the first two months of the season. He got the last two outs of Saturday’s game. Smith added a cutter to his repertoire this season. He was a solid reliever when last healthy in 2018. Let’s see if the cutter can help him be even better here in 2020.
There are two thoughts about the Mets’ starting pitchers that most people have, even if they don’t typically go together. The first is that the team will be successful largely on the backs of their starters. Few would predict the Mets to make the playoffs if Jacob deGrom came down with a season-ending injury in May and Noah Syndergaard didn’t improve on last year’s ERA. And the second thought is that no one really knows how the club’s fourth and fifth starters will shake out.
The Mets had one opening in the rotation and went out and signed two free agent starters, meaning that the club now has six guys who expect to start. Steven Matz has made 101 starts for the Mets in his career, including 60 over the past two seasons, yet he’s battling for a spot in the rotation this year. Early rumors have Rick Porcello jumping over Matz for the SP4 role, leaving Matz to battle it out with Michael Wacha for the last starter’s spot. Porcello has been a workhorse throughout his MLB career and has no bullpen experience at this level. Meanwhile, both Matz and Wacha threw out of the pen last year.
So far this Spring, the Mets have been largely non-committal about their plans for the back end of the rotation. A trial balloon was sent up through the press about playing matchups with the final rotation spot. It’s safe to say that no one was doing jumping jacks about that idea. There was also the Matz to the Yankees rumor, which at least had some people interested, but that had almost no chance of happening in real life, especially at this time of the year.
Which leaves the Mets hoping the problem will work itself out. The six pitchers are all having solid or better Grapefruit League seasons so far. In 34 IP, they’ve allowed just 8 ER – good for a 2.12 ERA. And the three hurlers competing for the final two spots are all giving it their best shot. Matz and Porcello have each allowed just 1 ER in 6 IP and Wacha has surrendered just 1 ER in 7.2 IP. In early results the big separator has been WHIP. Porcello has been very good (1.17) and Matz has been outstanding (0.33) but Wacha (1.57) has allowed 8 H and 4 BB in 7.2 IP. His ERA will spike if he keeps allowing that many baserunners. It’s something to keep an eye out on the rest of Spring Training.
A DIFFERENT TYPE OF MARCH MADNESS – Few people put much stock into Spring Training performances. The small sample size and the level of competition are the two biggest reasons and there’s also the idea that different players are working on different things, putting an emphasis on experience over results. But it’s hard not to notice and be impressed by the results Brandon Nimmo has put up in Grapefruit League play the past four seasons. Here are his numbers since 2017:
17 – 22 PA, .476/.500/.524
18 – 70 PA, .306/.371/.613
19 – 61 PA, .291/.344/.527
20 – 26 PA, .435/.500/.652
In his last 179 PA in Grapefruit League play, Nimmo has a .342/.397/.578 line.
DON’T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ON THE WAY OUT – The Mets have never been known for taking the high road when a player departs. But it seems that we’ve seen a new low with how the Zack Wheeler saga has played out. Wheeler claimed there were crickets chirping from the Mets when he became a free agent and Brodie Van Wagenen stated in no uncertain terms that his Philadelphia contract paid him more than what the Mets thought he was worth. There were other shots going back and forth, including one subtle one from the Mets’ side. They wasted no time giving Wheeler’s #45 to a new player. Wacha has sported that number this Spring. In St. Louis, Wacha had #52 but that’s Yoenis Cespedes’ number in New York. Maybe Wacha asked for #45. Or maybe the Mets gave it to him as an indication of how ready they are to move forward without Wheeler.
FIRST-ROUND PICK LOOKS FOR RESPECT – In 2017, the Mets used their first-round pick on LHP David Peterson, who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire or been embraced by the prospect hounds. Our own David Groveman had Peterson as the #14 prospect in the system, not a particularly great ranking for a first-round pick in a system not viewed as one of the game’s best. Others have him squeaking into the top 10 but it’s still not a ringing endorsement.
Considered a disappointment by many, Peterson’s peripherals last year paint a much rosier picture than his actual ERA. He gets groundballs and strikeouts but was done in by a .340 BABIP allowed and a 66.3 strand rate. Peterson had a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League following the 2019 season, with a 3.46 ERA in 13 IP against the top prospects who typically fill out the AFL rosters. In Grapefruit League play, Peterson has a 1.50 ERA in 6 IP and 3 G. After spending all of last season in Binghamton, Peterson should be in Triple-A to start 2020. He won’t get the first crack if a spot in the rotation in the majors opens up, but don’t be surprised if he makes starts for the Mets in the upcoming season.
BREAK A LEG, FIGURATIVELY OR LITERALLY – In the theatre, it’s bad luck to wish someone good luck. So, you say “Break a Leg!” instead. Another theatre belief is that if you have a poor final dress rehearsal that you’ll have a good opening night. In stark contrast to what he did last Spring, Robinson Cano is having a poor start to his Grapefruit League season, as he’s gone 1-11 so far. Last year’s hot start in exhibition play didn’t mean anything for Cano once the regular season started. Let’s hope that a poor dress rehearsal for Cano in 2020 will make for a great regular season. To Cano – Break a Leg! – however you wish to take it.