Can we determine yet if the 2016 Mets are a good team?

Michael Salfino writes for the Wall Street Journal as well as Yahoo! Sports. A couple of days ago he posted this on social media:

Painful night for Familia, #Mets fans but is this team even any good?

Salfino’s a good guy, and a Mets fan, too. This wasn’t a putdown. Instead, it was a legitimate question, asked in the midst of a series against the Nationals, one the team ended up losing. The Mets were 7-12 against the Nats this year, further adding fuel to the fire.

Logo Orange & BlueSo, how do you judge a good team? The easiest way is by overall record, with the hope that after 162 games that the cream will rise to the top. By this method, it seems the Mets are a good, not great, team. They figure to finish somewhere between the fourth and sixth best team in the 15-team National League.

Ideally, you would win your division and avoid the one-game Wild Card play-in. But, in part because of their poor record in head-to-head games against the Nationals, the Mets won’t have that luxury this year. Rather, they’re hoping to make the Wild Card game. And that’s okay, because once a team makes the playoffs, anything can happen.

Still, that leaves Salfino’s question unanswered: Is this team even any good?

The 2015 Mets made the playoffs by beating up on the poor teams. Against teams under .500, the Mets were 62-34 for a .646 winning percentage. They were significantly worse against the good teams, going 28-38 for a .424 winning percentage.

Compare that to the 2016 Mets. Through games of 9/14, this year’s squad is 40-36 against teams above .500, even with their lousy record against the Nationals and even with their uninspired play during the middle of the year. What’s preventing the Mets from repeating as NL East champs is that they haven’t cleaned up against the bottom teams like they did a season ago. This year, they are just four games above .500 against the dregs, compared to 28 games in 2015.

So, are you a good team if you don’t dominate the bad ones?

With some teams, the worry would be about being properly motivated for the level of competition, that the team figured they could just show up and beat the poor clubs. However, it seems to me that this is not the case with the 2016 Mets. Through most of the year, the club simply didn’t hit with RISP, regardless of the level of competition. It’s tough to win when you’re sitting down with the expansion 1969 Padres for hitting in the clutch. The 1969 Padres were 52-110.

Here lately, the Mets aren’t that helpless in that particular split. And in what I’m sure is just a coincidence, the team is 17-7 in their last 24 games, with 10 wins against the Giants, Cardinals, Marlins (when they were still relevant) and Nationals in this stretch.

It’s my opinion that with a relatively healthy team and relatively normal luck with RISP that the Mets are not only a good team but one that’s arguably the best in the National League. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that too often this year. No one, least of all Dodgers fans, want to hear people whine about injuries. But clearly Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes are playing at far less than 100% and it sure will be nice to see Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz on the mound again.

As a baseball fan, I want to see those guys healthy. I want to see Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg pain-free and starting, too. And any other star on any other playoff team who’s banged up and trying to play through it – let’s get them healthy, too. Let’s have a level playing field for all.

Are the 2016 Mets a good team? Ultimately, that question cannot be answered yet. In this day of two teams making the Wild Card, it’s hard to argue that you’re a good team if you don’t advance to the playoffs. An 87-win team and the second Wild Card may be below preseason expectations but given everything the club has been through this year, we’ll take it. And look to have a run similar, or better, to 2015’s playoff team.

28 comments for “Can we determine yet if the 2016 Mets are a good team?

  1. Jimmy P
    September 15, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Right now, they are a good team that can be very good.

    Not great.

    But it doesn’t take great to win a World Series.

  2. Meticated
    September 15, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Brian…in all due respect to your knowledge of all things baseball related…it is well documented how flawed this 2016 team is…gamechat is replete with characterizations of this team as lacking in speed, contact, clutchness, fundamentals including on the basepaths, defense and baseball savvy. We are riding the wave of power hitting without steals, risp, and average. The statistics don’t lie and it’s plainly obvious that we are lucky we are still in it, injuries notwithstanding. The coaching leaves a lot to be desired to put it mildly. Even if we get to the playoffs, there exists a vast gulf between us and say for instance the Cubs or Nationals. Let’s be honest with ourselves, our pitching used to carry us and without Murphys hot bat in last years playoffs we more than likely would have been left rooting for the NHL come October! I love the orange and blue,but i am not blind to our reality.

    • NormE
      September 15, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Sadly, I have to agree with you. The Mets, as you say, are a flawed team. There are too many holes papered over by home runs. If the starting pitching was healthy the evaluation would be more positive.
      Without the possibility of a wild card this team, and its fans, would be looking at plans for the future instead of hoping for October baseball.

    • September 15, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      I so don’t get the fundamentals crowd. I swear it seems that a portion of the fanbase would rather lose a game 3-2 in which the two runs were scored on a single, sac bunt, WP and a SF than win a game with a home run.

      The top 4 teams in sacrifice hits in the NL all have losing records.
      Five of the top six teams in the NL in HR all have winning records and the team that doesn’t plays a mile above sea level.

      The romanticism and reverence that people have for fundamentals in general and bunting in particular is out of whack with reality.

      We’re seeing what happens when the Mets hit above the Mendoza Line with RISP — a 17-7 record while playing more good teams than bad ones. Give me this team with all of its warts rather than some no-power, great bunting teams. I’ve seen those teams and I don’t want to see them again.

      • TexasGusCC
        September 16, 2016 at 12:46 am

        Brian, small ball is about moving runners, making contact when needed and execution in all phases (defense included), not just bunting. You say that the Mets are 6th in homers, but they are 28th in the majors in runs scored – isn’t that the ultimate goal? So, while they have a +21 run differential, had their pitching not been as strong and not had 25% of their schedule against offensively challenged Braves and Phillies, are they +21 or maybe -55?

        Sure homers are nice, but their problem was getting runners home by putting the ball in play. Granny was the one with the most plate appearances in this category and spent the first 2/3 of this year killing this team in that regard. His good two weeks in late August/early September are nothing more than Flores good four weeks in June. I believe you guys love the phrase “small sample size”. While its nice when the windmills make contact, it’s nothing more than “swing hard in case you hit it”.

        I cannot call a team “good” when they were swept at home by the three worst teams in their league. Meticated is right on with all he said. Let’s see the real picture and not the good fortune we fell into.

        • Jimmy P
          September 16, 2016 at 8:12 am

          I guess I see it differently than both of you.

          “Fundamentals” are a broad array of teachable baseball skills. Hitting the cutoff man, backing up properly, laying down a bunt, basic baserunning, an outfielder’s approach to the ball on a sac fly situation (catch ball while stepping forward, glove near throwing-arm shoulder), and so on. Basically: Doing the little things the right way.

          I don’t know that you can teach an athlete like Curtis Granderson to be a different sort of baseball player. His offensive flaws are clear for all to see, but personally would not put that under the heading of “fundamentals.” He’s a pull hitter who strikes out a lot.

          Nor do I think that Brian’s focus on sacrifice bunts is wide enough or accurate enough.

          My take is that I’ve never really seen the Mets as a team with particularly bad fundamentals. They generally do things the right way, though some pitchers should be able to bunt better. Outside of that, most of the problems I see have to do with the “skill set” of the athletes on the roster. It’s ridiculous to wish, for example, that Jay Bruce was a better small ball player. He’s a big, erratic, lumbering guy. Wilmer Flores is not going to get any faster. And so forth. I think “fundamentals” has become a vague, almost useless term in the mouths of many fans, just an easy way to complain about whatever they are mad about at the moment.

          A fundamental can be taught. Yes, I suppose you can “teach” a hitter to emphasize contact over power, but that would be transforming the hitter in a major way. To me, not under the umbrella of “fundamentals.”

          • September 16, 2016 at 9:01 am

            By necessity, bunts are being used here as a stand-in for little ball. Because you can go to Baseball-Reference and easily find the number of sacrifice hits that a team has. Finding team-by-team numbers for hitting behind runners is not so easy, even if it wouldn’t surprise me if someone kept track of that information. I’m near certain you can find productive out information. But clearly not all hitting behind runners results in outs.

            I’m sure you’ve seen this, from when productive outs was all the rage:

            “That said, there is simply no evidence to support the notion that making productive outs is a legitimate, repeatable skill. Nor is their (sic) any reason to believe that they are the key to winning games. The productive out is to baseball what a lab fee is to a college term bill: sure it’s there, but those big numbers at the top still trump everything else.”

            http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=3634

            • Jimmy P
              September 16, 2016 at 9:30 am

              Yes, am familiar with the productive outs debate. The value can be wildly overstated. At the same time — and this is key — baseball is highly situational. The contexts are hyper-critical. So broad swaths of statistics often fail to shed light, and often obscure rather than illuminate.

              I’ve seen James Loney fail to move a runner over from 2nd with 0 outs, and I’ve seen that runner fail to score, and to me that was poor fundamentals from a LH batsman. The productive out has value. And also, let’s not forget, it is a “team” statistic, a team when the batter is not selfish or stat-obsessed, so I’d contend that the value is also in the powerful message it sends through the dugout. We’re in this together.

              OTOH, I’ve never been one to particularly mind strikeouts . . . from the right batter.

        • September 16, 2016 at 8:49 am

          Gus, the bottom line for me is I don’t care how teams win. My beef is with people who insist on winning a particular way. That there’s one right and correct way to win games. I think that’s garbage. If the Mets were in the exact same position they are now except they got there with small ball, I would celebrate that. If they got there winning games 15-12, I would celebrate that. If they got there winning 1-0, well, you get the picture.

          It’s the same mentality that leads a team to insist on carrying LOOGYs, even if their lefty pitchers stink.

          If the Mets excelled at doing the little things and had no power and had the same record — would people go on and on and on about how they had no power? Would the lack of homers be viewed as something that was going to keep the team from reaching its potential? Would the lack of power make large numbers of people question if this was a good team? It’s a facet of the game and my opinion is putting that facet on a pedestal and declaring it the end-all and be-all is crazy talk.

          You’ve got to assess the individual characteristics of the players on your team. As JP alluded to elsewhere here, asking Bruce and Granderson to suddenly put their emphasis on singles the other way is a fool’s errand. Now, for sure, Alderson prefers a certain style of player and that player is not singles and move the runners over. He believes in pitching and homers – and gives lip service to OBP – and we got the fifth World Series appearance in team history from that philosophy and have an excellent chance to become just the second team in franchise history to reach the playoffs in back-to-back years. Yes, part of that is that the playoff structure is different now than it was in the 1980s. But we don’t hold that against the 1973 team, which played under a different structure than baseball had been played for 90 years.

          We deal in the here and now. And while playing small ball was the appropriate way to build your team in the deadball 60s, it’s not a fool-proof way to success in the 21st Century

          • Chris F
            September 16, 2016 at 10:17 am

            Fundamentals are more than bunting, but if you are gonna demand your player bunt, then they should be able to. period. Anyways, bunting is a fundamental skill that our team, particularly pitchers, is an overwhelming failure at. JP is right, fundamentals are a suite of things, not just one skill. Lets look at the other day. Reyes is 45 feet down to home and no one is on the left side. A professional hitter needs to be able to cut back the swing a tad and show skills to go the other way; in an alternative universe, a productive out can be had in the form of a sac fly, but we get an infield pop up and a K from 2 professional hitters. That is inexcusable IMO. No one is upset with HR, but that as a singular diet meets with disappointment far more than not.

            My question is how can you not want a team to pay fundamentally sound baseball?

            • September 16, 2016 at 11:10 am

              To me, it’s not a question of not wanting the team to play fundamentally sound baseball. I want the team to be Lake Wobegone and be above average in everything.

              But, there’s also the realization that you’re very likely not going to excel in every aspect of the game. I just don’t raise “fundamentally sound” above any other aspect.

              The 1986 Mets won 108 games during the regular season. If, say, in 2026 a fundamentally superior Mets team won 110 games and the World Series, I have no doubt that would be my favorite Mets team of all time. If instead that mythical 2026 team won 110 games and the World Series with pitching that blew everyone away and a Keystone Cops approach to every other aspect, it would still be my favorite Mets team of all time.

          • TexasGusCC
            September 16, 2016 at 11:30 am

            Brian, I get what you are saying and all three of you, James, Chris and yourself, are right in my opinion. But while I did miss the most important aspect of this approach – the architect, Alderson – I still feel that we aren’t asking too much if in certain situations we sacrifice our gawdy stats for the good of the team.

            Chris gave us a be ry real example from three weeks ago, when the Reyes situation actually happened. Can it really be that professional hitters, that are paid millions aren’t able to just make sure they hit the ball? That’s all that is needed! But still in their one track approach, that begins at the top, failure is acceptable. While I am not expecting 100% success, is 50% too much to ask for when all we need is contact? Look at the successful coaches in all sports: would Riley, Parcells, Showalter, Bochy, or even Belichek permit his players to not focus on execution?

  3. MattyMets
    September 15, 2016 at 11:19 am

    If healthy, this would be a very good, but not great team. The offense is, at best, ill-conceived – on par with the 2015 Cubs. As they stand now, this is a mediocre team that’s on a roll. If deGrom and Matz come back in time, anything is possible though.

  4. Eric
    September 15, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Of course they’re good. To my mind, good means very competitive and they are that!

  5. Chris F
    September 15, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I think it is important to sever post season from regular season. We all know that once October comes strange things occur.

    In the regular season, we have witnessed months long stretches of the worst offensive baseball team in the league, not just in RISP, but practically every measure of offense. As Meticated points out, aside from a few players, the team is short on fundies, which is exacerbated by zero team speed and injury. The pitching has been the other side of the pendulum most of the way, which moves the needle back towards good. My personal feel is that this is an “ok” team, highly imbalanced but potentially capable of making a surprising postseason run depending on pitching.

    Yesterday on the radio, Casey Stern, a life-long Mets fan basically plastered all three WC teams, calling each bad teams but basically fortunate enough to be a bit better than the awful teams. When we say things like good, it always carries a “relative-to-what” scenario. Relative to the Cubs, this team is a joke. Relative to the Braves this team is great. Our record put us a bit over .500, our run differential at +21 says the same. I think the outrageously poor offense numbers but positive standings situation shows how important pitching is. Really good pitching outweighs very very bad offense.

    Brian, your well noted point about not doing so great against bad teams does not fair well over this next stretch…

    • September 15, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Much like last year, I don’t think what happened in May and June has very much weight in what will happen in September and October. It’s a different team and we shall see what happens down the stretch.

      • Chris F
        September 15, 2016 at 4:54 pm

        So, when you say good, do you mean over a particular time span? I was kind of condensing the year.

  6. Metsense
    September 15, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    The Mets are a good team but not in the same class right now as the Cubs, Nationals and Dodgers. The injuries have brought them down a level. A healthy Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom and Matz would make them elite. A healthy Duda, Walker, Lagares and Wright would strenghten their standing also. Alderson built an elite team that has been decimated by injury to become a good team, a playoff team.

  7. Eraff
    September 15, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    I feel like they’re giving Me 40 or more games of playoff baseball—what a great run

    How good are they?…what day is it?…who’s healthy and available.

    • Michael Geus
      September 16, 2016 at 11:49 am

      +1

  8. Jimmy P
    September 16, 2016 at 7:59 am

    They’ve given us a season. And when you consider all the ill-fortune that has befallen the team this year, I’ll take it.

    I’m watching the scoreboard, tuning into games, thinking about baseball.

    It’s wonderful.

    At the same time, “meaningful games” in September has always been a case of setting the bar fairly low. Not about excellence. With the WC, we’re seeing that bar is now lower than ever. You only have to be Good/Very Good to contend for a spot.

    I’m not sure it’s a terrible thing. It’s also very obvious that teams should shoot for the Division.

    And I’m kind of starting to hate Jay Bruce.

    Here’s a topic: Have the Mets ruined Michael Conforto? Can the organization be fairly blamed for any of his incredible decline?

  9. Eraff
    September 16, 2016 at 8:37 am

    I don’t believe they can ruin or fix Conforto…he has impact skils, and he needs to play through the pain at some point. Making the cut or not will be his to own.

    The mistake would be giving up on Conforto, but it’s hard to imagine that Conforto is now ready to play, given the few ab’s he’s had in 2 weeks. Grandy and D got hot— Bruce commands ab’s based on his “stature”. Theer are only so many Lefty ab’s in the heat of the race.

    Let’s hope that C is still here in ’17. Could they be that dumb?

    • Jimmy P
      September 16, 2016 at 9:24 am

      “Ruin” might be too strong. And on the subject of Conforto, I’m on the fence. However, I do believe that a team can misuse a player, can inappropriately marginalize a player, can withhold support of a player, and in the process can — theoretically — diminish that player’s ability to thrive. It is awfully difficult to have confidence when the people in the dugout don’t believe in you.

      Look at, say, Olerud in Toronto.

  10. Eric
    September 16, 2016 at 9:41 am

    I know this site is often given over to existential discussions like this and this one is right up there. As for me, I’m just enjoying the run right now with no time for this stuff, with all due respect!

  11. Tommy2cat
    September 16, 2016 at 11:15 am

    This team is one of the most resourceful Met teams ever.

  12. Eraff
    September 16, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Let’s get past the “Small Ball Debate” and agree that it would be nice to have Speed, Good Baserunners (that could be fast or slow), Guys who can make contact, guys that can field, and some variety of skills versus the MonoCrop that is in place. …and maybe once in a while an ability to acknowledge a winning baseball situation and execute a baseball play that actually wins an actual game….. game situation/ Pitch and Count, etc.

    They can be a good team, if healthy, as-is…… a better team with tweaks to the roster and with an acknowledgement of “approach” on tactics.

    You can win a World Series with a Good team that has 2 hot starters, a Hammer Closer, and a string of good and lucky at bats.

    • September 16, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      I don’t know about the 2 hot starters part but the rest of that sounds like the 2015 Royals.

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