A look at the Mets’ health versus other top teams

HealthLongtime readers may recall that prior to the 2014 season, there were a series of articles posted here about durability and health. One of these suggested that one of the keys to a good season was to have four pitchers with 175 or more innings and/or five hitters with at least 575 PA. In 2013, there were two teams that had four pitchers reach that benchmark and they won 90 and 93 games. There were five teams to reach the hitter threshold and they all won at least 85 games, with four of them in the 90s.

Recently we’ve had some discussion on the site about returning essentially the same offensive team as a year ago. A lot of people are disgusted by that idea, pointing out how the team struggled to score runs for long stretches of the year. My opinion is that in August and September, when the team was reasonably healthy and the RISP numbers weren’t revolting, that the offense was very good. In fact, the team averaged exactly five runs per game over the final 58 games of the season. And that was without Neil Walker for the final 33 games of the year and without Lucas Duda for nearly the entire two-month period.

The schedule did end on a favorable note but the Mets played 20 games against teams that finished over .500 and also had four games against the Marlins while they were still relevant and before the untimely passing of Jose Fernandez. In these 24 games, the Mets scored 101 runs, an average of 4.20 runs per game. For a point of reference, the Nationals played 60 games against teams over .500 last year and scored 251 runs, an average of 4.18 runs per game.

Speaking of the Nationals, we should note that they were fourth in the NL with a 4.71 runs per game average. You probably recall that they finished the year with 95 wins. What you may not know is that they had five players total 575 or more PA last year. In other words, they were pretty healthy. For comparison, the Mets had only one player reach this threshold. Here are the top eight PA totals for both teams:

Mets Nationals
633 647
568 627
543 606
458 601
366 582
348 523
335 467
279 375
3530 4428

The Nationals got 898 extra plate appearances from their top guys. And if we made the comparison about the eight guys in the Opening Day lineup, the difference would have been even more extreme, as Travis d’Arnaud, Duda and David Wright all failed to make the top eight in PA for the Mets.

Let’s continue to focus on the Nationals for a second and compare their hitter health and record. In 2013, they had four hitters top 575 PA and they won 86 games. In 2014, they had five hitters reach that mark and won 96 games. In 2015 they had three hitters reach this mark and won 83 games. And last year they had five guys achieve 575 or more PA and won 95 games.

The two years when their hitters were healthiest, they won 96 and 95 games.

It doesn’t stack up so neatly for the Mets. Curtis Granderson is the only hitter to surpass 575 PA in either 2015 or 2016. It sure would be nice if he was joined by four of his mates in 2017 and we can see how the other half lives. Of course, hitting is only one part of the equation from what we looked at first back before 2014. The pitching equivalent was 175 IP. Here’s how the Mets did in that department the past four years:

2013 – 2 pitchers, 74 Wins
2014 – 3 pitchers, 79 Wins
2015 – 4 pitchers, 90 Wins
2016 – 2 pitchers, 87 Wins

Let’s look at both hitting and pitching for all 30 teams in 2016, and see which teams had five hitters with 575 PA and/or four pitchers with 175 IP and their respective records:

Batters
Baltimore – 5/89, Boston – 6/93, Chicago (NL) – 5/103, Cleveland – 5/94, Washington – 5/95

Pitchers
Chicago (NL) – 4/103, Kansas City – 4/81, Toronto – 4/89

No wonder the Cubs did so well last year, as they met both the hitting and pitching threshold. Six of the eight top teams in total wins last year are represented on one of the two lists. The weakest team captured by this very simplistic model was the Royals, who were six games over .500 on September 6 before going in a season-ending funk where they went 9-15 to leave them at .500 overall.

So, what are the chances that the Mets can stay at the level of health that we’re asking here? Let’s look at them individually to see how often they’ve reached either the 575 PA or 175 IP levels:

d’Arnaud – Has never done it
Duda – Once in six years since his debut season
Walker – Once in seven years since becoming a regular
Jose Reyes – Eight times in 12 years since becoming a regular
Asdrubal Cabrera – Four times in 10 years since becoming a regular
Granderson – Nine times in 11 years since becoming a regular

That’s not overly encouraging. If the Mets re-sign Yoenis Cespedes, he’s done it two times in five years. However, he’s never had fewer than 540 PA and one year missed our cutoff by one PA. If they keep Jay Bruce, he’s done it five times in seven years since becoming a regular.

Now let’s examine the pitchers. We won’t count partial years when they came up for the first time or an entire missed year.

Noah Syndergaard – One for one
Jacob deGrom – Once in two years
Matt Harvey – Twice in three years
Steven Matz – 0-for-1
Zack Wheeler – One for one

Of course, Harvey missed one full year while Wheeler has missed two. If you were a betting man, you’d have to take the under on the Mets getting either five hitters or four pitchers to reach our threshold here. Still, they won 87 games last year with just one hitter and two pitchers reaching our target. What if they had three hitters and three pitchers make the cut?

For the Mets to win 90+ games, they don’t need to be one of the top teams in the league in health. Just reasonable health, that’s all we ask. Not super health like the Cubs. There were six teams in the National League to win at least 85 games last year. Here’s what their top eight hitters amassed in PA and their top five pitchers in innings:

Team Top 8 PA Top 5 IP
Cubs 4481 945
Nationals 4428 868.1
Dodgers 4351 641
Mets 3530 748.1
Giants 4326 857.2
Cardinals 4062 880.1

If you eliminate the Mets, the remaining five teams had an average of 4,330 PA and 838.1 IP, meaning the Mets ran a health deficit of 800 PA and 90 IP compared to the average of the top winning teams in the league. They had by far the fewest PA among their top eight batters and they had the second-fewest IP from their top five pitchers. It’s kind of remarkable that they managed to win 87 games.

And then on top of that they had four-plus months where they were historically awful with RISP.

So, bring back the offense from 2016? Yes, that would be fine. They’re likely to be healthier than they were a year ago and odds are overwhelmingly in their favor that they will hit better with RISP. The Mets needed a giant surge the last six weeks of the season to get their team OPS with RISP up to .676 for the year. In 2015, they had a .736 OPS in those situations and it was .731 in 2014 when Kirk Nieuwenhuis had the second-highest OPS overall on the team.

15 comments for “A look at the Mets’ health versus other top teams

  1. Nat didonato
    November 20, 2016 at 10:19 am

    Great article. I love Fangraphs and thier in depth, crazy advanced metrics stuff, even though I don’t understand it much. Your in depth review was based on one of the simplest stats and paints a very informative picture. Let’s Go Health!

    • November 20, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Nat!

    • Mike Walczak
      November 20, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Maybe we should reach out to Barry Bonds for some advice and a container of ‘The Cream’. Just kidding. This was another great article by Brian J.

  2. Eraff
    November 20, 2016 at 11:22 am

    The Mets have just 1 Starting Pitcher who finished the Season… Syndergaard. 2 of the Pitchers, Harvey and Wheeler have yet to make a start after serious Surgeries. Matz has maxed out at 10 healthy starts in a row. This is “life with pitchers”, but it’s an extreme situation, and their recoveries are critically important.

    They have 3 Post Surgical Back/Neck Patients: Wright, Duda, Walker. I’m pessimistic about this group… it’s a relatively expensive group, and they are all over 30.

    • Jimmy P
      November 20, 2016 at 12:07 pm

      I think it’s extremely misleading to conflate the health situations of Walker, Duda, and Wright.

      We’re stuck with Wright. The contract was signed before the back issue, and all of us are at varying degrees of pessimism about his productivity.

      But there is no choice.

      Walker and Duda are both at one-year contracts, so the risk is not nearly as great. It’s reasonable to believe that both should be healthy for 2017. At least, personally, I understand the decision. One has to hope that the Mets have medically assessed their injuries.

      As far as a baseball decision, Walker makes some sense to me; Duda is more questionable, regarding his performance, but I can see that there’s more upside value in keeping him, rather than trying to fill that hole (and the cost associated with it). Tricky, too, with Smith one year away . . . Supposedly.

  3. Metsense
    November 20, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Yikes! Not a very healthy group! At least Alderson has some depth to fall back on.
    The biggest problem areas are catcher and third base. Free agent Jason Castro as a left handed batting catcher who is better than Rene Rivera offensively and defensively would make a nice addition while not totally giving up on TDA or Plawecki. Third Base will be a combination of the aging veterans Wright and Reyes with Flores and Rivera able to slide in so it should not be a major problem.
    There is depth in the starting pitching with Gsellman and Lugo but it is worrisome that only one starter finished the season.
    Great article! It put into perspective how health effects the standings and the importance of depth.

  4. Matty Mets
    November 20, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Great post, Brian. And excellent point about us not needing perfect health. Last year was one of those years like 2009 was where we were just snake bit. It will not happen again. A few players on every team get hurt. That’s the game. Even the Cubs lost Schwarber for most of the season. Limiting it to just a few and having depth to overcome those few is what really matters. If we could have avoided that second wave of injuries that robbed us of deGrom, Matz, Walker, Lagares and Flores down the stretch, the season may have ended differently.

  5. Eraff
    November 20, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Jimmy, I include Wright, Duda and Walker together because they are stuck with Wright, and they’re choosing to add/retain more of the same problem.

    They spent a lot of money to retain Walker, and I’m concerned that it is a Double Problem: Walker is probably worth a 1 year 17.2…if he’s healthy, I’ll even agree you could argue for a long deal. What I’m seeing is “Another Guy” with hard mileage and a known physical problem…Plus, 17.2 million in cost that may get in the way of Signing C and making other improvements.

    • November 20, 2016 at 10:52 pm

      They had to know if they extended the QO to Walker that there was a good chance he’d take it. I don’t see any reason to think that he’s not expected back at full strength. Furthermore, I don’t think they would have extended the offer if they thought it would prevent a return engagement with Cespedes. I wouldn’t worry about either of those things.

      Duda, I’m not so sure about. I hope he’s back healthy but last year’s injury sure lingered. And unlike Walker, there weren’t ready replacements in line. Smith may take over in 2018 but it’s just not the MO of this front office to have a guy jump from Double-A to the majors for Opening Day. They may be stuck here, not wanting either to spend big to bring someone in or give a multi-year deal. This one they may have their fingers crossed, hoping for the best. It may be why we’re hearing talk about Conforto working out at 1B.

      • Jimmy P
        November 21, 2016 at 10:52 am

        I completely agree with Brian, probably because there’s not as much math as usual.

        Wright, stuck; Walker, safe gamble, highlighted by the beauty of the one-year deal. Motivated player.

        Duda? A little scary here. I think they weighed the options and decided that, for a variety of pragmatic reasons, there was more upside to retaining him and hoping to establish full health. I don’t think Duda was tradeable at fair value coming off the injury — big flag that he didn’t play WC game — and it’s not in SA’s makeup to nontender guys. He doesn’t like to squander controllable resources. And I get that. In addition, filling a hole at 1B is not an easy task. They don’t seem to think Bruce can do it. Or maybe they’ve just soured on Bruce completely.

        On Conforto, my strong inclination would be to leave this guy alone in an outfield corner. I don’t think piling on new defensive responsibilities would be a way to unlock his problems at the plate.

        I’m saying: Duda is the big risk. I don’t know how he’ll play in 2017. Yet I’m not clear there was/is an easy solution. If they fail on Cespedes, maybe 1B and C get revisited.

  6. David Groveman
    November 21, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Perhaps the Mets could finally get rid of the Angel of Death, Ray Ramirez

    • Chris F
      November 21, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      ain’t it true.

      And all this Barwis methods stuff…what has that gotten us?

  7. Fletcher Rabbit
    November 21, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    its an excelent post, possibly the most cogent ive read here. im getting to appreciate your analyses. my solution is simpler: nobody in the infield gets 575 AB! shocking? yes, but you have six infielders meriting starts. that with the dh games comes out to roughly 660 starts. name duda, walker, cabrera, and wright the starting infield, and let them know they will get 100-120 starts apiece. that leaves 180-260 starts for reyes and flores. somebody is gonna get hurt. somebody is gonna stink up the place. my prediction on both of those will be wright and duda, respectively, and that will give reyes and flores each another 20-30 starts. in other words you will get six regulars for the price of four. now even with the two “utility men” only starting about 70-80 games a year, they will be busy because its a safe bet that due to the versatility factor both reyes and flores will be in the 9th inning lineup at least 130 times next season. it actually works out for this one season and this one particular crew of ballplayers. now dont try to get me to figure out a plausible outfield alignment — theres none to be had!

  8. Eraff
    November 21, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Why so confident with Walker’s Health and Not with Duda? I like Walker as a Player waywayway better than Duda…but 17.2 is a big number—Duda is Half that. His risk is not as big a deal.

    • Jimmy P
      November 21, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      Fair question. I don’t believe I was “so confident” about Walker’s health, just that from everything I’ve read and heard it seems like expectations are high. There was a problem and relatively minor surgery was done to address it. But it is a back issue, nonetheless.

      Part of my “risk equation” was that I see Walker as a good, stable player. If healthy, I think he’ll perform to the back of his baseball card, as you like to say.

      With Duda, if healthy, I’m still not totally convinced. I look at the back of his baseball card and I don’t know who I’m going to get. Also, I don’t love his stress fracture. I don’t love that he missed almost a full season. Cured with rest. Slowly, not as quickly as they had hoped. And when he came back, he really couldn’t do it on back-to-back days. If I had more confidence in him as a player, I’d have more confidence overall. Does that make sense?

      The fact is that I have no idea who will be fully healthy and who won’t.

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