What do you do when your team built on pitching is, well, bad at pitching? To be fair, it’s more a case of “pitching badly” than “bad at pitching,” but this team was explicitly built on the concept of run prevention vice run production. That was the understanding, anyway, with the hope that a possible offensive improvement could propel this team to great heights in 2017. Well, that’s only been partially true so far this season, and maybe not in the way you think.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. The Mets were 47-41 at the All-Star break last season and tied with the Marlins for second place in the NL East. It wasn’t necessarily a bad spot to be in, but certainly not quite what fans expected from a team mere months removed from the World Series. Do you remember the issue dominating discussions on their performance up to that point last year? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t the pitching.
The Mets’ offense had a wRC+ of 96 during the 2016 season’s first half. It was a middle-of-the-pack performance that technically should have been just fine for a team with an elite-level pitching staff. The problem was that the team just wasn’t turning that average offensive performance into actual run production. Their 335 runs scored in the first half last year was better than only the lowly Phillies and Braves.
Their pitching staff, on the other hand, was performing as hoped. The staff ERA- of 85 was third in the MLB and their FIP- of 84 was tied for first. We waxed poetic about where the team would be if they could just score some damn runs. The lack of execution with runners in scoring position seemed to be a very “Metsian” statistical anomaly in that something has to go wrong for this team in any given season.
It was maddening but not something we should have feared a consistent issue nor expected to be a problem this season. Of course the other side of that coin was what the 2016 team would have looked like had the pitching staff not been so stellar. We’re getting glimpses of that in 2017 and the results aren’t pretty.
The Mets currently stand at 23-30, barely hanging on to second place in the NL East and a full 11 games behind the Nationals. It’s no secret that the pitching has struggled, and we’ve been harping on it for a while now. But it could be so much worse than it has been, and the Mets should be thanking their lucky stars that the RISP issue from last year actually turned out to be just an anomaly.
The Mets’ wRC+ is at 99, 10th in baseball and only a slight improvement on where they sat at the break in 2016. The difference this season is that they’re bringing runners home, as their 264 runs scored places them ninth in the MLB. On the other hand, their pitching staff ERA- is 121 (dead last) and their FIP- is 19th at 105.
Just as our dream hypothetical scenario in 2016 brought frustration as to what could have been, the pitching staff’s poor performance in 2017 coupled with another lack of run production would have led to an absolute disaster scenario. Think about that. This team has had three separate stints of losing four or more games in a row, including six- and seven-game losing streaks, in just the first 40 games, and it still could have been worse.
Instead, and despite how it may seem, there’s still reason for optimism. We’re just a third of the way through the season, and there’s a lot more ball to be played. More importantly, there’s room for improvement with the pitching staff. Sandy Alderson will not be acquiring a front-line starting pitcher (and there’s no need to), but he’ll surely look to bolster the bullpen. Jacob deGrom‘s elevated strikeout rate will likely pay more dividends as his uncharacteristically high HR/9 settles back to his norm. Steven Matz and Seth Lugo will be coming back soon as well, and Robert Gsellman is better than he’s shown.
Yes, Matt Harvey is still a major question mark. Zack Wheeler is sure to keep running out of steam as he barrels towards some innings limit in his return from an extended Tommy John recovery, too. This staff can survive even without Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia, though, and the offense has performed better than reasonably expected considering the injuries. They’ve got an .877 OPS with RISP for goodness’ sake.
The point is that there is still hope for a successful season of Mets baseball in 2017. It starts with the starters getting their act together and includes some tweaks the team should consider to put the staff as a whole in a better position to succeed. Top it with a small dash of “seriously it can’t get any worse” and a pinch of realistic expectations, and we have every reason to be cautiously optimistic. There isn’t much else we can do but believe, after all.