After their win against the Phillies yesterday, the Mets’ record sits at a paltry 37-42. They’re 9.5 games behind both the division-leading Nationals and the second wild-card spot and, despite a recent run of success, obviously playing well below expectations. It’s not quite an insurmountable challenge, but it’s highly unlikely considering players continue to drop with Josh Smoker , Neil Walker, Matt Harvey, Juan Lagares, Zack Wheeler, and Robert Gsellman all hitting the DL in June.
The Mets have had their fair share of injuries this year. Their ace and closer may be out for the remainder of the season, and most of their best players have lost at least some time due to various ailments. Still, according to spotrac.com, the Mets are only 12th in the number of days lost to injured players in the MLB in 2017. This seems to paint a misleading picture, though, as most points taken out of context tend to do. When we consider the amount of money spent on the players on the DL in 2017, the Mets wind up second on that list. This suggests the specific Mets players that have been injured have had more impact on their season than just the number of players they’ve lost to injury. Except this is not entirely true, either.
The 2017 season has been flipped on its head in terms of what we all expected to be the team’s strengths and weaknesses heading into the year. Rather than a passable offense buoyed by stellar pitching, the team has had a unexpectedly strong offense and remarkably poor pitching. The team is currently seventh in the MLB in team offensive fWAR and wRC+ (seventh!) and 20th in team pitching fWAR. Of course, you knew all of this because we’ve been talking about it for weeks.
The loss of Noah Syndergaard is obviously a major hit, and the delayed starts of Steven Matz and Seth Lugo have led to multiple starts by players like Tyler Pill, Tommy Milone, and Rafael Montero. Team-wide pitching performance would obviously be dragged down when so many pitchers spend so much time on the DL. This too, however, does not paint an accurate picture. Mets pitching, from Harvey to Wheeler to Gsellman and the bullpen, has largely stunk up the joint this year.
Injuries themselves obviously play a role here, but what about the potential underlying problems with player conditioning as it pertains to those injuries? After Gsellman pulled up lame against the Marlins this week, resident curmudgeon Ron Darling went on a mini rant about how today’s ballplayers focus too much on weightlifting and not enough on actual baseball conditioning.
Injuries have been on a sharp incline over the last couple of seasons, and no one has been able to find a definitive answer to the injury issue yet. Still, some teams seem to clearly be “better” at it than others, and the Mets in particular have been called out many times for their handling of injuries and player conditioning.
We can lament the Mets’ handling of injuries, as we rightfully should, but shouldn’t there be more of an outcry against the team’s overall conditioning program? We watched Syndergaard boast about adding 17 pounds of muscle this off-season for seemingly no good reason, only to see him quickly injure himself as he placed an outsized premium on velocity. Is this the mindset being drilled into the Mets culture by their condition coordinator Mike Barwis? It should be noted that Barwis had no prior background in baseball before being hired by the Mets, instead making a name for himself with his reputation for training football players. Has he altered his approach in conditioning to account for how even the slightest mechanical changes can affect a baseball player’s performance, particularly a pitcher? Is it possible that the types of conditioning Mets pitchers underwent have somehow altered their mechanics in imperceptible ways as an unintended consequence, leading to poorer performances?
That may seem a bit far-fetched and grasping at straws, sure. It could be that an almost universal decline in performance for the rotation is an anomaly relegated to a single season because baseball is weird. It could also be that we underestimated the overall effect an entire rotation returning from some form of injury would have on performance as a whole.
We tend to search for a bogeyman to explain why things don’t go according to plan. For the Mets of the last decade or so, that has been the injury bug and how the team handles those injuries. Even if there’s no fire here, there’s clearly enough smoke to warrant a concerted effort to evaluate their strength and conditioning program. Perhaps they’ll join teams like the Pirates and Astros, who’ve gotten serious about overhauling their own performance and conditioning programs. Perhaps they’ll continue to wave away critiques while dismissing the growing concern about the organization’s decision-making structure on these issues. As fans, all we can do is watch with despondency as the season goes down in flames with more questions than answers.