What the Mets can learn from these playoff teams

Ten out of 30 teams made the playoffs, and several others (Mariners, Rays, Cardinals) had good seasons and came pretty close. While some of those teams leaned on powerful lineups (Brewers, Yankees, Red Sox) and others on pitching (Astros, Indians), there are a few common threads that run through most if not all of them.

Bullpens are now as important as rotations and lineups
The game has evolved and the Mets need to evolve with it. No longer is a closer and setup man enough to compete; not in this era of specialization, strict pitch counts and 6-inning pitchers. Too many games are won and lost in the 6th and 7th innings, when bad teams must choose between leaving the game in the hands of a tiring starter or handing it over to a marginal middle reliever who was neither good enough to be a starter or closer. Good teams don’t sweat the 6th and 7th inning because they have stocked bullpens that feature more than one closer and a collection of effective arms to choose from. This season, no starting pitcher threw more than two complete games so it stands to reason that one closer is no longer enough, especially not for a team built around its rotation and that rarely blows other teams teams out.

With Jeurys Familia traded away, the Mets need to do more than just replace him; they need to double down and bring in two top line relievers capable of closing. Craig Kimbrel, the prize closer available in free agency, is as good as they get, but he can’t pitch every day. Often times the turning point in a game comes before the ninth inning. The next time it’s tied or we’re clinging to a 1-0 lead and the other team has the bases loaded in the 7th inning, wouldn’t it be nice to bring in Andrew Miller instead of Jerry Blevins? Or Kelvin Herrera instead of Robert Gsellman or Anthony Swarzak?

A reliable bullpen does more than save games. It keeps your team in close games and it keeps morale up. Blown saves are like last minute missed field goals. They end winning streaks, break fans’ hearts and are discouraging for young players. Familia’s blown saves early in the season were very costly, both to the team’s momentum and to Jacob deGrom‘s Cy Young campaign.

It’s a young man’s game and speed kills
As Brian pointed out earlier this week, baseball is trending younger. Younger players are faster on the bases and in the field. They have range at their positions, getting to balls older players (Jay Bruce, Asdrubal Cabrera) might not. They have the ability to not only steal bases, but aggressively take the extra base when the ball is in play. Every team in the playoffs has at least a few young speedsters who can manufacture runs and help prevent them. Two things we all grew tired of seeing as Mets fans this season – runners left stranded on base, and seeing eye ground balls through the right side of our infield. Another great thing about young players is that they’re cheap. Thanks to the odd free agency and arbitration rules currently in place, even the best players play for peanuts in their first three to five years. Meanwhile, fading veterans are clogging up payrolls and roster space.

Defense is important, a notion that seemed to be lost on Sandy Alderson. Continuing with the NFL analogy, defense is like special teams in that it’s the intangible that often explains why some teams overachieve with win totals that seem to defy their payrolls and talent level (Rays, A’s).Run prevention is about more than pitching. Imagine how good our starting pitchers could be with a few gold glovers behind them. Hopefully, the new front office leader will place more emphasis on gloves and team speed.

Good lineups are built around a feared hitter or two
Nobody wants to pitch to Giancarlo Stanton, J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis, Nolan Arenado or Manny Machado with runners on base. To avoid this make-or-break showdown, pitchers will throw fat pitches to the batters ahead of these sluggers, desperate not to walk them. The lucky batter after these stars will often bat with at least one on base because the feared hitter was either intentionally walked or pitched around. Even in a game when the big bopper doesn’t do much, his presence bolsters the lineup around him. The best lineups, like the Yankees and Red Sox have two such players. The Mets have just one – Yoenis Cespedes – and he is not likely to play again until at least summer. Without Cespedes, the Mets have, at best, a lineup of good but not great hitters who will sometimes score just enough to win. But with streaky, high strikeout bats like Bruce, Todd Frazier and Michael Conforto mixed among developing youngsters and some injury prone players the Mets need to take a look at available sluggers this off-season.

One past mistake that Mets General Managers – Alderson and Omar Minaya alike – made was using free agency to plug holes in the field rather than in the lineup. Yes, the Mets have capable players at every position under contract and yes, the weakest are obviously catcher and center field. So, by Alderson/Minaya logic, the Mets would sign say AJ Pollock and Yasmani Grandal and consider the team complete (pitching aside, of course). But, neither of these guys are feared hitters and both will likely require overpays that will stretch contracts beyond their effectiveness. Instead, get the best darn hitter we can regardless of what position he plays. We can always shift or trade someone. As an example, Todd Frazier’s one remaining contract year should not prevent the Mets from looking at the three all stars available at third base.

This is all conjecture of course, but whoever takes over the reigns from Alderson would be wise to look at the composition of the Red Sox, Astros, et al, and note what separates them from the Mets.

19 comments for “What the Mets can learn from these playoff teams

  1. October 5, 2018 at 8:47 am

    Two things
    Ownership
    And the brains to spend the money intelligently

  2. TexasGusCC
    October 5, 2018 at 10:30 am

    Matt, the Coupons don’t eat contracts.

    They have in-house relief candidates that they just traded for, that are cheap. Doesn’t matter if they aren’t ready or may stink, teach them to be better!

    • October 6, 2018 at 12:34 am

      Off the top of my head they ate the money on Jason Bay, Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez.

      • Name
        October 6, 2018 at 1:58 pm

        They settled with Cuddyer too.

  3. Mike Walczak
    October 5, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Well written and spot on.

  4. Chris F
    October 5, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    I dont understand Matt. You are saying it doesnt matter where we put a “big bat”. So you would be good in sticking Harper in RF, displacing Nimmo or Conforto ? Meanwhile, we desperately need a professional catcher, and that shouldnt matter in an FA signing? That makes no sense to me at all. This team is loaded with square pegs and round holes. I view that as one of the major problems on the team.

    We have misfits or poor players at 1B, C, CF at the least. You could add 2B when McNeil falls to Earth.

    • TJ
      October 5, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      Chris,
      Agreed on the OF. A true CF would be nice but I can live with Lagares joining the pool if the bigger investments are used elsewhere. Catcher is a must. I am fine with Rosario and McNeil given the pool behind including Gimenez, TJ, and Cheech. 1b and 3b upgrade opportunities to consider based on opportunities. Still, bullpen item 1, catcher item 1a, RH bat item 2 if not covered by C, More reliable CF 3. Done.

    • MattyMets
      October 5, 2018 at 11:17 pm

      Chris F – the Mets could spend a lot of money to go from Lagares and d’Arnaud to AJ Pollock andnYsani Grandal. Yes it would make them bett on both side of the ball. Both are better offensively than what we have in house, but neither is a feared bat.

      No interest in Harper and Machado is a pipe dream. However, Donaldson intrigued me. He’s a difference making bat and a clubhouse leader. Due to his age and injury this year (calf) I suspect he can be had on a 2 or 3 year deal. Would be a huge upgrade over Frazier and would give us the 3-hole hitter we need .

      • Chris F
        October 6, 2018 at 10:49 am

        Feared bat. Well, there arent many really feared bats out there. If you take Harper and Machado off the map, then you pretty much are left with the scrap heap. Id rather see Eduardo Escobar than Donaldson. In a world where this team needs to be younger and faster, Donaldson is more akin to the Alderson business as usual approach. He will start next year at age 33, having played 52 games this year. So my mind says the slide has begun, and you are gonna pay 3 years at 15M$ per for another Cespedes (our feared RH bat). Will be awesome seeing both these guys sipping pina colada’s all summer long at Ces’s ranch in Port St Lucie while the team tries to fill the round hole with another square peg.

        The team would be much better off going after Machado and Escobar and moving Rosario to 2B where he might perform better…or make 2B a McNeil/Rosario competition and put the other on the bench. Id rather see Machado at 3B, and maybe pay him more for that since he doesnt seem to want to play 3B. Then you get your RHB.

        • Mike Walczak
          October 6, 2018 at 6:59 pm

          Machado is the way to go. 26 years old. Donaldson would be another Frazier or worse.

        • October 7, 2018 at 3:46 am

          I don’t see the Coupons outspending the Dodgers. Do you think Fred is going to invest 3 to 4 hundred million dollars on MM? I don’t think so. Deduct 80% of Wrights ‘ contract gives this team an 80 million dollar payroll for 2019. Add maybe another 40+ million in Arb hearings. Round out the 25 man roster with minimum salaries. You’ll probably end up around 125 million or so. The Coupons have never reinvested their savings from any payroll savings. Not even the 50 million they got this year from MLB. Sign Grandal and Pollack. Lagares reverts to 4th outfielder. Non tender d’Arnaud. Plawecki provides you with back up at the catcher position.

  5. Metsense
    October 7, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    I agree that the Mets have to get a dominant closer and a reliever who would put the fire out in the fifth or sixth inning. Callaway also has to use the bullpen properly. After the fireman he should use Lugo,Gesellman and Oswalt as multi inning relievers to bridge to the closer.
    I would sign Grandal and I realize he will be overpaid mainly because he’s a catcher and there aren’t many good catchers. Personally, I can’t see the Mets outbidding the Red Sox.
    The Mets have a feared batter in Cespedes and as long as they starting pitching with the enhanced bullpen keeps them in running then Cespedes will be a factor like he was in 2015.

    • TexasGusCC
      October 8, 2018 at 12:14 am

      Bad news Metsense. Did you see this? I just saw it today.

      “In the area where they got in, I still feel pain over there. And also in all that area, I feel some numbness, so I can’t say precisely if I’m way better or not. Based on what the doctor said is that after the second surgery, I have to spend four months or so off the heel, no specifics, but then after that, I go start doing baseball activities. But I cannot be running. That will happen a little later than that. I think it’s unpredictable given what will happen and I can’t say I will play x, y, z amount of games.”

      Yoenis Cespedes on September 30, 2018

      Oh Emperior, I copied and pasted, it wasn’t I that capitalized.

      Editor’s Note – A handy tool for you — https://convertcase.net/

      • Chris F
        October 8, 2018 at 8:26 am

        from USA Today:

        In his first comments to Mets reporters since the initial surgery, Cespedes said Sunday through a translator that he feels very good — even better than he expected at this stage. Cespedes said he returned to Citi Field this weekend because he wanted to see his teammates at the end of the season and be on hand for David Wright’s farewell Saturday night.

        • TexasGusCC
          October 8, 2018 at 10:37 am

          That seems to be pretty conflicting Chris. Oh well, we’ll find out together, but I wouldn’t hold my breath until he gets there.

          • Chris F
            October 9, 2018 at 11:39 am

            …in 2020

  6. October 8, 2018 at 1:56 am

    Metsense the Red Soxs have their own worries about the luxury cap. Just taking a look at all those arb hearings and I can see their payroll topping 200 million again for 2019 easily. Wouldn’t that make them repeat offenders? Over pay for Grandal and non tender dArnaurd. Addition by subtraction by applying 5 million or so towards Grandal. Wrights contract savings means a wash here.

  7. MattyMets
    October 9, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Re: Cespedes, don’t figure him into the plans next year. As I wrote recently, his injury and surgeries are similar to Troy Tulowitzki who was expected to return by the All-Star break but wound up missing the whole season. In Conforto, Nimmo, Bruce and McNeil, we’re set from the left side but with Ces hurt, we’re weak from the right side – Frazier, Flores, TDA/Plawecki, Rosario, Lagares. We can hope that Peter Alonso is our answer to Aaron Judge and TJ Rivera comes back strong and that Lagares stays healthy and Frazier bounces back or we could bring in a free agent RHB.

    Machado makes so much sense and the signing would not only greatly improve the team, but would build a lot of good will for ownership and have an immediate impact on ticket sales. Three big obstacles though – 1) Getting a new GM with the balls to even suggest this to the Wilpons. 2) Convincing the Wilpons that an 8-10 year contract for $300mm+ is a great idea 3) Outbidding the Dodgers, Braves, Phillies and other deep pocketed teams that may want Manny.

  8. October 9, 2018 at 9:46 am

    Try 400 million. If Pujos got 275? 300 is way to low. Maybe front loaded with an opt out after 4 years? Realistically why would Machado come here all things being equal?

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