The Mets finished the year 77-85, 13 wins behind the division-leading Braves. Not all wins are created equally. Some wins are due to “talent” and others are due to “luck.” And it’s not always easy to tell where one of these things ends and the other starts. The Braves were 23-12 in one-run games while the Mets were 16-26. We can argue over how much of that difference is due to talent and how much is due to luck. But hopefully no one would argue that there isn’t some percentage of both factors involved here.
So, how can we look to isolate talent from luck on a team-wide basis? There’s probably not a correct answer to that question. For better or worse, fWAR will be used here, primarily because with FIP used as a pitcher input, it frames things not on fortunate bounces or poor defense but with a focus on things within a pitcher’s control and assuming average results otherwise. Here’s the 2018 fWAR by team:
Nine of the top 10 teams by fWAR made the playoffs and the Rockies finished 15th. Colorado exceeded its Pythagorean Record by six games, one indication of how “lucky” they were this season. The Rockies also were fortunate with a 26-15 mark in one-run games. Their overall winning percentage was .558 and they had a .634 mark in one-run games. If there was a playoff team to brand as fortunate, the Rockies seem like a good choice.
So, humor me and grant that fWAR is a reasonable proxy for talent on hand. Where and how can the Mets increase their talent level to be a legitimate playoff club? Before we answer that, let’s post another chart. This one has the Mets and the 10 clubs that made the playoffs. It also includes, in descending order, the top 10 individual fWAR marks on each team, along with the sum of the top three marks, the top five marks and the top 10.
|Top 3||Top 5||Top 10|
It seems to me that the Mets have the top level talent to compete for a playoff spot. Buoyed by Jacob deGrom, they had the fourth-best mark when we look at either the top three or the top five. But when we extend to top 10, the Mets fall to sixth. And when we include the whole team, and the whole league, the Mets fall to 17th. Everyone has their sights set on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. And no doubt, adding a player of that caliber would be great. But more so than one superstar, the Mets need a better supporting cast, more guys to bump up from the “bad” to “mediocre” level and from “mediocre” to “average” ballpark.
Will deGrom be able to duplicate his magnificent season? Probably not. But the hope is that whatever amount he falls off by is made up by a full season by Noah Syndergaard and two productive halves by Michael Conforto. Will Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo be able to repeat their 2018 performances? Perhaps not but the hope is that neither will Jay Bruce nor Todd Frazier.
Nowhere is this type of upgrade more available than in the bullpen. Last year the Yankees had the top bullpen in the majors with a 9.7 fWAR and the Royals had the worst with a (-2.2) mark. The Mets ranked 28th with a (-0.6) total.
For those who think catcher could use some kind of major upgrade, it’s possible that would come from more playing time for guys who were already on the roster and no playing time in 2019 for Jose Lobaton. Both Devin Mesoraco (0.7) and Kevin Plawecki (0.6) had a positive fWAR and the Pirates, the team with the best catching fWAR numbers in the majors, had a 5.3 mark. Meanwhile, Lobaton and Tomas Nido were both in negative numbers.
However, Nido did some fine work handling Syndergaard down the stretch. Some clamor for a strong defensive backstop to work with the pitchers. When Nido was behind the plate, Syndergaard had a 1.97 ERA in 73 IP. With all other catchers, he had a 3.98 ERA in 81.1 IP. While beyond the scope of this piece, if Nido could shave two full runs of ERA off Syndergaard, it’s hard to imagine that’s not worth putting up with his massive offensive liabilities.
Finally, it’s not so easy to isolate CF production from overall OF production, as the Mets used both Conforto and Nimmo in multiple outfield positions. Neither player had good offensive numbers when used in center, although that’s a correlation/causation issue. Conforto played CF a lot early in the season, when he wasn’t as good as he was post All-Star break. It could be the demands of center were too much on him. Or it could be that he wasn’t fully healed from his shoulder injury. Nimmo’s rough patch lined up closely with when he was used in center. Was it the difficulty of playing center that dragged down his offense or was it an unfortunate-timed 50-plus points of BABIP drop?
My opinion is that it’s harder to argue for the defensive approach in center than it is at catcher. And with Juan Lagares likely still to be on the roster next year, he can easily enough be used in CF. At least until he goes on the DL again. And if that does happen, we’ll get a different chance to see Conforto and/or Nimmo in center and see if their offensive struggles repeat when asked to play in the middle.