How the Mets stack up against playoff teams using fWAR

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:

BAT PITCH TOTAL
Yankees 29.4 26.6 56.0
Astros 24.7 30.7 55.4
Dodgers 33.0 20.5 53.5
Indians 27.1 23.3 50.4
Red Sox 29.6 20.6 50.2
Athletics 31.1 13.4 44.5
Brewers 26.6 16.5 43.1
Braves 25.7 15.0 40.7
Rays 23.9 16.4 40.3
Cubs 27.1 12.9 40.0
Cardinals 25.0 14.8 39.8
Nationals 24.9 14.6 39.5
Angels 24.4 11.0 35.4
Mariners 18.2 16.8 35.0
Rockies 14.8 19.0 33.8
Diamondbacks 16.7 16.8 33.5
Mets 16.4 16.9 33.3
Pirates 19.1 13.6 32.7
Phillies 12.5 19.6 32.1
Twins 15.2 12.5 27.7
Reds 19.3 6.1 25.4
Rangers 15.0 8.1 23.1
Blue Jays 11.5 9.6 21.1
Padres 7.8 12.7 20.5
Giants 7.3 12.2 19.5
Royals 13.5 5.1 18.6
White Sox 9.9 7.3 17.2
Tigers 8.0 8.8 16.8
Marlins 9.9 3.3 13.2
Orioles 2.7 5.4 8.1

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
Indians 53.5   8.1 7.6 6.1 5.6 5.3 4.3 3.5 2.8 2.2 2.1 21.8 32.7 47.6
Red Sox 53.3   10.5 6.5 5.9 4.9 4.3 2.8 2.7 2.7 1.6 1.5 22.9 32.1 43.4
Astros 52.7   7.6 6.8 6.3 3.6 3.1 2.9 2.5 1.6 1.6 1.5 20.7 27.4 37.5
Yankees 52.8   5.7 5.0 4.9 4.6 4.2 2.7 2.6 2.5 2.5 2.1 15.6 24.4 36.8
Dodgers 51.7   5.2 4.2 3.6 3.6 3.5 3.3 3.3 3.1 2.7 2.6 13.0 20.1 35.1
Mets 39.6   8.8 4.5 4.2 4.1 3.0 2.7 2.2 1.5 1.5 1.5 17.5 24.6 34.0
Athletics 43.7   6.5 4.9 3.7 3.6 3.4 3.0 2.6 2.1 2.0 2.0 15.1 22.1 33.8
Rockies 39.0   5.7 5.0 4.5 4.2 2.8 2.7 2.0 2.0 2.0 1.7 15.2 22.2 32.6
Braves 41.6   5.2 3.9 3.8 3.7 3.3 2.9 2.6 2.4 2.0 1.9 12.9 19.9 31.7
Brewers 40.4   7.6 5.7 3.6 3.1 2.4 1.9 1.4 1.3 1.2 1.1 16.9 22.4 29.3
Cubs 39.4   5.3 3.6 3.2 2.9 2.6 2.3 2.0 1.6 1.5 1.5 12.1 17.6 26.5

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.

9 comments for “How the Mets stack up against playoff teams using fWAR

  1. Chris F
    October 7, 2018 at 11:45 am

    Interesting as always. And for all the inconsistencies and derivations of the metric, Im fine using WAR as a general thermometer for player production, with a healthy of dose of “dont take the meaning too far”.

    In crafting this comment, I admittedly only looked at the Mets numbers.

    I think looking at aggregates (even of aggregate metrics) is certainly helpful, but I have reservations in looking at a grand aggregate and saything this team is close.

    First, the team WAR is propped up by starting pitching, and in that its propped up by deGrom, the only player on the team who was consistent. I get it, were supposedly a “pitching first” team, but surely the 8 other players out there have to matter? Looking at the top 5 bWAR producers, 3 are pitchers.

    Second, the highest two position players by WAR were Nimmo and Conforto, if you can believe. Conforto struggled half a season and Nimmo was a certain welcome surprise, but not the guy anyone would have figured to have the highest position player WAR on the team.

    Third, separating out the top 10 position players by bWAR, you know the guys out there daily, we have this list (rank # of whole team):
    1. 2 Nimmo 4.4
    2. 5 Conforto 2.9
    3. 6 McNeil 2.4 (the BABIP balloon will pop)
    4. 8 Frazier 1.9 (finger crossed)
    5. 10 Bautista 1.4 (gone and over the hill)
    6. 11 Cabrera 1.4 (gone and over the hill)
    7. 12 Plawecki 1.3 (a back up catcher on most serious clubs)
    8. 14 Lagares 1.0 (yikes)
    9. 15 Ces 0.9 (wont be back in 19)
    10. 16 Mesoraco 0.7 (wont be back)

    Average bWAR, top 10 position players = 1.8 (I admit I have no clue if an average of an aggregate metric has any meaning).

    Its terribly depressing that the 3rd highest position player in bWAR is McNeil, who played in 63 games all season. After McNeil you have a list of “most wanted” criminals all of whom are gone, over-the-hill, or disabled.

    You cannot tell me a couple relievers and some MLB average additions work. Most of the position player WAR from 18, wont even be relevant in 19.

    In case we are all wondering, Rosario (full season of games) and Flores (most of a whole season) graded under 10 in position player rank at 11 and 12.

    As I have said at M360 for years, this is a team lacking balance. The WAR numbers show that the majority comes from only 1 part of the team (starting pitching). I personally do not believe a team this imbalanced can be taken seriously as a contender. Much more talent and high quality talent is needed at multiple positions and relief pitching.

    • TexasGusCC
      October 7, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      Chris, while reading your comment and seeing the terrible showing of our hitters and then pondering your follow-up comment that they need more than just a few upgrades – and wondering where they can come from – I looked to see how other, more successful teams did in the player WAR area looking at how many 3.0+ WAR players they had.

      Astros: 2017: 6 players ——- 2018: 2 players
      Dodgers: 2017: 4 players ——2018: 6 players
      Brewers: 2018: 4 players
      Braves: 2018: 4 players
      Red Sox: 4 players
      Yankees: 2017: 5 players ————-2018: 4 players

      My point is, do the Mets with their stud starting pitching and a real bullpen have at least three or four players of 3.0 WAR or more in them? I think they can. Conforto and Nimmo are a start. Lagares (if he can stay healthy)?Catcher (but how many 3+ WAR catchers are out there)? It is why my disdain for the unacceptable offense Frazier brings is so high, because he used to be a more diversified hitter and has the talent for better. Bruce is actually trying to change, kudos to him for that. Something I never expected.

    • October 8, 2018 at 9:27 am

      The Mets need to add about 10 fWAR to their team to get into playoff contention. And even if all 10 of those came on the pitching side – an incredibly unlikely occurrence – they still wouldn’t be as unbalanced as the A’s or Cubs. Those teams won 97 and 95 games, respectively. I think we’d sign on the dotted line for that type of win total.

  2. TJ
    October 7, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    Brian,
    Fantastic work…especially when it supports my POV. Bullpen, bullpen, bullpen. Then catcher. Then more bullpen. Now, I don’t want to seem like the rose colored glasses are on. I would take a position as cautiously optimistic, with the caveat that these are the Mets, and worse, these are the Wilpon Mets.

    Chris makes a bunch of solid points (and concerns). But, what I like is that I see some depth here, and a reasonable likelihood that some of that depth will result in offsetting some fWAR return to mean from performers like deGrom and McNeil (BABIP-wise).

    When it comes down to it, position-player wise, is what can be expected from Rosario, McNeil, Gimenez, Alonso, and Smith. More specifically, Gimenez and Alonso. What they think of those two, and how willing they are to roll the dice on those opinions, will have a huge impact on the 2019 season.

    Adding Alonso early, followed by Gimenez, both contributing young players (as other teams have done), focuses Mets on going all-in on BP and C. Likewise, if they have doubts (especially with Alonso’s defense), will they hold and develop these guys or use them as trade chips.

    I’ll stick with the glass half full until further notice. Thanks for the efforts on this work.

  3. Mike Walczak
    October 7, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    Looking at next year, there is a real possibility that deGrom, Wheeler and Syndergaard all regress. Now what do we do ?

    It doesn’t really matter who the next GM is, because if they are handcuffed by the Wilpons, it doesn’t matter.

    If George was alive, Harper and Macado would be in pinstripes.

    My honest feeling, us that they will go on the cheap and make minor moves and then blow smoke up the kazoo and attempt to make it seem like they were big moves.

    • TexasGusCC
      October 7, 2018 at 9:09 pm

      If they do that Mike, I may not have too much more patience.

  4. TexasGusCC
    October 7, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    Great article and comments by both Chris and TJ. Chris is right that McNeil is not a for sure thing and that Rosario and Flores over plenty of plate appearances should have shown better in his roll call of players’ WAR.

    I was reading this morning how one team (Yankees?) realized that rather than throw $25MM at one starter, you can get three or four wry good relievers and not only shorten the game, but have them affecting games more often. However, the Mets’ ineptitude at building a roster continued (with their three person analytics team) into their building of a bullpen. Whether they were the cheapest losers in the universe or just stupid when it comes to talent, the collection of players was inexcusable.

    My point in all this, is while I love Fangraphs, and like to use WAR to compare players since there isn’t a better more common statistic, but it is misnamed. There is no way in all of the entire creation that the Yankees’ bullpen was only 10 wins better than the Mets’. It should have been more like 30. The Yankees had established and talented relievers all throughout. The Mets had:
    Familia (coming off injury);
    Ramos (they knew he was injured when they made the trade, and we debated if he was worth bringing back so you know they had to have had those debates themselves);
    Swarzak (such a prize that he was left on the shelf when all the other relievers were flying off of it);
    Sewald is a mop guy at best and we all knew it;
    Blevins was expected to be solid but he was considered and used strictly as a LOOGY;
    Gsellman was inexperienced in his role;
    Lugo who’s elbow is hanging by a thread.

    This is what the Mets came to war with. Not even paper clips and rubber bands but rather broken rubber bands that were retied and busted paper clips that needed to be restraightened. There wasn’t just a 10 win difference in these two teams and the Mets were never serious about wanting to win. And truth is, they never are! Every year the roster is defective, and we all know that 2015 team came out of nowhere, overcoming a bad manager and more one tool players than an Ace Hardware store.

    Edit: I feel better now.

  5. Metsense
    October 7, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    Boy Brian, you stirred some Deep Emotions and good comments. I don’t want Gimenez or Alonso blocked but you can’t rely on them in 2019. Personally I want them on the 2019 roster and soon as they are ready get them in the show and play them. The problem with the Mets is that they can’t judge their minor league players. Degrom,Conforto, Nimmo and McNeil were not projected as they have been playing.I get the feeling that they put obstacles in front of these players or maybe just lack of faith. I think Alonzo and Giminez is are going to have the same fate.
    The article shows the Mets have a core but they have no support people and they definitely don’t have a bullpen. That’s where I would spend the money, on a dominant closer and Grandal. Then fill the roster with the Janaury Inventory Sale of leftover free agents. The starting pitching will carry them to the playoffs.

    • October 8, 2018 at 9:33 am

      There was little reason entering the 2018 season to put much faith in McNeil. I think the Mets put the appropriate amount of faith in deGrom. They did not put enough faith in Conforto and Nimmo and the club is paying for that lack of faith with the long-term deal with Bruce.

      It will be interesting to see how the new regime handles young players going forward. My personal opinion is that Gimenez is not ready and the decision to slow-play Alonso last year was the right one. But a lot can change between now and, say, May 1.

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