The 2020 Mets need their bottom half of the roster to just not suck

There’s a perception out there among some people that there is a talent gulf between the Mets and other NL East clubs. It’s understandable, as the division-winning Braves finished 11 games ahead of the Mets last season. But is the gap really that big or do other factors play a major role in how the final records emerged last year?

Let’s start by examining the records last season. We’ll show two numbers, the first being the actual record and the second being the Pythagorean record of the clubs.

Braves: 97-65, 91-71
Nationals: 93-69, 95-67
Mets: 86-76, 86-76
Phillies: 81-81, 79-83

It’s better to win the division in real games played rather than via Pythagoras. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use Pythagoras to better understand what happened. A record with 91 wins is very good. But it strongly suggests that the Braves were fortunate to win 97 games last year. Now, we can differ in where we think that good fortune took place. Perhaps they had a manager who knew how to maximize talent. Or perhaps they had three stiffs combine to go 11-1 who if there was any justice in the world would have gone 5-7, instead.

There were 10 teams in 2018 that differed from their Pythagorean win total by at least five games. Fortuitously, there were five teams that exceeded Pythagoras and five teams that fell short. Let’s start with the teams, like the 2019 Braves, who exceeded their run-based record and see how they did the following season:

Red Sox – +5 in 2018. Following season fell from 108 to 84 wins
Brewers – +5 in 2018. Following season fell from 91 to 89 wins
Rockies – +6 in 2018. Following season fell from 91 to 71 wins
Mariners – +12 in 2018. Following season fell from 89 to 68 wins
Marlins – +5 in 2018. Following season fell from 63 to 57 wins.

All five teams who exceeded their Pythagorean record in Year 1 saw their Year 2 record drop. Four of the five teams saw their actual record fall by more games than they exceeded their Pythagorean record in Year 1. In 2017, two teams exceeded Pythagoras by more than five game – the 80-win Royals (+8) and the 71-win Padres (+12). In 2018, both of those teams finished with fewer wins than the year before, as the Royals finished with 58 wins and the Padres tallied 66. In 2016 four more teams beat Pythagoras by at least five games. They were the 95-win Rangers (+13), the 89-win Orioles (+5), the 84-win Yankees (+5) and the 71-win Phillies (+9). Three of the four teams saw fewer victories in 2017, as the Rangers dropped to 78 wins, the Orioles to 75 and the Phillies to 66. Only the Yankees saw their win total increase, as they ended 2017 with 91 wins.

So, in the three year period from 2016-2018, 11 teams exceeded their Pythagorean record by five or more games. Of those 11, 10 saw their win total drop in the following seasons, with six of those 10 teams seeing a drop of at least 14 games. Over the last three seasons, when things go right for a team in one year based on their run results, we see a correction in the following year the overwhelming amount of times and a strong correction the majority of times.

Now let’s look at the teams in 2018 who fell short of their Pythagorean record by at least five games.

Astros (-6) in 2018. Following season went from 103 to 107 wins.
Dodgers (-10) in 2018. Following season went from 92 to 106 wins.
Indians (-7) in 2018. Following season went from 91 to 93 wins.
Nationals (-8) in 2018. Following season went from 82 to 93 wins.
Orioles (-8) in 2018. Following season went from 47 to 54 wins.

Fortunately, none of the big four teams from the NL East fell short by five games in 2019.

Now let’s look at talent a different way. Instead of runs on a team basis, let’s look at fWAR totals. And we’ll start off by looking at fWAR on a team basis and then move on to look at an individual basis for the top guys on each of our four teams. What follows will be the total fWAR by team and then the numbers for hitting and pitching.

48.3 – Nationals – 26, 22.3
43.9 – Mets – 23.5, 20.4
39.2 – Braves – 26.9, 12.3
29.2 – Phillies – 20.8, 8.4

Like Pythagoras, this team-level look by fWAR shows the Nationals as the best team in the division last year. The Braves hitting was slightly better but the Nationals’ pitching was far superior. The Braves’ pitching was so bad that the Mets ended up with the second-most fWAR in the division. In reality, a strong offense and a good bullpen made up for some other shortcomings for Atlanta.

Now, let’s look at the top dozen individual fWAR performances for each team. We’ll list the total and then the numbers in descending order.

45.7 – Nationals: Rendon, 7; Scherzer, 6.5; Strasburg, 5.7; Corbin, 4.8; Soto, 4.8; Turner, 3.5; Kendrick, 2.9; Robles, 2.5; Sanchez, 2.5; Eaton, 2.3; Dozier, 1.7; Suero 1.5
41.4 – Mets: deGrom, 7; Alonso, 4.8; Wheeler, 4.7; McNeil, 4.6; Syndergaard, 4.4; Conforto, 3.7; Rosario, 2.7; Davis, 2.4; Lugo, 2.2; Frazier, 1.9; Matz, 1.6; Ramos, 1.4
34.9 – Braves: Acuna, 5.6; Donaldson, 4.9; Albies, 4.6; Freeman, 4.0; Soroka, 4.0; Fried, 4.0; Flowers, 2.1; Teheran, 1.6; Swanson, 1.5; Gausman, 1.2; Jackson, 1.2; Joyce, 1.2
28.8 – Phillies: Realmuto, 5.7; Harper, 4.6; Nola, 3.4; Kingery, 2.7; Segura, 2.3; Hoskins, 2.2; Hernandez, 1.7; Eflin, 1.5, McCutchen, 1.5; Arrieta, 1.1; Miller, 1.1; Neris, 1.0

Again, the Nationals come out on top. Their top dozen players were easily better than everyone else’s in the division. Of course, they take the biggest hit, losing their top performer to the Angels in free agency.

Obviously, stars are only part of the package. It’s always a nice thing to pluck guys from other team’s discards and then get great performances out of them. The Nationals got 1.2 fWAR from Asdrubal Cabrera in 38 games while the Braves got 0.9 fWAR from Adeiny Hechavarria in 24 games. And it also helps not to use guys who stink. When Brandon Nimmo missed half the year, the Mets were forced to play Aaron Altherr, Keon Broxton and Juan Lagares more than they should. That trio combined for 373 PA and a (-1.7) fWAR. And there were the 13 relievers who combined for (-3.4) fWAR.

Theoretically, it should be easier to come up with guys who can be replacement level rather than come up with players to sit atop your team’s fWAR leaderboard. That’s the challenge the 2020 Mets have. They need guys beyond their top dozen players to just not suck. And while it’s unrealistic to expect no one to finish the year with a negative fWAR, it’s also unrealistic to expect every mid-year addition to be so pathetic.

Joe Panik’s 0.3 fWAR was the star import of the year for the Mets, outside of Marcus Stroman, who they traded two top-10 prospects to get. The Nationals had five guys they added during the year top Panik’s mark and the Braves had seven. And both teams had multiple guys match Panik’s mark. Yes, some of that is having guys at Triple-A ready to step in when given a chance. And others are guys playing far above their abilities in a short sample. The Mets may not have had the former. But they certainly did not have the latter. And guys certainly had an opportunity to shine given the injuries.

Nimmo played 140 games in 2018 and put up a 4.5 fWAR. A year later, injuries limited him to 69 games and a 1.3 fWAR. On top of that, his replacements put up a (-3.4) fWAR. Could a healthy Nimmo really mean a 6-win swing in 2020? That may be optimistic. But it will be nice for CF not to be a black hole for half the season. May the whole back half of the roster follow suit.

16 comments for “The 2020 Mets need their bottom half of the roster to just not suck

  1. January 12, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    Looks like you counted the lousy relievers (3.4) rather than the lousy CF (1.7) when making the Nimmo calculation at the end. So it was almost a 5-win swing.

    • January 12, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      You are correct – thanks for pointing that out.

  2. holmer
    January 12, 2020 at 2:37 pm

    If Diaz was Diaz (not necessarily the outrageously good Diaz of 2018 but a good Diaz) the Mets make the playoffs regardless of the above numbers crunched. Interesting stuff but the answer to last year’s record is much more simple.

  3. Chris F
    January 12, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    Thought provoking as the Sunday article always is!

    Since you are talking to me for sure on this, I’ll bite, a little anyway, and then discuss this more in a future column.

    First, I completely agree with your title a deep intent: the bottom half of the team must perform better. I think that argues that there is imbalance, as I’ve said many times, and that it comes from a number of angles, including talent. But I totally agree, 5-9 must be better all around. I would add that on top of this, we need to see a consistent production from the guys we like to think of as critical to team success from the top, like Rosario (who was the worst shortstop in the MLB last year) and on-again off-again Conforto.

    Second, and something I’ll treat later, is the notion that simulation supersedes reality (actual record v Pythagorean record). Furthermore, differences in reality are attributed to good or bad ”luck” in the actual record instead of assigning due skepticism to an over simplistic mathematic expression not grounded on fundamental law. Worse, applying a name like “Pythagorean“ to a record connotes a level of absolute truth along the lines of Pythagorean theorem (A^2 + B^2 = C^2), though it is not so.

    Let’s look at a 14-1 victory in some random game. The Marlins are dialed in, and they are playing an ailing Mets team at the end of a long road trip — making them look like a high school team; sadly it happens. That counts as 1 win in reality, but a +13 run differential for the Marlins. They could go on to lose 12 one-run games, or 6 two-run games, or 4 three-run games, or 3 four-run games, or 2 six-run games and still be in positive Pythagorean world.

    Let’s look at option three for a second, as it’s perfectly reasonable for a game to end with a three run differential. The Marlins would have a 1-4 record (seems perfectly reasonable), yet have a positive Pythagorean record. Ultimately, the math banks on longer term averaging out of these kind of events for a whole season, but the expression has this problem buried in. So a question worth asking is: which is anomalous, the actual record or the Pythagorean record? I’ll dig deeper into this down the road with some worked out examples from different seasons.

    • January 12, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      Well, that’s not anything that hasn’t been discussed previously in regards to Pythagoras. The Braves are facing an uphill battle to match their +6 mark next year. And it’ll be even harder if Josh Donaldson signs elsewhere.

  4. January 12, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Interesting piece, Brian! The Mets have been so bad at rounding out roster depth for so long that asking for them just not to suck feels like a tall order. Obviously this has a lot to do with the barren upper minors, and the guys like Gomez, Hechavarria, and Davis that were signed for “depth” there being generally cruddy fill-ins didn’t help matters.

    • January 12, 2020 at 9:56 pm

      Everyone was praising them early in the year for the experienced guys they had at Triple-A. Woops.

  5. TexasGusCC
    January 12, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    Brian, there is an aspect of the Mets decision making that isn’t accounted for: politics. The Mets had Dilson Herrera in the minors all year. He was killing it, but he was never summoned. All the AAA vets that BVW signed to load up the new Syracuse Mets got calls: Rajai Davis twice, Carlos Gomez, Altherr, and evening the famous Ruben Tejada. Herrera had 24 HRs and 12 steals, but the Mets never saw the need to bring him up even though he played alot of outfield to gain experience. The Tejada call up was the last straw and Herrera couldn’t just carry Syracuse anymore.

    Too, this article contradicts your article from a few days ago addressing how fortunate the Braves and Nationals were by getting extraordinary performances from people like Cabrera and Hechavarria. The Mets got a little bit, like Gomez three run HR in the 8th inning of a game, just not enough. But the one thing all these numbers won’t show you is how many at bats Cano and Frazier saw in the middle of the lineup, completely handicapping the team to the musing of the GM. Did the Nationals push Zimmerman to the three spot and Rendon to #5 or #6? No. Did the Braves force McCann into the cleanup spot because he was a favorite son and an off season acquisition? No. They put their best players in the best positions, no matter who it was. The Mets didn’t deserve to win because they spent half a season making sure the new Emperor got his butt kissed enough to allow the team to finally evolve.

    • January 12, 2020 at 9:57 pm

      No, this article most certainly does not contradict Thursday’s one. If anything it provides follow-up support.

      But I agree that they completely mishandled Dilson Herrera. A continuing theme for them.

      • Name
        January 13, 2020 at 12:03 pm

        Why was he mishandled?
        Not only was Herrera outhit by Tejada, Arismendy Alcantara also had better offensive stats than Dilson and can play more positions than him.

        • January 13, 2020 at 12:13 pm

          While at the time of the Panik move Tejada had the higher OPS, it was thanks to a .402 BABIP, which no one would ever expect Tejada to duplicate at the MLB level. Herrera’s was .286

          Alcantara would have been a better choice than Panik, too.

          • Name
            January 13, 2020 at 12:43 pm

            Tejada, Alcantara, Herrera, and you can even throw in Guillorme all were having about the same level of success at AAA.

            Dilson could have been chosen and that would have been fine, but it’s not like he outplayed everyone else to the point that it was an egregious mistake that he was left off.
            Tejada was probably chosen because this was expected to be a PH bench role and he had the most “veteran experience”

  6. January 13, 2020 at 7:57 am

    Full year of Nimmo will be at least a +2 WAR, fixing BP is key. Making BP a +4 to +5 will be the year in a nutshell. I am confident that Porcello /Wacha will be at least as good as Wheeler, a tad overated if you ask me. If Cespedes contributes and the BP is fixed, watch out NL East .

    • Bob P
      January 13, 2020 at 12:38 pm

      I certainly hope you are right, but I have zero expectation that Porcello and/or Wacha will be as good as Wheeler was last year. That would be a huge shock, but as I said, I hope you are right.

  7. Metsense
    January 13, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    You have correctly identified the problem, the bottom half of the roster sucked.At this juncture of the off season and the 26 man roster is in place. What did BVW do to solve the problem? (the first projected fWAR for 2020 has 2019 actual fWAR).
    3B- McNeil 3.4 ; Frazier 1.9
    CF- Nimmo 1.7 : Lagares -0.8
    SP- Porcello 1.9 ; Wheeler 4.7
    4OF- Cespedes 0.7 ; Gomez 0.1
    5OF- Marisnick 0.3 ; Altherr -0.4
    RP- Betances 0.7; Avilan -0.1
    RP- Wacha 0.4 ; Font -0.2
    RP- Brach 0.2; Gagnon -1.0
    UT- Lowrie 0.5 ; Panik 0.3
    9.8 projected fWAR ; 5.2 2019 fWAR which is a 4.6 fWAR improvement.
    So far so good but there is need of improvement.
    The defense weighs down the fWAR of Nimmo.The Twins have two center fielders that are better than Nimmo in Buxton or Kemper. The Mets have two corner outfielders in Conforto and Nimmo, a first baseman in Smith and a starting pitcher in Matz. There are many trade pieces that would fit for both teams.BVW should explore this avenue.

    • TexasGusCC
      January 14, 2020 at 12:13 am

      ^
      Excellent point.

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