We like things that are easy. It’s why we add together OBP and SLG to get OPS, which we use as a shorthand for offensive production. In mathematical reality, you never add things with different denominators. But adding together OBP and SLG gets you very close to the “right” answer so we do it anyway. If you’re at a computer and can look up FanGraphs, you’re better using wRC+. Here’s a snippet from the FG glossary on wRC+:
Similar to OPS+, Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average after controlling for park effects. League average for position players is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than a league average hitter would have in the same number of plate appearances. Similarly, every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average, so a 80 wRC+ means a player created 20% fewer runs than league average.
wRC+ is park and league-adjusted, allowing one to to (sic) compare players who played in different years, parks, and leagues. Want to know how Ted Williams compares with Albert Pujols in terms of offensive abilities? This is your statistic. wRC+ is the most comprehensive rate statistic used to measure hitting performance because it takes into account the varying weights of each offensive action and then adjusts them for the park and league context in which they took place.
Since the glossary mentioned OPS+, let’s bring that into the equation. Since the start of the 2018 season, with a minimum of 900 PA, the top six players in wRC+ are:
Few would argue those players didn’t belong as the top hitters in the game. Now let’s check the top six for OPS+ — Trout, Yelich, Betts, Bregman, Cruz and Soto. Actually, we could expand it to the first nine players and they would be the same on both lists but with more guys in different orders. After that we start to see some differences, as guys with extreme OBP or SLG start to show up. The issue is that OPS doesn’t give the proper weight to OBP, which isn’t a big problem most of the time, yet shows up with guys who have really high (or low) marks in one category compared to the other.
Let’s do a chart of the top four Mets hitters the past three seasons with both metrics:
Regardless of which metric we use, we see the top three hitters within three points of one another and then a dropoff of 8-9 points to Conforto. It seems odd that people are willing to trade Alonso but are in a tizzy to extend Conforto. Part of that is because Conforto is closer to potentially leaving the club as a free agent. But part of it is because of the BABIP-fueled fluke season of 2020 for Conforto.
When you’re building out the Mets’ team, specifically the offense, your first three priorities should be finding the homes for Alonso, McNeil and Nimmo. Dominic Smith was really, really good the last two seasons. But because of injuries and the Covid year, those two years represent just 396 PA. Conforto has been really good – just not as good as Nimmo. And that’s with Nimmo playing most of 2019 with a neck injury.
Maybe you make a trade to address the logjam at 1B and/or corner outfield. Or maybe you try to fit all five guys into your lineup. It’s okay to prefer either solution. But if you opt for trades, you need to improve the defense or pitching to a significant degree to make up for the likely offensive drop.
It’s why George Springer is such an attractive free agent for the Mets. Springer has a 138 wRC+ and a 132 OPS+ the past three years. He would represent a tiny dropoff from Nimmo (and an improvement over Conforto) offensively while offering a superior defensive player. There are plenty of people out there stumping for Jackie Bradley Jr. but he checks in with a 95 wRC+ and a 95 OPS+ – which is a significant dropoff offensively.
And similar to Conforto, Bradley benefits in our three-year look in what he did in 2020. Last season, Bradley had a 119 wRC+, thanks in large part to a .343 BABIP. He has a career .298 BABIP. The three previous seasons Bradley had wRC+ numbers of 90, 90 and 89. Having a much better offensive season than we would predict going forward, Bradley had a 1.4 fWAR last year in 217 PA. Nimmo, having a worse defensive season than we anticipated, had a 1.5 fWAR in 225 PA.
Springer had a 1.9 fWAR last year and if he and Nimmo both maintained their production over a 162-game season, Springer would have been a full win better. If a win on the free agent market is valued at $8 million, can you bring in Springer for fewer dollars than what you’d pay Nimmo + $8 million? And even if you can – are you better off spending to replace pretty good production rather than sinking that money into starting pitching?
The dream is that Steve Cohen’s fortune will allow the team to seek improvements everywhere with little to no regard to money – either actual dollars or opportunity costs. And if enough teams need to cut payroll 30% to make up for 2020 lost ticket revenue, maybe that can happen. It’s fun to dream about the Mets adding Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and Springer in free agency and then trading for Francisco Lindor.
Mets fans, after having to watch the team cut payroll and watch expenditures like a hawk in the wake of the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme falling apart, would find an extra bit of satisfaction if half the teams in the league had to go through a half a dozen years of belt tightening like the Mets did.
According to Cot’s, the Mets had the second-highest Opening Day payroll in the game in 2009. And despite salaries going up, they did not top that raw dollar expenditure until 2017. And they were 12th that year in OD payroll. The Mets suffered from a one-two combo of having limited dollars to spend while the rest of the league upped expenditures. And maybe now the worm turns.
Few doubt the Mets’ ability to spend. And now the question is if that will come when others have fewer payroll dollars at their disposal. After years of being a laughingstock or a punchline, the Mets may now be able to look at other teams and chuckle.
The Mets should enter the offseason with the idea of making acquisitions that give them the biggest bang for the buck. But they should be prepared to pivot and go into full talent acquisition mode if bargains are to be had everywhere. If on September 1 you figured Bauer to get an AAV of $30 million, Realmuto $25 million and Springer $20 million, you might have thought the Mets should get one of them. But if they each go for $5-$7 million fewer, and with Cohen firmly in place as owner, are all three not attainable?
And sure, that’s best-case scenario. It’s a new day in Mets land where we can realistically think in best-case terms. We’ve seen the Mets be aggressive in the draft, going after top-shelf talent. But that was a zero-sum game when it came to total dollar expenditure. Now, we may get the chance to see them go after the best, when money definitely comes into play.
But if we don’t get to see the dream scenario play out in real life in this offseason, we should remember who the key players are on the Mets and where they really need to spend in order to put the best team on the field. The three best hitters, in some order, are Alonso, McNeil and Nimmo. And there’s not the same type of depth with pitching.