There are a lot of contenders for “Best Surprise of 2020” for the Mets. There’re the offensive explosions by Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith, the overall exciting play of Andres Gimenez and the return to form by Edwin Diaz. But all of those seem to be vying for second place behind the unexpected performance of David Peterson. Just about no one anticipated a guy who opened the year at the alternate site, after a 2019 season that wasn’t exactly overwhelming at Double-A, to come on and post a 6-2 record with a 3.44 ERA. And outside of one lousy outing against Philadelphia, where he allowed 5 ER in 2 IP, Peterson had a 2.64 ERA. It’s still hard to wrap one’s head around it, even months later.
Let’s start by looking at his 2019 season for Binghamton. He made 24 starts and finished the year with a a 3-6 record and a 4.19 ERA. But Peterson’s peripherals painted a different picture. He had a 3.19 FIP and a 2.91 xFIP. Peterson was done in by a .340 BABIP and a 66.3% strand rate. While he was unfortunate in the “luck” categories, Peterson put up a 9.47 K/9 and a 2.87 BB/9. But those strong numbers were being dwarfed by hits falling in at the exact wrong time.
In the majors last season, Peterson had the exact opposite thing happen to him. His 3.44 ERA flies in the face of his 4.52 FIP and 5.11 xFIP. He succeeded last year due to a .233 BABIP, and a 76.8% strand rate didn’t hurt, either. And if that wasn’t enough good fortune, Peterson was supported nicely by the offense, too. In his starts, Mets’ hitters averaged 5.73 runs per game for him. While it was a different team, the offense in 2018 supplied Jacob deGrom with an average of just 3.49 runs per game.
With the rest of the non-deGrom starters either injured or imploding, Peterson gave the club a much-needed shot in the arm in 2020. But there’s a reason to be concerned about him repeating his performance in 2021. Hopefully the experience he gained will help and he can work on that ugly 4.35 BB/9. With more runners reaching base with hits next year, he’ll need to compensate by allowing fewer walks.
THE CENTER OF ATTENTION – With all of the trouble that Brandon Nimmo had in center field last year, it’s at least a little bit surprising that the club didn’t try Conforto out there. After all, Conforto has experience at the position, playing a handful of games there in each of the previous four seasons, for a total of 1,137.1 innings, or nearly a full year’s worth of games. The problem with Conforto in CF is range, with DRS showing 14 of his 16 runs below average in center due to his lack of range. Surprisingly, that range was also an issue in right field for Conforto last year. DRS shows him with a (-3) while UZR had him at (-4.1) in its range component. Statcast also measures range with its Outs Above Average metric, which give a little more detail than either DRS or UZR. Conforto had a (-5) in this department, compared to Nimmo’s (-4) in this position-adjusted metric. Conforto was average going to his right but struggled going towards the foul line (-3) or going back on balls (-2) – not exactly what you want from a center fielder.
A LOOK AT THE SEPTEMBER SURGERS – The Mets had a great year offensively in 2020, one that got better each month in the truncated season. In July, they posted a .759 OPS, in August that number went up to .787 and in September, the hitters slugged their way to an .843 OPS. Here are the numbers for everyone with at least 50 PA in the season’s final month:
For the people who are ready to ship Alonso out of town at any type of discount, his numbers in the final month track nicely with his 2019 production. In his rookie year, Alonso put up a .941 OPS. On the other end of the spectrum, we see Cano was already fading. After a 1.058 OPS in his first 26 games, thanks in part to a .375 BABIP, Cano was unable to maintain the pace that Conforto and Smith – the other BABIP overachievers – did in September.
A QUICK LOOK AT THE 2021 SCHEDULE – A tentative 2021 schedule is out and again the Mets play Interleague games against the AL East. They were going to play the Yankees, regardless, but it would have been nice to play the Tigers rather than the Rays. A couple of other things that jump out is that unlike 2020, when the Mets played the Braves seven times in their first 11 games, New York does not face Atlanta until May 17th. Hopefully their pitching will be straightened out by then. Perhaps the key stretch of the year will be from July 5 – July 21, when they play 13 straight games against the NL Central, including seven games in a row against the Pirates, with four of those coming at Citi Field.
MARCEL FORECASTS ARE AVAILABLE – Baseball-Reference displays Marcel projections on its player pages and those are now published. Let’s look at the eight players from the chart above who are still currently on the team:
McNeil – .849 OPS
Davis – .793
Alonso – .877
Smith – .852
Conforto – .836
Cano – .769
Nimmo – .845
Gimenez – .769
It’s hard not to notice that Cano and Gimenez are tied here. That’s either great news for Gimenez or rotten news for Cano. Or maybe both. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is that Smith is projected to edge out McNeil. We should probably take the under on Davis’ forecast but that number is not a surprise given his strong 2019.
METS LIKELY TO STAY THE COURSE ON THE MANAGERIAL FRONT – In the introductory news conference welcoming Steve Cohen and welcoming back Sandy Alderson, the latter indicated that Luis Rojas was expected to return as the team’s manager. Alderson did leave the door slightly ajar, saying the new GM would have a say in the matter. But it’s difficult imagining Alderson hiring a guy who would turn around and ax Rojas immediately. Alderson did address the dugout blunders of Rojas but also dismissed their significance, claiming that it was the easiest thing to improve upon or fix.
Here’s a thought – if it’s so easy, how about we don’t screw them up so often in 2021?