Part of the reason for me starting to write online about the Mets was an incredulousness over what they would publish in newspapers for sports content. These journalism school majors seemingly had no clue about sports in general and baseball in particular. Later on, the realization hit me that they were writing for the lowest common denominator. The publications that hired and continued to employ Mike Lupica, Steve Serby and the rest weren’t aiming for the best of the best. Rather, they wanted people that could push the buttons of Joe Sixpack.

And that’s okay. The Joe Sixpacks of the world deserve content, too.

For a while, ESPN and were great outlets for those looking for elevated content. But first the network and then soon after the website began to deteriorate in the coverage they offered. If you like people screaming at each other or staking out positions for the pure purpose of being controversial – then it’s terrific. None of it seems like must-watch TV to me.

The website that once had Hunter S. Thompson writing about sports now has more content about WWE, MMA and European soccer by uninspiring and unheralded writers than they do about baseball. Hey, give the people what they want.

At least the website still has some elevated content with ESPN+. It’s a place you can go for interesting ideas and well-constructed articles. Recently, they had a piece entitled, “The number that will define 2023 for all 15 National League teams.” Perhaps a bit more click-baity than ideal but it was at least enough to get me to read the article.

It started off with the NL East and the first team was the Braves. The number was “6” and that was how many hitters the team had signed through the 2027 season. It’s certainly an impressive number and one that has gotten a lot of discussion all over the intertubes. But the article went on to talk about those players as if it was nothing but upside, like it was a press release directly from the team rather than an independent national writer.

The Braves absolutely deserve credit for locking up their offensive core for the next five year. By all means, give them that credit. Yet, at the same time, let’s not pretend that this is all guaranteed to break right for Atlanta.

Ronald Acuna Jr. has played just 201 games the past two seasons and last year the former CF had a (-5) OAA in RF in 114 games.
Ozzie Albies has been injured in two of the past three years and put up a 93 wRC+ last season.
Vaughn Grissom had a .350 BABIP last year, had negative run values against cutters, splitters and curves, and posted a (-5) OAA in 347 innings at 2B and will be asked to play SS this season.
Michael Harris had a .361 BABIP and a 4.8 BB%.
Matt Olson has a combined 15.4 fWAR in his four full seasons in the majors. Hey, an average 3.8 fWAR is nothing to turn your nose up at by any means. But it’s not print your ticket to Cooperstown, either. Last year he had a 3.1 mark, which ranked just below Luis Arraez.
Austin Riley is terrific.

As Mets fans, we know the Braves will have great fortune somewhere in 2023, whether with these six players or other members of the team. But a national writer should be pumping the brakes at least a little on the runaway hype surrounding these young guys that are under contract the next five years.

Because of their relative youth, the writer concluded that there was tremendous upside with this sextet. He went on to look at their career-best numbers in bWAR and came up with 31.1 for their combined totals.

There was a similar piece here earlier but it used fWAR instead. So, now let’s look at the best bWAR totals for six Mets players in their career:

Pete Alonso – 5.5
Carlos Correa – 7.2
Francisco Lindor – 7.2
Starling Marte – 5.1
Jeff McNeil – 5.7
Brandon Nimmo – 5.1

That’s 35.8 bWAR for the Mets’ top six. You can argue that the Braves are at a disadvantage with two of their players yet to play a full season. Fair enough. But isn’t it a bit presumptuous that those guys will start cranking out 5-WAR seasons? Shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility of a sophomore slump, especially given the ultra-high BABIPs?

And while it was unbridled optimism for the Braves, it was a lot more negative with the Mets. Their number was “8 feet 6 inches,” which is the distance they’re moving in the fences in right-center field. Hey, at least it wasn’t the combined total of contracts given out by Steve Cohen. But after saying the Mets had a good offense in 2022, we heard about their average age being the third-highest in the majors. Then it was noted how they were just middle of the pack in HR and that they were “doubling down that this will work again, as they will have the same core returning.” Then it was noted that the Braves hit 72 more homers than the Mets last year, which will force the Mets to do a lot elsewhere to make up for the deficit. And it concluded with this: “[N]ote that Mets pitchers benefited a lot more from Citi Field than Mets hitters were hurt by it: Mets hitters had 81 home runs at home and 90 on the road, while Mets pitchers allowed 101 home runs on the road compared to just 68 at home.”

Since they’re moving in the fences in one specific area of the park, wouldn’t it be helpful to know how many balls were hit to that area by both the Mets and their opponents? ESPN has a huge research department – surely, they could have made the effort to find out the truth of the matter, rather than just using overall numbers that fit their narrative of running down the Mets.

All of the things they said about the Mets were factually true, at least on the surface. What grinds is not simply that they didn’t go all sunshine and lollipops with the Mets but rather that they decided to follow up the Pollyanna report on the Braves with this glass half-empty approach with the Mets. And the two teams were listed back-to-back, making the difference in what was listed even more jarring.

It would be my preference for all teams to have an even-handed approach, pointing out positives and negatives for each squad. But more importantly – Is the number that’s going to define the 2023 Mets really the distance they’re moving in one section of the outfield fence?!? This isn’t like when the park first opened and the dimensions spooked their best player. It’s an interesting idea, especially given the great home record the Mets had last year. Guess the writer missed a chance to be negative there.

When you’re writing a piece like this, your preference is to have unique numbers whenever possible. To the best of my knowledge, no other NL team is moving in the fences. At the very least, it wasn’t mentioned for any other team. So, on the surface it’s unique. My opinion is that it’s at least as lazy as it is unique, unless you go into the piece with the idea of going negative on this particular team. Then it was an inspired choice.

One can say that this is just ESPN+ knowing their audience and getting their version of Joe Sixpack talking. If so, kudos for their Machiavellian ways. But while we can recognize this as a potential outcome, it seems overly optimistic to me that some section of ESPN is playing three-dimensional chess.

Hey, no one knows better than me how hard it is to come up with new content in the offseason when most of the big-name free agents have signed. We’re in that holding space, waiting for the Player X is in the best shape of his life! articles. It’s just disappointing when you have a solid idea but the execution just ends up lacking.

The writer of this piece was David Schoenfield, an ESPN Senior Writer and one I’ve defended here in the past. But maybe he’s like my brother-in-law. Initially, my opinion was that my b-i-l was a smart guy because he applied himself and had a successful career in business. But the more time spent with him, it becomes obvious that he’s not very bright. Maybe he was in the right place at the right time and had the business equivalent of the hits falling in for him. Maybe he’s 2014 Juan Lagares, with the .341 BABIP that prompted the Mets to sign him to an early extension to lock him up for the next five years. See, those early extensions aren’t guarantees of future success.

Anyway, my b-i-l is closer to a box of rocks than he is to a smart guy. And maybe Schoenfield is closer to my b-i-l than originally thought. Either way, you’ll see me spending more time reading articles from The Athletic than ESPN+. Hopefully this will be the year that my ESPN+ subscription gets terminated before it automatically renews.

A boy can hope.

13 comments on “Even-handed content and the best bWARs for six Braves and Mets hitters

  • BoomBoom

    Terrific piece Brian. The Athletic is on another level for sure. I usually like Schoenfeld and Olney on ESPN+ and it feels worth the $5 or whatever it is. I also usually like Joel Sherman but pretty much everyone else writes in talking points. Like I can just read the first sentence of each paragraph and then write the rest myself.

    Your articles are pretty darn good too.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words! Same to MikeW, too

  • MikeW

    I appears that the Correa deal may fall through, but that may just be noise. Who knows?

    I would like to have Correa, but there has to be some merit on potential issues from the plate in Correa’s leg.

    If this deal falls through, I do see the Mets barreling ahead to trade for a big hitter who can contribute significantly War.

    You article was great Brian and always the voice of reason backed up with stats.

  • Foxdenizen

    Might be some fireworks if your brother-in-law stumbles upon this article!

    • Brian Joura

      He’s not a sports fan. One year for Christmas I got him Marvin Miller’s book on economic issues in the game, figuring that might appeal to his business side. I was never given any indication that he ever read the inscription I put in there, never mind the book itself.

  • JimmyP

    I think Harris is a superstar.

    The Braves have notably employed an admirable system of locking up talent. But it is not without risk or downside. The Mets are the opposite, prizing flexibility and the annual chance to “reload,” even if that is more expensive.

    For risk for the Braves is long contracts for Braves who might underperform, possibly clogging up the talent pipeline. The downside is that by paying young players early, they’ve lost payroll flexibility right now, this year. In effect, they gave up Dansby Swansen so they could pay Harris, etc. It’s a policy where they spend more now to save down the road. In general, I approve of it, think it’s smart. But again, it’s not without risk or downside.

    • Mike W

      There are so many teams that are paper Tigers. Look at the Dodgers last year, 111 wins and they get knocked out cold in the playoffs.

      They look at the Giants two years ago. You see a roster of mediocrity and they go out and win 100+ games. Brandon Crawford played like Cal Ripken and then last season he became Brandon Crawford again.

    • Brian Joura

      I like Harris. He’s the type of guy who even if the hits just fall in at a normal rate, he still has a chance to be an impact player because of his defense. Maybe Acuna bounces back this year. But I don’t have much trouble seeing Harris as the Braves’ second-best hitter after Riley.

      • Jimmy P

        The glove, the arm, the speed, the power. Harris looks just sensational to me.

  • T.J.

    Hunter S. Thompson, Machiavelli, Joe Sixpack…all referenced deftly in the same article…even by the lofty Mets360 standards, that is quite exceptional. Thanks for the piece.

  • ChrisF

    You’re on a roll Brian. From the Civil War to Joe 6-pack its been a helluva week. And really quite on target.

    The Mets, sadly as a fan, have a long history of talk and little action, so the media never sees them as more than an occasional success interspersed between ages of “LOL Mets”. They’re a Rodney Dangerfield team. The team I simply cannot understand all the non-stop love for is the Padres, who also never deliver. It was clear in the WC that all the broadcasters were pure Padres fans.

    As far as the Braves go, they’ve been super smart in drafting and developing superstars. I think you can see that even with injuries, the team is young and will deliver for a decade. The Mets are going about things differently now and doing it with money. Your point is well taken though, the Mets have some excellent players. However, slam a September meltdown heading into the playoffs and you get braves love.

    Funny, ages ago you talked about the Mets September success and huge winning percentages at the end of so many seasons (…and would that carry over to the next season) only for 22 to end a massive disappointment right when we needed a typical string end of season. Why?

  • JamesTOB

    Brian, your frustration with most sports writers is exactly why, I signed up with Mets260. I simply found your articles better researched, more insightful, and highly useful. You’ve never disappointed (though I wasn’t a big fan of desecrating the memory of Robert E Lee!) You and the other writers, esp. Dave Groveman, consistently give us more than what we’ve paid for. Thank you all!

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks to T.J., ChrisF and James TOB for the kind words. When I felt like garbage with flu-like symptoms, it was nice to read what you wrote!

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