After making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the Mets haven’t had much sustained success. Shoot, if we’re being honest, they haven’t had much success at all. This year marks the fifth time in the last seven seasons that the club finished under .500 for the campaign. And this season started with such high hopes. Oh well. But let’s look at what went right for the club. There were some nice years by the team’s top two power hitters turned in. But this was expected from them and they didn’t exceed expectations, so they don’t make the list.
So, here are the top 10 good things for the Mets in 2023:
10. The performance of Jose Butto – Coming into the season, the top two depth starters were considered to be David Peterson and Tylor Megill. But those two performed miserably for the majority of the year, certainly early on when the club fell out of the playoff race. But Butto came on to make six starts, with four of those being solid or better. It doesn’t sound like much – and, really, it’s not – but we have a guy who was an afterthought coming into the season who is now a bullpen piece or depth starter going forward. One of the complaints was that the system hadn’t delivered much pitching and Butto seems ready to claim some type of role. Hey, it’s something.
9. The Brooks Raley trade – The Mets dealt Keyshawn Askew, a player who had earned some solid press for his 2022 season, for Raley, an older pitcher without a ton of success in his MLB career. Raley had good peripherals in 2021 and good results in 2022. But he wasn’t exactly a sure thing. And with four games left in 2023, Raley has a 2.83 ERA, a 1.259 WHIP and he’s limited opposing batters to a .649 OPS. And while his manager sometimes treats him like a LOOGY, Raley has held RHB to a .571 OPS in 129 PA. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Askew was solid in Hi-A and not good at all in Double-A. A strong win for Billy Eppler.
8. Joey Lucchesi’s recovery from TJ surgery – After his 2021 season was cut short in June and after not pitching in the majors at all in 2022, Lucchesi made nine starts for the Mets and posted a 2.89 ERA in 46.2 IP. Why didn’t he pitch more in the majors? He wasn’t a priority for the club. But he was very good in the chances he received and at this point has to be a solid consideration for the 2024 rotation. Sure, everyone would prefer if Lucchesi was a depth starter and the club imported a high-priced free agent for his rotation spot. But that would require the club adding three starters rather than two, which is far from a sure thing, regardless of what the fanbase implores the owner to do with his checkbook.
7. The Tommy Pham experience – It looked like Pham was at the tail-end of his career when the Mets picked him up to be their fourth outfielder. Pham didn’t get off to a great start but did just enough to keep getting chances. And then he busted out a six-week hot streak. When he was hot, Pham was incredibly productive, with a 1.125 OPS in 109 PA. It was enough to make him desirable at the trade deadline, even though the hot streak was over, and the Mets flipped him for a lottery ticket in Jeremy Rodriguez. Since the end of his hot streak in early July, Pham has a .231/.302/.393 line in 262 PA. Due to his power, that’s nice production for a fourth outfielder.
6. Those running Mets – With the new rules in place, ones that limit pickoff throws and introduced larger bases, most people expected a boost in the running game all over the majors. Still, it had to be at least a little weird for the Mets, without a true burner on the club and with a manager not known for emphasizing stolen bases, to be so successful in this department. The Mets have attempted 129 steals and have only been caught 14 times. That’s an 89.1 success rate. If anything, the club should have attempted more steals than they did. My guess is that all clubs, including the Mets, will run more next year.
5. The success of 38-year-old David Robertson – Signed to be a setup man, Robertson was thrust into a closer’s role with the injury to Edwin Diaz. And with careful usage by Buck Showalter, Robertson was terrific. While nowhere near as dominating as Diaz was last season, he still had a 2.05 ERA, a 1.000 WHIP and a 3.69 K/BB ratio. It made him a desirable trade piece and the Mets shipped Robertson to a division rival, didn’t have to pick up any salary and got two intriguing teenagers in Ronald Hernandez and Marco Vargas. And who knows – perhaps Robertson, who enjoyed pitching in New York, will return to the club again this offseason.
4. Francisco Alvarez’ defensive play – Some of us wanted Alvarez to make the club out of Spring Training. But we were told that he wasn’t ready defensively and mocked for believing that he would be playable in the majors. In Spring Training, he began as the DH. But when he finally got to catch in Grapefruit League action, Alvarez looked perfectly acceptable behind the plate. He started the year in the minors but got a quick promotion when Omar Narvaez landed on the IL. And the Mets used him sporadically at first. But the more playing time he received, the more painfully obvious it became that his defense was fine. The Mets floated the idea that Alvarez was a “sponge” and that his defensive play was due to quickly picking up on lessons from catching instructor Glenn Sherlock. To me, that sounded like classic CYA spin. To be sure, Alvarez still has things to work on, specifically his throwing, which was thought to be a strength. But he’s already one of the top pitch framers in the game and he does a very good job of blocking balls in the dirt.
3. The pitching of Jose Quintana – A solid pitcher for most of the 2010s, Quintana was mediocre from 2019-21, when he notched a combined 86 ERA+ over 244 IP. But instead of being done, Quintana bounced back with a strong 2022, which prompted the Mets to sign him to a two-year deal. Unfortunately, Quintana opened the year on the IL and missed the first 3.5 months of the season. But in 12 starts, he’s shown the Mets they were right to believe in him, as he’s posted a 3.59 ERA in 71.2 IP. It’s too bad he wasn’t healthy all year long. But the Mets might be smart to see if Quintana would be amenable to adding another year to his contract.
2. The power of Brandon Nimmo – Everyone views Nimmo’s best tool as his ability to get on base. And it’s not that they’re wrong. Rather, he brings more to the table than that and this year he’s posted the most extra-base hits of his career. With four games remaining, Nimmo has a career-high with 60 XBH. That includes a personal-best 24 HR and 30 2B, which ties his career high in the category. In his last 41 games, Nimmo has a .574 SLG, with 23 XBH in 188 PA.
1. Kodai Senga makes the leap – After being a star in Japan, Senga signed with the Mets in the offseason. While the move was viewed favorably, more than a few people wondered how his stuff would translate in the majors. Some thought he was destined to be a reliever in the majors, that his repertoire wasn’t good enough. Instead, Senga has stamped himself as a legitimate SP1 in the majors. He’s second in the NL in ERA, third in H/9, fourth in K/9 and fifth in HR/9. How good has he been? Every Mets fan wants the club to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the latest star pitcher from Japan and they’re excited/relieved because Yamamoto has the same agent as Senga.
Honorable Mentions – The six-week hot streaks of DJ Stewart and Mark Vientos, The exit velocities of Ronny Mauricio, Jeff McNeil’s production since 8/5, Adam Ottavino’s solid year at age 37, Phil Bickford’s September.
And just because there’s little doubt someone will bring it up, Steve Cohen landing his white whale in David Stearns.