Check out the Effectively Wild podcast’s daily team previews, and the full list of our own companion previews.

 

The Mets started this offseason with a bang, making the first signing of a free agent, Michael Cuddyer from the Colorado Rockies for 2 years and $21 million. As a player who received a qualifying offer, the Mets forfeited their 2015 1st round draft pick (#15 overall). However, after signing Cuddyer, the Mets only added two other players, outfielder John Mayberry Jr. and rule 5 pick LHP Sean Gilmartin. They lost a few players of which most notable were Eric Young Jr., who stole 46 bases in 2013 and 30 in 2014, and Gonzalez Germen (yes, he began the offseason as a Met). Besides these small moves it has been a very quiet offseason. The team added only two pitchers (including Gilmartin), an anomaly in the league as most teams stock up on pitchers (the average team added 15 according to the WSJ). However, as will be discussed subsequently, there was a reason the Mets didn’t make any big splashes or stock up on pitchers; they have incredible depth and are poised for a great season and future.

 

Run Production

How do they score runs? Are they notably home-run dependent? Notably light on power? Is their lineup predicated on depth, or on huge production from a few stars?

The 2014 New York Mets were notable for the lack of power and down years from notable stars Curtis Granderson and David Wright. With the lack of offense coming from their two most notable players, the Mets struggled the entire season on offense. The one bright spot was a huge breakout season from first baseman Lucas Duda, who hit 30 home runs. Despite Duda’s success, the team ranked in the bottom third of the league in home runs, ISO and Slugging Percentage. But more notable than the lack of power was their struggle at the plate where their wOBA .299 tied for fourth worst in all of MLB. The addition of Cuddyer will give the team another strong right-handed hitting presence and will balance out the lineup. Their current lineup against right-handed pitchers is predicted as:

Position Name 2014 OBP   2014 SLG   Handedness
CF Juan Lagares .321 .382 R
RF Curtis Granderson     .326 .388 L
3B David Wright .324 .374 R
1B Lucas Duda .349 .481 L
LF Michael Cuddyer .376 .579 R
2B Daniel Murphy .332 .403 L
C Travis d’Arnaud .302 .416 R
SS Wilmer Flores .286 .378 R
P ————————

 

Despite the fact that Cuddyer is coming off injury and Duda is expected to regress in 2015, Granderson and Wright are both great candidates for bounce back years with Wright coming off injury and Granderson being reunited with his former hitting coach in the Bronx, Kevin Long. In addition, to assist both Wright and Granderson in the power department as they both struggled (Wright has struggled since moving to Citi Field), the Mets have once again moved in their Right Center Field fences. The team calculated that they would have hit 17 more home runs last season with the new fences (NY Post).

Stat Value Rank
BB% 8.40% 5
K% 20.60% 16
BABIP 28.60%     26
OBP 0.308 22
SLG 0.364 27
wOBA     0.299 26
OPS 0.673 26
ISO 0.126 21

 

The Mets also should improve in offense in that they are a team that tends to hit a lot of line drives. With the fourth worst BABIP in 2014, they should be able to regress back toward the mean and therefore be able to get on base more this upcoming season, and score more runs by just putting the ball into play. This combined with an improvement in power will definitely help the team win more ballgames.

Despite the fact that the Mets have a very balanced lineup in terms of offense and handedness, they will need to use a platoon this year. This will occur when they face left-handed pitchers, benching Lucas Duda in place of John Mayberry Jr. Michael Cuddyer will move from the outfield to first base, with Mayberry Jr. taking over in the outfield. While it seems strange to some that Duda, the Mets’ top hitter in 2014, would need a platoon, it is because he was awful against left-handed pitching. The splits for the two players are below:

 

2014 Lucas Duda John Mayberry Jr.
vs. R vs. L vs. L
OBP     0.372 0.264 0.341
SLG 0.543 0.252 0.571
OPS 0.915 0.516 0.913
ISO 0.270 0.072 0.329
K% 20.00%     32.80%     12.20%    

 

It is definitely clear from the 2014 splits that John Mayberry Jr. will be an upgrade in the batter’s box against left-handed pitching over Duda, in addition to the advantage that this will bring defensively as well.  Based on the addition of Cuddyer and just the expected improvement from Wright and Granderson, the team’s offense will definitely be better and hopefully out of the bottom third of the league in key categories.

 

We see that the Mets have struggled at the plate but let’s try to diagnose why that is. What is the team’s collective approach? Do they look to take a large number of pitches? Does the manager put on the 3-0 green light very often? Are players benched or criticized by management for striking out too much? Are they more than usually given to fouling pitches off?

The team in general has one of the better approaches at the plate as far as taking first pitches and not swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone. On average, the league looks at the first pitch in 88.8% of plate appearances, whereas the Mets took on 89.6% of all plate appearances. However, they were 8th in the league at seeing first pitch strikes, with the first pitch being a strike 61.1% of the time compared to league average of 60.6%. It is odd that when looking at the plate discipline statistics on FanGraphs, the Mets appear to be an above average team when it comes to making contact and being selective.

 

The key takeaways from the table are:

  • The Mets are more selective in choosing which pitches to swing at and which to take; swinging at only 28.8% of pitches outside the strike zone relative to league average of 31.3%. They also swing at fewer pitches in the zone as seen from the 64.9% Z-Swing%. This selectivity should allow the Mets to walk more and get better pitches to hit, but taking too many pitches may make them more likely to get 2-strike pitches than the rest of the league.
  • The Mets make more contact on pitches than other teams. As seen from the O-Contact%, Z-Contact% and Contact% when the Mets actually do swing at pitches, they tend to make contact with the ball more frequently than other teams.
  • They tend to get more pitches thrown inside the strike zone while also swinging and missing less.

 

With the stats above it shows that the Mets are a good team at the plate in terms of plate discipline, which in theory should lead to higher walk rates and higher OBPs. However, as earlier noted, they had one of the lower BABIPs in the league, meaning that they got unlucky when they did make contact. This helps to prove the point that the Mets should look to rebound offensively once again. While this all helps solve the Mets’ problems at the plate, will there be any glaring problems in the lineup?

 

Where are the pressure points? Who might need to be replaced? What will their optimal batting order be? Is it likely to be adhered to?

The Mets’ largest pressure point in the 2015 lineup will be at shortstop and catcher. At shortstop Wilmer Flores is currently the favorite to be the starter out of spring training. However, he has to watch out because Ruben Tejada is breathing down his neck, and with a great spring Tejada can steal the spot. But also waiting in the wings is 23-year-old Triple-A shortstop Matt Reynolds. If Reynolds starts his season well in the minors, and both Flores and Tejada struggle, then the job easily can become his. Unfortunately, neither Flores nor Reynolds is seen as a strong shortstop, with Reynolds not even among the Mets’ top prospects. The actual shortstop of the future is 19-year-old Amed Rosario who spent 2014 in Single-A. A lot of prospect writers have very high expectations for the future of Rosario, who was recently named the 98th best prospect in baseball (which isn’t bad for his age and experience).

The other pressure point is the catching position where their 5th best prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Plawecki, is waiting to make his big league debut. Drafted in the supplementary 1st round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Purdue University, he has performed consistently well at each of the minor league levels. Unfortunately, he is currently blocked by Travis d’Arnaud. If d’Arnaud struggles at or behind the plate, then look for Plawecki to get the mid-year call up and for the Mets to use a platoon. It is also being considered that Plawecki can be called up to play some first base as well to work with the previously mentioned platoon of benching Duda against left-handed pitchers.

However, if all goes according to plan these will be the lineups against right-handed and left-handed pitching:

 

V RHP V LHP
Juan Lagares – CF Juan Lagares – CF
Curtis Granderson – RF     Curtis Granderson – RF
David Wright – 3B David Wright – 3B
Lucas Duda – 1B Michael Cuddyer –1B
Michael Cuddyer –LF Ben Francisco –LF
Daniel Murphy – 2B Daniel Murphy – 2B
Wilmer Flores – SS Wilmer Flores – SS
Travis d’Arnaud – C Travis d’Arnaud – C

 

This lineup is actually quite optimal with speed leading off and the most powerful hitter in the cleanup position. Granderson is good hitting second, as he is expected to be one of the top players at getting on base this year. Wright and Cuddyer can be switched, but as they expect Cuddyer to be more likely to get on base and have a higher slugging percentage, he makes sense at the five spot. Then six through nine should be based on who gets on base the most, according to The Book. Murphy gets on base the most so having him higher in the lineup is optimal ahead of Flores and d’Arnaud. Those two at seven and eight are perfect but can be switched with each other based on who is getting on base more. There is uncertainty surrounding both at the plate, so putting Flores first is just a formality for now.

 

Are park factors a large or small consideration? Does the team’s park favor a particular batter type or handedness? Will the schedule or overall level of competition they face vary widely from the league average?

Baseball Prospectus publishes the Park Factors for both right-handed and left-handed hitters on its website. The 2014 park factors for Citi Field are 93 for left-handed batters and 96 for right-handed batters. As three of the most important Mets hitters are left-handed pull hitters (Granderson, Duda, Murphy), and one is a right-handed hitter who hits the ball the opposite way a lot (David Wright), the Mets this off-season decided to once again combat this notion. After the analytics team did some work completing a study on the impact of the walls on the Mets they determined that the “Mets hit 90 more balls in the air to right-center field than their opponents did” leading them to move in the fences 10 to 11 feet in right-center field, according to The New York Times. This change will hopefully help the Mets and their hitters more so than their opponents for the upcoming season. But hopefully this is the year the Mets can finally figure out how to succeed in Citi Field.

One aspect leading to their success will be the competition they face. With 19 games, the norm, versus each opponent in the NL East, the Mets should be able to have some success, especially against rebuilding Braves and Phillies teams. The latter is destined for last place in all of baseball. Unfortunately, they have 19 games against the Nationals who don’t have a single weakness in their rotation. With 6 or 7 games against the rest of the NL, the results should be mixed as most teams are neither very strong nor weak. In interleague play, the Mets this year have games against the AL East, with the most against the Yankees in the annual Subway Series games, which will be mixed.

 

Division Opponent Times
NL East Nationals 19
Braves 19
Phillies 19
Marlins 19
NL Central     Cubs 7
Brewers 6
Cardinals     7
Pirates 6
Reds 7
NL West Padres 6
D-backs 7
Giants 6
Dodgers 7
Rockies 7
AL East Yankees 6
Orioles 4
Blue Jays 4
Rays 3
Red Sox 3

 

All in all, if the Mets offense can rebound and they take advantage of the games against some of the weaker competition such as the Phillies and Braves, then they should have no problem competing for a wild card spot.

 

Run Prevention

What is their balance between pitching and fielding? How is responsibility for keeping runs off the board apportioned?

The Mets might be the exact opposite of balance between pitching and fielding. The rotation this year will be anchored by reigning Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom and the “Dark Knight” Matt Harvey, who will be returning from Tommy John Surgery. Rounding out the rotation is 41-year-old Bartolo Colon, lefty Jonathan Niese and another young up-and-comer Zack Wheeler. Unlike the rotation of the Washington Nationals that has already developed, those on the Mets and in their system are still emerging, such as top prospect Noah Syndergaard (who is expected to be called up mid-season), and Steven Matz (who has been called the best pitcher in the organization by Triple-A manager Wally Backman).

Despite the future outlook, the current staff is still probably one of the best. The average strike out rate for starting pitchers in 2014 was 19.4% and an average walk rate of 7.1%. The Mets only have two pitchers below average in strikeouts, Niese and Colon, so the team has a strong strikeout rotation. Colon and Niese however tend to be fly ball pitchers which is OK if reigning Gold Glove winner Juan Lagares can reach the ball. Granderson and Cuddyer in the corner outfield spots are below average defenders meaning that Lagares will have to be able to cover enough ground to make up for their weakness. In the infield, 3/4 of the infield (Duda, Murphy and Flores) are thought of to be some of the worst/below average defenders in the league, however Flores actually rates average to above average.

 

Is the starting rotation generally a flat one, or one dominated by one or two aces? Does the manager allow his starters (or some subset of them) to go especially deep into games? Do the starters share common characteristics, or are there any philosophies the team’s pitching coach seems to drill into each?

The rotation for the Mets should be dominated by the combination of Matt Harvey and Jacob DeGrom. But there is still hope that Zach Wheeler will finally blossom into a front of the rotation pitcher that he can be. Wheeler was the 6th overall pick in the 2009 draft who the Mets acquired for Carlos Beltran back in 2012. His focus this year is getting his pitch count and walk rate down, which would allow him to become a stronger pitcher and go deeper into games. With Syndergaard coming up to the Majors during the season, the rotation will continue to be more evenly spread out, which should lead them to having one of the top young rotations in the league.

While the Mets only threw one complete game in 2014 (tied for least in the league) they generally let their pitchers go farther into games compared to the rest of the clubs. Despite not pitching the whole game, the Mets were able to get more out of their starters than most of the league. This can be seen in the table below where the Mets had more quality starts (starts of 6+ innings with less than 3 runs), % of quality starts for the year, innings pitched per start and pitches per game started.

Mets    
League Avg    
Rank    
QS 98 87 7
QS% 60% 54% 7
IP/GS 6.1 6 6
Pit/GS     97 96 10

 

Despite the success of the starters, Manager Terry Collins was not afraid to use his relievers. Combining the games of the relief pitchers, the Mets had 489 relief appearances during the season, which is slightly more than the 482 games pitched on average. In particular Jeurys Familia and Carlos Torres appeared in 78 and 72 games respectively, both within the top 25 of the league. However, while the Mets allowed their pitchers to be successful and let them pitch as far as they can get, they are not afraid to have every pitcher on a short leash and go to another reliever when needed. But with Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth (both whom at one point served the role of the closer in 2014) there is no surprise the Mets had to use so many relievers. This was especially the case early in the season when closer Bobby Parnell went down with a torn UCL in his throwing elbow.

This year though, the Mets will have a strong bullpen with flame thrower Familia; Parnell coming back from Tommy John surgery; and closer Jenry Mejia. In addition, they have Carlos Torres and Vic Black, who both should be reliable coming out of the bullpen. Also joining the bullpen is pitcher Dillon Gee, who the Mets attempted to trade during the offseason as he no longer has a spot in the rotation. He will be able to provide long relief, but if he can make a switch to become a strong reliever (such as Zach Duke), then the Mets can be in for a treat.

With the combination of a strong starting 5 or 6 when Syndergaard arrives, and a bullpen that can be really good if they get it together, the Mets pitching staff can be one of the best in the league. With Citi Field being a pitchers park, if the Mets can get some support for their pitchers and place some defense, they will be successful.

One final impact on the pitching staff will be how well Travis d’Arnaud can perform behind the plate. d’Arnaud is interesting in that he is a good pitch framer, ranking in the middle of the pack when it comes to getting balls pitched outside the zone to be called for strikes, however, d’Arnaud mightily struggles with passed balls. Using the 2014 Baseball Prospectus data on pitch framing, d’Arnaud was dead last in the league in allowing 9.5 more passed balls then predicted. This is worrisome as these passed balls can mightily impact the effectiveness of the staff and allow runners to move up and score. He also has struggled throwing out runners, only throwing out 20% of runners in 2014. His inability to control the run game and catch the ball cleanly as a catcher is why he might be on a short leash. With Kevin Plawecki waiting in Las Vegas for his opportunity to come to New York, only time will tell how much patience the Mets will have.

 

Farm System

Is the farm system well-stocked? Have any recent performances or additions changed the perceived standing of that system? Are there players on hand, in the upper levels of the minors, who are ready to take over roles with the parent team in the event of injury? Are there players who make especially good potential trade chips?

It is no secret that the Mets in recent seasons have been facing financial difficulties. Going into the season, they are in the bottom third of the league in payroll at approximately $100 million less. This is less than half of that of the New York Yankees, who play just a subway ride away in the Bronx. While the Mets in recent years have cut back on spending, they have been creating one of the top farm systems in Major League Baseball. In recently released rankings, they are ranked fourth according to Keith Law, fifth according to Baseball Prospectus, and have seven prospects in Baseball America’s top 100.

The first place to start and the most notable is in the pitching department. With top prospect Noah Syndergaard, who was acquired for RA Dickey before the 2013 season, and Steven Matz, a 2nd round pick in the 2009 draft leading the way, the Mets will have a rotation set for many years to come. Syndergaard is a top 10 prospect in Major League Baseball whereas Matz is quickly rising up the charts, and was most recently ranked 33rd by Baseball America, but 65th by Kiley McDaniel. In addition, they have plenty more top talent including starters Marcos Molina and Rafael Monter who are both listed in McDaniel’s top 200. This is already four pitchers to add to a potentially stacked young rotation including Harvey, DeGrom and Wheeler. With such a deep rotation, it gives them room to either move some to the bullpen or make a trade for other position players.

At catcher is Pawlecki, who is one of the top prospects in the game. He is expected to get called up during the season and provide some relief for d’Arnaud. Despite d’Arnaud being young, the Mets will want to take advantage of the depth of having two terrific young catchers

In the infield they have three potential average to above average prospects in first basemen Dominic Smith, shortstop Amed Rosario and second baseman Dilson Herrera. Smith was drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 draft out of high school and has strong potential to one day take over the position from Lucas Duda. He has a plus bat and glove according to FanGraph’s McDaniel. However, he struggled in 2014, his first full year, which has some scouts worried about his potential. The other prospect that has scouts and the internet buzzing is Rosario. He received the largest international bonus the Mets ever have given back in 2012. After playing in the short-season New York Penn League in 2014, he is expected to continue to rise through the minors. McDaniel compared him to top prospect Addison Russell and Hanley Ramirez, whereas Keith Law expects him to be an all-star shortstop one day. This is high praise and great expectation for a young 19-year-old at a position where the Mets haven’t found a true replacement for Jose Reyes. The final infield prospect is Dilson Herrera, who was acquired in 2013 for John Buck and Marlon Byrd (a trade that easily favors the Mets). Herrera does not have the ceiling of Smith or Rosario, but will take over the starting second baseman job in 2016 from Daniel Murphy, an impending free agent. He is ranked as the team’s 5th best prospect currently by McDaniel, and was a bargain for the two impending free agents the Mets gave up.

In addition to having prospects at most other positions, they have two outfielders who can be expected to contribute in the next few years. These are 2011 first round pick Brandon Nimmo and 2014 first-round pick Michael Conforto. Nimmo was the first draft pick from the Sandy Alderson/Paul DePodesta/JP Ricciardi front office. Drafted out of high school in Wyoming, where there is no high school baseball, the Mets had to scout him at American Legion games that Nimmo traveled to play in. Luckily, despite the obscurity of being a high school player out of Wyoming, taking him in the first round has panned out for the Mets. He has grown at each level he has played at, improving his contact and fielding along the way. The expectation for him right now to Kiley McDaniel is to be an everyday corner outfielder the likes of Christian Yellich, which I think most Mets fans would be happy with. Conforto last year was drafted in the first round out of Oregon State where he was the Pac-12 Player of the Year. As Conforto had college experience and more known tools he is expected to translate to a better major leaguer with more power and a great bat. McDaniel stated in his write up on the Mets that Conforto is “average defensively with his arm suddenly playing average to solid average.” Both players are expected to make their debuts in late 2016, the end of the recently signed two-year contract of Michael Cuddyer.

Overall the future looks bright for the Mets and their revamped farm system. They have been ranked as one of the top systems, including Baseball Prospectus naming them the “most balanced farm system in all of baseball” and should be able to see the fruits of the system soon.

 

Final Word
The Mets will look to improve upon their 2014 season where they finished 79-83, to finish above the .500 mark for the first time since 2008 and potentially compete for a playoff spot. With all of the aforementioned pieces to the puzzle, such as their strong rotation or a lineup that is looking to bounce back from a down year, breaking the .500 mark is definitely doable. The Phillies and Braves are in the process of rebuilding, which definitely helps with that. There is no reason that this team can’t contend, and I disagree with critics that say the Mets don’t have a shortstop. I believe Wilmer Flores can have a strong year and show that he can handle the position. If for some reason the team can’t put it together in 2015, then they will be even stronger in 2016 with their farm system ready to rise to the Major Leagues. There are people, who are still down on the team and especially the Wilpons, but this is only a $100 million team and more money can be invested to keep the young talent around in the future.

This year I believe they will win 84 games, finishing second in the NL East (Nationals will finish first). Harvey will hopefully rebound from Tommy John surgery, and despite a possible regression from Jacob DeGrom, I think Zack Wheeler can counter it with a breakout season of his own. The bullpen, despite not adding any pieces, should be strong as well with the combination of Familia, Mejia and Parnell. Can and will things go wrong? Probably. But there is no reason for Mets fans not to be excited about the team on the field. Hopefully fans will flock to see the future as it arrives in Flushing and rally behind the team. Even though there are some pessimists, as Tug McGraw would say, “Ya gotta believe.”

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