Let’s remember the World Series last year, ending at Citi Field after game five on a chilly night in November. The Royals defying the odds and PECOTA, making their second appearance in a row, and the Mets running through the National League playoffs with their dominant pitching rotation. Each team won a game handily, never in doubt. The other three games were close late; all games that the 2015 Mets could have won had it not been for a rare blown save by Jeurys Familia, a defensive blunder by Daniel Murphy or one of the gutsiest baserunning decisions in recent memory.

So, remember the 2015 World Series and how the series could have ended in five but the other way, and the Mets would be the defending champs headed into 2016. This isn’t meant to be torturous, it is meant to be hopeful. The offensive leader from last year is back for a full season at Flushing Meadows, and other positions are upgraded or relying on another year of development from young players. Most importantly, the team is returning all of its starting rotation in 2016, a rotation with three of the top young arms in baseball. Even Zack Wheeler will return sometime in the middle of the season.

NYMRecordwRC+SP ERA-RP ERA-DRSUZRBsRPay – $M
2013.457 (20)91 (21)105 (18)113 (28)-8 (20)10 (14)25 (1)101 (16)
2014.488 (17)93 (21)106 (21)91 (10)14 (11)7 (11)-1 (19)94 (21)
2015.556 (7)99 (12)93 (5)94 (16)-5 (18)6 (14)6 (8)116 (18)

 

Does Cespedes drive in ALL the runs?

Maybe not all the runs, but most of the runs. The team was 53-50 before Cespedes, averaging 3.5 runs per game; 37-22 and 5.4 runs per game after the trade with the Tigers at the deadline. He set career highs in homeruns (35), RBIs (105) and OPS (.870) after being placed in the middle of a middling Mets offense. In 57 games with the Mets, he had 13.5 at bats per home run – offensive production that seems unsustainable. But, even if Cespedes plays closer to what we have seen over his four-year career, .271/.319/.486 with 30 home runs and 103 RBI over a 162 game average, the Mets will certainly take that. Their offensive success relies on Cespedes producing a career average year and some development from others.

On the infield, the Mets will be counting on their captain, David Wright, who is in his age 33 season. Wright missed much of last season with a chronic back injury, something he will have to deal with the rest of his career. Wright can still contribute on offense when he is on the field but this is one of the reasons the team signed Asdrubal Cabrera in the offseason. Putting Cabrera at short means Wilmer Flores can slide over to third base when Wright hits the disabled list. Travis d’Arnaud is another guy who has missed playing time over the course of his career; if he can stay healthy this season, he has shown he can be a contributor on offense.

At second base, the Mets replaced playoff hero Daniel Murphy with Neil Walker. Walker spent his first six seasons with the Pirates and will be a free agent at the end of the year. He was dependable for Pittsburgh over his career with a .272/.338/.431 slash line thus far and 93 career home runs. Dilson Herrera is expected to take over second base but wouldn’t be ready this season, so Walker fills this spot in 2016. Lucas Duda will be the everyday first baseman for the Mets; a guy who’s hit .247/.346/.452 for his career and averages 25 home runs a year. More work with hitting coach Kevin Long, who has helped the career of Curtis Granderson, will certainly benefit Duda, who has been getting steady playing time over the last two seasons.

If there is one guy that could break out on this Mets team, it is Michael Conforto. The 22-year-old was called up in the middle of a pennant race last season and had a slash line of .270/.335/.506 in 56 games and hit two big home runs in game four of the World Series against the Royals.

There may be some struggles in his first full season in the lineup, but he will be the team’s everyday LF after the Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes. Juan Lagaras is still on the bench and will probably get some playing time, maybe even spot Conforto when the young leftfielder needs a rest or hits a sophomore slump. Eric Campbell can also fill in as a utility guy or corner infielder if Duda or Wright miss time. With the influx of middle infielders, the team decided to release Ruben Tejada during spring training, who signed a deal with the Cardinals in March.

 

Outfield defense though? Can Yo play centerfield?

Cespedes has spent a considerable amount of playing time in Major League Baseball manning centerfield — but has had much more success through his career in leftfield. A gold glove award winner in the American League last year in left, the Mets are counting on Cespedes to stay athletic enough, at least for this one season, to play every day in centerfield. Cespedes’ arm strength has been well documented and that is a huge part of his game in the outfield.

But, his judgement on fly balls and route efficiency has been questioned in the centerfield spot over the course of his career. As we saw on the first pitch in the bottom of the first in game one of the World Series last year, he cannot make all the plays necessary in center.

Maybe there was some kind of miscommunication, and he thought Conforto would be closer than he actually was. No matter, this is a play a centerfielder should make in the right and left field gaps. And I’m not saying Cespedes is a bad fielder – with the ground he can’t cover and that arm, he can certainly play either of the corner spots. But putting him in center makes the Mets defense a huge question mark. Look through his career on FanGraphs and his advanced defensive stats in centerfield are all negative. For his career, he has a -12.6 UZR and -16 defensive runs saved in 912.1 innings playing center field. Meanwhile over 3,300 innings in left, Cespedes’ career UZR is 33.3 and has 30 defensive runs saved, 15 of those coming with the Tigers and Mets last year!

Going around the diamond, they aren’t very strong at any of the infield positions. Lucas Duda at first can dig balls out of the dirt, but don’t count on him to throw for outs at any bases. Neil Walker at second doesn’t have much range but has a strong arm and David Wright, if he can stay on the field, isn’t a gold glove third baseman. Wilmer Flores or Asdrubel Cabrera don’t even have the kind of range you want out of a shortstop up the middle to be honest. So their infield defense isn’t particularly good, and keeping Cespedes in center brings the outfield down a step. I understand they want to get Conforto regular playing time and plugging him in to left field makes the most sense at this time. I’d have to imagine Terry Collins will frequently sub Juan Lagares into center late in many games and move Cespedes to left. Lagares has legitimate Gold Glove talent on defense; his offense is what brought Yoenis to the Mets when he had a .259/.289/.359 slash line in 2015.

 

They have the best rotation in baseball, right?

Yes, yes they do. There are others with a ton of potential, like the Rays, Cardinals or Indians. Even the Nationals, a team in the same division, is one year removed from having one of the deepest rotations in baseball after bringing Max Scherzer to the nation’s capital. None of those teams have the arms the Mets do; four of the five starters could be a game one starter. Even more, no other team in the National League matches up with the rotation, especially in a short series when teams go to a four man set up.

Analyzing each of these starters is a ton of fun, because three of the five are aces, one of the other two is a former ace (and a ton of fun to watch hit) and the other could be a future ace. Manager Terry Collins named Matt Harvey the opening day starter late in spring training. The 27-year-old starter missed all of the 2014 season after Tommy John surgery and was thought to have an innings limit last year; Harvey ended up tossing 216 innings combined last year, which is the most ever by a pitcher in their return from the UCL surgery. The last time we saw him on the mound, he had successfully convinced Collins to let him pitch the ninth inning of game five. According to FanGraphs, the velocity on his fastball in 2015 (95.2) was basically the same as it was before his surgery in 2013 (95.4). His ERA and FIP were both higher than in 2013, but another year removed from surgery, gloves should be off for Harvey in 2016 as the number one guy.

Slotting in to the second spot after the Dark Knight, Jacob deGrom followed up his rookie of the year campaign with his first All Star appearance and finished in the top ten of Cy Young voting. He logged 205 strikeouts, a WHIP under one (0.979), and a strikeout percentage of 27.3%. deGrom threw 191 innings in his second season and is another Tommy John survivor (2010); he should see a workload increase after another season in the big leagues.

After Dillon Gee was placed on the disabled list in May of last season, the Mets made the decision to call up much anticipated prospect, Noah Syndergaard. The 6’6” righty, who was acquired as part of the R.A. Dickey deal a few years ago, dominated in five starts in the Pacific Coast League to begin 2015, striking out 34 batters in 29.2 innings, holding hitters to a .191 average. Once called up, Syndergaard did not disappoint and has one of the best pitching combinations in the league with his fastball hitting an average of 97 mph and a curveball that sits in the low 80s. Giving ‘Thor’ a full season in the majors, the Mets can only expect him to continue to develop and build on the 9.96 K/9 rate he put up in 150 innings.

Filling out the four and five slots in the rotation is Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon. While we know what we can expect from Big Bart, and his at bats are especially fun, Matz could have some ingredients of an ace. Dominating through every step of the minor leagues, he has kept his career ERA in the Mets’ system under 2.50. In six starts last season, Matz was consistently hitting the low to mid 90s on his fastball and had a plus changeup coming from the left side. As long as he can stay healthy, getting 160 out of him in the five slot can be expected as he begins his career in the Mets’ vaunted rotation. Also, consider Zack Wheeler will be returning to the rotation down the line this season. After getting Tommy John surgery during Spring Training in 2015, Wheeler is another in the group of Mets top pitching prospects who had some success in the majors before missing all of last season. The Mets and Wheeler are hoping he can return sometime in July; I would assume if he is not part of the rotation, they can slide him into the bullpen. It may be in the Mets’ best interest, with the amount of innings their young pitchers threw last year and their expectations this year, to put Wheeler in a six-man rotation for a few weeks to keep their usage down for this season.

Jeurys Familia will be in his second season as closer for this team after logging 43 saves in 2015. Familia excelled in the closing role after the Mets lost Jenrry Mejia to PED suspensions. Until game one of the World Series, he hadn’t blown a save since July 26th. The rest of the bullpen features veterans like Jerry Blevins, Antonio Bastardo and Addison Reed. Getting two or so clean innings from the bullpen before Familia each game shouldn’t be an issues, but we all know bullpens can be volatile.

 

Will they benefit from a bad division?

Of course, the Mets find themselves the best team in a division with two teams admittedly rebuilding, and the Miami Marlins. Thus is the National League in this day and age, as it seems every division has at least two teams riding out the 2016 season and already playing for next year. The Mets had a record of 36-21 against the Phillies, Braves and Marlins in 2015. Washington and New York should be able to beat up on those other three teams and have a battle through the season for the top spot in the NL East. Both squads are built the same way, around a powerful outfield star with helpful parts that are looking to develop or have rebound seasons and strong pitching staffs.

One thing we don’t know is how this team will react to high expectations coming off a World Series appearance. Before last year, the Mets had a five-year plan that always seemed to be stuck in year one. Harvey has a great year and then gets snatched away for Tommy John surgery. David Wright has been one of the best third basemen of this generation, surely the best in Mets history, but the team was never solid enough around him to make a deep playoff run. Financially, the team hasn’t been able to make many long term deals and don’t have the flexibility like the Yankees, Dodgers or even Diamondbacks. Fans have been waiting for ‘next year’ for the last ten years and that year finally came last year. Now, it is time to build on that and keep developing the young pitching talent currently on the roster.

 

Predictions and Expectations

Match up this rotation with any other team in the majors and the Mets will come out on top. While some NL teams like the Cubs have made strides this offseason, and the Mets lineup should drive in runs through the season, the Mets rotation should be dependable come playoff time, having proven it can shut teams down. Certainly, the domination of the Cubs in the NLCS last year was helped by the mighty bat of Daniel Murphy for a stretch of games, but throwing any combination of Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard in three straight games can be devastating to an offense. How far the team goes will depend on the development of Syndergaard and Matz, as well as the offensive firepower that Michael Conforto can bring to the lineup in left field. The rotation can shut other teams down, but the offense will need to score more runs and be less reliant on Yoenis Cespedes. A step forward from Conforto and d’Arnaud can help spike the offense and in the weak NL East, the Mets should win the division with a little pressure from the Nationals. Prediction: a 91-71 season, winning the east and the National League pennant for the second year in a row.

 

Check out Effectively Wild‘s season previews and the schedule of our own companion previews.

2013-15 team stats via FanGraphs. Salaries via Spotrac.

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