Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Team Postmortem: New York Mets

Record: 74-88, -65 Run Differential

Summary: The Mets only won one more game than the our previous team but in reality the Mets and Phillies are franchises headed in much different directions. The Phillies are coming off a run of contention and now looking to be mediocre for a while. Meanwhile, the Mets have been mediocre for years but are looking to have a bright future. For now  though, the 2013 club was mediocre with flashes of future promise.

The Mets' offense struggled in 2013 by and large. They scored 619 runs, 23rd in baseball, with a triple slash of .237/.306/.366. Their wRC+ of 89 was also 23rd, but actually things are even worse at the plate with a wOBA .297 (29th!!). So where did those runs come from? Incredible baserunning. I'm serious. The Mets were the best baserunning team in baseball with a BsR of 21.4. To the Mets' credit, they could take a walk as their BB% was 12th in baseball at 8.2%, but they also struck out the fourth most frequently in baseball at 22.3%.  They Mets also possessed next to no power with an ISO of 129 (27th). Of course, one wonders how much Citi Field, a notorious pitcher's park, had an effect on that. Certainly it seemed to, as their home splits ( ISO 119, wOBA 281, wRC+ 83) are worse than away (138, .312, 96). Those numbers, if expanded to a full season, would rank 18th, 17th, and 16th. Ultimately, though, the opposition is held in check by the same ballpark when facing the Mets, so they can't saddle all their woes on the park. The offense was lead by the continued awesomeness of the oft-forgotten David Wright.  Wright hit .307/.390/.514(!) with a 207 ISO, 391 wOBA (!), and wRC+ of 155. His 6.0 fWAR ranks fifth among MLB 3rd basemen, despite missing six weeks of the season with a hamstring injury. Wright is one of the best players in the game, and no one seems to remember it. The Mets also got solid performances out of second baseman Daniel Murphy (WRC+ 106, 3.0 fWAR) and a freakish must-be-a-fluke season out of Marlon Byrd (wRC+ 136, 3.5 fWAR).

On the other hand, the Mets can certainly pitch. The staff allowed 684 runs (15th in baseball) and posted a 3.79 FIP (11th), 3.86 xFIP (17th),  7.37 K/9 (20th), and an incredible 2.79 BB/9 (7th). Thats a damn fine staff for a team not ready to contend quite yet. So let's look at a few of the starters that contributed to that. Jon Niese had a season in which... okay, I'm just kidding. We're talking about Matt Harvey. Matt Harvey is God.  Before his injury, Harvey was the best pitcher in baseball. Period.  He struck out everyone (9.64 K/9) and walked no one (BB/9 1.56). His FIP of 2.00 was the best in baseball (Kershaw is next at 2.39). xFIP? Also best in baseball at 2.63 (King Felix is next at 2.66). Harvey's fastball was said to cure cancer. This was only his second season. He's 24. I could spend an entire post talking about his stuff and I may just do that at some point. His needing TJ surgery was the worst thing to happen to baseball this season. The Mets also got a solid season out of Jon Niese (3.58 FIP), saw continued development in Dillon Gee, and broke top prospect Zack Wheeler (who should end up as part of a dominant one-two punch with Harvey atop the Mets rotation... now sadly delayed until 2015) into the majors.

By mid-way through the 2013 season, things were looking up for Mets fans. Sure the current team was mediocre but there was real hope for contention in 2014. Harvey was God; Wheeler was on his way; pitcher Noah Snydergaard was dominating AA; and catcher Travis d'Arnaud had  destroyed AAA and been promoted, perhaps prematurely, to the Majors, but had oodles of potential. On top of that, going into 2014, the Mets would have money available, finally freed of obligations like Jason Bay, Johan Santana, and Bernie Madoff. Get the right complementary pieces and they could certainly contend! Then Matt Harvey got hurt and Mets fans wept.  However, they shouldn't lose hope. Harvey's injury may push their window back a bit, but being good--even great--again certainly appears to be in the Mets' near future. By 2015, Harvey will be back, Snydergaard should be in the rotation, and Wheeler and d'Arnaud will have had a full MLB season to develop. That's not to say respectability isn't impossible even in 2014. The Mets seem like they are ready to start spending in preparation for a big 2015 push, and if they do so well, they may surprise a few people even next season.

MVP: Matt Harvey, 6.1 fWAR

LVP: Mike Baxter, -0.7 fWAR

Down On The Farm: The Mets have graduated alot of their top prospects recently, most notably of course being Matt Harvey. Yet they still have a solid farm system, ranked at 16th by Baseball America going into the season--and Bleacher Reports Post-Trade Deadline list had them holding steady there. The system has already added Zack Wheeler, Wilmer Flores, and Travis d'Arnaud to the major league roster and joining them soon could be Noah Snydergaard and Rafael Montero. This youth movement, particuarly the pitching, is the reason for most of the optimism in Queens.

Noah Snydergaard is the prize of the remaining prospects. The big 21-year-old righthander throws a fastball that clocks in at 96mph, with a power curveball and nasty changeup. If all goes well, he should make the Mets rotation--along with Harvey and Wheeler --a true force that'll strike fear in the hearts of the National League by 2015. He split time between A+ and AA this season and absolutely crushed both levels. In 12 starts in AA he struck out 9.05 batters-per nine and walked only 2.26 per-nine with a 3.11 ERA and 2.60 FIP. In AAA, he was even better with 11.50 K/9 and 2.00 BB/9 in 11 starts (although with a 3.00 ERA and 3.24 FIP). Snydergaard isn't quite ready for the majors yet. He needs to finish polishing his secondary stuff and get stretched out more; he posted 103.2 IP in 2012 and 117.2 in 2013. I'd expect him to certainly make AAA during 2014 and possibly see the majors in September. Expect him to arrive in full by 2015, when Matt Harvey also will be back.

Rafeal Montero is a 22-year-old right hander with a fastball that sits in the low-90s but has touched 94-95, along with a slider and changeup. While not possessing as high a ceiling as Snydergaard (Montero projects more of a #3 type as a ceiling... which frankly, behind Wheeler, Harvey and Snydergaard is potentially still insane), Montero is closer to the majors, splitting time between AA and AAA this season.  A command specialist who pounds the zone, Montero walks very few. In AA, his BB/9 was a mere 1.35 and in AAA it was an impressive 2.54. His time AAA is enlightening in another way as well. He posted a 3.05 ERA and 2.87 while calling Las Vegas home, one of the most offensively high-octane environments in the league. Fun note: Zack Wheeler's ERA in Las Vegas? 3.93. He'll start the season in AAA, but should see the majors before long.

If APOD Was GM: It's clear that the Mets were originally targeting 2014 for a return to over .500 baseball and even contention. Losing Harvey for the season has certainly put a kink in that plan but it doesn't mean it should be abandoned. While October may be much more unlikely now, the Mets can spend their newly recovered financial resources to shore up the team now, both for improvement in 2014 and outright contention in 2015. Two targets are pretty obvious. The Mets had one of the worst offensive outfields in baseball in 2013; they ranked 28th in wOBA at .302 and 23rd in wRC+ at 93. A lot of that offense came from a freaky good season from Marlon Byrd (I know) who was traded to the Pirates. That's an area in which  the Mets would like to improve and, what do you know, two of the top free agents of the off-season are outfielders!  I would expect the Mets to run hard at Sin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury will command the most money, for sure, but his defense is a nice add for the spacious Citi Field. Choo would be cheaper, but a poorer defender probably less suited for Queens. Also, with Harvey on the shelf, the Mets will need to fill some holes in the rotation as they wait for Harvey to return (and the rest of the young guns to arrive). Trading for a Price type would be ill-advised, instead I expect the Mets to go for a buy-low candidate who could rebound. An excellent option would be Phil Hughes. Hughes will never be the Super-Ace that Yankee fans once dreamed he would be, but thats not to say he can't be useful, even good, again. His biggest problem over the past few season has been being homer-prone (1.65 HR/9 in 2012, 1.48 in 2013), a problem exacerbated by pitching in Yankee Stadium. A move to the NL--and to a pitcher friendly park like Citi Field--could be just what he needs.

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