Saturday, March 21, 2015

NL East Preview: Mets



Fangraphs’ 2015 Projection: 81-81
Fangraph’s 2015 playoff odds: 26.6%

While New York Mets fans love to be pessimistic, things are starting to look up in Citi Field these days. In 2015, the Mets will be led, as they have been for quite some time, by David Wright. Despite his up and down results over the last couple of years, he is projected for 3.7 WAR as the projection systems expect him to be back healthy and get 560 plate appearances, a number he has reached only twice over the last 4 years. He is projected to hit well, with a .338 wOBA, and provide his usual above average defense at third base. Behind Wright is centerfielder Juan Lagares with a projected 2.8 WAR driven by his defensive value. He is a liability at the plate, with a projected OBP below .300. He makes up for that with stellar defense in center that ensure him a spot in the lineup even if he isn’t hitting.

The Mets made a big splash in the offseason by signing free agent Michael Cuddyer, formerly of the Rockies. Not only did the Mets have to commit a sizeable chunk of change to get 35 year old Cuddyer, they also had to sacrifice a first round draft pick as Cuddyer was given a qualifying offer from his former team. Cuddyer benefited greatly from playing at altitude in Denver, as his offensive results on the road pale in comparison to his numbers at home in the offensive boosting environment the Rockies call home. So Cuddyer might be a question mark at the plate, but he certainly doesn’t bring any value as a defender in the outfield. Given his limited range, he might even see some time at first base this year. Add all that together and you get his disappointing 1.1 WAR (a number dragged down significantly by his defense as the projections still expect him to hit well).

The biggest hole the Mets have is at shortstop, where they will attempt to get by with Wilmer Flores as the starter. He is about a league average hitter, with a projected wOBA of just over .300. On defense, though, he might prove to be a liability. When he was a younger prospect, Flores started out playing shortstop, but was eventually moved off the position and was trying his hand at third base, first base, and even spent some time in the outfield. Despite the move to less challenging defensive positions in the minors, the Mets will try him as a retread defensively at shortstop. That leads to another problem with the Cuddyer signing. The Mets have committed a lot of money to an aging outfielder while ignoring their bigger hole at shortstop. Signing Cuddyer meant the Mets couldn’t go out and find a replacement at shortstop and will now hope Flores can hang at the big league level.

Finally on offense, someone to keep an eye on, a sleeper, if you will, is Lucas Duda. He is projected for 2.7 WAR and a .347 wOBA and around 30 home runs, solid numbers on their own. Duda, a left handed slugger, performs much better against right handed pitchers than left handers. If the Mets are willing to accept the platooning system (taking two players and rotating their playing time depending on the opposing pitcher), Duda presents an excellent option. By limiting his at bats against left handed pitchers, you maximize his value by allowing him to face the right handed pitchers he knows how to handle.

Where things are really exciting for Mets fans is pitching. Matt Harvey, phenomenal in his early career, is coming back from Tommy John surgery after missing all of last year. Early signs in spring training have been promising, with Harvey hitting close to 100 MPH with his fastball. Behind him is the ageless, but certainly not weightless, Bartolo Colon. Colon, even at nearly 42 years old, can still suck up innings at about a replacement level. Rookie sensation Jacob deGrom projects to be even better after locking up the NL Rookie of the Year award last season. Unfortunately, the Mets where counting on fellow youngster Zach Wheeler to improve his control and remain a mainstay in the rotation. Wheeler succumbed to the Tommy John epidemic and will be out for 12-18 months. In the bullpen, the Mets may have found their closer of the future in converted starter Jenrry Mejia. After being moved to the bullpen early on in 2014, he racked up 28 saves once he was handed the closer spot.

Player to Watch:

NoMacob deHargarrd: OK, I’m cheating a little here by combining the Met’s top pitching prospects into one player (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaad). Harvey we touched on briefly already. We know his velocity is back, which is a good sign for Mets fans, but we also know that coming off of TJ surgery, control is one of the last pieces to fully recover. While he might still be able to blow it past hitters, how well he can place his off speed pitches will be the true indicator of where he is in his recovery. Then again, Matt Harvey at 75% is better than most MLB pitchers at 100%. Jacob deGrom had a somewhat surprising run to the ROY award. Surprising because his minor league numbers were anything but stellar. He made some changes to his mechanics and his pitch mix upon hitting the majors that resulted in his successful rookie year. Looking ahead to 2015, opposing batters focus will be on deGrom and whether his average minor league numbers are an indicator of his future results once hitters adjust to his repertoire or whether the changes he made are successful in the long term. Finally, the Mets stop pitching prospect Syndergadd (aka Thor), will not be starting the season with the big league club. But make no mistake, scouts agree that Thor is the real deal. The real question will be when he gets the call up to the big leagues. The combo of the three pitchers (a combo that would have been 4 had Wheeler not had his elbow troubles) is enough to get Mets fans excited for years to come.

Best Case Scenario:

The best case scenario for the Mets took a hit when Wheeler had to go under the knife, but the pieces are still there for the team to make a run at the Wild Card. If Wright can stay healthy and produce up to his usual standards, he anchors a potentially talented line up. Forgotten man Curtis Granderson can still provide some pop. If Cuddyer proves that his mile high stats translate to the Big Apple and Lucas Duda continues to rake against right handed pitching, the Mets batting order will bring some big thumpers. Combine that lineup with continued improvement from the young trio of pitchers and Bartolo Colon’s defiance of father time, and this is a team that could give the Nationals fits and squeak into the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

Worst Case Scenario:

Then again, it wouldn’t take much for the Mets to hit their worst case scenario. While the numbers would indicate Wright will produce, his checkered past makes that no guarantee. Cuddyer is moving out of the thin air of Colorado into a Mets stadium that suppresses power. Granderson is a year older and another year removed from his best performances. Matt Harvey is coming back from TJ surgery and, as Nationals fans know from watching Strasburg’s recovery, he can’t be counted on to reach 100% during the 2015 season. If things break poorly for the Mets, they won’t be able to hang in the Wild Card race, but aren’t terrible enough to out-suck the Phillies and snag the top draft spot, resulting in a disappointing middle of the pack finish.

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