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N.L. East (?) Preview: New York Mets

Realignment

Great news for baseball fans! The MLB is considering starting the season in late June or early July. They are also discussing realigning the league in three 10-team divisions. This could bring out a lot of possibilities. I think they will combine the N.L. East and the A.L. East which could take the Met/Yankee rivalry to a new level! So this pretty much changes my series of articles on the N.L. East previews. I will wait and see what the MLB decides to do for the divisions and still continue to review the N.L. East teams. Next up, the Mets of New York town.

Meet the New Boss

In my previous article, I discussed all the new Mets. We also have a new rookie manager in Luis Rojas. Rojas has been in the Mets organization since 2007. He coached a lot of current Met players, including Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, and Dominic Smith. He was voted the best managerial prospect by his peers in 2014, 2015 and 2016. While he was not the Mets’ first choice, he does seem like a very good option and players like Pete Alonso are happy to see him. 

Alonso could use a new Home Run Derby pitcher as well…

Moving On Up!

As for the Mets lineup, they saw a massive improvement last season. Rookie of the Year, Pete Alonso, led the way with 53 dingers for 1st in the league and was 4th in the league with 120 RBIs. The Polar Bear also won the Home Run Derby and showed no signs of slowing down after that.  The 28-year-old Jeff McNeil was also a huge part of this offense in his first full season. He finished 6th in the league in hitting and was 13th in OBP. Michael Conforto also continued to have success last year, slashing .257/.363/.494 with a career-high 92 RBIs. The Mets finished 11th in Batting Average last year and 13th in Runs Scored. This was a huge boost from 2018 where is finished 23rd in Runs Scored and 29th in Batting Average.

Mo Money Mo Problems

Last offseason, the Metropolitans brought in Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, and J.D. Davis. Davis emerged as a big signing last year and Ramos produced very well offensively as usual. Cano and Lowrie were supposed to be the bigger acquisitions, but Lowrie was hurt and only finished the season with 7 at-bats. Lowrie is still suffering from a leg injury and there is no definite timeline on his return. Cano was plagued with injuries and when he played he was disappointing only slashing .256/.307/.428 with only 39 RBIs. The 37-year-old Cano came over with a huge contract, making $24 million until 2023 making him the highest-paid player on the Mets. So it made sense that Mickey Callaway kept running him out there even when it seemed like they had better options. Cano’s best days are definitely behind him and I think we will see the same type of production from him this season.

Lineup Changes This Season?

Mostly depth signings this offseason for the offense in Jake Marisnack, Matt Adams, and Eduardo Nunez. However, a healthy Brandon Nimmo could be like a big signing in itself. Nimmo had a shortened 2019 season because of injuries but was looking healthy this Spring, slashing .379/.455/.552 in 33 ABs. Mets fans hope to find Nimmo at the top of the order again. He was 4th in OBP in 2018 and had a .375 OBP last season. I also have to at least mention Yoenis Cespedes, who we probably will not see in any great capacity, but might come off the bench as a pinch hitter or be used as a DL at some points this season. This delay in the season could very well help Lowrie and him have more time to recover.

Starting To Worry

Then, there is their pitching situation. The Mets had one of the best starting rotations in the league last year, with an ERA of 3.84 (7th in the league), and pitched the most innings among starting staffs. As I said in my previous article, this team is very injury-prone. And what do you know after I publish that article, Thor loses his hammer. Noah Syndergaard opted to undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his season before it even began. Massive blow to the Mets’ playoff chances. While Syndergaard did not have his best season last year, he did pitch a lot of innings and continued to go deeper into games. Noah averaged 6.16 innings per start.

Wheels Falling Off

The Mets also lost Zach Wheeler who was the second-best pitcher last year. He was second to back to back Cy Young Award winner, Jacob deGrom. Wheeler had an ERA of 3.96 last season and averaged 6.29 innings per start. Wheeler is also a pretty good hitting pitcher slashing .211/.262/.298 with a dinger and 6 RBIs in his 64 ABs.  He will be pitching for the division-rival Phillies this year. The Mets also traded the 37-year-old Jason Vargas to the Phillies mid-season to the Phillies last year. Vargas pitched very well for a 5th starter last year, with a 4.01 ERA in 19 starts for the Mets. He did not fare well at Citizen Bank Park last year, but it is a very tough park to pitch in.

The Replacements

So who will replace Syndergaard, Wheeler and Vargas? Well, the Mets shocked their fans when they were buyers at the trade deadline last year and brought in Marcus Stroman. The 28-year-old right-hander from Long Island signed a 1-year contract after last season, where he pitched to a 3.77 ERA in his 11 starts for the Mets. The problem with Stroman last year is he did not go deep into games. He averaged 5 and a third innings per start. While this might be fine with some teams, with the Mets’ bullpen, 5 and a third innings just won’t cut it.

This offseason, the Mets brought in Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. I spoke about them in my last Mets article. Wacha will now definitely have a spot in the Mets rotation with Syndergaard out for the season. Both Porcello and Wacha are coming off of terrible seasons where they also did not go deep into games. Wacha averaged 4 and third innings per start last year. Porcello averaged 5.44 innings per start, which is not great if you don’t have a bullpen to hold a lead. The one positive for them will be pitching at a pitchers’ ballpark in Citi Field. In MLB’s latest update, they plan on playing the games in their own major-league ballparks with no fans in attendance. Also, the shortened season could lead Rojas and the Mets to pitch deGrom on 3 days rest a lot more. I expect Jacob to deGrominate again this season and be at least in contention for a Cy Young three-peat.

Watch Out in the Bleachers!

               The Mets relievers had a combined ERA of  4.99 last year (5th worst in the league). To combat this problem, the Mets brought in Dellin Betances, who is returning from a torn Achilles injury and missed most of last season. His velocity on his fastball in Spring Training was only 90 mph compared to his average velocity in 2018 of 97.8 mph. This is a huge drop-off and there are a lot of questions around him. The upside for the Mets is Justin Wilson is coming back. Wilson was dominant before his elbow injury and looked ready to go in Spring Training.

The Mets will need a huge bounceback from Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia, who were both terrible for the Mets last season. Both finished with ERAs around 6. Diaz has had a rough Spring with an ERA of 6.00 before baseball was suspended. Familia pitched very well in Spring and is developing a new type of splitter with new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. Hopefully, he can continue to develop with him over Skype, Zoom, or something. Both Familia and Diaz have career ERAs under 3.50 so I expect at least one of them to bounce back. Based on the Spring Training, I would say Familia would be more likely to rebound this season. Other than the big names, the Mets threw out MANY different pitchers searching for an answer last year. No names from Walker Lockett to Jacob Rhame did not perform well at all.

Light in the Darkness

They did have some bright spots in Seth Lugo and Brad Brach. The Mets brought in Brach mid-season and he pitched pretty well, with a 3.68 ERA in 14.2 innings. Small sample size, but the 34-year-old right-hander does have a 3.33 career ERA. They will bring the veteran reliever back for at least one more season. Seth Lugo was brilliant as usual last year. The 30-year-old from Shreveport, Louisiana pitched 80 innings with a 2.70 ERA and had a WAR of 2.4. Lugo had pretty much taken over the closer role from Diaz at the end of the season. Lugo also has been a starter before and has publicly said his goal is to be a starter. So if Wacha and Porcello struggle, Lugo could take their place and they could be sent to the pen.

Conclusion

Overall, I expect a slight decline from the Mets this season. Mainly because of Syndergaard going down and losing Wheeler. For me, it could be worse, but I think their offense will slightly improve if Nimmo stays healthy. I anticipate a small boost from the bullpen if Justin Wilson stays healthy. Also, it would be very hard for them to be worse than they were last year. Luis Rojas has a tough task at hand, made even more difficult due to the pandemic.

2019 Win Percentage: .531

2020 Win Percentage Prediction: .518


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