2020 Season Preview: New York Mets

New York Mets
By Will Pharo

2019 Record: 86-76, 3rd in NL East

2019 Payroll: $146,335,812 (13th highest in MLB)

Projected 2020 Lineup: (Stat projections via Steamer)

  1. CF Brandon Nimmo,  .232/.359/.400, 0.7 WAR
  2. 3B Jeff McNeil,  .289/.348/.464, 1.2 WAR
  3. 1B Pete Alonso, .252/.343/.534, 1.2 WAR
  4. 2B Robinson Cano, .271/.327/.449, 0.6 WAR
  5. LF J.D. Davis, .264/.329/.462, 0.5 WAR
  6. RF Michael Conforto, .252/.358/.490, 1.1 WAR
  7. C Wilson Ramos, .274/.333/.448, 0.6 WAR
  8. SS Amed Rosario, .276/.318/.424, 0.9 WAR

Projected 2020 Rotation:

  1. Jacob deGrom, 76 IP/ 3.29 ERA/ 1.09 WHIP, 2.1 WAR
  2. Marcus Stroman 67 IP/ 4.06 ERA/ 1.38 WHIP, 1.0 WAR
  3. Rick Porcello 66 IP/ 4.81 ERA/ 1.34 WHIP, 0.6 WAR
  4. Steven Matz 56 IP/ 4.55 ERA/ 1.35 WHIP, 0.6 WAR
  5. Michael Wacha 57 IP/ 4.97 ERA/ 1.47 WHIP, 0.2 WAR

Offseason Recap:

This off-season there was a little bit of buzz surrounding the Mets, with huge names like Anthony Rendon, Fransico Lindor, and Nolan Arenado to a lesser extent being tossed around. The Mets had neither the prospects nor the payroll flexibility to truly be in the running for any of those names. The biggest impact move of the off-season for the Mets was losing starter Zach Wheeler to the rival Phillies. Wheeler had struggled greatly to stay healthy and put it together in the past, despite excellent velocity and movement on his pitches, and he finally broke through the last 2 years averaging more than 180 IP and an fWAR of 8.9 — good for a top 10 finish among qualified pitchers since the start of 2018. The Mets replaced Wheeler (and now the ever-injured Syndergaard!) with a combination of 2 buy-low veterans in Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. Wacha has struggled with health and ineffectiveness the last 2 years but was a 3-WAR player as recently as 2017. Rick Porcello probably has a lower ceiling but higher floor of the 2, with a 4.79 ERA and 4.45 FIP the last 3 seasons, but eats innings averaging 190 innings in that same stretch.  

Jake Marisnick fills the role Juan Lagares had during the last few seasons for the Mets. As a defensive specialist/lefty platoon 4th outfielder, Marisnick will make just 3 million this year compared to the 9 million Lagares made last year. The highest upside move of the off-season the Mets made was signing a former star from the other New York team, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances. Betances has had scary injuries lately with right shoulder impingement and an Achilles tear. However, a one-year “prove it” deal has tremendous upside, given Betances’s track record: no reliever threw more innings than Betances from 2014-18, and he ranked in the top 5 in ERA, FIP, K/9, and WAR in that same stretch.

2020 Season Preview 

PECOTA projections have the Mets at 88 wins, winning the National League East, with the second best odds to make the postseason in the National League at 75.3%. While the Mets as a franchise, historically, are a bit of a joke, they are coming off a season where they were second in the National League in wRC+, and 4th in starter ERA. The infield is led by Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, who had an outstanding 143 wRC+ last year. With a homerun/flyball rate of 30.6% and a concerning 26.4% K rate, some regression is expected but nonetheless Alonso is clearly an offensive force. Robinson Cano is a shell of his former self, but a 126 wRC+ in the second half had him looking more like the player the Mets traded for. Amed Rosario may never live up to his former elite prospect status, but he was still a solid everyday player, hitting .319 in the second half and improving his defense substantially. Jeff McNeil had a very weird but excellent 2019, and proved that his 2018 small sample was officially legit. His first half/second half splits were strange, hitting first .349 and then .276, but his OPS essentially stayed the same due to an substantial increase in power in the second half. McNeil did all of this while being moved everywhere defensively, more than holding his own during time at 3B, 2B, and both corner outfield spots. This season he projects to play mostly third.

The Mets outfield continues to be poor defensively but strong offensively. After a fantastic 2018, Brandon Nimmo suffered serious injuries throughout 2019, but seemed to be healthy late en route to a .261/.430/.565 September triple slash, albeit in a small sample size. He is not a natural center fielder but with elite on-base skills marked by a .391 OBP, his offensive value is too much to be on the bench.  Mets fans thought Michael Conforto was a future MVP when he hit two home runs in the World Series as a rookie in 2015 and while he is not that, he is an above average every day player, more than capable of being an All-Star with 11.1 fWAR the last 3 seasons and an OPS+ of 131. With Alonso in the lineup, Conforto has more opportunities to drive in runs, in turn making him more popular amongst the boomer fans in baseball. J.D. Davis had a fantastic 2019 receiving his first somewhat regular playing time since Houston had too much talent ahead of him on the depth chart.  He is a poor defender even by LF standards, but a .335/.395/.584 triple slash and a 156 wRC+ in the second half, albeit with a .393 BABIP, might make him a solid DH candidate in the Senior Circuit’s first season with the position. Bench pieces include the offensively gifted Dominic Smith and I suppose the wildly expensive and fragile duo of Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie, but the Mets cannot expect anything out of either of them at this point. [Editor’s Note: Will wrote this before Cespedes hit that homer Friday. Just to clear things up.]

Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole will probably fight in some made-up media battle for the title of best pitcher in New York. After deGrom, things get slightly more interesting with Noah Syndergaard missing the 2020 season; despite injuries and a bad luck in an inflated ERA, he was still the 6th best pitcher in the NL over the last 2 seasons. Marcus Stroman was bad for the Mets last year but very good for the Blue Jays, and will have to step up now as the club’s number 2. He is usually good for a bunch of innings, low strikeouts and about 3 fWAR. Steven Matz was briefly in trade rumors earlier this summer but now looks to be the number 3 starter. Matz looked like a future star early in his career and while he will never live up to his expectations, he is a fine (though largely inconsistent) back end of the rotation starter; a second half WHIP of 1.19 and 3.52 ERA are both good signs. Rick Porcello is currently penciled into to be the 4th starter and while the Mets may have hope he can return to “Cy Young” form, the signs do not look good for him. His velocity and movement on his pitches were down consistently in a career worst 2019, along with lessening the use of his effective sinker and over 2000 career innings, makes Porcello look to be an old 30. Michael Wacha effectively replaces Syndergaard and has nowhere to go but up. He had an injury-plagued 2018 and a largely ineffective 2019, but for most of his career, while a bit overrated, Wacha has been a fine back end starter with a career xFIP of exactly 4.00.

The Mets bullpen was nothing short of a dumpster fire in 2019. A franchise worst 4.95 ERA as a group (the only Mets team close was the 1962 “juggernaut” at 40-120) ranked 12th in the NL ahead of the lowly Marlins, the Coors Field Rockies, and somehow the world champion Nationals ranked last. Seth Lugo was actually an elite reliever last year; he’s had some concerning comments about wanting to be a starter, but he’s turned into a fantastic reliever. Lugo posted a 2.70 FIP and an excellent 28.0% K/BB% in 80 innings last season, and though he was heavily overworked down the stretch Lugo kept the Mets bullpen afloat to an extent. He may regress some in 2020, but his spin rate on his curveball should keep him atop league leaders for relievers. The Mets desperately need progression to the mean for Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia: while one is formerly elite, and the other very good, both were absolutely dreadful in 2019. Diaz had a bit of an unlucky year and while Familia’s weight and velocity were concerning, one has to believe there is some semblance of a quality MLB pitcher still in him. Though Dellin Betances and others help to fill out the bullpen, the Mets need Lugo, Familia, and Diaz to all be productive to take the next step in 2020.

Predicted Record: 32-28 (.533 winning percentage)

Player to Watch: Jeff McNeil

Here’s a hot take: Pete Alonso won’t be the Mets best offensive player this year. That title will belong to Jeff McNeil. McNeil has a 142 OPS+ in his career with 800+ PA’s and after being a high-contact, hit-for-average type of guy, he has seemingly shifted his focus to being a power hitter while maintaining the same offensive value.  While I personally prefer the contact hitter McNeil, either version of him is phenomenal. This season, he should get to settle down from the super-utility role he was thrust into last year and play mostly at third base, where he much is more comfortable and experienced than as an outfielder. That stability should help boost his performance even further.

Player to Watch: Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes is one the most boom or bust players in all of baseball this season. He has fewer than 500 plate appearances over the last 3 seasons. In that limited playing time, he’s still been productive to the tune of a 132 OPS+ but at the age of 34, and after having not played for so long, will the bat speed be there? Word is he looks great in Mets camp [Editor’s Note: and on Opening Day!], but everyone looks great in camp. The DH benefits the Mets maybe more than any team in the NL but Cespedes may even be able to play some left field. If he can resemble the Silver Slugger-caliber hitter he was before all these injuries, the Mets lineup can go from good to elite.

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