The new King of Queens is shortstop Francisco Lindor. The bouncing, bubbling personality with a slick glove and a sweet swing was the biggest prize of the first offseason under new owner Steve Cohen. Shortly thereafter, Cohen made his first firing via social media when new GM Jared Porter was relived of his duties for sending explicit, unsolicited texts to a female reporter in 2016.
Things have certainly been interesting for the Mets this winter. They also acquired Carlos Carrasco in the Lindor deal that didn’t cost a whole lot from the Major League roster. The team also rolled out the red carpet for free agent signings James McCann, Jose Peraza, Trevor May, and Aaron Loup. Of course, they also traded away Steven Matz, traded for Joey Lucchesi, and found out that Robinson Cano cannot play a game in 2021.
Porter was hired on December 13 and fired on January 19. The off-field news didn’t stop there, as former Mets manager Mickey Callaway was put under the microscope for being a creep during his time in the Big Apple and in Cleveland. For a fan base too used to playing second fiddle to the Yankees, the Mets found themselves front and center a lot for a variety of reasons over the winter.
As far as the baseball side, which is the focus here, I loved the Mets going into 2020. Tickets were on pocket on over 86.5 wins and also a piece to win the NL East. The Mets were one of the best teams in the second half after going into the All-Star Break at 40-50. They went 46-26 after the Midsummer Classic and looked, at least to me, like a team ready to make that leap in 2020.
We’ll never know. The 60-game sprint was a dud with a 26-34 record, but the Mets were better than that by the alternate standings metrics, particularly BaseRuns and 3rd Order Win%, which I believe paint a much more accurate picture of the expectations for this season. Add in Lindor and Carrasco and hopefully a focus on preparing for the season.
I’m a big fan of teams that go outside the box. While Porter didn’t work out, the Mets did make the hire with analytics in mind, as he was with Theo Epstein in both Boston and Chicago and was in a Major League front office by his mid-20s. Prior to last season, the Mets hired 33-year-old Jeremy Hefner as the pitching coach. Callaway was replaced first with Carlos Beltran and then with Luis Rojas when it was determined that Beltran’s involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal was too much of a distraction.
Rojas is another young guy, at least by managerial standards. The Mets are clearly trying to create something new and contemporary with their hires and their coaching staff. New GM Zack Scott has a bachelor’s in mathematics from the University of Vermont. Scott was in charge of Boston’s analytics and baseball systems department.
I always get excited when teams make these progressive types of hires. This is a team that has a really high ceiling in my estimation and one that also has a very high floor. The Mets are a team that I’m expecting a lot of good things from over the course of this season.
Based on the win total odds and futures markets, it looks pretty clear that I’m not alone.
2021 Over/Under Season Win Total Odds
Odds To Win NL East
|Team||Odds To Win|
|New York Mets||+140|
|BaseRuns Run Differential||+13 (5.42/5.20)||+56 (4.97/4.63)|
|3rd Order Win%||31.2-28.8||87.9-74.1|
|Record in One-Run Games||6-11||24-23|
Additions: Taijuan Walker, Kevin Pillar, Tommy Hunter, Mike Montgomery, Jonathan Villar, Albert Almora Jr., Aaron Loup, Jose Martinez, Wilfredo Tovar, Tom Windle, Jerad Eickhoff, James McCann, Jerry Blevins, Trevor May, Sam McWilliams, Jake Hager, Mitchell Tolman, Jose Peraza, Mallex Smith, Arodys Vizcaino, Oscar De La Cruz, Khalil Lee, Jordan Yamamoto, Yennsy Diaz, Sean Reid-Foley, Joey Lucchesi, Carlos Carrasco, Francisco Lindor, Stephen Tarpley, Jacob Barnes
Losses: Brad Brach, Chasen Shreve, Paul Sewald, Ariel Jurado, Rene Rivera, Erik Kratz, Jed Lowrie, Yoenis Cespedes, Jake Marisnick, Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, Erasmo Ramirez, Todd Frazier, Robinson Chirinos, Wilson Ramos, Ali Sanchez, Federico Polanco, Steven Matz, Endy Rodriguez, Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Isaiah Greene, Josh Wolf, Luis Oviedo, Robel Garcia
I’m a pretty verbose guy and I feel like this list of transactions is long than some of the previews I’ve written thus far. The only people the Mets didn’t sign this winter are you and I.
A flurry of moves often comes with a new regime, which is the case here in Queens. The Mets have had a really good offseason in my opinion. I’m a much bigger Joey Lucchesi believer than a lot of people. Certainly the Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco additions grab the spotlight, but James McCann is a really good offensive catcher and the Mets added some very interesting depth. Taijuan Walker is a fairly low-risk lottery ticket to add some depth to the rotation.
Jose Martinez probably doesn’t have a position and would have been great if the league added a universal DH, but he’s been a very productive hitter throughout his career with a .345 wOBA and a 117 wRC+. If nothing else, he may be a really valuable trade piece to an AL team.
There are some notable losses from a name recognition standpoint, but I don’t see a ton of lost production. Andres Gimenez was the cost of doing business to get Lindor and Carrasco, but that loss won’t be felt nearly as much with Lindor and then Jonathan Villar. I actually like the swap of Lucchesi and Matz.
Not listed here is Robinson Cano, who is suspended for the 2021 season for PEDs.
|Batting Average (BA)||.272 (1st)||.257 (11th)|
|On-Base Percentage (OBP)||.348 (2nd)||.328 (10th)|
|Slugging Percentage (SLG)||.459 (4th)||.442 (11th)|
|Weighted On-Base Avg (wOBA)||.347 (3rd)||.325 (11th)|
|Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)||121 (2nd)||104 (7th)|
|Batting Avg on Balls In Play (BABIP)||.320 (3rd)||.299 (14th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||21.9% (9th)||22.0% (11th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||8.6% (18th)||8.2% (21st)|
The Mets had a magnificent offense in 2020, but let me start with the glass half empty here. The Mets were third in GB% at 46.3%. They were 15th in the league in average exit velocity, so we’re not talking about an immense amount of contact quality. They were eighth in number of batted balls of 95+ mph, so very good, though not great, at least not great enough to sustain the offensive profile that they had last season.
If we look generally at BA-xBA, which is batting average minus expected batting average at Statcast, which takes into account things like launch angle, batted ball distance, exit velocity, batted ball direction, etc., the Mets were the third-highest in that stat with a batting average that was 16 points higher than expected. Only the Red Sox and Rockies finished higher and Fenway Park and Coors Field are phenomenal hitting environments.
The .320 BABIP for the Mets was third to the Braves and Red Sox. The Braves were at .322 and the Red Sox were at .321. Atlanta only overachieved in xBA by five points, so their performance was pretty legit, especially from a contact quality standpoint. The Braves were second in average exit velocity behind only the Dodgers and second in number of 95+ batted balls.
It is very hard to finish in the top five in OBP without a great walk rate or astonishing contact quality. The Mets had neither. If the season would have played out to 162 games, I would have pegged the Mets for substantial offensive regression. The Mets were 10th in ground ball batting average and overachieved by 18 points according to xBA. These stats aren’t the be-all, end-all, but there is a lot of evidence pointing towards significant drops across the board from the Mets. Something closer to 2019 makes a lot of sense.
Now, let’s fill the glass halfway up. The Mets had all of that offensive success, but didn’t have it when it matters most. The Mets hit .272 as a team, but only .243 with runners in scoring position. As great as the offensive numbers were, the Mets were essentially league average with RISP with a 99 wRC+ and a .313 wOBA in those high-leverage spots. Their .282 BABIP ranked 25th. Because of all of their offensive success with the bases empty, the Mets wound up with 611 plate appearances with RISP, which ranked third in baseball.
With the bases empty, the Mets batted .285, 17 points higher than anybody else. Their .336 BABIP was 11 points higher than anybody else’s and their .363 wOBA was easily the best in baseball. They also slugged .483 to lead the league. There really is no rhyme or reason to this. Small sample sizes could be a factor to a degree, I guess, but there is no year-to-year correlation in performance with runners in scoring position. In other words, this could wildly swing the other way.
This concept is called Cluster Luck. Joe Peta talked about it extensively in his book, Trading Bases, which is a great read for any baseball bettor. A pretty simple way of looking at this is that the Mets were 26-34, but BaseRuns put them down as a 31-29 team. That gap of five wins is attributable to the contrasting stats with the bases empty and runners in scoring position.
BaseRuns takes away context. It simply throws all of the individual plate appearances into a hopper and spits out an expected total for runs scored per game and runs allowed per game and then uses Pythagorean Win-Loss to create a record based on run differential. Imagine being a top-three offense in baseball and getting outscored by 22 runs on the season.
By BaseRuns, the Mets were +13 in run differential. That is a 35-run swing, due in large part to what happened with the bases empty and then with RISP. The craziest part is that it happened on the pitching side, too! I’ll write about that shortly.
When I look at New York for the upcoming season, I see negative regression with the bases empty, but also positive regression with RISP. The degree to which those things cancel each other out will wind up setting the bar for this offense. I don’t love the offensive profile with so many ground balls, but the Mets do make a lot of contact and added another guy that makes a ton of contact in Francisco Lindor.
Michael Conforto ran a .412 BABIP during his .322/.412/.515 season with a .401 wOBA and a 157 wRC+. Dominic Smith ran a .368 BABIP with a .316/.377/.616 slash, a .412 wOBA, and a 164 wRC+. Jeff McNeil ran another high BABIP despite a drop of 2.4 mph in average exit velocity. The decreased contact quality for McNeil didn’t hurt his batting average or OBP, but did cut into his SLG, as he dropped from .531 to .454. He went from a 15.4% HR/FB% to a 7.7% HR/FB%. Usually decreased contact quality hurts across the board, but it didn’t seem to hurt McNeil other than the total bases department.
This isn’t to say that any of those guys are bad hitters. In fact, they’re all pretty darn good hitters. Those guys just overperformed relative to their career numbers and expectations. On the flip side, a guy like Pete Alonso underperformed, as his BABIP dropped 38 points, hurting him in the batting average, OBP, and SLG departments. His HR/FB% dropped by 6%.
There is always going to be give and take with individual players coming out of a season. I think the Mets are going to be doing more giving than taking based on all of the numbers that I’m seeing, but, like I said, the improvements with RISP would go a long way. Baseball is ultimately a game about sequencing. Do you get hits in high-leverage spots? Do you give up hits in high-leverage spots? When you look at teams that have amazing seasons, you often find them at or near the top in offensive performance with RISP and on the pitching side. The timing of events is so critically important.
For the Mets, their timing was off. That’s how you have a top-three offense and finish under .500. Guys like Francisco Lindor will help, though I do think Lindor’s offensive profile is a little bit overvalued in general.
The guys that the Mets lost were bad offensive players. With the exception of Robinson Cano, who is suspended for the season, the Mets lost Amed Rosario, who had a 75 wRC+ in 147 PA. They lost Wilson Ramos, who had an 89 wRC+ in 155 PA. They replaced those guys with Lindor and James McCann, who has come alive offensively over his last 149 games and has made significant strides in the contact quality department.
McCann is coming off of back-to-back seasons with an average exit velocity over 90 mph. It is not a coincidence that those have been his two best offensive seasons. The White Sox do a fine job of generating high-quality contact from their hitters. His gains in that department should carry over. Projection systems aren’t really accounting for that with their low forecasts.
Replacing bad hitters with good hitters is a good thing. Having a lot of good hitters is a good thing. Having something to look forward to with positive regression with RISP is a good thing. This will be a very good offense, but not one I expect to perform to last season’s level. That matters when you are talking about a high win total number.
|Earned Run Average (ERA)||5.01 (22nd)||4.25 (12th)|
|Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)||4.46 (16th)||4.10 (6th)|
|Adj. Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)||4.33 (11th)||4.29 (7th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||25.4% (5th)||24.4% (9th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||9.7% (19th)||8.0% (8th)|
|Left On Base Percentage (LOB%)||69.9% (23rd)||73.1% (14th)|
As I said, the Mets also ran into negative Cluster Luck on the pitching side. Just from a basic analysis of the numbers in the table, the Mets had a 5.01 ERA with a 4.46 FIP. That already speaks to some bad luck. The 69.9% LOB% is another good indicator of bad luck, particularly as a pitching staff that had a lot of strikeouts.
With the bases empty last season, the Mets allowed a .244 batting average with a .318 OBP and a .437 SLG. They allowed 51 home runs, which was the fifth-most, so they ran a pretty high wOBA against at .326. Solo home runs are fine. They don’t bother me. They had the fifth-highest K% at 26%, so that was good.
With runners in scoring position, the Mets allowed a .275 BA with a .383 OBP and a .471 SLG. That was the highest OBP against in baseball. Their .358 wOBA against with RISP was the fourth-highest. Their .344 BABIP against was the highest in baseball. They also wound up with the fifth-highest BB% against in that split.
On the whole, the Mets were a pretty bad defensive team and that was a contributing factor to their low LOB% and to some of the misfortune with runners in scoring position, but these were some pretty heavy outliers. A .344 BABIP against in any split is quite extreme.
The New York bullpen wasn’t good by any means, but wasn’t completely terrible. That unit did have the highest BB% in baseball, so that didn’t really help matters a whole lot. They created a lot of their own problems by issuing walks and that can be especially bad with a subpar defensive team.
The Mets rotation will look a bit different this year. Jacob deGrom will once again be the anchor, but he’ll be supported by Carlos Carrasco and Marcus Stroman, who opted out of the COVID-19 season. Noah Syndergaard could be back in the second half of the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last March. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by southpaw David Peterson and right-hander Taijuan Walker in all likelihood, much to my chagrin since I feel like the only stockholder left for Joey Lucchesi.
deGrom is a perennial Cy Young candidate, so I can save some words talking about him. He’s elite and seems to find some area to improve with each passing year. Last season it was a spike to a 38.8% K%, which was easily a career-high. deGrom will have more help now, as Carrasco comes over from Cleveland where he posted a tremendous 2.91 ERA with a 3.59 FIP in his 68 innings of work. There were some red flags, as his walk rate spiked and he had some issues holding his velocity throughout games early in the year, but that appeared to be more mechanical than physical.
It was a huge bounce back from Carrasco and one that should ease some fears after he was limited in 2019 due to treatment for leukemia. With Carrasco in the fold and contract year Marcus Stroman, the top of this rotation has a lot of potential for dominance. Stroman may have had some serious concerns about COVID and about his health risks in the short season, but he was also able to manipulate some service time things by sitting out the season. Stroman then accepted the Mets qualifying offer in what was expected to be a depressed free agent market, so he’ll make $18.9 million this season before looking to cash in during free agency.
Obviously Stroman is a bit of an unknown after missing all of last season, but he’s been consistent throughout his career as an extreme ground ball guy with pretty good walk rates. He’s got a 3.76 ERA with a 3.64 FIP and a 3.59 xFIP in his 849.1 innings of work. It is worth noting that the projection systems all have him down for a career-high in FIP, so we’ll see it those are wrong or not.
Beyond the Big Three, we get the elite slider of regression candidate David Peterson, who had a 3.44/4.52/5.11 pitcher slash last season. When the ERA is that much lower than the FIP and xFIP, the expectation is that regression is coming to the ERA. Peterson did have a .233 BABIP against and a 76.8% LOB% to hide a high walk rate, but when you look at his expected stats based on a variety of batted ball factors, he has a chance to keep this up.
Everybody has their guys. One of them for me is Joey Lucchesi. I liked what I saw from Lucchesi in 2019, as he cut his home run rate in a big way and pitched to a respectable 4.18 ERA and a 4.17 FIP. He sacrificed strikeouts for better command. Last season was basically a lost year for him. I don’t know if the cutter even develops as the Padres had hoped, but he’s got a really good changeup. I think the tools are there to be an above average pitcher. Maybe the Mets can put them all together.
It seems like they preferred to pick up Taijuan Walker instead. I’m not a big Taijuan Walker guy. He worked 53.1 innings last season after throwing a total of 14 MLB innings the two seasons prior. The numbers are fine, but don’t blow me away and he’s a major health risk.
The Mets paid some extra attention to the bullpen. Edwin Diaz’s bounce back was a good starting point and allowed the Mets to make moves to get guys like Trevor May and Aaron Loup. Miguel Castro was a really interesting add at last year’s Trade Deadline. I don’t love this group and think the ceiling is a little bit lower than a lot of other bullpens, but I don’t think it will actively hurt the team.
Positives & Negatives
The Mets are locked into a very tough division. Even the Marlins are a plucky and pesky underdog with their starting staff. Those 76 games will be pretty challenging overall. I mean, we just saw them play a mostly division schedule with their great offense and have issues.
Analyzing teams like the Mets is tough because the big moves that they made over the winter really stand out. You are paying a premium at the top of the market because of those types of additions. Everybody knows the name Francisco Lindor. The reality is that Lindor might be worth 2-3 more fWAR than the guys that he is replacing, but what does that mean in a tangible sense? It’s all part of a much larger picture. I often think those superstar players and their impacts are overvalued in win total and futures markets.
Nothing against Lindor, who is a tremendous player and a guy I had the privilege of watching all the time with the Indians, but he was about a league average hitter last season and I don’t think his 2018 campaign with a 136 wRC+ is ever coming back. He’s more of a 112-116 wRC+ guy. With his defensive profile, that’s still a 4.5-win player, but the Mets have now lost Cano and Andres Gimenez was blossoming nicely. Lindor’s acquisition may just be a reallocation of fWAR for the Mets and not one that has a substantial impact on their ceiling or win total.
New York Mets Pick & Prediction: Under 90.5
This might be something of a contrarian play, especially after I loved the Lindor-less Mets last year with a season win total lower than this. Look, they have the potential to be great. deGrom could rack up another Cy Young, Lindor could shine in an environment that makes him happier, and all the Cluster Luck might fall in New York’s favor. It’s all possible.
There is something about this team that I am not enamored with when I break it all down. The bullpen is mediocre. The offensive profile with all of the ground balls and all the batted ball luck doesn’t sit right with me. This could all come together and be perfect and the Mets could win the NL East and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
This isn’t a strong play at all. This is a pick for the sake of giving a pick on every team in the Guide. This is one I wouldn’t even want to be graded on, but every team gets a preview and every team gets a pick. It won’t be a bet. There is just something about this team, the inconsistency, the health history, just a generally bad aura. For as quantitative as my analysis is, the conclusion here is pretty qualitative.
The Mets have only gone over this total once since 2000. Maybe this is the best version of the Mets we’ve seen in that span, but it’s the Mets. Something always happens when there are expectations. Because I don’t have a strong take one way or the other, I’ll default to simply saying that I’d rather look at the under than the over.