Looking at the Mets Chase for 90 Wins in 2014 | Astromets Mind

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Looking at the Mets Chase for 90 Wins in 2014

            When Sandy Alderson issued the now infamous 90 win challenge to his team in a spring training meeting I don’t think he intended it to be something to get out and be a topic of discussion among fans and the media – or maybe he did all along, that guy seems pretty smart. Either way, for as long as the New York Mets remain relevant in 2014, that challenge, which was reported as a prediction initially in the media, will be a topic of discussion. Ninety wins is a .556 winning percentage, something the Mets have managed 10 times in their history, but not since 2006. Throughout this season, about every 20 games, I plan to take a look at how much progress the Mets are making towards this goal (for as long as they still have a reasonable chance to reach 90 wins). Below is a review of what the Mets have done over the first 21 games of the season.
Twenty-one games into the 2014 season, the Mets find themselves with a record of 11-10, 3rd place in the division, having gained half of a game on the pace that they need to reach 90 wins. To finish with 90 wins, the Mets would need to go 79-62 the rest of the season, which is a .560 winning percentage (90.8 win pace) – yes, games in April matter, and are the only ones that do for some teams. In the first 21 games the Mets were: swept by the Nats, took 2/3 from the Reds and Braves, 1/3 from the Angels, swept the D’backs, 1/3 from the Braves, and have taken the first 2/3 from the Cardinals, with Bartolo Colon on the mound Thursday afternoon. Let’s take a look at individual contributions below.


This is an area the Mets have a lot of room for improvement from almost everyone. As a team, the Mets rank dead last in wOBA (.274) and ISO (.092), 28th in homeruns (13), 27th in K-rate (24%) and overall 22nd in runs (82, 3.9 R/G) thanks to a 10th ranked BB-rate (9.0%) and having the 4th most stolen bases (19). Collectively, they’ve managed just 0.8 fWAR, which is a 6.5-fWAR/162 games pace – obviously, that would be horrible. Most of these sample sizes are too small for the rate/value stats to be that meaningful, as one big day could still be enough to skew a players overall line, but they are good enough to identify who needs to improve.
There are a dozen position players who have contributed at least 20 PA’s so far (this does not include Satin, he has 18 PA’s) – Ike Davis was just traded and Andrew Brown subsequently demoted to AAA for Bobby Abreu - he should be interesting. Ike Davis was one of the Mets better hitters with a 121 wRC+ over his 30 PA’s (if his other rates stay strong as his BABIP approaches league average in Pittsburgh, watch out), while Andrew Brown was one of the Mets worst hitters after his big opening day HR, managing just a 57 wRC+ in his 30 PA’s.
Of the dozen, Anthony Recker leads the way with a 158 wRC+ in 23 PA’s, while Curtis Granderson (37 wRC+ in 84 PA’s) has managed to somehow out-suck Ruben Tejada (38 wRC+ in 67 PA’s).
Daniel Murphy has been about what is expected (with some improved 2B defense), he just hasn’t started getting extra base hits yet, so his wRC+ is only 81 in 87 PA’s – his BB-rate has continued to decline thus far in 2014, I love the guy but he needs to stop making so many outs.
Eric Young had a poor first week, a good second week, and a poor third week (though, at least he still managed to get on and score some this past week), and he is 10-11 in stolen bases overall – he needs to be running a lot to be valuable. Mets fans are pretty split on EY, but when he gets on base, he scores at a good pace. Personally, I don’t want him leading off unless he’s going to get on base plenty (.345 so far this year would be acceptable if no one else, like Lagares, emerges), and I think he can be a useful piece on a winning ballclub, just that he may not prove to be best used as a full-time starter. He’s technically hitting relatively better so far, with an 82 wRC+ in 90 PA’s, than he has for his career (77 wRC+), so don't expect huge gains from EY.
Travis d’Arnaud hasn’t inspired a lot of fan confidence with his slow start at the plate – he’s had very good plate discipline K%: BB% of 15.4: 10.8 and a solid 21.7 line drive rate, he just hasn’t had the results (only a .200 BABIP for one). I think part of the struggle is attributable to the fact the Travis, like all young players, needs time to adjust to how major leaguers pitch, and maybe even, to an extent, what umpires will call for balls and strikes. Overall, he’s spraying the ball around the field (for mostly outs) and having good at bats, so I’m not worried yet. He didn’t have his second multiple hit game of the season until his 14th start of the season, but then he did in back-to-back starts, so there's that. Hopefully, this can be the start of something good for him.
Chris Young was ridiculous for Las Vegas on his rehab assignment, but hasn’t translated that into much of anything for the Mets over his first 25 PA’s, only a 19 wRC+. Looking forward, Young should get a fair chance from the Mets, especially considering his contract, but unless he starts hitting, the Mets should look elsewhere for offense.
David Wright has begun to find his stroke after a mostly rough first week and spring training, I don’t think anyone is worried about him and I can’t wait until his first truly hot streak. Looking forward, the Mets should expect much more than his current 95 wRC+ through 96 PA’s.
Lucas Duda has taken full advantage of the ‘full-time’ role awarded to him earlier in the season, with a 145 wRC+ (and team best 4 HR’s) in his 67 PA’s. Duda had a strong April last season too, so I’ll be more impressed when I see him still doing this come July/August. Looking forward, Duda has shown he can be an above average hitter and is entering his prime years, the Mets need him to finally break out if they want to push for 90 wins.
Finally, Juan Lagares had been the Mets main bright spot on offense thus far, with his 130 wRC+ over 55 PA’s. As such, it was only natural for Mets fans to see him pull up lame with a grade 1 strain of his hamstring and need to go on the DL - sigh. Please Juan, please come back healthy and don’t leave us again! His defense in CF continued to sparkle this year, and he’d become the most exciting hitter to watch – maybe not too tough a thing to do considering the Mets start.
Looking ahead, for the Mets to get on a 90 win pace, they will need almost everyone to pick it up. I really don’t know how much longer they can continue to play Tejada at SS. Aside from a few nice plays this past Monday night, his defense hasn’t even been good enough to warrant the Mets not giving other players (FloreSS, Tovar, trade, Drew…) a chance soon. In my opinion, Curtis Granderson is a strong candidate to have a hot streak and see his number regress towards his career averages soon. If he can’t the Mets will need to replace him with someone who can. When Lagares gets back, the Mets will have more options to make sitting Granderson easier. Though if CY and Granderson don’t eventually start hitting, the Mets may need to look to the minors for other options. Top prospect Cesar Puello has not had the easiest time adjusting to AAA pitching so far, so he’s not a consideration yet, but Eric Campbell has been one of the league’s hottest hitters and can play the OF. Additionally, Kirk Nieuwenhuis was off to a hot start in Vegas before his recent (likely) cup of coffee in Queens, and Matt den Dekker has been heating up as well. The Mets need to figure out a way to get more consistent offense from the OF, wherever they can find it – hopefully, in the form of Lagares returning while Granderson and the Young’s get hot. The Mets will also hope to expect more offense from T∂A, or else they have mentioned giving more PA’s to Recker – if this is the case, I hope it is with the intention of demoting T∂A for regular at bats in Vegas until he gets hot. Finally, they can likely expect to see a bump in power output from Wright (.057 ISO) and Murphy (.036 ISO).



This is the relative strength of the 2014 Mets, as everyone could guess coming into the season. Still, the Mets starters rank only 21st in ERA- (111) and 26th in FIP- (119), stats which adjust for park factors and then are compared to the league average (100 is set as average and lower is better). They are 20th in K% (19.7) and 15th in BB% (7.6), combining for a 22nd ranking in SIERA (3.86). Collectively, they’ve managed just 0.3 fWAR thus far, a 2.4-fWAR/162 games pace, which is less than what the offense has been providing. The Mets are working on their 5th turn through the rotation, with Jon Niese a start behind the others. Let’s see who needs to improve to turn this rotation into the strength the Mets need. Considering the SSS of 20 games, the Colon performance in Anaheim is skewing these numbers a bit
Opening day starter Dillon Gee has been about what I have come to expect of him – almost average production ERA-wise (3.58 ERA is a 106 ERA-) despite less than stellar K-rates (16.2%) and a high HR rate (1.4 HR/9) because he has good control (6.9% BB-rate) and has found a way to strand runners at an above-average rate again (78 LOB% since last season is a red flag for future regression in ERA). He has taken a lot of criticism so far, rightly so in my opinion, for not staying sharp deep into games. For his career, hitters have generally seen an OPS increase of 100-150 points facing Gee for a third time in a game (.709 1st time, .651 2nd time, .796 3rd time), and that trend has continued so far in 2014 (though hitters only have a .710 OPS 3rd time through for now). This time of the game generally coincides with 75-90 pitches, which has people claiming he can’t go past 90 pitches. Personally, I think it’s the number of times facing a batter issue, as Gee just isn’t that great to begin with (don’t get me wrong, average production is still very good, talking about stuff-wise). If another team wanted to try piggybacking their Major League starters, I think Dillon Gee would be a great candidate to be one of the pitchers used.
            Bartolo Colon got the nod for game 2 of the season and his numbers this early are skewed from one rough start in Anaheim in which he gave up 9 ER in 5 IP, but he only allowed 6 ER over his other 3 starts spanning 20 IP (2.70 ERA). Colon has gotten by with elite control (2.7 BB%), a steady diet of fastballs, and a lot of fly balls, but he doesn’t strike out many (16.2%), so he needs to be able to rely on his defense and keep the ball in the park to have success. The Mets defense is currently a little better than average overall – every player is at least average defensively for the position they are currently playing – so as long as Colon can avoid HR barrages (like the 4 he allowed in Anaheim), the Mets should be confident when he is on the mound.
            Zack Wheeler was the 3rd Mets pitcher to start a game this season and his ERA (4.63) looks worse than he has actually been – 3/4 ‘quality starts’ of 6 IP with 3 or less ER, slightly above-average K-rate (20.8%) and an average BB-rate (7.9 BB%), which is an important improvement over last season (10.7 BB%). Looking ahead, Mets need Wheeler to keep his BB% down and keep gaining confidence.
            Jenrry Mejia had to deal with the question of whether he would even be in the rotation to start 2014, but might turn out to be the best pitcher on the team until Harvey returns. There are certainly some things to be concerned about – his 14.4 BB% is way high and 91.9 LOB% is unsustainable too - but his 25.8 K% is awesome, and has helped him maintain a 1.99 ERA. And, if you watch him, you realize why scouts were raving about him years ago – he’s been nasty. I want to start following his starts with gifs if I have the time - the movement on some of his pitches is like baseball porn. Looking forward, Mejia needs to work on staying focused for every batter – a lot of these walks have been random spurts of lost control in the middle of the game. If he can reduce the walks and keep his pitch count down to go deeper into games, Mejia could become an ace approaching the level of Matt Harvey.
            Finally, Jon Niese started the season on the DL and so missed his first start, but has been as good as Mets fans have ever seen him over his first 4 starts. Rate wise, he has been the same average-to-better pitcher Mets fans have enjoyed watching the past few seasons, except with an elevated LOB% (84% this year compared to 71% for his career). Looking forward, Mets would love for Niese to keep that LOB% above average so his run prevention statistics like ERA continue to match (or outperform) his defense independent statistics like FIP – it has generally been the opposite way.
            As a group, the Mets starting pitchers don’t rank well against the league yet, but they have been pretty good overall and there are not many red flags for negative regression in production from any of them. Looking forward, the Mets should be good so long as these guys stay healthy (and they are covered at AAA if anyone needs a couple of weeks on the DL). What they want from these starters is for them to go even deeper into the games – they’ve averaged nearly 6 1/3 IP per start so far, appears about middle of the pack – so the Mets don’t need to rely on (and overtax) the bullpen as much as in the past.


            Speaking of the bullpen, meet the biggest problem area the Mets have had under Sandy Alderson – at least it seems that way, perhaps the poor offense has been a bigger overall problem, not trying to get into that now though. The bullpen took a lot of blame for the 2/3 losses against Washington to start the season, then kept the opposition scoreless for about a week, and has overall been decent since that first series – 3.77 ERA in 59.2 IP since then.
Bobby Parnell is done for the season. 
John Lannan was already sent to AAA, which is a case of addition by subtraction.
Jeurys Familia might not be that far behind.
Jose Valverde lost the closer’s job once so far, but was good enough to have won it - he will likely be given plenty of chances to succeed, so Mets need him to find consistency.
Kyle Farnsworth, who was cut in spring training, has somehow regained enough of his stuff to be the current closer.
Scott Rice has mostly been effective, but one or two poor appearances will skew his stats for a while when he is only being used for one or two outs at a time, which is the appropriate way to use him.
            That leaves Carlos Torres and Gonzalez Germen, who have been the relative workhorses of the staff so far, and they’ve both had three outings with at least 2 IP. These two appear to be the best options the Mets have out there – I think Dice-K should prove similarly reliable with the way he’s been pitching this year – so they should be handling the 7th and 8th innings a lot. I think it’s at least worth a shot to let these guys consistently go 2-3 IP at the end of games, with a day or two in between appearances as needed. It sounds better than having them get up every game, sometimes multiple times per game, only to pitch to a batter or two. Should Dice-K emerge as a third reliable multiple-inning-reliever (looks good very early on), Terry could have them on an approximate 3 game rotation, going multiple innings between the starter and ‘closer,’ limiting the other pen guys to specific situations. That’s how a pen should be handled – the good guys work the majority of the innings and the other guys are there for certain batters or situations (aka, LOOGY’s and ROOGY’s).
            Looking forward, if Terry Collins doesn’t plan on using Familia outside of mop-up duty, then he needs to be exchanged for Vic Black or Zack Thornton (or, if they want to go bold, Jacob ∂eGrom) from AAA. I am going to keep waiting for Farnsworth and Valverde to falter enough that they finish the season out of baseball, while hoping they prove capable of at least one last good season each. But I am starting to become pretty confident in the other half of the Mets bullpen, and am curious to see how Terry chooses to use his bullpen moving forward.

Final Thoughts

            The Mets are probably doing a lot better than many expected, especially considering all the ink wasted discussing the ‘tough April schedule’ that would be a real test for the team. Well, so far the team has passed the test, and have more reasons to expect to continue to do well (the offense shouldn’t keep sucking this much) than not (LOLMets?). The starting pitchers look good, the bullpen has multiple usable arms, and the offense has been a disaster. Considering the relatively weaker schedule the Mets have coming up (6 vs. Mia, 5 vs. Phi, 4 vs. Col and 3 vs. NYY), and the expected positive regression of the Mets offense as a group, I would like to believe that the Mets will be 4-5 games over .500 when I revisit this discussion in about three weeks. That said, I will try to keep my expectations and excitement for this season in check, as it is still very early in the season, and the first 21 games have been about the Mets fight to stay at .500+.
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