Recapping 2018: New York Mets Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: New York Mets Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM

The New York Mets get a good amount of derision from fans for an apparent unwillingness to spend money, but when pegging each of the past nearly twenty years to 2018 dollars you can see they have consistently spent in the upper half of teams for all but the 2012 to 2015 period. Fan frustration likely gives that timeframe too much merit as the prior years, and these past three show a team willing to spend  most years. It doesn’t guarantee performance, and this past decade shows only two teams that won more than they lost. Of course, that resulted in a World Series appearance, albeit a loss, and then the Divisional Series sweep the following year. The team has since spent even more for a couple of duds, but is hoping to build on a still strong core of players for what might be a limited window going forward. Let’s take a look at where those holes showed up this past year.

Now that we’re into the middle of the pack we have started to see teams that were fairly balanced both ways like the Chicago Cubs or Atlanta Braves, and other teams that were extremely strong on one side of the ball, but very weak on the other like Seattle Mariners or Los Angeles Angels. The New York Mets very much fit that latter description as they were carried mightily by an outrageously good pitching staff. They were a little more shaky over the first half, but still showed very strong runs. However, the second half, and especially the close to the season, showed a very strong pitching unit that suppressed offense day in and day out. Having one of the very best pitchers in the game is a nice start, but they backed their ace well with a couple of well above average starters and a few other arms that came in closer to the average, but still above.

Headlining the rotation for the Mets, which would be the case on pretty much any team, was Jacob deGrom. After years of being a pretty good starter he took a big step forward last year as his fastball and slider velocity each ratched up a notch. There was a patch in the middle where he approached mortality, but outside of that you see an elite starter for nearly all of the season. He got by boasting a nearly 40% strikeout rate at times that was always north of 25% and usually above 30%. He also walked fewer than the average all year including often at well better than average rates. You can see an exit velocity spike in the middle, which came with a corresponding downturn in launch angle so it’s quite possible he was tinkering with this mix, perhaps, to calm some barking, but outside of that you see a guy that nullifies hard contact, while generating a ton of strikeouts and volume. This is what a modern ace looks like so enjoy it while you can.

Jacob deGrom

Backing one of the best in the game were two other guys that would have been the best pitcher on many, if not most, teams. Noah Syndergaard hardly needs an introduction as the big righty has made himself a household name built on the back of big stuff. After missing most of 2017 this past season saw him miss a little over a month, but was stout on the bump when available. Comparing him to deGrom isn’t really fair, but you can see that his strikeouts were more above average than strong, and his walks occasionally get out of control including a gradual uptick over the second half. He absolutely obliterates bats, however. He gave up three pokes all year as batters really struggle to generate any sort of loft, let alone at the velocities necessary to get a ball out. He struggles to control the running game, but if they never get on that is less of an issue.

Noah Syndergaard

Coming over in the Carlos Beltran trade many moons ago the once highly touted prospect Zack Wheeler showed promise before missing all of 2015 and 2016 due to Tommy John surgery and a rough rehab that featured some setbacks. The fact that he even got back to a mound as a starter is to be commended, but very few saw this sort of a breakout coming into 2018. He got increasingly better as the season went along with the second half of the year placing him amongst the league elites. That outburst was due to polishing an average strikeout rate into one that was well above, but you can also see a dramatic improvement to his walk rate that mostly hung around over the last third of the season. He also allowed weaker and weaker contact as the season went along, while doing a good job of keeping the ball down for the most part. The injury concerns will never go away, but it is awfully hard to not be excited to see what Wheeler can do in 2019.

Zack Wheeler

Wheeler wasn’t the only starter to put previous injury concerns aside to have a good year. Nominally the fourth starter, Steven Matz put together a fantastic season that featured the most batters faced in his four-year career. Beyond the workload he was also pretty good for a lot of the season. He would have flirtations with the worse than average area and even a fullblown summer fling where his actual production was quite a bit worse than his still worst of the season expectations, but he was able to get that sorted in short order. The walk rate showed fairly nice improvement over the last two-thirds of the season before a spike to close, and he also saw his strikeout rate gradually improve from around the average to well above. When his non-contact stuff was at his best later, though, there was somewhat of a tradeoff as he was also getting hit a little harder and batters were able to generate a bit more lift. While Wheeler enters 2019 in the final year of his contract the team can get three more season out of Matz so in something of a sink or swim year he basically swam the Channel.

Steven Matz

Two guys that would have been full-fledged starters on a lot of teams saw extensive use as multi-inning relief pitchers in Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. While this might be viewed as a luxury it had a lot more to do with necessity as a beleaguered pen had precious few consistently good alternatives. Lugo was the more volatile of the two, but some of that was due to him receiving a handful of starts mid-year, which saw him be a bit less effective in the longer outings. This shows up as a decreasing strikeout rate and a massive jump in walks so it’s likely the team should seek to use Lugo in a similar role next year. Gsellman did not receive any starts, but was much more consistently better than average with low volatility throughout. Like Lugo, if he was asked to be a traditional starter it is likely he might not have been as effective, but with this rotation the team only needs him to serve as a bridge to what should be an enhanced endgame plan in 2019 that now features the return of Jeurys Familia following a deadline deal and the addition of Edwin Diaz formerly of the Seattle Mariners.

Seth Lugo

Robert Gsellman

Rounding out the rotation next year will be the eternally polarizing Jason Vargas. This past year went like so many others as he missed time due to injury and showed the ability to either be a better than average pitcher or a horrifically bad one. While most remember the disasters those poor outings did a lot to hide the fact that he was actually very useful a lot of the time. The late-season strikeout spike is commensurate with many of his teammates, which may speak to the competition being lesser during that time. This is something that presented in this piece looking at the Cy Young race, which showed the Mets facing one of the easiest slates of any team in the game. Something that may or may not continue into next season in a division that has already added a few sluggers, but might also lose one of the best. Vargas will likely continue to start since he’s owed a decent amount of money and is unlikely to play up in the pen. He’s not the worst candidate for last starter in a good rotation, and might surprise a bit next year if he can avoid the nagging injuries that have plagued his career.

Jason Vargas

With a dynomite rotation and a couple of good multi-inning relievers the pitching was held back a bit by the rest of the relief corps, but the bigger reason for the Mets lack of contention in 2018 has to fall upon the shoulders of the batters that gave back nearly all the tremendous run prevention. The start of the season was fairly strong even if it didn’t fully show up in the boxscore, and outside of a spike a littler further along it was mostly a bad offensive unit. The last two-thirds of the season showed a team that was average during their better runs and considerably worse during the lesser runs. Part of this was due to injury to key players, but they also gave a good number of plate appearances to washed up players like Jose Bautista and Adrian Gonzalez. Not that the players blocked by these two ancients performed a whole lot better, but take the unknown devil for once instead of constantly parading hasbeens out there in order to sell tickets.

The two best performers were the youngsters Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto who have each had to fight tooth and nail just to get their name in the lineup these past few years. Conforto’s shoulder concerns became muted with the fact that he played a full season, and the true rookie Nimmo came out of the gates like a house on fire. Much of Nimmo’s incredible start wasn’t fully earned, though he did present as an above average hitter before the league started to adjust to his passive approach. When that happened the walks fell and the strikeouts rose, but he showed a remarkable ability to adjust back to what his rivals were trying to do. When putting the ball in play he often did so with high exit velocities, though a lot of that contact was more down, though he threw in a handful of pokes, as well. The start of the season for Conforto shows a good deal of under-performance, which is where some of the shoulder stuff might have come into play. By the middle of the season, though, his actual performance had caught up to the higher expectations and mostly rode out at that good level other than a short slump when the strikeouts and walks got away from him a little bit. These two comprise the core of the next great Mets team and should expect to play nearly everyday in the outfield corners.

Brandon Nimmo

Michael Conforto

The veteran brigade got it’s usual run for the Mets with Asdrubal Cabrera, Jay Bruce and Jose Bautista collectively receiving over a thousand plate appearances to be a little better than average at the plate and not very good in the field. Asdrubal did his normal thing of being a pretty good hitter for half the year, and showed considerable downturn prior to his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies with most of that driven by declining exit velocity. He also shows a mammoth gap where his actual production fell considerably short of his strong expectations. Jay Bruce showed a similar gap for much of his tenure before seeing these things align at the higher level later in the year, while Bautista’s gap came later in the year once pitchers realized his highly patient and pull approach doesn’t work quite as well when he cannot catch up to good velocity. None of these three should be expected back for next year. This creates a bit of an offensive gap that needs to be filled, but these are not irreplaceable players.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Jay Bruce

Jose Bautista

Moving on to a couple of sticks that were around the average we come upon darling Jeff McNeil and the catcher Kevin Plawecki. Average offense from your second base or catcher can be fine outcomes if those guys can play in the field, but Plawecki is the one that should elicit more excitement. McNeil burst on the scene looking like a slashing player that could make it work, and he did for awhile. Then his expectations fell off gradually then with more rapidity, and nearly all of that comes from his declining exit velocities. The actual production stepped up considerably during that time exposing a large gap of overperformance, but fans won’t see that until it starts showing up in the actual results. The aggressive approach plays well for this type of hitter, but he’ll need to get back to hitting the ball with authority before pitchers give him any respect. Plawecki, on the other hand, showed that his averagey production was fully earned with more of his production coming without putting the ball in play. The walks are nice to see and the strikeouts are manageable, but he also showed a decent tail-off in his exit velocity later because catching is hard and a brutal concept that reminds of the Romans feeding Christians to the lions.

Jeff McNeil

Kevin Plawecki

Moving along we get to the right-handed corner infielders Wilmer Flores and Todd Frazier who provided identical production despite getting there in different ways. Flores manages to walk at a good rate considering he hardly ever strikes out, and does fairly well scattering those balls in play without really attacking the nitro zone. Frazier sort of re-invented himself as past iterations were more three-true outcome than what he put up this year. The strikeouts were more around the norm, but he showed an approach change throughout the season that yielded a lot of walk volatility with the close to his season looking much more like the traditional Frazier season with oodles of flyballs and fewer balls in play. This weird meander is likely due to the injuries that caused him to miss time, and those injuries are also a likely cause for his weird under and then overperformance in the middle of the season. Frazier will be back next year hoping to stay healthy and productive while Flores will almost certainly play elsewhere.

Wilmer Flores

Todd Frazier

The last player warranting conversation was the young up-and-coming shortstop Amed Rosario who like most players had to alter what had worked in the past in order to see good results at the highest level. He didn’t walk much at any time, while keeping his strikeouts around or below the average, but where you see the adjustments is in his batted ball data. You can see the higher expectations early were due to a higher exit velocity that eventually fell off leading to his worst slump of the season. So he started hitting the ball down a bit more, before ramping up the exit velocity again and then seeing both of these flip yet again to close out the year. This looks like a batter that was unafraid to change his core beliefs at the plate, and players like that can often find the sweetspot that allows their talent to shine. Considering his youth and in-season improvement Rosario looks like an under-the-radar solid contributor for a long time to come.

Amed Rosario

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

 

Jerry Blevins

Jeurys Familia

 

Adrian Gonzalez

 

Austin Jackson

 

 

Devin Mesoraco

 

Corey Oswalt

 

Jose Reyes

 

Paul Sewald

 

 

 

 



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