Reliving the 2017 Season: New York Mets Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: 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 team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting 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 two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN

Coming off back to back playoff trips will surely heighten expectations, but this mindset does a disservice to just how very difficult it is to win year in and year out in Major League Baseball. Even good teams need a lot to go right in order to get back to the promised land. Early poor performance and/or injuries can lead a team to trade off useful pieces lacking in control, but rarely return the type of impact pieces that can contribute in the following season. This is exactly what happened with the Mets.

You can see above that the pitching was disastrous to start the season. Few guys can step in and perform at the level of a Noah Syndergaard, but as the season wore on the team did relatively well from the bump. They oscillated between a bit worse than average and slightly better for the better part of the middle of the season, though they overall trend was fairly downward meaning they closed the season performing about as well as they had all season. Throughout the year you can see that their actual results generally rode higher than the expected level including both the times they were pretty good and the time they were horrifically bad. Perhaps this speaks to the defense or that they were a bit unlucky over the course of the season, but by the time they had the rotation and bullpen figured out it was much too late for Mets fans to entertain hope of a third straight trip to the postseason.

The bats were nearly mirror opposites. They started the season a little better than average before enjoying some of their best batting of the year. Then Yoenis Cespedes, amongst a litany of others, got hurt and they became more of an offense that was merely better than average than great, or even good. Then you can see where they started to turn useful players like Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce into future talent rather than watching them walk for nothing following the season. Mets fans got an early look at the changing of the guard as they waved good bye to contributing players during their playoff years while welcoming those that will hopefully someday replace the aged and infirm. As far as windows go, the Mets are still well within theirs as plenty of good players will be rostered next year, but 2017 showed that even well-stocked teams need to catch breaks along the way.

Looking at their season totals you can see that the pitching was a little better than league average while the bats trailed noticeably. Both units showed similar, near average, expected production on balls in play, but the actuals show very wide splits with the pitchers wearing it for the most part. Again, this probably speaks more to a defensive issue on a team that typically prioritizes bat over glove, and if that continues to be the case then similar wide splits should probably be expected going forward. While boasting near average walk and strikeout rates, the bats just didn’t seem to thump enough to generate the kind of production that is necessary in today’s game.

Starting with the better of the two facets we can delve into how the pitchers performed. Jacob deGrom remains one of the best pitchers in the game throwing up great strikeout numbers without having to hurt the walk to get there. He underperformed what would have been very fine production on balls in play, but even at the elevated, observed rate he was still fairly close to league average. A fine outcome given his non-ball in play events. You can also see just how incredibly good Syndergaard is as was third on the team in xwRAA despite only facing 124 batters. This is one of the better 1-2 starting pitcher punches in the league when everything is going right.

Rafael Montero bounced between the bullpen and the rotation showing enough in either role to keep the club interested in the experiment. The control issues are probably always going to be in there, but one of the benefits of a lost season is that it allows a longer leash on guys that perhaps just need to acclimate to facing the best players in the world. Allowing him to live and die on the hill let Montero show that his stuff is genuinely good. He misses bats as evidenced by the strikeout rate, but he also allows weak contact more often than not as shown by his strong xwOBA*. He drastically underperformed that expectation in his real results, but the talent showed enough that he should have a grip on one of the other starter slots going into next year. Unlike, say, Matt Harvey, who never looked right combining high walk rates with a poor batted ball profile.

The other starters like Matz, Gsellman, Lugo or Wheeler might work better as piggy-backed swingmen, which we used to call bottom of rotation guys, but here we are in the year of the Lord 2017. Each shows some things to like, but has to trade from other areas to get there. A healthy Syndergaard next year helps paper over the fact that these guys have considerable questions, and would allow the team to roll with as much depth as they already have in high end talent. It’s a good problem considering the disarray that their pen became late in the year after a couple trades sent out the more reliable of the candidates. Bumping these lesser pitchers to shorter, higher leverage outings could do well to keep the team in games without having to spend heavily in free agency, but it still feels like the pen is a little light.

You’ll have to forgive those that wrote prematurely of the demise of the best pitcher on the Mets this year. deGrom got off to a slow start, in which, he was still pretty good a lot of the time, but then took it to another level around halfway through the year. Whatever he fixed helped him go on a tremendous run to close out the rest of the year. Actual results were likely to be higher than expected, but the gaps are mostly pretty small and usually moving in the same direction. If this were reversed with his worse performance coming at the end of the year I would think folks would likely discount deGrom slightly next year, but this timeline makes it hard to not have to pay a fairly high price if you want his services.

The promise and potential of Rafael Montero has tantalized and teased for many years, and in his age 26 season it was mostly more of the same. The big difference is that the team was in a position to let him go out there and fail with the hopes that it could lead to improvement. Looking at his actual results it is pretty easy to be sour as he again walked far too many leading to big innings blowing out his line. However, upon regressing the results of his balls in play you can see a player that was mostly around average with equal time spent being far better or far worse. An organization that cares little for better metrics won’t see much improvement there due to the vast chasm in the middle of the season between what oughta be and what was. Smarter teams will see that he performed pretty well while receiving results that don’t quite match up with his level of performance. This upcoming season will probably be his last chance in this organization if he wants to remain a starting pitcher, but the underlying data shows him to be a potentially smart buy low for fantasy players that don’t like to spend much on finicky pitching.

While ranking as one of the worst pitchers on the team, Robert Gsellman wasn’t all that far from being a league average pitcher. He was hurt by two prolonged stretches where he was pretty bad, in which, he looked even worse by the results, but being a starting pitcher at 23 years old means he is going to get plenty of more rope to choose his fate. The end of the year showed a lot to like and there were other stretches where he showed as a better than average option, but he will have to avoid those prolonged periods of poor performance if he hopes to lock down a back of rotation spot next year. It’s a risky profile after seeing so much to dislike, but opportunity can help talent shine, and I would expect him to get plenty of the former.

Despite plenty of bright spots on offense the team also gave plenty of plate appearances to a few guys that absolutely hurt the team’s ability to compete. Jose Reyes was one of the worst hitters in the game, and his future replacement, Amed Rosario, inspired little hope for the future. Of course, being incredibly young for a debut means he has lots to learn, and knowing his pedigree he is likely to make those necessary changes. The same probably can’t be said for Juan Lagares, though. The thing about the good performances, too, is that much of it was driven by players that were jettisoned with little hope for a return.

On the plus side is that their best hitter, Michael Conforto, may still have some room to grow, and he certainly should be jerked around less in the coming season. Pairing him with a good slugger like Yoenis Cespedes gives the team the kind of middle of the order hitters that you can build around. The bad thing is that those two will probably receive little help with only the green Brandon Nimmo slated to join these two in the coming season. Asdrubal Cabrera will continue to show some flash in between injuries, but beyond that you’re looking at quite a few established players that never really broke out. Dominic Smith and the aforementioned Rosario could help with some progression, and you can probably put d’Arnaud in that class too, though he has his own injury issues perennially.

Every good hitter succeeds due to relatively perfect alignment of their kinetic chain. Taking out any link in that chain can deprive the player of the things that makes them so very good. To wit, look at the downturn for Cespedes once his hamstring issues started to re-emerge early in the year. Prior to that he had been his usual very productive self, but after he was average or worse until the very end of the year when he enjoyed a bit of an upturn. Getting the player he was early on to show up all year has to be priority one for this top-heavy offense that can ill afford to lose one of the better hitters in the game. This goes a long way in showing how much an offense can crumble when one of the stars isn’t able to pull their weight.

The season for Michael Conforto was easily the best sight for the sore eyes of Mets fans. He had shown promise in the past, but poor management led to him getting moved around this year, and frankly, I don’t see how that could happen. This is a good hitter that offsets higher strikeout rates by walking a ton, and thumping when he does put the ball in play. He spent the entire season at an elevated rate of production, though there was a little dip in the middle and end where he was closer to average. Most teams would covet this type of outfielder that doesn’t give much away with the glove, but Mets gonna Mets.

Many fans have known about the strengths and obvious weaknesses for Dom Smith for a long time. He’s a big man, but he also swings a big bat. This wasn’t all that apparent in his first run of performance as his expectations showed a worse than average batter, and actual results making him look even worse. Then he started to adjust to the best pitching on the planet with a nice jump around halfway through his run that he was able to keep above average the rest of the way. He’s going to probably continue to strike out, but that is a tradeoff for the type of power that he can generate. It is important to remember that he just turned 22 at the end of the year so seeing the positive aspects of his performance at such a young age lends credence to the idea that he’s going to be able to hit enough to be a major leaguer. The question will come down to whether he will hit enough to be a first basemen on your fantasy team. With opportunity abounding before free agent signings I’m probably warmer than most on Smith, and think he could be a nice buy low going into next season.

Leaderboards

With several teams previously covered we can now start to take a look at how the best and worst players and teams are breaking out so that we can gain some context. Here you’ll find the top-20 hitters and pitchers and how the teams rank so far through this series.

 



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