Wednesday, March 10, 2021

New York Mets 2021 Season Preview


 

       Two words: Steve Cohen. The man bought the Mets, and instantly helped transform them into a legitimate contender. Of course, like everything with the Mets, there was some controversy, as Jared Porter came and went in ugly fashion. And while the end of the offseason was frustrating for some Mets fans, they have to realize that the team got significantly better, and richer in the offseason. Now if they can extend some players, they are ready to go for Opening Day.

Offseason additions: SS Francisco Lindor, RHP Carlos Carrasco, C James McCann, RHP Trevor May, RHP Taijuan Walker, IF Jonathan Villar, OF Kevin Pillar, OF Albert Almora, LHP Aaron Loup, LHP Joey Lucchesi, RHP Jordan Yamamoto, LHP Stephen Tarpley, RHP Jacob Barnes, OF Mallex Smith, IF Jose Peraza, RHP Arodys Vizcaino, LHP Mike Montgomery, C Caleb Joseph, RHP Tommy Hunter, LHP Jerry Blevins, RHP Sean Reid-Foley.

Offseason subtractions: C Wilson Ramos, SS Andres Gimenez, SS Amed Rosario, 3B Todd Frazier, OF Jake Marisnick, LHP Steven Matz, RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Rick Porcello, LHP Justin Wilson, LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP Jared Hughes, RHP Brad Brach, DH Yoenis Cespedes, C Robinson Chirinos.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: RHP Miguel Castro, 3B Todd Frazier, C Robinson Chirinos.

Traded: LHP Kevin Smith.

2020 record: 26-34

2020 placement: 4th

2020 WAR leader (batter): Michael Conforto

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Jacob deGrom


Starting Pitchers

The big difference in the Mets rotation from 2020 to 2021 is the lack of talent around Jacob deGrom. That shouldn't be an issue now, as Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha and Steven Matz are out, with much better replacements. Of course, deGrom is baseball's best pitcher, as he had a 2.38 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 68 innings with a 0.956 WHIP, finishing third in Cy Young voting. deGrom's pitches keep getting faster, as his fastball averaged 98.6 mph last year, and his slider was at 92.5 mph, and can reach 95 mph, which is just unfair. All four of his pitches had a whiff rate over 30%. Returning to play in 2021 is Marcus Stroman, who opted-out of the season after getting injured. Stroman was having a career season in Toronto when the Mets traded for him in 2019. Stroman had a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts after the trade. In total that season, Stroman had a 3.22 ERA with 159 strikeouts in 184.1 innings. His 20.5 K% was a career best. His higher strikeout rate was thanks to an improved slider, a pitch batters hit .168 against. Because he was acquired in the same trade as Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco's arrival in New York wasn't talked about as much as it should have been. Carrasco fully returned to form in 2020 after missing a lot of 2019 because of cancer treatments. "Cookie" threw his slider and curveball better than before, with his curveball having an average spin rate of 2944 rpm. He struck out 82 batters in 68 innings with a 2.91 ERA. Noah Syndergaard missed all of 2020 with Tommy John surgery, and will likely miss the first half of 2021. When we last saw him, "Thor" was having his worst season yet, with a 4.28 ERA in 32 starts. To give them a much better rotation until Syndergaard returns, the Mets made a late addition in Taijuan Walker. His return from Tommy John surgery went really well, as Walker had a 2.70 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 53.1 innings. Batters hit under .160 against Walker's two main pitches, his fastball and cutter. He was much better after a midseason trade to Toronto, where he posted a 1.37 ERA over six starts. One red flag with Walker is his high xERA of 5.07. The fifth starter fight is an interesting one, as the obvious answer would seem like David Peterson, the 2017 1st rounder who had an impressive rookie season. But, the Mets have expressed interest in limiting Peterson's innings, meaning he would start at the alternate training site. He had a 3.44 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 49.2 innings last year. He only allowed 36 hits, but his issue is walking batters, which Peterson did at a high 11.7% rate. An option to start if Peterson is sent down is Joey Lucchesi, who was acquired from San Diego after only pitching in 5.2 innings last year. Lucchesi was an average starter in 2019, with a 4.18 ERA, a 100 ERA+ and a 4.00 xERA. He struck out 158 batters in 163.2 innings, and his changeup had 8.8 inches of vertical movement above average. Lucchesi could go to the bullpen if necessary. 

Relief Pitchers

The Mets have already lost a key part of their bullpen until May, as Seth Lugo had elbow surgery to replace a bone spur. Lugo, whose curveball has an average spin rate of 3213 rpm, was moved to the rotation last year, where he shouldn't be, and the results showed that. Lugo had a 5.15 ERA while striking out 47 in 36.2 innings. He had a 2.70 ERA with an 11.7 K/9 as a reliever in 2019. Back at closer for the Mets is Edwin Diaz, who Mets fans need to accept just had a down year in 2019, and is an elite closer. Diaz had a 1.75 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 25.2 innings, which is not a typo. Batters had a .157 xBA against Diaz, whose slider has an insane whiff rate of 57%. The Mets were aggressive in early free agency to bring in former Twin Trevor May. May had a 3.86 ERA last year, but struck out 38 batters in 23.1 innings. May has a great fastball that he uses to get swings-and-misses up in the zone at a high velocity. One concern with him is a high 91.1 mph average exit velocity. Another Mets reliever who bounced back from 2019 was Jeurys Familia, although he did not go all the way back like Diaz did. Familia had a 3.71 ERA in 26.2 innings, while his fastball was up a tick. But, his main issue from 2019, walking batters, remaining in 2020, as he had an abysmal 15.8% BB rate. Former GM Brodie Van Wagenen was aggressive in picking up Miguel Castro from Baltimore last Trade Deadline. Castro struck out 38 batters in 24.2 innings combined for the two teams last year, and his sinker averaged over 98 miles an hour. All of Castro's pitches have a good amount of movement on them, and his slider had a 2933 rpm spin rate with a 48.3% whiff rate. Since they didn't have any lefties in the bullpen, the Mets signed Aaron Loup, who reinvented himself with the Rays last year, like so many other people have. Lefties had a .581 OPS against Loup, who had a 2.52 ERA and a 4.2 percent BB rate. Dellin Betances was one of baseball's best relievers from 2014-2018, but missed basically all of 2019 before missing a decent amount of time in 2020 with injuries. Betances had a 5.56 xERA with 11 strikeouts in 11.2 innings, while walking 12 batters. His fastball velocity was down by more than 4 mph from 2018. It would be a surprise to not see Robert Gsellman on the Opening Day roster, but it is possible after he allowed 15 runs in 14 innings last year. Walks have always been an issue for Gsellman, who has never had a BB/9 under 3.0. Until Lugo returns, the final spot is up for grabs. It could go to whoever doesn't make the rotation, whether that is Peterson, Lucchesi or waiver claim Jordan Yamamoto. Former Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino hasn't pitched since early 2019, but he has a 3.01 ERA with a 10.1 K/9 in his career. Righty Drew Smith pitched in seven innings last year, with a high-90s fastball. His cutter had an insanely high 63.2% whiff rate, which isn't sustainable over a full season, but still very promising. 

Catchers

Mets fans entered the offseason with expectations of JT Realmuto, but instead got James McCann, who was the next best thing on the free agent market. McCann was an all-star in 2019, and is a good pitch framer. He was even better in 2020 than in 2019, hitting seven home runs with an .896 OPS in only 31 games, while actually backing up Yasmani Grandal. One enduring issue for McCann are strikeouts, which McCann did at 27% rate in 2020. The backup role is not guaranteed to Tomas Nido, with Caleb Joseph and Bruce Maxwell available, but Nido is the heavy favorite. The trade for Robinson Chirinos meant that Nido played in just seven games, but he went 7-for-24 with two home runs and a double.

Infielders

The whole "Pete Alonso had a down year" narrative is a little bit odd to me, since he really didn't. His batting average dropped off, and he didn't hit home runs at a 53 homer pace, but that is not a big worry. Alonso still had an .817 OPS with 16 home runs, and his strikeout rate decreased while his walk rate was about the same. The only place where there was significant regression was defensively, as Alonso had -5 outs above average at first base, but we already knew he was bad defensively before. The Mets lost Robinson Cano for the season after he was suspended a second time for PEDs. Despite Cano's above-average productivity in 2020, this is not all bad news, as the team freed up salary for a year, and now Jeff McNeil can focus mainly on one position after playing four last year, mostly left field. McNeil is an elite contact hitter, as he hit .311 while only striking out at an 11.5% rate. He also had a career high 9.6% BB rate, and hit 14 doubles to make up (slugging wise) for just four home runs. The most exciting debut for the Mets in 2021 will of course be new acquisition Francisco Lindor, who the Mets just need to extend now. Lindor actually a down year in 2020, hitting eight home runs with a .335 OBP and a .750 OPS. Still, Lindor has won two Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves, and had a .278 xBA in 2020. His strikeout rate did increase, but just to 15.4 percent, which is definitely acceptable. One area of his game that didn't strike out was defense, as he had seven outs above average. The Mets spent a lot of the second half of the offseason engaged in rumors for a JD Davis replacement at third base. Davis can hit, but his -7 outs above average is something that the Mets may want to improve on. Davis had an .895 OPS in 2019, which was decreased to .761 in 2020. That can easily be blamed on a massive slugging decrease, down to .389 from .527. Davis had an average exit velocity of 90.1 mph, and walked a career high 13.5% of the time. Switch-hitter Jonathan Villar stole just 16 bases in 52 games for the Blue Jays and Marlins last year, but really struggled everywhere else. Villar had -9 outs above average, a .593 OPS and a .281 xSLG. There are a lot of improvements that need to be done here. In just 29 games, Luis Guillorme showed that he could be a legitimate potent backup to Davis, with three outs above average, a .333 average and an .865 OPS. 

Outfielders

The Mets are looking like they are ready to enter 2021 with an outfield that is great at hitting, but challenged defensively. Dominic Smith had to find a position after Alonso claimed first base, and with no returning DH, left field looks like his future. He hit 10 home runs with a .316 average and a .993 OPS in his breakout 2020 season, with a .301 xBA and a .563 xSLG. Smith had -5 outs above average, and -2 in left field. Brandon Nimmo can play all three outfield positions, but 2020 showed that he is not suited for center field, where he looks to be starting 2021 at. Nimmo had a .404 OBP with an .888 OPS in 55 games last year, with a 14.7 BB%. Nimmo also lowered his strikeout rate to a career low 19.1 percent. Nimmo had a 28 ft/s sprint speed, but had -5 outs above average in center. Upcoming free agent Michael Conforto hit nine home runs with a .322 average and a .927 OPS in 54 games, while hitting over .300 against fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Unfortunately, Conforto is also a weak defender, like Smith and Nimmo. Conforto had five outs above average in both 2018 and 2019, but -6 in 2020. To combat the starters' defensive skills, the Mets signed two defensive outfielders to help. Veteran Kevin Pillar only had average defensive numbers in 2020, but actually had a career high OPS. In 54 games for the Red Sox and Rockies, Pillar hit six home runs with five stolen bases, a .288 average and a .798 OPS. It was the first time in his career that he had an OPS+ over 100. Since 2018, Albert Almora Jr. has 19 outs above average. He played in just 28 games for the Cubs last year, and really struggled offensively. Almora went 5-for-30 with a .465 OPS. Another option is Mallex Smith, who has stolen 90 bases since the start of 2018. Smith only has a .686 career OPS, but his speed is worth the offensive sacrifice. 

Projected Rotation
Jacob deGrom (R)
Carlos Carrasco (R)
Marcus Stroman (R)
Taijuan Walker (R)
David Peterson (L)

Projected Bullpen
Edwin Diaz (R)
Trevor May (R)
Jeurys Familia (R)
Miguel Castro (R)
Dellin Betances (R)
Aaron Loup (L)
Joey Lucchesi (L)
Robert Gsellman (R)

Projected Lineup
2B Jeff McNeil (L)
SS Francisco Lindor (S)
RF Michael Conforto (L)
1B Pete Alonso (R)
LF Dominic Smith (L)
3B JD Davis (R)
C James McCann (R)
CF Brandon Nimmo (L)
Pitcher

Projected Bench
C Tomas Nido (R)
UT Jonathan Villar (S)
IF Luis Guillorme (L)
OF Kevin Pillar (R)
OF Mallex Smith (L)


Projection

The Mets are prone to get Metsy; that's where the word comes from. But, this is a really good team to start, and will get even better when Syndergaard and Lugo return. If they can avoid the usual Mets shenanigans, they will be better than fine. The Mets aren't better than the Braves yet, but they are a playoff team. 

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