Sunday, October 4, 2020

Where Did We Go Wrong?

In The Athletic this week, Tim Britton had a very good look into what went wrong with the Mets this season. The obvious starting point was the rotation, which was pretty much a bad bet on the days deGrom wasn't pitching. David Peterson was fairly impressive in a 9-start audition for 2021. Seth Lugo was more miss than hit in 7 starts, winding up with an ERA over 6 as a starter. Everyone else was just plain awful. Neither Rick Porcello nor Michael Wacha proved to be any help. Steven Matz has gone from looking like a really solid pitcher just a few years ago to a non-tender candidate this offseason. The promise that Robert Gsellman seemed to offer as a 22-year-old in 2016 has evaporated. As Britton pointed out, the 2020 Mets had the worst starting rotation ERA in the history of the team. That's quite an accomplishment for Brodie Van Wagenen to put on his resume.

Surviving their poor starting pitching might have been possible if the bullpen was great, but that certainly wasn't the case. Edwin Diaz survived some hiccups and really reestablished himself as a late inning reliever. The guys behind him, primarily Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes, Chasen Shreve, Brad Bach and trade pickup Miguel Castro, weren't as bad as the starters, but hardly set the world on fire. Even Lugo had some rough outings when he was still in the bullpen.

Everything I've written in those last two paragraphs makes me question whether Pitching Coach Jeremy Hefner has earned a return gig for next year. I can't blame him for the quality of the pitchers he had to work with, that blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Brodie Van Wagenen. I could even give Hefner credit for shepherding Peterson through a successful rookie campaign. Other than that, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, it's hard to make a case for not getting a new Pitching Coach next season. Hefner had limited previous experience coming in, having spent 2 years as an advanced scout and 1 year as assistant pitching coach with the Twins before coming here. I think getting a different, presumably more experienced voice next season would be warranted.

A lot has been made about the team's struggles plating runners this season, but that's a stat that would have likely evened out over the length of a real season. What would never even out was the poor baserunning and defense that has been a hallmark of this team from recent campaigns. You can get by with a weak defender in LF, many teams do that, so I have no problem with Dominic Smith or J.D. Davis playing there. A bigger problem is weak up the middle defense. While Amed Rosario was decent at shortstop and Andrés Giménez was a plus defender at the position, all 3 other up the middle spots were below par.

The Mets are likely to move on from Wilson Ramos at catcher. His OPS+ of 88 is indefensible for a player who offers no value at all defensively. It's obvious that the Mets will be players in the J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes this off-season, but their fallback position is much less clear. It's a real shame that Tomás Nido lost so much of the season to COVID, because some offseason work he had done with a hitting instructor was showing real promise. You need a backup catcher, too, and Nido could well be that guy next season.

Robinson Cano had a huge bounce back this season with the bat. He's under contract for three more years, so thank God for that. I still believe that whoever is making the personnel decisions this offseason, whether it's Alderson or someone he chooses, should at least try to move Cano even if the return is only so-so. Some team that is in a real win now mode and needs production at 2B might take a flyer. Sure, it would make the Kelenic trade look even worse if they moved Cano for a small return, but the team would be better with a real defender at second base, and the offense can be replaced with other signings. Barring that happening, however, Cano is going to wind up playing a lot of second base next year, and the defense will suffer.

Which leaves CF as the final up the middle defensive spot that really needs an upgrade. I love Nimmo, but his best value going forward would be as a trade chip or LF. His defense in CF was simply unacceptable, particularly when the Met were playing a bad defender in LF, too. As much as the pitching staff struggled this season, some of the blame has to be on the poor defense behind them. That's got to change, and their CF should be a solid defender next season.

I know George Springer's name gets thrown around a lot as a potential signing, but from what I read about the guy he is likely headed to a corner OF spot in the near future. Jackie Bradley Jr. fits the bill as a true defensive CF. His negatives are that he'd be another left-handed hitter in a lineup that is already unbalanced in that direction, he's not been very durable - only playing in 133, 144 and 147 games over his last 3 full seasons, and he's a below-average hitter  with a career OPS+ of 94. Bottom line is that neither Springer or Bradley is a perfect fit.

As for baserunning, that just frustrates me as a fan. You don't have to be a speedster to run the bases properly. It takes knowledge, baseball smarts and concentration. Keith Hernandez was an excellent baserunner back in his day, even though he wasn't an exceptionally fast runner. Any player coming up through the Mets system should be schooled relentlessly in this skill. It shouldn't be an option, but rather demanded of anyone in the system. There are talents that you just have to be born with to play Major League Baseball, but baserunning is a skill that can be learned. This has to get better.

Britton did an excellent job in summarizing the Mets brutal 2020 season on the bases:
The Mets were also a brutal baserunning team this season, constantly running into outs while rarely earning the reward of that aggressiveness. They were just 20 for 30 in stolen bases, a low frequency combining with a low success rate, and that doesn’t even count the five times they were picked off.... Even removing steals from the equation, the Mets made 22 outs on the bases - fifth most in baseball. Rojas became a broken record talking about plays that "can't happen" and the way the team has to "clean it up."

A lot of teams live with outs on the bases because of the message it sends to the opponent, and because such aggressiveness often leads to tangible results down the line. This was not the case with the Mets, who ranked last in the majors in taking the extra base - in advancing two bases on a single and three on a double.
I think one thing that the awful baserunning this season might signal is a lack of attention to detail. If Rojas stays on as manager he has to do more than just complain about the problem, he should start 2021 with a real plan to address it. I know that he can't wave a magic wand and turn the Mets into a great baserunning team, but they just can't continue to run into outs on the basepaths.

Britton finished up his piece asking which players became a more important part of the Mets future and which may have made themselves expendable. I can't quibble with Britton's choices for the players who raised their stock. Dom Smith, Andrés Giménez, Peterson and Michael Conforto are picks that I think we can all agree with. For players whose stock dropped, Britton picked Rosario, Matz and J.D. Davis. 

Hard to argue with Rosario, who took a huge step backwards this year. Still, the guy is 24 years old, and I don't think his ultimate future has been decided. At the very least, if I was making the decisions I'd try to arrange for him to get some experience in CF in winter ball and try to add some positional versality to his game. He can't bring back much in a trade right now, so maybe he can help them as a utility guy.

Steven Matz excelled in 6 starts as a rookie in 2015. He held his own in 3 playoff starts that season, although he didn't win any of them. In 2016 he made 25 starts and pitched to an ERA+ of 118, and looked like he was on his way to being a solid major league mid-rotation starter. In 4 seasons since then, he's posted ERA+ of 68, 94, 97 and a woeful 44 this season. He's always been prone to giving up the longball, but this year he allowed 14 in only 30.2 innings pitched. About his only use now would be pitching batting practice to slumping batters to help restore their confidence. If you get a new pitching coach you might tender him a contract this year just to roll the dice and see if he can match his 2018 and 2019 campaigns where he at least was a useful back of the rotation starter, but if the Mets decide to cut him loose it would be hard to fault the decision.

The only name I would really question is J. D. Davis. Yes, he struggled for much of the last month or so of the season, and his final slash line of .247/.371/.389 wasn't good. Yet that .371 OBP was still excellent, and you have to at least consider he might very well have broken out of that slump and rebounded to more respectable numbers in a normal season. I just don't see how a disappointing campaign of only 229 plate appearances can cancel out what he did in 2019 over 453 PA. I think he still deserves a chance next year to play regularly and see what kind of player he truly is.

We don't know exactly what path the Mets will take this offseason under Steve Cohen's ownership, but I  have to believe that we'll see the end of going forward with a team that's completely dependent on almost everything going right in order to compete. I strongly suspect that someone other than Brodie Van Wagenen will be making the key decisions. I suspect there will be both trades and free agent signings. There's a lot of work to be done, and it seems likely to me that it will take more than a single offseason to make the Mets into a strong contender. Still, I imagine that there will be an emphasis on putting out a team that has a real chance to make it into October.

As far as I'm concerned, the sooner we can put this 2020 campaign behind us, the better. I look forward to watching a team next year that isn't patched together with twine and duct tape. And with that thought, I'll sign off for today. Thanks for stopping by. We'll be posting content regularly throughout the off-season. Please stay safe, be well and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. Well, that's a way to ruin my Sunday breakfast appetite :)

  2. Think of it as a really bad weight loss strategy


The Defense Doesn't Rest

A renewed emphasis on defense would be a good thing for the New York Mets. Mike Vaccaro had an interesting column in the New York Post  abou...