Monday, June 5, 2023

Lowered Expectations

Is this as good as it gets for the 2023 New York Mets?

This is my third try to write about the New York Mets this week. I went deep into analysis twice, and both times I got to a point where I had just output hundreds of words that just felt like restatements of things I had already written about the 2023 Mets. So I finally decided to sh*tcan the deep analysis and touch on some of the basics. I'm confident that almost everyone who bothers to read my stuff is a serious Mets fan. Like me, you are also likely to be just a bit worn down from rooting for such a maddeningly inconsistent team that feels a bit too much like too many of the pre-Cohen Mets clubs.

The show MAD TV aired on Fox for 14 seasons from 1995-2009. The network's answer to the venerable SNL was never a big ratings hit, but it had some moments. One of my favorites was an ongoing series of sketches for the "Lowered Expectations" Dating Service for folks described in the initial segment as "chronically rejected singles" who were "desirably impaired ." The fictional dating videos often made me chuckle. I've often thought back to them over the years in the context of my Mets fandom as seasons descended from "win the World Series" to "make the playoffs" to "finish above .500" to "don't be a complete embarrassment." And those were just the seasons that began with any positive expectations at all.

Pre-season expectations are certainly higher since Steve Cohen bought the club, but lately, I have been experiencing those old "Lowered Expectations" feelings from the Wilpon era. My "date" for 2023 features a club with a record payroll that can't seem to keep itself above the .500 mark. The heady excitement from back in December when the Mets reportedly signed Carlos Correa seems like it happened years ago. Meanwhile, the current Mets club shows small signs from time to time that things might get better, only to fall back to frustrating losses where they barely muster any fight on offense. Dropping all 3 games at home to a Blue Jays club that hasn't been great themselves this season is only the latest bite from the sh*t sandwich this team has been. The Mets have once again fallen back to the .500 mark.

There are plenty of obvious reasons why this season has gone wrong. The starting pitching was a mess for quite a while, leading to many of the Mets' early struggles. It's showing signs of stabilizing some as of late, but then Sunday, Kodai Senga, who has been excellent at home, delivered a clunker when the Mets needed him to pitch well. But Senga is like most Japanese pitchers in their first year here in the States. The first season is always a challenge for a Japanese import pitcher to get used to all the differences in American baseball: the schedule, the ball, the travel, etc. It's a process, but his teammates' lack of good play makes Senga's struggles stand out more.

The hope, of course, is that Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer can stay healthy and productive for the rest of the season. That would certainly go a long way toward stabilizing things, but the club still has to score runs for these guys. The offense has been infuriatingly inconsistent, scoring runs in bunches when the Mets' pitching is bad, then almost silent when they get a good effort from a starting pitcher.

There are many reasons why the offense has been so bad. Production from the corner outfielders has been lacking. Starling Marte is slashing .250/.314/.333 with an OPS+ of 82. Mark Canha's numbers are .244/.332/.396 with a 103 OPS+. Both have picked it up lately but have a long way to go. The Mets have a club option on Canha for 2024, so they can part ways after this season. Marte, on the other hand, will make over $20 million in 2024 and 2025. The Mets went long on money and years with Marte because Billy Eppler saw Starling as an important piece for the ball club.

Two really substantial offensive contributors last season were the keystone combination of Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil. Lindor looks like the guy who struggled through most of his first season in New York, with an anemic OPS+ of 89 and 61 Ks in 60 games. Lindor is a leader of this team, but it's hard to lead when you are not producing. Meanwhile, Jeff McNeil only has 10 XBH in his first 60 games. His .352 SLG is below the .360 SLG in 2021, Jeff's worst MLB season. Last year's NL batting champion has an OPS+ of 100 in 2023, exactly league average.

Francisco Álvarez and Brett Baty have had some good moments with this club but are going through the ups and downs that almost all MLB rookies must endure. It's hard to be a good MLB player, even if a kid is talented. It's even harder when they're trying to figure things out on a team trying to win. And it doesn't help much when several of your club's veteran players aren't getting the job done. Meanwhile, Mark Vientos isn't getting enough ABs to show whether he can be a productive major league hitter.

I'm not a Daniel Vogelbach hater. He has endured his own ups and downs in 2023, becoming a target of the angriest fans. If Billy Eppler's front office really believes in the guy, he should just be the DH against right-handers, period. Or Vientos should be playing most of the games as DH. The Mets are doing what they did with J. D. Davis last season — not giving either guy a chance to prove himself. If they believe in Vogelbach, ignore the boo birds and play him. Or else, give Vientos a real opportunity to prove he's the guy. I'm not in the camp that believes Billy Eppler isn't a competent GM. But this indecision regarding players' roles has become a noticeable problem for Eppler's front office.

Another glaring problem for Eppler's regime is the bullpen. Will Sammon wrote about the lack of bullpen depth in The Athletic:
At the outset of trade deadline season, the need for an additional high-leverage option for the Mets' bullpen looks evident.

The Mets lost all three games over the weekend to Toronto mostly because their lineup failed to score enough runs. But signs of a thin bullpen also lingered each game. And by Sunday's 6-4 loss, the Mets were feeling the effects.
Sammon is right about the need for an additional high-leverage reliever. I don't blame Eppler's regime for the freak injury to Edwin Díaz. That was a tough break. And they did a good job assembling some solid late-inning options. While David RobertsonAdam OttavinoDrew Smith, and Brooks Raley have all endured some hiccups, they've generally been fine. The problem is that the Mets still can't figure out how to turn other guys into useful relievers. It would be easy to blame Dominic Leone for losing the final game of the Toronto series, but the real problem is that the Mets just can't seem to get a solid reliever without having to buy one on the free agent market.

This isn't all on Billy Eppler. It isn't on pitching coach Jeremy Hefner or any other single person in the Mets organization. But the Mets' inability to develop some inexpensive in-house relief options — whether from their prospects or arms that they bring in — is a glaring failure. Whether Eppler remains the head guy in baseball ops or someone like David Stearns is brought in to run things, this club has to figure out how to manufacture some decent relievers going forward.

I don't know what will happen with the Mets this season. The schedule for June and July is challenging. It's hard to imagine the Mets distancing themselves from .500 unless they drastically improve their level of play. If things continue like this, I foresee the Mets still on the outside looking in for a playoff berth once September rolls around. Owner Steve Cohen has displayed much patience this year, despite spending a record amount to avoid a non-competitive season. I can't imagine he will be happy with his front office if that happens despite the spending.

One final thought for today. Although I believe that cutting catcher Tomás Nido loose was the correct move, I do not enjoy seeing Nido go. I wish Tomás well and hope things work out for him.

Be well and take care. Don't let these Mets ruin your summer if these follies continue.

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  1. You would think our hitters would snap out of a season long offensive slump. Heads should be rolling soon. Vientos needs to play everyday otherwise and send him down.

    1. Agree on Vientos. The Mets need to make a decision at DH, otherwise no one will succeed.

  2. Thanks Mike,for another well thought out and put together article . You have a great way of putting down all of our frustrations and disappointments with this club, ,from the players up to the front office. Why did so many fans see the short-comings of this club at the end of last season yet the front office couldn't? I was so excited for the off-season to arrive last year I couldn't wait to see how Eppler was goming to address our power hitting shortage ,especially how he would repair our disappionting DH situation. He didn't though. We started the year with the same players that failed to get the job done last year. I was anxious to see how he would add to and remake the weak spots in our middle relief pitching. He didn't . He resorted to the Old Wilpon method of picking from the junk pile. The starting pitching I really find it hard to fault him because of all the injuries to our starter. I don't understand why though he wouldn't resign Bassitt. He answered the bell last year when it was his time to pitch and for the most part gave the team a chance to win.He didn't do a great job putting together a competitive roster in all hi years with the Angles. He had a large amount of money to work with then also. I am still trying to find one trade with either the Angles or Mets that he came out on top. Please Mr. Cohen,think hard before you entrust your team and your money with someone who has a losing track record.

  3. Thanks for the compliment, and the great comment.

    I think it will be easier to make a decision on what this roster still needs if key players start producing. Right now they're all so awful. As for relievers, I really believe any good team SHOULD be able to take some guys from the junk pile and turn them into effective middle relievers. I do believe that is more of a failure than not signing more guys. They got to figure this out no matter who is in charge.


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