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Can the Mets Challenge the Cubs in 2017?

 

Following the World Series berth in 2015, many Mets fans were experiencing feelings they hadn’t since the World Series in 2000. It had been fifteen years since they last had their shot at glory. Heading into 2016, The Mets felt good about their chances of making a postseason run after riding their young pitching staff deep into the postseason. However, injuries struck fast and struck heavily to the Mets in 2016. Matt Harvey was lost for the year on July 5th, needing right should thoracic surgery. Lucas Duda only managed to play 47 games, David Wright played only 37 games, D’arnaud played just 75 games. The list keeps going; Walker played 50 less games than in 2015, and Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz combined for one start in September. Despite the injuries, the Mets still managed to make the Wild Card game against the Giants but faced playoff Madison Bumgarner and the Giants voodoo magic in the form of Conor Gillaspie.

With the signing of Yoenis Cespedes this offseason, the Mets have shored up one of their biggest needs. Without Cespedes the Mets would be severely lacking in the middle of the order. However, the Mets still have other question marks. What are they going to do with Jay Bruce? Which Michael Conforto is the real Michael Conforto, 2015 or 2016? Will they obtain bullpen help? Some of these questions should be answered by April.

For the Mets to take the division back from the Nationals and challenge the Cubs, the first thing they need is get their rotation back and healthy. With the injuries to the starting rotation, Jacob deGrom dropped from being worth 5.3 fWAR in 2015 to 3.3 fWAR in 2016 and fellow teammate Matt Harvey went from being worth 4.4 fWAR to just 2.0 fWAR. Barring setbacks, both players look to be ready for the start of the 2017 season. Rookie Steven Matz pitched well on 2016, keeping a 3.40 ERA with a 3.39 FIP and 3.30 xFIP while being worth 2.8 WAR, despite missing the last month and a half of the season. Last but not least, Noah Syndergaard battled through a bone spur in his elbow, but was dominant in his first full season in the MLB. This was the same group that showed they can shut down a potent offense in the playoffs like they did in the the 2015 NLCS. The fifth man in the rotation still seems to be up in the air;  Zack Wheeler was shut down until spring training due to his Tommy John surgery in March 2015, making it tough to rely on him. Robert Gsellman looks to be the ideal candidate unless the Mets add during free agency. In his first 44 innings in the major leagues, Gsellman had a 2.42 ERA and was a major key to the Mets making the wild card game. For the Mets to compete and make a run against the juggernaut that is the Cubs, they need their core four to stay healthy and to avoid regression from the previous year.

The Mets offense was big part of their late season resurgence. In September and October they ranked 5th in *wRC+ (107), 7th in *wRC (145), 7th in *OPS (.767), and 7th in OBP (.337). The Mets were realistically a top 10 offense in the last month+ of the season, despite being in the bottom half of every one of these categories the first half. The Mets need to keep this offense rolling into 2017 to really contend with the Cubs and Nationals.

WPA is Win Probability Added, which is the sum of the differences in win expectancies for each play the player is credited with.

For MLB regulars, here’s a quick breakdown of season-long WPA scores:

Rating WPA
Excellent +6.0
Great +3.0
 Above Average +2.0
Average +1.0
 Below Average 0.0
Poor -1.0
Awful -3.0

 Table via Fangraphs.

The worst player on the Mets in WPA was Travis D’arnaud at -1.4, good for 1.4 games lost. While Yoenis Cespedes, the man they just resigned this week, had a WPA of 3, all according to Baseball-Reference.com. Cespedes was the only player on the Mets to grade above average in 2016, while Jose Reyes (+1.6) and Neil Walker (+1) graded at an average level. The rest of the team was +.5 or worse. The key idea of WPA is that it is not predictive, so someone like Cespedes, who had a high total in 2016, will not necessarily maintain his high WPA in 2017. Similarly, the Mets low WPA in 2016 does not necessarily mean the team will continue to struggle in high leverage spots in 2017. The Mets will need to raise their ability to hit during high leverage situations and raise their awful average with runners in scoring position heading into 2017.

The Mets have the rotation to be feared if they make the postseason in 2017, and barring injuries, I like the Mets chances of putting it together for 2016. They were an 87 win team despite key injuries to major pieces. They had the highest fWAR by 1.5 for pitchers in 2016 despite the injuries, and only look to improve that distinction. The Mets look primed and ready to challenge the Nationals for the NL East and the Chicago Cubs for the national league pennant heading into 2017.

 

 

*wRC- Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs.

*wRC+ -measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average after controlling for park effects.  League average for position players is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average.

*OPS- On-base plus Slugging.

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