2021 Was Supposed To Be the Easy Part For the Mets

Two weeks before the trade deadline, I shared a depressing series of projections for the Mets based on Jacob deGrom’s health. The team’s ace, who spent much of the early going making a run at Bob Gibson’s modern ERA record, had been sidelined by forearm pain and tightness, though he was reportedly returning soon. Still, you never know with either pitcher injuries or the Mets, so I decided to run some numbers on what New York’s fortunes would look like with either minimal or no deGrom. The results were … less than reassuring for the folks in Queens.

The “worst-case scenario” had the Mets retaining a 37% shot of making the playoffs; that turned out to be excessively sunny. A team that once held a 55–48 record and a four-game lead in the NL East as July turned to August is now in tatters, with a 14-21 record since then and trailing both Atlanta and Philadelphia in the division. As for deGrom, he had a setback not long after the deadline and still hasn’t returned to the active roster (and may not return at all this season). As of Tuesday morning, New York’s chances are down to 6.8% in our projected standings, and ZiPS is barely more bullish at 7.1%. The Mets don’t need much to go wrong to end up playing golf in October.

It won’t get any easier for going forward. The 2021 season was supposed to be the year for the Mets to cast off their accumulated sadness of the Wilpon era, with Francisco Lindor joining the team before Michael Conforto, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard hit free agency in the coming winter. The current roster never had, nor ever would have, a projection as good as the preseason prognostications for this year, but already, the outlook for the returning cast has generally become bleaker for 2022 than it was in March. (And that’s to say nothing of the front office, where there are clearly some important organizational issues that need resolving, but here, I’m sticking to what’s happening on the field.)

ZiPS 2022 Projections vs. Preseason 2022 Projections
Player 2022 ZiPS WAR 2022 ZiPS WAR (Preseason) Difference
Francisco Lindor 4.1 5.3 -1.2
Jeff McNeil 2.6 3.4 -0.8
David Peterson 1.3 2.1 -0.8
Dominic Smith 1.2 1.9 -0.7
Carlos Carrasco 1.8 2.5 -0.7
Albert Almora Jr. -0.6 0.1 -0.7
Trevor Williams 1.1 1.5 -0.4
Taijuan Walker 1.0 1.4 -0.4
James McCann 0.9 1.2 -0.3
J.D. Davis 1.1 1.4 -0.3
Kevin Pillar 0.4 0.7 -0.3
Miguel Castro 0.3 0.5 -0.2
Edwin Diaz 1.6 1.8 -0.2
Seth Lugo 1.5 1.6 -0.1
Brandon Nimmo 2.9 3.0 -0.1
Brandon Drury 0.0 0.0 0.0
Jose Peraza 0.2 0.2 0.0
Tomás Nido 0.3 0.3 0.0
Trevor May 0.7 0.6 0.1
Robert Gsellman 0.3 0.2 0.1
Luis Guillorme 1.3 1.1 0.2
Pete Alonso 3.9 3.6 0.3
Jacob deGrom 5.2 4.4 0.8

What makes this table especially cruel is that the largest projection improvement, that of deGrom, is only a paper one; ZiPS sees very good reasons to think he improved as a pitcher this year, but it only knows the barest specifics about his health situation. If you asked me to take the over/under on the ZiPS-projected 143 2/3 innings in 2022, I’d have to take the under at this point.

Lindor’s decline has been especially troubling. Coming into the season, you could rationalize his fall from 2018’s dizzying heights by noting he got a late start in ’19 due to injury and that ’20 was a shortened season practically guaranteed to be every player’s most bizarre year ever. Making sense of his struggles becomes a lot harder to do in a fairly normal 2021. Though he missed a month with a sore oblique, his season was a relatively unimpressive one long before he hit the IL; Tuesday marked the first time at any point this year that his OPS has been above the .700 mark.

ZiPS still projects Lindor to be an All-Star going forward, but a lot has been trimmed off the high-end of the projections. Entering the 2021 season, it had him with the fifth-best 90th-percentile WAR projection of any hitter in baseball, at 8.5, behind a who’s who of MVP candidates (Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts). Things are far less rosy now.

ZiPS Projection – Francisco Lindor
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .256 .331 .460 528 87 135 29 2 25 75 56 17 114 6 4.1
2023 .258 .335 .467 503 84 130 29 2 24 72 54 16 117 5 4.1
2024 .259 .335 .471 490 82 127 28 2 24 72 52 14 118 4 3.9
2025 .257 .332 .460 474 77 122 26 2 22 67 50 14 115 3 3.5
2026 .253 .327 .448 455 72 115 24 1 21 62 47 13 110 2 3.0
2027 .251 .321 .434 435 66 109 21 1 19 58 42 12 105 1 2.4
2028 .246 .313 .414 411 60 101 19 1 16 51 37 11 98 0 1.7
2029 .240 .303 .388 384 52 92 16 1 13 44 32 10 88 -1 1.0
2030 .231 .290 .361 355 45 82 14 1 10 37 27 8 78 -3 0.2
2031 .224 .280 .335 263 30 59 9 1 6 24 18 5 68 -4 -0.4

 

ZiPS 2022 Projection Percentiles – Francisco Lindor
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .281 .361 .550 520 94 146 34 5 32 90 65 24 146 6.0
80% .273 .355 .522 521 92 142 32 4 30 85 63 22 138 5.8
70% .265 .345 .502 524 90 139 32 4 28 81 60 19 130 5.1
60% .259 .336 .485 526 88 136 30 4 27 78 58 18 123 4.6
50% .256 .331 .460 528 87 135 29 2 25 75 56 17 115 4.1
40% .251 .324 .447 530 85 133 28 2 24 72 54 16 110 3.7
30% .244 .316 .430 532 83 130 26 2 23 69 52 14 103 3.2
20% .240 .309 .412 534 81 128 25 2 21 65 50 13 97 2.7
10% .227 .294 .382 537 78 122 22 2 19 60 47 10 85 1.8

I didn’t run everyone’s 2022 projection percentiles, but that new 90th-percentile projection for Lindor would have ranked only 39th in the preseason. As for career projections, the loss in his long-term value comes into nine-figure territory in dollars, which is not likely to encourage owner Steve Cohen to spend aggressively this winter.

The changes to McNeil’s long-term projections are similarly damaging.

ZiPS Projection – Jeff McNeil
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .281 .348 .433 462 61 130 27 2 13 59 36 9 113 -2 2.6
2023 .278 .344 .437 435 56 121 26 2 13 55 34 8 113 -3 2.3
2024 .277 .343 .430 419 54 116 24 2 12 53 32 8 111 -4 2.0
2025 .272 .336 .416 401 50 109 21 2 11 49 30 7 106 -6 1.5
2026 .267 .331 .407 378 45 101 19 2 10 44 27 6 102 -7 1.0
2027 .260 .320 .384 354 40 92 16 2 8 39 23 5 93 -8 0.3
2028 .252 .306 .359 301 32 76 12 1 6 30 17 4 82 -9 -0.4
2029 .250 .303 .338 204 20 51 7 1 3 19 11 2 76 -8 -0.6
2030 .240 .289 .325 154 14 37 5 1 2 13 7 2 69 -7 -0.8

 

ZiPS Projection – Jeff McNeil (Preseason)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .292 .358 .471 493 66 144 32 4 16 67 39 5 125 -5 3.3
2023 .290 .357 .468 476 64 138 29 4 16 65 38 5 124 -6 3.0
2024 .287 .352 .463 460 60 132 28 4 15 63 36 4 122 -7 2.6
2025 .281 .346 .451 437 56 123 24 4 14 58 33 4 117 -8 2.0
2026 .278 .339 .432 414 51 115 22 3 12 52 29 4 110 -9 1.3
2027 .271 .330 .413 387 45 105 19 3 10 46 25 3 103 -10 0.7
2028 .266 .321 .392 357 39 95 15 3 8 39 21 3 95 -12 0.0
2029 .258 .310 .368 310 31 80 12 2 6 31 16 2 85 -13 -0.7
2030 .251 .301 .357 227 22 57 8 2 4 21 11 2 80 -11 -0.9

The free-agent losses for the Mets this year are significant, too. While it’s likely that some players will return, Stroman, Conforto, Syndergaard, Javier Báez, Rich Hill, Aaron Loup, and Jeurys Familia is a lot of talent to replace. There are some terrific prospects in the system — Francisco Álvarez, in particular, has eviscerated minor-league pitching — but these possible future replacements are unlikely to be of the Opening Day 2022 variety. We have the team’s 2022 luxury tax number at just under $132 million, but that doesn’t include somewhere in the neighborhood of $18–22 million in salary for Díaz, Nimmo, and Lugo, raises from other players tendered a contract, or Alonso and McNeil hitting their first year of arbitration.

Looking at some ludicrously early 2022 projections, featuring only players under contract or bound to their teams for 2022, you can see an early-peek on the challenges the Mets face this winter.

ZiPS Projected Standings – 2022 NL East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Philadelphia Phillies 87 75 .537 43.2% 10.6% 53.8% 4.2%
Atlanta Braves 84 78 3 .519 25.4% 10.3% 35.8% 2.5%
New York Mets 84 78 3 .519 21.8% 9.3% 31.1% 2.1%
Miami Marlins 79 83 8 .488 6.5% 3.9% 10.4% 0.6%
Washington Nationals 77 85 10 .475 3.1% 2.1% 5.2% 0.3%

Archie Bradley is probably Philadelphia’s biggest loss, and the Marlins have a rotation with massive upside. Atlanta loses Freddie Freeman in these projections, but it strikes me as unlikely that the team doesn’t close a deal with its biggest veteran name.

If you’re hoping the Mets are aggressive this winter, given the recent changes in the front office and ownership, it strikes me as just as likely that the team takes a step back and retools the roster a bit while waiting for some top prospects to graduate to the majors and some dead money to expire. Whichever path they choose, there’s a big mess to clean up.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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David Klein
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I’m not nearly as bearish as you are I feel like getting a whole new front office lead by hopefully Neander, Beane or Stearns over a washed up Sandy Alderson will help. Lindor has underperformed offensively for sure but I could see him rebounding like Beltran did after his first year here all those years ago. I think they’ll bring back Stroman and offer Syndergaard a qualifying offer, which I’d bet he takes and I could see them signing Semien or Bryant and maybe Marte and making a few other moves and going over the luxury tax. I know a lot depends on deGrom’s health but some positive regression and Carrasco staying healthy next year would help and I’m a big believer in Megill. I think McNeil has been banged up all year and trying to hit for power has killed him this year, but I can see him rebounding too. I know Smith, McNeil and Conforto stinking it up and Lindor struggling offensively has killed the Mets but I think a couple will rebound big time.

dl80
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dl80

A lot depends on what happens with Gsmestop. Cohen might not have nearly as much money as we think.

TheGarrettCooperFanClub
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TheGarrettCooperFanClub

That is a whole lot easier said than done. Expecting the NcNeils, Confortos and Smiths to maintain their small samples of success in 2020 to translate to 2021 was already a bold strategy. Now to double down and expect them to bounce back again? I don’t know about that one.

David Klein
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Conforto and McNeil were good hitters before 2020 in fact McNeil’s wRC+ was down in 2020 from 2018 and 2019 while Conforto had a career wRC+ of 130 coming into this season. Dom is another matter as he’s been pretty terrible outside of short sample sizes in 2019-2020.

ns322
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ns322

When your list of things they need to do in the offseason stretches as long as yours does, that gets exactly at the problem described above. Your taking it pretty lightly how hard it is to remake a front office, make all the in-house re-aquisitions your talking about at a reasonable price, plus go out and get two more very pricey free agents minimum, oh yeah and on top of that, you are banking on Lindor having a bounceback to superstar levels and all of McNeil, Smith and Conforto bouncing back. You’ll be lucky if a few of these happen at best.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

If you’re daydreaming about Neander, Beane, or Stearns…good luck. None of them are going to be terribly excited to go to the Mets. They may not even get permission from their owners to interview; they’d need to be team president in a lot of cases to get an interview, in which case they’d be removed from the actual day-to-day player acquisition. Beane probably would need an ownership stake too.

You’re more likely to get Thad Levine, Bobby Heck, or Matt Arnold. Or Theo Epstein, for that matter, although I’m not totally convinced he’d take it or he’d even be a good fit.

David Klein
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Well you were dead on about Neander sadly.