So the Mets Might Be Contenders

As it stands this morning, there are five teams in the National League that have at least a 50% chance of reaching the postseason, according to our Playoff Odds forecasts. The three top teams are the same three that everyone had winning their divisions before the year began; the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Nationals. The fourth team — or first Wild Card, if you want to make it sound a little better — is the Padres, whose winter moves made the largest splash the world has seen since Noah decided to build an ark. And finally, as you’ve likely surmised from reading the headline, there’s the New York Mets, currently given exactly a 50/50 chance of reaching the postseason this year.

Yep, that puts the Mets ahead of the Pirates and Cubs, the two young darlings of the Central, each with rosters more stacked with young talent. It also puts the Mets well ahead of the Marlins, a trendy pre-season pick to make a run this year, but instead are a team that is reportedly considering firing their manager after getting their clocks cleaned in Queens over the weekend. After that four game sweep, the Marlins now find themselves seven games behind the Mets; it’s the largest gap between any two division rivals in baseball.

Of course, it’s still really early. It’s April 19th, and because the season started a week later this year, that date is even more deceiving than usual. We’re two weeks into a 26 week race. After 13 games last year, the Brewers were 10-3, standing with the best record in baseball; they went 72-77 after that point and finished six games behind the two Wild Card teams. While the games that have been played still count and can’t be taken away, a 10-3 start doesn’t mean the Mets are really a great team.

But that’s the thing about baseball in 2015; they don’t really need to be. They don’t even need to be particularly good, because in this day and age, a hot start and a roster that doesn’t suck makes you a contender.

The NL in 2015 is broken into four distinct tiers: there are the obvious division favorites, the Wild Card contenders, the Wild Card pretenders, and the Phillies. A visual representation might help.

2015-national-league-projected-wins

Thanks to a strong start and a legitimately strong pitching staff, the Mets find themselves squarely in the seoncd tier. In reality, they probably aren’t as good as the Padres, Pirates, or Cubs, but the good news is that they don’t have to be. Their 10-3 start isn’t really predictive of anything — especially since their underlying BaseRuns performance suggests that a more normal distribution of those same events would have led to a 7-6 record at this point — other than the fact that the Mets just don’t need to win as many games going forward as their competitors do.

Our forecasts have the Mets as essentially a .500 team, which lines up nicely with their context-neutral performances so far. Their offense is mostly fine — though it will be tested now that they’re losing Travis D’Arnaud and are already without David Wright — with enough decent hitters to make up for the fact that they lack great ones. Their defense is very good at some spots (think center field) and less great at others (yeah, Wilmer Flores is still their shortstop). They run the bases okay. Their bullpen is not horrible, and could be better than that if Bobby Parnell comes back as a contributor.

And the rotation could very well be excellent, especially once they kick Dillon Gee out of it. Matt Harvey and Jacob DeGrom look like a formidable pair at the front, while Bartolo Colon refuses to age, and Jon Niese is a perfectly serviceable mid-rotation starter. With Rafael Montero set to join the rotation soon, and Noah Syndergaard and/or Steven Matz coming later this summer, the Mets have one of the best starting staffs in baseball.

Combine three parts meh with one part awesome and you end up with an alright team that won’t embarrass itself, and in the 2015 National League, that’s a Wild Card contender; especially when staked to an early lead over the other race-runners. I’m not going to argue that the Mets are as good as the Padres, Pirates, or Cubs, because I don’t think they are. The Padres can hit in a way that the Mets can’t. The Pirates have the NL’s best player and a better supporting cast of position players, plus a magical wand that forces opponents to hit the ball directly into their extreme defensive alignments. The Cubs have upside stacked on top of upside. All these things have stuff the Mets don’t have.

But the Mets have 10 wins, which is something that Chicago, Pittsburgh, and San Diego don’t have, and it’s not any better to have an extra +3 WAR player on your team than it is to have an extra three wins already in the bank. If you thought the Mets were a .500 team at the start of the year, then their current position is not much different than if they’d traded a Shake Shack Concrete for Ian Desmond on Opening Day.

We go through this every April, but it’s always worth repeating; regression to the mean doesn’t mean that a team (or player) that has had a good run is due for an offsetting bad run in order to even things out. That’s the gambler’s fallacy, and life doesn’t work that way. The Mets haven’t played well enough that we should dramatically alter our expectations of what they’re going to do going forward, but now, .500 ball for 24 weeks gets you an 85 win finish. And while 85 wins probably doesn’t get you the Wild Card, that’s the mean forecast out of a range of expected outcomes, and it doesn’t take very many things going New York’s way before that 85 turns into 88 or 89.

They could almost get there by taking the ball away from Dillon Gee and being aggressive on the trade market early in the year, limiting the number of at-bats and innings that have to go to replacement level players. Right now, we’re projecting 357 plate appearances for John Mayberry, because we don’t think Michael Cuddyer or Curtis Granderson can play the outfield all year long. You don’t have to look too terribly hard to find an outfielder better than John Mayberry, and if the Mets can scrounge up a solid fourth outfielder, all of the sudden this is a team projected to end the year with 86 or 87 wins.

In reality, the Mets are probably still the 7th or 8th best team in the National League, but they’ve already collected 10 irrevocable wins, and the 4th, 5th, and 6th best teams in the NL aren’t exactly monsters. The NL Wild Cards will be won by two flawed teams that likely over-perform their actual abilities by a half dozen games or so. The Mets are already further down that path than anyone else, and while it’s easy to look at this roster and see a bunch of question marks, there really does appear to be enough here to make September interesting at Citi Field.

We hoped you liked reading So the Mets Might Be Contenders by Dave Cameron!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted
Owen
Member
Member
Owen

First I would like to say: Great Job Dave! I always love reading a piece when you wrote it. I’m a Mets fan, so this was a must-read to me.

A few Questions:
1. Who will come up first: Syndergaard or Matz? I personally like Matz better, and that Syndergaard hasn’t really had a good season in his minor league career.

2. Flores has been swinging the bat a little so do you think the mets should sign a backup, who is good defensively for late game situations?

3. I also think the Mets need some BATS off the bench to pinch hit. I was thinking the Mets could easily get Allen Craig. The Sox are probably eager to trade him, and he’s got some pop leftover from ’13.

4. With Blevins hurt, does the plot thicken for a LHRP? Should the Mets call up Matz to the pen?

Thanks and anyone who sees this can answer!

nedimyer
Guest
nedimyer

I’m clearly not Dave Cameron, but I found your questions and posts interesting. Matz’s K rate has been down as he’s been promoted so I would think he needs some more time. And you nailed it with Syndergaard. As far as Craig, it seems that the Red Sox would definitely trade him for next to nothing, but should the Mets get him? He’s a strikeout machine right now, more so than ever, and even if he does have some pop left, it would be harder to utilize that at Citi than at Fenway. Anyways, just my thoughts on those two questions.

David G
Guest
David G

1. Syndergaard
2. No. Tejada is a below average starter but an above average backup.
3. Mets bench looks pretty solid to me.
4. No, no they should definitely not. They currently have two lefties in the bullpen (albeit one with reverse splits).

attgig
Guest
attgig

my $.02
1) besides those two, it seems the media consensus to be called up first is Montero, not syndergaard or matz.
2) they already have Tejada as the late defensive replacement. not sure how much better they could do in the trade market
3) not a Craig fan, especially if it means giving anything up for him.
4) easily moves up A Torres in high leverage lefty. The question is how Gilmartin fares now. If Gilmartin proves legit over the next couple of weeks, they have enough LHRP in the pen. if not, Gilmartin gets returned, and i think Leatherstich gets a shot in the pen before they move Matz over.

David G
Guest
David G

Leatherstich has reverse splits, though. He may get the call sooner or later regardless if he’s finally gotten his walks under control.

Trotter76
Guest
Trotter76

Montero is getting the spot start on April 28 for 2 reasons: 1) his service time clock is already started; and 2) it will be a straight spot start, it’s not a spot in the rotation. If we get to May and there is an injury to a starter, I think either Syndy or Matz comes up, depending on who is pitching better.

As for Leathersich, he has maintained control for a very small sample, but he was wild in ST as he has been throughout his MiLB career. If he shows these gains are for real he could get a shot, especially if the bullpen keeps on getting injuries.

I don’t see Alderson trading for either a SS in the near term or Craig at all. Craig is signed through 2017 for 26.5 mil minimum, even if they decline the $13 mil option for 2018. That’s a lot of money for the Mets with no place to play him. The goal as I imagine it is to have Cuddyer and Granderson replaced at the end of their contracts by Conforto and Nimmo, but of course a lot can change between now and then.

stevenam
Guest
stevenam

Leatherstich has never, ever gotten the BB’s under control over any extended period. He and his heater seem to be fool’s gold.

The Maddness
Guest
The Maddness

1. I think Montero gets the call-up first. Also, Syndergaard has had a very good season. In 2013 he was extremely good when you combine his High-A and AA numbers.

2. They already have Ruben Tejada for this role.

3. Allen Craig is done. He strikeouts a ton and his BABIP has severely regressed. Mayberry is good vs. LHP (.862 career OPS/132 wRC+ and Kirk Nieuwenhuis is good vs. RHP(.741 OPS/107 wRC+ career, .855 OPS/136 wRC+ in 2014)

4. No way Matz gets called up for a bullpen role. They have Alex Torres, who is a LHP, but doesn’t dominated LHB like Blevins did.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Montero was sent down to be stretched out to start. He’s already been penciled in for a spot start on April 28th.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter

FWIW, I recall reading something from Keith Law a month or two ago where he mentioned that he hasn’t spoken to a single front office exec who likes Matz more than Syndergaard. There was hype around Matz because people like to hype newer names, but there’s a reason Syndergaard was the higher ranked player on every list.

Met guy
Guest
Met guy

Flores isn’t a shortstop, any legit contender would have a proven player at such a premium position. It’s time they trade for a real SS and keep Tejada as a backup as he’s been great off the bench. Flores at short= joke.

Christian
Guest

Yankees weren’t a legit contender when they had Jeter out there? It’s Wilmer’s defense you’re talking about, right? Jeter sucked defensively other than a couple of good years. It’s Wilmer’s bat that’s keeping him up here. He’s more than fine. He’s got a 105 wRC+ right now and the average for a shortstop is 85. Lay off the kid and let him develop the same way we let d’arnuad develop.

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City

Agreed about Jeter’s defense. But his hitting and base running was so good he could still put up 5 to 6 WAR seasons while giving up 10 defensive runs a year.

stevenam
Guest
stevenam

Jeter is a good comp. Flores has a chance to be a solid contributor offensively; not Jeter to be sure, but a player. With Tejada backing him up for the glove, ss is ok.

Montero is the next man up in the rotation.

francis
Guest
francis

Re Jeter: Notice how much better the Yankees are this year than last.

The Maddness
Guest
The Maddness

Really? Any legit contender?

Ian Desmond can’t seem to play defense to save his life, career -24 DRS and UZR -3.6.

The Dodgers seem ok with 36 year old Jimmy Rollins. -23 DRS over the past 5 seasons.

As much as I love Jose Reyes, his -53 DRS over the last 5 years looks ugly. Yet, I don’t hear anyone complaining about him at SS.

Those are 3 legit contenders who are just hitters who happen to play SS at this point. The biggest difference is that Wilmer is at LEAST 6 years younger than all of them.