The Mets are a Scary Playoff Team by Dave Cameron September 28, 2015 Over the weekend, the Mets officially won the National League East, though thanks to the meltdown in Washington — which now includes Jonathan Papelbon publicly choking Bryce Harper, with his manager apparently doing an impression of an ostrich while it happened — the accomplishment has been somewhat overshadowed in the news cycle. And it’s pretty obvious that, with the Nats falling apart at seemingly every opportunity, the NL East was the easiest division in in the league to win; even after sweeping the Reds over the weekend, the Mets still have just the fourth best record in the NL. But lost in the shuffle of the MVP getting assaulted on TV, along with the Cubs and Pirates getting us all tuned up for what might be the best Wild Card game we’ll ever see, the Mets were quietly setting up their playoff roster, and the results of that tune-up should scare the crap out of the other four playoff teams. For the first time all season, the team threw Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Jacob deGrom in consecutive games, previewing their playoff rotation (though not in the order they’ll pitch in October), and the results were, well, see for yourself. Mets Starters vs CIN Starter IP H HR BB K ERA FIP xFIP Jacob deGrom 6.0 5 0 0 9 1.50 0.15 1.62 Noah Syndergaard 7.2 5 1 0 11 2.35 1.97 1.24 Matt Harvey 6.2 9 0 0 6 2.70 1.35 3.12 Steven Matz 5.2 10 0 0 8 4.76 0.32 1.37 Total 26.0 29 1 0 34 2.77 1.03 1.84 You can adjust for opponent quality all you want; there’s no way for a four-start stretch that includes no walks and 36 strikeouts to not be remarkably impressive. Sure, the ’15 Reds aren’t the ’27 Yankees, but they have a .311 wOBA as a team this year; putting them in the same hitting tier as the Cardinals (.312), Cubs (.313), and Pirates (.313), and the games were played in Cincinnati, so these weren’t the results of some good arms just taking advantage of a pitcher-friendly environment. These were four high-ceiling arms putting their abilities on display, and sending a message to the rest of the National League. As a group, their fastballs averaged 96 mph this weekend, which is probably part of the reason why the Reds made contact on just 78% of their swings despite the fact that their starters lived in the strike zone all weekend. 53.6% of the pitches that the Mets fearsome four threw were within the bounds of the PITCHF/x strike zone, the kind of strike-throwing number you generally see from command pitchers who lack the stuff to get a lot of chases out of the zone. But that doesn’t describe any of the Mets four starters, all of whom were throwing hard and with movement. And when you constantly pound the zone with an elite pitch repertoire, well, you apparently end up running a 1.03 FIP. No, of course the Mets starters aren’t that good. They will eventually walk someone, and pounding the zone with such frequency will usually lead to more than one home run allowed every four starts. But in the wake of all the drama surrounding Matt Harvey’s innings limit, the Mets starters put out a pretty forceful reminder that they might just have the best playoff rotation of any team in baseball this year. For context, here’s their aggregate 2015 performance: Mets Foursome, 2015 IP BB% K% GB% HR/FB BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP- 549 5% 26% 45% 11% 0.278 76 79 80 The closest single-pitcher comparison to that ERA/FIP/xFIP line? Max Scherzer, who has a 75/77/78 pitcher-slash. The closet comparison in the individual components? Gerrit Cole, who has a 6% walk rate, 25% strikeout rate, and 48% ground ball rate. This is the level that the Mets four playoff starters have averaged this season. Sure, we have shorter track records with Matz and Syndergaard compared to a guy like Scherzer or Cole who have been dominating for years, but the stuff backs up the performances; this is a special group of pitchers. Of course, a great rotation doesn’t guarantee postseason glory. The 1991-1999 Braves ran some of the best rotations baseball has ever seen, rolling to the playoffs behind their aces every year, and they only managed one World Series title in eight tries. It’s not simply enough to point to the four starters the Mets can roll out there and decide that they’re going to be impossible to beat in October, because hitting, defense, and the bullpen all matter too. But there are reasons to think that the Mets should be just fine in those areas as well. On the position player side of things, the Mets rank 5th in total WAR this year, and if you use the active roster filter to measure teams by the full-season performances of the specific players they have heading into the postseason, the Mets jump up to #3. The 102 wRC+ their current hitters have posted might not sound too special, but keep in mind that they’re playing in the league without the DH; the Giants and Dodgers are the only two NL teams getting a higher wRC+ from their active roster players at the moment. And while most of the story about the Mets defense this year involved scorn about their shortstop position, the reality is that they’re a reasonably solid defensive unit, especially when Juan Lagares is in center field and Michael Cuddyer is serving as a pinch-hitter. The middle infield duo is never going to be confused for gold glovers, but David Wright and Lucas Duda are fine at the corners, and the team’s pitching staff strikes out so many batters that they can live with below-average defenders up the middle. The Mets aren’t the Royals in the field, but they aren’t sacrificing too much defense to justify the offensive gains that come from their group of position players. If the team has a weak spot, it’s the bullpen, where the guys in front Jeurys Familia are probably not quite as lights out as you’d generally be comfortable with. But it’s not anything close to an Achilles Heel. Tyler Clippard has been breaking FIP forever, and his ability to generate so many infield flies makes him a solid setup man even with poor BB/K numbers. Addison Reed is missing bats again since the Mets picked him up from Arizona, so while he wasn’t as good as his save totals indicated a few years back, he remains a good enough arm to put on the mound in a high leverage situation. Hansel Robles gets a lot of swinging strikes, so if the team needs a strikeout, they have a guy down there who can get those when need be. Sean Gilmartin is a solid lefty without a big platoon split, so he can be used to take advantage of a lefty who is weak against lefties without having to be immediately removed if the opponent pinch-hits. Their primary vulnerability appears to be the lack of a dominating left-on-left guy, but Jon Niese is going to pitch out of the bullpen in October, and has a 3.22 xFIP against LHBs this year, and a 3.36 xFIP vs LHBs for his career. The Mets probably aren’t going to take a guy who is stretched out to throw multiple innings and turn him into a lefty specialist, but if there’s a middle-inning rally that brings a tough lefty to the plate, Niese could be a valuable piece out of the pen to squash a big inning and then stay in the game long enough to get the ball to Clippard and Familia. Like with the defense, it’s not an overwhelming strength. This probably isn’t the bullpen you’d draw up if you were designing one from scratch, and the 6th-8th innings will probably be the time that Mets fans have the most anxiety during the postseason. But the team’s starters are good enough to get 18 outs in a playoff game, and I don’t think anyone would be surprised if deGrom got 21 or 24 by himself once or twice. Given the frequency of off-days and the high-stakes of the postseason, the Mets can probably lean mostly on their four starters and three best relievers, only mixing in the middle-innings guys when they absolutely have to, and few teams in baseball can stack up their best seven arms against the Mets seven. With an above average offense, good enough defense, and a reasonably decent bullpen, the Mets would be a solid team even without an elite rotation. What the four young kids showed over the weekend in Cincinnati, though, might be reason to think the Mets can hang with anyone in the NL. If those four arms keep pounding the zone with 96 mph fastballs, it’s not going to take a lot from the rest of the team for the Mets to make a really deep run in October.