The Mets are a Scary Playoff Team

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.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Anonymouse
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Anonymouse

This article has no shortage of caveats, I’ll grant you that. The Mets have gotten their asses kicked by every good team they’ve played this year. Their record outside their division is pretty sad.

Bren
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Bren

They also played almost all of those games without Cespedes, Wright, d’Arnaud, Clippard, Uribe, Conforto, Matz etc. It’s literally been a tale of two teams and two schedules.

Senor_Met
Member
Senor_Met

And for anyone who thinks that’s just Mets fandom speaking (assuming you’re a Mets fan, Bren, I could be wrong), just look at the starting lineups the Mets trotted out in a 3 game series against the Cubs in May.

May 11 – started Juan Lagares, John Mayberry, Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Plawecki, and Dilson Herrera, and used Johnny Monell to pinch hit.

May 12 – started Cuddyer, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Kevin Plawecki, and again used Monell as a pinch hitter.

May 13 – started Cuddyer, Plawecki, Nieuwenhuis, and Herrera.

May 14 – started Herrera, Cuddyer, Mayberry, and Anthony Recker.

All of those guys will either be on the bench in the playoffs (Cuddyer, Plawecki, maybe Nieuwenhuis but probably not) or off the roster.

Meanwhile, the Cubs used almost the exact starting 8 they will have in the playoffs, with the exception of Welington Castillo and Matt Szczur each getting a start.

It’s no wonder the Mets got swept when they were playing with practically a AAA team.

atoms
Guest

Oh hey buddy

Tramps Like Us
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Tramps Like Us

last time I watched the Mets, Mayberry not only started, he was hitting 3rd.

1975
Guest
1975

What’s wrong with Mayberry hitting third? He’s got a 168 OPS+ this year!

pft
Guest
pft

Have not played many good teams since the trade deadline. Got swept by the Pirates, lost 3 series to AL East teams, and everyone else was either real bad teams or the slumping Nats

People really should factor in the easy schedule they have had in their analysis

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter

Entering the crucial series a few weeks back, the Nats had a 5-game winning streak where they outscored their opponents 40-12.

After the Mets’ series, the Nats won 7 out of 10.

It’s hard to say they were slumping. They just got beat.

Mike
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Mike

A lot of the games played out of division came before the trades though, haven’t they?

Ceetar
Guest

4-3 against the team they’re going to play in the Playoffs.

They’re also 10-6 against the Nationals who are 73-66 against everyone else. So they’re only not good because the Mets are good.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

The Mets also have one of the better interleague records of anyone in the NL.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

9-11???

The Bucs have the best IL record among NL playoff teams at 13-7.

Ollie
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Ollie

“One of the better” is not the same as “the best”.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

Alright smart guy, 9-11 isn’t “one of the better” either, depending on the outcome of today’s Cubs/KC game it would be the worst or tied for the worst among NL playoff teams.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

“of anyone in the NL” is not the same as “among NL playoff teams”

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

Seriously Ryan, what a pedantic tool! Arguing that 9-11 is a sign of how good the Mets are is just plain dumb. The NL is clearly top heavy and being the worst of the 5 playoff teams is directly relevant to the discussion.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

and their record is 7th best in the NL, not one of the better.

RobinVA
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RobinVA

I don’t understand why inter-league is an issue here. Or why Pirate’s Hurdles is so concerned with it. If you’re concerned about quality of teams, the Pirates had 12 wins in inter-league play… 11 of which came against teams not making the playoffs.

It’s kind of a silly thing to argue over.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus

They took the season series from the Dodgers and Nats (who are actually a decent team by baseruns) and beat the crap out of bad teams. They are a game behind the Pirates in baseruns and a half game behind the Cubs, and that’s for the whole year, for a lot of which they didn’t have Cespedes, D’Arnaud and Wright, etc. As currently configured they are right up their with all the best in the NL, regardless of what happened in various season series.

Concerned Reader John
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Concerned Reader John

Not much evidence who you beat matters, per Jeff Sullivan:

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/does-it-matter-who-you-beat-on-the-way-to-the-playoffs/

Trotter76
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Trotter76

As a Mets fan, I certainly hope we ride great pitching and good enough hitting and defense to a championship, despite our lackluster record against the Cubs and Pirates.

However, I remember back in ’88 the Mets were 13-1 against the Dodgers before losing in 7 in the NLCS (thanks for nothing, Hershiser). So it really shows (anecdotally) that regular season record means nothing in the playoffs.

Za
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Za

They won the season series against the team they’re lined up against in the NLDS. Do you even baseball, man?

3D
Guest
3D

>>>>The Mets have gotten their asses kicked by every good team they’ve played this year.<<<>>>Their record outside their division is pretty sad.<<<<

They're 34-32 against the NL Central and NL West. I wouldn't call that "sad".

3D
Guest
3D

“The Mets have gotten their asses kicked by every good team they’ve played this year.”

No, only the Cubs and Pirates. The Mets are 20-16 against every other NL team over .500, and 0-13 against those two.

“Their record outside their division is pretty sad.”

They’re 34-32 against the NL Central and NL West. I wouldn’t call that “sad”.

MACBETH
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MACBETH

You sure are an annoying mouse