The Mets were one of the more active clubs this offseason, pulling off a big trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz while signing Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia, and Jed Lowrie to free agent contracts. Through 46 games, the team is just 21-25, and multiple reports calling manager Mickey Callaway’s job “safe” have been issued, including a team meeting with GM Brodie Van Wagenen, which is never a good sign. The team had lost five straight games before their win last night, including a three-game sweep to the lowly Marlins despite both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitching in the series. The final two games saw the team shut out offensively. There’s something wrong with the Mets, and a lot of people are at fault.
During the course of a 162-game season, there are going to be stretches where teams don’t play well. The Mets getting swept by the Marlins looks pretty bad because it just happened, but bad teams sweep good teams a fair amount during the season because three games represents less than two percent of the season. The Mets are at 21-25 — fewer wins than they would like — but keep in mind, what the Mets are doing now isn’t a massive departure from the team’s projections at the beginning of the season. This is what our playoff odds projections looked like before the season started.
The club was more likely to be below .500 than they were to win 90 games. The team was projected for 84 wins before Opening Day. While a 21-25 record is a 74-win pace, and clearly below what the Mets were hoping for, the median projection would only have the Mets at 24-22 right now, a difference of just three wins. Three wins hardly seems like a manager-firing worthy start, but there are other factors to consider besides wins and losses when looking at a manager’s effectiveness. But let’s leave aside the manager for the moment, and look at the places where we could lay blame for the Mets’ subpar start.
The group most directly responsible for wins and losses for the Mets this season is the ones doing the actual throwing and catching and hitting. To get a sense of how well the players are doing, a check of the team’s preseason projections against its actual performance seems in order. Here are the depth chart projections prorated to games through Sunday compared to how the players have performed thus far.
|Name||Proj PA||PA||Proj wOBA||wOBA||Proj WAR||WAR|
We have Michael Conforto, Peter Alonso, and Jeff McNeil playing much better than projected, with Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos playing worse than expected, Todd Frazier barely playing, Jed Lowrie not playing at all, and Amed Rosario playing defense poorly. The Mets three big position player additions were projected for 1.8 WAR so far, but have instead been half a win below replacement. In terms of playing time, most players are pretty close, with the bulk of Jed Lowrie’s missing playing time going to J.D. Davis, who has played well. In all, the offense has been a slight disappointment, with defense also holding the team back.
Here’s the rotation:
|Name||Proj IP||IP||Proj WAR||WAR|
The rotation has performed basically as expected. The starters’ ERA at 4.64 is 0.76 higher than the FIP, the highest number in the league, though some of that difference is likely defense while some of it is probably just bad luck. BaseRuns says that the team is actually one win better at 22-24 when sequencing is stripped away. Wilmer Font could be included above, though with such few innings, it felt better to include him below with the bullpen.
|Name||Proj IP||IP||Proj WAR||WAR|
Seth Lugo, now injured, and Robert Gsellman have been very good, but Edwin Diaz has been just okay instead of great while Familia has just been bad. Mickey Callaway and the Mets have received some deserved criticism for weird rules associated with Diaz’s usage, but it’s not like there’s much to be done with the poor play of Familia and Wilson. Lugo, Gsellman, Familia, and Wilson even out in terms of their projections, leaving Diaz and the lower-level relievers to drag the club down.
In sum, the team should have a little over 11 WAR on the season, and instead have a little over nine wins. That two win difference, plus the one win for sequencing luck, is the difference between New York’s 21 wins and the 24 they were projected to have at this stage. Some blame for the clubs start has to go to Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, and the bullpen underperforming. We could add in Jed Lowrie’s injury as well, though Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis are probably the two biggest beneficiaries of Lowrie’s absence and they have both played well. The lack of wins is small enough that we could pretty easily call it random, though if we need to find blame somewhere…
Brodie Van Wagenen
The Mets’ new general manager made a bunch of moves over the winter, but almost none of them have been borne positive results thus far. J.D. Davis has played well and to the extent that the Peter Alonso call-up was a decision the GM pushed for, Van Wagenen deserves some credit. As for the rest, Cano, Ramos, Familia, and Justin Wilson have all played poorly, Lowrie hasn’t played, and Diaz hasn’t pitched as well as he did a year ago. We can chalk up some of the difficulties up to reliever volatility, but it was Van Wagenen who decided to make the bullpen a priority while leaving Jason Vargas as the fifth starter. There’s also the weird Devin Mesoraco demotion/forced retirement situation, as the backup catchers have been well below-replacement thus far. Van Wagenen’s big moves have yet to yield positive results on the field.
It’s always easy to blame owners for not spending enough on the team, but in the Mets’ case, those critiques are usually actually true. While adding Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz was a big move, it actually saved them several million dollars in 2019 salaries, with Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak sent to Seattle, and cost them a very good prospect in Jarred Kelenic. The team did add about $27 million payable in 2019 to Ramos, Lowrie, Familia, and Wilson, but they also saved about $10 million now when they signed Jacob deGrom to an extension.
When factoring in expired contracts from last season, Mets payroll only moved up about $8 million from a year ago, when the team was in the middle of the payroll pack despite residing in a massive media market with a great television deal. The club’s $159 million payroll figure includes $15 million to David Wright and $29 million to Yeonis Cespedes. As the club is likely to receive at least some insurance money for both players, and maybe a healthy amount given that Cespedes recently broke his ankle while not on a horse, it’s not unreasonable to argue that the Mets will have a below-average payroll, which should be unfathomable in New York. A bigger budget might have enabled a better use of money at catcher, where Yasmani Grandal is having a very good season, or in the rotation, where Dallas Keuchel is still available. Signing Craig Kimbrel might have made the Edwin Diaz trade unnecessary, allowing the club to hold onto good prospects, or simply made the Familia signing a non-entity.
The manager is the likely fall guy for a season that is really only mildly short of reasonable expectations at this point. Perhaps he could have managed the bullpen better, but playing time for position players has gone about as expected. Perhaps it is Callaway’s fault that Cano and Ramos haven’t played well or that Rosario has played poorly defensively. The Mets are 7-8 in one-run games, which about what we’d expect. The team is actually 5-3 against the Marlins this season, which is also about what we would expect to see. Perhaps he’s lost the clubhouse, though Noah Syndergaard clearly doesn’t think so.
The biggest problem for the Mets isn’t their manager, and it isn’t that they’ve lost three more games than would be reasonably expected for them at this stage of the season. The biggest problem for the Mets is that they somehow expected to do much better than their talent on hand indicates they are capable of, and are in a tough division and a tough league where almost all of the teams are as good or better than they are. The Phillies, Braves, and Nationals are all good teams. The Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers are good teams, with the Pirates and Reds not too far behind. The Dodgers are really good with the Padres, Rockies, and Diamondbacks all having talented clubs not too dissimilar from the Mets. Only one of the four contenders in the NL East is going to win the division, and after the division winners, there are 10 teams vying for two wild card berths. If the Mets don’t think 21-25 was a reasonable outcome after 46 games, they need to reassess their expectations. The Mets aren’t doing as well as can be expected, but they aren’t too far off from that, either.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.