The Mets Offense is Sneaky Good

Yesterday, I did a deeply meaningless thing. I ignored our site’s excellent projections — both ZiPS and Steamer do a great job of projecting future performance — and made my own terrible ones using some old methodology. Why? Partially because I’m not smart enough to build my own ZiPS, but mainly so that I could walk through the very basic way projection systems work — not by wishcasting or hoping or by finding some sneaky data point no one else has, but by carefully using and weighing the data we all have.

Of course, that’s a buttoned-down and boring way to think about things. Let’s talk about something fun instead! The top of the 2021 projections I made yesterday is dotted with a bunch of people you’d expect, and since I didn’t even bother park-adjusting it, a few too many Rockies. The impressive Fernando Tatis Jr. comes in at 11th in wOBA, which is cool given he still has a season of zeroes in there. Freddie Freeman is continuing his ascent. But here’s a shocker: there are four Mets in the top 40.

That sounds, well, wrong. The Mets aren’t supposed to be a good offensive team. They’re supposed to be a pitching team, what with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard atop the rotation (upon Syndergaard’s recovery) and Edwin Díaz locking down the bullpen. There’s just one problem with that narrative: it’s completely wrong. The Mets were, in fact, tied with the Dodgers for the best wRC+ in baseball last year. They finished fifth in position player WAR — the defense wasn’t a strength — but generally hit an absolute ton.

Their 2020 performance was keyed by spectacular seasons from Michael Conforto (.322/.412/.515) and Dominic Smith (.316/.377/.616). The rest of the Mets regulars chipped in as well — Robinson Canó, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis, Pete Alonso, and Andrés Giménez all put up above-average lines in at least 100 PAs of playing time.

If that doesn’t exactly sound like a dynamic lineup to you, well, you’re right — it didn’t to me at first either. Canó is old, Giménez is young, Nimmo’s always hurt, and Davis was a journeyman only two years ago. That’s absolutely a story you could tell, and that’s what made the Marcel projections I ran so interesting to me. Here are the highlights of those projections, including free agent Wilson Ramos:

2021 Mets Marcel Projections
Jeff McNeil 512.7 16.5 .304 .370 .486 .364
Pete Alonso 562.1 35.4 .254 .345 .532 .363
Brandon Nimmo 501.0 16.0 .254 .377 .450 .359
Michael Conforto 550.2 24.6 .262 .361 .475 .355
Dominic Smith 463.5 20.2 .266 .330 .488 .345
J.D. Davis 525.8 19.0 .270 .345 .452 .339
Robinson Canó 465.3 15.5 .273 .333 .451 .333
Wilson Ramos 442.3 13.6 .280 .341 .435 .332
Amed Rosario 445.6 10.8 .268 .310 .410 .306

Look — these projections aren’t supposed to be foolproof. They’re named after a monkey on purpose! But the fact of the matter is, they’re based on what the players have done over the last three years. If you ignore the fact that your brain has unfairly filed them away as “inconsistent Mets,” you can just look at the numbers and see it. Take McNeil, the best-projected Met:

Jeff McNeil, Career Stats
2018 248 9.7% 5.6% .359 3 .329 .381 .471 137
2019 567 13.2% 6.2% .337 23 .318 .384 .531 143
2020 209 11.5% 9.6% .335 4 .311 .383 .454 130

McNeil isn’t exactly a household name, but maybe he should be. He has a career .383 OBP. Marcel gives him credit for his consistently elevated BABIP (it feeds through to his average and OBP) in a way that I might quibble with slightly. On the other hand, dock his BABIP 20 points and that would slash his OBP 15 points (to a still-excellent .365). An injury-marred 2020 — an intercostal strain, a bruised knee, and brutal-sounding “gastrointestinal discomfort” — led to lower power output, but he managed an excellent season despite it, and even if you want to lower expectations slightly, he’s still certainly going to be an above-average hitter.

What about Alonso, only narrowly behind McNeil in these 2021 projections? He doesn’t have any 2018 numbers to speak of, but the two years since then have been solid enough to make up for it:

Pete Alonso, Career Stats
2019 693 26.4% 10.4% .280 53 .260 .358 .583 143
2020 239 25.5% 10.0% .242 16 .231 .326 .490 110

Despite a woeful .242 BABIP in 2020 (Alonso should run a lower-than-average BABIP because of his fly-ball-happy ways, but not that low), he managed a respectable batting line. The walks and strikeouts work well enough for a hitter with Alonso’s prodigious power, and he actually cut his chase rate while increasing his contact rate on in-zone pitches this year. The defense isn’t pretty, but at this point, it’s clear that Alonso is an excellent hitter.

“Fine,” I can hear you saying. “McNeil and Alonso are good hitters, we get it. Brandon Nimmo, though? What are you trying to sell us, Clemens?” Again, I’m basically just trying to sell you Nimmo’s own career:

Brandon Nimmo, Career Stats
2016 80 25.0% 7.5% .365 1 .274 .338 .329 89
2017 215 27.9% 15.3% .360 5 .260 .379 .410 118
2018 535 26.2% 15.0% .351 17 .263 .404 .483 148
2019 254 28.0% 18.1% .293 8 .221 .375 .407 114
2020 225 19.1% 14.7% .326 8 .280 .404 .484 148

That’s just year after year of above-average batting lines after a brief 2016 cameo. His availability is certainly a concern — I project only 501 PA for him this year, and Depth Charts checks in at 491 — but it’s hardly a fluky line. Nimmo walks enough that his league-average power and slightly elevated strikeout rates simply don’t matter. He’s always on base, and that counts for a lot. His career .390 OBP checks in at fifth in baseball since his debut — that’ll play.

Whatever, okay, the Mets have three great hitters. The rest of them, though, all bums! Except, well, Michael Conforto is great too! Take a look at his whole career, which like Nimmo’s has been varied but consistently above average:

Michael Conforto, Career Stats
2015 194 20.1% 8.8% .297 9 .270 .335 .506 133
2016 348 25.6% 10.3% .267 12 .220 .310 .414 97
2017 440 25.7% 13.0% .328 27 .279 .384 .555 147
2018 638 24.9% 13.2% .289 28 .243 .350 .448 120
2019 648 23.0% 13.0% .290 33 .257 .363 .494 126
2020 233 24.5% 10.3% .412 9 .322 .412 .515 157

Again, there’s not a lot to nitpick in these numbers. Unlike my silly projections, Steamer knows that Conforto had an excellent 2017 as well — mine cut off after three years — and thinks he’ll be even better in 2021. That’s an excellent four-batter core — two on-base machines, a thumper to drive them home, and an all-around stud in Conforto.

Overall, 290 hitters batted at least 100 times in 2020 and at least 300 times the year before — roughly speaking, “non-rookie regulars.” The Mets had nine such players. Eight (!) of them finished in the top half of my 2021 projections. Ramos won’t be back next year, and Canó is getting old, but that’s still a deep roster of hitters. It also doesn’t include Giménéz, who will likely be locked in a time share with Amed Rosario next year.

As my colleague Craig Edwards noted yesterday, the Mets have holes to fill in free agency this offseason. They’ll be looking for a catcher — J.T. Realmuto is the best free agent on the market and Steve Cohen is the richest owner, so the two have been linked — and for depth across the diamond and on the mound. I think that all makes a ton of sense — you can’t make a team out of six or eight hitters.

Here’s the thing, though: this isn’t some rebuilding job, constructing an offense and pitching staff out of nothing. It’s easy to think of the New York offense as lackluster, because we all remember the two years where deGrom was lights-out every five nights and the Mets put up donut after donut. That’s just wrong at this point, though. The Mets are already awash in great bats, and they’re likely to add at least one more this offseason.

When deGrom takes the mound on Opening Day next year, some little part of my brain will be telling me that he’ll likely have to overcome puny run support. It will be wrong, though. Sometimes our brains remember old things too well and discount new information too much, or vice versa. Don’t let it trap you the way it trapped me, at least until I engaged in a little projecting. The Mets had one of the best offenses in baseball this year, and they’ll likely be one of the best offenses in baseball next year too.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

I dont disagree with your core argument, however i think a key piece for the mets both last year and in 2019 was, with a guy like Cano on the roster, they’re almost built more like an American League team – that is, to say, that they benefitted a lot more from the flexibility of the DH.

I think it’s still up in the air whether or not we’ll have universal DH moving forward; last i heard, it’s hinged on the players conceding expanded playoffs. I’m all for universal DH, but if it means expanded playoffs, I’ll pass.

My concern with the Mets is that, if there is no DH, they have a logjam of guys that they can’t all fit in their lineup at once. With Cespedes gone (not that he was ever really a factor…) it gives them a little more room in their outfield, but between Rosario, Cano, Smith, Alonso, McNeil, et al (Lowrie?), I’m not sure how you give consistent ABs to all of them.

3 years ago
Reply to  jankees1991

I think that’s fair, but I also think they are going to jettison or bench Lowrie and Rosario, and possibly trade Nimmo. If that happens, I think it works out easier, though the outfield defense will be rough.

I’m also not convinced that 38-year-old Cano is going to be counted on for a full season of at bats.

Connor Grey
3 years ago
Reply to  dl80

Lowrie’s contract ended, he’s gone.

3 years ago
Reply to  jankees1991

As far as I can tell, Cano is not the problem. Maybe Cano need some time to DH, but the problem is that JD Davis, Pete Alonso, and Dominic Smith should all be playing 1B or DH most or all of the time, and Nimmo should not be in center field.

Maybe, just maybe, if they let Davis get settled at third and move McNeil to second it’ll be fine, and then you could have Cano rotate through third and second or something like that it would be fine but it’s not guaranteed. And then you still need a DH just for Smith and Alonso.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I agree with the first part of the comment, but disagree with the second part. Why would you move Cano off of 2nd base? His defense is fine, it always has been. It looks lazy, but he gets the job done. He also has never stopped hitting. He had a down year in 2019, but it wasn’t supported by advanced stats. He made some of the best contact in the entire MLB. His career wRC+ of 125 is probably about what he is, he does have nearly 9500 career at bats! McNeil should be the one moving around the diamond, not Cano.