Top of the Order: The Mets Roll On Without Francisco Alvarez

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Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

Remember when the Mets started their season with five straight losses? It sure seems like they don’t. They’ve since gone 12-4, including a six-game winning streak that was snapped by Tyler Glasnow and the Dodgers on Sunday.

Nothing can come easily for any team, though, even one on a roll, and they’ll now have to keep their winning ways going without Francisco Alvarez. The 22-year-old catcher tore a ligament in his thumb on a slide into second base on Friday, and will ultimately need surgery that could keep him out as long as eight weeks; a return in early June looks like a best-case scenario. Alvarez has struggled at the plate so far this season; he had just one home run and an 86 wRC+ after clobbering 25 dingers and posting a 97 wRC+ last year as a rookie. While he has struck out less often, his balls in play have been far less dangerous, with downturns in average launch angle, sweet spot percentage, and hard hit rate. Still, it goes without saying that his upside is far greater than that of the current tandem, Omar Narváez and Tomás Nido, especially in the power department. Alvarez’s 25 homers last year were more than Narváez has hit since the start of 2020 (though he did hit 22 in 2019) and more than Nido has in entire MLB career (over 800 plate appearances).

That all sounds pretty bleak, but the Mets are hoping that in the absence of Alvarez, they will continue to get production from several unlikely contributors whose strong starts have propelled the team’s early success. In addition to Pete Alonso, who has six home runs and a 126 wRC+, the offense has been driven by — of all people — Tyrone Taylor (122 wRC+) and DJ Stewart (172 wRC+). Stewart leads the team in wRC+ even though he was the last man to earn a 26-man roster spot and was initially viewed as likeliest to be sent down whenever the Mets were ready to bring up J.D. Martinez, who signed toward the end of spring training and needed to ramp up for big league action in the minors. But Stewart has earned his stay with the way he’s slugging.

Another pleasant hitting surprise has been center fielder Harrison Bader, whose excellent defense has allowed Nimmo to slide over to left, hopefully keeping him fresher over the course of the season. Bader’s 102 wRC+ would be his best since 2021, and he had an 11-game stretch right after the season-opening losing streak with a wRC+ of 158. That included his go-ahead two-run double off Pirates lefty Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning last Monday and the second four-hit game of his career.

Taylor, Stewart, and Bader have been especially impactful for the Mets considering that shortstop Francisco Lindor, their best all-around player, has gotten off to a dreadful start (.188/.278/.294, 69 WRC+). Meanwhile, left fielder Brandon Nimmo has been solid (114 wRC+) but not great, as his .351 slugging is 94 points below his career mark.

Things are similar on the other side of the ball. The team’s presumptive ace, Kodai Senga, has yet to pitch this season and high-leverage lefty reliever Brooks Raley hit the IL with elbow inflammation on Sunday, leaving the Mets without two key arms. But the cobbled-together rotation has generally held its own. Adrian Houser got blitzed on Sunday, giving him an ERA above 7 to start his season, but Jose Quintana (3.05 ERA), Luis Severino (2.17) and José Buttó (1.65) have all kept runs off the board. Buttó’s emergence as a legitimate big league starter is particularly refreshing, as he wasn’t the initial choice to replace Senga in the rotation, only taking that spot from Tylor Megill after Megill exited his first start after four innings with a shoulder strain. Not bad for a seventh starter.

The bullpen also has been up to the task. After missing all of last season with a knee injury, Edwin Díaz remains one of the game’s elite closers despite a dip in velocity. Adam Ottavino is channeling his 2018 self with an absurd strikeout rate, and breakout fireman Reed Garrett has overcome any potential curse I might have cast on him when I wrote about him Friday.

And unlike in prior seasons, when the Mets only had Quad-A-type depth, they have a stable of solid youngsters to call upon as needed. Outfielder Drew Gilbert, no. 51 on our Top 100 Prospects list, and right-hander Christian Scott (no. 98) are both in Triple-A, and infielder Jett Williams (no. 54) is a level behind. Post-prospect Mark Vientos has struggled in the majors (68 wRC+ over 274 plate appearances in 2022 and 2023), but is hitting very well at Triple-A Syracuse. Oh yeah, and Martinez could join the Mets toward the end of the week.

The Orioles Can Afford Patience With Holliday

I guess things could be one hitless at-bat worse for Jackson Holliday, but his 1-for-30 start to his major league career certainly isn’t how anyone envisioned things would turn out. He’s struck out in half of his plate appearances with just a pair of walks, and his average exit velocity is nearly two mph below the league average. Hey, at least he’s fast and has acclimated well to second base (3 outs above average).

Fortunately, the Orioles haven’t needed Holliday to be a superstar right away. He’s hit eighth or ninth in every game he’s played, and that’s as much about easing him in as it is about the rest of the ridiculous hitting talent on the O’s roster. Holliday went 0-for-3 with a walk in Baltimore’s 5-0 win over the Royals on Sunday, but the other eight batters in that game’s lineup enter this week with the following wRC+ numbers: 159, 120, 154, 119, 159, 138, 239, and 199, respectively. Yes, the seven and eight hitters (Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg) in that lineup are Baltimore’s two most productive offensive players right now — and yet it’s completely justifiable to hit them there considering the performances and pedigree of everyone else.

It’s too early to say if the Orioles should pull the plug on Holliday and let him get some confidence back in Triple-A, but the point here is that they really don’t have to. Yes, you’d like everyone in your lineup to be productive, but Baltimore can afford to let him figure things out at the big league level.

De La Cruz Missiles Toward Stardom

There was a lot to like in Elly De La Cruz’s rookie campaign, but there was plenty to feel uneasy about as well, namely a bunch of strikeouts (34% of the time) and few walks (8%).

So far, so good in 2024. EDLC has more than doubled his barrel rate, and his walk rate is up more than five percentage points. A stronger performance on fastballs (his xWOBA is up 65 points against heaters) has fueled his improved performance, though he’s whiffed on 50% of his swings against breaking and off-speed pitches.

He is also an elite base stealer and has made strides on defense, which is definitely the weakest part of his game. He was an electric player from the moment he debuted last year — for better and worse — but if he can become less of a liability at shortstop while maintaining his tighter approach on offense, he will secure his place among baseball’s top talents for years to come.

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David Klein
1 month ago

The Mets bullpen is tremendous especially given Reed Garrett’s breakout and even with his diminished velocity Diaz has been real good. Ottavino has looked as good as ever too. The rotation has been mostly five and dive and they’re walking everyone and their mother in law and they can’t keep standing runners and the Homer rate will climb for sure. Lindor has had a good week and Marte looks like he’s back offensively though his defense is wretched. Bader and Taylor’s babips will normalize but they’re fine.

The catching situation will be dreadful with Nido’s career wRC+ being around Rey Ordonez career wRC+ and Narvaez being a bad hitter for the last few years and his framing and throwing is so bad.

The Mets need Baty to start to hit for more than an empty batting average and I’m sure positive regression is coming Lindor and Nimmo’s way.

1 month ago
Reply to  David Klein

Agree with all.

It feels like Bader is the linchpin of this team right now. His hustle and energy are the spark alongside Lindor’s leadership and Alonso’s thump.

28 days ago
Reply to  David Klein

What is DJ’s role after JD returns? Nimmo has not been effective as leadoff hitter so far but he’s not going anywhere. Marte has been terrific. Bad? er’s defense alone warrants his time in CF and his offense has been nice. Is Stewart a change of pace for off days for Marte (or his eventual but unpredictable IL stint)?