The New York Mets started the 2019 season without tremendous expectations but with an absolutely loaded roster which ended up heavily underperforming. New York missed postseason baseball for the third straight year, finishing third in the NL East division with an 86-76 record, 11 games behind Wildcard winner and eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals.
The Mets will be expected to not just compete in 2020 – they are expected to win their second division title in 6 years, and hopefully go on a deep postseason run.
What defined their 2019 campaign?
The Mets were very good on many fronts in 2019. Firstly, their lineup experienced the best season it has had in years, finishing the 2019 MLB season 7th in runs scored in the National League. In his rookie year, Pete Alonso won the NL Rookie of the Year award, as well as the MLB homerun leaderboard title. Jeff McNeil competed for the batting title for much of the year.
Secondly, their rotation was as good as it’s ever been. Jacob DeGrom was terrific yet again en route to a second straight NL Cy Young, and their 3.34 starters ERA was the 4th-best in the NL. The only starter they’ve lost from 2019 is Zack Wheeler.
Now enter the bullpen.
The Mets bullpen ranked 6th-worst in all of baseball. Last season oversaw a career-low season by newcomer Edwin Diaz, who posted a 5.59 ERA, in addition to a disappointing campaign by Jeurys Familia. The Mets were also 10th in blown saves and 10th in lowest save percentage.
The bullpen’s decline was very costly for New York, who entered the All-Star break nine games under .500 and 5 and a half off a playoff berth. The team ended up having one of the best records in the league for the remainder of 2019 but fell short, which cost Mickey Callaway his managerial job.
The Mets didn’t add a top free agent this offseason, once again. In the meantime, they lost a vital piece of a solid rotation in Zack Wheeler, who signed a four-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
However, New York made a pretty good effort to cover up the hole Wheeler left on the mound and still fix what was one of the worst bullpen groups in the majors during the 2019 campaign. Betances was a lights-out reliever in his four full years with the Yankees, having accumulated the 3rd-most WAR between 2015 and 2018. With Diaz and Familia under pressure to record bounce-back years, and with Justin Wilson and Seth Lugo coming off strong 2019 performances, the Mets bullpen has the potential to be exciting and effective. Luis Avilan, meanwhile, won’t return after recording a 5.05 ERA in 2019 and signing with the Yankees during the winter.
While Michael Wacha will probably start the season in the bullpen, Rick Porcello will be the newcomer to the Mets rotation. Porcello had a 14-12 record with 5.52 ERA in his last season with the Red Sox – he will be looking to increase his value on a one-year contract and experience his first campaign with sub-4.00 ERA since his 22-win 2016 season. He also won the AL Cy Young award that year, which proves how good he could be if he peaks again.
The Mets also decided not to bring back third baseman Todd Frazier after two years in Flushing, with the Toms River native signing with the Texas Rangers. That ultimately means that the only position players who can be used as reliable defensive options at third are Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis. Davis played twice as many games in left field as at third and all signs point at McNeil starting at third on Opening Day.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Mets lineup was a force to be reckoned with for the first time in many seasons and looks to stay that way this year again. They didn’t add a top third baseman but should be alright since that means McNeil, Cano, and Davis in the same lineup. Brandon Nimmo is coming back healthy and ready to contribute as the lead-off hitter in a big way with his .387 career on-base percentage.
Hitters like Peter Alonso and McNeil assure that the lineup will have both homerun power and consistency at the plate. Wilson Ramos, Amed Rosario, and Davis all hit over .300 after the All-Star break and make for a beyond-solid bottom of the batting order.
New York’s relieving group could be amongst the MLB’s biggest sensations in 2020 compared to its woes last year which virtually kept the Mets from a postseason berth. Delin Betances and Seth Lugo both have shutdown potential, while Justin Wilson re-established himself last year in a big way. So did Brad Brach after the Mets acquired him in August after he was DFA’d by the Cubs.
Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia promise to be the biggest question marks. They both failed to deliver despite being high-profile All-Star-level relievers prior to their 2019 campaigns with the Mets. The Dominican had three seasons with an ERA of 3.27 or lower, including MLB-high 57 saves in 2018 with Seattle, while Familia has proven he can handle coming off a year of decline in his previous stint in NY.
The odds are stacked on them rebounding and leading a good Mets bullpen. The opposite could be a bad sign for their future in MLB so they are under pressure, as well.
Top of the rotation
Jacob DeGrom has won two consecutive NL Cy Young awards and is regarded by many to be the best starting pitcher in baseball. However, the Mets rotation doesn’t stop there.
Noah Syndergaard had arguably the worst season in his career in 2019 and still found a way to have a good second half. In addition, he was also fully healthy for the first time in three years and had a career-high in starts. The prospect of his production if he does improve is beyond scary for the Mets’ opponents. Marcus Stroman rounds up a strong 1-through-3 part of the rotation. His pitching style of looking for balls in play will eat some of the innings the bullpen will have to pitch in relief.
The starters for the Mets are consistently solid all across the board. Nevertheless, they still have a few unexploited weapons that will see playing time for the first time in a while. These include Jed Lowrie, who missed the first of the two seasons under his contract, and power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who has been sidelined since 2018 and has experienced multiple obstacles to his recovery.
Moreover, J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil are both flexible in terms of positioning. The same goes for Dom Smith, a first baseman that spent some time in the outfield last year. Jake Marisnick is another piece the Mets will be able to rely on in games where they rest one of their three outfield starters.
Bottom of the rotation
The Mets are very thin on downsides this season but the last two spots of their rotation could prove to be problematic given all the questions and uncertainty. During Spring Training, Porcello, Wacha and Steven Matz will be fighting to determine these two spots – a battle likely to end in the favour of Porcello and Matz.
In all fairness, Matz is an average-to-good starter most of the time. Porcello was once Boston’s No. 2 guy behind Chris Sale but has since fallen off the cliff in just a one-year span. At their best, they are a huge advantage to have as your worse-choice starting pitchers, but suffered a lot in 2019 and could be the one thing that doesn’t seem like an upside on the current Mets roster.
The Mets are, and rightfully so, expected to not only compete for an NL East title but to make a deeper postseason run. In all honesty, they were capable of that even with last year’s roster if it hadn’t been for the accelerated downfall of the bullpen, which eventually led to a disastrous first half. This bullpen is strengthened in a big way and no major contributor, except for Zack Wheeler, has left so there’s a lot to be expected by New York if the Mets stay healthy.
The NL East will once again consist of four very strong teams. The Braves, after winning 97 games and the divisional crown and had a strong offseason, look like the biggest obstacle to an NL East title. Meanwhile, the Nationals, reigning World Series champions, and the Phillies, alongside multiple teams from the remaining two divisions in the NL, will resemble a tough competition, which the Mets are capable of beating out, for the two Wild Card spots.
Best case: If all the strengths really provide an optimistic turnout on the field, there’s no reason to believe that the Mets can’t compete with the best teams in baseball, be the best team in their division and contend for, or ultimately even win, their first World Series title since 1986.
Worst case: As it is always the case with the Mets, there are a lot more scenarios for the team to disappoint than to surprise. Anything, varying from injury issues to a lineup that declines after being a one-year wonder to lack of managerial experience by new skipper Luis Rojas, could turn a promising season into a top 15 pick in the next year’s MLB Draft.
Prediction: 90-72, 2nd in NL East, 1st Wild Card