The dreaded sophomore slump is a phenomenon that seems to affect athletes across all sports and especially baseball. Our friends over at Bat Flips & Nerds did a breakdown on this last year before the 2020 season that was simple yet effective in breaking down the performance of Rookie of the Year players over the last decade.
If you look at the picture above from Bat Flip & Nerds piece, Alonso’s decline was not as extreme as Wil Myer’s decline but optically many fans would think it was! When you dig into the numbers his “decline” is much more in line with both Ronald Acuna and two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani’s “slumps”. We saw Alonso’s OPS+ drop from 147 to 123 for a net drop of 24 points. Meanwhile we saw Acuna drop 22 points and Ohtani 30 points, so we see Pete’s “slump” falls somewhere in between two other elite hitters “slumps”. The optics that a LOT of Mets fans can not seem to get out of their head is Alonso swinging and missing at the down and away slider over and over and over….
But were those optics exactly that? Just optics? Lets dig in…
In 2019 Pete obviously had a historic year as he broke the rookie HR record previously set by cross-town giant Aaron Judge. The one thing that in my mind and the minds of others really separated Pete from your traditional pull happy 30-40HR guy was his ability AND willingness to hit up the middle and to the opposite field. In fact in 2019 no hitter hit more home runs up the middle or to the opposite field than Pete Alonso’s 28. Over HALF of his home runs came when not pulling the ball. The hitters behind Alonso in HR of that variety in ’19?
When Alonso is at his best, like he was in 2019, no park can really hold him with his ability to hit for power to all parts of the park. Pete’s HR totals alone do not show just how impressive he was hitting to the opposite field or how integral it was to his game.
As you can see above Pete was top 10 among all hitters who hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. This approach is something that waned a little bit down from the first half to the second half as Pete was approaching the rookie home run record. Pete’s opposite field percentage dropped 4% from almost 20% to barely over 15%. Over that same time period we saw his batting average from .280 to .235. Of course there is more to this, such as how pitchers approached Alonso in the second half after establishing himself as one of the best hitters in baseball in the first half of 2019. So we saw Alonso’s approach change throughout 2019 but how did it carry over to 2020?
The helium and expectations for Pete Alonso were as inevitable as the infamous sophomore slump some would say. He is coming off a unanimous Rookie of the Year season and 53 home runs. There were many fans who’s expectations were yet another 50 home run season and as someone who looks at and studies the numbers its hard to say those were fair expectations. His ’20 projections still did project him to be an elite hitter averaging anywhere from 39-48 home runs dependent on the projection system. His OPS was projected to be anywhere in the high .870s all the way to almost .920. So not only were fan expectations high but by all accounts so were the expert projections. Pete initially struggled in the abbreviated ’20 spring training which was almost a complete 180 from his excellent ’19 spring training that catapulted him onto the opening day roster. He batted only .244 over 14G, hitting only 2 extra base hits and not collecting one walk or home run. Sure it was a VERY short sample size but simply by looking at Pete, he was pressing. What player wouldn’t under the same circumstances especially after dominating the Grapefruit League just a year prior? When the REAL season started, Pete quickly found himself at the plate a lot with RISP. For the months of July-August Pete Alonso faced the 3rd most pitches with RISP. The results themselves were not pretty as seen below.
There are several factors that created these early struggles. Alonso swung and missed at a lot of pitches with RISP, which helped create the aforementioned “bad optics”. Not only was Pete struggling but Pete was struggling at the WORST times. Only three hitters in all of MLB swung and missed at more pitches with RISP.
A weird group no? You have speedy free swingers like Mondesi and Robert as well as established hitters like Chapman, Ozuna, Lindor and Castellanos. But swings and misses were not the only issues that frustrated the feared slugging Pete Alonso. Over the same time span, Alonso was struggling with getting underneath balls. He had five balls classified as “pop-ups” with RISP in the first half of the season, the only other player in MLB who had more was Nolan Arenado(6). But not everything was unlucky for Pete Alonso he was actually only one of SEVEN hitters who hit at least two pop-ups to have one fall for a hit, courtesy of the terrible Red Sox bullpen!
There were several times early in the season where we thought Alonso was coming out of the slump, yet would find himself faltering yet again. Then September came around… Pete Alonso found himself as one of the best hitters in baseball during the month of September and he got hot by being more aggressive. He started consistently hitting the ball in the air and with power that he was missing in the first half. Even Pete’s outs in the second half we started to see more of the “Peak Pete” we started seeing more hard hit flyballs and line drives to right field. Pete was still getting under a lot of these pitches as they were hit hard but often too high so they turned into routine outs but the change in approach was palpable and explains the increase in production that we saw from Pete. Alonso quietly hit the second most home runs in baseball over the last month of the season hitting 10, with two coming in the very last game. While it might have been harder to notice inside of a short season with such a slow start Pete Alonso DID turn it around, you don’t have to believe me though.
2019(Full Season) – .384 wOBA
2020(September) – .384 wOBA
While it is true that Alonso did fall victim to the “sophomore slump”, what I think is not said enough is it what not as severe as it appeared and also if not for the shortened season likely would have been even less so with how hot Alonso ended the season. While he may never become a .300 hitter or ever hit 50HR again, Alonso can be, and will be a premier power threat in the game. He is just not any ordinary slugger though, Pete envisions himself as a student of the game who is capable of learning and evolving. To see this you do not have to look any further than the notebook that he’s used since his college days. Where he writes down each pitcher, how the AB went, what he was thinking at the plate, and more. The infamous notebook probably had more chicken scratch and notes after the early struggles but it’s what you do with those struggles that determine what happens next.
Pete Alonso has endeared himself to fans and to the game as much for his likability and relatability as his majestic towering home runs. He has shown that with his size and skill he is an elite-level athlete. Professional sports are full of elite-level athletes though. It is Pete Alonso’s mind and work ethic that have separated him from the pack. When fans ask why I am not worried about Pete Alonso after his “sophomore slump”, my answer?
This is just a small list of new faces and changes made both on the field and in the front office. Because of these changes Mets fans have every reason to be excited for the ’21 season which is right around the corner BUT… What about ’22 and beyond?
The Mets in ’21
Right now the Mets are projected to have the 2nd highest payroll in the National League behind only the league leading Dodgers, a very distant second if you look at the graphic below.
They are 6th in payroll which coincidentally is exactly where they were in 2020 payroll rankings. But of that $164M, only $68M is there in guaranteed money in 2022. What does this mean? Well it is a mixture of several things. The Mets have a lot of “under control” talent on the roster that is not classified as guaranteed money. That $68M is being divided amongst just FIVE players as listed below
They then have EIGHT players that are slated for free-agency at years end and to say most of these players key pieces would be an understatement. Listed below are the eight and the money associated with them that comes off the books.
Francisco Lindor – $22.3M
Marcus Stroman – $18.9M
Michael Conforto – $12.25M
Jeurys Familia – $10M
Noah Syndergaard – $9.7M
Dellin Betances -$6M
Aaron Loup – $ 3M
Brad Brach – $2M
That comes out to a grand total of? $84.15M
Another way of putting it is almost exactly HALF of the current payroll. The number of other players that will remain under team control going into ’22 but not on guaranteed deals is 15. Of these 15, all but one is slated to be in some form of arbitration (David Peterson is the lone soul). Two of the Mets biggest core pieces, Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after the ’21 season. Meanwhile the Mets will see key pieces in both the bullpen (Lugo and Diaz) and lineup(Nimmo) enter their last (and most expensive) year of arbitration. In ’21 the players that are not on guaranteed deals AND are controllable after ’21 are combining to make a little over $27.5M. We can figure this number will be not only higher but significantly higher with the addition of Alonso and McNeil to the arbitration table.
With the arbitration players in ’21 combining for almost $24M and the addition of Alonso and McNeil I am going to project for this group of players to be closer to $40M rather than the $23.5M this year. While I might be a bit pessimistic in my estimations for the Mets as they approach arbitration (after all I am a Mets fan), I think it is better to overestimate than underestimate in this exercise. For those that do not understand the arbitration process click here. All caught up? Good. Let’s start with the key pieces who will be in their last years of arbitration. Then we’ll look at some player comparisons to see if we can attempt to predict what the arbitration numbers might look like in ’22, which will give us a more accurate description of the Mets payroll situation, or at least a part of it.
Brandon Nimmo – Nimmo will be 29 as he enters his last year of arbitration and 30 if or when he enters free agency. Brandon Nimmo has been criminally underrated by not only baseball fans but Mets fans! The “4th OFer” mantra seems to be dying down a little bit but is a clear manifestation of this undervaluing of an integral lineup piece. The player I think matches up most with Brandon Nimmo and is entering his final year of arbitration in ’21? Tommy Pham. Much like Nimmo, Pham was (and is) an undervalued player. The only real difference here is Pham himself had a much more visible and noticeable breakout in 2017 in which he actually received down-ballot MVP votes. Let me know if you’ve heard this before…
Primarily a CF coming up through the minors but once reaching the majors played the corners out of deference to other CF (Grichuk and Fowler for Pham)
Post above league average BB% and OBP
Average-ish defense – +5OAA ’16-’18
Don’t believe me? Lets look at each of their numbers in their 3rd-5th seasons
Tommy Pham in his first year of arbitration eligibility actually went to arbitration against the Rays (who had acquired him mid-season from the Cardinals) and won and was awarded $4.1M which is almost double what Brandon Nimmo settled for ($2.1M) after the 2019 season. To add insult to injury to Brandon’s situation, due to the pandemic shortened season would only receive $805K. This year Brandon Nimmo settled with the Mets at $4.7M as seen in the list above. Pham in his second year settled with the Padres at $7.9M, a $3.8M raise from his first year. Just this January he settled once again for $8.9M a modest $1M after an injury-riddled and pandemic shortened season. One could surmise that if Nimmo has another season in the mold of his ’18 or ’20 seasons he would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $7M-$8M. ESTIMATE: $7.2M
Seth Lugo – Lugo has the “unfortunate” skill set of having the repertoire of a starter with solid command and multiple plus pitches BUT also having a fastball/sinker combo that as a starter is pretty much batting practice. He also has the misfortune of being a tweener swingman in arbitration where you are likely not to get the big money associated with the top-end starters or the top-end money that closers typically get in arbitration, but more on that later. If Seth Lugo is a dedicated RP in ’21 and performs as he has in the past he could see himself get a raise from the $2.9M he is scheduled to make in ’21 to roughly $4.5M-$5M. A raise of $2.9M seems realistic even if not utilized as the “primary” closer. A comparison for Lugo is difficult due to his SP background and past usage but in terms of elite RP upside paired with inconsistent closer utilization puts him in the Taylor Rogers(MIN) range.
Rogers saw his salary rise from $1.5M to $4.4M from ’19 to ’20 and now settled for $6M for this upcoming ’21 season. Without consistent save opportunities (SVO) like Rogers received in ’19 (36), I do not see Lugo getting a $2.9M raise but Rogers also received a moderate $1.6M raise. I believe Lugo’s last raise is someone in the middle. ESTIMATE: $5.0M
Edwin Diaz – Possibly the most frustrating yet talented pitcher Mets fans have seen in a while. Many Mets fans were possibly confused that the Mets gave their closer close to a $5M raise before the ’20 season, but that is just how the arbitration system works. Elite RPs with a league-leading season underneath their belt get paid big bucks. Even if it is right after a season in which he posted an ERA over 5. Even without an elite 2020 in which he reverted back to form Diaz was unable to shake the “choker” moniker after an early BS to Marcell Ozuna which came on a great pitch he had used the day before to strikeout Ozuna. This was simply a sign of things to come as Ozuna was one of the best hitters in baseball and meanwhile that HR would be one of only 2 that Diaz would give up in ’20. His second HR was your garden variety sub-350ft Yankee Stadium aided game-tying home run to Aaron Hicks. Out of fear of sounding TOO optimistic, I do believe that Diaz’s ’19 was the ultimate outlier and that a season like ’20 but in a full 162G season could see Diaz get the WHOOOOLE bag post-’21.
His progression back to normal and the less HR given up can be summed up in just one tweet.
Now for his arbitration player comparison, I have to dig up an old name, Jonathan Papelbon. He earned $6.25M before the ’09 season after posting a 2.34 ERA with 41SV. That record still stands to this day. I think it is no coincidence that before the ’20 season in Josh Hader’s first arbitration hearing he requested? $6.4M. Hader would later lose his arbitration and make $900K less than Diaz’s $5.0M settlement before ’20. Papelbon had a down season with a 3.90 ERA before his last run-in with arbitration and settled at $12M. If Diaz’s ’19 is the only blip on the radar I can see him getting pretty close. ESTIMATE – $10.8M
And that is JUST the Arb-3 guys! Dom Smith and JD Davis are slated to be the team’s only players in their second years of arbitration. If Smith continues his trend, he could easily see an arbitration figure around $5M-$7M while JD could see an increase closer to $4M-$5M. COMBINED ESTIMATE – $11M
So just in those five players with my own personal estimates the Mets are sitting at $35M. But we are missing the two newcomers to the Mets arbitration process, former RoY and HR champ Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil.
Pete Alonso – Alonso’s rookie exploits are well, well documented so I will not dive too far into them. Just as well documented are his sophomore season woes. Although I personally believe his woes were overblown and show the pitfalls of a short sample sized 60G season. Even while “struggling” he was on a 45 HR 99RBI 88R pace. As the great philosopher Shrek once said
Players like Alonso tend to be rewarded HANDSOMELY via arbitration. One must only take a look at Cody Bellinger who set an arbitration record when he settled to an $11.5M contract in 2020 after winning the MVP in 2019. Now unless Pete recreates his rookie campaign, wins a GG and leads the team to the postseason (it would be nice) then Bellinger’s record should be safe. But after Pete and the Mets agreed to a record $652K contract after his RoY campaign the Mets could also look to set the team record for largest contract given in the first year of arbitration. Maybe something along the lines of Bronx HR hitting goliath Aaron Judge’s $8.5M? ESTIMATE – $8M
Jeff McNeil – The argument can be made that Jeff McNeil since debuting in late 2018 has been the best second basemen in baseball. Once again don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers
The only issue with that statement is he’s actually played more in the OF then he has 2B. The top 5 though is a list of mismatched versatile players that just happen to call 2B their “home”. If McNeil even just puts up identical numbers to his prior years he could be another player who could push for a big Arb1 payday. The player who I think McNeil should look to match in Arb1 does not play the same position as him but both are very good hitters from the left side of the plate and their numbers from their first three seasons are once again eerily similar.
Corey Seager does come out a LITTLE ahead of McNeil as Seager was not only a can’t miss prospect but also put up consecutive 6+fWAR seasons in ’16-’17 but that was followed by a 2018 in which he only played 26G due to Tommy John surgery. This uncertainty due to injury certainly would’ve made his arbitration case even harder which led to him settling at $4M. As long as McNeil can stay healthy a semi-permanent move to 2B where he posted a +4 DRS and +2OAA in 460 innings could boost his overall production and WAR and might make his case going into arbitration very strong. ESTIMATE – $4.75M
The Mets do have a lot of money coming off the books after ’21 but are also in line to give out large raises to their team controlled players via arbitration in addition to the roughly $68M in guaranteed deals. A short breakdown goes as such
’22 Guaranteed Deals – TOTAL – $71.68M
Jacob deGrom – $21.780M
Robinson Cano – $20.250M
Carlos Carrasco – $11.750M
James McCann – $10.150M
Trevor May – $7.750M
’22 “Projected” Arbitration – $48M
Total Before FA Signings – $119.68M
After this season when the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement(CBA) between the players and owners expires, we could see some changes to things such as the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) otherwise known as the luxury tax. If the CBT increases by $2M like it has the past three seasons then the Mets are looking at an estimated $92M($212-$119.68M) they can spend on extensions for core pieces such as Conforto or Syndergaard or on extensions for recent newcomers, Francisco Lindor and Marcus Stroman before paying penalties on overages. If they so choose they could also scour what is to be a very deep market in ’22 and find pieces there. More on that coming in Part Two so stayed tuned!
(All contract info is from spotrac.com or Cot’s Baseball Contracts via baseballprospectus.com / All statistics are from fangraphs.com, baseballreference.com, stathead.com, baseball savant.com unless otherwise noted)
In my most recent piece written about James McCann, I referenced the eventual emotions that later accompany big acquisitions like “anger” and “frustration”. After this week’s whirlwind of news surrounding the Mets blockbuster acquisition of both star shortstop Francisco Lindor, and underrated feel-good starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, a quick scurry through Mets Twitter will show you that those two emotions? They no longer exist! Mets fans are rightfully ecstatic and they see the sky as the limit, which made me wonder…. What is the limit of this Mets team? With that being said, lets try and find out!
To say our friends over at Fangraphs LOVE the Mets after this move would probably be an understatement. They now have the third highest projected WAR totals behind only the Dodgers and up-and-coming Padres, who have made some exciting moves of their own.
While the roster as currently constructed seems to be built around its stout and deep lineup, it is the pitching that carries them in these projections. It might not be clear to pick up from the above picture so lets reorganize this a bit.
HOLY *(#@$(*&#$(. The Mets are first? It almost seems like a mirage after the Padres added two Cy Young candidates, Darvish and Snell, to an already stout rotation. While the Dodgers rotation, fresh off a World Series victory, has not seemed to miss a step while the title of “Ace” is being passed down from Clayton Kershaw to Walker Buehler. Now you might be skeptical of “future” projections as they are simply that, projections, BUT I believe the Mets pitchers have the track record worthy of these lofty expectations.
Their rotation is of course anchored by two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, or as I like to call him, “The Best Pitcher in Baseball”. His exploits are well known to those around baseball, especially Mets fans, and do not need much further explanation. Carlos Carrasco is a great addition and for years now has been criminally underrated as he was often pitching behind another multi-Cy Young winner in Corey Kluber. His stretch from 2017 until his last start on May 30th, 2019 before being diagnosed with leukemia was nothing short of dominance that you never even noticed, unless you were an Indians fan.
A quick recap of that leaderboard
11.7 fWAR – 6th
3.56 ERA – T-10th
3.18 FIP – 5th
3.13 xFIP – 4th
10.56 K/9 – 7th
Carlos Carrasco is not only a great addition to the Mets as a proven top of the rotation staple but as a piece moving forward. He is under control via an EXTREMELY team friendly contract that will will see Carrasco paid $24M over the next two seasons, his age 34-35 seasons. He holds a vesting option for 2023 that would see him paid $14M along with a $3M buyout if the option is not vested. For 2021 and beyond, the Mets could not have done much better for the production/cost value of Carlos Carrasco.
The next part of the rotation is made up of two pitchers who never saw the field in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard. Noah Syndergaard was diagnosed with a torn UCL shortly before spring training was shutdown and underwent Tommy John Surgery (TJS) on March 26th, 2019. Marcus Stroman was slated to be the Mets #2 starter behind Jacob deGrom as the team ramped up its “Summer Camp” activities before he was slowed down by a calf strain that saw him start the season on the IL. He shutdown his season before it ever started as he opted out due to coronavirus concerns. Coincidentally, he did this not but a few days after acquiring enough service time to enter free agency after the season ended. Insert joke about service time manipulation here. Stroman would go on to accept the qualifying offer (QO) and forego free agency for one more year. Similarly, Noah Syndergaard finds himself also entering his last season before free agency and could soon find himself in a Stroman-esque situation in which a shortened season before free agency could make the QO more attractive to accept. Both of these starters are bonafide #2 starters with Syndergaard perhaps being a #1 on many teams. To have these two in the rotation as your #3 and #4 starters almost doesn’t seem fair. Just how good is this top four? They have 4 of the top 35 SP according to FIP with 3 inside the top 20, as seen below.
Now the Mets will have to strategically traverse the 2021 season in the rotation with Syndergaard set to be on the inevitable post-TJS “innings limit” they will have to fill those innings somehow.
Insert the two left-handed starting pitchers on the roster, Steven Matz and David Peterson. Both lefties are former top draft picks drafted nearly a decade apart. Matz has had a mercurial tenure with the Mets that started in one of the greatest debuts of all time but since has been littered with injuries and inconsistent play.
David Peterson who was the team’s top draft pick in 2017, moved quickly through the system as a polished college arm with plus command. He made his debut early on in the 2020 season and showed the promise that made him a first round pick. His command(4.35 BB/9) was not what it was in the minors but this might have been something to do with the lackluster catching behind the plate as seen below.
While primarily known as a sinker baller in college and throughout the minors, Peterson debuted and immediately posted one of the best 4S/SL combos in all of baseball!
A lot of numbers here so lets break it down
2nd Lowest BAA – .142
T-3rd Lowest xBA – .175
3rd Lowest SLG – .258
5th Lowest xSLG – .312
4th Lowest wOBA – .237
10th Lowest xwOBA – .267
These two lefties will likely start the season as the Mets #4 and #5 starters with Peterson having the most sticking power. Matz’s leash on the other hand will only be as long as it takes for Noah Syndergaard to ramp up and re-enter the rotation. Seeing Matz in the rotation might make some Mets fans sick after his disastrous 2020 in which absolutely nothing went right for Steven. He had 4 lackluster starts to begin 2020 and saw himself banished to the bullpen where he dealt with a shoulder injury and inconsistent usage. While it is hard to see the silver lining with Matz one can point to his improved K/9 (a career high 10.57) or the fact that while his 9.68 ERA is absurdly bad, his 4.15 xFIP is right in line with his career 4.01 xFIP and that his 2020 woes may have a lot to do with his unsustainably high 4.11 HR/9 (career 1.34 HR/9 before 2020).
So far we’ve listed 6 starting pitchers but any fan knows you need more than just 5-6 over a full season. Some depth options the Mets have currently in house are Corey Oswalt, Franklyn Kilome, Thomas Szapucki and Sam McWilliams. While none of these names are bound to make Mets fans jump for joy they represent depth that has a mix of upside, and steady inning-eating ability. Oswalt for example, in 12 starts after his debut has posted a 3.47 ERA and is likely ticketed straight to AAA. Kilome and Szapucki represent some high end prospect talent with both being inside the team’s top 10 prospects. Kilome debuted in 2020 as well and showed a solid FB/CU combo that ultimately profiles as a late inning relief option but for now will be further starting pitching depth. Thomas Szapucki, the Mets 8th ranked prospect, I feel could be the 2021 version of David Peterson. Szapucki could really use more innings in the minors after already missing time to TJS but has truly an ELITE pitch in his slider, which is likely the best pitch in all of the Mets minors. Lastly, Sam McWilliams comes over to the Mets from the Tampa Bay Rays system in which he signed $750K contract that is well above the usual major league minimum. McWilliams has never pitched in the majors and struggled in a small sample at AAA but has a large frame and a fastball to match it. On a personal note, I had the pleasure of watching McWilliams pitch several times at AA Montgomery, where he was named to the 2019 Southern League All-Star Game and he pitched to a 2.05 ERA. If the Mets choose the out of house option they could target pitchers like Garrett Richards, Rick Porcello or Chris Archer just to name a few.
The Mets bullpen as currently constructed is VERY top heavy. The trio of Diaz, Lugo, and May is a backend to go to war with and will give a lot of teams FITS. What the Mets BP is in dire need of now is an established lefty. Justin Wilson is now a free agent and outside of a MiLB deal to fan favorite Jerry Blevins, farmhand Daniel Zamora and recent waiver pickup Stephen Tarpley the Mets have very little in the way of “an established lefty”. A prime target would be former CLE closer Brad Hand who was non-tendered by the penny pinching Indians in October. Another target for the Mets could be Jake McGee, he was solid LHP who came up through the Tampa system(2.77ERA/2.58FIP/2.88xFIP 11.06K/9) before struggling over parts of 4 seasons in COL (4.78ERA/4.65FIP/4.56xFIP 8.19K/9). McGee was released shortly before the season started by the Rockies but latched on with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he proceeded to be in the 95th percentile or better in xwOBA, xERA, and K%. The peculiar part about McGee’s 2020 season is that he threw 332 pitches, 320 of them? Fastballs. The backend of the bullpen is worrisome but in better shape than most teams as it features former elite RP such as Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, and Brad Brach. The Mets would love for all three to return to former glory but this is an unrealistic expectation. Ideally the Mets want 1-2 of them to return to form in addition to getting a full offseason to tinker with mid-season acquisition Miguel Castro who pairs elite velocity (99th percentile) with a wipeout slider (48.3 Whiff%). The Mets at 3.2 projected WAR are only 0.3 behind the Yankees at #1 so it does not need to be a huge acquisition to push them across. It is almost too easy to pick Brad Hand’s conservative 0.5WAR out of this list to fill out the BP
If the Mets would like to sign a lefty reliever who has NY experience than they should sign no other than?
Just kidding Mets fans… Ollie Perez can’t hurt you anymore
If we go back and look at the total WAR projections we’ll see the Mets are projected to have the 9th highest offensive WAR total. I think this is a VERY conservative projection for the Mets who are coming off a year where they tied the World Champion Dodgers in wRC+ at 122. For my more traditionally aligned readers, the Mets led the league in BA (.272) and were in a virtual tie in OBP(.348) with the league leading Braves (.349). They also posted the 4th highest SLG (.459) behind only the Dodgers, Braves(.483) and Padres(.466). Needless to say, the Mets offense was VERY good. While it did not show its full potential during the truncated 2020 season due to some early troubles w/ RISP this is an offense that is primed to be the best in the division and potentially all of baseball with the addition of Francisco Lindor.
*I am going to advance into this next section under the assumption no other starters (Springer, Bradley Jr, etc) are added after the Mets have added slightly over $30M in payroll in the Lindor deal. Instead I am focusing on what is on the roster NOW*
Unlike the pitchers side projections which I think were generous, I believe the Mets positional projections to be too conservative. Similar to how the Mets have four pitchers in the top 35 in FIP, the offense has a list that is even more impressive.
*For more information on OPS+ check out this link.*
Yep… That is right. FIVE hitters with an OPS plus in the top 40 (24 if you account for ties). This is a remarkable base in which to build a lineup. Lets not forget JD Davis who also comes in inside the top 100 with some accomplished hitters such as Trea Turner, Joey Gallo, and Yoan Moncada.
If you were to only take into account JD’s time as a Met his OPS+ jumps from a solid 115 to 129 and launches him into some REAAAALLY impressive territory in terms of OPS+.
You might be wondering where is Francisco Lindor? Yes Lindor is a very accomplished hitter with multiple 30HR seasons which lands him between Conforto’s 129 and Davis’ 115 at 122OPS+. Lindor should fit perfectly in the middle of the lineup as a switch hitting threat behind on-base machines such as Brandon Nimmo (.397 OBP T-6th since 2018) and Jeff McNeil (.383 OBP 9th since 2018). This gives the Mets a 1-7 in which EVERY PLAYER has an OPS+ greater than 115. For comparison, no other team in the NL East has more than 4.
*Lists do not include pending FAs such as Marcell Ozuna, DJ LeMahiue, Joc Pederson, etc*
With all that being said the Mets are projected to have one of the best (if not the best) rotation AND bullpen as well as trotting out one of the deepest lineups in baseball. Don’t get me wrong acquiring Lindor and Carrasco is one of the most exciting things we’ve had in a long time as Mets fans. Personally though? I am more excited that the Mets are building one of the deepest rosters in baseball that could not only sneak up on the Atlanta Braves for the division, but sneak up on teams like the Dodgers and Padres for the pennant!
*All statscourtesy of fangraphs.com, baseballsavant.com, baseballreference.com unless otherwise stated.*
With the news of of free agent catcher James McCann signing a new 4yr/$40M breaking, a small sigh of relief has been let out by Mets fans across the world as they scribble “catcher” off of their Cohen-Christmas wish-list. I for one am not, one of those fans. I believe James McCann is a solid major league catcher but is not the player fans are envisioning currently based on his two most recent seasons, or a player worth a four year commitment. Some may say I am just being pessimistic, but I do not believe I am. I just believe after being a lifelong Mets fans that being skeptical of some offseason moves is often the safest way to avoid emotional responses such as anger(Jason Bay) and frustration(also Jason Bay), which at this point should be synonymous with “Mets Fans”.
James McCann is a 30 year old MLB veteran of two AL Central teams, the Tigers and the White Sox, but his story starts long before MLB. Originally from Santa Barbara, he would go on to play youth baseball with another player that should be well known to Mets fans, and like McCann was present at the 2019 All-Star Game, Jeff McNeil. Drafted in the later rounds of the 2008 MLB Draft by the White Sox he would forego the pros in favor of attending the University of Arkansas, where he would play alongside fellow future major league starting pitchers, Drew Smyly and Dallas Keuchel, the latter of which he would go on to catch during the 2020 season. After being selected 76th overall by the Detroit Tigers following his junior season he signed with the team and was assigned to the minors. His path through the minors was unremarkable from 2011-2014 as he rose through the minors playing consistently 100-120G while posting solid batting averages in both AA Erie (.277) and AAA Toledo (.295) all the while never posting an OPS higher than .770. He would debut for the Tigers in 2014 as a September call-up and then in 2015 won the backup catchers role after a torrid Spring Training in which he batted .348 (.500 against LHP w/ 1.167 OPS but more on that later).
The Past (2014-2018)
While set to be the backup to Alex Avila, who over the previous four seasons had played a combined 483 games, McCann quickly found himself as the “primary” catcher due to both injuries and ineffectiveness from Avila. His first two seasons McCann’s two calling cards were his arm (43CS%) and mashing LHP (.878 OPS / 135wRC+). These two attributes were something that DET thought would be a cornerstone to further development but there were two fatal flaws that were holding McCann back from being the “primary” catcher DET hoped he would turn into. One of which was his inability to hit against RHP. Over those same first two seasons James McCann .567 OPS and 51wRC+ were DEAD LAST among all hitters with as many PA as James McCann.
Along with these obvious same handed issues while he was busy still cruising against LHP in 2016 (125wRC+) he posted something that would return later in his career, a K% greater than 30%! After struggling offensively in 2016 he made some changes at the plate which saw his overall production increase slightly as he hit a career high 13HR and 49RBI as well as his wRC+ jumping 27pts from 67 to 94. But once again his drastic platoon splits held him back as seen below
To say that for his first three seasons James McCann had a platoon issue I believe would be a drastic understatement as over his first 3 full seasons out of 114 MLB hitters with a minimum 750PA against RHP James McCann 58wRC+ ranked once again, DEAD LAST
But then amazingly over that same timespan posted the 14th highest wRC+ against LHP beating out renowned lefty killers such as Marcell Ozuna, Xander Bogaerts and teammate Nick Castellanos.
This platoon issue would disappear in his 2018 season but not in the way DET or James wanted it to. As in 2018 he would have his worst season to date that would have him post a -0.7WAR along with a 57wRC+. In 2018 McCann did not have to worry about struggling more against RHP as those struggles seemed to bleed into his usually steady production against LHP and led him to perform WORSE against LHP even more so than his struggles against RHP.
If that slashline could talk I think it would say this…
But the platoon problem was only one of the fatal flaws that James McCann showed as a Tiger. His final fatal flaw that was exposed during his times as a Tiger was that despite an above average CS% he had a -9DRS from 2015-2018 which placed him right behind Travis d’Arnaud (-7) and Robinson Chirinos (-11). Most of this negative production behind the plate came from his big issues framing pitches. Framing, for those that do not know, is the act of trying to make pitches that are not strikes or do not look like strikes to be called strikes.
From 2015-2018 James McCann would finish with -29 RES (Runs Extra Strikes), finishing in the bottom 3 in 2015(-14) and 2017 (-11). These two flaws completely stalled out the career of James McCann leading to….
The Present (2019-2020)
After what seemed to be the career of James McCann imploding upon itself, he was non-tendered by the 64 win Tigers and made a free agent. Luckily for James he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox who themselves were coming off a puny 62 win season. James McCann found himself inheriting the primary catcher role after the White Sox traded former primary catcher Omar Narvaez to Seattle for closer Alex Colome. He faced little competition from incumbent backup Wellington Castillo as he started 61 of the teams 86 first half games. His first half of 2019 was unlike any other moment in his career as he sprinted out of the gate as he posted 3 straight months of a .500+ SLG never posting an OPS lower than .863. This sensational start saw him voted to the All-Star Game where he met up with former little league opponent Jeff McNeil!
The hype came crashing down in July and while we often ignore warning signs during hot streaks (See Amed Rosario’s 2019 2nd Half) the signs were all there for McCann.
Three things that scream regression of some degree, a simpler way is to look at his “xStats” courtesy of Baseball Savant
1st Half (xBA/xOBP/xSLG): .276/331/.487
Still a solid slashline but still well beneath his ACTUAL production at the start of the ’19 season.
The 2nd Half of 2019 was tough to say the least for McCann. All starting in July where over 20G and 85 PA McCann would go on to strike out 35 times (41.2%) and posting a .520 OPS and an absolutely pathetic 34wRC+. He recovered slightly in August/September but not enough to really dig himself out of the hole July put him in. An interesting image appears when you look at his 2nd half in its entirety though
Which calls into question, was 2019 truly a breakout fueled by yet again another stance change? Or was it simply a BABiP fueled hot streak before reverting back to his prior form?
As if gauging his 2019 was not difficult enough, the White Sox went on to sign premier catching free agent Yasmani Grandal in the winter of 2019 seemingly moving on from their All-Star catcher. Why would they do this you ask? Well maybe they picked up on the fatal flaws mentioned earlier that were once again apparent in 2019.
Framing in 2019
-15 RES (64 out of 64 qualified catchers)
45% Strike Rate (56 out of 64)
+4 DRS (11th out of 20 min. 750 innings)
VS RHP in 2019
.265/.311/.445 .759OPS (52nd out of 105 RHH w/ 300 min PA)
100 wRC+ (T-37th of 105)
5.0BB% (50 of 105)
29.8K% (96 of 105)
Both struggles that had seen McCann non-tendered and cast aside in DET were still apparent in his breakout and All-Star season in 2019 but overshadowed by an overall improvement in performance. This pushed McCann to a backup role in the shortened ’20 season where he played in 31G (27 behind the plate) and posted his best offensive season yet with a slashline of
McCann’s 2020: .289/.360/.536 7.2BB% 27.0K%
Now was this McCann building off some 2019 improvements or was this just the result of a 31G sample size? If you dig into his actual production in 2020 it was not unlike any of his prior seasons except that the sample sizes completely skewed the overall numbers! He crushed LHP, struggled vs RHP and struck out 25%+. The main difference is when you look at his outrageous success against LHP
VS LHP in 2020 (RHH vs LHP min. 35PA)
.429 BA (4th of 178)
.528 OBP (3rd of 178)
1.242 OPS (6th of 178)
236 wRC+ (5th of 178)
.455 BABiP (6th of 178)
McCann VS LHP ’15-’19
So while McCann has always done very good against LHP I see it VERY improbable that he could have continued production like that over a full season especially considering his past history against LHP which while above average is not really even close to his production against LHP in 2020. This is important to notice because such overproduction DRASTICALLY skews his final slashline and automatically makes repeating it highly, HIGHLY unlikely. Especially seeing as his production vs RHP was more of the same.
VS RHP in 2020 (RHH vs RHP min 75PA)
.232 BA (120th out of 155)
.280 (T-132nd of 155)
.744 OPS (88th of 155)
99 wRC+ (110th of 155)
33.3K% (T-139th of 155) *tied with Amed Rosario*
Now that we have broken down both ’19 and ’20, the alleged “breakouts” from James McCann lets end this section by comparing his ’19/’20 stats with his xStats over that same time period.
What does all this mean you might be asking yourself? Why do I care that his numbers VS LHP were different in ’20 or about his numbers from ’15-’18? When we break all of this down we can do a better job of PROJECTING what McCann might do next, which if you are a Mets fan is the most important part now that he is part of the team for the next four seasons. There are some things to be positive about with McCann even with the two fatal flaws we have seen repeatedly and identified as well as poking several holes into his ’19-’20 breakout. One reason McCann might be overperforming his xStats is the fact he’s hitting the ball harder than ever before, and as we all know, good things happen when you hit the ball hard.
Something of note to also mention here is the concept of “Launch Angle Tightness” a topic that has been studied and analyzed by minds far smarter than mine. Alex Chamberlain wrote a piece about it for Fangraphs after theorizing that the standard deviation of launch angle(the tightness/spread/range of batted ball events) could directly correlate to higher BABiP’s and possibly higher BAs. You should stop reading this article RIGHT NOW and go look at the research he did as it is absolutely fascinating and explains why some can consistently post higher BABiPs than the average. In easy to understand terms the lower the standard deviation the better and from ’18-’19 James McCann was one of the top 15 “improvers” by dropping his sd(LA) by -2.5 along side teammates Tim Anderson (-2.6) and Yoan Moncada (-2.7). Maybe this consistency explains why in 2019 he posted a BABiP .061 points higher than his career BABiP to that point.
Whatever it may be offensively McCann HAS improved. He’s always done well vs LHP and that has not changed. What has changed is James McCann has went from one of the worst hitters in baseball against RHP to exactly league average as seen below.
McCann has also improved defensively, his Caught Stealing Percentage (CS%) has always been consistently above the league average despite average to below average arm strength and pop-time(the time from catch to release on CSA) but as talked about before framing has always been his biggest weakness. After posting a MLB worst -15 RES in ’19, McCann worked with renowned “catching guru” Jerry Narron. It is this work put in during the offseason that showed some chances of improvement down the road as in ’20 McCann posted a +2 RES, which not only ranked him in the top 10, but gave him his FIRST EVER positive RES. Jerry Narron has been quoted that he believes McCann can continue to improve behind the plate as long as he continues to work on it which brings us to another positive for McCann, his work ethic. Ever since his days in college where he was named team captain McCann has earned very high marks for his makeup and baseball IQ. In a locker room such as the Mets with the majority under 30, a player like McCann could be the perfect fit in the locker room.
While most will look at James McCann’s 4yr/40M as a relative bargain but when compared with other active catcher contracts is it an overpay? While not an overpay in the traditional sense the fact the Mets committed 4 years to a catcher like McCann who is trending up but has plenty of question marks is questionable at best. Going into 2020 there were only 13 catchers with a guaranteed contract of 2+ years.
Of those thirteen catchers, six were extensions that never hit free agency including all but ONE of the contracts longer than two years, with the lone exception being? Yasmani Grandal who supplanted James McCann as starting catcher of the White Sox. When compared to FA catcher contracts of the last four to five years which has been littered by 2 year deals to catchers such as the guys pictured above as well as players like Alex Avila and Wellington Castillo. McCann’s 4/40 deal is different as in the AAV is not all that high, higher than Jason Castro’s 3/24 he signed with the Twins in ’17 but is almost perfectly in line with Francisco Cervelli’s 3/31 he signed when leaving NYY for PITT but at the time was almost 2 years younger than McCann. When I say I believe the Mets overpaid, I do not mean in a monetary sense but in a length sense especially when considering that James McCann will turn 31 in June and will be being paid $12M/yr during his age 33/34 seasons. I believe it is interesting that reports the Angels, who were considered to be the runners up in the McCann sweepstakes, would not budge off of a three year deal which seemed to be closer to the market value of a catcher of McCann’s age and production level.
James McCann is a mixed bag, he’s been very bad at times and very good at others. He has a great attitude and work ethic, but attitudes and work ethics do not swing bats or turn balls into strikes. He’s likely a platoon catcher rather than a catcher who plays 130G+ a year, but is going to be paid and played like the latter. I worry that the NL East and its stable of established and proven right handed starters like Max Scherzer, Zack Wheeler, Stephen Strasburg and Aaron Nola will really be a difficult test for McCann as well and up and coming starters like Sixto Sanchez, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and more. While there is a chance that McCann’s framing could revert back and be even worse than Ramos’ framing ever was there’s a chance that McCann can build on his new framing abilities and be in the top ten every year. There is a chance that McCann’s new-new stance has added a benefit and made tightened up his production going forward. There is also a chance that this new change which has lead to better contact but less of it ages poorly and we see McCann be towards the top of the league in K% (yes even higher than Nimmo and Alonso Mets fans!). But with Steve Cohen at the top and Sandy at the wheel the Mets have clearly singled out the talent they want and are willing to go and get it, which means for Mets fans there is also a chance.
All stats courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant unless otherwise noted. All contract information courtesy of Spotrac
The story of top 2020 free agent Trevor Bauer is without a doubt a thriller, from his unique on-the-field preparation to Momentum, his off-the-field, and “athlete-driven media company”, it is unlike any story ever told, or is it? Today I am here to tell you that although Trevor Bauer’s polarizing impact off the field is without a doubt unique to solely him, his path on-the-field is following the footsteps of a future Hall of Fame starting pitcher.
The Story So Far
These parallel stories start in the MLB Draft. Trevor Bauer, a Spikes-Award Winner from UCLA, was drafted in the 1st Rd by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011. He made his MLB debut for Arizona after just a year in the minors in late June 2012. Within 18 months, Trevor Bauer was on the move from Arizona to Cleveland, a deal many speculated stemmed from a difference in preparation and development philosophy between Bauer and his drafting organization. Once being traded, Trevor continued to develop and discover himself in the CLE rotation. In his first season after the trade, he appeared in only 4 games for CLE while mainly pitching in AAA. The script was rewritten between 2014-2017 where he combined for 115GS and threw 695.1 innings behind Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and fellow stablemates Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. The results over this period were mixed, with Bauer never posting an ERA below 4.
Upon further examination 2017 looks different from the prior three pedestrian seasons. A drastic spike in K/9 coincides with a pitch mix change, that leads to an increase in curves thrown. This willingness to change up his pitches is something Trevor embraces going into 2018 en route to receiving Cy Young Votes and posting not only his first sub 4 ERA but his first sub 3 ERA! This promising 2018 season saw Bauer enter the limelight as a breakout candidate for analysts everywhere with Jon Denzler of Rotoballer going as far to say we “should expect another Cy Young caliber campaign.”
This was not to be, as Bauer’s 2019 season was fitting of a 19th century novel as it turned into a tumultuous Jekyll and Hyde affair before ending as a Tale of Two Cities. The season started great with Bauer winning 4 of his first 7 games with a sub 3 ERA which led many to believe his 2018 breakout was real and that the best was still to come. What followed was an up and down rollercoaster that ended with a really long toss(more on that later) and a trade to CIN at the deadline. His arrival at Great American Ballpark was something that for Trevor Bauer was in fact, not great. The numbers speak for themselves when comparing his pre-trade and post-trade numbers. Bauer struggled immensely seeing his ERA rise almost 3 whole runs even with improved K/9 and BB/9.
Fast forward to the shortened ’20 season and to put it mildly, Trevor Bauer went off, finishing 2nd in ERA, and 3rd in K/9 and collecting 27 of 30 1st place Cy Young votes as he broke Mets ace Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young winning streak at two. There are some reasons to possibly doubt Bauer’s 2020 season from the short sample size of only 11 starts, to that of those 11 starts, 7 of them came against offenses in the bottom 5 of wRC+ (MIL 3x, DET 2x, PIT 2x). The results though were that of a pitcher deserving of the Cy Young and his season ended on a high note as he blanked the Atlanta Braves in Gm1 of the NLWC throwing 7.2IP while striking out 12 and allowing only 2 hits.
Two Stories Collide
Just a short summary of Bauer’s career so far, but let’s track it next to that of our mystery Hall of Famer and see how many boxes we check.
-Drafted by ARZ out of college – CHECK
-Traded within 2 years of debut – CHECK
-Traded to AL Central – CHECK
-Pitches behind a Cy Young Winner – CHECK
-WINS Cy Young in contract year – CHECK
You might have guessed it by now, but I am talking about 3-time Cy Young Winner and 7-time All-Star, Max Scherzer! Maybe it is just a huge coincidence but let’s look closer at the numbers.
Okay, a little freaky right? Both have shown since becoming full time starters an ability to eat innings and go deep into games which is often difficult for young starters but not these two aces. Max Scherzer was slightly better in his first few seasons compared to Bauer which nets him the lead in most categories, but as I learned from the late Billy Mays (no relation to Willie Mays upon further research)…
I highlight these three seasons before free agency on purpose. We have seen over the last few off-seasons that pitchers can drastically increase their value as a free agent by having very good seasons going into free agency, Patrick Corbin in 2018 and Zack Wheeler in 2019 come to mind. Corbin who through his first four seasons started 30+ games only once and had one season with an ERA over 5 was able to parlay a good 2017 (4.03ERA 3.0WAR) and a great 2018(3.19ERA 5.9WAR) into a 6yr/$140M deal. Zack Wheeler on the other hand battled an arduous recovery from Tommy John surgery riddled with setbacks but in his last two seasons before free agency posted consecutive 4+WAR seasons that rewarded him with a 5yr/$118M deal. Now that we’ve discussed why these seasons leading up to free agency are important lets get back to our protagonists. The GS and IP discrepancy here is due in large part to the shortened 2020 season but once again we see strikingly similar numbers across the board including ONCE AGAIN an OPS against within .005. We also see an upward trend from BOTH pitchers as they inched close to free agency. These improvements culminated in Cy Young awards for each before hitting the open market the following winter.
Story Not Yet Told
As Scherzer’s career has unfolded since signing with the Washington Nationals we’ve seen him become a world champion, win a couple more Cy Young awards and throw TWO no-hitters. We have seen him slowly brick-by-brick and strikeout-by-strikeout pave his way to Cooperstown. We have not yet seen this with Trevor Bauer but could we? Both pitchers are massive competitors on the mound with 80-grade intensity. Any skill gap between the two is made smaller with their amount of determination and willpower.
If you do not believe me just yet, then ask this poor baseball that had the misfortune of being in Trevor Bauer’s hand when his skipper Terry Francona pulled him in his last start with the Indians in 2019.
Okay… Maybe too intense, but you get the point.
These two stories read a lot of the same but while Max’s story reaches its conclusion we have yet to reach the climax of Bauer’s. Will the Mets run the gauntlet and sign the best SP available? Will he go back to Kyle Boddy and DrivelineHQ in CIN? Or will he chase the money to LAA? We do know, that whoever signs him is likely to narrate the rest of Bauer’s story and perhaps, the best of it.
All stats are from baseballreference.com, fangraphs.com, or stathead.com unless otherwise noted.