Saturday, January 2, 2016

Mets Already Have Enough Offense to Win 90+ Games

There's a veritable All-Star team of unsigned free agent hitters heading into the new year.  Players like Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Denard Span, Dexter Fowler and yes, even Yoenis Cespedes are still available for any team to sign.  The Mets have signed two free agents in shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and outfielder Alejandro De Aza.  They also traded for second baseman Neil Walker.

All signs point to the Mets being done as far as bringing in another big-name hitter is concerned.  This has made a number of Mets fans unhappy, as they claim that the team is not much better than it was last spring and early summer, when it struggled to stay above .500 until Sandy Alderson acquired Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe and Cespedes.  But I disagree with those complaining fans.  In fact, as long as the Mets don't have a 1987-like epidemic of injuries to their pitchers, the team as constructed today should surpass last season's 90-win total.  Here's why.

Three men and a beanie.  (Screen shot courtesy of ESPN E:60)

In 2015, the brilliant quartet of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz combined to start 89 of the team's 162 games.  The Mets' record in those games was 55-34.  When someone other than the fearsome foursome started, the team went 35-38.  But several of those games occurred after Michael Conforto was promoted from the minors, Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe were acquired and most importantly, Yoenis Cespedes was brought into the fold.  Once those four hitters joined the team, the team's offense was far better.

Conforto made his major league debut on July 24.  Johnson and Uribe made their first appearances with the Mets a day later.  And Cespedes wore blue and orange for the first time on August 1.  The day before Conforto made his debut, the Mets' record was 49-47.  So let's look at how the team fared in those 96 pre-offensive upgrade games when deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz were on the mound and compare it to how they did in the team's final 66 games.  Let's also see what the club's record was when the other starting pitchers (Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, etc.) took the hill in both instances.

  • Jacob deGrom - First 96 games: (11-7);  Last 66 games: (9-3)
  • Matt Harvey - First 96 games: (10-8);  Last 66 games: (7-4)
  • Noah Syndergaard - First 96 games: (6-7);  Last 66 games: (7-4)
  • Steven Matz - First 96 games: (2-0);  Last 66 games: (3-1)

In the days before Conforto, Johnson, Uribe and Cespedes were on the team, the young core of homegrown starting pitchers combined to start 51 of the club's 96 games.  The Mets had a 29-22 record in those games, for a .569 winning percentage.  The team did not fare as well when the other starters were on the mound in the first 96 games, going 20-25 (.444 winning percentage) in those 45 contests.

In the final 66 games, when the offense was among the best in the game, the Mets went 26-12 in games started by deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz.  They also had a winning record in games not started by those four hurlers, going 15-13 in those 28 affairs.

Think about that for a moment.  The Mets were 90-72 during the 2015 regular season.  That's a .556 winning percentage.  Yet through July 24, when the likes of Michael Cuddyer, Eric Campbell, John Mayberry Jr., Darrell Ceciliani and Kevin Plawecki were starting games regularly, the team had a .569 winning percentage when deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz started games with those offensively-challenged players in the lineup.  That's a 92-win pace.

After starting just 89 games for the Mets in 2015, the big four may combine to start around 120 games for the team in 2016, with deGrom, Harvey and Syndergaard no longer having innings limits, which could allow them to make 32 or 33 starts each.  Although Cabrera, Walker and De Aza are not going to strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers the way Cespedes did in August and September, those three players are clearly better with the bat than Campbell, Cuddyer and Mayberry were during the first four months of the 2015 campaign.

(Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
While it's true that Daniel Murphy is no longer a Met, don't forget that Michael Conforto is going be a Met for the entire 2016 season instead of just the final third of the campaign as he was in 2015.  Conforto should hit for a high average, have more power and draw more walks than Murphy did (Conforto drew 57 walks in 597 plate appearances between the majors and minors in 2015; Murphy never walked more than 39 times in any season).  And also don't forget that Syndergaard and Matz didn't begin the year with the Mets either.  They're both poised to begin their first full season in New York in 2016.

So let's review.

When deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz started games for the Mets in 2015 with their offensively-challenged lineup backing them up, the team won nearly 57% of its games.  But they only started 51 of the team's first 96 games, or barely more than half of those games.  Now, barring unexpected injuries, those four pitchers are going to start 80% of the team's games in 2016, with Zack Wheeler ready to contribute by mid-season.  The offense doesn't have the Daniel Murphys and Yoenis Cespedeses of this world, but it will have a full season of Conforto, as well as Cabrera, Walker and De Aza taking at-bats that would have gone to lesser hitters during the first four months of the 2015 campaign.

Just repeating the .569 winning percentage the Mets had in starts made by deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz during the pre-Cespedes portion of 2015 would give the team 92 wins in 2016.  But more starts from those four pitchers in 2016, plus Zack Wheeler's return, which makes the bullpen deeper once Bartolo Colon moves there, added to a full season of Michael Conforto's production, while subtracting Cuddyer, Campbell, Mayberry, et al., from the equation should give the Mets a wonderful chance to have a higher win total than they did when they captured the N.L. East crown by seven games in 2015.

So you see, the Mets don't need to add any more top bats to what some people still consider a weak lineup.  They already have what it takes to improve upon last season's memorable performance and make another triumphant return to the postseason.

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