What Happened to This Year’s Mets, and Where Do They Go from Here?

by Deb Seymour

Given the majority of preseason predictions, it surprised many in the baseball world that the New York Mets led the NL East division of Major League Baseball for 86 days this season, ending that lead on August 5th. And yet, as I write this, the team is 6.5 games back in their division. What happened to the Mets? Included in that question may be what happened to the other NL East teams to enable them to surpass the Mets so quickly and decisively; but competitor winning and losing streaks don’t really tell the story of a team and its bumps along the road — nor of its ability (or inability) to overcome them.

Impressionistically, what’s wrong with the Mets this year is their offense. Although their starting pitching rotation has been depleted for most of the season due to injury, and their bullpen appears overtaxed, what started out as a team that had multiple late-inning comebacks early in the season has become a team that is struggling to score runs, both early and late; and has a lineup of hitters whose production is certainly not what it has been or could be.

Of the Mets’ starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco spent most of the season on the IL, Jacob deGrom needed to be shut down midseason due to various arm issues, and Noah Syndergaard has yet to make an appearance this season; but the overall team ERA is an eye-opening 3.80 — certainly not the best in the National League, but also not the worst (which would be the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 5.21 team ERA). The Mets’ team ERA of 3.80 ranks 5th in the NL. More explanatory, therefore, on the pitching side of things is the number of pitchers used this year to date, which according to Baseball Reference is an (almost incredible) 29 men on the mound to date for the Mets. This includes several position players who pitched in a pinch, such as Luis Guillorme, Kevin Pillar, and Brandon Drury, but nevertheless demonstrates how dire the pitching situation has been during certain stretches of the 2021 season. One can always argue that the bullpen has been mismanaged by the manager and his coaches, but that’s subjective and open to debate in a way that the actual statistics are not.

On the offensive side of the Mets, though, as mentioned earlier, there is more of a story to tell.

Below appear the team monthly Win/Loss Splits for this year’s Mets:

2021 New York Mets Win/Loss Splits by month through August 25. Source: Baseball Reference

It pays to look at Runs Scored versus Runs Allowed, because you can prorate the number of runs scored by the team versus runs allowed per game per month — and that gives a better sense of the team’s success/failure curve than do just Wins versus Losses. The two standout months here are clearly May and August, for their significantly opposing W-L percentages. And prorated per game, in May the Mets were scoring an average of 4.19 runs per game, while only allowing an average of 3.42 runs per game. In August, the Mets have been scoring an average of 3.32 runs per game, while allowing an average of 4.72 runs per game. How much of that is due to the loss of Jacob deGrom, a not-so-sharp Carlos Carrasco, one unfortunate appearance by Tylor Megill, and an overtaxed bullpen? Probably a significant proportion. More poignantly, though, the story told by these numbers is that the average runs scored per game has essentially dropped to below what the average runs allowed per game was back in May. In other words, to date in August, the offense has significantly struggled to outpace the lags in the pitching.

No team in baseball is exactly consistent throughout the entire season. The old adage “it’s a long season” isn’t an adage by accident. It is a long season. But timing of a bad stretch matters. If a bad stretch happens in the first half of the season, there is always the second half to make up for it. The trade deadline is a factor in some teams’ trend lines, as well. For the Mets, therefore, some of what’s occurring right now is just bad timing. There are no more trades to be made this season; and players who can be claimed off waivers are generally not the top-tier players who can bail out a team when it has gone flat.

All this being said, it pays to ask what actually happened to the Mets’ offense. Some individual player stats might offer insight into the offensive slide the Mets are experiencing. Offensive stats from the 21-day period since the Mets moved out of first place might pinpoint the hitting and on-base percentage issues from the current skid; but to my mind, the individual stats for the entire season to date are more noteworthy. Below appear several standout examples (Source: Baseball Reference):

  • Pete Alonso: .260/.342/.506 OPS: .848
  • Jeff McNeill: .247/.322/.361 OPS: .683
  • Michael Conforto: .217/.338/.357 OPS: .695
  • Francisco Lindor: .225/.322/.371 OPS: .694
  • Dominic Smith: .242./.302/.362 OPS: .663
  • Brandon Nimmo: .287/.406/.400 OPS: .695
  • James McCann: .240/.303/.357 OPS: .660
  • Jonathan Villar: .244/.318/.417 OPS: .734

Pete Alonso is a power hitter. His slugging and OPS numbers should be higher than the average, and they are. Brandon Nimmo has been a surprise plus since he came off the IL in July, slashing at a higher rate than most of his starting teammates. And by the numbers, Jonathan Villar has been the best offensive acquisition the Mets have made this past year. But what happened to the other five players on this list? Some have had injuries that have kept them out at various intervals during the season; but overall, as a group, what you’re looking at is the reason the pitching has had such a difficult time compensating for the lack of hitting. And the picture this paints is not a particularly optimistic one.

So, where do the Mets go from here? As the Mets’ playoff odds decrease in August with each day they don’t outpace the rest of their division, it’s only human nature to start thinking about next year. Even on a day — such as today — on which the division standings have effectively remained the same (due to a Braves loss and a Phillies loss the previous night), playoff odds go down slightly due to one fewer day remaining in the season to make up those 6.5 games back.

The Mets have some looming decisions to make in the offseason. With a new owner who so far has taken a deep interest in the team, one has to wonder if the front office will remain the same. Sandy Alderson, team president, is, by now, a fixture in the Mets’ organization. But should he be? The acting GM, Zack Scott, might fall victim to a late season slide by a team that mostly he did not engineer. Luis Rojas, who became manager in 2020 after Carlos Beltran was fired without ever managing a game, would seem to be on the bubble, as well.

And then there are the player contracts. Jeurys Familia, Michael Conforto, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Jonathan Villar, Aaron Loup, Heath Hembree, Rich Hill, and Javier Baez (some acquired at the trade deadline or claimed off waivers since) are each on a contract that expires in 2022. Who should get renewed or extended? Who should not? Michael Conforto stands out as a big question, as he will likely desire a fairly large contract extension — and given his level of offense over the course of this season, it’s not clear the Mets will provide that to him; nor that they should.

Further along those lines, are there players whose contracts are not yet coming up who ought to be traded in the offseason, if the Mets deem that a path to explore? They say that hitting is contagious; and if one or two catalysts were not able to step up to the plate in 2021 and kickstart the entire team’s offense, should they be moved in the offseason? These are all questions the Mets’ organization will need to ponder sooner rather than later. The only real question that remains, then, is whether the Mets will need to begin to act on these issues in October — or November.

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