Musings

Mets Path To Winning The National League East

During Spring Training and especially, over the past week, there have been pieces posted on this site detailing exactly how the Mets could beat the odds and actually go out and win the division. While Brodie Van Wagenen has preached on eliminating ifs, the fact of the matter is they exist, and the Mets are going to have to hope it all goes their way.

With respect to the division favorite Washington Nationals, the hope is they are no different than the team Dave Martinez led last year. This means Max Scherzer can be dominant while Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner perform like MVP candidates. However, if Patrick Corbin reverts, Stephen Strasburg is hurt again, and the veterans which they are relying upon (Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, Ryan Zimmerman) don’t turn back the clock, a terrific year from Victor Robles may not be enough for them.

The Philadelphia Phillies arguably improved their team the most with the additions of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, David Robertson, and Jean Segura. That’s all well and good, but this is a dangerous mix for a team which fell apart partially due to their Fortnight obsession and the face Gabe Kapler has shown himself to be a poor leader. Absent Aaron Nola repeating last year and Jake Arrieta going back to his 2015 form, it’s possible this team could fall apart.

While the Nationals and Phillies are widely regarded as the best teams in the division, it was the Atlanta Braves who actually won the division last year. What is remarkable about the Braves was despite the team having as much money coming off the books as they did, their only real upgrade was signing Josh Donaldson. However, when you consider Johan Camargo was actually better than him last year, it was likely a downgrade. Beyond Donaldson, the team is essentially all glove up the middle (Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte) with an incredibly average pitching staff. If the middle of their team doesn’t figure it out offensively, they’re going to need Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna to be even better in 2019 in order to carry the team forward.

As for the New York Mets, the key seems to be their bullpen. In recent years, there has been a correlation between strong bullpens and records. With the Mets having Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, and Seth Lugo, they have the makings of what could be the best bullpen in baseball. When you add Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler, this may be the best pitching staff in all of baseball.

This means the Mets will need Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano, and possibly Brandon Nimmo be the MVP candidates they can be while Amed Rosario figures it out. Beyond that, the Mets have what it takes. It is just up to Mickey Callaway to get the most he can from the team while Brodie Van Wagenen makes the key trade when needed.

If all that happens, and it very well could, the Mets win the division and go on to win the World Series. If not, the Mets may find themselves fighting for the second Wild Card. It should be fun to see what happens.

Braves May Not Have Pitching Or Bats To Win Division

Last year, the Braves were the surprise team in baseball winning the NL East by an eight game margin over the Nationals. This is a young talented group who has the talent to not only win the division again next year but also go on a run like the Greg MadduxTom GlavineJohn Smoltz Braves teams.

Freddie Freeman has become an MVP caliber player. Josh Donaldson has won an MVP and has the sixth highest fWAR in all of baseball since 2015. What’s scary to think is they’re not even the Braves best player. That honor probably goes to Ronald Acuna, who is the reigning Rookie of the Year and a real MVP candidate.

What is scary for the Braves is their roster beyond these three is quite questionable.

One of the reasons the Braves were successful last season was Nick Markakis having his first All-Star campaign. It was a turn back the clock season for him as he had been a below league average hitter over the previous five seasons. His 2.6 bWAR was higher than what he posted over his prior two seasons. Expecting him to repeat his 2018 season seems dubious in his age 35 season.

Markakis is not the only 35 year old expected to be a big part of the team. The Braves brought back Brian McCann, who is coming off a season where he hit .212/.301/.339. That’s a drop off from the .271/.332/.444 Kurt Suzuki provided the team last year.

This is nothing to say of Donaldson who had an injury plagued season last year. When he was on the field, he produced. However, it should be noted he did take a step back. From 2015 – 2017, he had a 154 wRC+ at the plate. Last year, he had a 117 wRC+. Defensively, he’s gone from an 11 DRS in 2015 to a 1 DRS last year.

That’s actually a step back from what Johan Camargo provided. Last year, Camargo was a 115 wRC+ at the plate with a 7 DRS at third. With Donaldson, you have the name value, but you lose the upside the 25 year old could provide.

On the topic of the Braves young players, by and large, they have not yet panned out the way many people have expected.

Ozzie Albies did have a 3.8 WAR last season, but he had some issues. For starters, the switch-hitter hit .231/.283/.412 against left-handed pitching (84 wRC+). With the right-handed pitching in the division, he is completely over-matched making him not much more than a good defensive second baseman for the majority of the time.

Ender Inciarte is also a defensive first player, albeit a very inconsistent one. Whatever the reason, Inciarte has been good in odd numbered seasons and Gold Glove caliber in even numbered seasons. For Inciarte to have value, he needs to be a Gold Glover as he already below league average offense has dropped from a 100 wRC+ in 2015 t0 90 last season.

The biggest enigma has been Dansby Swanson. The Braves had purportedly stole him from the Diamondbacks for Shelby Miller. The problem was Swanson has not quite panned out as expected. Last year was a career best year for him, which makes his prospects all the more dubious as he only had an 80 wRC+. He was very good defensively meaning the Braves up-the-middle defense is quite good but very, very questionable at the plate.

In some ways, in what promises to be a very tough National League East, the Braves are going to be reliant on their young pitching to make the difference in the division. Now, there are times this does work like 2003 with the Florida Marlins and 2015 with the New York Mets.

Mike Foltynewicz was the teams’ best pitcher last year, and it’s questionable if he can be that next year. His .251 BABIP was much lower than the .303 he has yielded in his career. If he reverts back to career norms, he may look more like the below average league pitcher (93 ERA+) he had been over the prior two seasons.

The Braves second starter, Sean Newcomb, has also roughly been a league average pitcher (103 ERA+) in his career. Same goes for Kevin Gausman (102 ERA+). That is also what Julio Teheran has been since 2016. That puts a lot of pressure on Touki Toussaint, a pitcher who Baseball America projects to be a middle of the rotation starter partially due to his control problems.

Ultimately, when you break the Braves down, this is a very pedestrian starting rotation, albeit one with plenty of upside. Their top two relievers, Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter, have durability concerns. They’re relying on older veterans to be what they once were, and they’re hoping defensive minded players can unlock offensive potential they have not yet unlocked in over two years in the majors.

If the Braves figure it out, they’re a scary team. However, it’s also possible last year was as good as it gets. That should put them well in the mix for the division and the Wild Cards, but it also likely leaves them one or two pieces short from the postseason.

 

Phillies A Potential Powder Key With Questionable Pitching

The Philadelphia Phillies had a busy offseason to significantly improve their ballclub, and as a result Fangraphs has the Phillies as the second best team in the division with a 48.3 percent chance of making the postseason. On paper, there is a lot to get excited about with the Phillies.

By signing Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper, the Phillies have added two potential Hall of Famer outfielders. With David Robertson, the Phillies have added a closer with World Series experience. Beyond that, the Phillies have vastly improved a MLB worst defense (-146 DRS).

Rhys Hoskins has moved from left field (-24 DRS) to first base. While McCutchen is no longer a center fielder, he was a good corner outfielder last year (2 DRS). In place of Scott Kingery (-6 DRS) at short, the team has Jean Segura (5 DRS). That is a significantly improved defense, especially if Harper, Cesar Hernandez, and Odubel Herrera return to their 2017 levels defensively.

This should make the Phillies pitching better, but it’s not a foolproof measure to improve the Phillies pitching, which is one of their biggest question marks heading into the season.

Atop the Phillies rotation was Aaron Nola, who actually had a higher WAR than Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer last year. At 26, it would seem like this is where he career takes off. It’s also possible Nola’s .251 BABIP and 82.5 percent strand rate is not repeatable, and his true talent level is the roughly league average pitcher (106 ERA+) he had been over the prior two seasons.

The Phillies number two starter, Jake Arrieta, is not the pitcher he once was. After a strong start to the season, he had a 5.04 ERA in the second half last year. That’s all the more troubling when you consider Arrieta is 33, has had a 3.50+ ERA in each of the past two seasons, and has typically been a second half pitcher in his career.

Behind their top two, the Phillies next three starters had ERA of 4.36 and above with an ERA+ of 95 and below. With the J.T. Realmuto trade, the Phillies do not have the organizational depth to call up a Sixto Sanchez to help bolster the rotation.

Speaking of Realmuto, he is no doubt a tremendous hitter, and he should be even better hitting in Citizen’s Bank Park instead of Marlins Park. Still, he’s not going to help his pitchers the same way Jorge Alfaro did. According to Stat Corner, Realmuto has historically been one of the worst pitch framers in baseball while Alfaro was average.

Now, Baseball Prospectus doesn’t have Realmuto that low, it did have Alfaro as the ninth best pitch framer last year. That’s going to hurt a pitching staff which was already the Phillies biggest question mark to enter the season.

Another significant issue is Gabe Kapler‘s leadership. Early in the season, his communication with players was put into question with Nick Williams complaining about how computers were driving the decisions. Recent reports indicated part of the Phillies falling out of contention last year was the team playing Fortnight during games. The only player who did anything about it, Carlos Santana, was traded away during the offseason. That’s all before the issues Nick Francona brought to light about Kapler’s tenure as the Dodgers’ Director of Player Development.

This Phillies team is going to need strong leadership too. In 2015, Jonathan Papelbon choked Harper. Last year, Dee Gordon and Segura got into a fight in the clubhouse. Arrieta has been known to be intense as evidenced by his ripping the team last June. Fair or not, these are big personalities, who have had clubhouse conflicts.

Now, the Phillies are immeasurably better on paper. Their defense is better. Their lineup is deeper and among the best in the National League. A very promising bullpen with Seranthony DominguezPat Neshek, and Edubray Ramos added Roberston. They have players with postseason and World Series experience.

This is also potentially a powder key with poor leadership. It is built on questionable pitching, and while the defense is better, it could still be among the worst in the majors. In the end, after all the improvements, they may find themselves needing to out-slug the teams in their division who arguably have lineups equally as good, better defense, better pitching, and better leadership.

Why Nationals May Not Be Better Than Last Year

Surprisingly, even with losing Bryce Harper, the Nationals are projected to win the National League East. For example, Fangraphs has the Nationals as six games better than the Phillies with a 55.9 percent chance of winning the division.

The reason is the Nationals rotation is deeper and stronger with the addition of Patrick Corbin. Their bullpen, which is a perpetual problem, is much stronger with Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal, and Tony Sipp. All of these pitchers will be much better with Yan Gomes behind the plate. Moreover, they will have a full season from Juan Soto and Victor Robles.

That’s even before you consider Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon, both of whom can realistically be MVP candidates in 2019. It is a lot to get excited about, but it’s far from perfect.

First and foremost, the Nationals have injury issues. Stephen Strasburg hasn’t reached 30 starts since 2014. Sean Doolittle has been on the DL in each of the past six seasons. Barraclough has spent time on the DL in each of the past two. That’s just from their top end pitchers.

Adam Eaton has had two injury prone seasons. Gomes hasn’t played at least 115 games since 2014. After having a healthy 2017 season, Ryan Zimmerman was back on the DL last year. Speaking of Zimmerman, there’s an issue regarding older players performance.

Even with Zimmerman reducing his strike out rate and increasing his walk rate, his wRC+ dropped 19 points. If he reverts back to his career norms while seeing his ISO and other power numbers decline, he could revert back to his pre-2017 form.

The Nationals are also trying to replace Daniel Murphy with Brian Dozier. Last year, Dozier cratered hitting .215/.305/.391 in an injury plagued year. While his production may rebound with better health, Dozier will be 32 in May, and he has seen a three year drop in his wRC+ and his HR/FB.

With respect to Gomes, he had a bounceback 2018 season offensively, which does not seem repeatable. His walk rate dropped, and his BABIP was the highest it was since 2014. If he reverts to what he was the past few seasons, he’s not the upgrade the Nationals will need.

Now, the Nationals have younger players who could have breakout seasons, which could offset the decline and under-performance of their veterans. To that end, they’ll need Soto to replicate his surprise 2018 season, which he could do, and they’ll need Robles to be the player they’ve been touting for years. Based on a small sample size last year, he can do that.

The question is whether that’s enough. Arguably, there are very few teams in baseball who could tout a top four position players like Turner, Rendon, Robles, and Soto. That’s a dangerous core made all the more dangerous by the presence of Max Scherzer. There’s also Corbin, who they desperately need to be the pitcher he was last year and not the pitcher who was league average (101 ERA+) over the prior two seasons.

Still, the Nationals had Turner, Rendon, and Soto playing at a high level last year, and Scherzer was as dominant as he always was. The team had Harper last year, and he was the fourth best hitter in the division last year. That all amounted to an 82 win season. So certainly, it’s possible for things to break right for the Nationals and for them to be on the outside looking in come postseason time.

Avoid These St. Patrick’s Day Shenanigans

So, you’ve decided to buy a green shirt and drink green beer until you turn green and vomit. Despite you believing it to be offensive for other ethnic groups, you’re going to reduce Irish people to the lowest common denominator and get drunk because you believe all Irish people are drunks.

Fine, no one is stopping you and your “Irish For Today” or some not really clever drinking shirt. At the end of the day, we just ask you not to commit these atrocities:

First and foremost, it’s Paddy’s not Patty’s. Patty is a woman’s name. If you watch Always Sunny, it’s Paddy’s Pub, not Patty’s Pub. Really, if you say Patty’s, Irish people will think you a bigger idiot than you’re already acting.

Second, if that has four leaves 🍀 it’s a clover, not a shamrock ☘️. The shamrock is Irish. The clover is a marshmallow in a box of Lucky Charms, which is as Irish as french fries are French.

Third, stop with the green beer and bagel nonsense. While Irish people are drinking stuff like Guinness, Harps, Killians, Smithwicks, Murphy’s, etc., you’re drinking awful beer with food coloring. You look like an imbecile.

Also, while you’re eating green bagels, we’re eating good food like Shepherd’s Pie, lamb stew, fish and chips, Irish soda bread, and corned beef and cabbage.

And before you start, you’re not Einstein pointing out corned beef and cabbage isn’t Irish. We all know. What you don’t realize is it’s part of the Irish-American tradition, thereby arguably making it the most appropriate thing to eat at an American St. Paddy’s Day celebration.

There are other areas which could be addressed. For example, wearing orange is offensive, but chances are if you’re learning some of these things for the first time, you’re wearing a token green shirt anyway.

More than anything, remember this is the celebration of a saint, it has importance to Irish people everywhere, and if you’re going to go out and get drunk, be safe and don’t drive.

Extensions Are Good For Baseball

With how free agency has transpired the past few years, we have seen an increasing number of players opt to sign contract extensions with their current teams rather than test free agency. This meant one of the top players in the upcoming free agent class, Nolan Arenado, has opted to remain with the Rockies until 2025 effectively making him a Rockie for life.

While we can argue the ramifications free agency will have on labor discussions and whether there will be a strike or lock out, the extension which arguably emanated is a positive for Rockies fans. They will now get to see a player they love continue putting up MVP caliber numbers and continue to make his case for the Hall of Fame. Being able to continue to root for players you love and have watched play for your team since they have been called up to the majors is a good thing for baseball.

Certainly, we saw that on display when David Wright played his last ever baseball game. On September 29, the 63-96 Marlins played a game against the 75-85 Mets. The starting pitchers were Trevor Richards and Steven Matz. In a vacuum, there would be no reason to go to this game. Still, 43, 928 Mets fans would make their way to Citi Field to say good-bye to a beloved player.

Yes, you can raise how Wright’s extension didn’t work out exactly how everyone planned. His injuries, especially his spinal stenosis, meant Wright did not have the Hall of Fame career many believed he was going to have. Towards the end of the deal, the Mets refusal to move on despite medical evidence to the contrary may have stood in the way from the Mets returning to the World Series after the 2015 season. In the end, none of that mattered as fans rushed to buy tickets and give their emotional farewell to their Captain.

If Wright were to leave and finish his career elsewhere, the emotion directed towards him would not have been the same. It would have existed, but certainly not to the same extent. Having a player like Wright creates that emotional connection between fans, player, and even the team.

We see that happening elsewhere in baseball. There is Joey Votto in Cincinnati, Freddie Freeman in Atlanta, Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles. These are the players who have stayed with their teams. They’re loved not just because they’re great players, but also because they stayed.

There are various reasons why players stay, and those reasons may or may not include how teams are handling free agency. It doesn’t really matter why the players stay. To fans, it matters that the players stay.

That is the issue facing much of baseball now. The Angels have a decision to make on Mike Trout. The Giants have a decision to make with Madison Bumgarner. The Red Sox have the same decision with Mookie Betts. As for the Mets, they’re going to have to make these decisions with respect to Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Michael Conforto in relatively short order.

For the Mets, the player the Mets sign to an extension will likely become a beloved Met, more so than they are now. Ultimately, it won’t matter if things don’t pan out like everyone hopes it would. Instead, when all is said and done, we will have the memories of the 2015 season (and hopefully other postseason runs), the All-Stars, and the awards. We will have a reason to pour into Citi Field in our jerseys and say another emotional good-bye to a Mets great, a player we adored for years.

And that right there is why extensions are great for the game.

 

MLB Rule Changes Overly Impacts Relievers

Major League Baseball has announced a series of rule changes to go into effect for the 2020 season. Some of the proposed rule changes include:

  • Injured List increased from 10 to 15 days
  • Assignment to the minor leagues increased from 10 to 15 days
  • Maximum of 13 pitchers on the Major League roster
  • Position players are not permitted to pitch unless very specific circumstances are met
  • Relievers must face at least three batters
  • Roster sizes increased from 25 to 26 players

Perusing all of these rules, you can not help but conclude it will have long lasting ramifications upon relief pitchers. In fact, you can argue the effects on relievers are damaging.

The most controversial of these rule changes is the three batter minimum. What is interesting is this is a rule change Major League Baseball had purportedly wanted to test in the Atlantic League during the 2019 season before trying to implement in the Majors. Instead, the test is going to be throw by the wayside, and it is going to be implemented anyway.

The result is the effective elimination of LOOGYs, and there will be a severe limiting of any pitcher with platoon splits. This means players like Jerry Blevins and Luis Avilan, two relievers who have one year deals, may be pitching the last year of their careers. Maybe.

Think about it, if you are a Major League team, how can you carry a LOOGY and have him pitch in critical innings know the opposing manager can just send up three straight pinch hitters to tee off on your pitcher? You have that extra batter now because of the rule change adding a hitter because, well, you are only allowed eight relievers.

This is the complete absence of strategy which is part of what makes late inning baseball so interesting. You have fans engaged during the game critiquing moves, and they create discussion points for days. Now, well, it’s paint-by-numbers baseball. You just put in relievers instead of planning out the inning to get as much leverage as possible.

That aside, remember a specialization job in baseball is effectively being eliminated.

As if that wasn’t problem enough, there is an issue with respect to the health of relievers. No, we should not expect pitchers facing three batters in an inning to cause them to brake down. That’s the case even if that would be an extra level of exertion the pitcher was not prepared to give.

The bigger issue is the mop-op games. There are times when a managers needs to lose a battle to win the war. They need to realize when his arms need a break, and sometimes, albeit rarely, he will need to use a position player. The problem is a manager’s ability to do that is now restricted.

According to the new rules, a position player can only pitch if he’s a designated two way player (right now, this only applies to Shohei Ohtani), in extra innings, or either team is up five runs. Seems reasonable in theory, but in practice, it could be much different.

Reasonably speaking, you could have had an extra inning game the previous night and had your starter knocked out early. Under the rules, if you are down just five, you have to go to your main bullpen guys, who may be exhausted, especially during those stretches in the summer. you cannot go to a position player. No, you need to stick with your tired relievers, who may have needed a real break.

Remember, this is more than asking a reliever to pitch to three batters. This is requiring him to pitch to three batters in every game. That means if you pitch three straight days, that’s at least nine batters. At a certain point, that puts a real strain on a reliever’s arm.

Of course, a team could respond by sending a pitcher down. Well, not even that is as easy. Instead of losing a tired arm for about three series, you are losing one for five. Maybe in a soft spot in your schedule, the Mets would be willing to send down a Robert Gsellman for a short stretch to call up a more rested arm like Paul Sewald or Jacob Rhame. The Mets are not doing that for five series because the hit is too prolonged.

The option for a quick IL stint also comes off the board because again you are talking five series instead of three. That leaves the option of just calling up another pitcher and use them as the 26th man on the roster. Again, that is problematic because a team is only permitted eight relievers, and in recent years, teams have been carrying that many relievers anyway. If you are carrying eight relievers, and they are tired, you’re back in the earlier predicament on time in the minors or the IL.

There’s one other consideration here. In September, teams have had the opportunity to call up every player on their 40 man roster. Now, teams only get two. Now, according to how the rules are written, that has to be two additional position players IF you are already carrying eight relievers. This further restricts a team’s ability to bring up a fresh arm, and anecdotally, a team does not get a chance to find their version of the 2002 Francisco Rodriguez, who played a huge role in the Angels winning the World Series.

However you break it down, these rules unduly affect relief pitchers. They are losing certain jobs. They are being required to do more than they previously have. Their ability to obtain a rest after a stressful game has been restricted. In total, this looks more like a plan not well thought out and pushed forward because Rob Manfred wanting to put his stamp in the game and Tony Clark not serving enough of a deterrence.

Of course, we would know more if this was tested out in the Atlantic League as was originally planned, but baseball instead opted to plow ahead without knowing the long term effects. When you break it down, it’s inexcusable for baseball to gamble with the integrity of the game and with the careers of pitchers without even having tested it.

McNeil Needs To Be McNeil To Succeed At The Plate

When Jeff McNeil was finally called up to the majors, he took full advantage of his opportunity. In 63 games, McNeil hit .329/.381/.471 with 11 doubles, six triples, three homers, and 19 RBI. Looking at the advanced statistics, this equated to a 137 wRC+ and a 140 OPS+. If he were able to replicate that going forward, he would not be just one of the best hitters on the Mets, he would be one of the best hitters in all of baseball.

John Edwards explained McNeil’s early season success in The Athletic. Boiling it down, McNeil does not swing and miss. Moreoever, with his approach at the plate, he is also not getting called strikes against him. Certainly, this was a recipe for success for McNeil in 2018, but the larger question for the Mets is whether it will be a recipe of success in 2019 and beyond.

While his contact rate is extremely promising, his other numbers were not. His 5.6 percent walk rate is downright bad. In fact, it is just a hair above Amed Rosario‘s, but as we know Rosario has not had the same level of success at the plate McNeil exhibited in a small sample size. This shows McNeil’s ability to get on base was almost purely BABIP driven.

While we are not yet quite aware of what McNeil’s true BABIP talent is at the Major League level, it is generally accepted a player’s BABIP typically falls around .300. Last year, McNeil’s BABIP was .359. If McNeil was to repeat his approach at the plate next year, he is going to have to yield a similar BABIP to be a productive hitter.

As Devan Fink examined in Beyond the Box Score, it is possible for players to maintain a high BABIP. For example, Aaron Judge has been able to maintain a career .356 BABIP partially due to his hard hit rate, which has been over 48 percent in two out of his three years. Last year, McNeil’s was just 30.2 percent.

In addition to hard hit rate, there has been some correlation between line drives and BABIP. For example, reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich has a career .359 BABIP and a career 22.3 percent line drive rate. That includes last season when he had a .373 BABIP and a 24.7 percent line drive rate. Last year, McNeil had a 21.6 percent line drive rate, which is a little promising.

The last potential factor is speed. While Fangraphs once noted the correlation between speed and BABIP isn’t a pronounced as many believe, there is some correlation. For example, according to Baseball Savant, Trevor Story has elite sprint speed traveling 29.6 ft/second. With his sprint speed, he had a .345 BABIP last year and a .340 BABIP for his career. Last year, McNeil had good, but not great, speed traveling 27.8 feet/second.

Breaking it down, other than the ability to make contact, there is not one outstanding skill McNeil exhibited in his 63 Major League games, at least not one which would indicate his ability to replicate that BABIP. It’s even more dubious if he’s as aggressive at the plate.

Fortunately, McNeil does not need to be reliant upon a high BABIP to have another good offensive season. When you look at his minor league numbers, he was not called up to the majors because he swung at a high rate of pitches while making a high rate of contact. No, McNeil was called up to the majors because he had a Daniel Murphy type of transformation.

Beginning with Binghamton, McNeil increased his walk rate to a slightly above average 9.4 percent. He combined that with an excellent 10.9 percent strike out rate. Judging from his time in the majors last year, we saw his contact rate translated well. Now, it is time for him to begin the process of better identifying his pitches to hit. If he can replicate that like he did in Double and Triple-A last year, we should see him hit for much more power.

Basically, McNeil has the skills to be a very productive hitter in the Major League level next year, and he showed how well some of those skills translated at the Major League level. If he is able to incorporate more plate discipline, he should be able to drive the ball more and become an even more dangerous hitter. If that is the case, the Mets will be an even more potent and dangerous lineup than initially believed.

Alonso On Opening Day Roster Doesn’t Overcome Team’s Real Issues

One of the narratives which is beginning to emerge is the Mets need Pete Alonso to be on their Opening Day roster because the Mets are a win-now team. Considering how tight the National League East race is going to be the argument is it’s worth carrying him for 16 days and foregoing control over him for the 2025 season. In essence, those 16 days are worth much more than one year of Alonso’s prime.

Putting aside the fact Dominic Smith could potentially be a better option than Alonso to open the season, especially with the Mets facing Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg twice, the question is why has Alonso become ground zero for the Mets doing everything they can do to win?

Since the 2017 All Star Break, Jason Vargas has a 6.04 ERA, and opposing batters have hit .278/.351/.506 against him. At the moment, he is slated for 30 plus starts. Behind him, the Mets pitching depth constitutes a group of pitchers who have posted an ERA over 5.00 as a starter over the last year.

It would seem to be contradictory to say every game counts as a justification to play Alonso 14 games while trotting out well below league average pitching for over 30 games. They’re doing this despite Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel still being free agents.

The Mets entered the offseason with a need for a center fielder. They traded for Keon Broxton, who hit .179/.281/.410 last year while playing in a very hitter friendly park. That would be the only outfielder they added to the 40 man roster this offseason. This left them to consider playing Juan Lagares more, a player who has averaged 68 games over the past three years.

This has led the Mets to consider playing Jeff McNeil in left field, a position he played all of 17.0 innings in Triple-A last year. This has forced Brandon Nimmo into center, a position the Mets had purportedly decided he shouldn’t play at the Major League level. A -5 DRS in 434.2 Major League innings there seem to substantiate the Mets previous decision on that front.

It may not matter anyway because Spring Training injuries to Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie, two players who are over 33 years old, have forced McNeil to third base, a position the Mets did not want him to play last year. Of course, this puts the Mets back towards relying on Lagares and Broxton, which they clearly did not want to do.

Oddly enough, for a Mets team putting a premium focus on 14 games, they ignored the other 148 when it came to building their outfield. In fact, they stood aside when the Braves signed Nick Markakis and the Phillies signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen. Don’t forget the Braves also added Josh Donaldson too, which is something to consider if the Mets wanted to go the route of putting McNeil in left field.

The overriding point here is the Mets ignored and cut corners on various part of their roster. They’re gambling with over 30 starts from their rotation. They’re playing an infielder in the outfield hoping he will be able to get up to speed quickly gambling on 162 games at that position. Overall, the Mets are gambling at two key positions over the course of the season.

Yet somehow, the Mets are potentially going to tell us they desperately need those 14 games out of Alonso at first base because, you know, those 14 games at first base matter much more than the fifth starter spot and a starting outfield position over the course of full season.

Pete Alonso Expectations Set At Unfair Level

Pete Alonso came into Spring Training ready to compete for the Mets first base job. With every passing day, he has strengthened his case by showing off his power in games. Certainly, seeing his hitting this Spring has enough to get everyone excited, but the expectations being set for him are unfair and potentially completely unrealistic.

For example, Alonso faced Framber Valdez in the first inning in yesterday’s game against the Houston Astros. Valdez is a two pitch left-handed pitcher who throws the ball in the low 90s. He’s also a pitcher who effectively put the ball on a tee for Alonso, who predictably obliterated the pitch:

Really, it doesn’t matter where the pitch was. Alonso got a pitch to hit, and he absolutely crushed it. Frankly, Valdez is lucky the ball did not go over the wall. In terms of evaluating Alonso, the takeaway here was he can hit mistakes hard and far. Unfortunately, that was not the takeaway from WCBS‘ Wayne Randazzo. No, during the game, Randazzo would go so far as to compare Alonso to Paul Goldschmidt.

When we have reached the point of comparing Alonso to a perennial MVP candidate, we have gone way too far in setting expectations for Alonso. While many people have not been specifically citing Goldschmidt as a comparable, many Mets fans are expecting him to have similar production at the plate in 2019.

While it is not exactly, the most scientific approach, Mets fans were asked on Twitter to present their expectations of what they believe Alonso’s stats will be if he begins the season as the Opening Day first baseman. After weeding out some of the more humorous responses, Mets fans are expecting big things from Alonso. On average, fans are expecting Alonso to hit .258 with 27 homers and 81 RBI.

This is actually lower than the “crowd-sourced” projections from Fangraphs. Based upon those results, Alonso would be viewed as a top three offensive first baseman in all of baseball with him hitting .258/.355/.526 with 31 homers and 92 RBI.

The respective averages have Alonso hitting .258 with 27 homers and 81 RBI. That would eclipse Darryl Strawberry‘s rookie year which is the gold standard for Mets rookies. In 1983, Strawberry hit .257/.336/.512 with 26 homers and 74 RBI in 122 games. Overall, he had a 131 wRC+ and 2.7 WAR in a season where he would become the only Mets position player to win Rookie of the Year.

Seeing Alonso’s 2018 season and his play during Spring Training, it is not a stretch to believe he could replicate the offensive season Strawberry had over 30 years ago. However, while it is not a stretch, the projections  do not foresee Alonso playing anywhere near that level:

THE BAT .222/.301/.416, 20 HR, 58 RBI
ATC .242/.327/.447, 23 HR, 66 RBI
Depth Charts .240/.322/.454, 22 HR, 56 RBI
Steamer .241/.319/.458, 24 HR, 57 RBI
ZiPS .239/.324/.450, 24 HR, 64 RBI

Taking the five projection systems into account, the general consensus is Alonso will hit .237 with 23 homers and 60 RBI.

Projection systems are not always correct, but they are useful. As Fangraphs espouses, the projection systems aim to find the median outcome for a player. The goal is to take the data available and “use that data to make a valid inference about the future.” As noted, there are things projections cannot account for like adjustments at the plate and just general improvement as a ballplayer.

Overall, at the moment, we have no real idea as to what Alonso will be. Honestly, anywhere from THE BAT’s low-end projection to something in the 135+ wRC+ with 30+ homers are on the table with Alonso. He’s likely going to wind up somewhere between the two extremes in 2019. As for the upper limit, he has the talent and the drive to get there. The question is when he gets to that point.

As a fan, you should get excited about Alonso. We should dream of him becoming the next Goldschmidt. However, to saddle him with that type of comparable or to set that as his level of expectation is unfair, and if you’re expecting him to play at the level of a perennial MVP candidate, you’re setting him up to be a disappoitment. Instead, we should allow him to be Alonso and enjoy the hitter he is and will become. In the end, you should be impressed and happy with that player.