The New York Mets do not have to import an expensive bat like Troy Tulowitzki’s in order to contend for a Wild Card spot in 2015. The Mets can look to the 2005 White Sox and the 2010 Giants for examples of pitching- heavy teams that won the World Series, despite having underwhelming offenses.
Tulowitzki would be a clear upgrade for the Mets at shortstop, but it is certainly possible for the Mets to reach the Wild Card in 2015 via internal improvements and free agency. Despite the struggles of a bullpen that has recorded an abysmal –0.5 fWAR, the Mets have the tenth best RA/G in baseball at 3.78, which settles nicely between the 2005 White Sox mark of 3.981 and the 2010 Giants’ 3.6.
The Mets have improved over last year’s 4.22 RA/G without the dominance of Matt Harvey, who contributed 6.1 fWAR in 178.1 innings. The next highest fWAR total for a Mets starter in 2013 was Jonathon Niese’s 1.6, which seems likely to be surpassed this year by Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom.
A healthy Matt Harvey would return to a much-improved rotation. If Harvey pitches as effectively as he did in 2013, or even close to it, he would help relieve pressure on the offense to score runs. No pitcher on the 2010 Giants or the 2005 White Sox matched Matt Harvey’s 6.1 fWAR in 2013. Mark Buehrle was very close at 6 fWAR, but Tim Lincecum’s 4.2 fWAR was well behind Harvey’s mark.
Even though the Mets’ bullpen has improved as this season has progressed, the 2010 Giants and 2005 White Sox had much better bullpens than this year’s Mets. The Mets should point to Jenrry Mejia as proof that they can improve the bullpen internally, as Mejia now leads the entire Mets’ bullpen with 0.5 fWAR.
Most of the players responsible for the Mets’ poor bullpen fWAR are no longer pitching for the team. Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth combined for 37.2 innings and –0.5 fWAR this season, while Gonzalez Germen produced –0.5 fWAR, thanks in part to a bloated HR/9 rate of 2.09.
Bobby Parnell, who produced 1.2 fWAR in 2013, could give a significant boost to the Mets’ 2015 bullpen. Even if Bartolo Colon is traded, the 2015 Mets may still pull a starter out of the rotation to strengthen the bullpen. With an xFIP of 3.45, Jacob deGrom has made a strong case to remain in next year’s rotation. This leaves the Mets with decisions to make regarding the roles of Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, both of whom could conceivably find success in relief if there is no room in the starting rotation.
Regarding position players, it is feasible that the 2015 Mets could match the 2010 Giants and the 2005 White Sox. The position players on the 2013 Mets were worth 21.7 fWAR, which is higher than the 19.1 fWAR of the 2005 White Sox hitters. Though the 2014 Mets are not on pace to meet the Giants’ 28.9 fWAR, the Mets could still bridge that gap internally or via offseason acquisitions.
Andres Torres (6.5 fWAR) and Aubrey Huff (5.9 fWAR) led the 2010 Giants, and combined for a salary of nearly $3.5 million. In 2005, the White Sox signed Tadahito Iguchi from Japan’s Fukuoka Daiei Hawks to a two-year, $4.95 million contract. He produced 3.4 fWAR during his rookie season.
ZiPS projects Juan Lagares for 2.9 fWAR in 449 plate appearances, which means he’d earn 0.8 fWAR over the rest of the season. In 2013, Lagares managed 2.9 fWAR in 421 plate appearances. Considering the 640 plate appearances Aaron Rowand had for the White Sox in 2005, Lagares could approach Rowand’s team-leading fWAR of 4.0.
Daniel Murphy seems likely to surpass 3 wins in 2014, and Lucas Duda has already passed the 2-win mark. As Eno Sarris noted while discussing Duda’s power, Duda has never received enough at-bats during a season for his isolated slugging percentage to stabilize. It is still too early to tell how much power Duda has, so his value remains unclear. Duda may produce 3 fWAR on his own, but a platoon with Eric Campbell is more likely to reach that number.
Although he has never posted more than 5.9 fWAR in a season, Steamer and ZiPS both predict a 7.2 fWAR for Tulowitzki in 2014. Tulowitzki would represent a +6.1 fWAR improvement over Ruben Tejada, who is projected for 1.1 fWAR this year. That certainly would not hurt the Mets, but they could make up the difference elsewhere without having to rely on one player.
ZiPS forecasts a 3.4 fWAR for J.J. Hardy this season and a 2.3 fWAR for Jed Lowrie. Both players are free agents in 2015, and neither one would cost as much as Tulowitzki’s $118 million contract. The Mets could add Pat Neshek, who has 1.2 fWAR in 2014, to solidify the 2015 bullpen. Luke Gregerson (1 fWAR) might also be an affordable option next season, as he signed a reasonable $5.1 million one-year deal with Oakland.
The position players on the Mets might already be as valuable as the position players on the 2005 White Sox, and they might not be far behind the batters on the 2010 Giants. In the Weakest World Series Winners (since 1946), Joe Posnanski posits a theory that the 2015 Mets could prove true:
“I do think it’s fair to say that you have a better chance to win a championship with great pitching a[nd] terrible hitting than the other way around.”
If the Mets’ pitching staff is going to improve in 2015, and there are signs that it will, then the Mets can potentially compete for a Wild Card spot – even without an elite offense.