Perhaps it’s because I’m far enough removed now from the June 2018 Mets, but reflecting back on this past season of Mets baseball, I feel different than I did one year ago. The 2017 season was a mess. There was pretty much only one good thing about it—Michael Conforto—and his season ended on a swing that destroyed his shoulder. As far as overall results, the 2018 season was not materially different from the 2017 season. The Mets finished in fourth place in the NL East and well under .500. But in my view, this season had a lot more to be excited about and a lot more reasons to keep watching, even once the Mets were well out of contention. And once the Mets escaped the doldrums of June, heck, it was downright fun. So despite the many gaping holes on the roster and uncertainty surrounding exactly who is going to be in charge of filling out that roster this offseason, there are a few things about the 2018 season that can give us reason to be optimistic about 2019.
The emergence of Brandon Nimmo
Watching Brandon Nimmo go from fringe fourth outfielder to stud in the span of one season was truly a fun ride. Going into this season, Nimmo had right around 300 major league plate appearances under his belt and had established himself as corner outfielder with solid defensive skills and great plate discipline.
Both of those things persisted this season, but beyond that, Nimmo evolved into a complete player. He showed that his plate discipline was not a fluke and displayed elite on-base ability all season long. His .404 on-base percentage was second only to Joey Votto in the National League. He hit for power.
He finished the season with a 149 wRC+, second only to probable NL MVP Christian Yelich in the National League.
He was an above average defender in the field; his +5 Outs Above Average ranks 25th in baseball among 85 qualified outfielders in 2018.
He did all of this, always with a smile and seemed to play every game completely consumed with an endearing combination of joy and awe. With Yoenis Cespedes’ absence continuing into next season, Nimmo should be playing every day and leading off next season for the Mets.
Jacob deGrom’s historic season
At this point, what more can be said that hasn’t already been said by writers far more eloquent than myself? Watching Jacob deGrom pitch every fifth day this season was a privilege. The way he has made constant adjustments, not just to things like the launch angle revolution, but even within the game with every pitch, is truly masterful; it’s like watching the best concert pianist in the world preparing for his or her latest performance. There is no more complete athlete on the Mets—and arguably in baseball—than Jacob deGrom right now.
Watching deGrom notch his 1,000th career strikeout and walk off the mound with a smile brought me joy I haven’t felt watching a baseball game in probably two years. And I’ll feel that way again when I see his reaction to winning the Cy Young award. He would become just the fourth Met to win one. He is the fifth Met to lead the National League in ERA in a given season. deGrom is now 7th in career bWAR for pitchers in franchise history.
Zack Wheeler’s renaissance
With the Brewers currently playing in the postseason, a lot has been made of the trade that never was with the Mets because they ultimately acquired Josh Hader instead, who has played a prominent role in their successful 2018 run. But often forgotten, second fiddle to the tears of Wilmer Flores, is that Zack Wheeler would have been the true prize in that trade. And Zack Wheeler would easily be the best starting pitcher on that Brewers staff.
After somewhat mixed results in the first half, Wheeler was absolutely brilliant in the second half of this season, posting a 1.68 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 2.53 FIP over 75 innings. That’s deGromesque. One thing that Wheeler managed to do that deGrom didn’t was rattle off six wins in a row over a month’s span from mid-July through mid-August. Of course, that wasn’t out of lack of trying on deGrom’s part, but it speaks to just how great Wheeler was once the calendar flipped to July. He ended up with 182 1⁄3 innings under his belt before he was shut down shortly before the end of the season, but I think it’s safe to say that now that Wheeler is finally healthy, he is just as much a part of the conversation as any of the other talented starting pitchers for the Mets.
In 2015, Zack Wheeler was almost traded. In 2018, Zack Wheeler made himself too valuable to trade.
Steven Matz made 30 starts
Speaking of being finally healthy, despite the fact that Steven Matz didn’t perhaps get the results that deGrom, Wheeler, and Syndergaard did this season, he had the first fully healthy season of his career and that is still extremely positive. He tossed 154 innings in 30 starts to a 3.97 ERA for the season. He certainly ended his season on a high note, shutting out the Marlins for six innings in David Wright’s final game. This is something that Matz and the Mets can certainly be happy with and build on for next season.
Oh and he hit a dinger in back-to-back starts as well, which was very fun.
And I think warrants the return of this gem...
Michael Conforto’s second half
It’s no coincidence that the Mets started to win a lot more baseball games once Michael Conforto started hitting again. Just like when Conforto injured his wrist and stopped hitting, the first half of this year, doubt creeped into the minds of many Mets fans. “Is this just what Michael Conforto is?” they wondered. “No, it’s not,” he answered. No, it’s not.
Conforto put up a 143 wRC+ in the second half. He ended up with 28 home runs for the season, the most he’s had in a season. He didn’t quite match his 4.4 fWAR total from last year when he was an All-Star, but he gave the Mets reason to believe he is poised for big things in 2019.
More of this in 2019, please!
Seth Lugo was the most effective weapon out of the bullpen
Seth Lugo has been, in my opinion, an underrated Met. Along with Robert Gsellman, he gave the Mets quality innings in 2016 when they needed them down the stretch. Like most of the Mets’ pitchers, he had a hiccup last season, but bounced back this season in a big way. Coming into the season, there were major question marks surrounding Lugo, given the partial tear in his UCL that seemed potentially like a ticking time bomb. Even when Matt Harvey was ousted and even as Jason Vargas struggled, Lugo was relegated to spot start duty only and took the ball whenever he was asked, in whatever capacity he was asked, and excelled.
Even when the rest of the bullpen was an unmitigated disaster, Lugo remained the one reliable relief pitcher the Mets could count on in the late innings—sometimes for more than one inning. I pointed out early in the season that Lugo seemed to be on the brink of a breakout season due to increased usage of his curveball, his most effective pitch. And that prediction has proven true this year.
A few interesting notes on Seth Lugo's curve this year:— Mathew Brownstein (@MBrownstein89) October 14, 2018
- saw an increase of 3.6 mph from '17 (76.3 to 79.9)
- saw an increase in avg. spin rate from 3064 in '17 to 3174 in '18
- went from a .289 wOBA in '17 to .199 wOBA in '18
- 35% hard hit rate to 27.4% in '18#Mets #LGM pic.twitter.com/QOrVTHFCXs
Not only was Lugo able to use his curveball a greater percentage of the time, it was an even more effective pitch than it had been in the past, in part because he was able to add velocity to all of his pitches with shorter stints on the mound. In a bullpen full of huge question marks, Seth Lugo is essentially the one sure thing for next season.
Jeff McNeil’s breakout debut
After hitting .327 in Double-A and .368 in Triple-A this season, Jeff McNeil finally made his major league debut on July 24th. He got a hit in his debut and didn’t look back. He hit .329 with a 137 wRC+ in his first 248 plate appearances as a Met, one of the most successful debut campaigns the franchise has ever seen. He put up 2.7 fWAR in that span. To put things in perspective, this is roughly the same number of plate appearances Yoenis Cespedes had after the Mets acquired him at the trading deadline in 2015 and McNeil matched Cespedes’ WAR total in that span.
Jeff McNeil has a PhD in hitting. pic.twitter.com/fog4eugKPV— New York Mets (@Mets) September 2, 2018
Part of the reason for that is, of course, the fact that McNeil played better defense than anyone expected, whereas Cespedes was playing out of position in center field for the Mets. That said, it’s still pretty incredible. And speaks to the fact that any concerns the Mets had about McNeil’s defense were perhaps unfounded.
Looks like McNeil’s defense isn’t so bad, huh? It’s hard to argue that McNeil hasn’t shown enough for the second base job to be his to lose in 2019.
We got to watch David Wright play baseball one last time
Even if none of the above things happened, even if everything else about 2018 had been one gigantic trash fire, it would have been worth it just to see David Wright take the field for the Mets one last time.
It was a watershed moment in the history of the franchise. It was sad, to be sure, and at times almost unbearably heartbreaking. But it was happy and hopeful too. “This is love,” David Wright said, after the Mets walked the game off after what felt like an eternity. This is love, indeed. And something I know I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Even though parts of the season were borderline unwatchable, the final week of the 2018 season was really something special. deGrom recorded his 1,000th career strikeout on the final pitch of his final start of the season on Wednesday, David Wright bid the Mets faithful farewell on Saturday, and Noah Syndergaard finished off 2018 with a complete game shutout on Sunday.
So, all told, I can think of worse ways 2018 could have ended for the Mets.