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Mets Player Performance Meter: Position players, 2018 season

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A quick review of how the Mets’ position players fared overall this season.

New York Mets v Boston Red Sox

Twenty eight different position players had at least one plate appearance for the 2018 New York Mets. If you want to play a fun game with yourself, before scrolling down, cover the left side of the table with your hand or a piece of paper and try to guess them all based on their ratings. It’s like the performance meter rendition of the Mets Mind Boggler! I will freely admit to you that I had to go back and redo this table twice because as a fun thought exercise, I attempted to do the name list from memory and forgot two players—and I was the one doing these meters every week!

Anyway, it’s rather fitting that I forgot two players because most of the performances on this meter are performances we’d rather forget. Like many of you, I have already reached the stage of the offseason where the Stockholm Syndrome kicks in and I was starting to convince myself that based on their second half performance, the Mets could be a good team after all. But taking a look at this table is, in that regard, quite sobering. On the whole, the Mets basically had four very solid offensive performances. Two of the four were players who were not on the team all season and one of the four required a torrid second half for his overall season numbers to look so good. That leaves one player whose output at the plate was consistently great all season. One.

That player is, of course, Brandon Nimmo, who earns the only fireball of the bunch. He put up a 149 wRC+ and 4.5 fWAR over 535 plate appearances this season, which both lead the Mets in 2018. He finished with 1.5 more fWAR than the next most valuable position player on the team. He went from being considered a fringe fourth outfielder to one of the cornerstones of the future for the Mets. His most distinguishing characteristic has been his elite on-base ability; his .404 on-base percentage was second only to Joey Votto in the National League this season. He should be a fixture at the top of the lineup next season.

That second most valuable position player on the Mets this season is Michael Conforto, who still managed to put up a 3.0 fWAR season, despite his first half struggles, perhaps the result of not being fully recovered from his surgery. Like many Mets this season, it was a story of two halves of the season for Conforto, who posted a pedestrian 101 wRC+ in the first half, but a scorching 143 wRC+ in the second half. All told, that adds up to a 120 wRC+ on the year for Conforto, which is about what one would have expected from him. He was also the leading run producer on the Mets, with 28 home runs, 78 runs scored, and 82 RBIs—the team leader in all three categories. His second half has led many, including myself, to believe he may be poised to put up a monster season next year.

It was also a tale of two seasons for Amed Rosario, who definitely experienced his share of growing pains at the major league level this year. His wRC+ from the first half to the second half wasn’t drastically different; he posted an 81 wRC+ in the first half and a 90 wRC+ in the second half. But his on-base percentage rose in the second half, which was a positive development as Mickey Callaway opted to use him in the leadoff spot during the latter part of the season rather than down in the order. In the end, Rosario trailed only Conforto and Nimmo in runs scored and he stole 24 bases, which while not it does not approach Jose Reyes in his prime, is still an impressive number in today’s game and by far the most of anyone on this otherwise slow-footed Mets squad.

Speaking of Jose Reyes, he is the only one with the unfortunate distinction of earning a poop emoji this season. While others were worse than Reyes during short stretches, Reyes was on the team the entire season and performed poorly the entire season. As a result, he ranks last in fWAR of any Met this season, with a staggering -0.9. He holds a 62 wRC+ in 251 plate appearances this season. It is worth mentioning that those 251 plate appearances crack the top ten on the Mets, so while he was a bench player for the most part, the amount of playing time he did see was significant.

While Jose Reyes’ Mets career came to an end somewhat unceremoniously, the same cannot be said for David Wright, who had just three plate appearances this year, but those three plate appearances gave Mets fans a chance to salute a long and wonderful career cut down too soon by injury. While David Wright only donned a uniform in a professional baseball game twice this season, the long fight he endured to get there, along with the press conference where he effectively announced his retirement, were defining storylines in 2018.

Something that was somewhat lost in the story of the 2018 Mets was how good Asdrubal Cabrera was. Not just this season, but during his entire tenure with the Mets. It’s easy to forget that while Conforto and Rosario scuffled, Jeff McNeil had yet to arrive, and many of the Mets’ key bats were hurt or ineffective, Cabrera was basically the sole run producer on the Mets in the early going. Despite being traded to the Phillies on July 27th, Cabrera still had the third most runs driven in on the team with 58, just one fewer than Todd Frazier. His 124 wRC+ as a Met trails just Nimmo and McNeil for the team lead.

Jeff McNeil was called up to the Mets shortly before Cabrera was traded and was able to fill Cabrera’s spot on the roster admirably and then some. Of course, we still only have just a half a season’s sample size of statistics to work with, but those who felt McNeil should have been called up much earlier than he was could not help but feel vindicated. McNeil accrued 2.7 fWAR in just 248 plate appearances, making him the third most valuable player on the Mets in 2018 behind Nimmo and Conforto. His 137 wRC+ on the season ranks second behind Nimmo on the team. The chief concern cited by the Mets about his ability to play at the big league level was his defense, but his defense has been anything but deficient. It will take time for the defensive metrics to mean anything when evaluating McNeil, but the eye test certainly says that he plays an above average second base, if anything. With the number of holes on the roster to be addressed elsewhere, it’s hard to argue that McNeil should not be the starting second baseman heading into next season.

While the Mets saw many encouraging signs from their young core in 2018, the front office’s offseason acquisitions proved to be less than fruitful for the Mets. The least disappointing of these was probably Todd Frazier, which is saying something since his season was still somewhat mediocre overall. He hit for a low batting average, which is consistent with his profile as a hitter, but the Mets did not see a reward in the form of power production; his ISO this season was just .176 with 18 home runs. That said, Citi Field isn’t exactly an environment that fosters power. As I alluded to earlier, his 59 RBIs were second only to Conforto for the team lead, but that probably says more about the Mets than it does about Todd Frazier. Frazier has provided stability at the third base position in David Wright’s absence, but it’s hard to say a 93 wRC+ and 1.5 fWAR isn’t at least a slight disappointment for a guy that was one of the Mets’ major offseason acquisitions. That said, if you buy into the standard going rate for what 1 WAR is worth these days, it still wasn’t much of an overpay.

If Todd Frazier was a slight disappointment, Jay Bruce was a massive one. The Mets’ biggest offseason signing put up just 0.1 fWAR and an 89 wRC+ in 361 plate appearances. That said, his season was significantly marred by injury and—as is the pattern with the Mets—Bruce probably stayed on the field longer than he should have playing through his discomfort, which not only affected his hitting, but impacted his already poor fielding ability. In truth, I considered giving him a red cross since 94 games is hardly a complete season, but somehow that was still the 8th most games played of any Met this season, which is pretty incredible. But one encouraging note is that after coming off the DL on August 23rd, Bruce posted a 123 wRC+ for the rest of the season, which is hopefully a sign that he can produce if his plantar fasciitis is properly managed in 2019. The question of where he will play is an interesting one because it seems as though the Mets are inclined to play him more at first base, which would somewhat mitigate the negative effect of his poor speed in the outfield. But the emergence of Peter Alonso makes this a challenging problem for the Mets and of course, this all depends on if the Mets sign an outfielder in the offseason.

The question of whether the Mets will sign an outfielder this winter emerges from injury concerns surrounding both Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares heading into next season. Cespedes and Lagares played in just 38 and 30 games, respectively this season. Both were actually quite good when healthy. Cespedes posted a 122 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR in 157 plate appearances and Lagares put up a 112 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR in 64 plate appearances. As far as Cespedes is concerned, the fact that he will miss a good portion of next year is certain; optimistic estimates place him at a late-summer return after surgery to remove the calcification in both of his heels that was the root of essentially all of his chronic leg problems the past couple of years. Meanwhile, Lagares should be healthy heading into next year. But he too has repeatedly had difficulty staying on the field, leading to concerns about whether he can be relied upon next season.

Another striking area of need on the roster that has emerged partially as a result of injury has been in the catching position. Travis d’Arnaud played in just four games, in which he hit .200 in 16 plate appearances, before his season ended due to damage to his UCL that required Tommy John surgery. This, in part, is what moved the Mets to trade for Devin Mesoraco in early May after a small taste of what Tomas Nido and Jose Lobaton could provide proved to be quite enough. Nido hit .167 with a 20 wRC+ in 90 plate appearances and Jose Lobaton hit .143 with a 37 wRC+ in 57 plate appearances. Needless to say, that was not a sustainable model for success. Mesoraco’s season was nothing mind blowing, but it was certainly adequate in comparison to the alternatives. Over 229 plate appearances, he posted a 96 wRC+, which is certainly fine for the catching position. Additionally, it is obviously impossible to measure the intangible value behind the fact that the pitchers, especially Jacob deGrom, seemed to like throwing to him. This season was certainly a step forward for Mesoraco, who has had his own difficulties staying healthy and managed to do so for the most part this season.

But Mesoraco will be a free agent this offseason, so whether the Mets choose to pursue a starting catcher to push Kevin Plawecki into more of a backup role, a free agent catcher of a lower tier that will perhaps more complement Plawecki than supplant him, or just choose to roll with Plawecki and tender d’Arnaud a contract remains to be seen. Much like Mesoraco, Plawecki’s season stats are not eye-popping, but they are adequate for the catching position. In 277 plate appearances, Plawecki posted a 93 wRC+ and accrued 0.6 fWAR. The fact remains that there is a relative dearth of high-quality talent among backstops, meaning that the Mets will have to pay a premium for a top tier catching free agent. While Plawecki’s stats are the plate are fine, he did not seem to live up to the hype generated this offseason when there was much talk of him tinkering his swing to take advantage of the launch angle revolution.

Now let’s move on to the category I’m going to call “experiments the Mets let go on for too long.” Of course, Jose Reyes leads that category. But in that category are also Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Bautista. Adrian Gonzalez was, believe it or not, the starting first baseman for the New York Mets on Opening Day—just in case you forgot that little fun fact. In 187 plate appearances, he had an 84 wRC+ before being released in mid-June. He hit six home runs, drove in 26 runs, and scored 15 runs. In theory, it was a fine depth signing with little risk, but to allow him to hold the starting job for that long was a very Metsian course of action that was all too predictable.

The same can be said for Jose Bautista, who was a somewhat necessary signing once the outfield injuries started piling up. The Mets needed a warm body and Bautista was one. That experiment worked out better than the AGon experiment; Bautista performed better as a Met than almost anyone expected. He started off red hot and there was a period of time early in his Mets tenure when no one could get him out. Even falling back down to earth, Bautista ended up with a 106 wRC+ as a Met in 302 plate appearances with nine home runs, 37 runs scored, and 37 RBIs. The crime here wasn’t so much continuing to start him once he cooled off since there really was no one waiting in the wings to take his place. It was not trading him for whatever they could get at the deadline. They did eventually trade him in August, but they really should have done so sooner, instead of insisting they expected a real piece back for him when we all knew all along that was asking too much.

Rounding out the “why is he still here?” group is Austin Jackson, who was the September edition. Jackson, too, started off his Mets career with a hot bat, but absolutely plummeted back down to earth. He signed with the Mets in late July and posted a 111 wRC+ in August, but a putrid 7 wRC+ after September 1st. Like Bautista, in principle there was nothing wrong with the signing, as the Mets were perpetually in need of warm bodies to round out the outfield. However, once he stopped hitting, there was no reason to keep trotting him out there every day.

If we’re going to stay with the theme of categories, I don’t know what to call this one other than “well, what do we do now?” Once Gonzalez and Bautista were off the roster, that left more opportunities for both Wilmer Flores and Dominic Smith, both of whom had some what enigmatic seasons that leave us with a lot more questions than answers. Wilmer Flores did his Wilmer Flores thing early in the season, hitting pretty consistently. However, mysteriously his lefty-mashing prowess evaporated. In the first half against left handed pitching, Flores carried just a 79 wRC+. But he had a 133 wRC+ against righties. And then, once the calendar turned to September, he entered a month-long slump after being relatively consistent at the plate all season. Near the end of the season, news surfaced that Flores had arthritis in both knees. While Flores is optimistic that it won’t affect him too much, it still puts his future somewhat into question.

Meanwhile, what are the Mets going to do with Dominic Smith? His time in the big leagues in 2018 has once again produced somewhat underwhelming results. In 149 plate appearances, he posted an 84 wRC+ with five home runs, 14 runs scored, and 11 RBIs. But the Mets still didn’t really give Smith a chance to start at first base every day, shuttling him into the outfield on occasion and mostly just benching him entirely. With Jay Bruce potentially seeing time at first base next season and Peter Alonso banging down the door to the major leagues, Smith remains the odd man out.

Did you remember Kevin Kaczmarski played for the Mets this year? I didn’t at first. He had five plate appearances and went hitless in all of them. You know who had twelve plate appearances for the Mets this year? Ty Kelly did. He had one hit, a walk, and a run scored. Matt den Dekker? 21 plate appearances and a -65 wRC+. Those are the players that round out the “reason I had to redo the table twice” category of Mets.

But that doesn’t conclude the “players that played for the 2018 Mets that will be trivia answers for years to come” category. Oh no, siree. There is a lot more fun to be had there. Q: Who walked, putting the game-winning run in scoring position ahead of Austin Jackson’s walk-off hit in the bottom of the thirteenth inning of the final game of David Wright’s career? A: Jack Reinheimer, who had 35 plate appearances for the 2018 Mets, over which he batted just .167, but did have a .286 on-base percentage. Q: Who got his leg snapped Chase Utley style but did not get a ceremonious ovation from the Citi Field crowd as he walked onto the field with a cane? A: Phillip Evans, who got three hits and walked twice, scoring one run and driving in one in his 23 plate appearances with the Mets this season. Q: Who caught a flying bat during spring training once and that remains the most interesting thing he has done as a Met? A: Luis Guillorme, who posted a 53 wRC+ over 74 plate appearances this season. To be fair, he has proven to be every bit the defensive player he was rumored to be and it is rather unfair that someone like Reinheimer was chosen for a September call-up while Guillorme was not, let alone the fact that Jose Reyes remained on the roster all year. That said, he is still pretty much a footnote in a lost season.

Looking at this final summary table, it’s mostly bad. It is very obvious why the Mets were a 77 win team. That said, while the down arrows far outnumber the up arrows, most of those down arrows represent ancillary players, while things are trending up for next year’s big pieces. However, it does still speak to the shocking lack of depth in the organization that the new GM—whoever he or she is—will have to contend with moving forward.