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Silver linings of a lost Mets season

A look at some of the (few) things that went right this year.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets - Game Two Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The 2023 season was pretty much a Murphy’s Law season for the Mets. There wasn’t a whole lot that actually went right. Unfortunately, it was the kind of season we’ve seen so much from these New York Mets: a team that was supposed to contend for a World Series flopped into a 75-win season.

But in the wreckage of this disaster, there were still some things that you can pull out and consider positives or forward steps for the organization. There weren’t many of them, obviously, but there are a few things you can still hang your hat on as a Mets fan. Let’s talk about a few of those.

Kodai Senga

It’s pretty easy to say that Kodai Senga was the best thing that happened to the 2023 Mets. A question mark coming in with how he would adjust to the new league and baseball, Senga fought through some early adjustments and, from May 17 to the end of the season, he was simply one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. The 30-year-old put up a 2.64 ERA with a 29.9% strikeout rate and 10.2% walk rate over his final 22 starts. That’s a noted improvement from his 4.14 ERA and 14.1% walk rate over his first seven starts.

Senga looked more and more comfortable every outing, and he started finding ways to be more economical and go deeper and deeper into games after being mostly a five-and-dive guy early on. By the end of the year, Senga had established himself as a true TOR starter to build around on the strength of the Ghost Fork becoming one of the best strikeout pitches in baseball. This was basically the best case scenario possible for Senga’s first season in the states, and his contract right now he looks like one of the best values of the 2022 offseason.

Player health

This is a more under-the-radar thing that I haven’t seen talked about that much, but it stands out to me. Remember when the Mets were known for all of their players always getting hurt? Well, Steve Cohen has overhauled and upgraded the medical processes and staff since he’s taken over, and over the last two years, a majority of the Mets’ impact players have gone wire-to-wire without major incident.

Brandon Nimmo, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil, and Pete Alonso have all played at least 148 games each of the last two years. Daniel Vogelbach, Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, and Ronny Maurcio also never hit the IL this season at any level. Mark Canha also never hit the shelf in his year-and-a-half with the team, and Tommy Pham was healthy for the duration of his Mets stint as well. Even on the pitching side, they seemed to have fewer injuries than many other teams in the modern game, which is full of teams like the Rays and Dodgers shredding through their arms every year. Adam Ottavino, Brooks Raley, and Drew Smith all made it through the full seasons in the bullpen, as well.

Per Baseball Prospectus’s Injured List Ledger, the 2022 Mets missed 14.06% of their projected WARP to injury, which was fairly middle-of-the-pack, but this year it was down to 13.45%, which was the 10th-best in baseball. It’s not standout stuff, of course, but this is compared to the Mets being the league leader with 32.86% of their WARP lost to injury in 2021. The tracker only goes back to 2018 and does not have projected WARP missed for every season it has tracked, but the Mets were also among the league leaders in the “games missed” stat in 2018, and we all remember seasons like 2009, 2016, and 2017, where almost none of the Mets’ Opening Day roster made it to the end of the year in one piece.

This is not to say there haven’t been injuries, of course; there always are. Edwin Díaz’s and Starling Marte’s injuries remain two of the crucial reasons this season fell apart for the Mets. However, the days of the Mets losing all their of their stars to soft tissue injuries appears to be in the past, and overall player health and has become one of the most noticeable changes of the Cohen Mets from the Wilpon Mets.

The “Core Four”

Speaking of Lindor, McNeil, Alonso, and Nimmo—unquestionably the core of the position player group for this team—three of those players wound up around usual batting lines. Lindor and Nimmo essentially Xeroxed their 2022 seasons over into 2023, while Alonso saw a drop-off in batting average—partially due to injury, partially due to some batted ball luck, and perhaps partially due to a mild hit tool decline—but still blasted 45 homers in 153 games and remained one of the most prolific power hitters in the sport.

McNeil, on the other hand, had a clear decline in production from his 2022, but his disappointing season may just be a product of a few bad months. He hit a much more recognizable .303/.342/.466 over the last two months of the year, bringing him up to an even 100 wRC+ for the season. McNeil’s production will always be volatile due to his reliance on batted ball luck, and this was an unquestionably bad season for him regardless, but it was good to see there was probably less skill decline here for the 30-year-old than we might’ve thought in July.

These four continuing to play up to standards is a nice sign that the problem this year was not in the core of the team, and that there is still a solid foundation to build around here.

Young pitchers’ progress

For years, one of the biggest problems with the Mets has been their inability to develop or improve young pitching. Early in the season, it looked like more of the same. David Peterson was doing a lot of things wrong, Tylor Megill looked less and less like an MLB caliber starting pitcher with every outing, Jose Butto looked like a reliever at best, and very little development was happening on the farm.

But, as the season progressed, we saw actual improvement in this area. Peterson and Megill both went to Triple-A, and both looked much improved upon their late-season recalls. In addition, Butto came back later in the season as well and started having real success and working deeper into games himself. He induced near-40% whiff rates in the majors on both his changeup and the new cutter he’s been working on this year, giving him a solid two-pitch mix that can play at this level. Some further tinkering and possibly upping his use of that cutter could help Butto further emerge as a legitimate depth starting option.

On the farm, pitchers like Christian Scott and Mike Vasil also saw legitimate improvements and a rise in their stock, which is something we haven’t seen from any Mets pitching prospects in a long time.

An influx of prospects

The trade deadline this year represented a hard pivot for the Mets, and was a tough pill to swallow for Mets fans who hoped for competitive baseball in 2023. But it’s hard to argue with the returns on pretty much any of the trades they made. Drew Gilbert, Ryan Clifford, Luisangel Acuña, Marco Vargas, Ronald Hernandez, and Jeremy Rodriguez completely reshaped the farm system overnight—or over the course of a weekend, more aptly—and now afford the Mets far more flexibility in the future in not just roster building, but trade negotiations as well.

It also signaled the possibility of new voices being heard in the Mets front office, as Complex League standouts like Vargas, Hernandez, and Rodriguez were never the types of prospects the Mets went for under old regimes.

A new direction

For better or worse, the 2023 disaster season caused the Mets to make a lot of necessary changes and uproot a lot of the problems in the organization. Steve Cohen has talked about how far the Mets are behind other teams, particularly at things like pitcher development, displaying a recognition of what is actually needed, and what needs to be done to get there.

David Stearns has taken over to help with that, and change in the organizational structure will naturally follow as well. Billy Eppler has already been bumped down to the number two position, the manager position is currently vacant, and the Mets have already fired a number of their top player development lieutenants left over from previous regimes that Stearns will now get to replace.

This direction was probably inevitable anyway, but the disappointing season this year probably sped up the process in many areas.

Disaster seasons like this aren’t exactly new to Mets fans. But unlike previous nightmare seasons, the Mets end this one appearing to have actually learned from their mistakes, pivoted decisively and quickly, and emerged with a new, forward-thinking direction.