MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies

Our Probably Irrational Beliefs About 2016

Behavioral economists theorize that human activity is strongly influenced by context, particularly how the world presents us with choices. As Mets fans, however, our animal brains are conditioned to expect the worst. It’s an evolutionary defense mechanism, protecting us against the horrific memories of 2007 and 2008, when the Mets’ comfortable division leads evaporated in the seasons’ last three weeks.

While we recline on the sofa, you can pull up your armchair, psychologist. Open your notebook and analyze what we’re irrationally freaking out about after a mere five games. — Scott D. Simon

Curtis Granderson’s Fountain of Youth Rations Run Out

Remember the age-34 Granderson who hit leadoff last year and slugged 26 homers, posted a cool 5.5 WARP, and finished with a career-high .314 TAv? Man alive, that sure was nice, but that player doesn’t exist anymore. You see, the age-34 Granderson was relying wholly on a sketchy online retailer’s supply of the Fountain of Youth’s finest brew. Now, Grandy’s small-batch supply from Ponce de León is de le-gone.
The results speak for themselves: A .125 TAv and .211 OBP through four games and 19 plate appearances. Unless some other supplier can come through, this will be the season that age finally catches up with Granderson, who just played his 1,500th career game, and the Mets’ offense will suffer mightily. But when someone suddenly starts playing like they’re five years younger, there’s always a sound, logical reason why. — Erik Malinowski (@erikmal)

You Might As Well Call Him “Mat Harvey” Because The Way He’s Going, He’s Gonna Fall Apart Sooner Or Latos

This is the story of a highly-regarded young pitcher named Mat who twice made the Baseball Prospectus list of Top 100 prospects before his debut. In his first full season at the major league level, he threw extremely well, fanning over nine batters per nine innings and recording one of the best WHIPs in the National League, good enough to earn down-ballot Cy Young votes. Despite establishing himself as one of the game’s elite young starters, his strikeout rates dipped, he had a postseason meltdown, and in his age-27 season, he completely fell apart.
This is the story of a highly-regarded young pitcher named Matt who twice made the Baseball Prospectus list of Top 100 prospects before his debut. In his first full season at the major league level, he threw extremely well, fanning over nine batters per nine innings and recording one of the best WHIPs in the National League, good enough to earn down-ballot Cy Young votes. Despite establishing himself as one of the game’s elite young starters, his strikeout rates dipped and he had a postseason meltdown. Now in his age-27 season and with a poor Opening Day start under his belt, he is basically guaranteed to fall apart.
Matt Harvey is the new Mat Latos. We should have seen it coming. — Andrew Mearns (@MearnsPSA)

The Mets Won’t Have an Offense

Despite being tied for first fewest runs against in baseball, the Mets are sitting at .500 thanks to an offense that must be part of a magician’s disappearing act. Currently, the team’s biggest offensive threat is Michael Conforto, despite his sharing a lineup with three players who’ve posted seasons of 6+ WARP in their careers. And this was all before getting shut out Saturday against the Phillies’ pitching staff – starter Vince Velasquez, he of the career 4.28 DRA, and their bullpen, which my colleague Scott D. Simon declared “a who’s who of whos.” If the Mets can’t show off some power against the Phillies, who can they score against? — Brian Duricy (@briansusername_)

The Mets’ Defense is Going to be Awful

If there’s one glaring weakness for the 2016 Mets roster, it’s defense–and the first four games of the season haven’t really done anything to make us feel good about this aspect of the team. There have only been two errors–Cespedes and Wright earned them–but as we well know by now, errors are a small part of the overall defensive value of a team. Practically no one on the roster has plus range, and if you go starter-by-starter down the lineup, you find maybe one player who is an average or better defender: Travis d’Arnaud. That’s it. Of course it helps to have Juan Lagares waiting in the wings to pick up the center field slack–more on him later this week–but none of the other backups on the team are anything to write home about.

The World Series Mets of 2015 actually had a pretty decent team defense according to Baseball Prospectus’s Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency–they were third overall in baseball. But without standout individual defensive performances, long routes to nowhere in the outfield, and sketchy glovework up the middle … the 2016 Mets might need to hit and pitch better in order to reach the heights of last year. At least their pitchers don’t give up that many balls in play! — Bryan Grosnick (@bgrosnick)

Terry Collins Will Bat Travis d’Arnaud Eighth All Season

D’Arnaud is one of the better hitters on the team, but he’s been at the bottom of the order every game he’s played so far. It seems highly likely that Terry will continue this trend for the foreseeable future, so you might suggest that this is not an irrational fear. The irrationality comes from worrying about lineup order at all. It doesn’t impact the team’s production very much. Would it be nice to see d’Arnaud (a batter who actually excels against lefties, unlike Neil Walker) hitting in between Duda and Conforto? Sure. Is the current lineup likely to cost the Mets many runs? No. — Craig Glaser (@sabometrics)

Yoenis Cespedes: Not Very Good

Cespedes’s homer Sunday was a much-needed salve to a rough start at the plate (just two hits to seven strikeouts leading into yesterday), and while the boo birds are momentarily quieted, it may be just the start of a long and frustrating season. His re-signing was a momentous occasion for fans and for the team, but his career-high 6.4 WARP in 2015 may belie his solid-but-unspectacular plate presence. A year of career averages for him would undoubtedly be considered a great disappointment, and inspire much wailing and gnashing of teeth. PECOTA has him at 25 home runs this season, 10 fewer than last year, and while that’s perfectly serviceable, it’s hard to shake the memory of his utter domination of the NL East in 2015. If his move from left to center is as bumpy as it’s looked so far, time to start polishing the pitchforks. And at age 30, he could start to seriously decline just about any time. Did anyone want to know that PECOTA’s projected .283 TAv for him is actually lower than the .289 Jason Bay put up in his first year as a Met? Well, now you do. Like I said, it may be a long season. — Maggie Wiggin (@maggie162)

David Wright Will Wind Up as a Replacement Level Player

RIP David Wright, or at least the consistently great David Wright. I had concerns about Wright’s back and his ability to play through it coming into the season. It’s not wise to extrapolate from a few games of data after an extremely reduced spring training, but we got a glimpse of what could be David Wright’s future — failing to catch up with fastballs, his defense limited by the fear of overexerting his lower back. (Wright did play better in game 2, to be fair.) Right now, I don’t see why every pitcher doesn’t just pound Wright inside with fastballs. I imagine we’ll get flashes, a right-center field bomb here or a charging, bare-handed play there, yet I’m still irrationally freaking out about Wright slipping to replacement level and dragging the offense down as Terry stubbornly keeps him in the 2-hole. — Lukas Vlahos (@lvlahos343)

Jacob deGrom’s Magic Disappears

Jacob deGrom came out of nowhere to take the baseball world by storm in 2014. Two years in, deGrom’s been so consistent and so good that we take it for granted, yet his 2016 might already be spiraling towards Panic City.

Per Brooks Baseball, deGrom’s four-seam fastball velocity in his 2016 debut was down 3.43 mph from his 2015 average. It was also the lowest in any start of deGrom’s career — by 1.07 mph. That’s pretty significant velocity loss, especially for a pitcher whose rising fortunes largely coincided with significant increases in velocity. deGrom’s velocity loss had already been a notable story during the spring.

Taken in and of itself, deGrom’s velocity dip would be the cause for only mild concern. Now, let’s throw in a mysterious back injury that caused deGrom to miss a spring start and sprinkle on top an ongoing, possibly-related lat injury that will cause deGrom to miss his next turn in the rotation. Perhaps you recall Steven Matz’s lat injury last summer progressing from a day-to-day concern to Matz missing the next two months? Let’s hope that doesn’t happen here, because the Mets need a healthy, effective Jacob deGrom in 2016. — Jarrett Seidler (@jaseidler)

Lucas Duda Presses and Regresses

Duda posted a career-high .320 True Average last year. He was a better hitter than Michael Conforto! PECOTA projects Duda to perform as the Mets’ best hitter again this year, with a .283 TAv. Some of that 37 point decline is natural regression and some of it is the aging of a poor contact hitter. My biggest worry about the Mets is that Lucas Duda regresses much more than PECOTA expects him to. Duda posted a .187/.312/.264 slash line last June. He responded with eight home runs in July, but also struck out 36 percent of the time versus only 8 percent walks. I worry that Duda will get in a slump this year that he can’t pull out of. Wilmer Flores to the rescue? — Noah Grand (@noahgrand)

Neil Walker Will Succumb To the Mets’ Second Base Curse

Sure, he’s hit a homerun and has 5 RBI in just 4 games this season — but what’s a little rational thinking to get in the way of a good panic? Remember how hot Daniel Murphy was before the postseason? Remember all those errors in the playoffs? What about the tragic Tejada takedown? The Mets have had a lot of second basemen since 2002 and I’m not above fear of some vague, Mets second base-related curse. — Sara Novic (@novicsara)

The Wilpons Have Spent Their Last Cent On The 2016 Roster

The 2015 Mets spent the fourth-lowest percentage of team revenues in all of baseball. Their bargain-basement postseason pickups of free agents Asdrubal Cabrera and Alejandro De Aza, along with the revenue-neutral acquisition of Todd Walker for Jon Niese, signaled another bottom-third payroll to come. Given recent history, it’s fair to say that the Yoenis Cespedes signing shocked the world.

On opening day, the Mets’ 2016 payroll ranked 14th in MLB, at $134 million. That seems appropriate for a team with so many young, cost-controlled players manning the starting rotation, left field, catcher, first base, etc. Still, can’t you just picture Fred Wilpon turning out his pockets as the trade deadline approaches and the Mets need a quality reinforcement? “We’ve spent over $30 million more on salaries than we did last season,” he’ll say. “I can’t understand why our fans think we have unlimited resources.” — Scott D. Simon (@scottdsimon)

 Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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