The Mets and Nationals begin their first post-trade deadline series tonight, and by the time first pitch is thrown, we will know whether the Nats decided to buy, sell or both. The team is reportedly on the fence about what direction go, in large part because they are surprisingly below .500 at this point in the season. With the team just 5.5 games games back of upstart Philadelphia (and five games back from Atlanta), there is still reason to believe they could make a postseason push. If that comeback is going to materialize, though, several key players will likely have to turn their fortunes around. Highlighted below are three players with a good chance to make those needed improvements in the season’s final two months.
Mulligan for Murphy: The first two players in the stats preview have battled injury issues that are factored into their expected improvements. Daniel Murphy has only had 131 plates appearances, and they have not been the elite kind we’ve come to expect over the last few years, with a slash line of .271/.328/.373 and a .261 TAv. These numbers are obviously of some concern, but Murphy has other underlying stats that give reason to expect better production going forward. The ex-Met’s batted ball profile is pretty similar to his last few years and, in fact, he is hitting the ball in the air with a little more frequency than last season (68.2% to 66.5%). The problem is that his HR/FB% is well down from the last two years, currently sitting at 4.9%; he was at 12.4% and 12.8% the last two seasons. With a sample size as small as 131 plate appearances, it is reasonable to expect that HR/FB% to trend back up. Murphy’s BABIP is also a little lower than previous years, sitting at .286 after being above .340 in his time with Washington. All of this could point to a sharp decline for Murphy, but because of the injury delaying his start to the season, he is a good candidate to rebound.
Healthy Eaton: Adam Eaton is the other Washington regular to miss significant time this year. Unlike Murphy, when he has been on the field, he has been really productive. His slash line of .304/.396/.405 and TAv of .295 are solid production, so all he needs to do is continue to stay healthy. BP projects him to add 1.4 WARP the rest of the season, which would certainly help the Nationals’ chances. His FRAA in the 69 games he has played over the last two seasons is -2.4, a far cry from his incredible 39.7 FRAA in 2016, but after his ACL injury, he may never provide as much defensive value as the Nationals once hoped. Even without that elite defense, though, his full season WARP pace over those 69 games between 2017 and 2018 is 4.2. The only Nats position players projected to eclipse 4.2 WARP this year are Trea Turner and Juan Soto.
Harper’s Struggles: Bryce Harper’s struggles have been well documented, and there is not much to point to, except maybe shifts, for the cause of his sudden dropoff. Still, his BABIP is .241, so perhaps there is some regression to the mean in store for him in the future. BP projects Harper to add 1.7 WARP over the next two months, which would be more than his first four months of the season combined (1.6 WARP). With the shift seemingly posing a huge problem for Harper, there may be less hope he increases his production than the previous two players (teams are not just going to stop shifting, regardless of Scott Boras’ wishes), but Harper’s performance through the end of the season may be the biggest factor in the National’s push for the playoffs. (Editor’s note: When I edited this piece, Harper was still on the Nationals. That may have changed by the time you read it.)
The Good: The Nationals bullpen has thrown the fourth fewest number of innings (about 334). Mets relievers are not far behind with about 361.
The Bad: Max Scherzer has thrown the third most pitches in 2018 with 2348. deGrom is 25th with 2052.
The Ugly: The Nationals are the only team with a losing record and a positive run differential.
As we enter the final hours before the trade deadline, it appears the quiet before the storm will apply more to other teams than the Mets. They may trade away smaller pieces, perhaps Jose Bautista or Devin Mesoraco, but the pitchers with contractual control after this season seem likely to stay. In recent years, the Mets have a pretty interesting deadline day history. They have completed a deal on the day of the deadline in each of the last three seasons, but from 2007 to 2014, they made no trades on July 31, according to Baseball Reference. With some usable players on expiring contracts, there is a good chance the Mets continue their current trade streak today.
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