For the fifth straight season, the New York Mets finished below .500. In the National League East, 74-88 was good enough for a third place finish in 2013, the highest the Mets have finished since 2008. The Mets are still in search of their first winning season at Citi Field. After a string of nine straight seasons from 2003-2012 with nine-figure payrolls, the Mets dropped to around the $70M mark in 2013 and will hover in the mid-$80M range this season.
The 2013 season was the Mets worst offensive performance in a full season since 1992, when they scored just 599 runs. Last season, the Mets managed just 619 runs and had the National League’s second-lowest wOBA at .297 and second-lowest slugging percentage at .366. The Mets managed just 3.3 runs per game at home, a big discrepancy from the 4.33 runs per game they averaged on the road. The additional road offense helped the Mets to a 41-40 record away from Citi Field, which wasn’t nearly enough to counterbalance their 33-48 home mark.
Partially because of the inept offense, but also because of the park dimensions, Citi Field was the second-toughest environment for run scoring last season according to ESPN’s Park Factor metrics. It’s 330 down the right-field line and 335 down the left-field line, with a rather interesting wall configuration in right field that extends as far out as 415 feet. Citi Field is known as a pitcher’s park, something that the Mets are going to rely on as they look to improve this season.
There’s some love for the Mets in the betting market as the number posted by most sportsbooks has either moved or been juiced to the over. 5Dimes.eu, Bovada.lv, and BetDSI.eu are all at 73.5 with juice on the over ranging from -120 at BetDSI to -135 at Bovada. BetOnline has the Mets at 74 with the over juiced at -120.
Key additions: Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, Jose Valverde, Kyle Farnsworth
Key losses: Justin Turner, LaTroy Hawkins, Frank Francisco, David Aardsma, Scott Atchison
On paper, the Mets certainly look like an improved team. Bartolo Colon will add a stable veteran presence to a rotation that used 12 different starting pitchers last season. Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth are veteran, buy-low guys coming off of poor seasons. They’ll replace the four bullpen arms that the Mets lost with LaTroy Hawkins, who was closing at season’s end, and veterans Frank Francisco, David Aardsma, and Scott Atchison.
Curtis Granderson and Chris Young will retool an outfield that was in desperate need of production after Marlon Byrd left via trade last season. Mets outfielders accumulated 7.0 fWAR in 2013, but half of that was courtesy of Byrd. Even with Byrd, the Mets got a .302 wOBA from their outfielders, the third-lowest mark in all of baseball. Neither Granderson nor Young will hit for a high average, but they walk and have some power, which is valuable.
The Mets spent some money to add an influx of veterans alongside some of their younger players. The Mets best additions may come during the season with prospects like Noah Syndergaard, Wilmer Flores, and Rafael Montero.
Why bet the over?
For starters, the Mets weren’t very good last year and this number is right around their win total from last season. Dillon Gee was the only starter to make over 30 starts in the rotation, followed by Matt Harvey, who made 26. Harvey’s loss is definitely a big deal, as he’s one of the best young arms in the game. He swears he will pitch this season, but the Mets are definitely going to use extreme caution with their prized right-hander. With Colon, who has been extremely durable over the course of his long career, the Mets are going to have some semblance of stability in the rotation.
Behind Colon, there’s Jon Niese, whose MRI results came back clean earlier in Spring Training. What Niese lost in strikeouts, he gained in ground balls last season. His strikeout rate fell below average for the first time in his career, but his ground ball rate climbed back over 51 percent. He also lowered his HR/FB percentage down to 8.2 percent, which is quite good. Niese remains a solid starter and if he’s able to stay healthy, he should return to being worth more than two wins.
Zack Wheeler doesn’t seem to be getting enough respect because of the other great young arms all around MLB. Up until the Harvey injury, Wheeler was overshadowed by his rotation mate, but the limelight will now shift to the 23-year-old righty. Wheeler struggled with his control last season with 46 walks in 100 innings. What people don’t seem to realize is that Wheeler had high walk rates in the minors too. The difference was that he also struck out an inordinately high number of hitters. That didn’t translate to the Majors last season, even though he still averaged mid-90s with his fastball. Due to his control problems, Wheeler was very reliant on the fastball, throwing gas over 70 percent of the time. Getting ahead in more counts will open up his assortment of breaking pitches.
Because the Mets weren’t good last season, Wheeler could learn on the job and that experience will be invaluable for the upcoming season. He has good veteran support around him and will probably be the third or fourth starter, so there won’t be a whole lot of pressure. Expectations aren’t particularly high for this team, despite GM Sandy Alderson’s “win 90” comments. Wheeler should continue to improve and a top four of Colon, Niese, Gee, and Wheeler is a pretty formidable group.
Someone will be a placeholder for Noah Syndergaard in the fifth spot. The group of hopefuls includes Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lannan, and Jenrry Mejia. Carlos Torres made nine starts for the pitching-strapped Mets last season out of his 33 appearances, but he will open the season in the bullpen. He exhibited excellent control with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.41. Matsuzaka and Lannan are two guys looking to get their careers back on track. Matsuzaka made a handful of starts for the Mets last season and Lannan, once the Washington Nationals Opening Day starter, made 14 poor starts for the Phillies last season.
Mejia is the most interesting of the group. He had a procedure to clean up some bone spurs in his elbow that he had been pitching through. Over seven seasons in the organization, Mejia has only made 140 appearances and 85 starts. He simply can’t stay healthy. His five-start sample was rather impressive, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6.75 and a ground ball rate of 58 percent. Guys that strike hitters out and induce ground balls can really have success. Health is the big concern.
This is a pretty good rotation that gets overshadowed because of the other rotations in the NL East. The Braves and Nationals have very strong rotations, the Phillies have Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, and the Marlins have wunderkind Jose Fernandez. The Mets rotation posted a 3.68 ERA and 3.67 FIP last season and very similar home/road FIPs. This is an underrated group that had a ton of trouble staying healthy last season. A healthier group this season won’t turn the Mets into a contender, but they will be in line for an improved record.
The bullpen will be led by Bobby Parnell, who carried over his success as a setup man into the closer’s role. Parnell had 22 saves with plus command in his 49 appearances before running into a herniated disc. The important that is that it wasn’t an arm injury and Parnell should have a clean bill of health entering 2014. Behind Parnell is a very young, very raw, but talented group with a lot of upside.
In the mix for the setup role are Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, Vic Black, and the loser of the rotation battle between Torres and Mejia. All of these guys show the ability to strike out at least one batter per inning and most of them posted very strong home run rate numbers, aided by Citi Field. There aren’t any household names here, but there’s some raw talent that will hopefully be dominant more often than they struggle.
Also in contention for the setup role are Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde. Both righties have had their share of troubles in recent years, with health and performance, but they get a fresh start in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Farnsworth saw a drop in strikeouts and a spike in home runs last season that led to some inflated numbers. Valverde lost all semblance of command last season and will try to recoup some kind of value for the Mets.
David Wright remains the leader of the Mets. One of the game’s best players when healthy, Wright provides great value offensively and defensively. In seasons where Wright has played at least 100 games, he has averaged 5.3 fWAR per season and even chips in with some stolen bases. He’s a legitimate top player in this lineup and may be underappreciated because of the team he plays for.
Curtis Granderson succumbed to injuries last season and had his worst year in the Major Leagues, playing in just 61 games. The silver lining for Granderson is that his injuries were fractures to the arm and hand, so they shouldn’t have any lingering effects as he inches towards his mid-30s. Leg injuries would be more cause for concern. Moving out of center field should help Granderson’s defense with less ground to cover. He’ll add some pop to a lineup that needs to replace Marlon Byrd’s production. Chris Young will also help in that area. Young has a pretty sharp platoon split, so he may wind up seeing the majority of his time against lefties, but he’s a power and speed guy could do better back in the NL.
Glove-first, bat-second center fielder Juan Lagares rounds out the outfield. He has tremendous value for the pitching staff while covering the spacious outfield at Citi Field, even if his bat doesn’t come around. There’s some promise there as he has a lot of raw talent, but even if the offense doesn’t take a step forward, his legs and arm are a weapon in center field that will save the Mets some runs.
Around the infield besides Wright, Daniel Murphy took a nice step forward last season at second base. Following up strong 2011 and 2012 campaigns with a little bit more power and some stolen bases, Murphy racked up 3.0 fWAR and above average production for a second baseman. Ike Davis hit 32 home runs in 2012 before falling off the face of the earth last season. The potential is still there, it just didn’t show through last season. Lucas Duda will also be in the mix for at bats at first and will also see some outfield playing time. The best thing that can be said about Ruben Tejada is that he plays passable defense and could improve on his batting average after a horrible BABIP last season.
The strength of the Mets, as it is for so many NL East teams, is their rotation. It’s a quality group that could feature five above average starters, even without Matt Harvey. If Harvey and Syndergaard are in the rotation by August or so, this is a team that could finish the year real strong.
Why bet the under?
The Mets have been plagued by injuries over the last couple of seasons and that seems likely to continue. In two of the last three seasons, David Wright has missed time. The Mets offense isn’t great to begin with, but losing Wright would hurt it that much more. This looks like an offense that will strike out quite a bit and walk a fair amount, but this team doesn’t have many high-average hitters on it.
Outside of Granderson, the Mets will get below average offensive production from center and right field. Granderson’s production is a question because he’s trending downward. His swing and miss rate has been way up over the last two seasons, he’s approaching his mid-30s, and Citi Field is far less friendly to lefties than Yankee Stadium. They’ll be below average at shortstop and probably first base. Travis d’Arnaud is a question with the bat as well, but his defense will give him value. This offense will have a lot of problems scoring runs again this season. Any time you get a substandard offense, you’re asking a lot of a pitching staff. While it’s a strength, it’s a strength that is somewhat mitigated by the other teams in the NL East. They have similar rotations with equal or better offenses.
How much does Bartolo Colon have left in the tank? He’s exhibited elite command, possibly the best in baseball, but he’ll be 41 in May and Citi Field doesn’t suppress power the way that O.co Coliseum does. He’s a fly ball pitcher that throws over 80 percent fastballs, so any drop in command could be hurtful. Dillon Gee’s FIP was 4.00 after a 3.62 ERA because he stranded 77.9 percent of his baserunners. For a below average strikeout guy, that’s unlikely to continue. Will Jon Niese manage to stay healthy? The signs aren’t encouraging that he already had a MRI a couple weeks into Spring Training. Can the Mets rotation be as good without Matt Harvey’s dominant numbers? Leaning towards no seems like the smart bet on both of those questions.
The bullpen is a huge question mark, in size 48 font with bolded and underlined text. Outside of Parnell, nobody is really proven for the upcoming season. Farnsworth and Valverde are on the wrong side of 30 and the young guys that miss bats also miss the strike zone. There’s a lot riding on Parnell’s health because the Mets have no replacement closer worth trusting.
The Mets are one of the few teams not expected to get better according to the oddsmakers. Even the Astros and Marlins saw growth in their win total number compared to last season’s results. A few teams that seemed to have overachieved have lower totals, but the Mets were a bad team last season that isn’t expected to get much better. That’s possibly worth considering, although some of the win total numbers haven’t been very well thought out.
Ultimately, this is a team with a good rotation, a below average lineup, a below average bullpen, and an average-to-below-average defense. When you can pitch, but can’t hit, it’s not easy to win games. The Phillies and Marlins seem better and the Nationals look poised to be a few games better than last season as well.
Pick: Under 73.5 (+120, BetDSI)
I’m going to go contrarian here despite all of the love for the Mets. The pitching is undoubtedly promising and the rotation, if it stays healthy, will be pretty strong. But offense is going to be hard to come by. A lot of their pitchers have injury concerns and there’s a little bit of depth there, but a lot of below average arms in the wings until Syndergaard is ready. The reason people are going over is because of the potential for the rotation with Syndergaard, Wheeler, and potentially Harvey if he comes back. Syndergaard has just 54 innings at Double-A under his belt, so he’ll hardly be polished if he gets the call. Regardless of what Harvey thinks, it’s very hard to see the Mets costing him another year of development to bring him back and have him need Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2015 as well.
It’s not a very strong lean, but at the plus money price, it has to be considered. This team has a lot of holes, a lot of health concerns, and a bullpen that’s going to spoil the rotation’s work on a fairly regular basis.
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Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.