Ten Great Things in 2018

Now that the Mets season is over, it is time to analyze what happened. While there is little doubt that many things went wrong, there were also no shortage of aspects that were great. The 2018 Mets had many things go very right. Here is my list of the top ten.

10- Michael Conforto’s second half

Going into July, Conforto’s numbers were noticeably down. His slash line was just .225/.348/.385 with 10 home runs and 24 RBI’s. These are not typical of a guy who is supposed to have a power bat. While his patience was leading to many walks, his pop wasn’t there. Many were wondering if he recovered from last years injury.

The second half saw the emergence of the Conforto we all love. His slash jumped to .258/.351/.498 as he blasted 18 homers and drove in 58 runners. Many of these home runs were to the opposite field. Defensively, Conforto continued to show his versatility as he played all outfield positions. With an oWAR of 3.7 for the year as well as an OPS+ of 124, Scooter had another strong season.

9- The bullpen

This one is less intuitive. The Mets pen was one of the worst in baseball. They ranked 28th in ERA (4.96), 25th in WHIP (1.41), 26th in opposing team average (.261) and 25th in K’s. However, this is not inherently a long-term problem. Bullpens change from year to year and unfortunately, the Mets did not assemble a great crew. Never the less, consider the following-

Lugo had an ERA of 2.30 and WHIP of 1.01 in relief. Gsellman struggled with a 4.28 ERA, but his FIP was 3.95 which means he may have been the victim of bad luck. Drew Smith showed some signs of being the great pitcher the Mets hoped he could be when he was traded for Lucas Duda. His August stats were very impressive. Daniel Zamora took a while to get acclimated to the big leagues. In his 8 appearances in August, he only gave up one hit and walk. If the Mets get a closer and Swarzak is effective in 2019, they could have a strong pen moving forward.

8- Mickey Callaway kept it together

Managing in the Big Apple is no simple task. The skipper must give a press conference after every game in which each word uttered will be scrutinized by the media. The fans are knowledgeable and demand a winner.

mickey
The rookie skipper ended his first season with a 77-85 record.

This year was a baptism of fire for Callaway. After the great April, the Mets went 15-39 over the next two months. Many were demanding his resignation. Others were demanding his head on a spike. Despite this, Callaway kept his cool. The Mets stabilized and were 8 games above .500 from July onward. It isn’t something that will turn heads, but it was important. Callaway is likely going to be the manager in 2019 and it is important to see that he didn’t allow his players to give up. This is somewhat reminiscent of Terry Collins from 2011-2014. Despite a lack of talent, Collins never lost 90 games and demanded that his players play hard until the very end.

7- The minor leagues

Before the season, the Mets had one of the worst farm systems in the game. One ranking had them as low as 28th overall. Baseball America had them at 27th. That all changed this season. Peter Alonso crushed it and will likely get called up in early 2019. Andres Gimenez was promoted to AA and is considered a blue-chip prospect. Justin Dunn and Franklyn Kilome both pitched well and could get callups in 2019. Jarred Kelenic had a strong first year in professional ball.

During the season the Mets signed two highly touted Dominican prospects in Ronny Mauricio and Adrian Hernandez. The Mets now are ranked 19th overall by Baseball America. They have four guys on the top 100 list according to MLB pipeline. While this likely won’t turn the team into champions overnight, it is a step in the right direction.

6- The old slow launch angle days are done

If you look at the Mets hitters from 2016-2018 there is a commonality in their makeup. The team was built around older players who were supposed to hit 20-30 home runs each. Bruce, Cabby, Duda, Walker, Cesp, Grandy, A-Gon, Frazier and Joey Bats are the players who come to mind. The Mets were banking on the idea that all you need is enough guys to get a good launch angel on the ball to win. Why build a rally when you can score with one swing of the bat?

While power bats are an part of the game, not everyone needs to have one. By the second half the Mets were winning thanks to contributions from younger players who weren’t all homer addicts. When you compare the stats, it is day and night.

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5- Rosario turned a corner

The Mets allowed Rosario to play in 154 games. This was more than anyone else. Despite his early struggles, the team did not lose faith. It wasn’t just that he struck out well over 100 times, but it seemed that he was lost at the plate. Even his defense was not as good as advertised.

From August onward, Rosario turned it around. His batting average was .284, which is what you want to see from a leadoff hitter. Additionally, he stole 15 bases which was a huge improvement over 4 he had by the end of June. True he isn’t an all-star yet, but Rosario proved he can be a very productive major leaguer.

4- Zack Wheeler first ever full season

Prior to the season, it was very debatable if Wheeler should even be in the rotation. After the All-Star break, Wheeler had a better ERA and WHIP than deGrom. The 28-year-old righty was noticeably more aggressive on the mound. With health concerns behind him, the Mets got a stellar season out of Wheeler. When the dust settled, he was 12-7 with a WAR of 4.2, 3.31 ERA, and a 1.124 WHIP.

The big question is what to do with Wheeler, who is a free agent after 2019. If the new Mets GM thinks they are going to contend, he will stay put. Don’t rule out the possibility of a contract extension. If the Mets don’t think they will compete, they could try trading Wheeler while his value is at its highest ever. A pitcher like Wheeler could net several top prospects in return.

3- Brandon Nimmo kept smiling

During the offseason, Sandy Alderson said that the Mets didn’t trade for McCutchen since they had Nimmo. Alderson got destroyed for that comment. While Nimmo was viewed as a young energetic guy with a great smile, everyone wanted the veteran former MVP. By the time the season was over, the youngster turned into the Mets most prized outfield possessions. Nimmo was better than McCutchen and has a brighter future.

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2- McNeil was awesome

Not many people knew who Jeff McNeil was in March. He was a midround draft pick from 2013 and hadn’t been able to stay healthy in the minors. Being that he turned 26 in April and was in AA, there was no reason to consider him when discussing top prospects. That changed when in two levels of minor leagues, McNeil tore the cover off the ball. Be slashed .342/.411/.617 and couldn’t be ignored.

In July McNeil got the call up to the big leagues and has never looked back. What makes him so impressive is that he seems to use his awkwardly shaped bat to just hit the ball into empty patches of grass. This level of bat control is something that the Mets haven’t had in years. Defensively, he made some incredible plays and had a .991 fielding percentage at second. While it is too early to call him the savior, there is no doubt that McNeil should be in the starting lineup on opening day 2019.

1- The cyGrominator

Jacob deGrom did it all in 2018… except pick up lots of W’s. Jake had the best ERA and FIP. He can be found at the top of just about every pitching category. He tied Nola with the best WAR in the majors for a pitcher. While Nola, had a slightly higher pitching WAR, deGrom’s batting WAR led to the tie. Even if by some fluke, deGrom doesn’t get the Cy Young award, he had a season that can only be compared to Seaver and Doc in their prime.

thor cy
Thor and deGrom look to power the Mets rotation in 2019.

While there are those who think the Mets should give deGrom a huge contract, they don’t need to. He has two more years under team control. By the time he is a free agent, he will be going into his age 33 season. In other words, the Mets have the best pitcher in baseball during his prime.

Conclusion

The Mets did not have a great record in 2018. However, they have a lot of good pieces. Assuming that guys are healthy (I know, big IF!), there is a lot of room to be optimistic about 2019. In the field, the Mets will have Rosario, McNeil, Conforto and Nimmo playing nightly. Alonso will get called up early in the season. On the mound, deGrom is coming off a career year while Wheeler and Thor ended with WAR’s north of 4.0 on the season. The Mets have holes that will need to be filled, but this is not a team that needs to go into crash and burn mode. The Mets should be around .500 in 2019 based on what they currently have. Being that predicting accurately is very difficult, the Mets could be that team that shocks the baseball world.

 

(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)

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