Ranking the 10 Most Important Mets For A Playoff Series
Who would have thought back on July 8 — after suffering an 8-3 loss to the Phillies in their final game before the All-Star break — that in a month and a half's time the Mets would be playing meaningful games in late August. With a pre-All-Star break record of 40-50, Met fans were just happy to celebrate the selection of their two first-time All Stars: Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil. Don't forget about the reigning NL Cy Young winner, and for a team that was second-to-last place in the entire National League they were quite well-represented at the All-Star game. That's why even at this season's low points, which included flying chairs and a 36-year-old pitcher ready to knock out a beat reporter, it didn't feel like this was your classic shitty Mets team. Sure, there was nothing not shitty about an offseason trade of Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz for perhaps the next Mike Trout, but take for example the Mets' two position player All Stars: both McNeil and Alonso are in the top 10 in wRC+ at 148 and 147 respectively. The only other team with two players in the top 10? The Houston Astros. No, the Mets are not on Houston's level but there's no denying that beneath all of the front office's egregious contract mistakes lies a very dangerous baseball team. As of now, the Mets have a 31% chance of making the Playoffs according to Fangraphs, the third-best mark among Wild Card contenders. And although there is still plenty more to be decided in the race, it's worth taking a look at which Mets players will be most valuable for the postseason — which essentially starts with tonight's massive series against the Cubs.
10. Joe Panik
After clearing waivers in early August, the Mets picked up Panik for essentially nothing. Want to know what the opposite of nothing is? $24 million per year for a 36-year-old Robinson Cano. And yet, prior to this most recent Braves series from hell Panik sported a 118 wRC+ and a 0.2 WAR. Cano's WAR for over half a season? 0.3. At just 28-years-old, Panik already looks like the steal of the waiver period and his resilient plate approach made him a prime candidate to return to his old form. Before the Braves series, Panik had a minuscule 5.3 K% and he still leads the league in percent of his swings that missed (11.2%), over 2 percentage points better than the second person on that list, Jean Segura. Counting on Panik to at least put the ball in play is one of the surest bets in baseball, and in the Playoffs those bat on ball skills could be a huge asset. If Panik can continue rocking his .326 BABIP there's a good chance he could remain a regular against righties even with Jeff McNeil back.
9. J.D. Davis
No player other than Pete Alonso has endeared himself with Met fans quite like J.D. Davis has. His energy is infectious, and this interview after Davis' walk-off against the Indians feels more like a WWE moment than your normal post game conversation.
Davis is hitting a sizzling .345/.412/.555 since the All-Star break, and has arguably been the team's second half MVP given the rash of injuries as well as a more mortal looking Pete Alonso. Davis leads the Mets in hard hit percentage (the percent of balls hit with an exit velocity of 95 MPH+) at 48%, tied for 31st-best in the MLB. It was about time that Davis got rewarded for hitting the ball so hard, and despite his red hot second half the numbers suggest that he is still underperforming: he owns the largest difference of any Met in expected versus actual weighted on base average (wOBA), with his actual wOBA being 22 percentage points worse than what is expected. There's no denying that Davis was the Mets' shrewdest offseason acquisition, and with all of the hitting talent that he's displayed this year don't be surprised the next time he catches fire.
8. Edwin Diaz
On the night that Davis hit that dramatic walk-off versus the Indians, the Mets used a total of five relief pitchers after Stroman was forced to leave four innings in with a hamstring injury. One of the few relievers not among those five? Edwin Diaz, indicating that management's trust in Diaz was at an all-time low. The only reason he even makes it onto this list is for the prospect of what he once again could be, and what the Mets thought they were trading for back in December. The 2018 version of Diaz would be as valuable a Playoff piece as any player in the game, and it makes this season's steep fall from grace that much more confounding. Simply put, hitters are teeing off against him this season, and the underlying numbers suggest that he's earned every bit of his 5.55 ERA. His hard hit percentage has gone from a respectable 35.3% in 2018 to 46% this season, placing him in the bottom 3% of the league. There's no real explanation as to why Diaz has been so bad this year, although the bone spur in his elbow that he had before the Mets even acquired him as well as the inherent variance that comes with relief pitchers are two decent arguments. Even still, Diaz's strikeout rate remains exceptional, and he hasn't suffered any downticks in his fastball or slider velocities. Over the past couple of weeks, pitching coach Phil Regan and bullpen coach Ricky Bones have turned Diaz into a "special project" and made slight mechanical tweaks to his slider.
"If I get the slider back, everything will be fine,” Diaz said.
It remains to be seen how Diaz will finish out the season, but a return to even 75% of last season's form would be a huge addition for the Mets and give them three reliable bullpen arms.
7. Justin Wilson
There's a case to be made that the Mets' resurgence coincides with a healthy Justin Wilson. He returned from a near two-month elbow injury absence five games before the All-Star break, and ever since then the Mets bullpen went from their achilles heel to one of the league's best. Since July 2, Wilson owns a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings of work, and for the season his 2.22 ERA (in 28.1 innings) leads all Met pitchers. After Lugo, Wilson has cemented himself as the next best reliever in the bullpen, as well as the best lefty on the staff. He figures to play a huge role in a hypothetical playoff series as he can give a full inning of relief while also being called on in high leverage situations against dangerous lefties.
6. Micheal Conforto
If Micheal Conforto were a food, he'd be chicken tenders. You can never go wrong with ordering chicken tenders, just like there's absolutely nothing wrong with a .255/.360/.487 slash line, yet with just a little more spice or seasoning you can see the outline of a perennial All Star and fringe MVP candidate. Conforto's walk rate (12.5%) and line drive percentage (23.0%) remain very impressive, however his batting average and futility versus lefties leave something to be desired. If Conforto can put it all together he could easily become the most dynamic hitter on the Mets and create a fearsome one-two punch with Pete Alonso. He's come up big in the Playoffs before — he's one of the last remaining position players from the 2015 Playoff team as well as perhaps the only bright spot of the 2015 World Series — and all of the tools are there for a breakout postseason.
5. Pete Alonso
Whether or not the juiced balls have aided Pete Alonso's record setting rookie season, it's still a feat that no one saw coming, and with 5 weeks of season still to play those numbers could only get even more preposterous. Alonso has cooled off post All-Star break, hitting .233/.358/.500 with a 29% strikeout rate, however there are two areas that suggest that Pete should be just fine: pitches per plate appearance and barreled balls percentage. Alonso barrels (a hit type whose comparable hit types have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage) 16.4% of his batted balls, placing him in the top 2% in the league. Pete's power is legit, and even though his strikeouts have been on the rise as of late he still leads the Mets in pitches per plate appearance at 4.03. I worry that Alonso could have a postseason similar to that of the last great Mets slugger, Yoenis Cespedes, who put the team on his back to end the 2015 season but then had a largely forgettable October. Yet Cespedes' walk rate that season was half that of Alonso's this year, and thus far has there been anything that the Polar Bear can't do?
4. Noah Syndergaard
Now that months of trade speculation are in the rearview mirror, Syndergaard has looked like the ace we all expected, posting a 1.82 ERA and averaging almost 7 innings per start in 8 outings since the All-Star break. Thor fits the timetable of a Mets team with too many competent major leaguers to undergo a full rebuild, and perhaps the biggest reason that the Mets were able to stay afloat this season has been *knock on wood with me* the health of their starting pitching. With essentially no starting pitching depth to be found elsewhere in the organization, an injury to any of the five starters would be a huge blow, but if they can just make it through one more month healthy then they'll have an embarrassment of riches for October. One of my favorite moments from the 2015 run was Syndergaard coming out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the NLDS to throw a hitless seventh and looking like one of the nastiest relievers in all of baseball. If the Mets do make it to the Wild Card this year, expect another all hands on deck effort that may include the return of Bullpen Thor.
3. Jeff McNeil
Getting McNeil back after a 10-day IL stint is a huge boon for the Mets, as the squirrel has been the linchpin of New York's lineup, turning into one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. McNeil's approach at the plate draws similarities to the all-time great Ichiro Suzuki, and his .366 BABIP seems to be characteristic of the type of player he is and not something that figures to regress much. He is the most recent example in a growing list of late-blooming Mets infielders such as Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy that eventually became some of the most pure hitters in baseball. It's impossible to forget Murphy's unconscionable 2015 postseason power surge, and if any Met were to make a run at repeating such a performance, my money's on McNeil. This season, his average exit velocity is 89.1, up almost 4 points from last year's 85.2 mark. Moreover, he's posting a .197 isolated power (ISO), not too shabby for a "contact" hitter. With the imminent return of Brandon Nimmo and the emergence of Amed Rosario, the Mets could soon have three serviceable leadoff hitters. McNeil can hit anywhere, but keeping him at the top of the order helps maximize his greatness.
2. Seth Lugo
Who knows where the Mets bullpen would be without Seth Lugo. He's been the one staple amongst a season of reliever turmoil, and prior to Diaz being so bad that management had no choice but to remove him from the closer spot, Lugo had one of the most versatile roles in the league, coming on in high leverage situations and being able to pitch multiple effective innings. Lugo's nasty stuff is well documented: he set the statcast record for spin rate back in 2016 with one of his curveballs, and this season his 3.03 FIP affirms his dominance. Mickey Callaway would likely use him similar to how the Indians used Andrew Miller back in 2016, and in any potential playoff series expect multiple inning, high-stress outings from Lugo.
1. Jacob DeGrom
Games like Friday night's two-way gem against the Braves makes it feel like the Mets don't deserve deGrom; he's too good for us, and the repeat Cy Young buzz is starting to pick up. Ever since a May 17 start in which he allowed 6 runs over 5 innings against the Marlins, deGrom has a 1.88 ERA in 17 starts, looking every bit like the ace that Brodie Van Wagenen locked up for at least three more seasons. DeGrom's brilliance has gone on for so long that there isn't really much more to say. As things stand now, he's lined up to start the Wild Card game (it's still August, of course) and at this moment he's one of — if not the most — valuable player to have for a winner-take-all situation. For that to happen, we'll see if the Mets can get him some wins first.