With Their Recent Moves, Are the New York Mets Legitimate Contenders?
Over the last few weeks, the New York Mets have been getting sliced and diced by the local and national media for moving slowly to fix what has been an abysmal offense.
Here they are, with one of the best starting rotations in baseball, criminally under-supported by an offense that would barely pass for a Triple-A lineup. Yet even with that, the Mets have hung in there, entering play Monday at 51-48, two games behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East.
Yes, at just three games over .500, the Mets are in the pennant race. And despite cash flow concerns with the upper echelons of the organization, New York has now begun to act.
On Sunday, they traded for two Atlanta Braves veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. Uribe, 36 years old and on his third team here in 2015, has put up a productive slash line of .275/.333/.411 with a .325 weighted on-base average (wOBA), a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 108, an fWAR of 1.4 and a nERD of 0.46, meaning a lineup full of Uribes would score 0.46 runs a game more than a lineup of league average players. The 33-year-old Johnson has played virtually all over the field this year and is hitting .272/.317/.455 with a wOBA of .334, a wRC+ of 113, an fWAR of 0.4 and a nERD of 0.47.
Then on Monday, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson sprung into action again, this time picking up set-up reliever Tyler Clippard from the Oakland A's. Clippard is having another solid year, with a 2.79 ERA, 3.89 fielding independent pitching (FIP), and 17 saves as Oakland's closer. However, there are some signs that his ERA is artificially low, based on his other metrics. His strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) are down from last year (10.49-to-8.84), his walk rate (BB/9) is up (2.94-to-4.89) and his batting average on balls in play against (BABIP) is far below league average, at .214.
With that being said, Clippard has always been a pitcher whose ERA was better than his FIP or expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), and he's always had a low BABIP against because he is a fly-ball pitcher. So perhaps those peripherals aren't as big a deal. In Clippard, the Mets get a high leverage relief pitcher, the kind that can prove to be incredibly valuable in the playoffs, especially because he's a right-hander who can get left-handed hitters out.
Mets get RHP Tyler Clippard from Athletics for a minor leaguer. Clippard has excelled at getting lefties out in 2015 pic.twitter.com/5IyisTeujq— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 27, 2015
Make no mistake, the Mets had a clear need for Clippard, Uribe and Johnson, and they're still probably not done. They have been rumored to be interested in San Diego's Jutin Upton or Oakland's Ben Zobrist, among other, more impactful bats. Even with the additions of Uribe and Johnson, the offense still needs a lot of work.
It's hard to overstate just how bad the sticks have been for New York. They entered Monday 29th out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored (349). They're tied for last in batting average (.236), are last in slugging percentage (.361), are 29th in OPS (.661) and tied for 28th in wOBA (.291). As a result, their run differential is -6, hardly the profile of a team in position to win their division.
As for the bullpen, it's been above average, with the sixth-best ERA among MLB relievers (2.86), 10th-best FIP (3.40), and they've done a good job of avoiding the home run, sixth in the NL in home run per fly ball percentage (HR/FB), at 8.3%. Clippard immediately slots in as the set-up man behind Jeurys Familia, joining Bobby Parnell and Alex Torres as a solid late inning relief core.
However, some have argued that it was foolish of the Mets to trade one of their better prospects for a relief arm.
What the heck are the Mets doing?— keithlaw (@keithlaw) July 27, 2015
Yep. And that didn't require giving up a legit prospect for 20 innings of a reliever. https://t.co/5sbWWOK0xe— keithlaw (@keithlaw) July 27, 2015
But not everyone is as sold as Law on the Mets prospect that went to Oakland in the deal, Casey Meisner, a 20-year-old right-handed starter who is considered one of New York's 25 best prospects according to MLB.com. Meisner had a 2.35 ERA in 18 starts between Low-A and High-A, although his strikeout rate went down and walk rate went up a bit after his recent promotion.
The Mets have a wealth of pitching from which to deal, and as we have seen every single year in the postseason, high leverage, late-inning, dependable relievers that can shorten games can cover up a lot of problems.
If New York stops here and doesn't get another, perhaps more impactful bat, they probably won't have enough to catch the Washington Nationals in August and September. The Nats are expecting to get Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span and Anthony Rendon all back at some point over the last two months. And when they do, the Mets really need to have at least one more bat in their lineup that can help them score more consistently.
But it is nice to see that, for now, the Mets have actually acted.