A Mets Post Mortem
Let me begin by congratulating the Kansas City Royals on their first World Championship season in 30 years. I also want to acknowledge my pre-season error when I predicted that the Royals were probably a fluke last year, and would be unlikely to repeat as A.L. champions this season. The Royals appear to be a team whose sum is greater than the whole of their individual parts, but baseball being a team sport, they were well-constructed and expertly managed.
As for the Mets, the Royals did a fantastic job exposing and exploiting each of their weaknesses. Specifically, a team built around starting pitching will probably be most vulnerable once those starting pitchers are removed. In this day and age, when complete games are largely a thing of the past, this means that a bullpen cannot, then, play second-fiddle to a young and talented starting staff.
There needs to be a virtually seamless level of pitching talent from the first through the ninth innings. After all, major league baseball is not a seven inning game. If the manager signals, time after time, that he would rather trust his tired starters to pitch an inning longer than they should probably be allowed to instead of going to fresh bullpen arms, (and worse, if he allows himself to be talked into doing so by his spirited starters), then the final third of every game will inevitably become the Achilles heal of what should be a strategic advantage.
If I’m putting too fine a point on it, use the damned ‘pen at the beginning of an inning, not once an overworked starter has inevitably put a man or two on base.
The Mets infield defense is sub-par, and it’s difficult to imagine, quite frankly, how the Mets made it this far in the playoffs with not one above-average defensive infielder. If your pitchers have to strike out eight to ten batters per game to keep the ball out of play (at least as far as the infield is concerned), you are A) forcing your starters to throw too many pitches through the first six innings to gain those 4-7 pitch strikeouts (vs. those one or three pitch ground-outs), and B) you are allowing the defense to become too comfortable, so that when a ground-ball is hit, the fielders are potentially less ready to make the play.
I love Danny Murphy for his bat, and yes, even though his homer total during the first-two rounds of the play-offs was fluky, the man can hit. But an actual second-baseman (as opposed to a hitter who happens to play second-base) would be preferable to the current option. If Murphy is allowed to move on elsewhere as a free agent, I would have to count that as a potentially positive move for the Mets, IF it results in an over-all improved infield defense (no sure thing at this point)
With the advent of sabermetrics, especially over the past fifteen years or so, a new orthodoxy has taken over most baseball teams. Don’t run much, forget the sacrifice bunt, go for the long-ball, and take your walks.
Oddly, though, the original premise of (at least Billy Beane’s version) of sabermetrics wasn’t so much to enshrine any particular strategy as baseball’s version of the New Testament. It was to exploit those aspects of baseball being neglected by your financially wealthier opponents. Which aspects of a given player’s skill-set were being undervalued, and how could a relatively poor team exploit those undervalued skills in the baseball marketplace?
Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson was (at the helm those aforementioned A’s teams) one of the earliest proponents of this philosophy of baseball, and translated to the (oddly) mid-market Mets, this philosophy has appeared to pay dividends in 2015.
Yet, as the Kansas City Royals have shown, there is apparently more than one way to win a World Championship. The Royals offensive strategy, such as it is, is to play a kind of pre-1920’s baseball, when putting the ball in play, running with apparent abandon, and disrupting the other team’s game-plan (arguably the bete noire of sabermetrics) becomes the whole point of the game.
In other words, perhaps the movement of modern baseball G.M.’s to (at least appear to) embrace particular tenets of sabermetrics has become the new, already calcifying religious orthodoxy that, in turn can be exploited by a small market, 21st-century ball-club. In effect, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
While there is not necessarily a correlation between age and the ability to adapt to new realities, it is worth raising the point that with Sandy Alderson turning 68-years old later this month, and manager Terry Collins reaching his 67th birthday next May, are they the right men to have at the helm of a team composed of players who could be their grandchildren? Will they be able to objectively evaluate the structural deficits of this team through the baseball lens of 2015, or will their baseball strategy perpetually reflect an era that might already be coming to an end?
Obviously, the payroll level Mets ownership settles on during this off-season will go a long way towards defining this team’s future, both immediate and long-term. What can they afford to pay, for example, outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, and what will his asking price be? Certainly, Cespedes uninspired post-season performance (12 hits in 54 at bats with one walk and 17 strikeouts) won’t help drive up his asking price, but do the Mets commit a very substantial chunk of payroll to him, pursue a different free agent outfielder, or go another route altogether?
Meanwhile, while it would certainly be tempting not to tamper with that young, talented pitching staff, would it make sense to trade one of those arms for a highly talented position player? After all, as we saw in this World Series, a solo homer here or there is perhaps not the best way to achieve a balanced offense.
Finally, from a Mets fan point of view (and I’ve been one now for over 40 years), it should be noted that only two Major League teams were still playing meaningful baseball on November 1st, and the Mets were one of them. From that perspective, and for the happy memories this team provided for their fans of the playoff series against both the Dodgers and the Cubs, we have to count 2015 as among of our all-time favorite, most enjoyable baseball seasons.
Thank you, New York Mets, for all your efforts this season, and let’s look optimistically forward to the 2016 baseball season, as I’m sure baseball fans of every team will also be doing.
Let’s Go Mets!