Despite all of their offseason improvements, the New York Mets still have one glaring weakness yet to be addressed.
By Patrick Brewer
Fans of the New York Mets are currently on a high. After an offseason in which quite a few improvements were made, the team put the finishing touches by bringing back Yoenis Cespedes.
After much consternation from Mets fans about whether or not the Mets front office would be willing to spend money to improve the on field product, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. Following a trip to the World Series, the Mets are once again looking to keep their place atop the National League East.
The Nationals look to be much improved, but the Mets and Nats should be in a dog fight for the entirety of next season. With a full year of the Mets core five pitchers, an improved offense and bullpen, and increased depth all around the diamond, the Mets will once again be a team to reckon with next season.
Despite all the goodwill flowing out of New York, and the fan support of the front office, the Mets still have a glaring Achilles’ heel that has gone unaddressed, and really, blatantly ignored so far this offseason.
For all the talk of the Mets great young pitchers, and their improved bullpen and the impact Yoenis Cespedes will once again have on the team’s offense, there is still one glaring area of concern.
In 2015, the Mets team defense wasn’t great.
At this point, it is looking like 2016 could somehow be much, much worse. And it really may not even be close. For all the talk of improvements, the Mets defense has taken a huge step back on paper, and the projections show a similar result.
In 2015 as a team, the Mets finished 14th in the league with a UZR of 6.3. (For the purposes of this piece the focus will be on both UZR and DEF, as calculated and measured by Fangraphs). For more specifics on what these statistics measure, check out these links for UZR and DEF.
Of the eight positions around the diamond (not including pitcher), the Mets profile negatively at five of them for next season. Below is the full list of all the Mets projected starters and their projected defensive numbers (using the DEF statistic) from Fangraphs Steamer projections.
As currently constituted, the only real bright spot for the Mets defense will be d’Arnaud behind the plate. Every other projected Mets starter profiles right around average or well above average. In sum, the team’s defense looks like it will cost the team more runs than it will save. The outlook for the bench isn’t much better.
While Asdrubal Cabrera and Alejandro De Aza are both terrible fielders, the strong defense of both Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares should make up most of the difference. For the Mets this all depends on playing time, as it is unclear who will get the most playing time at shortstop or as a fourth outfielder. With so much defensive uncertainty among the starters, the Mets may be able to benefit quite a bit from late inning defensive replacements such as Flores and Lagares.
In sum, adding both the starters and backups, the Mets project to be about 18 runs worse than average as a team. This can best be summed up as the team’s defense costing the team 18 runs over the course of a season. For comparison’s sake, the Royals were one of the best defenses in all of baseball last season, finishing with several starts over 10 runs above average for the season.
In terms of the Mets additions this offseason, none of them really play much of any defense. Neil Walker is a bat first second baseman, who is even worse off at the position than Daniel Murphy, who really struggled for the Mets in the World Series. The same can be said of Asdrubal Cabrera, who is well past his defensive prime. However, perhaps the biggest defensive liability of all is the newest signee, or re-signee, Yoenis Cespedes, who will be forced to play in center field for the Mets next year. Cespedes struggled mightily in his time there last season with the Mets, and the prospect of him playing there all year should be a scary one.
To understand how much worse the Mets project this year when compared to last year, here are the Mets starters from 2015 and their DEF numbers.
Now, obviously this isn’t the fairest comparison given the fact that some of these players had limited playing time for the Mets last season. Even so, the Mets project worse at almost every position next season, even after some playing time adjustments are made. In sum, the Mets defense should be much worse in 2016 than at any point in 2015.
This isn’t a doom and gloom piece about the 2016 Mets. Despite a bad defense in 2015, the team still made it all the way to the World Series (even if some errors during that series were quite costly in terms of the outcome). The defense should profile slightly worse in 2016, especially with Yoenis Cespedes getting a majority of his playing time in center field, but the Mets do have at least some solid defenders at various positions around the diamond.
The Mets are a great team. There is no doubt about that. They have one of the best, if not the best, young pitching staffs in all of baseball. Add to that an improved offense and a much improved bullpen, and the Mets look to once again be World Series contenders. If everything clicks, the Mets may find themselves back in late October. If things go wrong, the Mets Achilles’ heel may be to blame.