Until Sandy Alderson addresses this atrocious defense, his 2017 New York Mets cannot be considered legit World Series contenders.
The Mets’ one real weakness: the defense. “No one has range, and d’Arnaud can’t throw anyone out,” says a scout.
It’s true. Despite your fandom, the fact that these Amazins suffer in the defensive department is as true as it gets. This Heyman source isn’t proclaiming anything we already did not know, either. We already understood that the club is terrible defensively.
What the source doesn’t say is this: until this defense is addressed at least somewhat, these Mets cannot be considered legit World Series contenders.
Statistically, it’s tough to measure the Mets deficiencies in this area. Their 89 total errors a season ago rank right in the middle of the pack. The club’s .985 fielding percentage was, again, 13th in baseball.
For you advanced metric geeks, the 2016 showcase tells a similar story. The Mets finished with a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating, tracking an all-encompassing measure of defense at the position) .5, good enough for 16th in MLB. For the most part, these statistics put the club at an average level of defensive prowess.
That is, until, we get to the stolen base category.
There was 135 total steals against in 2016 against the Mets, ranking tops in the league. Travis d’Arnaud was the major culprit for the top chunk of this. In 61 stolen base attempts against, TDA could only muster 17 successful throwouts.
That number, my friends, is embarrassing.
Further troublesome are the struggles Mets pitchers face while on the mound in terms of holding runners. For all of the Noah Syndergaard‘s brilliance, his fundamentals in terms of the nitty-gritty basepath game leaves a lot to be desired. This area is crucial when it comes to the big game in October.
Even more than the struggles from Thor and TDA, just consider what the Mets have around the diamond. At first base, Lucas Duda isn’t anything to write home about. At second and short, Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, while a substantial upgrade from Daniel Murphy, leave a lot of range on the table. Jay Bruce in right field is rough and Curtis Granderson in center is not exactly championship-caliber (especially in today’s MLB day and age).
We all understand Sandy Alderson’s theory when building a club. He loves power at both the plate and the rubber. His slogan of “a base on balls and a blast” holds truer with this club than perhaps any he’s ever thrown out on the diamond.
But is it truly good enough to contend for a world championship?
Last year provides a solid boost for the Mets in terms of stolen bases. The Chicago Cubs won the title despite finishing second to New York in stolen bases allowed on the season (133). However, and this is a huge however, the Cubs defense finished best in the land in terms of UZR, the all-encompassing metric that calculates range and overall defensive prowess, via FanGraphs.
Chicago finished first in the bigs with a UZR of 73. Second on the list were the San Francisco Giants with a mark of 47.7. The Mets, as previously mentioned, finished 16th with a .5 mark.
In 2015, guess who finished with the top UZR in the game? That’s right, the Kansas City Royals, the World Champions during that specific season.
With guys like Lorenzo Cain making spectacular plays in October, runs were saved and the Royals edged the opponent in the close contest. During the 162-game slate, the club’s UZR was 50.9.
Conversely, the Mets, who represented the NL in the World Series that season, finished with a UZR of 6.3, 14th in the majors. Many would argue the only reason the Amazins found their way to the Fall Classic came down to the ultra heroics of Daniel Murphy. (But that’s another story for a different day.)
What we know right now is Murphy did do a lot that to cover up other areas of deficiency during the postseason.
So, what we have are the last two baseball champs finishing first in UZR the last two seasons? Could it actually be a three-peat?
No. Although, the trend does continue.
The 2014 champs, the Giants, finished second in UZR in 2015 but near the middle of the pack in 2014. Their opponents in the World Series, the Royals, finished first. Defense simply doesn’t matter as much when Madison Bumgarner turns into Superman.
Obviously, all of this information doesn’t eliminate the Mets from contending. With a couple heroic efforts at the right time, anything is possible.
What needs to be understood, though, is that this club has a serious hole that automatically puts them behind the 8-ball when close, contested games are played. This is a power-hitting team who doesn’t manufacture runs. They collect their runs in bunches and resemble an AL squad of yesteryear.
Power oftentimes disappears when it matters most.
What they do have going for them is that starting rotation in a short series. That alone won’t get it done.
Something must be done to upgrade defensive efforts behind the plate and at least in one other position if the New York Mets don’t want to rely on a superhuman Murphy-like effort in October.