We’re in the dog days of summer, and the Mets are currently 10.5 games out of first place in the NL East, treading water around .500. They sit in fifth place in the Wild Card standings, six games behind San Francisco for the first wildcard and three games behind St. Louis for the second wildcard.
At 60-59, what went wrong for the 2016 Mets?
There is certainly enough blame to go around (injuries, slumping players, lack of clutch hitting, etc.) but one place where blame is going that is not deserved is on Mets GM Sandy Alderson.
Now, to be clear, Alderson has not been perfect. Nobody is perfect, and even if you are perfect, unexpected things happen in baseball all the time. Sometimes an oft-injured prospect ranked outside the MLB Top 100 turns into a star (looking at you, Michael Fulmer). Sometimes a player who ought to be a decent everyday player or strong platoon piece has the worst 250 plate appearances of his career for your team before returning to career norms somewhere else (looking at you, Chris Young).
But overall, Sandy Alderson did almost everything within his power prior to the start of the year to insulate this team from having exactly the type of crash we are seeing right now. In fact, in the spring this blog made fun of him for it, calling it “Sandy Alderson’s Great (Boring) Roster.“
Alderson went with a safe bet at shortstop (Asdrubal Cabrera), at second base (Neil Walker), for backup outfielder (Alejandro De Aza) and in the rotation (Bartolo Colon). With each of these choices, Alderson eschewed upside in favor of safety and depth. Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares became two of the best bench players in baseball. Take a look at the depth and breadth of the talent on this Mets squad:
The Mets had twelve hitters projected to put up an OPS+ of 97 or better (the Nationals had five). They had fifteen pitchers projected to put up an ERA+ of 100 or better
The truth of the matter is that no roster could have easily survived the challenges presented to the Mets this season. Let’s look at some examples, examining what certain team’s rosters would look like if they lost their starting first baseman (Duda), third baseman (Wright), center fielder (Lagares), and 2nd best starting pitcher (Harvey). We’ll ignore for now the injuries to Cespedes, Cabrera, and d’Arnaud along with the troubles of Syndergaard and Matz.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Kenta Maeda would be replaced by Scott Van Slyke, Kike Hernandez, Trayce Thompson and Bud Norris. (Depth Chart)
Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester would be replaced by Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Trevor Cahill. (Depth Chart)
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and Stephen Strasburg would be replaced by Clint Robinson, Stephen Drew, Ben Revere and Lucas Giolito (Depth Chart).
St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Adams, Jhonny Peralta, Randal Grichuk, and Carlos Martinez are replaced by Brandon Moss, Greg Garcia, Tommy Pham and Tyler Lyons. (Depth Chart)
We could go on with these comparisons all day, and some teams are worse off than others, but the overarching theme here is that none of those teams are competitive if they suffer all of those losses. One or two injuries — or rotating injuries — are not so bad when you have a player like Wilmer Flores or Scott Van Slyke or Javier Baez who can fill in for a stretch. But once you are losing cornerstone players for the season, and you get to the 25th or 26th man on the roster, it gets ugly. Even Cardinals Devil Magic can’t overcome that.
The above alterations to the Dodgers roster makes that team 3.1 wins worse for the remainder of the season according to Fangraphs. Pro-rated to a full season, that’s a handicap of a 11.7 wins. In other words, the difference between ending the year with 92 wins or at .500 — exactly the gap the Mets are facing right now between expectations and reality.
Sandy Alderson isn’t perfect, and you could easily make the argument that letting Daniel Murphy go was an obvious mistake at the time it was made. But even if the Mets did have Daniel Murphy instead of Neil Walker — that’s still only one player for three positions (1B/2B/3B). Murphy has been transcendent this year (.348 average, 4.6 WAR) but Walker has been very good with 22 home runs and 3.3 WAR. Keeping Murphy as an insurance policy for David Wright does not make the Mets more than a game or two better with the injury to Lucas Duda and the struggles of Dilson Herrera this year.
And yet, the Mets remain in the wild card race. Good to great stopgap work by recently acquired Kelly Johnson (.276/.342/.524) and Jose Reyes (.253/.308/.482) along with super-subs Juan Lagares (0.8 WAR) and Wilmer Flores (.259/.316/.444) have kept the ship afloat despite all of the holes. If the Mets do continue to contend for a playoff spot, they are going to have the depth of Sandy Alderson’s Great (Boring) Roster to thank.
[Photo credit: Michael Baron]