Matt Harvey is back to lead a talented and young Mets rotation, but are those arms strong enough to carry a lineup that badly underperformed in 2014?
This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 17: the New York Mets.
2014 Record and Finish: 79–83 (.488), second place in NL East (17th overall)
2015 Projected Record and Finish: 82–80 (.506), third place in NL East (17th overall)
The Case For
You’ve probably heard: The Mets’ young pitching is pretty good. The news of Zack Wheeler’s torn ulnar collateral ligament was a terrible way to start the spring, and in most years it would be devastating for a young club hoping to contend, but New York is so deep in pitching that Wheeler’s injury won't derail its chances at a breakout season. There’s still reason to be bullish about the club’s hopes of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2006, because if there is one area where the Mets can afford to take a hit, it's starting pitching.
Of course, all eyes are on Matt Harvey, who has impressed this spring—“He looks like he hasn’t lost a step,” says one scout who recently watched him—and though he’ll be on an innings limit as he returns from missing last year due to Tommy John surgery, it won’t be as restrictive as the one the Nationals had on Stephen Strasburg. Let’s not pencil Harvey in as a Cy Young candidate just yet, but would it be that shocking if he was one of the league’s most dominant starters right from the start of the season?
The real reason to love the Mets as a sleeper postseason contender, though, is the pitching behind Harvey. Don’t be surprised if New York's most valuable hurler this year is the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom. Then there are the other young guns—Steven Matz and Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard—who are ready to emerge if Dillon Gee struggles as Wheeler’s replacement (and if veterans Bartolo Colon and Jonathon Niese underwhelm). Syndergaard, Baseball America’s No. 11 prospect, is a 6'6" slinger who touches 98 mph when he needs to—he’s nicknamed Thor for a reason. All signs point to him making his debut at some point this season, and after throwing a career-high 133 innings in 2014, he could log up to 150 innings this year.
Matz, a 2009 second-round pick and Long Island native, has overcome Tommy John surgery and bloomed into a top prospect. He'll give the Mets a much needed lefty arm in the rotation, perhaps by the All-Star break. Montero made his debut one day before deGrom last season and had an up-and-down stint in New York, spending the bulk of the second half at Triple A. He doesn’t have the upside of Syndergaard or Matz, but he could be a big contributor this summer, either in the rotation or the bullpen.
The Case Against
The young pitching is something to love, but then again, it’s young pitching, which isn’t exactly reliable. The Mets will almost certainly need excellent run prevention to contend, because they won't bludgeon anyone to death offensively. Aside from the addition of 35-year-old outfielder Michael Cuddyer, New York didn’t do anything to upgrade a lineup that ranked 26th in the majors in OPS (.673). The offense will go as far as David Wright can take it, and given his age (32) and recent health, that may not be far: Wright has a lot of questions to answer after posting career lows in OBP (.324), slugging (.374) and OPS (.698) in 2014.
It also remains to be seen what kind of production the Mets can get from catcher Travis d’Arnaud, shortstop Wilmer Flores and centerfielder Juan Lagares. Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda have emerged as real threats in the lineup, but New York will still needs big contributions from Wright, Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson—and asking those veterans to return to their past glory is asking too much. One or two more injuries to that pitching staff, and it could be a long year for the Mets.
X-Factor: Kevin Long
Long was dismissed from the Yankees in the team’s shakeup after last season, but the hitting guru made his mark in his eight years in the Bronx, where he helped Robinson Cano turn into a superstar and molded Granderson into a 40-home run hitter. The Mets' offense finished 12th in the NL in batting average (.239) and slugging (.364) last season; Dave Hudgens was fired last May, and Lamar Johnson was let go after the season. Enter Long, who is reunited with Granderson in Queens and will try to help Wright rediscover his power stroke, as well as mentor the many young Mets hitters trying to find an identity, like d’Arnaud, Flores and Lagares. Long, who spent the winter at home in Arizona studying his new pupils, will bring his philosophy of having his hitters waiting for their pitch. How much do hitting coaches matter? We may find out this year with the Mets.
Number To Know: .629
New York's shortstops ranked 25th in the majors with a .629 OPS in 639 plate appearances, split mostly between Flores and Ruben Tejada. Flores, who hit .251 with a .664 OPS in 274 PA last season, is the incumbent at the position and will be asked to carry the load as the season begins, but questions surround his defense and whether he can hit enough to make up for it. In other words, don’t expect those Troy Tulowitzki rumors to go away anytime soon.
Most Overrated: David Wright
“At this point in his career, he’s just not the star we think of him as, and he’s certainly no longer a 25-home run guy. He just hasn’t looked completely right this spring, and if I were them, I’d be very worried about his shoulder. He was getting beat on fastballs in pretty obvious fastball situations last year, and I don’t think that’s going to change this year.”
Most Underrated: Daniel Murphy
“He doesn’t get mentioned enough as one of the better second basemen in the National League, but he should. He’s never going to win a Gold Glove, but the guy just hits. I agree with Kevin Long, who said that Murphy could win a batting title someday. He took his hitting to another level last year.”