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For weeks and then months the Mets kept saying they were going to bust out with the bats, that their offensive malaise wouldn’t last.
Except it did, and when the pitching fell apart in the second half, due at least partly to the loss of Jacob deGrom, the fall from first place and collapse from contention was practically inevitable for a team that wasn’t nearly as well-rounded as management believed.
Most significantly, the young core of position players failed in terms of living up to the front office’s expectations, raising major questions about how the Mets should proceed from here.
His absence obviously cost the Mets dearly, not only the on-field brilliance but the sense of security that his dominance provided. As the best pitcher in baseball, deGrom was the ballclub’s identity in many ways, and it wasn’t coincidence they fell apart without him. Also, he was on such an historic track, with the 1.08 ERA, it’s a bummer we didn’t get to see how his season would have played out.
He paid big dividends on the Mets’ decision to extend him the $18.9 million qualifying offer, pitching to a 3.02 ERA over 33 starts and providing stability from start to start, especially after deGrom’s injury. The only (small) knock was Stroman’s inability to go deeper into games, averaging fewer than six innings per start in pitching 179 innings. Question now is whether the Mets will pay big bucks to re-sign him.
GRADE: B +
A tale of two halves, as Walker went from being an All-Star to one of the worst pitchers in baseball, at least by the numbers. From 7-3 with a 2.66 ERA in the first half to 0-8 with a 7.13 in the second, which included a staggering total of 20 home runs in 64 1/3 innings. With another year on his contract, the Mets have to hope Walker just ran out of gas after pitching a total of 67 innings over the previous three seasons.
He was a godsend initially, an unheralded minor leaguer who helped keep the Mets in first place, pitching to a 2.04 ERA over his first seven starts in June and July. But Megill gave up 13 home runs over 10 starts in August through October as he finished with an ERA of 4.52, and the question, as far as his future, is whether the league simply caught up with him or the workload wore him down.
The Mets hope they can write off his 6.04 ERA over 12 starts to the hamstring injury that kept him out until July 30 and may have had a lingering effect when he came back. At times Carrasco looked solid but he was often behind early, thanks to his 13.50 first-inning ERA, which included eight home runs. Bottom line, he’s a question mark for 2022.
The left-hander didn’t pitch in the second half due to an oblique injury and then a fractured bone in his foot, for which he had surgery. Peterson showed some promise in the first half, despite a 5.54 ERA that was skewed a bit by a few bad starts, but he has yet to prove he can be counted on for the long haul.
He may not be the best power hitter on the planet, as he dubbed himself after winning the Home Run Derby a second time, but Alonso further established himself as a slugger and a cornerstone player for this franchise. One of the few hitters who didn’t have a disappointing season, Alonso hit 37 home runs with an OPS of .863. Whether he ever matches the 53 and .941 from his Rookie of the Year season remains to be seen.
Can the Mets trust what they’re seeing in Baez’s improved plate discipline? That might be a key question in whether they shell out big money to re-sign him this winter. Baez looked awful at the plate in his first few weeks after coming over from the Cubs, living up to his reputation as a wild swinger, but since returning from a back injury in late August, he’s looked determined to prove he can be selective at the plate, and the .959 OPS since then is proof.
With nine home runs in September, Lindor finished with a flourish, making his overall numbers respectable, if not what the Mets expected for $341 million. But it was mostly a case of too little, too late for a team that collapsed in the second half, meaning that all eyes will be on the star shortstop again to prove his worth when 2022 begins.
Nimmo has left no doubt that he’s a quality leadoff hitter, putting up an above-.400 on base percentage for the third time in the last four seasons. And he improved his defense in center field significantly as well. However, he continues to be injury-prone: This was the third time in the last four seasons (not counting the truncated 2020 season) that he played fewer than 100 games because of injuries.
It was nice to see Conforto have what may have been a farewell moment in the final home game, as fans chanted his name after he made a nice, diving catch in right field. But it didn’t make up for his disappointing season with the bat, lowlighted by his total of 14 home runs and a shockingly low .384 slugging percentage. If he moves on as a free agent, Conforto had a nice seven seasons as a Met but never quite lived up to high expectations.
Of all the subpar seasons Mets’ regulars had, McNeil’s may have been the most stunning, simply because he had seemingly established himself as such a pure hitter in his brief career, .311 being his lowest batting average in his first three seasons. Yet somehow he looked completely lost for much of the season, hitting .249 with a .674 OPS. He seemed to lose confidence as well, perhaps most reflected in his .174 average with runners in scoring position.
In the abbreviated 2020 season Smith hit 10 home runs in 177 at-bats and slugged a muscular .616. In 2021 he hit 11 home runs in 446 at-bats and slugged a measly .363 before becoming mostly a bench player in September. Still another question Mets’ decision-makers must try to answer for 2022: Did the league find holes in his swing to exploit or was Smith’s underwhelming season an aberration?
Did the Mets wildly overpay in signing McCann to a four-year, $40 million contract? The numbers from his first season in Queens say yes, for while he lived up to expectations defensively, McCann had an abysmal season with the bat, hitting .232 with a .643 OPS. And he was worse in the second half when the Mets were collapsing, hitting .204 with a .563 OPS.
The numbers don’t look bad, as he hit .285 with an .820 OPS, but Davis played in only 73 games due to injury and he was overmatched in some key at-bats around the time the Mets were falling out of first place, as teams’ exploited his problems hitting high-velocity fastballs. Defense at third base remained an issue as well.
As a $3 million depth signing Villar turned out to be a bargain, considering that he became the everyday third baseman, playing 142 games. The .738 OPS was fairly pedestrian but Villar proved valuable, taking over at 3B for the injured Davis, and filling at SS as well when Lindor was hurt.
Somewhat like Villar, Pillar played a big role filling in for injuries and delivering some big hits, especially in the first half. By year’s end, however, the numbers weren’t pretty, as he hit .231 with a .692 OPS. Bonus points for the inspiration he provided in the way he handled taking that pitch to the face in May.
Should he be the closer next year? His season left room for debate: When Diaz had his command, his electric stuff made him dominant, but that command still tended to be erratic at times, making for inconsistency. He had 32 saves but also six blown saves (seven if not for Conforto’s great throw to the plate to preserve a win), including a couple of killers in September. His save percentage of 84.2 was the lowest for any reliever with at least 30 saves, and he was often ineffective in non-save situations.
The star of the bullpen, and quite a bargain on a $3 million, one-year deal, Loup was historically brilliant. His 0.95 ERA made him only the ninth reliever in MLB history to pitch at least 54 innings and have an ERA under 1.00.
Can the Mets bank on Lugo recapturing his 2018-19 bullpen dominance again? After they experimented with him as a starter in 2020, Lugo had an up-and-down season in the pen in 2021, perhaps at least partly the result of offseason surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. At times he was hit hard when his stuff wasn’t crisp, and his walk rate was the highest of his career.
May wasn’t quite as consistent as the Mets hoped when they moved quickly last offseason to sign him for two years and $15 million. He tended to run hot and cold, leading to a 3.50 ERA but also his share of dominant appearances. He had an ERA-plus of 112, slightly above the league-average number of 100.
Every time it seemed Familia generated some excitement with a few dominant appearances he’d give up a big home run (10 in 59.1 innings) and never quite be trustworthy in high leverage situations. He was a solid middle-inning reliever but not what the Mets had in mind when they signed him to that three-year, $30 million deal that is now expired.
Started strong but seemed to wear down, perhaps from high usage, and after some rough outings in June and July, Castro wound up having a decent season, pitching to a 3.45 ERA, but was used mostly in low-leverage situations.
Quite a drop-off from the “A” Sandy Alderson and Zack Scott received at mid-season, when a handful of depth signings had proven indispensable and Walker looked like the bargain of the year. Turned out the front office’s biggest mistake was dismissing concerns about the lack of clutch hitting that was an issue as well in 2020, while the big-splash moves to add Lindor, Carrasco, and McCann didn’t produce the desired results. Baez turned out to be a nice addition at the trade deadline, but the Mets didn’t get the help they needed in the starting rotation or bullpen. Can’t ignore the firing of Jared Porter or Scott’s DUI arrest in September as proof of how Steve Cohen’s first year as owner went awry internally.
Rojas isn’t to blame for an offense that failed badly from start to finish, ultimately dooming the Mets to a losing season. For that matter, he continued to show some signs of growing into a good manager, praised for his straightforward communication skills and poised presence in dealing with the media. Yet Rojas made some highly questionable in-game moves down the stretch as the season was collapsing, and at times he seemed strangely disconnected from his hitters, repeatedly questioning their approach, saying they weren’t prepared to hit the fastball. Bottom line, he gets dinged for presiding over two seasons of underachievement.