Baseball seems to make a lot more sense when the games aren’t played. The numbers never fail to add up.
Projections and a proliferation of data make us forget that the core of this sport is that this is a game played by human beings. There are variables that computers and scouts can’t account for, and lead to dramatic breakouts and downfalls.
This time last year, Aaron Judge was fighting for a roster spot. The Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Rockies were completely dismissed as contenders. Then look what happened.
One thing is for certain in any given baseball season: there will be no shortage of surprises, for better or worse.
The Mets, never short on any kind of drama, will certainly have their share of moments that shock us over the course of the season. The question is, what’s going to happen? Here are five bold predictions for 2018.
- JACOB DEGROM THROWS A NO-HITTER
Since bursting onto the scene out of nowhere in 2014, DeGrom has taken the hill in a couple of games each season where the thought of “this could be the night” starts floating around in my head after an inning or two. His fastball comes out blazing, his command is impeccable, and hitters look downright overwhelmed. No-hitters are so remarkable because even when everything is in place, there still needs to be more breaks.
To date, DeGrom has had excellent games, but not good enough to etch himself in the record books. Here’s his best game from each of his first four seasons.
|Year||Game||Innings Pitched||Hits||Walks||Strikeouts||Earned Runs|
|2015||7-8 @ SF||8.0||2||1||10||0|
|2016||7-17 @ PHL||9.0||1||0||9||0|
If DeGrom can bring this stuff into a game against, say, the Marlins, the stars could be aligned for the second ever Mets no-hitter. I think he gets it done this year.
- BRANDON NIMMO AND TIM TEBOW COMBINE FOR A BETTER WAR THAN MICHAEL CONFORTO
Alright, so what I’m saying here is that Brandon Nimmo will have a higher WAR than Michael Conforto. This is indicative of both my bullishness on Nimmo, and bearishness on Conforto, at least in 2018. Conforto’s injury is tricky and needs to be treated with the utmost caution. And there’s no guarantee that he will come back with the power that enabled him to bash 27 homers in 440 at bats.
Nimmo will have his chances to step up in 2018. Conforto already will miss at least a month, Jay Bruce could be destined for first base 1) if his foot keeps acting up 2) Adrian Gonzalez proves to be washed up and 3) if Dominic Smith still proves to be not good. As for Cespedes and Lagares, their injury questions are fairly notorious by this point.
This leaves a lot of at bats for Nimmo, yes, but what’s the reason to think he can do anything with them?
By virtue of being Sandy Alderson’s first ever draft pick, Nimmo has been a household name for awhile. His slow progression through the minors tampered expectations, coupled with the explosion of the late Jose Fernandez, who was taken one pick after him, led to him generally being overlooked.
He will be 25 on opening day. For context, Aaron Judge turned 25 last April. By no means is that Nimmo’s ceiling but there may be a considerable amount of potential for Nimmo to unlock. His plate discipline has made him a darling of Sandy Alderson’s.
For however well Nimmo does, if Conforto does his thing, then he should still outperform the best year Nimmo can put together. So for the sake of the Mets, let’s hope this one is wrong…
Unless Tebow comes up!!!
- SETH LUGO ENDS UP BEING THE METS’ THIRD BEST STARTING PITCHER
The pitching competition that has transpired over Spring Training has been one of the more fascinating Mets storylines in recent years. Coming into camp there were four pitchers who could lay claim to the major league starting staff, major league bullpen, or as a starter in Vegas (Matz, Wheeler, Lugo, Gsellman). Also lurking is Rafael Montero, who’s peripheral numbers have been just mediocre enough for the Mets to not want to cut him loose since he has no more minor league options.
As of this posting, it appears that Seth Lugo is slated to start the year as a reliever. His shorter outings indicate that the team wants to first use their versatile pitcher in a swingman role.
I don’t think he will continue there for the season.
Realistically, Lugo is the Mets’ eighth starter. Following the first five will be the loser of the Matz/Wheeler rotation battle, and Robert Gsellman. That’s it. All it would take for a combined three injuries and underperforming starters for Lugo to get the next crack at it. It’s uncertain how long Jason Vargas will be out with an injury to his non-pitching hand, but we’re already seeing how quickly a team will need to access its reserve of extra starters (Mets fans are very much aware of this)
There’s legitimate reason to believe that Mickey Callaway could unlock a higher ceiling than Seth Lugo has shown. Lugo first displayed his devastating curveball in 2017, a pitch that Callaway’s pitching staff in Cleveland thrived on.
In all probability, it is only a matter of time before Lugo needs to fill in as a starter. And if he puts a few good outings together, he’s sticking around. I think that ends up happening, and he emerges into a crucial stabilizing force behind a healthy deGrom and Syndergaard.
- JAY BRUCE LEADS ALL METS FIRST BASEMAN IN HOME RUNS
This is feeling less bold by the day. As if his miserable 2017 wasn’t enough reason for concern, various articles detailing Adrian Gonzalez’s pre-game routine should set off serious red flags. We’ve watched David Wright deteriorate the last few years doing a similarly rigorous pre-game routine. Needless to say, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Gonzalez to be a regular contributor all the way through September.
Dominic Smith, meanwhile, is probably the biggest disappointment coming out of Spring Training. A porous debut last summer definitely cooled down some of his hype, but after coming to Port St. Lucie looking much leaner, a great March could have gone a long way for him.
Instead, he logged a total of…. one at bat. His fairly small chance of making the opening day roster evaporated when he essentially abstained from participating this Spring (not by choice, obviously).
If the Mets get off to a quick start without any contributions from Gonzalez, there’s no guarantee Smith will be the next man up at first. It’s tough to secure a winning season when your first baseman is arguably your worst hitter, and the Mets might prefer to hold off on living with Dominic Smith’s growing pains.
As for Jay Bruce, his plantar fasciitis diagnosis early in the Spring was deemed to be minor but isn’t a great sign of his ability to cover Citi Field’s outfield grass for the duration of the season. It makes all the sense in the world to preserve Bruce by giving him outings at first.
And if Brandon Nimmo gets off to a strong start, he could round out a very effective outfield group with a healthy Conforto and Cespedes. The Mets could then upgrade first baseman during the season from Adrian Gonzalez to Jay Bruce. That’s a huge difference offensively.
- THE METS MAKE A BIG TRADE AT THE DEADLINE
The Mets have been competitive in late July only twice under Sandy Alderson’s reign. Both times, the Mets were fairly active at the deadline.
It’s not outrageous at all to say the Mets will be competitive in late July… for something. The Nats are still really, really good, and odds are the Mets are going to have their inconsistencies. Fangraphs’ projected standings have the Mets with the sixth best record in the National League. This would put them in striking distance of the second Wild-Card.
The two Wild Card system has obviously dampened the value of being a Wild Card team. Securing a Wild Card berth means that a team has to use its best pitcher before the NLDS starts and subsequently match up against the best team in their respective league. And this is only if you win a high stake, sudden death game against a playoff caliber team.
This reality could be contributing to the reason that fringe teams are reluctant to expend resources to maybe make the Wild Card.
Conversely, this reality could also enable a team to make some trades at the deadline they normally wouldn’t be able to make.
This year, the Mets would need to fall in that category to swing a fairly big deal. Their minor league system, which has seen a considerable amount of talent graduate over the last few years, has been thinned out. There are no premier prospects, but there is a considerable amount of raw talent at the lower levels.
How they develop through the first half of the year could go a long way towards what Alderson has its disposal in July. But even if they still only show flashes, it could be enough for the Mets to acquire a formidable player.
The dearth of teams that are willing to invest in a late summer run for a Wild Card spot, coupled with the elite teams at the top of the leagues, could create a buyers’ market, where a selling team may not get the appropriate value for the players they are shopping.
If this rings a bell, this is what happened to the Mets last year. Middle tier teams competing for the division like the Brewers and Royals knew their chances of winning the division were long. Per Fangraphs’ playoff projector, on July 31st, the only division realistically up for grabs was the AL East. This led to an overabundance of supply, and why the Mets had to pivot from obtaining well rounded prospects to just hoarding undeveloped relief arms.
A loaded 2018 free agent class means a lot of talent is on the last year of their deals. A slumping Blue Jays team looking up at the Red Sox and Yankees could be open for business on Josh Donaldson. We know the Orioles are open for business with Manny Machado, unless your team name is the Yankees.
It’d be shocking if the Mets swung a deal for one of those two, but they only headline the group of players that could be available in July. Here is just a sample of the list of players on teams that could be sellers by summer time:
- Adrian Beltre
- Brian Dozier
- Adam Jones
- Charlie Blackmon
- Andrew McCutchen
- Mike Moustakas (!!)
- Lucas Duda (!!!!)
Obviously, the Mets are the ultimate “fringe contender” at the moment. But if they have a decent cushion over the .500 mark by that point, and the teams with the players above have fallen out of it, the Mets would be primed to make a trade.
For more Mets and miscellaneous, follow David on Twitter: @Dgeller10