When the 2013 season ended, Mets fans, reporters, and casual bystanders all shared roughly the same thought about the 2014 ballclub:
Man, this ballclub could compete with a good lineup.
It was a season that saw the breakout and eventual breakdown of Matt Harvey, Juan Lagares making a case as the league’s best defensive center fielder, and Bobby Parnell grab the closer’s role by the horns. Unfortunately, Parnell is out for the season after tearing his UCL on opening day, and Matt Harvey will likely miss the season recovering from his own Tommy John surgery. Nonetheless, the rotation was considered a strength, with the resurgent Bartolo Colon anchoring a young rotation featuring Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia, and Zack Wheeler.
But what about the offense? The Mets position players collectively hit only .244/.314/.379 in 2013, ranking 11th in the National League in offense with a 96 weighted Runs Created + (a metric, similar to OPS+, that measures total offense adjusted to league and park factors). Not terribly difficult to improve upon, especially considering the dumpster fires that were shortstop and catcher (John Buck‘s April notwithstanding). Travis d’Arnaud was ready to step in at backstop, so that left shortstop and a pair of outfielders on Sandy Alderson’s shoping list.
We didn’t get the shortstop. With Jhonny Peralta quickly signing with the Cardinals for much more than expected, and the Mets balking at Stephen Drew‘s demands, Ruben Tejada was (perhaps begrudgingly) penciled in. Left field was quickly handed to Chris Young, who has been largely disappointing (though, to his credit, he’s come up with some key hits of late). Right field was handed to Curtis Granderson, a player dubbed off the bat (pun intended) as “Jason Bay 2.0″. His strikeout tendencies and history as a lefty hitting in Yankee Stadium – a power haven – suggested the numbers may not follow.
Alderson’s biggest move, perhaps, came a few weeks into the season. Needing a solution to the team’s first base logjam, Sandy shipped Ike Davis to Pittsburgh for a pair of prospects. Lucas Duda, who had never shown consistency (or hit more than 15 home runs) was handed the reins. and has an .832 OPS to show for it.
What does this all mean?
Short answer: it’s worked. The Mets have hit .251/.326/.384, good for a 103 wRC+ that ranks fifth in the National League (excluding pitchers). What’s more, they’ve done it despite a largely ineffective David Wright. Non-Wright position players hit .238/.307/.367 in 2013. In 2014, that line has jumped to .247/.323/.379 – a 28-point jump in OPS. A dramatic improvement? No, but considering the lack of offense in left field and at catcher (before d’Arnaud’s demotion, at least), it’s certainly non-trivial.
The ’14 Mets – despite their situational woes – are on pace to outscore last year’s model by 27 runs. When you consider that they’re on pace to allow 65 fewer runs thanks to improvements in the billpen and field, the team ought to improve by as many as ten wins. (This is Alderson’s root point on run differential.) Are the Mets currently an 84-win team? Probably not. But they’re demonstrably better than they were a year ago.
Alderson hasn’t yet solved all of the Mets’ problems – left field is in need of a legitimate improvement, and there’s potential for improvement at shortstop. The potential for Daniel Murphy to be moved potentially leaves another hole in the lineup, but the Mets do have some internal options nearing the horizon. Brandon Nimmo and Dilson Herrera are both making solid progress in AA and should be ready to contribute within the next year. Neither should necessarily preclude the Mets from making outside acquisitions; proven impact bats are just that – proven. But for a team beginning to turn the corner, it’s another positive that the general manager has potentially put the team in a situation to provide their own solutions to what problems remain in the lineup.