The Fall of the New York Mets
Thursday, August 5th. On a hot day in Miami, the visiting Mets were facing a weak division rival in the Marlins. With an older Rich Hill on the mound against Braxton Garrett, this was a nerve-racking time to be a Mets fan. 1.5 games up in the NL East, the playoff spot that seemed almost certain at the beginning of the season was no longer a guarantee. After producing 2 runs against Miami’s 4 in a relatively tense game, the Mets now barely hold onto first, not even being a full game ahead. Unbeknownst at the time, this was the beginning of the end for New York’s playoff run.
After purchasing the Mets for 2.4 Billion Dollars in November of 2020, new owner Steve Cohen brought hope to a down-trodden fanbase. Promising to increase the team’s payroll and immediately become competitive, the New York franchise was on the turn to great things. In their first major move, they acquired star shortstop Francisco Lindor and veteran RHP Carlos Carrasco in exchange for a few of their top prospects. Cohen was keeping his promise: he wanted to win as soon as possible. Along with resigning Marcus Stroman for another year ($18.9 million) and agreeing to a 4-year deal ($40.6 million) with James McCann, the Mets signed Francisco Lindor to a very expensive extension worth $341 million over 10 years. Not only were the Mets dedicated to winning now, but in the future as well. With all of these moves plus others not mentioned, many viewed this team as a serious playoff competitor. Fangraphs projected the Mets to be the fourth-best team in the entire MLB, forecasting a 93-69 (.575) record. Other sites and analysts came to similar conclusions, making a winning team highly probable.
During most of the season, all indications suggested that these projections were going to be accurate. Led by ace and potential Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom, the Mets were a force to be reckoned with in their division. Peaking at 5 games above first place on three days in mid-late June, they never did improve beyond that point. While they did continue to hold first place for a month beyond that despite various injuries they could not control, the Phillies and Braves continued to nip at their heel. To help fight this, the Mets traded for both Javier Báez and Rich Hill at the deadline, hoping to level up on both sides of the field. This was not enough. Now, all the runner-ups needed was a slight losing streak to take control.
Thursday, August 5th. The NL East competitors got exactly what they wanted. The Mets began a 4-game losing streak, taking them from first to third in a swift turn of events. From that streak until now, New York has never been able to retake the spot they held for so long. While every great juggernaut and empire looks invincible at the supremacy of their power, the cracks, while hard to find, do exist. Although it only took 4 days for the Mets to fall, this was long in the making. Particularly, on the offensive front. Even in the winningest part of the season, their overall offensive production still bounced between being ranked in the late teens and early twenties. It only makes sense that their record finally became symmetrical with this, being the 19th team overall in the standings and 20th ranked in offensive fWAR. The biggest reason for this has been the blatant underperformance of almost the entirety of the offense. On the new acquisitions front, Francisco Lindor has posted a 94 wRC+ (6% below average) along with a .304 wOBA, which are career lows in both categories. James McCann has also struggled, producing an 85 wRC+ and a .290 wOBA. They have not been able to rely on their original players either with players like Michael Conforto (100 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR) and Dominic Smith (86 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR) not even producing enough to earn their wages (based on fWAR value). Along with other underperformers, the New York offense’s poor showing throughout the year is one of the main reasons this team was arguably doomed to fail.
The only anchor that counter-balanced the Met’s poor offense, their pitching, is starting to unravel. While their starting pitching is ranked 12th and relief is ranked 10th in fWAR up to this point, a couple of key injuries has caused the team to lack the support needed recently to be competitive. The biggest impact has been the absence of the Cy Young candidate, Jacob deGrom. Despite only starting 15 games this season, he managed to accumulate 4.9 fWAR. To put that into perspective, he has managed to add almost a ⅓ of a win every time he starts. Without his starts, the Mets lost a major aspect of their game, leading to obviously detrimental results. Also missing premier starter Noah Syndergaard, it is not surprising that their above-average pitching can no longer carry their weak offensive.
The once overwhelming favorites are now 61-66 (.480), 8 games behind a Wild Card Spot, and 7.5 behind their division. Although anything can happen, the Mets need nothing short of a miracle to make the playoffs. Even if the squad managed to improve in the home stretch of the season, they would have to vastly outperform teams such as the San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, and Atlanta Braves - a highly unlikely feat. With the Mets carrying the third-highest 2021 payroll ($198.2m), they stand as living proof that while money can be beneficial in improving a team, it is not necessarily enough to put a winning product out onto the field.