New York Mets 2023 Season Preview
That pesky little thing called money won’t stand in the way of Steven Cohen’s pursuit of a World Series. The New York Mets spent over $483 million this winter, though the two biggest contracts were Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Diaz, who were set to become free agents on the open market, but got offers that they couldn’t refuse. Justin Verlander replaced Jacob deGrom on a two-year deal worth essentially the same as what Max Scherzer will make. The Mets also replaced Chris Bassitt with Japanese import Kodai Senga, who did not have a posting fee and got a five-year deal worth $75 million.
As it is, the Mets went from a $195.4 million dollar payroll on Opening Day 2021 to a $264.5 million dollar price tag in 2022. Cot’s Contracts projects them at $345.2 million to start 2023. The projected luxury tax for the Mets is nearly $98.7 million. That would exceed the projected Opening Day payrolls of nine teams.
In other words, there are no excuses for the Mets. They have the best team that their money can buy. Last year’s group won 101 games, but lost in the best-of-three Wild Card Round against the Padres. The problem for the Mets and other big spenders is that there is a higher degree of variance in the playoffs, especially in a bracket-style format, but this team is built to win a lot of games and has very high expectations to go with that very high payroll.
Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.
2023 New York Mets Odds
(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 15)
World Series: +750
NL Pennant: +390
NL East: +130
Win Total: 94.5 (-105/-115)
Make Playoffs: Yes -500 / No +390
New York Mets Offense
The Mets were third in baseball in wRC+ at 116, trailing only the Dodgers and Blue Jays. That means that they were 16% above league average and it is important to note that wRC+ is graded on a curve to adjust for park factor, which is important when comparing home venues like Citi Field in Queens and Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Mets were eighth in SLG, but second in OBP. There weren’t many shortcomings in the lineup.
Health often determines the ceiling and the floor for a team and the Mets have been plagued by bad luck in that department for a long time. Last season, though, they stayed quite healthy. They had seven players with at least 500 plate appearances and guys with long medical histories like Nimmo and Jeff McNeil played 151 and 148 games, respectively.
Endless financial resources mean you can check a lot of boxes. The Mets have some decent power, largely provided by Pete Alonso, but money also buys you guys that don’t strike out a lot, but are still good hitters. The Mets had the third-lowest K% in baseball last season. What they didn’t focus on, however, was a group that could run the bases effectively. New York was 26th in FanGraphs’ all-encompassing baserunning metric, BsR.
Honestly, it’s a good lineup, but I don’t think it’s as great of a lineup as it could be. It’s a very top-heavy unit. Nimmo, Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor, Alonso and McNeil are all quality hitters. The Mets had 14 players with at least 100 PA and 10 of them had a wRC+ of 102 or higher. Those five ranged from 127 (Lindor) to 143 (Alonso/McNeil), so the worst of them posted a wRC+ 27% above league average.
The rest of the lineup features Daniel Vogelbach, whose 144 wRC+ in a small sample was not sustainable. Mark Canha’s 128 wRC+ featured a career-high .309 BABIP and a career-low K% at 17.9%. He also had his lowest BB% since 2018, so he was more aggressive at attacking in the zone. Maybe that’s a change that will stick in his mid-30s, but I’m skeptical. Eduardo Escobar hit 20 homers with a 106 wRC+, so his power and the park adjustment allowed him to be an above average hitter, despite posting just a .295 OBP.
Omar Narvaez and Tommy Pham were a couple other additions to add depth and participate in a timeshare/platoon capacity. The Mets were fortunate that all of their big hitters stayed healthy last season and some guys overperformed relative to expectations. It isn’t exactly the lineup I’d expect from a $350 million payroll. That’s not to say it won’t be a top-five group again (I’d think more top-10), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see regression in the overall numbers.
The Mets were 21st in Hard Hit% last season and 18th in Barrel%. Their contact quality metrics concern me, but this is also a lineup that should benefit from the new shift rules because they put so many balls in play. They did have one of the highest rates of center/opposite field combined contact, so I’ll be curious to see if they make an adjustment to pull the ball more authoritatively this season.
It is worth noting that the ceiling for this offense could go up as the season goes along. Brett Baty is an excellent hitter that had a cup of coffee over 11 games last season and the Mets have an excellent catching prospect in Francisco Alvarez who played five games in his age-20 season last year after hitting 27 HR in 495 minor league PA.
New York Mets Pitching
Even if the offense does leave a little bit to be desired when you nitpick like I did, it is extremely hard to find fault with the pitching staff. I will preface my breakdown by saying that it does not excite me that the Mets have three pitchers aged 36 or older in the starting rotation and have two additional 37-year-olds in high leverage in the bullpen. Guys like Verlander and Scherzer have shown very few signs of wearing down and Verlander even came back from Tommy John late in his career to win a Cy Young, which is an unheard of accomplishment.
Collectively, the Mets were fifth in fWAR as a pitching staff, but a good distance behind the top four teams. Scherzer only made 23 starts and deGrom only made 11. That wasn’t how you would draw it up, but the Mets were seventh in team ERA and fifth in FIP. Looking at starters, specifically, the Mets were fifth in ERA and third in FIP.
Eleven different guys started games, but the Mets actually got a lot of production from the main guys in the rotation. Scherzer was sidelined for a bit, but Bassitt made 30 starts, while Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco each made 29. Of the six guys with at least 11 starts, all of them were above average. That should be what we see again this season, just with Verlander thrown into the mix.
Scherzer had a 2.29 ERA with a 2.62 FIP in his 145.1 innings, so he was elite when he was out there and there weren’t a ton of signs of aging. His fastball velo was down a little and his 30.6% K% was the lowest since 2014, but we’re still talking about an 89th percentile K% with an 83rd percentile Whiff%. Health is the lone concern here. I don’t see decline with the skill set, which is also true of Verlander, who had a 1.75 ERA with a 2.49 FIP in his 175 innings of work.
I don’t need to spend any more time on those guys because we know their baselines and we know how reliable they are. What determines the ceiling for the pitching staff is the other guys in the rotation and the middle and long relievers. Most projection systems put Senga in the mid-3s in ERA and FIP with solid peripherals. The 30-year-old had a 2.42 ERA with about a 3/1 K/BB ratio over 11 seasons in Japan, including almost 1,100 innings in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. He’s probably a quality No. 3 starter with No. 2 starter upside.
I know he drew the ire of Mets fans in 2021, but Carrasco was really good in 2022 with a 3.97 ERA and a 3.53 FIP. The reports from Spring Training have been shaky, as he’s experiencing a velocity decline. He had one in 2021 and ultimately hit the IL for an extended period. He’ll turn 36 just before the season and his 150 innings last season were the most he’s pitched since 2018. I understand not wanting to buy a lot of stock in this profile, but I think he’s still an above average back of the rotation guy.
David Peterson, Jose Quintana and Tylor Megill all provide depth with upside. Quintana had a stress fracture in his rib cage in Spring Training, so he’s off to a slow start and will miss some time. Megill is coming off of a lost season with 47.1 innings pitched after getting hurt in 2021. I really like his profile if he can stay healthy. Peterson is a slider artist with good peripherals and a nice K bump last season over 91 innings with a 3.86 ERA and a 3.42 FIP. The Mets run at least seven deep with competent starters, plus I think Joey Lucchesi still has a little upside.
(Author's note: Just a few hours after publishing, Diaz got hurt in the celebration for Puerto Rico's win in the WBC - none of the original posted content has been edited)
The bullpen looks a little different this season. Diaz is still in the closer’s role and one of the game’s most unhittable arms. Adam Ottavino had an outstanding bounceback year and had a sub-3 FIP for the first time since 2018. Beyond that, the Mets are turning to free agents David Robertson and Brooks Raley for other high-leverage innings. A lot of the complementary guys were interchangeable last season, so this bullpen could be better, but it may not be. Even with Diaz and Ottavino performing at elite levels, the Mets were 10th in reliever ERA and seventh in FIP.
It isn’t a weakness, but I’m not sure it’s a strength outside of the eighth and ninth innings.
The Mets went 50-26 against the NL East, but went just 9-10 against the Braves. Could they be a team that doesn’t benefit from the schedule changes? They were still 16 games over .500 against everybody else, but went 45-37 against teams .500 or better and padded the numbers against the bottom-feeders and bad teams.
Mets pitchers had 19 shutouts last season, so those were 19 games that they couldn’t lose. It is also worth noting that the Mets only lost eight games when they scored four or more runs. They also never lost more than three games in a row. They also spent 176 days in first place, but lost the division because of the head-to-head record against Atlanta.
Player to Watch
SP Tylor Megill: I really, really, really hope Megill is healthy. A team like this is hard to bet on a game-by-game basis, but Megill is a guy that might be underpriced in the market. He has a 4.73 ERA with a 4.37 FIP in 137 career MLB innings, so those are really pedestrian numbers, but he had some bad luck on the home run front in 2021 when he had a 4.52 ERA, but a 3.84 xERA and a 3.92 xFIP. He’s 6-foot-7 with 99th percentile extension and 78th percentile fastball velocity. If he can harness his command with fastballs up in the zone and have more consistency with his slider, he’s sitting on a breakout season. That said, he could also be a dominant reliever if those two things happen. I see upside here.
New York Mets Season Win Total Pick
I wrote in my Braves preview that they’re the team I trust the most with a win total in the mid-90s to surpass expectations and I was largely thinking about the Mets when I made that statement. I still think there are health landmines all over the roster. This is an older team, particularly in the rotation, and that never sits well with me. The pitch clock creates less recovery time between tosses. The expedited Spring Training of last season thanks to the lockout and the potential impacts of a third 162-game season after the wonky COVID year worries me with guys that already have heightened injury concerns.
I’m not convinced Nimmo and McNeil can stay healthy all year again. I’m not convinced that this bullpen is all that good beyond Diaz. I’m not convinced that the pressure of having the highest payroll ever is something to gloss over and ignore. This team has tremendous upside and tremendous talent, but the NL East is still good and a lot of teams around the league are still good. Betting on a team to win 95 games is hard, particularly one constructed like this.
I’m giving a pick on every team and that’s all this is. The Mets could have it all come together and they may exceed 100 wins again. That’s a higher-probability outcome than falling apart. But, I won’t be shocked if they have cluster injuries and it all goes to hell. I’d still lean over rather than under just because of the raw talent level, but I don’t think there are any compelling reasons to invest in futures for this team.
Lean: Over 94.5