Despite a record payroll and sky-scraping expectations, the New York Mets have struggled thus far in 2023. The very reasonable assumption was that the Mets – coming off a 100-win campaign in 2022 – would again challenge the Braves in the National League East and again wind up as one of the best teams in baseball.
Going into Friday's slate, however, the Mets – BaseRuns at FanGraphs, then you'll find the Mets have been worse than their actual record or run differential would suggest. Things are such, and owner Steve Cohen's standards are such, that Ken Rosenthal recently wrote the following:– are 30-33, in fourth place, and lugging around a minus-19 run differential. If you look at a more in-depth record estimator like
"Unless the Mets turn things around quickly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine Buck Showalter, the National League Manager of the Year in 2022, lasting the entire season. General manager Billy Eppler, at some point, might be in jeopardy, too."
That would be a shocking turn of events, but considering the depth of disappointments in Queens, it wouldn't be entirely unjustified.
At this point, an inventory – or, if you prefer, an autopsy – of the Mets' problems is in order. Unfortunately for the Queenslanders and their rooters, their 2023 shortcomings can be broadly characterized as "hitting and also pitching."
Let's start with the offense. The Mets right now rank eighth in runs scored in the 15-team NL but just 13th in OPS. Their runs-scored figure is being propped up by elevated production with runners in scoring position and runners on base, and those splits tend to smooth out to match overall production over time. In other words, the Mets offense has scored more runs to date than it probably should have. That raises concerns moving forward.
What also raises concerns moving forward is the health of slugger Pete Alonso, the current MLB home run leader for 2023 and the Mets' best hitter thus far. Alonso was after during the recent series in Atlanta and is expected to miss at least three weeks. Only one other qualifying hitter on the Mets, Brandon Nimmo, this season has a park-adjusted OPS that's better than the league average. Suffice it to say, losing Alonso, even for the minimum IL stay, would be a blow.
Francisco Lindor is on pace for the worst offensive season of his career. Jeff McNeil, the team's usual No. 3 hitter, has one extra-base hit since May 2. Starling Marte's declining production and poor quality of batted balls raise concerns that age is setting in. You get the idea.
On the pitching front, things aren't much better. They're 13th in the NL in rotation ERA and rotation K/BB ratio. Beyond that, Mets starters are 11th in the NL in quality-start percentage and average Game Score (a simple and thumbnail measure of starting pitcher effectiveness) and 12th in innings-per-start. When it comes to looking forward, ERA estimators like fielding-independent pitching, or FIP, do a better job at predicting future ERA than ERA itself does. On that point, it's worth noting that the Mets' rotation right now ranks 12th in the NL with a FIP of 4.95, which puts them barely ahead of the Nationals, Reds, and Rockies. It's fair to wonder how much improvement can be expected when your rotation is largely helmed by Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Carlos Carrasco, who have a combined age of 114.
Back-end depth is a particular worry, and the eventual return of José Quintana, who's sidelined after spring rib surgery, will be most welcome. Also of note is that the rotation's overall numbers are being dragged down by David Peterson's eight mostly disastrous starts. In 39 rotation innings this season, he's allowed 35 runs and is presently back in Triple-A. However they populate back-end starts the rest of the way, they almost certainly won't be as bad as that.
As for the bullpen, it's similarly grim out there. Mets relievers at this writing are 11th in the NL in ERA, 14th in FIP, ninth in strikeouts as a percentage of batters faced, and third in reliever "meltdowns." This, of course, is all where the loss of lockdown closer Edwin Díaz to a knee injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic has been acutely felt. His loss pressed David Robertson and Adam Ottavino into the breach and by extension thinned out the setup corps. Deeper in the bullpen, the lack of depth from the left side remains a concern. Bullpen needs are pretty easily addressed nearer the trade deadline, but the Mets need to be in a position to justify buyer status before Aug. 1.
The other bit of discouraging news for the Mets is that they've struggled to date despite playing one of the easier schedules in MLB. At present, the Mets rank 22nd in MLB with an opponents' average winning percentage of .491. Looking forward, however, the Mets' remaining 2023 opponents have a current aggregate winning percentage of .508. That's hardly a huge difference, but it's notable for a team that is likely working with narrow margins when it comes to a playoff spot.
We're not even halfway through the 2023 regular season yet, so there's plenty of time for the Mets to find something closer to their anticipated level. Thus far, however, they've been one of the bigger flops around, and there's no one thing to blame.