As the MLB playoffs get underway, the Mets will be watching the proceedings from home for the fifth straight year. This time, however, feels different. In the offseason the Mets were sold from the much-maligned Wilpon family to billionaire Steve Cohen who was determined to be one of the most active clubs in free agency in pursuit of a playoff berth. They certainly didn’t disappoint, signing pitchers Taijuan Walker, Trevor May, and Aaron Loup as well as trading for Joey Lucchesi among other moves. The trade block brought the Mets a more headline-worthy move, as they traded for two former All-Stars from the Cleveland Indians (soon to be called the Guardians) in shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco. Rising star Lindor subsequently signed a 10-year, $341 million contract — one of the richest in sports history. Combine these moves with the return of former All-Star Noah Syndergaard from Tommy John surgery, and there was a sense of optimism around the Mets.
Fast forward to today, and the Mets ended the year with a disappointing 77-85 record, missing the playoffs entirely. A stunning post All-Star Game collapse that took place didn’t help; the Mets went 28-46 and went from first place in the NL East with a 77.7% chance of making the playoffs (according to FanGraphs) to missing it entirely. What happened?
First and foremost, injuries. The Mets were hit extremely hard by injuries this season to the point that in May, starting catcher James McCann, who batted eighth on Opening Day, was hitting third and playing first base. In fact, the team had to resort to its fifth string center fielder at one point. Notable Mets who spent significant time on the Injured Reserve List included Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, and Francisco Lindor. None of those names include the pitchers. Carrasco only started 12 games due to a torn hamstring, Syndergaard suffered a setback in rehab in May and didn’t return until late September, and both David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi were lost for the year midseason. And of course, Jacob deGrom, who was on pace to record a historic season, boasting a ridiculous 1.08 ERA at the All-Star break, suffered a UCL sprain that caused him to miss the entire second half of the year. The number of starting pitching injuries forced the Mets to often have one or two bullpen games per rotation cycle (whether planned or unplanned due to a terrible start by a backend starter, a frequent occurrence) which sorely taxed the bullpen. This resulted in the Mets bullpen throwing the fourth-most innings in the MLB, the effects of which became visibly apparent down the stretch.
Injuries, however, are only a part of the story here. What’s lost in the discussion over injuries is that many of the position players mentioned prior were underperforming. McNeil, a career .319 hitter coming into 2021, batted .249. Dominic Smith, coming off a season in which he garnered down-ballot MVP votes, hit .244 and was a bench player by the season’s end. Perhaps most prominently, Francisco Lindor, a career .278 hitter averaging 28 homers, hit .230 with 20 homers. This underperformance extended to the pitchers as well. After stellar performances to start the year, All-Star Taijuan Walker and rookie Tylor Megill fell off a cliff pitching to 7.13 and 4.77 ERA’s in the second-half respectively. Additionally, the back end of the bullpen was inconsistent outside of an otherworldly season by Aaron Loup (0.95 ERA) with Trevor May, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Diaz, pitching solidly, but not to the level needed. In fact, other than Loup and starter Marcus Stroman (3.02 ERA), no pitcher was able to stay healthy and perform consistently well over the course of the whole season.
Finally, the Mets, as usual, were a sideshow. This started in the offseason where newly hired general manager Jared Porter was fired for sending unsolicited explicit photographs to a female journalist. His interim successor, Zack Scott, weeks after made headlines for publicly berating players and was arrested on DWI charges. In addition, trade deadline acquisition Javier Báez made waves by giving a thumbs down to Mets fans symbolizing his “booing” of them. Not good.
So, what’s the root cause of the Mets disappointing season? A combination of the above disasters. Whether this season is an aberration, however, remains to be seen. Hopefully next year, this team will live up to its ceiling rather than this year’s evident floor.