Don’t Sleep on the 2016 New York Mets

The 2015 New York Mets shocked the world and went to the World Series last year, only to lose in frustrating fashion to the Kansas City Royals four games to one. So, can the Mets return to the Fall Classic, and win their first World Championship in 30 years?

According to ESPN and Yahoo!, there is little chance of that.

ESPN released its team predictions for the 2016 season on April 1, and they were not kind to the Mets, considering the heights they reached last year, and the expectations that Mets fans have for 2016. Fourteen of the 31 ESPN writers that were polled chose the Mets to win the division, with 17 choosing the Washington Nationals to retake the National League East crown. Seven writers predicted the Mets to finish in the first Wild Card spot, with four predicting a second Wild Card spot finish. Only three writers predict the Mets to return to the World Series, with two of those seeing the Mets winning it all.

For perspective, the Nationals are predicted by one lone writer to win the World Series, while two predict a Pennant win. The Chicago Cubs are predicted by 27 writers to win the National League Central, with 19 writers predicting a League Championship Series victory. Fourteen predict the Cubs to end their 108-year World Series drought, by far the most of any team.

Yahoo! had a similar outlook for the Mets, with four of the six polled writers predicting a NL East win, but zero writers even predicting the Mets to make the World Series, let alone win it. Three of the six also see the Cubs as the 2016 World Series Champions.

Of course, these should be taken with a massive, massive, grain of salt. The 2015 predictions are (almost definitely) hysterical at this point, and no one can accurately predict what will happen in a 162-game season; it’s impossible. However, this did get me thinking. Did the Mets improve that little over the offseason? Was last year a flash in the pan, and are they just a playoff team and nothing more?

The answer to both of those questions, is no.

The 2016 edition of the New York Mets is better than the 2015 National League Champions.

The pitching staff is improved, with a full year of Steven Matz, who was good in his short rookie campaign last season, ending with a 4-0 record, with a 2.27 earned run average, 8.58 K/9 rate, a 92 xFIP-, and a 62 ERA-, both of which are above average. Bartolo Colon will hold down the fifth spot (14-13, 4.16 ERA, 73 xFIP-), until Zack Wheeler comes back from Tommy John surgery. The rotation is led by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard, all of which should end the season in the Cy Young discussion. That is a fearsome rotation, with no true weak spot, and with more experience.

On top of that, the bullpen is much better. Jeurys Familia (43 saves, 1.85 ERA, 66 xFIP-. 50 ERA-) is one of the premier closers in baseball after his breakout party last season. Addison Reed really enjoyed his role as set-up man after the trade that brought him to Queens (17 games, 15.1 innings pitched, 1.17 ERA, 32 ERA-, 81 xFIP-), and Antonio Bastardo (66 games, 57.1 innings pitched, 2.98 ERA, 10.05 K/9 rate, 79 ERA-, 110 xFIP- with the Pittsburgh Pirates) will play an important role in the bullpen. A resurgent Jim Henderson, a healthy Jerry Blevins, and (now currently suspended) Hansel Robles make up a bullpen that looks more impressive than last year. Bartolo Colon is most likely to be added to the ‘pen once Wheeler returns, assuming everyone else stays healthy.

The lineup looks very similar to the post trade-deadline lineup, which transformed into one of the best in baseball. The only differences are Neil Walker replacing Daniel Murphy, and Asdrubal Cabrera replacing Wilmer Flores/Ruben Tejada as the starting second baseman and shortstop, respectively. Cabrera is a definite offensive improvement over Flores or Tejada (103 career wRC+, compared to Flores’ 88 career wRC+ and Tejada’s career 86 wRC+), and Walker is very similar to Murphy (114 career wRC+ compared to Murphy’s 109 career wRC+). Defensively, Walker (-11 career defensive runs saved at second base) is much better than Murphy (-41 career defensive runs saved at second base). Cabrera (-36 career defensive runs saved at shortstop) is a bit of a downgrade, compared to Tejada (-19 career defensive runs saved at shortstop) and Flores (-13 career defensive runs saved at shortstop), although he is a premier offensive shortstop.

These 2016 Mets, entering the season, look better than the Mets that took the National League by storm. Of course, the Kansas City Royals are still the Royals, the Cubs splashed the cash to improve, and the Nationals still have a lot of talent, so a World Series is far from guaranteed.

Don’t sleep on the New York Mets just because they look similar to last year’s team. That team still won the division, swept the Cubs (whose big acquisition, Jason Heyward, does not exactly own Mets pitching, albeit the sample sizes are small), and won a pennant. They very well can end up in the World Series again.

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