While Terry Collins improbably shepherded the Mets to an unlikely and surprising World Series appearance, the best team in baseball (on paper) couldn’t even make the post-season as a wildcard. It cost the former Manager of the Year Matt Williams his job and despite having Cy Young caliber pitching and the MVP in Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals team finished with a modest 83-79 record. Some feel that the inactivity by the Mets to improve the offense (notably steering clear of sluggers like Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward) once again render the Nationals the team to beat. Let’s take a look at how the starting players with both clubs stack up against one another and see if that assertion is or is not true.
Ryan Zimmerman Vs. Lucas Duda
Health has been the big issue for the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman. When he was able to stay on the field, he was a solid if unspectacular hitter, capable of 25 HRs and 85 RBIs in a season to go along with a .285 or so average. For the past two years he’s fought a variety of ailments that have curtailed his productivity significantly. By contrast, love him or hate him, Lucas Duda has been relatively healthy and since becoming a full time first baseman in 2014 has delivered about the same – 28/85 but with a less impressive .250 batting average. However, given salary and health considerations, I’d go with Duda.
Daniel Murphy vs. Neil Walker
Everyone pretty much acknowledges that Murphy was playing way over his head in the post-season last year and his 14 regular season home runs was a new career high for the man. He’s a solid hitter with a career .288 batting average, but Walker provides more power, switch hitting and better fielding. More importantly, he’s not as likely to pull a “Murph” as the man for whom mental and base running lapses are so-named. Edge Walker.
Danny Espinosa vs. Asdrubal Cabrera
For all the woes the Mets have had since Jose Reyes packed his bags for Miami, Toronto, Colorado and wherever he’s off to next, Danny Espinosa had almost played himself out of baseball with .158 and .219 campaigns before last year’s modest career renaissance. He hit .240 with 13 HRs and 37 RBIs in 367 ABs. Asdrubal Cabrera can certainly be expected to surpass these numbers.
Anthony Rendon vs. David Wright
If only the clock could be turned back to the Shea Stadium days and then this horse race would be worth watching. Right now Anthony Rendon is coming off a 2014 season that saw him post a .283 AVG to go along with 21 HRs and 83 RBIs. Last year injuries took their toll and his roughly half season output was just 5/25/.264. Unfortunately, on the other side of the ledger you have the $20 million man who unfortunately the Mets do not have the technology to rebuild him better, faster and stronger than he ever was. No one knows what to expect, but if he delivered a comparable season to what Rendon did in 2014 everyone would likely do cartwheels. Given age and presumed health the edge would have to go to Rendon.
Wilson Ramos vs. Travis d’Arnaud
Another player who has fought his share of injuries, Wilson Ramos nonetheless posted his most productive output in 2015 with 15 HRs and 68 RBIs to go along with a modest .229 AVG. However, Travis d’Arnaud in less than half as many ABs delivered 12 HRs and 42 RBIs with a .268 AVG. Clearly the edge goes to d’Arnaud if he can finally stay healthy.
Max Scherzer vs. Matt Harvey
The Nationals’ $210 million man did just about everything they could have hoped when they gave him that whopper of a contract. He bested his Cy Young numbers in nearly every category, including ERA, IP, K, WHIP, K/9, K:BB and FIP. What he didn’t do was win – a 14-12 record for a team that finished 83-79. Matt Harvey pitched quite well in his first full season after his Tommy John surgery, His 13-8 record in just 26 starts is markedly better, and he nearly matched the other pitching numbers despite having some arm strength and innings limits issues to tackle. An edge goes to Scherzer for experience and health.
Stephen Strasburg vs. Jacob de Grom
After taking the baseball world by storm in his rookie year, Strasburg bounced back well but not at the same level ever since his TJS. Last year he was arguably his worst with a 3.46 ERA (which just demonstrates how very good he’s been in his career when that’s considered bad). Jacob de Grom, however, bettered his Rookie-Of-The-Year campaign in 2014 with superior pitching in 2015, including a better ERA at 2.54, a WHIP of 0.98 and a miniscule batting average against of just .218. Edge de Grom.
Gio Gonzalez vs. Noah Syndergaard
This one is a little hard to evaluate with Syndergaard only having made just 24 starts in his entire big league career, but numbers don’t lie. Gio Gonzalez has been on a steady downhill spiral since dominating the National League in his 2012 Washington Nationals debut. Last year he delivered a 3.79 ERA, a 1.46 WHIP, and opposing batters hit .269 off of him. Compare that to Syndergaard’s 3.24 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .225 BAA and it’s a clear edge for Thor and the Mets.
Tanner Roark vs. Steve Matz
Here’s an even harder one to quantify given Matz’ modest 6 game career (truncated by the abdominal muscle injury in the middle of August/September). However, in those 6 starts he was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA, 1.23 WHIP. Roark is no slouch himself as evidenced by his 2014 campaign that saw him go 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA, a tidy 1.01 WHIP and a modest .239 BAA. Unfortunately he backslid big time in 2015 with every number significantly worse, led by a 4.38 ERA and a .279 BAA. It’s a bit of a stretch and certainly I could be accused of homerism, but I go with Matz.
Joe Ross vs. Bartolo Colon
It’s probably fairer to compare Ross to Matz, but as the depth charts line up he’s number five, so that pits him against Big Bart. Ross had some good numbers in his rookie campaign – a .223 BAA, a 1.11 WHIP, nearly a strikeout per IP while posting a 5-5 record and 3.64 ERA over 16 starts. Bartolo Colon is a serviceable 5th starter with a 4.16 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP but he was hittable to the tune of .281 and posted a 14-13 record. Edge Ross.
Jonathan Papelbon vs. Jeurys Familia
Although he’s put together a dominant career, controversy has dogged Papelbon nearly everywhere he’s collected a paycheck. The results are there – a combined 4-3 record with Philadelphia and Washington, 24 saves, 2.13 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and a .225 BAA. There’s nothing there to suggest his tank is running low but at age 35 it’s always a concern. Jeurys Familia has a season for the ages as the Mets closer by necessity after Jenrry Mejia’s antics. He finished with a 2-2 record, 1.85 ERA, 43 saves, 1.00 WHIP and .207 BAA. He was looking a little spent in the last few weeks of the season and the post season, but given a winter of rest the edge goes to the 26 year old.
Felipe Rivero vs. Addison Reed
Rookie Rivero might very well earn the nickname “Mariano” if his first year in the bigs was any indication of what the future holds for him. In 49 games as a setup man he delivered a 2-1 record with a 2.79 ERA, a .199 BAA and a 0.95 WHIP. Wow! Should Papelbon either falter or fall out of favor, he’s likely the next in line for closing opportunities based upon that kind of performance. Right now the Mets are banking on Addison Reed to take over the former Tyler Clippard role of setup man for their closer. Reed’s been a solid if unspectacular pitcher throughout his days in with the White Sox and Diamondbacks, though in his Mets 17 game debut he was sensational. He pitched to a 1-1 record, a 1.17 ERA, a .200 BAA and a 1.04 WHIP. However, there’s nothing to suggest he had a pitching epiphany which would make those numbers repeatable or sustainable, hence the edge would go to the 49 game performance of Mr. Rivero.
The rest of the bullpens for both clubs are not firmly decided, but it’s a cast of mostly no-names who may turn into pleasant surprises or gasoline-plagued nightmares. Overall I’d call it a push.
If the analysis of the two teams stopped right here, you’d rightfully feel the Mets were in a solid position to repeat as NL Eastern Division Champions. Unfortunately, the old Sand Aldersonism, “What outfield?” comes back to bite the team in a very big way. The Mets have no counter for Bryce Harper. He was a one-man wrecking crew last year with 42 HRs and a .330 batting average. They have no answer for the speed and on-base-percentage of Ben Revere in centerfield. Their only hope rests in the maturity of Michael Conforto vs. the ongoing deterioration of Jayson Werth. Huge edge, Nationals.
If not for Bryce Harper, you could easily argue the Mets were the better team. The difference that one middle-of-the-order threat makes in winning games is nearly immeasurable, but the old axiom about good pitching stopping good hitting tends to favor the Mets. The Cespdesless hometown team is going to struggle to score runs but the dominant pitching will likely propel them on top once again in 2016.