2016 Preview: New York Mets

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The New York Mets. 

The Mets were so close to Opening Day with nothing bad happening. Then, on Monday, it was announced that Matt Harvey was scratched from his scheduled start on Tuesday and his Opening Day start is in doubt as well. Harvey, of course, looked dominant last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery, finishing with a 2.71 ERA and a 188/37 K/BB ratio over 189 1/3 innings. Though the Mets are stacked with pitching, losing Harvey is a big deal. It could be much ado about nothing, we don’t know yet.

Elsewhere, the Mets appear to be improved over last year’s squad which reached the World Series, losing in five games to the Royals. The club acquired second baseman Neil Walker from the Pirates to replace Daniel Murphy, who went to the Nationals. Asdrubal Cabrera joined the team on a two-year, $18.5 million contract to handle everyday duties at shortstop. GM Sandy Alderson bolstered the bullpen, signing Antonio Bastardo for two years and $12 million, and Jerry Blevins for a year and $4 million. Bartolo Colon returned at $7.25 million for the 2016 season, Alejandro De Aza joined to add depth on a one-year, $5.75 million pact, and – most importantly – outfielder Yoenis Cespedes re-upped with the Mets for three-years and $75 million with an opt out clause after the first year.

As  D.J. Short mentioned on Twitter, The Mets once relied on a bullpen that consisted of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jose Valverde, and Kyle Farnsworth. Now it has a dominant Jeurys Familia followed by Addison Reed, Bastardo, Blevins, and Hansel Robles. And shortstop was manned by Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada. The club’s two biggest nagging problems have been addressed.

Everything will depend on the Mets’ rotation living up to the hype once again. Behind Harvey, 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Jacob deGrom is coming off of a season in which he finished with a 2.54 ERA and a 205/38 K/BB ratio over 191 innings, finishing seventh in NL Cy Young Award balloting. In many rotations, he would be an ace; instead, he’s one of the game’s scariest number two pitchers. deGrom pairs great swing-and-miss stuff with pinpoint command – he averaged 5.39 strikeouts for every one walk, the seventh-highest ratio among all qualified starters.

Then there’s Noah Syndergaard, who can hit 100 MPH with his fastball. Like deGrom, he averaged better than a strikeout per inning and 5.35 strikeouts for every one walk. As a 22-year-old, Syndergaard finished with a 3.24 ERA over 150 innings. And he may be years from his prime! Scary. In the number four slot, Steven Matz will look to build upon six strong regular season starts last year, finishing with a 2.27 ERA and a 34/10 K/BB ratio in 35 2/3 innings. The lefty was even solid in three postseason starts, yielding six runs in just under 15 innings. Given the star power ahead of him, it’s easy to overlook Matz, but he has the potential to be just as good as any of them.

Colon looks like a grandpa compared to his rotation mates. The veteran turns 43 years old in May and will assume the number five spot in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Then, Colon likely moves to the bullpen to serve in a mop-up role. Considering he pitched 194 2/3 innings at the age of 42 last year, the Mets are confident in counting on him for six-plus innings every start.

Offensively, no one doubts the Mets’ propensity for power. Cespedes, Lucas Duda, and Curtis Granderson each could reasonably surpass the 30-homer threshold. In a full-season, Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto could cross 20 homers as well. The Mets, though, aren’t likely to hit for a high average as a team, which could make them prone to some offensive slumps when everybody isn’t rolling at the same time. In the second half last season, the Mets averaged 5.11 runs per game, greatly outpacing their 3.48 first half average. That second half figure is closer to what we should expect from them in 2016.

Once the Mets bring a lead into the ninth inning, they will feel rather confident that Familia will close things out for the win. Familia finished a major league-high 65 games last year, saving 43 games with a 1.85 ERA and an 86/19 K/BB ratio. The performance didn’t come out of nowhere, as Familia was also dominant handling the seventh and eighth innings in 2014. While he isn’t in the echelon of closers with Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, Familia will make it tough for opposing teams to stage a comeback.

The NL East is not that scary for the Mets. The Nationals will be the toughest competition, while an improved (and healthy) Marlins roster could throw a wrench in the Mets’ plans. But the Phillies and Braves will provide plenty of free wins throughout the year, and as long as the Mets’ rotation doesn’t fall apart completely, they should be able to reclaim their throne atop the NL East.

Prediction: 92-70, first place in the NL East.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.