When asked to describe the Mets’ biggest need to be addressed in the coming offseason, most of us would almost automatically talk about the team’s offense first. To be sure, after coming in 23rd out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored, there can be no doubt that the myriad of offensive woes bandied about throughout this past season will need to be redressed if the Flushing squad is to have any realistic chance of competing in 2014. But an examination of league and MLB stats for 2013 is revealing when isolating what has separated the playoff-bound squads from the rest of the pack.
The top five teams in the NL in pitching all reached the postseason this year, and not coincidentally were the only teams in the league to reach or exceed the 90-win plateau. By contrast, two of the top five finishers in NL runs scored, Colorado and Arizona, finished well out of the running, finishing with 74 and 81 wins respectively. In the AL, the top pitching team was Kansas City, but the Royals fell short of the championship rounds by virtue of an anemic offense that wound up scoring more than 200 fewer runs than the league champion Red Sox. Outside of this exception, the remaining top six finishers in league ERA all made it to at least a Wild Card slot. On the offensive side, Baltimore was tied with Cleveland for 4th in the league in runs scored but failed to notch a playoff slot as their 10th-best rated pitching proved too big an obstacle to overcome. The Indians, a few notches better at 7th in the league, were able to get a brief taste of fall competition before being bounced by Tampa Bay in Wild Card play.
The takeaway? Pitching wins pennants, to repeat an old saw, although we should throw in the added condition of having at least a league-average offense. This being the case, how much would the Mets have to improve to achieve a top-five quality mound staff to go with at least a middle-of-the-pack group of batsmen? The answer is maybe not as far as you would think.
The Mets finished the season with a 3.77 team ERA, good for 8th in the NL. A more revealing set of stats are those for Quality Starts, where the team total of 94 was tied for 2nd in the league (with Cincinnati), and relief ERA where the team’s figure of 3.98 was good (or bad) for 12th in the circuit. Clearly the ongoing Achilles’ heel of the bullpen was to blame for much of what proved to be yet another go-round of mediocrity for the Orange and Blue.
While addressing the absence of Matt Harvey will be foremost in the minds of many when looking at the team’s mound-staff for next season, clearly finding someway to finally shed the albatross of an underperforming bullpen simply MUST be achieved for the team to have a real chance to compete.
On the offensive side, the Mets finished with a total of 619 runs scored, 30 below the league average and good for 11th in the NL. While this is decidedly uninspiring, it should be noted that the Pirates also finished below the league average in scoring with 634, but were boosted to their first postseason slot in decades by a pitching staff that finished 3rd in league ERA, due in no small part to their bullpen which led the league in saves and trailed only Atlanta in relief ERA.
So while looking to boost offensive production remains an important goal, it would seem that by putting even greater emphasis on pitching, particularly on the relief corps, Sandy Alderson and crew would be doing more to actually move the Mets closer to postseason play. Some solid pieces are in place or potentially available in players such as Bobby Parnell, Carlos Torres, Scott Rice, Vic Black, Jeurys Familia and (hopefully) LaTroy Hawkins. Improvement will be needed from those who play the role of workhorse middle men a la Scott Atchinson and David Aardsma, and abysmal showings along the lines of what was obtained from the inconsistent Greg Burke and the now-departed Robert Carson and Brandon Lyon will have to be eliminated as much as possible.
Building a solid relief corps has clearly been a challenge for this organization, but with the development of Parnell into an apparently solid closer and the improvement of the ‘pen over the second half of the 2013 season (3.68 ERA, down from a first half mark of 3.83), there will hopefully be enough of a foundation in place to make it less of a daunting task than usual.