Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Mets Go Black Friday Shopping

Image From Athletics Twitter

After missing out on pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Loup, and Steven Matz, the Mets front office ambushed the position player market on Black Friday. In his first major moves as Mets GM, Billy Eppler has reportedly agreed to contracts with infielder Eduardo Escobar, outfielder Mark Canha, and centerfielder Starling Marte. Canha’s contract is worth $26.5 million over two years with a 2024 club option. Escobar also has a 2024 club option but is set to earn less (only $20 million) over his two guaranteed years. While neither deal brings in the superstars Mets fans have been requesting, they are both solid acquisitions at a reasonable price. Marte’s contract, however, is over 4 years and worth $78 million. At 33, Marte is much more of an impact player than the other two but will come with higher risk as well.

Eduardo Escobar:

In 146 games in 2021, the 32-year-old posted a 2.4 bWAR and a 3.0 fWAR with a 107 wRC+. Excluding the truncated 2020 season, Escobar has a consistent track record with a bWAR and fWAR above three and a wRC+ above 105 since 2018. Escobar spent a decent amount of time at every infield position except shortstop last year, netting a negative DRS at all three. OAA also grades him as below average at first base and third base but awards him +3 outs above average at second base. 

Last year, Escobar improved his approach at the plate, dropping his chase rate – which was typically above 35% – to a more respectable 28.8% (league average is 28.3%), all while maintaining an above-average zone swing rate (72.2% in 2021). This contributed to a 23.9% whiff rate and a .39 K/BB ratio, both slightly above league average. Escobar’s power, excepting 2020, has always been his strength. As they have in the past, Escobar’s numbers showed an impressive 8.9% barrel rate (league average is 6.6%) and 33.3% flyball rate (league average is 22.5%) in 2021. Helped by above-average pull tendencies on flyballs, the switch-hitter posted a .219 ISO (league average is .161) and hit 28 home runs. 

Due to a mediocre standard deviation of launch angle (28.6) and a below-average oppo% on ground balls (7.5%), Escobar’s low .279 BABIP is unlikely to rise substantially. However, Escobar’s power has tended to outweigh the flaws in his BABIP. With this signing, the Mets are getting a consistent and versatile offensive producer who is a decent starter despite bad defense. While Escobar may not start opening day depending on later offseason moves, he provides invaluable depth to an often injured Mets organization.

Mark Canha:

In 141 games in 2021, Canha produced a 2.5 bWAR and a 2.6 fWAR with a 115 wRC+. Canha has played a substantial amount of time at all three outfield spots accruing -15 DRS and +3 OAA in the past three years. It is worth noting that OAA doesn’t factor in the effect of an outfielder’s arm, while DRS estimates that Canha has cost his team seven runs since 2019 due to his subpar arm strength. But while his defensive track record is controversial at best, there is no doubting Canha’s bat. 

The former Athletic has posted a wRC+ of 115 or better every year since 2018 and has a 129 wRC+ in the past three years. Canha’s best tool is his elite eye that posted a 20.7% chase rate (91st percentile) last year. Among all 159 hitters with at least 1000 plate appearances since 2019, Canha’s .377 OBP and .63 BB/K ratio rank 11th and 25th, respectively. One of Canha’s sneaky offensive tools is his 68th percentile speed, which though seemingly unremarkable, has helped him accumulate 4.2 baserunning runs above average and 16 steals the past two years. 

The rest of Canha’s offensive game, however, is less impressive. His launch angle consistency is passable (28.2 sd(LA)), but his low oppo% on groundballs (8.6%) will suppress his BABIP and batting average. His power peaked in 2019 when he hit for a .244 ISO with 26 home runs in only 497 plate appearances, but has declined since. In 2019, Canha hit a home run about every 19 plate appearances, which rose to a home run approximately every 49 plate appearances in 2020 and rose again to roughly every 37 plate appearances in 2021. Last year, Canha’s power dipped below average with career lows in ISO (.156) and xwOBACON (.343). Unfortunately, this precipitous power decline doesn’t seem like a fluke and is backed up by underlying metrics. From 2019 to 2021, his barrel rate has declined from 9.8% to 7.1%, his max exit velocity has dropped from 110.9 to 107.7, and his pull% on flyballs has plummeted from 34.7% to 22.7%. 

However, as he has shown in the past two years, Canha can be a productive player relying only on his exceptional eye. Without a power resurgence, he won’t be the star player he was in 2019, but he can be a consistent right-handed bat at an affordable price in a Mets outfield previously riddled with uncertainty.

Starling Marte

Last year, Marte had the best offensive year of his career as his 134 wRC+ propelled him to a 4.7 bWAR and a career-best 5.5 fWAR. Marte spent all of his time in centerfield last year, recording a -4 DRS and 3 OAA. Over the past 3 years in center field, Marte has a -14 DRS and an 8 OAA. While the gap between the two metrics cannot be attributed to a poor arm (DRS awards Marte 3 runs saved for his arm), they can be explained by OAA’s lack of the positional adjustment DRS has. While Marte may be better than the average outfielder as indicated by OAA, DRS suggests he may be slightly worse than the average centerfielder. Considering Marte will be 36 in his final year on this contract, Marte’s defensive skill is carried by his plus speed. His defensive success has always existed despite a below-average jump, but his speed has already started slipping. Since 2019, the center fielder’s speed has dropped from 29 ft/sec (92nd percentile) to 28.4 ft/sec (83rd percentile). So far, this small loss of speed hasn’t significantly affected his defense, but that could change as his legs age. Marte will likely continue to be serviceable in center field next year, but his long-term future at the position is questionable.  

On the other side of the ball, both Marte’s speed and stolen base ability should bring a much-needed jolt to a Mets team largely devoid of aggressive base runners. The 33-year-old’s 47 steals and 12.3 baserunning runs above average led all of MLB last year. For comparison, the slow running Mets were tied for 24th in the league with 54 steals and ranked 27th with -13.5 base running runs above average.

While Marte is coming off his best showing with a career-best 134 wRC+, it was inflated by a high .372 BABIP and a .017 wOBA-xWOBA gap. His BABIP will probably remain above average due to his launch angle consistency skills (27.9 sd(LA)) and his 16.5% oppo% on ground balls (league average is 12.5%), but it will be difficult to maintain a BABIP in the .370s when he hadn’t previously recorded one above .320 since 2017. And for his high BABIP, Marte sacrifices power. 

Despite his 8.4% barrel rate, I wouldn’t hold my breath on Marte’s power (.148 ISO in 2021). Marte doesn’t elevate the ball well, as shown by his below-average line drive and fly ball rates, and when he does elevate, it’s often not to his pull side. Historically, Marte’s pull rates on flyballs are well below the league average, making it hard for him to capitalize on his high barrel rate and making that wOBA-xwOBA gap concerning. On the bright side, Marte is able to avoid the middle of the field – which yields the worst outcomes on flyballs – by hitting almost half of his flyballs to the opposite field. While not as productive as pulled fly balls, opposite-field fly balls don’t spell doom for wOBA vs xwOBA numbers like fly balls hit to center do. So, while I expect Marte’s wOBA to regress slightly towards his xwOBA, I believe that he can continue to overperform it. 

Marte’s other breakout tool in 2021 was much-improved plate discipline. In 2021, Marte walked 8.2% of the time, much better than his career total of 5.3%. This allowed him to defy career trends and record a career-best .383 OBP. As one would expect, Marte has done this with a more patient approach, dropping his chase rate to 30.1% and his zone swing rate to 71%. However, Marte’s whiff rate is still unremarkable at 24.4% (league average is 24.6%), and his approach is still more aggressive than the average player. Additionally, his swing take profile is worrying as he only swings 1% more than league average at pitches in the heart of the plate, swings 6% more than average at pitches in the shadow zone, and 2% more than average at pitches in the chase zone. As a result, I am skeptical he will sustain his 0.43 BB/K (league average is 0.37), especially considering his career average of 0.26 BB/K.

Despite the Mets’ previously desperate situation and Marte’s offensive impact, I dislike this signing. Obviously, Marte is an impact bat right now, but his great 2021 season is unlikely to be repeated. And while the Mets may get good value for the first two years, committing 78 million over 4 years to a 33-year-old with much of his production coming from his speed seems ill-advised. 

Overall, it is still early in the offseason and difficult to deduce the current plan. Hopefully, Eppler’s ambitions are grander than Escobar, Canha, and Marte, as none of these three position players seem like the “bigger swings” Eppler indicated he might take this offseason. And though I anticipate the Mets offseason focus to turn more towards pitching now, I doubt these three deals will headline the offseason, especially with so many big names left on the market.

Patrick Bowe

I am a Mets fan who takes an analytical approach to baseball and evaluating players. I prefer to focus on small details instead of broad generalizations.