It's that time of the year, baseball fans. The time of year when statheads and soothsayers start firing up the old projection machine to see which MLB teams are the ones to beat. In case you haven't heard, MiPS is forecasting the New York Mets to do big things in the upcoming 2017 season.
Never heard of MiPS? You're not alone. It's kind of like ZiPS, which stands for sZymborski Projection System and has become one of baseball's go-to predictors in recent years. Only instead of renowned sabermetrician -- and ESPN.com contributor -- Dan Szymborski running the numbers, MiPS relies on the prognosticative powers of ... the Mets. And no, we're not referring to New York's analytics department either. We're talking about the actual Mets. Like, the ones who actually take the field and play the game. To be more specific, their pitchers. Behold, the Metropolitans Projection System.
While ZiPS has Terry Collins' squad pegged for a middling 84 wins (six fewer than the defending NL East champion Nationals), MiPS is decidedly more bullish on the Mets. Although MiPS has yet to release an exact numerical prediction, the general consensus is that the Mets will go as far as their starting rotation takes them, and right now MiPS is higher than Snoop Dogg in a hot air balloon -- unrealistically high, some might say -- on New York's starters.
During the recent winter meetings, when Washington was on the verge of acquiring ace Chris Sale from the White Sox -- a deal that would've given the Nats a top three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Sale, and presumably baseball's best rotation -- Syndergaard suggested that New York's starters would still be the superior group.
Under any circumstances, it would've been a bold statement, but it's even moreso given the conspicuously convalescent condition of the Mets' rotation. Just how banged up are the Mets' arms?
If you didn't know any better, you'd think GM Sandy Alderson stumbled upon a Groupon for an orthopedic surgeon and was just looking for excuses to use it. In July, ace Matt Harvey had season-ending surgery to combat his thoracic outlet syndrome. In August, while rehabbing from his 2015 Tommy John surgery, Zack Wheeler suffered a flexor strain and was shut down. In September, fellow righty Jacob deGrom had season-ending elbow surgery, as did southpaw Steven Matz. Then there's Noah Syndergaard, who pitched much of the year with a bothersome bone spur but didn't have surgery. After the season, Alderson said the bone spur wasn't significant enough to go under the knife, but who knows -- maybe the Mets had simply maxed out on that Groupon.
If you're scoring at home, that's a big ol' question mark for every single member of New York's projected starting five. The good news is, according to lead MiPS forecaster Thor, all that physical health stuff is overrated.
"The fact that we're all kind of like a tight-knit brotherhood within ourselves, we're always rooting for one another," Syndergaard told reporters last week. "We've got a really good camaraderie."
So what if they've, ya know, never actually pitched together in one complete turn of the rotation. Like, ever. All that matters is that they love each other like five brothers from another mother. Mind you, chemistry isn't the only thing the Mets starters have going for themselves. To hear them tell it, they've got their health too. That's right: Those big-time boo-boos are bygone.
"The way things are feeling now, the way the body feels, I'm feeling great," said Harvey at a community appearance last week. "I've got some warmth back and no more tingling. The ball is coming out really good right now, especially for December." As for deGrom, he recently told reporters that the post-surgical pain he felt whenever he snapped his fingers has disappeared. "It feels like nothing happened," he said. Even Alderson is on the hype train: "Going into next season," the Mets GM said recently, "I look at it as we're eight or nine deep."
No tingling? No wonder MiPS is all-in on the Mets. Pain-free snapping? Forget about prop bets for the Super Bowl -- I'm booking my flight to Vegas today so that I can put my entire holiday bonus on "A Met will win the 2017 Cy Young." Eight or nine deep? Whatever you say, Sandy.
OK, OK, maybe I'm getting carried away here. In fairness to the Mets, they're not the only ones asking fans to quaff the Kool-Aid. 'Tis the (off)season, after all. That magical time of year when every big leaguer is supposedly in the best shape of their lives or working toward being in the best shape of their lives (even Pablo Sandoval!). A time when we all pretend that last year's injuries and/or slumps and/or suspensions never happened.
It's also worth noting that the Mets aren't necessarily force-feeding the Kool-Aid. In fact, depending on who you listen to and which sound bite you choose to focus on, it appears they might even have a grasp on the reality of their situation. "Obviously, I don't have a crystal ball," said Harvey, hedging ever so slightly when asked if he expects to return to form next season. Said Alderson: "Am I confident they're all going to be 100 percent? Well that would probably be unrealistic to believe."
If they are all 100 percent, and they all manage to stay 100 percent throughout the majority of the season, well then -- and only then -- does Syndergaard's tweet hold water. Then and only then does New York belong in the best rotation conversation along with the Cubs and Red Sox . Then and only then are the Mets a safe bet to play deep into October and turn MiPS into the new, tried-and-true face of baseball analytics.
In the meantime, with all due respect to Thor, I'm going to have to agree to disagree.