Three reasons to watch the Mets in 2015

Last year, four divisions could boast at least two teams with 88 (or more) wins. Four divisions (not the same four) could boast three teams with winning records. Just one division doesn’t qualify for either group: the National League East, where the Nationals won 96 games and the Braves and Mets tied for second place with 79-83 records. To their credit, the Mets did outscore their opponents. Granted, not by much. But we’re trying to be kind, and not award first place to the Nats before Opening Day.

But yeah, the Nats are huge favorites and deserve to be.

Of course, the point of this series is that every team is interesting for at least a few reasons, interesting enough to watch at least occasionally. And among the non-great teams, I’m not sure the Mets take a back seat to many. I mean, just look!

1. Hey! Matt Harvey’s back!

If you weren’t at least sorta paying attention, it was easy to miss how well Matt Harvey pitched as a rookie in 2012. After all, he made just 10 starts in the majors and won just three of those. It was harder to miss him in 2013. Sure, Harvey was just 9-5. Nevertheless, he pitched so brilliantly that Cy Young voters collectively ignored his “record” enough for a fourth-place showing.

Then, of course, Harvey got hurt and hasn’t pitched since. Just in case anyone’s forgotten just how good he was, though … Among pitchers with at least 200 innings over 2012 and ’13 – which is to say, essentially every notable starting pitcher in all the major leagues, including Clayton Kershaw – Harvey ranked second in ERA (behind Kershaw), first in FIP, first in xFIP, first in home runs per nine innings, and fourth in strikeout percentage.

Of course you can slice the numbers in various ways. But I think no matter how you slice them, Matt Harvey was one of the two or three most effective pitchers in those two seasons. Obviously, we can’t expect exactly the same in his first season after Tommy John surgery. But that only makes him even more interesting than before! Let’s all watch and see if he’s back!

2. The Other Guys

Aside from Harvey, the Mets don’t look all that different than a year ago. So it’s not surprising that their projections aren’t particularly friendly. Take their slightly positive run differential from last season, tack on a few extra wins via Harvey, and presto there’s your run-of-the-mill 85-win team with Wild Card aspirations. There’s some real potential here, though, and it’s largely due to Harvey and the two young guys behind him in the rotation: Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom. Wheeler’s 2014 was his first full season, and he was good but could have been better. deGrom’s 2014 was his first full season, and he was kinda great, easily acing Billy Hamilton for Rookie of the Year laurels. And that was after only 22 starts, as deGrom opened the season in the minors.

Should we believe in deGrom? After all, he pitched better in the majors than he’d ever pitched in the minors. You can’t blame a reasonable projections system for thinking he’s due for a significant regression. But deGrom was a shortstop during most of his college career, and missed time as a pro following Tommy John surgery (yes, him too). So there’s a theory, at least, that we can’t expect deGrom to follow a “normal” career path. And he hasn’t, to this point. Which makes projections at least a little dicier than usual.

And finally, there’s Bartolo Colon, who was 41 last season and led the Mets with 15 wins. You want to project fewer than a dozen wins for him? I don’t, but either way he’s always fun to watch.

3. Travis d’Arnaud

Even aside from the inherently interesting deGrom/d’Arnaud battery, d’Arnaud’s quite an intriguing fellow. d’Arnaud ranked among baseball’s top 50 prospects before the 2011 season … and before the 2012 season, and the 2013 season, and the 2014 season. But he’s 26 now, and spent nearly all of last season with the big club. So while you can’t exactly say he’s no longer a prospect – I define prospect as a young (or youngish) player with obvious room for improvement – it’s also pretty obvious that if d’Arnaud’s going to play like an All-Star, he’d better start fairly soon.

It’s just hard to know what to expect from him, as injuries cost him significant playing time in 2011 … and 2012, and 2013. Finally healthy enough to log a full season in 2014, d’Arnaud batted .242/.302/.416, perfectly fine for a catcher but hardly like his devastating numbers in both Double- and Triple-A ball.

We can’t assume that d’Arnaud will hit 25 or 30 homers in a major-league season. But it should be fun to watch him try.

New York Mets

2014 record: 79-83

Playoffs: N/A

Projected 2015 record: 81-81*

Key additions: RF Michael Cuddyer, OF John Mayberry Jr.

Key subtractions: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, OF Bobby Abreu

*Projected records courtesy of Fangraphs