Can the Mets’ Outfield Be Among the Best in Baseball Again?

One of the best outfields in baseball in 2022, the New York Mets production fell of a cliff last season. Can they return to form in 2024?

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 19: Brandon Nimmo #9 of the New York Mets up to bat against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on September 19, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte and Mark Canha were instrumental to the Mets’ success during the team’s magical 2022 season. Together, they formed one of the best outfields in the game. But 2023 was a different story.

Drop-offs in play from Starling Marte and Mark Canha contributed to a massively disappointing season that ended with Marte playing in just 86 games with a .625 OPS and Canha being shipped off to Milwaukee. The 2024 season is a chance for a fresh start, though.

While Canha is no longer around, the Mets brought in Harrison Bader and Tyrone Taylor, each of whom are expected to receive significant playing time. Marte is finally healthy and Nimmo is coming off yet another strong campaign.

Can the Mets recapture some of that 2022 magic and deploy one of the league’s best outfields in 2024? Just Baseball’s own Ryan Finkelstein discussed this in the February 20th episode of Locked On Mets.

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What Went Right for the Mets in 2022?

Looking back to the 2022 season, the only team in baseball who received a higher fWAR from their outfielders was the New York Yankees.

The were second-best with a 12.6 fWAR, compared to the Yankees who racked up a 16.3 fWAR. Now one thing you have to account for though, is that the Yankees had the best player in baseball starting in the outfield with MVP Aaron Judge.

Of that 16.3 fWAR, 10.4 of those wins above replacement, were accumulated by Aaron Judge as he walloped 62 home runs in a historic and record-setting year (he accumulated an additional 1.2 fWAR when playing DH).

The production from the Yankee outfield in 2022 was carried mostly by one individual, whereas Ryan notes the Mets had three consistent and productive outfielders the entire year.

“Bottom line, that group was great for the Mets. And it was just three above average starters, day-in, day-out, playing the game at a high level.”

The trio all played nearly every day, save for a couple of stints on the injured list for Marte. When he got hurt, though, or Nimmo or Canha couldn’t go, the team had options.

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Most of the time, the Mets decided to slide Jeff McNeil, who had a fantastic season and won a batting title, into the outfield. Besides McNeil, the only other players outside of the starting trio to see notable time in the outfield were Tyler Naquin and Travis Jankowski.

Collectively, the outfield produced a slash line of .275/.355/.432 with 128 wRC+. That batting average and on-base percentage ranked first among all outfields. The slugging percentage ranked fifth, and the wRC+ ranked second only to the Yankees who, again, were carried by Judge.

Each of Nimmo, Marte and Canha hit over .265, got on base at above a .340 clip, and slugged over .400. They all additionally had a wRC+ over 125, meaning they were all at least 25 percent better than the league average hitter that year.

Ryan notes, “A huge reason why the Mets were so successful in 2022 was because their outfield was that good.” Their steady, high-level play elevated the team’s performance and created opportunities for the team to win on a consistent basis.

The same cannot be said for the 2023 Mets. As Ryan says in the episode, “it all fell apart.”

The Mets’ outfield in 2023 had the 11th-best fWAR in baseball at 8.4. Brandon Nimmo counted for 4.3 of those wins. Like with Judge and the Yankees in 2022, much of the outfield production for the 2023 Mets was carried by one individual.

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The outfield’s collective batting average dropped from .280 to .259, despite Nimmo recording an identical .274 average in both 2022 and 2023. The on-base percentage dropped from .355 to .344, the slugging percentage dropped from .429 to .415, and the wRC+ dropped from 127 to 113.

“They were still above average,” Ryan mentions. “And again, largely due to Brandon Nimmo. And also, Tommy Pham last year. But it just shows you that that outfield was nowhere near as productive.”

If the Mets enjoyed solid years from Nimmo and Pham in 2023, why did the collective numbers drop off so much from 2022?

Because the two other members of the starting outfield couldn’t keep up with their 2022 performance. Marte and Canha, who were revelations in 2022, became liabilities in 2023.

Marte’s regression was especially detrimental to the team. Ryan continues, “There are a lot of different factors that you can point to for why the New York Mets went from 101 wins in 2022 to 75 wins last year. But if you’re looking for an individual culprit, there are few that you could point to that were worse than Starling Marte.”

Marte went from being a .292 hitter to a .248 hitter. His on-base percentage dropped from .347 to .301 and his slugging percentage plummeted from .468 to .324. In total, he was worth -0.3 fWAR after being a nearly 3-win player the year prior.

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To put into perspective just how bad Starling Marte was in 2023, Ryan looks at Rafael Ortega and Tim Locastro. Together, they were not productive offensively, but they were never supposed to be more than depth pieces for the Mets. Combined, they were worth about one win more than Marte despite receiving about 140 less plate appearances.

For the Mets to succeed, Marte doesn’t necessarily need to be the player he was in 2022. That wouldn’t be realistic to expect, anyway. He just can’t be the player he was in 2023.

“If he is even 80 percent of what he was in 2022, or even 65 percent of what he was in 2022, and he’s just not a negative player dragging the Mets down in the lineup and out in the outfield, they will be better this year than they were last year.”

In addition to Marte, the regression from Mark Canha is another big reason why the Mets underperformed in 2023. His batting average dropped from .266 to .245. His on-base percentage dipped from .367 to .343 and his slugging percentage fell from .403 to .381. Like Marte, Canha was a nearly 3-win player in 2022 but his fWAR dropped in 2023 to 0.6.

“If [Marte and Canha] were what they had been [in 2022], the Mets would have been a .500 team at least.”

Having two players combine for 5.6 fWAR one year and being worth a combined 0.3 fWAR the next year is absolutely one of the biggest reasons for the Mets’ regression. It absolutely cost them multiple games that they could have otherwise won.

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Some of the slack was picked up by Tommy Pham, who had an impressive season with the Mets in 2023. But he was shipped off at the trade deadline as well and still remains a free agent. He’s not in the picture for 2024.

So what is the outlook for the Mets outfield in 2024? Whether they are one of the better outfields in the league depends mostly on one factor: defense.

Can Defense Carry the Mets Outfield in 2024?

The 2022 Mets outfield was roughly middle of the pack defensively, recording a collective -5 defensive runs saved and 2 outs above average. In 2023, the Mets outfield had -16 defensive runs saved and -7 outs above average. Both numbers ranked among the worst in the league.

Nimmo and Marte both regressed defensively in terms of both defensive runs saved and outs above average, whereas Canha regressed in outs above average but actually graded much better in 2023 in defensive runs saved.

The outfield defense the past two seasons, and especially last year, has certainly left much to be desired. In fact, the only player to grade as above average in both defensive runs saved and outs above average in each of the last two seasons from the outfield is Jeff McNeil, who just so happens to be the starting second baseman.

“The way they have tried to attack that this offseason, they have not gone about trying to replace the offensive production of Tommy Pham and Mark Canha. They have decided instead to focus on defense.”

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In fact, you could certainly make the case that this year’s projected outfield of Nimmo, Bader, Marte and Taylor is much worse from an offensive standpoint than last year’s outfield of Canha, Nimmo, Marte and Pham.

Bader, who is set to replace Canha as a starter, has a career 92 wRC+, whereas Canha has been a much better career hitter with a 117 wRC+. Bader has a career .310 OBP, .396 SLG and .706 OPS while Canha boasts a career .349 OBP, .422 SLG and a .772 OPS.

With that said, though, Bader rivals Canha in wins above replacement while playing nearly 300 less career games, and it’s because of his elite defense. In 635 games, Bader has been worth 12.9 fWAR. In 924 games, Canha has been worth 14.2 fWAR. That’s just 1.3 wins better in almost 300 more games. Bader’s defense is that valuable.

Since 2018, Bader has recorded 66 outs above average (best in baseball in that span) and 50 defensive runs saved (fifth-best in baseball in that span). With him, the Mets are plugging one of the best outfielders in baseball into center field.

The Mets’ other outfield addition, Tyrone Taylor, hasn’t been playing as long as Bader. But since 2021, when he first started playing regularly, he has recorded 13 outs above average and 17 defensive runs saved. Both of those numbers rank in the top 25 in that span.

“What the Mets are doing now, is they’ve added two defensive-first outfielders that can come in, play some center field,” Ryan explains of the Mets’ additions.

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“Both of those guys have offensive upside. Bader hasn’t been able to put it together much for full seasons, but he does have a definable skill with the bat in his ability to crush lefties… and Taylor has a lot of pop. His isolated power numbers have been really good.”

So that begs the original question: can the Mets outfield be among the best in baseball again?

Defensively, they should certainly rank at least among the top half of the league.

“What the Mets are counting on is the combination of Bader and Taylor defensively always giving you some value out there, even when Marte isn’t on the field.”

Marte is the true x-factor. If he can return to some form of what he used to be, the potential for this Mets outfield is exciting. But if it turns out that his 2023 season exemplifies the player that he is now, the odds of the Mets having a good outfield are certainly much lower.

Expectations for the team as a whole are understandably low. But if Nimmo keeps his production up and can transition seamlessly to left field, Marte bounces back and isn’t a negative-WAR player, and Bader and Taylor can provide plus defense, there is a road map to an above-average outfield.

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A lot needs to go right, but it’s certainly a possibility that the Mets have one of the league’s best outfields in 2024, or at least a much-improved group to what we saw in 2023.