Saturday, March 26, 2011

Let's Talk About the Mets ON the Field

These days, whenever you hear anything about the New York Mets, the story is about the Wilpons and the Madoff mess. Or the story will be about Castillo or Oliver Perez. Or you'll hear about the speculation about the knee of Carlos Beltran. The latest story concerning the Mets was that the team lost $50 million last year and it could be worse this year. It must be hard to be a fan of that team right now as the sky always seems to be falling. Maybe this post will cheer those fans up. This is a post about the Mets that actually play on the field. Yes, the Mets do actually have baseball players and they actually have a pretty decent team. Imagine that!

The way the Mets are talked about--if their actual playing team is talked about at all--you would think they have a terrible team. But the Mets aren't the Astros, the Diamondbacks or the Pirates. Despite all the gloom and doom last year, the Mets still won 79 games, only two wins away from .500. But we have to be a bit pragmatic here. The Mets play in an extremely tough division. The Phillies and the Braves are both excellent teams. In fact, this writers thinks the Braves are going to steal the division away from the Phillies. And you can't forget the Marlins, who on any given day can beat you, and the Nationals who picked up Jayson Werth over the winter and have the best third baseman in the National League.

But again, the Mets should be competitive. The projections are for them to win 81 games and finish the season at .500. With the division they play in and looking at the depth chart of the team, that win total seems reasonable. A lot of good things would have to happen for that record to be better. But a lot of bad things would need to happen for it to be worse. But again, the bottom line here is that the Mets aren't patsies.

Like just about every team in baseball, how well the Mets do depends on their pitching. A year ago at this time, their rotation included John Maine, Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey and then a whole bunch of guesses. Santana is out for a good chunk of the season and Maine is gone. But the Mets have five guys they think can give them a chance to win. And if health holds for that rotation, they could be right. Let's take a look first at the rotation.

Baseball Prospectus is giving no love to Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey has sandwiched two good seasons around a bad one in 2009. He won fifteen games in 2010 while only losing nine. He finished with a 3.66 ERA and a WARP of 3.4. Pelfrey's WARP was only 1.9 in his bad season of 2009 but was 5.1 the season before. Seeing all that, it's baffling to see BP's projection of a 9-15 2011 record with only 0.9 WARP earned. The Fan can understand it in light of Pelfrey's low strikeout rate. And the thought here is that the projections figure that highly into the results. But his two good seasons were BABIP-neutral. In other words, he didn't have a really low BABIP to point to and say that he was lucky. All three of his most recent seasons show a BABIP right around league average. It was a little higher in 2009 when he got hit around quite a bit. But again, that was a bad season and he still accumulated 1.9 in WARP. The Fan believes he will beat projections if he stays healthy and he could beat them handily.

Jonathan Niese was a lot like the Mets last year in that he was just under .500 and just below average in his ERA. Niese started the season strong, then missed a couple of starts and didn't seem quite the same after. His walk rate is a bit too high as was his homer rate. But he strikes more guys out than Pelfrey. He's having a quality spring and has 20 strikeouts in 20+ innings. He is another pitcher that BP is low on. They have Niese projected for an 8-15 record and earning only 0.3 in WARP. He finished with 0.6 last year. So agian, their projection seems overly pessimistic.

The Mets took a huge chance by signing both Chris Young and Chris Capuano during the off-season. Both have long histories of injury problem. Both were passed over by most other teams because of those problems. But the Fan thought they were a good gamble when they were on the market and still thinks the Mets were smart to sign them. Both have been very effective this spring. Of course, it's scary heading into a season when you feel that two-fifths of your rotation is a ticking time bomb. But if it works, both pitchers have had good success in the past when healthy. BP seems to agree and rates both of them as the best of the Mets' starters in terms of ERA and win-loss percentage.

The real wildcard for the Fan is knuckleballer, R. A. Dickey. Dickey came out of nowhere last year at the age of 35 and fluttered his way into New York hearts. He went 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA in 27 appearances (26 starts). Baseball Prospectus is expecting a regression to an ERA of 4.21 and a regression in WARP from 3.6 to 1.2. It seems hard to fathom that Dickey would fall that far. But who is to know after the fairytale season he had a year ago. He had a very low BABIP which leads you to believe he was a bit lucky. Though everyone says he throws a harder knuckleball than anyone ever has, he really didn't rack up a lot of strikeouts. He's having a good spring with an ERA at 4.15 so BP doesn't seem far off. This one will be interesting.

If any of those starters stumbles, then Pat Misch is capable if not spectacular. The Fan is proceeding with the thought that you can't plan on Johan Santana for this season. But it's possible that he could be available at the end of the season to give the team a boost.

The relief staff isn't given much love by BP either. And who is to blame them? Francisco Rodriguez certainly had an adventure-filled season last year. And while there is absolutely no way to justify some of his actions, you can justify some of the loss of his performance with a manager who misused him. Manuel would often bring Rodriguez into meaningless appearances or leave him in too long. K-Rod is performing nicely this spring and has not given up a run this spring. His fastball isn't what it once was. But the guy knows how to pitch and this Fan thinks he's going to have a very good year.

Supporting K-Rod won't be easy. Taylor Buchholz is having a great spring, but has never shown that kind of brilliance before. Old friend, Ingringhausen, is having a good spring, but that seems like a stretch. Acosta will be just fine and Parnell has a big arm. Carrasco has been getting lit up. Byrdak is okay as a LOOGY. The bullpen could be a strength when all is said and done if the right pieces are put in place.

The Fan thinks the Mets' pitching will be fine. The offense will depend on a few key players. The infield is set with one wildcard at second base. David Wright is a premium offensive third baseman. he bounced back nicely last year in the power department too. You can count on great offense if not great defense from Wright. Jose Reyes is playing for his professional life. Once considered the best shortstop prospect in the league, Reyes fell to injuries and bounced back adequately last year. He will need to be even better this year if he's going to get a contract he wants and for the Mets to want to keep him as their shortstop. Those are pretty good incentives. Reyes is only doing so-so in the spring.

Ike Davis puzzles this observer. Sometimes he looks great and other times he looks lost. BP isn't high on him and only projects him to have a .253 batting average and an 0.9 WARP. While it doesn't appear to this Fan that Davis will become an elite first baseman in the majors, he should easily beat those projections plus he is one slick fielding first baseman. This will be a key season in the career of Ike Davis. If he doesn't progress, the Mets will look for other options.

Of course, everyone knows that the Mets dumped Luis Castillo after a poor 2010. Castillo had become a lightning rod in fan sentiment and the move was probably the best for both the organization and the player. But the Mets don't have any real option. Neither Brad Emaus or Daniel Murphy are thrilling options with either the bat or the glove. This one will bear watching.

The Mets have enough outfielders to make something work. Angel Pagan has become a good hitter and a good defender in center though BP is projecting a regression at the plate. Pagan is having an excellent spring and should far exceed those projections. Jason Bay needs to bounce back. His power totally disappeared in Citi Field before he was lost the rest of the season to concussion syndrome. He's having a good spring, but again, he's hit no homers.

The Fan has built a lot of hope on a return for Carlos Beltran to have one last very good season. Right now, he is experiencing no pain in his knees. That's really good news but how long will it last? If it lasts all season, then Beltran will surprise a lot of people. The guy can flat out hit and though BP really limits his projections, he is capable of so much more.

Willie Harris and Scott Hairston are suitable backups and can step into an outfield position should the need arise. And Duda can help from the minors if need be.

The fan really likes Josh Thole. Baseball Prospectus rates the catcher as just respectable at the plate and the projections reflect this. But he's hitting the cover off the ball this spring. He really could be an elite catcher in the National League. The Fan also likes the way he works with his pitchers and the awareness he shows on the field. Watch this kid, he could be special. Ronny Paulino is a capable backup if he doesn't get beat out by one of the kids.

As you can see, there is some reason for optimism for the Mets on the field. And wasn't that nice to read an entire Mets piece without talking about all the bad things? A lot will depend on what Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran can do and whether the rotation can stay healthy. But this team could be fun to watch. Just stop reading the newspapers or watching the six o'clock news.

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