Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tim Wakefield's Place Among Knuckleball Pitchers

Tim Wakefield retired yesterday after a long career, most of it spent with the Boston Red Sox. Wakefield, of course, was a knuckleball pitcher and member of a small club of such pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball. Knuckleball pitchers are an oddity and we baseball fans love them. Why though? Perhaps we love knuckleball pitchers because it doesn't take an elite arm to throw one. Such pitchers can pitch on little rest and seemingly, with little effort. Knuckleball pitchers can pitch well into their forties. And, of course, we have a Bob Uecker's wonderful description of how to catch one ("Wait until it stops rolling and pick it up").

Whenever a player has played as long as Wakefield has, we usually try to put such a career into perspective. And, no, Tim Wakefield is never going to be a candidate for the Hall of Fame. So we can't write that kind of post. After all, Wakefield's closest comps on are Chuck Finley and Livan Hernandez. Since knuckleball pitchers are a rarity, we can put Wakefield's career in perspective compared to other knuckleball pitchers over the history of baseball. That's what this post will do.

The hardest thing to do to compile such a list is first determining who the knuckleball pitchers were through history. Fortunately, such a list exists and was culled as the starting point of this little research project. Using this list of names and looking up all the careers of the players on the list, and going by accumulated rWAR, Tim Wakefield is the ninth best knuckleball pitcher ever. Here is the list:

  1. Phil Niekro - 96.8 rWAR
  2. Ted Lyons - 58.8 - 19.2 of his rWAR was accumulated before he started throwing the pitch in 1929.
  3. Eddie Cicotte - 49.7 - banned from baseball after the 1920 season for his part in the Black Sox scandal  of 1919.
  4. Dutch Leonard - 45.6
  5. Wilbur Wood - 45
  6. Hoyt Wilhelm - 41.3 - Only a starter one season. The rest was in relief.
  7. Tom Candiotti - 41
  8. Charlie Hough - 37.5 - Did not become a starting pitcher until his thirteenth big league season.
  9. Tim Wakefield - 31.6
  10. Joe Niekro - 30.2 - Also compiled some WAR before converting to the knuckleball full time.
  11. Bob Purkey - 26.5
  12. Hal Brown - 16.6
  13. Johnny Niggeling - 15.6

While we're at it, we might as well list the best pitching years ever by a knuckleball pitcher. Wakefield won't make this list. His best season was 1995 when he accumulated 4.6 rWAR.

  1. Wilbur Wood (1971) - 10.7 rWAR
  2. Ed Cicotte (1917) - 10.0
  3. Phil Niekro (1978) - 9.1
  4. Hoyt Wilhelm (1959) - 7.4 - His only year as a full time starter. And what a year!
  5. Bob Purkey (1962) - 7.2 - Amazing year for the Pirates that season.
  6. Joe Niekro (1982) - 7.1

Tim Wakefield had a productive career and being ninth all time among his pitching peers is pretty darned good. He was a fan favorite in Boston and his pitching of the last couple of seasons won't be missed, but he will be.

Spreadsheet and notes. Click on the the image to make it larger.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Coming to Terms With Gary Carter

Gary Carter's death this week at the age of 57 is a bit of a stomach kicker. For one, the guy was only two years older than I am. Plus, it came during the same week when I lost a man very dear to me who has been a part of my life for over thirty years. So it's already been a week of loss and sadness. There is a lot of such sadness in life and our only recourse is to balance that with the blessings and the good times. Since the man I lost this week was 95 years old, there is much more sadness for me than for him as he had a rich life and died peacefully. There are so many good memories that can be recalled to soften the tears. But what of Gary Carter? Unlike the man in my life that I lost, I spent most of my adult life with a fetish of dislike for Gary Carter. But I saw the beginning, middle and end of his career and athletes aren't supposed to die. Not that young anyway.

Much of this is irrational. And I realize that. Mourning the passing of a ballplayer is over-hyped in a world where people die by the millions every week. Because the player was famous and a Hall of Fame player at that, his passing is given much more attention than it deserves. There is little attention except for perhaps a back page story for a child that has lost a father or a mother who has lost a son in any small town in America. But because Gary Carter was a Hall of Fame catcher, his death is given much more coverage. That's just the way it is. And my dislike for the man was every bit as irrational.

When did that dislike start and why was it so? Don't ask those silly questions of a baseball fan. Is there ever any good reason? I dislike Kevin Youkilis. Always have. Is Youkilis a bad guy? Probably not. But something inside me is turned off by the guy. Maybe it's his stupid batting stance or the way he takes a personal affront to every inside pitch or his temper when he strikes out. But other players have done that, so what gives? I don't know. Something about Gary Carter pushed all the wrong buttons inside me.

Carter was known as an intense player. Perhaps that is the tie of his dislike to that of Youkilis, who is also intense. We love intense players when they are on our team. But when they are on the other team, we like them a lot less. Carter was a catcher. Catchers are supposed to be low-profile guys. Grunts. The tools of ignorance guys. But Carter was flamboyant and even as a member of the Expos, became famous for a team that did not get a lot of national press. Carter went to seven All Star Games as a member of the Expos, including a run of six straight from 1979 to 1983. Plus, he played in the post season in 1981. It was during those contests when the dislike built.

But the loathing came to a full head in 1986 when Carter was a member of the World Champion New York Mets. Gary Carter was center stage in that post season and certainly in that improbable tenth inning of the most famous Game Six in World Series history (perhaps eclipsed this year by the Cardinals). Gary Carter helped break my heart that season.

Though I've spent a lifetime as a fan of the Red Sox's rivals, that 1986 Red Sox team had captured my heart. It was the season I developed a major man-crush on Roger Clemens. Dwight Evans will always remain one of my favorite all time players. Wade Boggs was the most amazing hit machine I have ever seen in my baseball life. Tom Seaver was having his last hurrah with that team. Bruce Hurst was an underrated left-handed starter. Bill Buckner and Marty Barrett were blue collar heroes. Oil Can Boyd was comic relief.

That team just captured my imagination. As I have mentioned here many times, I was living in southern Maine at the time (just over the NH border) and we didn't have cable television. There was no Channel 38 and the Red Sox were the only games I could watch with my antenna on the roof. So I watched nearly every game of that 1986 season. I saw every one of Clemens' brilliant starts. I saw every Wade Boggs hit. I exalted over every perfectly positioned throw from Evans in right field. It was a magical season.

And that magical season led to the 1986 World Series. I kind of liked the Mets with their band of bad boys. But, of course, I didn't like Gary Carter. And then came Game Six. The game was in the bag. This Red Sox team that I had grown to love was going to win it all! It was the bottom of the tenth with just three outs and it would be done. You can "Bill Buckner" me all you want. But I remember vividly watching that last inning and screaming at the television. It was to be one of the worst managing moments in history. Boston manager, John McNamara, lost that World Series. Buckner should have been replaced defensively. Calvin Schiraldi had already yielded the lead in the bottom of the ninth and shouldn't have started the tenth. He had already pitched two tough innings. Why was he still out there?

But then Schiraldi got the first two Mets to fly out to start the tenth. One more out! One more out! It never came. I remember standing behind the couch with the couch as a barrier between me and the television. It was if I needed the furniture to keep me from devouring the television. I was close to euphoric. The Mets were down to their last out. But then Gary Carter came up. Carter with his permed hair and his All-American boyish looks hit a single. No problem, McNamara will take Schiraldi out and get this over with. Kevin Mitchell came up to pinch hit. It was the perfect time to make the switch. Except McNamara stood there. Mitchell got a hit. Still, McNamara stood there. Then Ray Knight got a hit that scored Carter. Knight was another player I hated for much the same reasons as Carter. Of course Carter's helmet came off when he slid into home. Of course, he crowed in his All-American goodness. Of course his rah-rah style of play was evident. I fumed. That couch saved lives that day.

Finally, McNamara removed Schiraldi. Bout time, stupid. But it was too late. The rest was history. I was crushed and dancing on the field, in the middle of the pile of happy Mets was Gary Carter. Loathing became hatred. Hatred burned deeply. One of my most disliked players had helped break my heart.

Flash forward to the present. That same Gary Carter was diagnosed with cancer, that dreaded disease that strikes fear in all of us. Carter was upbeat and leaned on his faith. He faced his illness with class and courage. How can you hate such a man? Footage was shown just recently of him at an event and ravaged by illness, he still had a big smile on his face. Where does such courage and faith come from? Years of loathing and animosity melted away to admiration in less than the time it took to write this post. I came to love that Gary Carter.

How strange life is. Carter's death will forever be linked to the other loss in my life this week. The two will be paired. One man I lost will be a love grown over thirty years and an influence on my life that will never end. The other's death was a man I had disliked as long as I had loved the other man. But both are mourned today. The inherent goodness of both men is the bottom line and I have no doubt that both will have eternal rewards beyond this life. Both men led by example. One just took longer to get his message across than the other. Rest in peace gentlemen. Rest in peace.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

And the Jermaine Dye Award Goes To...

Trucking Day has come and gone for baseball teams and pitchers and catchers started reporting for duty and will continue to increase in the coming days. Spring Training engines are revving up in Florida and Arizona as teams try to ready themselves for the upcoming 2012 baseball season. How exciting is that!? But it's not so exciting for some fairly well known free agents that have yet to find jobs for the upcoming season. To say these players might be getting a bit antsy is an understatement. Who will be this year's Jermaine Dye?

Why Jermaine Dye? Dye was a two-time All Star who also won a Silver Slugger Award and twice made the top 20 in MVP Voting. Dye made over $74 million during his career. But after 2009, Dye became a free agent and his phone never rang. Well, it might have a few times, but there was never a connection on what Dye was willing to make and what a team was willing to offer. His career was over just like that one year after a fifteenth place finish in MVP voting in 2008.

Dye was a casualty of baseball's new valuation analysis. Armed with all kinds of new data, teams know what players are worth and rarely allow themselves to pay above that valuation. No team saw Dye as a good option. Dye was used to making $11 million a year and never heard the new reality coming until it whacked him in the forehead.

So at least in this mind, Dye is a symbol of sorts--enough so that a new award is named after him: The Jermaine Dye Award, given to a player each year that ran headlong into the slammed door of the evaluation machine. Who are this year's candidates? Well, there is Roy Oswalt. Oswalt is one of the better pitchers of his generation. But thus far, Oswalt has limited the scope of teams he will deal with and unfortunately, those limited amount of teams haven't bit the bullet on Oswalt's price tag. But Oswalt will likely get a deal. He is still too good a pitcher in a market that covets such things. The only question is how much money he'll get.

So who else is there? Pat Burrell retired, so we can't count him. How about Johnny Damon? Hmm...that's an interesting call. His status might depend on if the Yankees can trade A.J. Burnett. But there are whispers that his desire to reach 3,000 hits have compromised his value at the plate as his quest makes him less patient. Damon is a strong contender. It's been rumored that he wants $5 million and most teams won't want to pay him that kind of money.

How about J.D. Drew? Reports are that Drew is going to retire. But no official word has come forth. In fact, no words have been written about Drew at all, which is kind of fitting as he's always been the silent type. Until Drew's announcement comes, he's a contender.

Vladimir Guerrero might be the winner of the award. Vlad is one of the best players of his generation. But his bad wheels caught up to his free-swinging ways in 2011 and his value has gone way down. It's hard to imagine a player of his magnitude settling for a cheap little deal somewhere.

Derrek Lee? Another strong candidate. Lee had a strong finish with the Pirates but that was after a sluggish stint with the Orioles. Lee has made over $90 million in his career including $7 million last year. Count on your fingers the number of teams that need a first baseman. Not many, right? He's worth a flyer as a DH, but not for any kind of significant money. Would Lee accept that? 

Ivan Rodriguez might not get an offer, which is sad. It's hard to think of baseball without him. But he's been fading for so long that he doesn't quite fit our criteria here. The same can be said for Edgar Renteria. The rest of the unsigned free agents are fringy at best unless you want to include Jason Kendall. Uh. No. Skip that. 

It appears that our candidates are Guerrero, Damon, Lee and Oswalt. Of the four, Vlad seems to be the most vulnerable. And that's a shame. He was amazing in his prime.

BBA Link Fest - In General Terms

Another week. Another links post. That may sound mundane to you, but nothing is ever mundane from the writers in the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. And with teams beginning to trickle in to their spring sites, anticipation is growing that our long winter without baseball is heading into spring. The links that follow are culled from all of our General Chapter sites around the country and around the world. Pour yourself another cup of coffee or tea, click some links and enjoy.

Russ Blatt over at 85% Sports thinks that Moneyball is dead in Oakland. And he is dumbfounded. Check out why.

Over at Analysis Around the Horn, Ryan Sendek has been doing amazing things prepping you for the fantasy baseball season. This week, he takes his spreadsheet for a test drive.

Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball continues her Haiku baseball previews. How unique is that!? This week, it's the Pirates.

At The Ball Caps Blog, Dan still misses the Washington Senators. Which version? Both, of course.

Stevo-sama has a lovely ode to Chuck Knoblauch and a very special World Series game in 1991. Fantastic read over at The Baseball Enthusiast.

Baseball Unrated thinks that Darvish + Cespedes = Insanity.

This week's post of the week unflinchingly goes to Blogging From the Bleachers as Aaron does a superlative job summing up the Theo Epstein compensation circus. Excellent stuff.

Blaine Blontz of Call to the Pen is very interested in what will happen with Hanley Ramirez in Miami. Blontz's post makes it so for us as well.

Mario Salvini of Che Palle! reminds us that Seattle needs to train earlier because they will start the season in Japan. The post features a touching fan tribute to Greg Halman and a new tattoo for Mike Carp.

Talk about an ambitious project! Matt Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please. gives us two posts to cover the top 100 players of baseball. Part 1. Part 2.

Not to be outdone by Matt above, Curley Bender of Crum-Bum Beat started a great series on the top pitching rotations of all time. Golly, these guys work hard to give us such good stuff. Part 1. Part 2.

In case you haven't seen enough of Kate Upton this week...wait...oh...what? lost in thought there for a minute. Anyway, TheNaturalMevs has her and Jay Bruce in a commercial for MLB2K12 over at Diamond Hoggers.

Just what does a third baseman do in a game anyway? Dugout 24 has the answers.

In easily one of the most intriguing post of the week comes from The OCP over at For Baseball Junkies with a terrific work on the Billy Beane era in Oakland.

The Baseball Index projects the Pirates' starting line up and admits to a man-crush.

Over at Going Yard, the writer thinks that several unsigned free agents are singing a Blondie tune.

The Golden Sombrero again has terrific content this week. The site started a great series on Spring Training invitees, which is very helpful. But for this Fan of the game, it was a little gif that caught the attention and held it.

Grubby Glove catches up with his father's favorite team in a wonderful post that's a great read.

This week brought us Valentine's Day. So it was fitting that The Hall of Very Good caught up with Ellis Valentine.

Hot Corner Harbor's Theo has some problems with another writer's NL Central projections. Agree with his final conclusions.

Well, yeah, Left Field's post this week is about football and not about baseball. But what they heck, when it's well written, it's worth reading. Even if the post opens up wounds just healing for this Fan.

Andrew Martin has been a wonderful new asset for the MLB Dirt team. His interviews with prospects around the minors have been priceless. Here's his latest.

Jonathan Hacohen's review of Howard Megdal's new book, Wilpon's Folly, over at MLB Reports is almost as good as the book itself. And that's saying a lot!

Over/Under is a fun game this time of year. Niktig's Baseball Blog gives us a meaty one worthy of some fun comments.

Want to see what Greg Maddux looked like in 1985 before he was a star? Old Time Family Baseball plucks out a great old video to show us.

The only team that has acquired better talent than the Miami Marlins this off season has been The Platoon Advantage. They signed up another great writer this week in Chris St. John. Here's his first post for the site.

For a thought provoking piece, look no further than Matthew Mahaffey's piece over at Pop Fly Boys as he looked at free agency and parity.

Replacement Level Baseball Blog continued their 2012 baseball preview series this week with a look at the NL East. Great job! The only argument here is in the number of Phillie wins.

Hardball Times writer, Jeff Gross joined Sully of Sully Baseball on his blogtalk radio show. They got into an argument. Definitely worth the listen.

Thomas Fitzgerald of Through the Fence Baseball breaks down the 2012 Boston Red Sox catchers and is a great read.

X-Log's, Mike Cardano, writes that Alex Gordon is an excellent choice for your fantasy baseball team.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Applauding the Red Sox Deal with Ortiz

Last season, David Ortiz became relevant again. It was quite the surprise. And since it has been a tradition in this spot each year to ponder what the Red Sox should do with David Ortiz, such a post was written way back in November. Recently it was announced that the Red Sox and Big Papi have reached a deal to avoid arbitration. The announcement made it kind of fun to go back to those November musings. According to the announcement, Ortiz will be compensated to the tune of $14.6 million for 2012. That's about a million and a half more than what November's post recommended but at least the Red Sox were wise to resist a multiple year deal. So, well done, Mr. Cherington.

As the November post indicated, it is unlikely that Ortiz will earn his contract. And stating that seems like a contradiction to the first paragraph. But it's not really. Sometimes you have to go with a situation that is good for your ball club despite perhaps a bad value judgement on a player's worth. The Red Sox with David Ortiz in the line up in 2012 is simply a better line up than without him. Heading into his thirty-seventh year makes Ortiz a long shot to reproduce what he did last year. And no projection system consulted predicts that he will.

David Ortiz put up a slash line last year of .309/.398/.554. As noted in the November piece, Ortiz hit lefties and inside fastballs again like he did in the past. He cut down on his strikeouts. His season was among the biggest surprises in baseball. All the projections predict he will be more in the .277/.378/.515 range in 2012. That's still potent production at the designated hitter position that few teams will be able to match. With the injury to Martinez in Detroit, no other contending team has a weapon like that in their arsenal. Frankly, the projections seem a bit optimistic, but the thoughts here remain the same: The Red Sox line up will be better with David Ortiz than without him.

But that fact remains that David Ortiz is a risk. As we saw in the early stages of 2009 and 2010, what Ortiz does well can disappear just as fast. By resisting a multiple year offer, the Red Sox have continued to protect themselves from an older player suddenly declining past the reclamation point. And by signing the deal at below Ortiz's asking point in an arbitration deal probably saved them a few million if Ortiz would have won his case. In the end, the Red Sox probably paid more than market value. But the move was a wise one.

There is no doubt that David Ortiz could have one more good season in him. If he does, the Red Sox will be that much tougher to beat. If he doesn't, the Red Sox haven't sunk a cost beyond the upcoming season. Well done. Well done, indeed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Japanese and Cuban Players Are Risky

Two of the larger story lines of this baseball off season have been the pursuit of Yu Darvish and Yeonis Cespedes. Ironically, both ended up signing for American League West teams. And the two acquisitions point to the difficulty in evaluating obtaining players from both countries. We have the scouting reports and how the players performed relative to the competition in their respective countries. But nobody knows how that will translate to success in Major League Baseball. Ozzie Guillen said it best. Wanting such players is like gambling.

Getting players from either Cuba or Japan is difficult. Japan has the posting situation where a team has to first pay the Japanese team that owns the rights to the player just for the opportunity to negotiate a deal. As the Darvish deal shows, that can be an expensive proposition. It goes without saying that a Cuban player has to first defect from his country, obtain citizenship in another country and then get a visa to play in the United States. Cuban defectors then become free agents that instigate bidding wars for their services. The final tally for the Oakland Athletics was $36 million for four years for Cespedes.

Naturally, when you have to lay out that amount of cash to obtain a player, you want that player to play in the majors and not the minors. Many experts insist that Cuban baseball is the equivalent to High A minor league baseball. It's not a guarantee that such players are ready for prime time. Japanese players have even more resistance to the idea of pitching in the minors. For a Japanese player to want to leave their home country, they want to play at the highest level in this country.

To get some kind of handle on the value proposition, a search was made of Cuban born players since 1980. The 1980 date assumes that the player in question was more highly likely to been a defection situation since those players were likely born after Fidel Castro came into power in Cuba. The search found forty players who have played a total of 173 years in the majors. Of course, many of those years were partial seasons, but we'll stick with that for now.

A similar search also found 45 Japanese players who have played a total of 175 years. This near-symmetry gives us a nice comparison point. The list of success stories among these players is not a large one. Five of the 40 Cuban players have put together careers of more than 10 bWAR. Six of the Japanese players have compiled more than 10 bWAR thus far. Sixteen of the Japanese players have negative WAR totals. Fifteen of the Cuban players have compiled negative WAR totals for their career.

Career leaders among the Japanese players:

  • Ichiro Suzuki - 54.5 WAR
  • Hideo Nomo - 20.6 WAR
  • Hideki Matsui - 16.9 WAR
  • Takashi Saito - 11.1 WAR

Career leaders among Cuban players:

  • Livan Hernandez - 27.6 WAR
  • Orlando Hernandez - 21.1 WAR
  • Yunel Escobar - 17.2 WAR
  • Jose Contreras - 13.9 WAR

That's not an overly impressive list. There are probably better ways to calculate value for Cuban and Japanese players than years played because of the obvious problem in that many of those years were partial years. Perhaps others have done better work at figuring the value proposition here. But for the sake of making a point, Japanese players have played 175 combined seasons and have compiled 205.1 WAR or 1.172 WAR per season. Cuban players have only accumulated 120 war in their 173 combined seasons or .69 WAR per season. Of course, if you take Ichiro out of the mix (the one true superstar among all of these players) the Japanese players come down to .92 WAR per season.

Players from these two countries provide strong interest among clubs in Major League Baseball. And while the teams should scour the world for talent, there is risk involved. Obtaining such players can be expensive and as we have seen in our crude little study, the value obtained hasn't been great.

Monday, February 13, 2012

NL East: A Fascinating Place: Mets

This is the last post in a series that has looked at the boiler plate that is now the National League East. The series started with a look at the Phillies and determined that, with that pitching rotation, and despite a weaker line up, should be given the nod once again as the favorite to win the division. The next three posts focused on the Braves, Marlins and Nationals and found all three of those teams with the on-paper ability to challenge the Phillies at their own game. Each of those three teams have question marks that must have positive answers to approach the amount of wins necessary to rival the Phillies. This post focuses on the Mets. To be honest, this post was dreaded.

By now, everyone is aware of the New York Mets' financial plight. Heck, even the general manager is on record as joking about it. There is no reason for this post to retread the back story to the mess the Wilpons have become. One needs to look no further than the amazing work done by Howard Megdal in his new e-book, Wilpon's Folly. That book, which can be found here, is probably the the best $2.51 you'll ever spend. Read it and you'll know all the nuances to why the Mets are where they are.

Instead, this post will focus on what the Mets will have on the field. It's certainly a cause and effect situation as the financial troubles have limited what Sandy Alderson has been able to do to field a viable team. The team lost one of its best players in Jose Reyes. But for now, it still has David Wright. Jason Bay is still a sunk cost in left field. How bad will it be? It might not be as bad as we think. Before we can actually look at the team, there was another new wrinkle in that the dimensions of Citi Field have been altered.

Again, there is no sense in breaking new ground on the new dimensions of the park the team has worked during the off season. Adam Rubin of has written the definitive piece on the new dimensions and includes statistics on what the dimensions mean for the team. The biggest takeaway from the terrific article is that the Mets should hit 27 more homers at home this coming season while the visiting teams should hit 23 more. And while the park should still be more favorable toward the pitchers, it's more neutral than it was before. Add that to Ryan Howard starting on the disabled list and some top sluggers like Pujols and Fielder now plying their trade in the American League, it all boils down to better news for the Mets.

One of the reasons we can make that statement is that the Mets' starting rotation consists of ground ball pitchers. The rotation should consist of Jonathan Niese (1.84 ground ball to fly ball ratio), Mike Pelfrey (1.31), R.A. Dickey (1.54), Dillon Gee (1.45) and Johan Santana (0.87 for his career). Of course, it is questionable if Santana will start the year with the Mets and if he is available, just what he can offer the team.

Jonathan Niese might be the most underrated young pitcher in the game. If you look at his record last year, you'll see an unimpressive 11-11 record with an equally unimpressive ERA of 4.40. But that cover really doesn't judge the book. He had an extremely high BABIP against last season at .333. Part of that was due to a fairly high line drive rate at 20.6 percent. The Mets' infield defense will be discussed in a moment, but suffice it to say that it didn't help Niese, a ground ball pitcher. Plus, a fairly significant amount of balls hit in the air ended up over the fence. Since opponents do not hit a lot of fly balls against him, we can consider that home rate a bit of a fluke. Niese had a FIP last season of 3.36 and an xFIP of 3.28. He was a much better pitcher than he looked.

R.A. Dickey comes right behind him following his mountain climbing adventure. Hopefully, the Mets won't hold that against him as they obviously didn't want him to risk such an feat. But it's not like the team has better options, so Dickey will get his 30 starts. The knuckleball pitcher had sort of the opposite season of Niese and with a .278 BABIP, his 3.28 ERA was a bit lucky. But Dickey is as reliable a starter as there is and should give his team a chance to win every five days out.

Mike Pelfrey is a bit of a mystery. At times he looks fantastic and then he doesn't. His real problem is that he doesn't miss enough bats. His strikeout rate was among the lowest in the majors for starting pitchers while still walking three or more batters per nine innings. That's not a good recipe. With Pelfrey, it all depends on the vagarious nature of the batted ball. Since there are a lot of them, it worked in 2010 but did not in 2011. He's a solid innings eater but that's about the best you can say.

Dillon Gee has been a bit of a good luck charm for the Mets as he has won 15 of his 23 decisions as a starting pitcher for the team. But that charm seemed to tarnish a bit in the second half last season. More precisely, luck caught up with him. He puts too many people on base with four walks per nine innings with a strikeout rate that is just passable. He produces more ground balls than fly balls and is a reliable starter. But he's not great. He's more league average and probably better than Pelfrey. But not by much.

Santana is the wild card in all of this. Nobody really knows if he will offer anything to the team in 2012. From recent history, he can't be counted on health-wise with stories as recent as December that he might not be ready to pitch. The Mets will then have to have an open audition for the fifth starter in Spring Training.

Again, this is a ground ball staff. Unfortunately, the Mets don't have the best fielding infield. David Wright is consistently rated as one of the worst fielding third basemen in baseball. He was a full ten runs below average in 2011. He is what he is and one can only hope that he has a better year in the field than normal. His offense should improve with the new dimensions and he is still enough of an offensive force to offset his defense nicely.

Ruben Tejada takes over at short. He will only be 22 years old in 2012. Tejada is a solid defender who gave the Mets surprising offensive production last year. He has no power, but he hit .284 with a .360 on-base average. That was a complete surprise and Bill James doesn't buy it in his projections this season. The Mets, of course, hope that it wasn't a fluke. Still, he's not a bad shortstop at an important position not overly ripe in the majors with talent.

Second base will be handed to Daniel Murphy. The move is a huge risk as the position isn't natural to Murphy, normally an outfielder/first basemen. He didn't overly embarrass himself at the position last season and the guy sure showed he can hit in the majors with his .350 wOBA last season in over 400 plate appearances. How his fielding plays over a full season will be interesting to watch.

Ike Davis should be back at first this season. Davis lost almost all of 2011 to injury and he is a large key to how good the Mets can be in 2011. Davis is a slick fielding first baseman who has shown flashes of excellent power with great on-base ability. This is a pivotal season for him as he has to show that he is someone the Mets can count on moving forward. If he breaks down again, the Mets do have other options but none with the upside of Davis.

Josh Thole has been a disappointment behind the plate. The thinking was that he was the catcher of the future. Instead, he had a terrible time adjusting to the majors. His offense was certainly better in the second half and he does display some decent plate discipline. He might just hit after all, but his defense left a lot to be desired and new research showed that he wasn't great at blocking balls in the dirt or framing pitches to the benefit of his pitchers. The Mets have to hope that Thole makes major strides in 2012 to become the catcher they thought they had for the future. He is backed up by Mike Nikeas, who gets a chance after a long minor league career. He's a decent receiver who has yet to show an ability to hit major league pitching.

The Mets outfield is a mixed bag with Bay still anchored in left. Bay is not as bad a defender as he is made out to be, but he's not great by any means. The disappointment for the Mets with his big contract has been his offense. After big numbers in Pittsburgh and in Boston, Bay has done little damage as a member of the Mets. Perhaps no one will benefit more from the new dimensions of his home park where so many of his fly balls went to die. The Rubin article linked earlier in this post indicates that Bay could double his home run output with the new dimensions. If he can do that and become some of the force he was in the past, Mets fans should feel better about his place on the team. His offensive performance will be quite interesting to watch in 2012.

Lucas Duda is a first baseman now playing right field. He can mash major league pitching, but he was brutal in the field. If he can improve his offense further (likely) and improve defensively (not as likely), he can be a nice player for the Mets. Still, it seems that either Duda or Ike Davis will be traded eventually.

The new center fielder is Andres Torres. He's a terrific fielder who fell down for the Giants offensively last season. He'll have to cover a lot of ground for the Mets with Duda in right and Bay in left, but he's certainly capable of doing that. The key is if he is the kind of offensive player he was in 2010 or the one he was in 2011. Bill James predicts something somewhere in the middle, which makes sense. If that comes close to being true, the Mets have a fine center fielder.

The Mets bullpen has been totally revamped for 2012 (on the cheap of course). The closer will be Frank Francisco. An earlier post at this site indicated that "Fat Frankie" as he had been dubbed by Toronto bloggers, has pitched his entire career in terrible pitcher ballparks (Texas and Toronto). He could really benefit from pitching at Citi Field as he's been a great reliever on the road and terrible at home for most of his career. Look for him to have a surprisingly good season.

That same feeling isn't shared by the addition of Jon Rauch. This really tall pitcher gave up a ton of homers last year for a relief pitcher. He is a fly ball pitcher and perhaps his new home ballpark will aid him as well. There have been whispers that he's got a bit of a messed up makeup. But we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

The Mets also obtained Ramon Ramirez from the Giants and he was very solid for them last year. He along with returnees, Bobby Parnell, Manny Acosta and D.J. Carrasco should provide the Mets will a solid bullpen.

The conclusion and bottom line for the 2012 New York Mets is that there are worse teams in the majors. The Astros and Orioles are certainly worse. If all goes really well for the Mets, they could win 80 games. But the competition in the NL East has blown by them and will be really stiff. And until the Mets financial mess can be straightened out, it will be like this for a while. They have a general manager who has dealt with building teams with a limited budget, so the news could be a lot worse. But it could be a heck of a lot better.