Team Preview: New York Mets

Revamping a flagging team doesn’t happen in one offseason, especially an offseason spent discovering new and unhappy things about the owners’ finances. The ‘Sandyball’ era in New York has started, as Sandy Alderson got the old gang together and made wholesale changes in how the Mets are run. The new question is, ‘how long will it take for the new organizational philosophy to take hold?’ And can a team that made no obvious fundamental changes to the roster will their way to a different fortune in a new season?

The Starting Nine
SS Jose Reyes ^
CF Angel Pagan ^
3B David Wright
RF Carlos Beltran ^
LF Jason Bay
1B Ike Davis *
2B Brad Emaus / Luis Castillo ^
C Josh Thole *

* denotes left-handed hitter; ^ denotes switch-hitter

A healthy year from Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay would transform this frog into a prince. But is that kiss from a princess likely? Reyes and Pagan, at least, recently showed the ability to fight off the ‘injury-prone’ label, and are in the right age range to show off their abilities without being ravaged by father time. Jason Bays’ major malfunction last year seemed to be a combination of pressing and a poorly-timed concussion. He’s pressed before, and he’s come back before.

But oh, Carlos Beltran. Already moved off of center to preserve his aching knees, can he re-find that winning combination of discerning eye and powerful swing that made him the premier slugging center fielder of the last decade? Even an 80% Voltron year, even at an inferior position, that might do the trick. If he’s above-average, then there’s a chance that eight of the nine positions produce above-average wOBAs and this offense goes from liability to strength.

As bad as this lineup has been at times, it still boasts a strong 1-3, plenty of switch-hitting, and a rookie first baseman on the rise. Josh Thole can be the Jason Kendall of New York – in that his defense is just enough and he can make contact, though he does walk a little more. Hopefully the team doesn’t offer the same post-arbitration contract offers that Kendall has enjoyed. The aforementioned veterans have a chance, at least, of recapturing some former glory.

Second base, though- that should be a hole no matter how they fill it and no matter how optimistic you’d like to be about the candidates. Daniel Murphy should make the team, but the move on the defensive spectrum makes it more likely that he’s labeled the backup corner infielder. Luis Castillo’s lone remaining skill is “not swinging,” and is equal parts buyout contender, possible starter, and defensive second base platoon-member. Brad Emaus (rhymes with Amadeus) has some pop (which was inflated by his home park), can take a base (but hasn’t yet at the major league level), and has questions about his defense (hence the Castillo possibility). Willie Harris may push Castillo off the roster with his ability to play the outfield, but it’s still a motley crew.

The Pitching Staff
RHP Mike Pelfrey
LHP Jon Niese
RHP R.A. Dickey
LHP Chris Capuano
RHP Chris Young
RHP Dillon Gee
LHP Pat Misch
LHP Johan Santana*

CL RHP Francisco Rodriguez
RHP Bobby Parnell
RHP D.J. Carrasco
RHP Taylor Buchholz
LHP Tim Byrdak / Taylor Tankersley
RHP Pedro Beato
RHP Manny Acosta
RHP Jason Isringhausen

* on DL to start the season

It might be painful to see eight starting pitchers listed for your five-man rotation, but it’s a fact that at least six starters will take the mound for the Mets in 2011. Johan Santana’s shoulder is on the mend, and he may make it back around mid-season, but his statistics were in an obvious decline before the injury and he’s no longer the ace that he once was.

In his stead, the Mets have three starters with modest upside at the top of their rotation. The relatively healthy pasts of youngsters Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese should mean that they can manage double-digit wins even without the benefit of a step forward. Both pitchers own a workhorse pitch – Pelfrey’s sinker and Niese’s cutter – and both could possibly benefit from refinement of a secondary offering – Pelfrey’s splitfinger and Niese’s curveball. Past performance seems to suggest that both will have good stretches and bad, and both will end up as above-average starters.

R.A. Dickey deserves his own paragraph, his own essay, his own book even. Two speeds on a knuckleball, no UCL ligament in his throwing elbow and one great attitude about baseball equals an immediate fan favorite. We know knuckleballers can outperform peripherals and avoid injury, so even his age (36) and FIP (3.65 last year, 4.75 career) are but speedbumps in his way. The Mets have a strong #3 starter here.

It’s the rest of the rotation that will be a mess. Using Jeff Zimmerman’s DL-projection work, Young and Capuano are both 62+% likely to hit the DL this year, and the likelihood that two or more starters (not named Santana) get injured this year is over 88%. Hence the listing of Gee and Misch.

The bullpen promises to be its own adventure with K-Rod and his looming (and ridiculous) $17.5M option threatening to vest with 55 games finished this year. Though there is a way to treat him as a bullpen ace, call him the closer, and avoid the wrath of the union, such true freelancing with bullpen roles is rare. Better for Mets fans to assume the option will vest unless the team can trade him as a setup man mid-season.

In stark contrast to the Yankees, who have more than $8M locked up in Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, the Mets will pay their LOOGY $400K and hope to get 80% of the production. Judging from the arms in camp so far, that same sort of cobbling-together will probably go for the rest of their bullpen, too. It’s hard to argue against the idea, as their bullpens have average about 2-3 WAR a year no matter what cache the old regime pumped into the thing.

Key Player
While the team has some youth in Reyes, Wright and Pagan, their number of potential stars with many years of cost control remaining hovers around one. That one player is Ike Davis, and he’s the key to their fortunes beyond this year – and also the subject of much debate and consternation.

At issue is his power. Qualified first basemen averaged a .203 ISO last year, so Davis’ .176 was below-average. He did show a better ISO at Binghamton, but that park augments offense, and there was the fact of his first 239 plate appearances in professional ball without a home run. The fans and Bill James predictions both have Davis augmenting the power but landing at about average. With his strong defense and ability to take walks at an above average rate (12.6% last year), he’ll obviously be worth keeping around while he’s cheap, but will the Queens faithful be satisfied with home run totals in the mid-20s?

Here’s betting yes, because they are pretty proud of a certain mustachioed one that used to be a vacuum with a glove, earn walks by the bushel, and never once hit as many as 20 home runs. More chants of “We like Ike” are certainly on the way, even if the power doesn’t quite make it past average.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

31 Responses to “Team Preview: New York Mets”

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  1. Dave G says:

    Nice work, but you really shouldn’t have Castillo listed there. He’s not odds on favorite to win the job. They’ll most likely go with Murphy and Emaus. And although 2b could be a “hole”, it’s a lot shallower than last year. It’s a good bet that those two will provide a big offensive upgrade from what they had last year, and the defense can’t be that much worse either (Castillo, Tejada and Cora had terrible range last year).

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I remain cautiously optimistic about the position and can’t wait to see Emaus play regularly. However, he’s not great defensively and neither will Murphy be, so I mentioned Murphy and left Castillo on the depth chart for now. He could be released, but he could be better than Willie Harris too.

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    • B says:

      Outside of the PCL Emaus has essentially been Castillo.

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  2. vivalajeter says:

    If I didn’t know their record over the last few seasons and I just looked at the roster, I would expect them to compete. That offense has some serious potential. But judging by the team’s recent performance, I just don’t see why they would suddenly take a leap in the standings.

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  3. Sean says:

    One would think the Mets went after Ronny Paulino this offseason so they could platoon him with Thole. He’s not mentioned…

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      yes, you are correct. He’ll take the first few games off to finish his suspension, but he’ll be in a somewhat healthy platoon since he’s pretty good against lefties.

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  4. Mike & Ike says:

    Hey team preview writers! How about a nice R, L, or S to denote batter handedness in the line-ups instead of tiny 6-pixel symbols that I need to put on my glasses to tell the difference between and require a footnoted legend to explain?

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  5. MC says:

    Looking at this Mets team is like looking at Detroit in those Chrysler commercials: it’s old, falling apart, and a little bit disgusting, but everyone and everything wants you to believe that there is still some utility and promise left in it.

    I find it odd that Sandy didn’t just dismantle what’s left of this thing and stock up on draft picks/prospects. Perhaps politically unacceptable in NY?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I think there is definitely pressure to remain competitive year-in and year-out in New York, but you might see a REyes and K-Rod trade at midseason if they are not competitive.

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      • MC says:

        I sure hope so. Actually I wanted them to trade away as much debris as possible during the offseason. They waited too long to start clearing the underbrush after the 2000 World Series and then they had like a 5 year hangover. They’re not going to beat Philly any time soon, anyway; a good time to rebuild.

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    • Sylvan says:

      It’s not really that old a team. The average age of the starting lineup is going to be 28 (assuming Castillo gets cut) and of that bunch, only Beltran is a really serious injury question mark.

      There’s no reason to think the offensive unit won’t perform better this year with Reyes fully back and last year’s three main offensive black holes (Francoeur, Castillo, Barajas) replaced by superior talents.

      The pitching staff is an infirmary, but there’s some upside there. I think Alderson made the right decision to try to win a few more games than last year, rather than just selling low and dismantling the team for probably not that much return (and an even bigger crash in ticket sales than they’ve been having).

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    • Anon says:

      Where are they old outside of RF? Castillo will be gone soon. Bay isn’t exactly “old.” Santana’s getting up there but he’s still well above-average. Pelfrey/Niese are young. Dickey’s a knuckleballer, so he’s essentially ageless. Misch and Gee are young. Young and Capuano aren’t expected to be major contributors.

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    • Alex says:

      It’s politically unacceptable, but that’s not why they didn’t dismantle the team. The veterans have little to no trade value. Reyes and Beltran are inury risks, Bay hadn’t played since last July and is making $16M, and Castillo and Perez have no value, period. The probably could have gotten some value for Wright, but he’s the face of the franchise.

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    • Brian Singer says:

      There’s no point to that, really. The players the Mets would most like to dump won’t fetch anything to speak of in trade, and most of them will be gone after 2011 anyway, so there’s actually some point–at least at the box office–in taking a reasonable shot at getting to 85, even 88 wins.

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  6. Jim says:

    Wasn’t Reese Havens a candidate to takeover as the “2B of the Future” at one point, and if so, what happened to that plan(or him, for that matter)?

    (I know he’s been susceptible to injury, but haven’t heard anything lately about what his readiness/playing level is for 2011.)

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Reese Havens can’t stay healthy, but 3/4 of a healthy year would launch him to the major leagues probably. He is pretty exciting if he can stay healthy.

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    • Ogre39666 says:

      Havens had surgery this past offseason to shave part of a rib that was causing irritation on his abdominal muscles. He’s in camp and reportedly feels great. Hopefully this surgery did the trick and he can get a 100 PA’s in AA and move up to AAA and get a September call-up.

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  7. tom says:

    I think Niese and Pelfrey have better than small upsides espicially Niese who had a nice K rate in his rookie year. He really should have been shut down in September, but Jerry is a tool. The Mets 2ND basemen had a combined ops around .600 last year. Murphy and Emaus will do much better than that at least.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      2B could be better. I really don’t think Pelfrey has a ton of upside – D Lowe at best if he irons out his platoon splits – but Niese is still interesting, you’re right. More data will help.

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    • B says:

      What are you seeing in Pelfrey to believe Pelfrey has more upside?

      The guy is a ground ball pitcher who can’t miss bats, and walks too many batters. His only real realistic hope to improve is to hope he can get his K’s per 9 up to 6ish, and his BB per 9 down under 2.

      He’s fine as a back end starter on a competing team, but when you alternate between slightly better than average, and crappy depending on how his xfip goes, its hard to foresee much upside.

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      • Anon says:

        Why are you using xFIP to judge a GB pitcher? His HR/FB will always be lower than average because of that. No point in normalizing it. Use FIP.

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  8. tom says:

    Pelfrey was really hurt by stupidly being rushed up in ’06 and ’07. In ’07 he was competing with dreck like Park and Sele for the 5th starter spot. He won it really by default. He didn’t have a ton of innings in the minors. Niese was mostly left alone and allowed to develop in the minors from ’05-09. I remember Pelfrey having a hammer curve in college but we’ve never seen it in the majors as he lost it somewhere along the line. It is amazing how few bats he misses. I think Niese can surprise and become a #2 starter. Niese’s cutter is a tremendous weapon that he didn’t have a few years ago. IIRC. Ricky Bones taught him the pitch by in ’09 I believe. I’d like to see him refine his change up. I think a better change up could make him even better going forward.

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  9. MalteseFalcon says:

    Eno, where do you see the Mets finishing in the standings? You think they can push 85 wins? I really see some potential with this team despite what the media and critics say. If healthy, they could have a top 5 offense in the NL. People forget this team won 79 games last year while Omar chose to waste over 1200 at bats to sub .700 OPS players including Castillo, GMJ, Ruben Tejada, Franceour, Chris Carter, Rod Barajas, Alex Cora, and Henry Blanco. You figure Sandy has the intelligence to not replace garbage with, well more garbage. Beltran and Reyes should theoretically be at the top of their games due to playing for future contracts. The rotation is definitely a question mark, but the names in the rotation weren’t very good last year and they still finished 5th in ERA (probably due to the ballpark they play in). Young and Capuano are both average to above average starters when healthy, but the problem is they rarely are, as you alluded to with the injury projections. This team probably won’t contend for the WC, but I can see them winning in the mid 80s, which is still pretty good progress for a team that couldn’t spend any money this offseason.

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    • Saul says:

      I agree with this — Although Beltran looks like a serious question mark in terms of health, do not discount the proven abilities of Reyes, Wright, Bay, and Pagan. If Reyes expects the nine figure contract he wants, he better show a full year of the electrifying, exciting Reyes we all know and love. Wright has generated the highest WAR for a 3B (23.7) from 2007-2010, and while only generating 4.1 last season, he’s still been a perennial elite 3B. Simply put, it is not a logical assumption to think Bay will repeat last year’s slumps. As stated, he’s pressed, and he’s recovered from such pressing. And Pagan… It was no secret that Pagan was in the best physical condition of ANY of the New York Mets last year, reporters RAVED about how quick, agile, strong, and tough he was. He proved to be a major part of the New York Mets and by taking the reigns at CF he will surely be an integral part of winning.

      That being said, offense is only half the battle. With pitching and defense making up the other half, it’s hard to get fully excited about competing. Chris Young has looked good and reports are that he’s feeling great. Ollie stinks, maybe he’ll get cut once and for all, but $12MM is a lot to eat with the current financial situation. I don’t know, I’m just a fan, I’m optimistic.

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      • psiogen says:

        The current financial situation shouldn’t have much bearing on whether Ollie gets cut, since he’s getting paid the same outrageous sum either way. I’m pretty sure he’s getting cut unless he doesn’t walk a guy for the rest of the spring.

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      • Brian Singer says:

        Saul, how do we know Bay has “recovered from such pressing”?

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  10. Scott G says:

    Good Stuff Eno. Good to hear someone apreciate the skills Beltran had on both sides of the ball.
    As much as i like Pagan, losing Beltran in CF still hurts, even though we dealt with it last year. Its a hold year. I have accepted that

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  11. ilove says:

    i dont know why everyone just predicts how well the pitcherswill do based on the previous stats. ok RA Dickey rocks so far but pelfrey…ehhh. Niese is doing well. But come on Capuano? I love how many people underestimated him. He freaking rocks! lucky the mets even signed him and they better hope hell stay longer. I think Dickey, Niese and Capuano are the top three, almost even with eachother if not they just teeter totter eachother. If i had to order them id go Dickey, Cappy, Niese but Capuano could so be the mets number one pitcher if hegets in the mets groove.

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