Friday, March 7, 2008

The Mets Realist, Part II the lineup

Since the appearance of Part 1 of my two part series looking ahead to the Mets season as a realist, a bit of reality hit the Mets…nearly, literally. Well, two Mets hit each other and resulting in a grade 2 concussion (for Ryan Church) and a bruised sternum (for Marlon Anderson). A few more are in various stages of rehab, as AP described:

Church and Anderson are among several injured Mets. Carlos Delgado is sidelined by a sore hip and Schneider has been out with a tight hamstring. Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo, Orlando Hernandez, Damion Easley and Endy Chavez are yet to play in a spring training game because they're still rehabbing.

As bad as this all sounds, the upside of reality is that there is no “out for the season” yet no “back after the All Star break,” but there is already one “unavailable for opening day” Moises Alou. Others seem to be healing–Knock on Louisville Slugger!

So, back to looking at what we can reasonably anticipate. This time fielding and hitting, starting with fielding to make the transition from pitching defense to the hitters in the line up.

Defense in General.

It is reasonable to say that the Mets defense has an experienced a minor upgrade. The Catching position seems to have a stronger fielder who is expected to call a better game. The outfield is a bit younger and more capable. Santana is a very good fielder but remember when Glavine wasn’t losing the season on the last day he was a good athlete. So they’re a bit better. Since the 2008 Mets aren’t playing the ’07 team what does our fielding amount to?

I believe the easiest way to quantify anything is in wins or loses, e.r.a. or average or errors. The every day skills of our fielders are at least good enough to support their pitchers (and the numbers I outlined in Part 1) in the mundane areas of range, baseball sense (where to play), reaction (getting a good jump on the ball), and usually not running into each other. The numbers we will consider is spectacular plays vs. errors …and (as every third baseman will pull the first baseman off the bag a couple dozen times and will handle a hot smash to his left a few dozen times) we’ll even limit that further to the extremes to plays that save a game vs. errors that cost a game.

Position by Position

Pitchers’ fielding. Assuming Pedro will only play healthy and El Duque will mostly play healthy, the young crop of pitchers led by Johan should not particularly cost the Mets more games than their pickoff moves and fast reaction to bunts gain. Conservatively, let’s given them a plus 0.5 wins,

Catcher is supposed to be a stronger and this is particularly expected to be true in calling the game, but that does not come into play here. Time will tell about intangibles like blocking the plate (Lo Duca was pretty good, Piazza better, Carter great and that saved runs/games while none was considered a very good fielder), but caught stealing s fairly measurable. Brian Schneider caught 31% of base stealers last year and 39% over his career, while the majors averaged only 26% last year and 30% in the past 5. Good enough for me to give us another plus 0.5 wins.

First Base is a major concern as will be discussed in hitting, but at best we have an adequate fielder who will scoop most of what he should scoop. With injuries, subs, and reality, this is not Keith or Olerud. We should take back half a win.

Second Base may even be a tougher call. Castillo is a three time gold glove 2003-2005, and was a step up for the Mets, but his health is a question and his age is approaching mid 30s. We might expect a few more spectacular plays, but his subs may throw a few games away. This could be zero or minus .5, let’s go to minus 0.5 games.

Third Base is the home of the great but probably-gold-glove-undeserving David Wright. He was an incredible step up last year and his work ethic should improve on that. Even last year with the GG, I’d say he cost the Mets a game, but I think that’s going to swing all the way to plus 0.5. Remember, with the exception of Brooks Robinson, you don’t see 3rd basemen exceeding errors with outs that should be hits.

Shortstop is the flashy position with our flashiest player. This is likely to be a year of real commitment from Jose Reyes and fielding will be included. As with any team’s shortstop highlight will be a plenty with leaps and pegs and high throws and embarrassments. On gut instinct I lean toward a plus 0.5 games.

Outfield could certainly be broken down, particularly to give Carlos Beltran his due, but it seems overkill. History has shown nearly as many game winning plays come from the outfield based on mediocre-to-bad fielders whose arms are challenged and who throw out the runner as by those reaching over the fence or making diving catches. The pitching will benefit from the center fielder, but all-in-all the outfield is likely to be a zero-net-gain.

Final Defense Total, plus one game…we’ll take it. If we were at 95 wins after pitching we’re up to 96 now.

Hitting in General

The current trend is to bemoan the Mets hitting. The thinking was/is that Delgado had a “terrible” season last year and another one would leave the Mets without adequate offense; this is further explained by the recognition that Schneider is a worse hitting catcher than Lo Duca was and Church has had trouble against lefties. The sudden loss of Alou for 8 weeks and the variety of ailments has supposedly put the Mets in desperate straights. Before the week is out they are expected to sign Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and trade for Xavier Nady and a few others…

All of this for the prohibitive favorites to win the league based on only one 4-6 week (in the season) injury of a player expected by all to play 100-120 games at best. The reality is barring a rash of severe injuries, this is essentially the same team that was considered a solid offensive threat and it should outscore the opponent much more often than not.

So let’s look again individually.

The Line up

Jose Reyes had a terrible September and still was a player any team would love to have. The Mets will take care and use a few reins to keep him fresh and a realistic expectation would be somewhere between 06 and 07, with the improved patience of last year. That would mean .290, 75 walks, 70 sbs, 55 extra base hits, 120 runs. Not shabby

Luis Castillo is likely the best career hitter the Mets have (until David Wright has a long enough career to begin too early HOF talk). He has batted over 290 9 of his 10 complete seasons, and only dipped below 300 three of those years. There do seem to be signs of age in terms of aches and pains, and even between Reyes and Wright he may drop off a bit (particularly is he is occasionally asked to give himself up to move Reyes or wait out his steal. That said, .292, 50 walks, 15sb, is a minimum, with under 70 Ks in 130 games.

David Wright is approaching fan worship status. Imagining that the hype gets to him, as perhaps it did to Reyes last year, what would be his version of a bad year? .290, 35 doubles, 22 homers, 22 sbs, 80 walks, 90 runs, 100 rbis? Barring his being shot by Glenn Close, that’s the worst 1-year down turn the Mets could fear and that still makes him responsible for 170 runs coming in.

Carlos Beltran fits the stereotype of the clean-up hitter you aren’t sure will be great. He clearly broke his big city funk in ’06 and ’07 after his .266, 16 homer ’05. He has been a .268 hitter against righties the last 3 years, and there is little reason to expect that to improve. But anything close to the 30 homer, 35 doubles, 20 sbs (83%), 70 walk, 100 run, 100 rbi average he has shown with the Mets is darn close to great. Knock each off 5% or even 10% and that’s still more than good enough.

Moises Alou and or substitutes are a big question mark. Assuming the worst, the hernia keeps him out 2 months, something else another month, and bumps and bruises add up to a fourth month absence. That leaves a bit under half a season with the Alou .300 considered a certainty. Endy Chavez, Damion Easley, perhaps Angel Pagan, Marlon Anderson, or a new righty will cover the other over half a season. We’re talking a slew of .280 hitter who may or may not appear elsewhere in the lineup

Carlos Delgado is the man everyone wonders about. The man with career averages of .280, 38 doubles/HRs, 120 rbis, 100 runs, or last year’s .258, 24 homer, 87 rbis, 71 run man? The fact is the latter is not a disaster in the number 6 spot, but with Alou’s injury(ies) it would be great to split the difference with .270, 30 hrs, 103 rbis, 85 runs, and if last year was a blip, this may be the reasonable assumption of his decline at 35. That’s over 150 runs from that one man (not including the 20-30 games he’ll have a fill-in).

Ryan Church’s weak numbers against lefties was far worse last year than in the past; he can reasonably be expected to hit along his career numbers of 20-25 points lower against lefties. He also has hit much better at Shea (surprising given it is a pitcher’s park) and will be surrounded by a better line up. Low 280s seem likely with a 10 point swing possible. A big concern is grounding into double plays. He did so 12 times last year compared to 13 the previous 3 years combined. We do not want #8 leading off too often.

Brian Schneider will be that #8, sharing time with the solid Ramon Castro. The anemic .235 Schneider put up last year would leave Mets fans wondering whether he should bat behind a few of the pitchers. However that was more than 20 points below any of his previous 3 seasons in RFK without much of a lineup around him. He also had a career year for walks (1 every 8 at bats). The Mets need his glove, but 55-65 rbis are a solid possibility,

What can we make of this all? Well this is a much stronger line-up than the average NL team or the average Mets team even with a general let-down across the boards. There has been no estimate of any player having a career year, nor and Angel Pagan or other rookie blasting on the scene. While Delgado is older, only Alou really is at the pure drop-off age and he seems to only be more fragile not a weaker hitter. Perhaps the issues above knock that win total into the more modest 90s and perhaps that makes it a battle with Philadelphia, but they have much less certainty of getting to that number.

While the Phillies may have a potent set of 3, those also are among 4-5 other question marks. Few other teams compete with this Mets supposed weak offense, ignoring having the best pitching staff in the NL on paper.

But on paper is where we are looking and the Mets are cutting more their share of paper cuts. They need to work with wood and hide and see if these realities come to fruition. Neither the high potential that appears likely, nor the sudden fears and desperation (who will be their 7th starter!) will mean much 1450 innings from now.


Doug said...

That's a lot to take in...