Adjusting the Margins

Back in February, Baseball Prospectus’ forecasting system projected an 80-82 record for the 2011 Mets. Don’t worry, it’s since been retooled, with the Mets bumped down to a 78-84 record. Those numbers, while uninspiring, seem to be in line with other projections and predictions I’ve seen around the internet and gypsy parlors I frequent: The Mets look to be a 75-80 win team, finishing in fourth place behind the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins.

This being the projected case, I don’t think one needs to be an rabid optimist to disagree with predictions in that range. Considering that last year’s Mets team finished with a 79-83 record, scoring 656 runs and allowing 652, this year’s team would have to be about equal to slightly worse in order to finish with fewer wins.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think this year’s Mets team is worse than last year’s Mets team. Their best players aren’t any better, sure, and without Santana, that core group is probably a little worse. But the supporting cast should be worlds better than last season. Their marginal players are more than marginally better, and that should more than shrink the margin. (Sorry.)

Let’s break this down piece by piece:

Offense

These are the players with at least 100 plate appearances for the 2010 Mets whose playing time will be replaced this season:

  • 447 – Jeff Francoeur
  • 299 – Luis Castillo
  • 267 – Rod Barajas
  • 255 – Ruben Tejada
  • 187 – Alex Cora
  • 180 – Chris Carter
  • 144 – Henry Blanco
  • 119 – Jesus Feliciano

Here lies the greatest hope. This group combined to hit .229/.294/.332 in 1898 plate appearances last season. That’s about what Alcides Escobar did for Milwaukee last season. Escobar, if you were unaware, was the worst hitting player to qualify for the NL batting title in 2010. Every single player on the above list had an OPS below the league average of .723 — most of them well below — and only Chris Carter managed to break the .700 OPS plane. If Scott Hairston, Willie Harris, Ronny Paulino, Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus, Justin Turner, Lucas Duda, and Chin-lung Hu take those 1898 plate appearances and combine to hit even marginally better than the players they replace, the Mets should score more runs than last season. And every player in that list, perhaps excluding the defensive specialist Hu, is more than capable of exceeding a .229/.294/.332 batting line.

This ignores the possibility that Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran could play more games, that Jose Reyes could rebound, and that Ike David and Josh Thole could improve. Maybe David Wright has a monster season. But even if none of those things happen, the secondary players would simply need to avoid being impossibly awful for the team to score more runs than last season.

Fielding

I have no idea if the Mets were a good fielding team last season — some numbers suggest they were, some suggest they were not. My guess is that they were not. Either way, it’s more or less the same cast of characters, so I feel okay calling it a wash between 2010 and 2011.

Though without Beltran, there’s a real possibility that Lucas Duda and Jason Bay will be roaming the Citi Field outfield at the same time — so Angel Pagan should probably start training for distance running. And if Pagan is hurt, just imagine Bay-Hairston-Duda left to right. So many pop fly doubles.

Pitching

Here’s the biggest problem — these are the pitchers the Mets will need to replace this season:

  • 199 innings – Johan Santana
  • 122 innings – Hisanori Takahashi
  • 62.2 innings – Pedro Feliciano
  • 58.2 innings – Raul Valdes
  • 47 innings – Elmer Dessens
  • 46.1 innings – Oliver Perez
  • 42 innings – Fernando Nieve
  • 39.2 innings – John Maine

Unlike the list of hitters, some of these players were actually good. Valdez, Perez, Nieve, and Maine combined for 186.2 innings and a 5.88 ERA, but Santana, Takahashi, Feliciano, and, uh, Dessens combined for 430.2 innings and a 3.13 ERA. The group total for all eight pitchers is 617.1 innings and a 3.97 ERA, more or less an average performance. All that needs to be accounted for.

Things look better if you break it up into innings by starters and innings by relievers. The Mets need to replace 29 Santana starts — we’re going to assume no Santana in 2011, the largest negative difference between 2010 and this season — but they also can replace 28 starts used by Maine (6.13 ERA), Perez (5.94 ERA), and Takahashi (5.01 ERA as a starter). The four combined for 28 quality starts (17 were by Santana), so if the Mets can squeeze 30 or so quality starts out of Chris Young, Chris Capuano, and after one of the Chrises is inevitable DL-ed for the year, Dillon Gee, they should be alright. If Niese improves in his second year, Dickey regresses a bit, and Pelfrey is his usual palm licking self, the rotation shouldn’t be significantly worse than last season. Losing Santana hurts more than anything, but liberation from Perez and Maine helps offset the loss.

In the bullpen, Feliciano and Takahashi’s innings will be missed; the Elmer Dessens traveling magic show was bound to fail eventually, so, you know, whatever. But the Mets also won’t be throwing away 100 innings on Nieve and Valdes. The losses of the lefties are hopefully offset by the removal of Nieve and Valdes, as well as a few more innings from the righthanded holdovers from last season, Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell. Bullpens are fickle, and this year’s group is almost entirely new guys, so this is the hardest group to predict.

It’s sort of amazing that the 2010 Mets wasted that many at-bats and innings on bad players and still won 79 games — the second biggest lesson from the Omar Minaya era is that the margins of the roster matter. (The first biggest lesson is to not believe anything in a Scott Boras’ binder. Or any binder, really.) By simply removing the dead weight and replacing it with something resembling competence, the Mets should score far more runs and not allow many more than they did in 2010. The marginal players, the invisible guys on the edges, are much better and that should propel the Mets to well over 80 wins.

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12 Comments

Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

12 responses to “Adjusting the Margins

  1. Don’t feel alone, Patrick. I think the Mets will be in the 80-85 win range, and that’s with somewhat reserved predictions for Reyes, Wright and Beltran. For the first time in a long time I feel that the Mets actually have a fairly deep lineup, and in fact I would project them to score more runs than the Phils. I plan on having a fanpost about this at Amazin Avenue later in the week, but with Utley out I don’t see a position other than Catcher where the Phils are stronger than the Mets.

    Pitching is, of course, a different story. But there is even hope there. It really depends on whether Capuano and Young have anything left. Pelfrey and Niese will probably be about the same as last year, and I think Dickey won’t fall off too much.

    Will they beat out the Phils? Almost certainly not, and I think the Braves will also nudge them out. But I don’t see this as a team that will be hopelessly out of it come July.

    • I like your optimism, Zummo, but I’m not willing to go ahead and say that Ike is better than Ryan Howard just yet, regardless of his stellar fielding… The Phillies’ bats, though a year older and without Werth, are still pretty potent, and I can’t say with confidence that the Mets are going to score more runs regardless of bounceback years from Wright, Reyes, and Beltran.

      • Patrick Flood

        Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Braves, Marlins, and Mets have more potent offenses than the Phillies this season, but particularly the Braves. The ballpark hides the Phils offensive weaknesses, but I think the Braves definitely score more runs than this season.

      • Actually, given some metrics (WAR being one) Ike was better than Howard even last year, as a rookie. Park factors play a big role in Howard’s raw offensive numbers, and his defense is atrocious. And since Ike was a rookie and Howard is 31, I wouldn’t be surprised is Ike is worth quite a bit more than Howard this year.

      • That’s exactly what I was going to say. I think a big factor is Ike’s glove, so if we’re simply talking about offense Howard might still have an edge. But considering age and other factors, at the very least it’s a push.

      • Patrick Flood

        I don’t know. If I had to pick just one for this season, I’d take Howard. He was hurt last season — and part of that is his advanced age, of course — and that lowered his offensive numbers. Also, until last year’s nightmare, Howard’s fielding has gotten better to the point that he was about average. He’s coming off a down year, and he’s only 31, so I think he bounces back to something like .260/.360/.560 and passable D. I don’t know if Davis is better than that this season.

        Going forward though, I’d take Davis.

      • It’s an interesting discussion, and I think it depends on the team. If I’m the Phillies, I think I would take Howard because of two things: the rest of the lineup being somewhat weak and the pitching staff. Four of their five starters are around 8.5 K/9, meaning less balls in play, so perhaps defense isn’t as important.

        Aside from Santana and possibly Capuano, the Mets pitchers get the ball in play more often, so defense is more important. Plus, I believe if everyone is healthy, having Reyes, Wright, Pagan, Bay, and Beltran makes offense less important for the Mets, so if I were the Mets, I’d take Ike.

        Although, it will be fun to see what happens to the numbers of Philly’s Big Four pitchers if they have to have Luis Castillo and Ryan Howard man one side of the infield for any extended period.

  2. I agree, Chris & Chris have looked good this spring, I think without adjustments this is an 80+ win team. We could definately see better numbers from Bay and reyes particularly, They actually have pitching depth this year..looking forward through all of this to see which pitchers on the team & in Minors could project the 2012 rotation, and seeing some young guys get at bats.

  3. “If Scott Hairston, Willie Harris, Ronny Paulino, Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus, Justin Turner, Lucas Duda, and Chin-lung Hu take those 1898 plate appearances and combine to hit even marginally better than the players they replace, the Mets should score more runs than last season. And every player in that list, perhaps excluding the defensive specialist Hu, is more than capable of exceeding a .229/.294/.332 batting line.”

    I have to disagree in the case of Harris, especially since he won’t be facing the Mets. Harris should not receive more than 125 PA. Is it really going to make that much of a difference if this group produces an OPS of .675 as opposed to .626?

    • Patrick Flood

      I have to disagree on both. Harris is a career .239/.327/.352 hitter. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to come close to that.

      I think a 50 point OPS increase over 2000 PA is important, regardless if it’s a jump from .900 to .950 or .625 to .675. Runs are runs.

  4. looks like we’re all going to get rich then, since the vegas line 77 wins. all we have to do is bet the over and collect our money. piece of cake.

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