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:
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.
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.
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.