Betty's No Good Clothes Shop And Pancake House
Thursday, March 31, 2005
  New York Mets 2005 Season Preview Part Two: Bastard Wants To Hit Me

The 2004 Mets' pitching and defense fared a little better than their offense, ranking eighth in the National League with 731 runs allowed. They started off the season with an old but solid starting rotation. In July they gutted their minor league system to acquire a couple of overrated starters nearing thirty, losing their best chance for young help from within the system in the process. The system isn't quite hopeless at this point, but Yusmeiro Petit is the only noteworthy prospect left who's actually thrown a professional pitch, and he's only started two games above A-ball. But just when it seemed like the Mets would never be good again, they made a big splash early in the offseason, effectively exchanging one veteran starter with a reputation for not pitching very deep into games for another. Most of the newfound optimism of Met fans springs from the offense, but Omar Minaya did manage to inject some life back into the other side of the squad as well. Later in the offseason, Steve Trachsel's back injury led them to make another less exciting move.

#1: Pedro Martinez

Martinez posted a career high ERA of 3.90 in 2004 on his way toward acquiring a shiny new ring. He also comes with the sort of medical concerns that make his four-year contract a little scary. And he's basically being asked to replace Al Leiter, who managed inexplicable success in the run prevention department in 2004, to the tune of a 3.21 ERA. That's the bad news.

The good news? Well, even if Martinez doesn't knock seven tenths of a point off his ERA this year, he's almost certain to outpitch the 2005 version of Leiter, who the Mets were wise to let walk. Leiter put up that pretty ERA in spite of a ghastly walk rate of slightly more than five per nine innings and his lowest strikeout rate since 1998, 7.15. Leiter got the job done last year, but did so by repeatedly escaping precarious situations, a skill that's not likely to persist. His ERAs in August and September (4.46 and 5.33) certainly don't leave one confident in his future success. Leiter also pitched over 40 fewer innings than Martinez who, torn labrum or not, hasn't pitched fewer than 186 since 2001 and pitched 217 last year.

And leaving aside the man whose job he's taking, there's plenty of reason to see Martinez's 2004 as an outlier. It's always dangerous to put too much stock in the one most recent season when projecting. And the tripling of Pedro's home run rate last year is one big reason to chalk some of the ERA inflation up to luck. While his strikeout and walk rates have been moving in the wrong direction for the last few years, his "decline" left him striking out 9.4 and walking 2.5 per nine innings last year. He can keep on sliding and be very effective for the life of this contract. His health is another matter, but at least in 2005, I think Martinez is by far the surest bet in the Mets' rotation, and not just because the other guys are so questionable. If the offense puts enough runs on the board to get him some wins, expect to hear his name in Cy Young discussions come season's end.

#2: Tom Glavine

Glavine bounced back from a disastrous first impression to post some solid numbers for the Mets in his second season with the team, winning 11 games with a 3.60 ERA. But looking more closely at the numbers, it wasn't so much a solid season as it was three excellent months and three poor months. Glavine was dominant before the All Star break, posting an ERA of 2.66. In fact, his highest ERA in any of the first three months of the season was the 2.59 he put up in May. This period included such thrilling moments as his one hit complete game shutout on May 23. But the second half was a completely different story, as his post-break ERA was 5.06.

He walked on the edge with a low strikeout rate the whole year (4.6 per 9 both halves). In the second half his hit rate went from the low, even for him, 7.5 per 9 all the way up to 10.4, which can be read as just his luck evening out. But he also saw a big jump in his walk rate, from 2.3 to 3.9, and his home run rate, from 0.6 to 1.3. So did he just tire out in the second half, or was the future Hall of Famer pitching over his head in the first half? Well, such a second half decline isn't unprecedented for Glavine, as he fell into a similar, if less dramatic, slump in the second half of 2002 after a great first half. But his 2004 first half was pretty extreme. He hasn't posted a walk rate as good as that 2.3 over the course of a full season since 2000. And he hasn't topped that first half home run rate since 1998. It's no shock that a pitcher with Glavine's resume could get on a hot streak be that good for a period of time, but I don't think he's likely to post an ERA under 3 over a full season again.

It is somewhat curious that both of the Mets' top starters last year experienced excellent first halves last year only to fall off dramatically after the break. In fact, Steve Trachsel had a similar split. It almost makes me wonder if it had something to with Shea Stadium and the weather, as there wasn't any significant change in the Mets' defense mid-year that could account for it all. Of course, none of the three had a similar pattern in 2003, so if it was caused by something other than mere coincidence, it would seem that something was a one-year phenomenon.

So what should we expect from Glavine in 2005? Well, I don't think he's likely to sustain brilliance for as long a period as he did in early 2004, though he's sure to pitch a gem every now and then. But last year did show that he's probably not quite done yet, either. I think he's still got a year of an ERA around 4 in him, perhaps even a little bit more. The team's improved defense should help him out, given how many balls he puts in play. And the improved offense should be enough to get him some of those wins he deserved but didn't get in the first half of last year. I still don't think there's much chance that he gets those 38 wins he needs to reach 300 before his contract runs out next year, but he should be a useful if unspectacular piece of the Mets' rotation this year.

#3: Kris Benson

Kris Benson is thirty years old. By the time a pitcher is thirty, you basically know what you've got. In the case that a pitcher "puts it all together" this late in his career and becomes a dominant starter, he was probably striking out a lot of guys all along and finally managed to control his stuff enough to keep his walks down, a la Randy Johnson. I think we can agree that this scenario does not describe the career of Kris Benson, who has no middle name, very accurately. Kris Benson is what he is and will continue to be roughly what he has been.

So what is that? Well, Benson has a career ERA of 4.28; slightly better than league average. He has a career strikeout rate of 6.4 per nine innings; not too shabby. He has a career walk rate of 3.3; nothing to get excited about. He has a career home run rate of 0.9; perfectly acceptable. He's pitched more than 196 innings in a season three times, including once since his 2001 Tommy John surgery; pretty solid. Last year was his best post-surgery year as he pitched almost exactly 200 innings with a 4.31 ERA. Kris Benson is not a bad pitcher.

He is not, however, a great pitcher, a young pitcher or 7.5 million dollars worth of a pitcher. He would be a very nice addition to a rotation that had three or four pitchers better than him. The Mets do not have that rotation. The only real reason to get excited about the prospect of having Kris Benson on the Mets is if you believe that Rick Peterson is capable of "fixing" whatever it is that's wrong with him. But given that whatever that is has prevented him from posting an ERA below 3.85 over an entire season in his entire professional career, it's hard to believe that he's just a tweak away from dominance. As nice as his final year at Clemson looks (156 innings, 204 K, 27 BB, 2.02 ERA), that guy didn't show up in the pros. Kris Benson is just okay and will get paid very well to be so for the Mets over the next three years.

#4: Victor Zambrano

After the Mets acquired the American League leader in walks and his injured right elbow in exchange for their best pitching prospect last year, Zambrano started three games, posting a 3.86 ERA in fourteen innings while striking out fourteen batters and walking six. Those numbers, miniscule sample size or not, are the most encouraging thing about Zambrano's statistical record as far as his future with the Mets is concerned. Much of what I said about Benson applies Zambrano. He's not quite as old. But then, he's not quite as good. At least he's not nearly as expensive. He does sort of have the "wild, but with a bunch of strikeouts" profile that I mentioned before. But his strikeout rates haven't even reached one per inning over a full season since 2001, and that was just 87 Ks over 81.2 innings between AAA and the majors as a reliever.

That last part is where there's a little bit of room for hope. While Zambrano is twenty-nine years old and really should have figured out the whole "throwing strikes" thing by now if he's going to be a good major league starter, he didn't even start more games than he relieved in a season until 2003. So if he is just developing slowly, there's an excuse. And his K:BB ratio didn't start approaching the frightening 1:1 level until 2002, when he was 27, so there is some long-buried evidence that he can post acceptable walk rates. But he has yet to do so as a starter, and the thirteen walks he's allowed in thirteen official Spring Training innings don't really indicate that he's turned a corner.

It's not fair to hold Zambrano personally accountable for being on the wrong side of a horrible trade. There's plenty of people for that--Fred & Jeff Wilpon, Jim Duquette, Rick Peterson, Al Leiter, Al Goldis, Bill Livesey, Steve Phillips, George Steinbrenner, Derek Jeter, God, Satan, etc. But it is perfectly fair to hold him accountable for being an ineffective pitcher. Last year he averaged 5.64 innings per start while posting a 4.37 ERA with the Mets and Devil Rays. Neither of these numbers was out of line with his career history. Zambrano has shown himself, in two-plus years as a major league starter, to be a mediocre one at best. His improving to become more than that is not outside the realm of possibility, but neither is it a very likely outcome.

If the Mets are able to find five pitchers better than Zambrano to occupy their starting rotation in the coming years, they shouldn't hesitate to dump him. Holding on to him to justify a bad trade would only further compound the mistakes of the past. Right now they've got three superior, healthy major league pitchers, all of them signed through at least next year. Yusmeiro Petit is making his way steadily through the minor leagues and could be ready to give it a shot in the majors before long. I'm hesitant to put too much stock in the Philip Humber "college pitcher fast track" talk with memories of the rise and fall of Aaron Heilman and the sliders from Notre Dame so fresh, but if reports out of Spring Training are to be believed, he could see the inside of Shea before 2007, too. If he proves more capable than Zambrano of retiring major league hitters, I hope Zambrano isn't allowed to stand in his way. The team's infatuation with Zambrano robbing the fans of one young potential star is quite enough.

#5: Kazuhisa Ishii

Steve Trachsel's injury and subsequent surgery may have been fortuitous in that the Mets will be saved from having to pay his seven million dollar option for 2006 which would have kicked in had he pitched 150 innings this year. And the thirty-four year old may not have been likely to sustain his recent level of adequacy had he stayed healthy. But still, I would have felt more comfortable with him rounding out the Mets' rotation than I am with this guy.

Ishii and Zambrano are a lot alike. Neither of them has been starting in the major leagues for very long (Ishii 86 starts over 3 years, Zambrano 64 over 3). They both have proven capable of posting good strikeout rates in their careers. And of course, they both walk a ton of guys, leading both of them to exit games before the end of the sixth innning on average. Ishii brings the added bonus that his strikeout rate fell significantly last year, to just 5.2 per nine innings from 8.6 the previous year. And he doesn't even have Zambrano's excuse of being new to starting, as he did it for ten years in Japan, walking 4.7 batters per nine innings along the way. Ishii isn't a terrible pitcher, but he's another below average starter in need of some serious "fixing" from Rick Peterson to be worth getting excited about. And Peterson's probably got even less to work with than in the cases of Benson and Zambrano.

The grouping of Zambrano and Ishii in succession raises the issue of over-reliance on the bullpen. Neither of these guys goes deep at all, Kris Benson isn't exactly Livan Hernandez and Tom Glavine is thirty-nine years old. Pedro Martinez's durability concerns are both overblown and likely to be mitigated somewhat by the switch to the National League, but he's still not the guy you want to have to step up and save the bullpen every five days. The Mets faced a similiar problem last year, with only Glavine and Trachsel averaging over six innings per start for the entire year and had to rely on a subpar bullpen to work a lot of innings. Having Martinez, Glavine and Benson for the whole year in 2005 should lessen the strain somewhat, but this is still a team that will need a significant number of good innings out of the bullpen to be successful.

Bullpen: Braden Looper, Mike DeJean, Roberto Hernandez, Manny Aybar, Mike Matthews, Dae-Sung Koo, Felix Heredia

It seemed like the decision about the last spot in this bullpen would come down to Matt Ginter and Heredia, but the Mets have just traded Ginter to the Tigers for lefty reliever Steve Colyer, who walked 24 batters and allowed eight home runs in 32 innings last year. Heredia stunk last year, in ways more obvious from looking at his stat line than the ways in which Mike Stanton, for whom he was acquired, stunk. It will be a bad thing if the Mets need to or choose to entrust him with pitching a lot of high leverage innings. Ginter is an adequate long man and spot starter who would have been useful to have around as long as Kris Benson's pectoral problems persisted. But the Mets have made another curious bullpen decision in choosing Heredia and Colyer, who'll be sent to Norfolk, over Ginter. Of course, none of them, nor Aybar, nor Hernandez, is as interesting as Heath Bell, who didn't make the Opening Day roster. Bell basically lost his job to Aybar on the strength of thirteen spring innings despite Bell's strong 2004 and relative youth and the fact that Aybar hasn't pitched a full season in the majors since 2000. I know it's early and it's just a couple of relievers, but Randolph and Minaya's desire to go with the "proven veteran" in the face of contradictory statistical evidence is disappointing. Roberto Hernandez hasn't posted an ERA under league average since 2002 or under 4.00 since 2000. Mike Matthews has bested league average once in his five year career.

Mike DeJean was awful for the poor, mistreated Orioles last year before coming to the Mets and pitching 21 1/3 excellent innings. That doesn't tell us a whole lot, but he at least has some history of success in the major leagues. Dae-Sung Koo is the interesting question mark in the bullpen. He had a solid spring after coming over from Japan, where he was a starter. He had good strikeout rates over there, although he did allow a lot of home runs. It's hard to know what to expect of him, and it's unlikely that the Mets have found their own Akinori Otsuka, but Mister Koo should be able to retire some hitters, especially fellow lefties, with the advantage of their never having seen him on his side.

Braden Looper is the only guy who really inspires confidence in the bullpen as he was excellent in 2004 by cutting down significantly on his walks. His 1.7 BB/9 was down more than a full walk over anything he'd ever done in a full season, even in the minors, so we can't quite bank on him repeating it, but maybe he is an actual Rick Peterson success story. Even if he regresses a little bit, Looper should still be a very good closer for the Mets.


The Mets should have a little more depth in their starting rotation this year, as while Zambrano and Ishii aren't a whole lot better than the guys the team trotted out in the fouth and fifth spots last year, they are at least capable of sustaining their mediocrity over more innings. I expect Pedro Martinez to post an ERA at least a little bit better than Al Leiter's from a year ago and pitch more innings than the Senator as well, but other than that, this staff will probably look very similar to the 2004 version. The bullpen is still a collection of unimpressive veterans, but at least none of them are named Mike Stanton or John Franco. The reinforcements in Norfolk seem slightly more impressive this year as well. This won't be one of the league's elite staffs unless Benson and Zambrano improve dramatically, but it should again be in the league's upper half.

Overall, this is not a great team. It is, however, a team in better shape to take advantage of the apparent decline of the Atlanta Braves than the last couple of incarnations. My guess is that this team wins about 85 games, which probably won't be enough to win the division or the Wild Card. Some lucky breaks in terms of health and pitching could push them into serious contention, but I'm not counting on that. The team is certainly going in a better direction than it was eight months ago, with a growing collection of good young players who'll be around for a while contributing to the major league team's success while more good players start arriving from the minors. This team's proximity to contention is a little scary in that it's the kind of situation that might lead ownership to want to "go for broke" and mortgage the future again in search of a veteran or two to put them over the top. Omar Minaya's mostly been saying the right things regarding building from within so far, but then, Jim Duquette and the Wilpons were saying the same things a year ago. Minaya certainly seems seems to be more in charge of this team than Duquette ever was, but given the franchise's history, we'll just have to wait and see.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
  New York Mets 2005 Season Preview Part One: Swing Is A Word

In 2004 the Mets' offense was hit hard by injuries and also suffered through disappointing seasons from a couple of newcomers. This led to their putting 684 runs on the board, good for twelfth in the National League. On the bright side, both of those numbers were actually improvements over the team's 2003 performance. In the offseason, General Manager Omar Minaya added one huge piece to the offense and missed out on adding one more. Still, that one addition combined with the year-long presence of some youngsters and rebound years from some not-so-youngsters could result in a big improvement on the scoreboard. Let's go position by position.

Catcher: Mike Piazza

First base is hard. Don't let memories of Keith Hernandez and John Olerud fool you. Last year, the Mets had Mike Piazza play first base some of the time in order to keep him healthy and keep his bat in the lineup. Aside from the fact that his defense was really bad, he also only played in 129 games. Oh, and in his 240 at bats as a first baseman, he hit .229/.324/.383. For comparison's sake, Wilson Delgado hit .292/.366/.385 for the Mets last year. Yes, 2004 was a tough year for Mike Piazza and the Mets and now it's back behind the plate with him.

Mike Piazza the catcher hit .331/.419/.552 in 181 at bats last year. It's hard to explain why he was so much more effective when playing the theoretically more physically demanding position and even harder to believe that he'll hit like that again, but I think it's reasonable to expect a bat more potent than that belonging to Mike Piazza the first baseman to show up this year.

Of course, given that Piazza has only played in 197 games over the last two years and is now thirty-six years old, counting on him to regularly show up is something of a dubious proposition. The Mets have three players scheduled to be in their starting lineup whose health are both legitimately questionable and of significant importance. Piazza is perhaps the least likely to play a full season and also the least likely to be replaced adequately. The Mets don't need Piazza to slug .600 again, but they do need him to stay on the field if this offense is going to take a serious step forward from last year's production.

First Baseman: Doug Mientkiewicz

In 2004, the average National League first baseman hit .280/.364/.485. The average New York Mets first baseman hit .237/.326/.368. So the team entered this offseason with some obvious potential to upgrade the team's offense. And if they'd managed to land Carlos Delgado, I'd probably have a lot of confidence in this position and the offense as a whole, at least for this year. But instead they wound up with reputed defense wizard and spellcheck confounder Doug Mientkiewicz, who hit .236/.363/.350 last year in his worst offensive showing since his rookie year of 1999.

At age 30, it's hard to believe Mientkiewicz's offensive game has already collapsed, so he'll probably bounce back some toward the patient if not powerful hitter he was between 2001 and 2003. And while the Mets' offense out of first base was pathetic last year, the various defenders employed at the position were a comparable horror show. So the runs Mientkiewicz saves with his glove figure to at least put a dent in the team's problems at this position, if not one comparable to that Delgado could have provided. The production from this position should be improved from last year, but still doesn't figure to be an overall plus in comparison to the league.

Second Baseman: Kazuo Matsui

While Kazuo Matsui's offense and defense were disappointing Met fans in Flushing, another Matsui across town was reminding everyone not to put so much stock in first impressions. RBI aside, Hideki didn't have a great offensive season in his Major League debut in 2003, hitting just .287/.353/.435 while playing one of the most offensive positions on the field. But in 2004, presumably after having gotten more comfortable and adjusting to MLB a bit, he came back with a .298/.390/.522 season. His defense also allegedly went from solid to scary, but I don't really have numbers to support that.

Kazuo hit just .272/.331/.396, a far cry from the power numbers he put up in Japan, but enough to rank him somewhere in the middle for offensive production among major league shortstops. And he did hit .336/.384/.500 in his last full, healthy month, so maybe he started to figure things out a bit. Unfortunately, that last month was July, as injury problems cropped up for the man who had played 1143 consecutive games before leaving Japan. And he's had some minor back problems in Spring Training this year as well. I don't think injuries are as major a concern with Matsui as with some other Met starters, but it is something to be wary of.

But if he manages to stay on the field, I don't think there's much doubt that he'll be more valuable this year than he was last. His much overhyped defense shouldn't be as much of a problem at second as it was at shortstop, as the position change will mitigate the effect of his weak throwing arm somewhat. And as with his offense, having had a year to adjust to the grass fields of America should have at least some positive consequences. Second base was another weak position for the Mets in 2004, though at .261/.312/.381, they did outhit the first baseman. With Matsui presumably there to stay, he should be able to outperform last year's ineffective rotating cast.

Third Base: David Wright

In 43 years, 129 men have played third base for the Mets. No one played there more than Howard Johnson (835 games) and no player drafted by the Mets played there more than Hubie Brooks (516 games). After David Wright's ridiculous 2004, it doesn't seem like enough to speculate on what he'll do in 2005. No, with all the disappointment Met fans have had to endure over the years, at third base and elsewhere, it's almost too tempting to see this nice guy with the huge numbers and start reserving his spot on the Mets all-time team. But just looking forward to his 2005, there's reason enough to be excited.

Wright started out last year by destroying the Eastern League (.363/.467/.619) to earn a promotion to Norfolk, where he basically kept on doing what he was doing (.298/.388/.579). After he was promoted in July, the 21 year old didn't have too much trouble adjusting to the majors, hitting .293/.332/.525 through 323 at bats. Sure, his walk rate fell off somewhat, but it was still a big year for the rookie and an upgrade over even a surprisingly productive Ty Wigginton, who hit .285/.334/.487 before being traded to the Pirates.

Wright had some trouble defensively, committing 11 errors in 69 games, out of line with the reputation he'd developed in the minors. It's hard to say what to expect from him this year in that regard, but I think it's safe to say he'll at least be solid. But his bat will be key for the Mets. Despite Willie Randolph's speculation that he might bat Wright as low as eighth early in the season, he's very likely to emerge as one of the team's top two or three hitters and cement himself at the hot corner for years to come. This position should be as much of a plus for the Mets as it's been in years. If Wright can display enough of the power he showed last year to start drawing a few more walks again, all the better.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes

Here we have the second major health concern for the 2005 Mets. Reyes was rushed to the majors in 2003 and responded with a promising half season anyway. But he got hurt before the end of that season and leg problems followed him all though 2004, contributing to a very disappointing .255/.271/.373 line in 220 at bats. Reyes' injury problems are a lot more disturbing than Piazza's because he's not a thirty-six year old catcher. He's a twenty-one year old shortstop who can't stay on the field. The success of this Mets team in the coming years is going to depend in part on Reyes' ability to stay healthy, and unlike Wright, pencilling him into the lineup for the next eight to ten years seems a bit too optimistic at this point.

Of course, health aside, there's also the question of whether or not he can play the game. He hasn't played more than 69 games at the same level in one season since he was eighteen years old, so we've only really gotten brief glimpses of his ability as he rocketed up through the organization. So what do we know? Well, he's FAST. His 32/37 stolen base success rate in the majors is evidence enough, but there's few things more fun to watch than Reyes legging out a standup triple and turning the corner as if to go home, as he did in a Spring Training game last weekend. Also, he's got a little power. He's never hit more than eight home runs in a professional season, but still, he's shown flashes of pop and could certainly add some more as he matures. But perhaps most importantly, his plate discipline could use some work. In his rookie year, he seemed to get more patient as the year went on, improving his walk rate througout the year until he drew 10 in 110 at bats in August. But last year he fell off in a big way, drawing just five all year. And he hasn't shown much improvement this spring either, for whatever that's worth.

Jose Reyes can still be a very important player for the New York Mets. His development was severely sidetracked last year, and not because of the move to second base. But he still won't turn 22 until June, so he's got a little time to get going back in the right direction. His development as a hitter is probably the most important factor for the Mets' chances at winning this year, but his development as a person who can run from first to third without pulling something is the real key for the Mets' long-term aspirations.

Left Fielder: Cliff Floyd

And here is our third serious injury concern for the offense. Floyd played just 113 games last year and that was actually an improvement on the 108 game he'd played the year. He's making all the right noises in Spring Training about being healthier than he's been in years and wanting to steal 25 bases, but he's certainly not someone the Mets can count on to be in the lineup 150 times this year. But of at least as much concern as his health is his decline in production last year, as he dropped down to .260/.352/.462 from a solid .290/.376/.518 the year before, due in large part to a newfound inability to hit lefties. Floyd managed just .239/.296/.336, and while those 113 at bats aren't the kind of sample you'd like to base a projection on, they certainly don't inspire confidence going forward.

If Floyd can hit like he did prior to 2004, somewhere around .370/.500, he can be one of the best two or three hitters in the lineup as long as he's in it. Expecting him to bounce back a little bit isn't out of line, as he at least doesn't seem to be playing with any serious injuries yet. Still, Floyd's one of the guys, along with Piazza and Reyes, who'll need to do a little more than just what can reasonably be expected for this team to field a championship caliber offense this year. I think he's be the most likely of the three to have a big year as far as rate stats, but I can't really say the same about his prospects for staying healthy. At least the Mets have a tolerable backup plan this year.

Center Fielder: Carlos Beltran

The fun thing about the internet is that you can't tell when I'm giggling to myself or doing a little dance. Omar Minaya's masterstroke this offseason was locking up the not-quite-twenty-eight-year-old Beltran for seven years. Sure, he got a little lucky in that the Yankees decided they'd rather reward Jaret Wright, Tony Womack and Carl Pavano handsomely for having career years than sign Beltran at a reduced rate, but still, he is a Met and will remain so for years to come. Having David Wright around is great and all, but Beltran is the real reason to unbridle your enthusiasm for the future of this team. Some members of the mainstream media like to point out that Beltran's batting average fell 40 points last year, all the way to .267, in arguing that he's not all he's cracked up to be. Of course, he also set career highs in home runs (38), walks (92), stolen bases (42) and slugging percentage (.548). And unlike the aforementioned new Yankees, there's reason to believe he can keep it up.

Sure, he's moving from a couple of good hitters parks in Kansas City and Houston to pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium. But he didn't really take much advantage of those parks last year, hitting .225/.316/.458 at home as compared to .305/.412/.629 on the road. His splits over the past three years reveal a similar, if less dramatic, differential (.862 OPS at home, .915 on the road). It's hard to satisfactorily explain this or determine what if any relevance it might have to his future in Flushing, but at least it should ally concerns that he was just a product of friendly parks. His power numbers will likely come down a bit, but his batting average will probably also rebound somewhat, leaving him at worst the second most productive center fielder in the league behind thirty-five year old Jim Edmonds.

And none of this accounts for his defense, very good by all accounts and reputable metrics. Maybe not so good as to make the Mets' current outfield configuration the ideal one, but good enough that it shouldn't matter too much. The Mets have done a lot to upgrade the defense this year, from the middle infield switcheroo to the acquisition of Mientkiewicz, and bringing in Beltran is another big step in that direction. He is essentially replacing the Mets' right fielders from 2004, and for half of the year the team had the very good Richard Hidalgo out there. But for the other half they had people like the less than very good Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer, who was just slow enough to make some slightly tough catches into exciting diving catches. All things considered Beltran might not represent a huge step forward from last year in terms of runs saved, but he does solidify the defense at an important position for years to come.

And of course, he's an excellent baserunner. As you may have heard, he has the greatest stolen base percentage in the history of Major League Baseball keeping track of that stat. Also, the Mets had a historically great success rate of 82.3% last year. All of the key contributors to that success are back this year, and with Beltran added to the mix, I see no reason why the team can't continue to use the stolen base as an effective offensive weapon. You know, like everyone thinks the Marlins do. Willie Randolph's promises of aggressive baserunner this offseason have bordered on excessive, but if there's a team to run wild with, this may be it.

Right Fielder: Mike Cameron

Despite a team-high 30 home runs, Cameron's offense was somewhat of a disappointment last year. His power and patience weren't quite enough to make up for his poor batting average, resulting in a final line of .231/.319/.479. He was bothered by an injured wrist for most if not all of last year, so improved health might allow him to make a little more contact this year, though his prodigious strikeout totals figure to persist. In total, his offensive numbers will likely look less than stellar for a right fielder, but with Beltran in center, the team's outfield should add up to a very good offense overall. And right field was another weak position for the Mets in 2004, with no one who played there for any significant amount of time managing even an .800 OPS, so Cameron should at least be able to serve as a modest upgrade.

Defensively, it seems like he should easily move over and be a huge plus. But he has had some trouble tracking balls early in Spring Training. I have no doubt that he'll be able to adjust and be very good in the long run, but there may be some growing pains. Still, he and Beltran should cover two-thirds of the outfield very well this season.

Bench: Ramon Castro, Miguel Cairo, Chris Woodward, Kerry Robinson, Eric Valent, Marlon Anderson, Ron Calloway

Not all of those guys will make the opening day roster, but five of them probably will, with Castro and Cairo the surest bets. The best reserve the Mets have will certainly not be on the opening day roster, as he'll be playing every day in Norfolk, but when Cliff Floyd hits the DL, Victor Diaz will make for a very solid replacement. He's the only one of the Mets' backup bunch with real aspirations toward starting every day in the future. The twenty-three year old outfielder hit .294/.321/.529 in a brief cameo in Flushing last year after a solid .292/.332/.491 year in AAA. He's got some work to do on his discipline and his defense, but he shown good power throughout his minor league career and should continue to do so in the big leagues.

Cairo had a career year with the Yankees last year, hitting .292/.346/.417, well above his lifetime averages. He should regress somewhat and still be a decent backup. Better than the recently departed Joe McEwing, at least. Castro had a couple of big minor league seasons four and five years ago, but hasn't ever put together much of a major league resume, hitting .212/.296/.365 for his career. He'll need to relive his salad days in Calgary to be of much use subbing for Piazza. Valent had a good year for the Mets last year, hitting .267/.337/.481 after stagnating in the Phillies' minor league system the two previous years. He probably won't put up those numbers again, but he should again be a solid bat off of the bench. The rest of this group is pretty forgettable, but the bench should still be less dreadful than as in the past two years, with more than one competent hitter available to step in in case of injury.


Overall, the Mets offense is much improved. Every position aside from catcher and left field could provide an offensive upgrade over 2004 without shocking me, and the guys at C and LF aren't exactly going to drag the offense into the mud as long as they're in the lineup. Willie Randolph's making some curious lineup decision early in the year, planning to bat David Wright eighth with Reyes and Matsui, both less likely than Wright to get on base, at the top of the lineup. I think this will sort itself out before too long if Wright hits like I expect he will, but it is still unfortunate.

Almost everyone in this lineup could be described as either "too young" or "too old", with only Beltran and Matsui in their theoretical primes. Still, with Wright already proving capable of handling major league pitching and none of the older guys in serious danger of falling off a cliff, I think all of the improvements could add up to as many as 800 runs scored for the Mets this year. With some unusual luck in regard to injuries, this lineup could be downright threatening, but right now I'll just predict an above-average run-scoring apparatus.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
  Where Your Eyes Don't Go

For those of you wondering if I've vanished again, fear not. There is new content on the way. I am currently putting together Part One of my 2005 Mets season preview, which should be hitting your browsers in the next couple of days. It will be followed soon after by the more hastily-assembled Part Two. But hey, there are more starting position players than pitchers, so it shouldn't take me as long. Right? Anyway, coming soon: the hitters, or how I learned to stop working and write about baseball.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
  You'll Miss Me

It appears that the Mets are close to sending Jason Phillips to the Dodgers in exchange for Kazuhisa Ishii to fill the hole in their starting rotation left by Steve Trachsel's injury. There's not too much to complain about in this trade in terms of getting value for value. Jason Phillips is a backup catcher coming off of a terrible offensive year and Ishii is a slightly below average starting pitcher in terms of ERA through three years of his major league career. Of course, there's a wide disparity in salary between the two players, with Ishii set to earn about $2.7 million more than Phillips this year (thanks to Hardball Dollars). But all reports indicate that the Dodger will be sending some money the Mets way to make up at least part of the difference. So whether or not this is a good deal for the Mets basically comes down to whether or not you want Ishii in the starting rotation in place of the team's internal options. And in my opinion, no, not really.

Ishii's troubles with the the base on balls are well-documented. Last year he cut his walk rate slightly, issuing only 5.1 free passes per nine innings, a drop of about one walk from his rates the previous two years. Of course, his strikeout rate also plummeted from 8.6 per nine to just 5.2, giving him a Zambrano-esque 99:98 K/BB ratio on the year. This added up to a 4.71 ERA on the year, the highest of his career, which made for an ERA+ of 88 in Dodger Stadium. This wasn't out of line with his career numbers, nor is it anything to sneeze at from a potential fifth starter. Of course, he's only averaged 5.5 innings per start throughout his career, so he's not exactly going to save the bullpen. But how does this compare to the team's internal options?

Well, regardless of who fills the fifth spot, the team already has a pair of Rick Peterson "projects" taking the hill (unless you're putting a whole lot more stock in Kris Benson's Spring Training performance than I am). The Mets' CEO of Pitching will presumably be trying to work his magic on Ishii's control as well. The Mets don't really have a potential fifth starter who's not in need of "fixing", although if Peterson could undo whatever he did to "fix" Jae Seo last year, they might have something. But that seems pretty unlikely, so the Mets choices basically come down to Ishii vs. Matt Ginter.

Ishii has certainly provided more evidence than Ginter that he can hold up for a whole year under the strain of a starter's workload, although, as noted, he won't even do so six innings at a time. But Ishii's also older, wilder and more of a known quantity. There's not much reason to expect him to outperform what he's done in the first three years of his major league career, while Matt Ginter the starter is more of a newcomer out of whom improvement is imaginable if not probable. Also, given Ishii's "proven veteran" sheen, I'm somewhat concerned that he'll be given a longer leash than the Mets' other similarly mediocre but less experienced alternatives.

This trade is far from a disaster, but it's also hard to see a way that this makes the team better. The Mets are acquiring a little bit of depth at the starting pitching position in exchange for depth at the catching position where they didn't have much to begin with. This shouldn't make or break the team's season, but given the questions surrounding almost everyone in the starting rotation, we should hope that someone emerges from the minors to take Ishii's job. And if no one pitches well enough to do that, it probably won't matter whether or not the Mets have Ishii around.
Friday, March 18, 2005
  O, Do Not Forsake Me

The Mets released a pair of superfluous infielders in the last couple of days, with one prompting tearful remembrances and the other, not so much. Joe McEwing's departure leaves Mike Piazza as the only remaining member of the 2000 National League Champions. McEwing had one nice season with the Mets, hitting .283/.342/.449 in 283 at bats in 2001, but otherwise was a serious drain on the team's offense when he got into the lineup. In none of his other four years with the team did he manage to get both his on base and slugging percentages above .300 in the same year. McEwing is reputed to be a great guy and I don't doubt it, but it seemed that that reputation led to him getting more chances to play than his performance warranted. I'm not going to dance on his proverbial grave or anything, but I'm glad the Mets are moving on.

Also departing is Danny Garcia, who never got much of a chance to prove himself at the major league level, but then, never did much to prove himself at the AAA level either. He had a flukily high OBP of .371 with the Mets last year, thanks in part to nine HBPs though just 138 at bats, but there wasn't much reason to expect he could repeat that. His best full season was the .273/.369/.403 he put up in 2002 at St. Lucie. But aside from a couple of succesful but brief stays at other levels, like his .333/.391/.530 in 117 at bats at Binghamton in 2003, he never really progressed to the point where he forced himself into the Mets' major league second base discussion. It would have been nice to see him get a shot in one of these last couple of years when the Mets had nothing to play for but the future, but now that they've got a potentially serious major league team on the field and more proven commodities available to play the role of backup infielder, it's hard to weep for Garcia.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
  We're The Replacements

Steve Trachsel will need surgery to address the hernaited disk in his back. And he's likely enough to miss the entire season that he felt the need to guarantee otherwise. So let's take a slightly deeper look at the most likely candidates to replace the Mets' Mr. Reliable, starting with former first round pick Aaron Heilman.

2002 BIN 96.2 97 28 85 7 3.82
NOR 49.1 35 16 42 3 3.28
2003 NOR 94.1 71 32 99 5 3.24
NYM 65.1 51 41 79 13 6.75
2004 NOR 151.2 123 66 156 15 4.33
NYM 28.0 22 13 27 4 5.46

Heilman's major league performance thus far in his career certainly fails to inspire confidence. Hell, even saying he's mastered AAA is a bit of stretch at this point. His major league debut in 2003 was a disaster that no one predicted, and it looks as though he hasn't yet recovered from it, whether emotional or mechanical problems are to blame. At twenty-six years old, it's hard to believe that Heilman will ever be the succesful major leaguer he was once projected to be. He would probably best be served by some more time in the minor leagues to try to fix whatever went wrong in 2003. So far he's been awful in Spring Training, so he's not likely to sneak his way onto the major league roster that way either. So let's move on to a slightly more likely candidate for the major league rotation, Jae Seo.

2002 BIN 5.0 6 1 5 1 5.40
NOR 128.2 87 22 145 14 3.99
NYM 1.0 1 0 0 0 0.00
2003 NYM 188.1 110 46 193 18 3.82
2004 NOR 22.1 20 8 22 1 2.82
NYM 117.2 54 50 133 17 4.90

Seo seemed to come out of nowhere with his terrific 2003, as he was especially impressive in the first half of the season before beginning to regress toward presumably his true talent level. He was twenty-six at the time, so there wasn't much reason to expect further development, but with his good command he seemed like a reasonable bet to be a solid contributor to the Mets' rotation for the next couple of years. Then Rick Peterson came to town. Seo and Peterson never seemed to see eye to eye and as a result, last year, when the back end of the Mets' rotation needed all the help it could get, Seo was continually jerked around by Peterson and manager Art Howe, seemingly never secure in his spot in the rotation. He even pitched in relief three times. The team doesn't seem to have much more confidence in him this year than it did last and he's done little to engender it with his Spring Training performance. I still think Seo has the talent to be a suitable back-of-the-rotation starter, but at this point it's hard to see it happening with this organization. So that brings us to the last man standing, Matt Ginter.

2002 CHA 16.0 9 10 20 3 3.94
CHW 54.1 37 21 59 6 4.47
2003 CHA 68.1 52 22 66 2 3.03
CHW 3.1 0 1 2 1 13.50
2004 NOR 64.0 49 8 55 4 2.95
NYM 69.1 38 20 82 8 4.54

(CHA is Chicago's AAA affiliate in Charlotte.) With that performance record, it's hard to see what puts Ginter ahead of Seo on the the Mets' depth chart, but there he sits. Success in brief Spring Training action has no doubt helped his case. The fact that I'm not presenting Spring Training stats here is due as much to my inability to find them quickly as my disinclination to dignify such meaningless numbers. While, as I mentioned yesterday, there's reason to believe that Ginter could post a similar ERA to what Trachsel might have done this year, the likelihood of his matching Trachsel's recent durability is much slimmer. While Trachsel topped 200 innings each of the last year, Ginter hadn't even started a game since 2001 prior to last year. If the twenty-seven year old Ginter can stick around until Trachsel gets back, the fifth spot in the Mets' rotation probably won't be the disaster area that it was each of the last two years. And if the team's shot at contention hinged on the health of Steve Trachsel, it must not have been too secure to begin with. But this injury is one more thing that may lead the team's rotation to underperform the lofty expectations that some seem to have for it. I'm pretty confident about the top spot in the rotation. After that, I think they're going to need some luck.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
  Which Describes How You're Feeling

From the cloud of optimism that is Spring Training emerges actual news, as Steve Trachsel has had an MRI on his back and is on his way to Los Angeles to get a second opinion regarding the stiffness he felt after his start on Friday. Right now all we've got to respond to are vague pessimistic quotes from anonymous sources, but we should at least contemplate the idea of Trachsel not starting the regular season in the Mets' rotation. Would this be a disaster?

Well, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system pegs Jae Seo, Matt Ginter and Aaron Heilman--some conceiveable replacements--as putting up ERAs within a quarter of a run of Trachsel's this year if given the chance. Of course, Trachsel has tended to defy pessimistic projections in recent years. And the system projects young Yusmeiro Petit to be more than a run better than any of them this year. Neither Seo nor Heilman has exactly distinguished himself thus far in Spring Training and none of the Mets' leftovers have approached the kind of consistent adequacy that Trachsel has put forth in the last few years. Even at the ripe old age of thirty-four, Trachsel is more of a known quantity than any of the others, so his loss for any significant period of time would hurt the Mets. But while the potential fill-ins are the same guys who failed to set the world afire in a similar role last year, I don't think it'll be a catastrophe if they're called upon for a short time. If Trachsel misses months upon months and Victor Zambrano pitches like Victor Zambrano, the back end of the Mets' rotation could turn out to be disastrous, but it's a little early to be forecasting that.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
  The World Before Later On

Well, it's Spring Training and there's not much of consequence going on, so that means it's time to draw groundless conclusions from inadequate evidence. In this spirit, I watched one of the reasons to temper your expectations for the 2005 Mets, Kris Benson, pitch four innings against Vance Wilson and the Detroit Tigers this afternoon.

Prior to the bottom of the second inning, Rick Peterson was shown speaking about his attempts to "fix" the thirty-year old former first overall draft pick. The crux of it was that Benson needs to "dominate the bottom of the strike zone". And in that second inning, Benson was quite effective, as all of his pitches seemed to be either low or outside the strike zone (or both). In the third inning he had trouble finding the strike zone early, but pulled things together to end the inning on a strike out on a nice low fastball. But in the fourth he had a lot of trouble with balls up in the zone, leading to several hard-hit balls, including a two-run home run by Rondell White. Benson wound up allowing two runs on two hits and a walk while striking out three.

So what have we learned? Well, Rick Peterson's probably not done working his magic. As meaningless as four innings of Spring Training baseball may be, Benson didn't do anything today to show that he's a different pitcher than the overhyped disappointment of the last three years. Anyone counting on Benson to be much more than a mediocre innings-eater this year must have a lofty opinion of Rick Peterson's reparative talents.

In news that may have an impact on the composition of the Mets' opening day roster, Victor Diaz smacked a home run to left off of Detroit starter Nate Robertson in his second at bat. It's sounding more and more like Mike Cameron will be back in time to play right field in the season opener, but Diaz showing off his power is always good news.
Disseminating descriptions and accounts of New York Mets games without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball or the New York Mets since 2003.

Location: Hatboro, Pennsylvania, United States
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