Hitting is fundamental
In 2006, the Mets' offense was the third best in the National League as they scored 834 runs, their highest season total since 1999. They got some big years from some players who shouldn't be expected to repeat, but they also had some significant holes which have since been filled. Several key contributors are still in the prime of their careers (or younger). As good as the offense was last year, no one should be surprised if it's as good or better this year.
Catcher Paul Lo Duca is one of those who will likely come back to earth a bit. He had a big year, hitting .318/.355/.428, probably the second best of his career behind his ridiculous 2001 (.320/.374/.543). He avoided the second-half fade that had become tradition for him and was just about everything his vocal supporters have ever claimed he was. The former heart and soul of the Los Angeles Dodgers finally played in a postseason game for the first time in his career and all it took was having a bunch of players who were better than him on the team. Now he's a catcher about to turn thirty-five and can't be expected to remain as healthy and productive as he was last year. Backup Ramon Castro could bounce back from a bad 2006 to relieve some pressure, but this position looks like one that will be less productive for the Mets in 2007.
First baseman Carlos Delgado is another Met in his mid-thirties, but he didn't do anything out of the ordinary in 2006. He hit .235/.361/.548, pretty similar to what he did in 2004 in Toronto. Still, this was an enormous improvement at a position that had been a black hole for the Mets since the start of this millennium. Delgado should be able to keep up this level of performance for at least another year.
Second base is a spot where many think the sky may fall in on the Mets. "Thirty-seven-year-old Jose Valentin certainly won't repeat his miraculous .271/.330/.490 season," they say. "Thirty-seven-year-old Damion Easley is far from an adequate backup plan," they bellow. It is hard to argue with either of these statements. But Valentin was not the only Met to man the keystone in 2006. The likes of Kazuo Matsui and Chris Woodward were so awful that the Mets actually got below average production from the position for the season as a whole. The average National League second baseman hit .272/.336/.422. Met second basemen hit .244/.300/.406. I don't think anyone would be stunned if Valentin and Easley were able to match or exceed that level of production. Yes, Valentin is sure to fade somewhat, but that will hardly doom the Mets to an early offseason.
Then there's David Wright. The Met third baseman didn't hit with a lot of power in the second half of 2006. His defense isn't so hot. And his .311/.381/.531 line was nearly identical to what he did in 2005. On the other hand, he's twenty-four years old and one of the best hitters in the game. Now he'll probably be batting second, the end result of which will be that he gets to hit more often this year than he did either of the last two. I think this will be a position of strength for the Mets for a little while longer.
The same could reasonably be said about shortstop. Jose Reyes finally made good on the promise he'd been showing since his 2003 debut, putting together a spectacular season at the age of twenty-three. He met or exceeded his career highs in walks, hits, doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases, hitting .300/.354/.487 while playing very good defense. Now the question is whether or not he can do it again. We won't know until he does or doesn't, but the all-around improvement he showed last year looked a lot more like real, sustainable growth than any kind of fluke. Reyes has gotten past the injury problems that slowed him early in his career and has begun to mature as a player. He is as fun to watch as any player in the game and seeing where he goes from here should be just as fun.
In contrast to the great infield of 2006, the Mets' outfield showed a lot of room for improvement, no spot more so than left field. After a terrific and healthy 2005, Cliff Floyd surprised few by failing to repeat in 2006. He played in just 97 games and hit .244/.324/.407, leaving the Mets' thin bench a lot of work to do. The Mets' one major move this offseason was to fill this hole with Moises Alou. Now, Alou will turn forty-one in July and he only played in 98 games for the Giants last year. But he also hit .301/.352/.571. He won't give the Mets anything on defense or play 150 games, but as long as he's in the lineup, he should provide a lot more offense than the Mets got out of this spot last year. If Willie Randolph can give him a couple of days a week off in favor of Endy Chavez or Lastings Milledge, maybe Alou can still be ambulatory come October.
The exception to the Mets' outfield troubles was center field, where Carlos Beltran followed up a disappointing 2005 with the best season of his career and finished fourth in NL MVP voting despite a rough September. To the extent that any one player can be said to have "carried" this team, it was Beltran with his exceptional combination of power, patience and defense. He hit .275/.388/.594 and tied the club record for home runs with 41. All this while hitting just .224/.368/.487 at home. He will turn thirty in April and should challenge for an MVP award or two in the years to come. His defense will be especially important this season given his statuesque wingmen.
Right now, officially, the Mets' starting right fielder is scheduled to be Shawn Green. This despite his lack of offense after being traded to the Mets last season, his laughable attempts at defense in the postseason and a poor Spring. To be fair, he did hit pretty well in the playoffs--.292/.346/.542 with three home runs. But his spring batting average of .154 is especially damning when compared to the .352 put up by Milledge. Now, generally a player's Spring Training stats have about as much predictive value as his horoscope ("When the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars, you will be in the best shape of your career..."). But Green not hitting is hardly a new development. Milledge made the opening day roster, so hopefully he'll be able to play his way into a starting job before too long.
Of course, when Milledge stops being part of the Mets bench, it will be a pretty weak group. Chavez is back and will likely provide stellar defense at any outfield position, but he won't repeat the career year he had with the bat last season. Castro has been a solid backup catcher in his career, last year notwithstanding. Aside from those three and Easley, the Met reserves are Julio Franco and David Newhan. Franco didn't have a great year last year as his power declined significantly. I would never bet against the elder statesman of the major leagues, but it's hard to see him making a huge contribution this year. The thirty-three year old former Oriole Newhan couldn't even manage a .300 OBP either of the last two years so I don't have very high hopes for him either. The Mets just signed Ricky Ledee to a minor league deal, but that's probably not the solution to all of their bench problems. They're just going to have to be satisfied with an awesome starting lineup and a weak bench. Who knows? Maybe Green will seem useful by the standard of a pinch hitter once he gets demoted.
The Mets probably won't win 97 games again in 2007, but I think they still have to be the favorites to win the National League East. The Phillies should provide a stiffer challenge than they did last year, but they are still the Phillies. These Mets should be playoff-bound and once they reach the postseason, anything can happen. As a wise man once said, ya gotta believe.
Labels: 2007 preview, hitting
Waiting For Pedro
A lot of negative things have been written about the Mets
' starting rotation in recent months, and justifiably so. The surest thing in the bunch is a soft-tossing forty-one year old. Even now that the list has been pared down to the final five, question marks abound. There's plenty of reason for concern among Mets
fans. But I think there's at least as much reason for excitement.
Beyond the two old men at the top of the list there are three pitchers the oldest of whom will be twenty-six at season's end. The Mets
haven't had three starting pitchers this young playing major roles since Bobby Jones, Jason Isringhausen
and Paul Wilson eleven years ago. And these three kids aren't just roster filler. You've got two newly minted playoff heroes and the most promising New York pitching prospect to actually reach the majors as a Met since the heady days of Generation K. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think this could be a lot of fun.
First, we've got Tom Glavine
. Last year Glavine
went 15-7 with a 3.82 ERA in 198 innings, narrowly missing his third straight 200 IP
season. He enters 2007 ten wins shy of 300 for his career and shouldn't have too much trouble reaching that magic number. Throughout his career, he's been about as consistently healthy as he has been good. While he won't be one of the top handful of pitchers in the league he'll almost surely be an important and dependable piece of the Mets
Somewhat less dependable is the nominal number two, Orlando Hernandez. El Duque
got off to a bad start last season, posting a 6.11 ERA in nine starts for the Diamondbacks. He pitched better for the Mets
, cutting down on his hits, walks and home runs allowed as he shifted to a more pitcher-friendly environment. His 4.09 ERA in twenty starts was nice, but then he got hurt and missed the playoffs. The only thing we can be sure of for 2007 is that he won't be healthy for all of it. He's pitched over 200 innings in a season once, in 1999. He could very well give the Mets
some solid innings for as long as he's healthy, but there's little doubt he'll have them dipping into their surplus starting pitching at some point.
John Maine is where things start to get interesting. Maine had a solid debut for the Mets
last year, posting a 3.60 ERA in ninety innings and and pitching well in two of his three postseason starts. In the regular season he had some trouble with the home run ball, allowing fifteen to leave the yard, and got quite lucky when it came to balls in play being turned into outs, allowing just a .225 batting average on such balls, compared to a league average of .303. There's not much chance he'll repeat that. Still, if he can stay in the rotation all year and give the Mets
an ERA around four, he'll be an improvement over every non-Glavine
starter the Mets
sent to the mound last year.
Even more interesting is Oliver Perez who, with a little help from He Who Is Called Endy
, shut the Cardinals down for six innings in the Mets
' biggest game of 2006. The 2004 season in which he was one of the best pitchers in baseball will always inspire hope and the NLCS
wasn't the only time he gave New York fans a glimpse of that pitcher. If that Oliver Perez shows up this season, it could completely alter the complexion of this rotation. Maybe he'll never approach that kind of success (239 Ks and a 2.98 ERA in 196 IP
) again. But I wouldn't be shocked if Rick Peterson did a better job coaching him than anyone employed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the last three years.
Finally, there's Mike Pelfrey
. The Mets
' 2005 first round pick made it to the majors so fast they didn't have a chance to desperately exchange him for shiny veteran trinkets, making his debut less than six months after signing. His first taste of the majors didn't go so well as he posted a 5.48 ERA and a 13:12 K:BB ratio in 21.1 innings. He was much more impressive in tearing through three minor league levels, with a 2.43 ERA, 109 strikeouts and 33 walks in 96.1 innings. It will probably take him some time to establish some consistency at the major league level, but this is clearly a talented kid and it will be exciting to watch a young, homegrown starter grow up in a Mets
uniform for once.
This group isn't going to strike fear into the hearts of the National League, but it wasn't starting pitching that carried the 2006 Mets
as far as they went. The only guys who pitched more than 132.2 innings last year were Glavine
and Steve Trachsel
who, 15 wins or not, was not the kind of pitcher you'd want as your number two. The Mets
stopped just short of pulling fans out of the stands to man the back of their rotation last year--in fact, that may have been how Jose Lima got four starts--and the only ones who were any good for any length of time were Maine and Hernandez. The situation may not be a whole lot better this year, but it's going to take some serious bad luck for the Mets
to be reaching for the Limas
and Geremi Gonzalezes
of the world in 2007. And they might very well have an ace up their sleeve come July or August if a certain Dominican gentleman is feeling healthy.
The bullpen is a bit more troubling. Met relievers were excellent last year and some of the most important guys are back. There's Billy Wagner, who was great in the closer role, and Aaron Heilman
, who was very good setting him up. Beyond that, there's not much we can be sure of. The recent news that Duaner
Sanchez will miss most if not all of the season has left some spots up for grabs.
returns to the lefty specialist role he did well in last year. Scott Schoeneweis
is also a lefty, but hardly anything special. Rookie sidearmer
Joe Smith will try to be the new Chad Bradford. Chan Ho Park will hope to be more successful in relief than he has been as a starter lately. And if all else fails, the Mets
will send out Aaron Sele
and try again the next day.
What was one of the best bullpens in baseball last year should be quite effective again in the eighth and ninth innings. Getting there might be a little trickier. Perhaps Park will make like Eric Gagne
and go from unimpressive starter to dominant reliever. Maybe Smith's minor league success will translate smoothly to the majors. Someone like Ambiorix Burgos
or Jorge Sosa could figure things out in the minors and make an impact. There's not much chance that all of these things will happen. Met relievers aren't about to turn into a half dozen Mel Rojases
, but the bullpen won't be quite the strength it was in 2006.
All of this adds up to a pitching staff that's going to need its offense to score some runs. By a fortunate coincidence, the Mets
have an offense capable of doing just that. I'll be back later this week with a look at those responsible for really sockin
' the ball and knockin
' those home runs over the wall.
Labels: 2007 preview, pitching
Finally, some real news
It was a pretty slow offseason for the New York Mets. Spring Training has been fun, but soon we'll have forgotten all about Shawn Green's hot streak and the Aaron Sele experiment. In short, the wait for Opening Day, for actual baseball, has been interminable. But now, at long last, something important has happened.
If you follow the link above you will see that mets.com is conducting a poll, the results of which will determine what songs are played when David Wright comes to bat this season. There are some quality options on the list ("Seven Nation Army," "Superstition," both Led Zeppelin songs) but as usual the folks at mlb.com have failed to dig deep enough to find the truth. There is only one correct answer to this poll and it is not on the list. Thankfully, there is a box labeled "Write-In Suggestion."
When David Wright is striding to the plate with the game on the line, there is only one song capable of accompanying the moment. Two down, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, down by three--only one song can properly enhance the drama. Only one classic piece of music can infuse David Wright with the edge necessary to carry the Mets to victory.
As you can see, we have some work to do. The average Mets fan who votes in this poll will no doubt feel satisfied choosing from the provided options. This makes it all the more important that we, the hardcore, internet-savvy Mets fan community, flood the voting tube with write-ins. We must all do our part. I want to you stop what you're doing right now, click on the above link and vote. Then I want you to do it again tomorrow. Or two hours from how. Or five minutes from now. Just put your cursor in that box and enter the four simple words (and one simple hyphen) that will carry the Mets to October.
"The Final Countdown - Europe"
Labels: David Wright, music, World Series