In 2012, the New York Mets’ infield (excluding Catcher) was where the Mets received their best offensive contributions. As a whole, the group performed fairly well, providing 75.6% of the team’s total hitting fWAR (14.6, compared to 4.0 for the outfield and 0.7 for pitchers*). Using Baseball-Reference’s metrics, the infield was responsible for 101% of the team’s 10.5 hitting Wins Above Replacement, with the outfield being worth -0.3, and pitchers being worth 0.2.
*Fun fact: Mets pitchers accumulated a MLB-best 0.7 fWAR (tied with Washington).
*These players were included in the calculations for the Mets outfield (see part 1, linked above)
The 14.6 wins isn’t exactly mind-blowing (the major league average for infields/catchers in 2012 was 12.78; the Mets ranked 13th), but there are several reasons for optimism going into 2013. Let’s take a look at what the Mets got at each position, and look into the projections for next season after.
Catcher(Note: the ‘Ranks’ listed are the position’s rankings by OPS and fWAR, respectively):
It’s long been considered that the Mets had the worst catchers in 2012. And, with no offense to Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas, Rob Johnson, and Kelly Shoppach, it turned out to be the case. The backstops combined to hit a paltry .218/.281/.286 and post a collective -0.3 fWAR in 2012. The unit was led by the embattled Thole, whose season was derailed by a concussion suffered on May 7th (Thole had a .726 OPS up until that point, and a .536 mark after returning). Thole and Nickeas have since been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and will be replaced by John Buck and either Anthony Recker or Landon Powell (until prospect Travis d’Arnaud busts his way into the majors). Though Buck has never established himself as an offensive catcher, his floor is still an improvement over Thole’s disasterous 2012, and Recker/Powell can at least keep pace with Nickeas. The eventual promotion of d’Arnaud (who will almost definitely start the season in Las Vegas) offers Mets fans a chance at something they haven’t seen in years: a bona-fide offensive catcher. Though his defensive/game-calling reputation is underrated by most, d’Arnaud’s value lies in his ability to hit, and hit for power.Defensively, the group should improve for two reasons: first, Dickey’s absence should lead to a reduced number of passed balls (though, on the other hand, Dickey’s ability to keep runners in check will likely be missed). Second, and this is no knock against Thole, the Mets will no longer be grooming a converted first baseman on the fly.
Ultimately, Buck alone was worth 1.5 wins more than the entire Mets catching unit. Expecting a total of 2.5-3.0 WAR from Buck, d’Arnaud, and others seems like a reasonable level (the Fans’ projections on Fangraphs give the pair a collective 3.8) and would be a huge improvement for the group.
As Ike Davis goes, so will first base. After having a bright career temporarily derailed by a lingering ankle injury in 2011, Davis fought rust and a potential case of Valley Fever in early 2012, and it showed. On June 9th, Davis had a .520 OPS and a tender vote of confidence from Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson. Then he changed.
From June 10th to the end of the season, Davis posted a gaudy .263/.343/.566 slashline, and his .909 OPS paced his position in the National League from that point forward. Based on his career to this point, it’s fair to say Davis is much closer to the .909 OPS player than to the .520 OPS player. What might be the best part of that statistic is that he did it while still struggling to hit lefties and without putting up great numbers at home. Should he improve in either of those regards, the Mets could have one of the majors’ best first basemen (not named Pujols, Votto, or Fielder) anchoring their lineup. A 4-WAR season for Davis isn’t out of the question, and given his defensive ability isn’t at all unreasonable.
Offensively, second base seems sent. After what was considered a down year offensively for Daniel Murphy, Met second basemen finished 6th in the majors in OPS. Defense (primarily Daniel Murphy’s) hurt them however, as they finished 14th in fWAR. The primary question going into 2012 was whether Murphy’s bat could offset his glove at the keystone; as of now the outlook seems optimistic. I couldn’t find any statistics to track Murphy’s defensive progression over the course of 2012, but the eye test suggested a significant improvement. Daniel Murphy will likely never win a gold glove, but his defense has improved enough to comfortably justify his presence in the everyday lineup
Behind Murphy, Justin Turner, Jordany Valdespin, and Ronny Cedeno provided excellent back-up production. While it’s unfair to expect similar production of Turner next year, he has shown his ability to hit capably enough off the bench, and offer a decent right-handed bat to spell both Murphy and Ike Davis at first.
Third base was a pleasure to watch in Queens this year. With great offense and top-notch defense, David Wright led Mets’ third basemen to lead the majors in fWAR. After Wright signed an 8-year, $138M extension this offseason, there isn’t much to discuss here. Wright is one of the top third basemen in the league, and is just hitting his prime. Little evidence exists to suggest that Wright will slow down in the future.
Behind him next year, the Mets will likely play Justin Turner and Brian Bixler. Such a mention should only be a formality, as health and fatigue are the only reasons Wright won’t be in the field every day.
Met shortstops were a logical foil to their double-play partners in 2012: mediocre offense, great defense. The group was the 8th-most valuable in the bigs despite an underwhelming .672 OPS. What makes this especially encouraging is the play of young Ruben Tejada. In his first season replacing Jose Reyes, Tejada showed big game potential. On August 16th, Tejada had an outstanding .318/.362/.390 slash line before hitting .233/.278/.277 in the last 41 games.
If Tejada can develop his conditioning and stay strong through the season, he could become one of the best shortstops in the major leagues. Given that he was the second-youngest everyday shortstop in the MLB in 2012 (he is 4 months older than the Cubs’ Starlin Castro), he is still a few years away from his ‘prime’. Either way, Tejada dulled much of the sting suffered by Jose Reyes’ painful departure after the 2011 season.
Aggregate OPS: 0.784
Aggregate OPS: 0.755
Two things stick out here about the James model: first, that his projections are a little more aggressive than the Fans’ projections. Second, they’re assuming that at bats are going to come from otherwise-unspecified players. Recker and Bixler both lack projections, so we have don’t know how he (or the fans, for that matter) expects them to factor into this. What we do notice, however, is that the offense will be improve fairly decently. James expects noticeable offensive improvements out of Davis and Murphy, and also a significant improvement behind the plate.
The Fans’ projections offer a more tempered projection for the offense, but they project the group to accumulate 19.2 fWAR – an improvement of 4.6! These projections are, of course, no guarantee of success or failure – there are far too many outlying factors they don’t account for (injury and luck stand out) – but it stands that the baseball community expects a decent improvement out of this unit next year. This should be very encouraging to Mets fans, who are looking for reasons to be optimistic going into spring training.