Can the Mets’ Infield Lead Them To Success in 2013? – Fun With Numbers

Author’s Note: This piece is part three in a 6-part series reviewing the Mets’ 2012 season and previewing the 2013 season. For part one, on the outfield, click here. For part two, on the rotation, click here. Part four, detailing the [less-than] Amazin’ bullpen, will be posted next week. Part five will cover the defense and be posted the following week. 
Part 6 will wrap together the first five pieces, making adjustments or updates as necessary (to reflect trades or signings and anything learned in spring break) will likely be posted between late February and early March.
 

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).

PA HR AVG OBP SLG fWAR bWAR
Davis 584 32 0.227 0.308 0.462 1.6 0.7
Murphy 612 6 0.291 0.332 0.403 1.8 1.2
Tejada 501 1 0.289 0.333 0.351 2.1 1.9
Wright 670 21 0.306 0.391 0.492 7.8 6.7
Thole 354 1 0.234 0.294 0.290 0.1 -0.1
Nickeas 122 1 0.174 0.242 0.229 -0.6 -0.7
Shoppach 87 3 0.203 0.276 0.342 0.1 0.1
Cedeno 186 4 0.259 0.332 0.410 0.6 0.3
Turner 185 2 0.269 0.319 0.392 0.5 0.2
Quintanilla 80 1 0.257 0.350 0.371 0.7 0.5
Lutz 11 0 0.091 0.091 0.091 -0.1 -0.2
Rottino* 22 2 0.250 0.318 0.550 0.2 0
Duda* 14 0 0.182 0.357 0.273 -1.1 -1.4
TOTAL 3428 74 14.6 10.6

*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.

 

2012 Offense

Catcher(Note: the ‘Ranks’ listed are the position’s rankings by OPS and fWAR, respectively):

March 17, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Travis d

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.

First Base

Aug. 31, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis (29) rounds the bases after hitting a two run home run during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Mets won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Second Base

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

Sep 27, 2012; Flushing, NY,USA; New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy (28) singles to center allowing a runner to score during the fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PREWIRE

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

Oct. 3, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets third baseman David Wright (5) at bat against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Mets won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Shortstop

Sept 16, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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.

2013 Projections

 Bill James

PA HR AVG OBP SLG fWAR
Davis 584 31 0.266 0.354 0.511
Murphy 593 9 0.303 0.352 0.438
Wright 665 21 0.302 0.392 0.488
Tejada 463 2 0.277 0.338 0.347
Turner 182 2 0.278 0.344 0.385
Buck 421 14 0.219 0.298 0.384
Recker n/a
d’Arnaud n/a
Bixler n/a
TOTAL 2908 79 0.277567 0.34663 0.437262

Aggregate OPS: 0.784

Fans

PA HR AVG OBP SLG fWAR
Davis 664 32 0.262 0.34 0.486 3.6
Murphy 654 8 0.294 0.339 0.409 2.7
Wright 668 23 0.297 0.376 0.487 5.8
Tejada 621 2 0.287 0.345 0.349 2.7
Turner 325 2 0.268 0.332 0.346 0.6
Buck 399 11 0.231 0.316 0.373 1.6
d’Arnaud 364 11 0.267 0.321 0.432 2.2
Recker n/a
Bixler n/a
TOTAL 3695 89 0.275904 0.335589 0.418976 19.2

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.

Topics: Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Ike Davis, New York Mets, Ruben Tejada, Travis D'Arnaud

Want more from Rising Apple?  
Subscribe to FanSided Daily for your morning fix. Enter your email and stay in the know.
  • http://twitter.com/mmusico8 Matt Musico

    What a great breakdown here…the infield should definitely be a strength of the club this season!

  • Henry Johnson

    Nice work.

    The infield will have to carry the load this year on offense and defense. The good news is that there’s a lot of talent and improvement projected there. The bad news is that all that heavy lifting might still not be enough with our “outfield”.

    • Dan Haefeli

      Using the same projections here, Duda/Kirk/Baxter should be worth about 4.5 fWAR collectively. While not great, that’s a half-win better than the collective outfield from last year. Add in the value of Cowgill and Brown and the outfield should be somewhat better than last year. It won’t be great, but it shouldn’t be the death trap most are predicting.

      Thanks for reading!

    • Henry Johnson

      I actually think platooning can be the saving grace for teams with non-regulars on the roster. I know teams are doing it more, but the A’s seem to be cornering the market on it. That said, Cowgill/Kirk should be an improvement in CF, Duda will be an improve in LF, and if we can get a RH bat with Baxter…the OF will be better.

  • kasper

    The best part is that this infield is under team control for the next three years, and everybody but Murph for four. With Niese, Harvey, Wheeler and Gee also under team control through 2016, there is definitely a nucleus here that you an build a winner around. All Sandy has to do is find an outfield.