A Dose of Rational Thought with a Dash of Imagination
It seems that I churn one of these out each year: a piece discussing the at times laughable but matter of fact negativity that engulfs the Mets. Sometimes I write it early in the season, as was the case in 2008. Sometimes I write it right after the season ends, and sometimes right before. This year’s edition is here.
This is not to say that fans and the media are irrational if they project negativity regarding the Mets. They’re certainly not, and they’re entitled to their opinion. This is a response to fans and media alike who bellow year after year that everything will go wrong for the Mets, while predicting that everything will break right for their competition. It’s a retort to the constant hyperbole, the grass is always greener articles that are churned out quicker than the chocolate was when Lucy and Ethel were attempting to box it, and the belief that each coming year will result in the current Mets team channeling their 1962 counterparts.
Sep 28, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets right fielderLucas Duda
(21) is congratulated by teammates first basemanIke Davis
(29) and second basemanDaniel Murphy
(28) after Duda hit a home run against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. The Mets defeated the Braves 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
In 2008, when the Mets began the season 17-15, Jose Reyes was compared to Rey Ordonez. Johan Santana, who had been acquired just months prior, was booed off the Shea Stadium mound. It was a combined freak out from both fans and the media, and I attempted to inject some sanity by offering a retort. That 2008 squad missed the Playoffs by one game, but didn’t turn into the mess that was predicted in mid-May. Since then, the team has suffered four consecutive losing seasons. Saying that it’s been rough would be an understatement. Still, with each new season comes a new beginning. It’s en vogue to trash the Mets, to make them a punchline, and to write them off as a sideshow. What isn’t popular, is discussing them rationally.
Yes, the team has struggled over the last four seasons. It seems, though, that those struggles rarely get put in their proper context. The 2009 team was so injury riddled that it isn’t even worth discussing. In 2010, the Mets won 79 games. In 2011, they won 77. 2011, however, should have an asterisk next to it. That 2011 team (smartly) dealt Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran in order to clear salary and build for the future. If kept intact, the team would’ve likely finished above .500, but it was the proper move to disassemble it. Last year, the team slipped to 74 wins, due to an abysmal second half of the season.
Over the past three seasons, the Mets have ranged from mediocre to solidly below average. However, they’ve been covered as if they’re a perennial laughing stock. The 2013 Mets as currently constituted, have holes – and that isn’t a debatable point. What is debatable is where the 2013 team will end up in the standings, and how they stack up to the rest of the division and league. Before delving into the 2013 team and its chances, here are some fresh examples of the irrational negativity and hyperbole that was discussed above, all wrapped up neatly in a very short quote courtesy of Mike Vaccaro in today’s New York Post:
"The Mets are a fourth-place team without [Michael] Bourn. With him? They are a fourth-place team. They are probably five or six games better than the Marlins. They aren’t anywhere near the Nationals, Phillies or Braves…"
Vaccaro’s quote will be dissected in two parts.
First, let’s examine the “Mets can’t compete with the Phillies” line:
It’s clear that the Mets aren’t in the same stratosphere as the Nationals or Braves as far as talent and expectations are concerned. The Phillies are a different story, and lumping them in with the Nationals and Braves is both lazy and wrong. It’s done for effect, to make the Mets’ chances of being respectable or contending in 2013 appear non-existent.
The Phillies’ rotation should be a strength, but the Mets’ starting staff should be as well. While the Phillies have three established ace potential starters, the Mets have a staff that should be comfortably above average, with Zack Wheeler waiting in the wings. On the offensive side of things, the Phillies will likely have Erik Kratz behind the plate on Opening Day – a 32 year old who has played a total of 61 games at the major league level. Their third baseman is Michael Young, who was once very good, but is now so bad that the Rangers paid to make him go away. Young’s WAR was -1.4 last season. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins is still productive, but second baseman Chase Utley has been turned into a shell of himself due to injuries. First baseman Ryan Howard is an albatross in waiting. He hit .219 in 2012 with a .295 OBP. His WAR was -1.0. Aside from Ben Revere (who it should be noted has zero career home runs in 254 major league games), the Phillies’ outfield will likely consist of some combination of John Mayberry, Jr, Darin Ruf, and Delmon Young. The combined WAR of those three last year was 0.2.
The fact that Vaccaro places the Phillies in the same breath as the Nationals and Braves and head and shoulders above the Mets is at best off base, and at worst laughable.
The second part of Vaccaro’s quote that’s worth discussing is his assertion that the Mets are “probably five or six games better than the Marlins.”
The Mets were five games better than the Marlins last season, during which the Marlins traded Hanley Ramirez. This offseason, they dealt Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and John Buck. Aside from Giancarlo Stanton, The Marlins’ depth chart is painful to look at. It’s a result of the fact that they gutted their team this winter.
To compare, the Mets extended David Wright, dealt R.A. Dickey for Travis d’Arnaud and others, signed Shaun Marcum to fill out their rotation, and are looking into adding Michael Bourn. It’s reasonable to think that the Mets will end up either slightly worse than last year or slightly better. The Marlins, on the other hand, will likely be in a battle with the Astros for the worst record in all of baseball. To place the Mets and Marlins five or six games apart is silly.
Everyone knows that the Mets have three huge question marks disguised as outfielders at the moment. Instead of writers and fans looking at the current outfield mess separately from the rest of the roster, they’re using it as something to pile on to what is supposedly an awful overall situation. Want some news? The Mets’ overall situation isn’t awful, or even close to it. Since bullpens are a crapshoot from year to year, let’s take a rational look at the starting pitching and the likely everyday players:
- The starting rotation going into 2013 is likely to consist of Johan Santana, Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Shaun Marcum. Behind those five stands Zack Wheeler, one of the best pitching prospects in the game. Santana will bear watching since his season was cut short due to minor ailments and fatigue, as will Marcum (he missed time last year with elbow/shoulder issues). The starting rotation going into 2012 was Santana, R.A. Dickey, Niese, Mike Pelfrey, and Gee. Santana was lost for the majority of the second half of the year, and Dillon Gee saw his season end prematurely as well due to a freak blood clot in his shoulder. Pelfrey didn’t fare as well as either of them, as his season ended in late April when he underwent Tommy John surgery. Yes, subtracting R.A. Dickey from the rotation hurts. However, unless the starting five is again beset by injuries, the 2013 rotation should be similarly productive.
- What led me to claim that the production of the 2013 rotation would be similar to the 2012 rotation? In 2012, the five pitchers who made the most starts for the Mets combined to throw 764.3 innings. They had a combined ERA of 3.85. The five pitchers who enter the 2013 season in the rotation are projected to throw 730.2 innings, with a combined ERA of 4.00. The 2013 projections appear to be on the pessimistic side. ZiPS is projecting Matt Harvey to throw 163 innings (less than last year, when he was on an innings limit), and for Dillon Gee to throw only 134 innings. Gee should be fully healthy, and Harvey should easily approach 200 innings barring injury. In addition, they have Harvey’s ERA climbing over a full run, and Gee’s jumping about a half a run. I’m more bullish on the potential of the rotation, and I believe those feelings will be affirmed at the conclusion of 2013.
- The Mets’ everyday mainstays last year were catcher Josh Thole, third baseman David Wright, shortstop Ruben Tejada, second baseman Daniel Murphy, first baseman Ike Davis, left fielder Jason Bay, center fielder Andres Torres, and right fielder Lucas Duda. Those eight players had a combined WAR of 13.2. Assuming the Mets make no further acquisitions, their likely everyday mainstays in 2013 are catcher Travis d’Arnaud (who should be called up in late April or early May), third baseman David Wright, shortstop Ruben Tejada, second baseman Daniel Murphy, first baseman Ike Davis, left fielder Lucas Duda, center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and right fielder Mike Baxter. Those eight players are projected to have a combined WAR of 12.6. If you add Michael Bourn to the mix, the combined projected WAR of the Mets’ likely everyday mainstays jumps to 16.7.
After combing through and explaining the above, now seems an odd time to remind everyone that I’m not a huge fan of projections. Still, it seems that discussing numbers that are put together using past performance and a host of other factors makes for a better argument than the screaming from the windows insanity that too many of today’s journalists have resorted to.
This piece started out as a need to vent, caused by an offseason of hyperbole from fans and media alike. It twisted and turned, and ended up here.
On paper, the 2013 Mets aren’t a contending club. But games aren’t played on paper. If they were, the 2012 Marlins would’ve hoisted the World Series trophy or at the very least made the Playoffs. Instead, the 2012 Marlins are in Toronto. If writers could tell the future, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens would be the one-two punch in Atlanta’s starting rotation. In reality, both Hanson and Jurrjens flamed out and were replaced by another young crop of Braves starters. If games were played on paper, the Yankees would have won the last 12 championships, instead of one championship total over the last 12 years.
I don’t know how many games the Mets will win in 2013. What I do know, is that I’m sick of writers spewing nonsense in order to generate page views. I’m tired of fans running around like chickens with their heads cut off because the media riled them up. If the Mets sign a minor leaguer to fill out their roster in AAA, the move is made fun of. If the team fails to sign a free agent, they’re called cheap. If they extend their franchise third baseman, they’re bashed for spending too much.
Baseball is supposed to be fun, not a constant source of irritation. Instead of giving up on the 2013 season (and every season through 2015) because everyone is telling me to, I’ll elect to watch the games and see what happens. I suggest you do the same. The 2013 Mets may not amount to much, but it’s impossible to know for certain two months before the first pitch is thrown. I’m not predicting a magical season, but it’s simply more fun to dream of an incredible run than it is to bemoan everything that may happen. Try it out.