With Opening Day tomorrow, Mets baseball is once again right around the corner. So for those of you looking for plenty to read at the last minute, now’s your chance!
March 23, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets catcher John Buck (44) throws to second against the Washington Nationals during the spring training game at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
Though the names are largely the same, very little has changed here. Yesterday, Terry Collins announced that the regular outfield will be Lucas Duda, Collin Cowgill, and Marlon Byrd. I had originally expected the first two to land roles, but the admission of Byrd was at least some of a surprise, given his Jason Bay-esque .260/.305/.358 slashline since 2011 (Bay, by comparison, hit .221/.302/.351). Poor springs by Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter likely cost themselves playing time, and despite a strong spring, Jordany Valdespin‘s lack of outfield experience prevents him from being more than a part-time player. Though filled with unknowns, Sandy Alderson’s experiments here could work out great if Duda rebounds and anyone else shows the ability to succeed in at least a platoon role.
The infield battles in spring turned up roughly nothing of interest. That Jordany Valdespin is effectively the other back-up infielder is the only notable change over expectations. But the five starting positions have long been givens. The unit could be excellent if Tejada continues to develop, as Ike Davis, David Wright, and Daniel Murphy can all be top offensive players at their positions. Defensively, the non-David Wright members could improve, but the collective unit could be a positive in 2013.
Below are the projections for the Mets’ lineup by ZiPS and the Bill James handbook (by OPS), along with the 5-year NL average for that lineup position:
*The Bill James Handbook offers no projection for Marlon Byrd so his ZiPS projections are used in both columns.
Clearly, Bill James likes the Mets’ lineup far more than the often-conservative ZiPS projections. Mets fans should hope that James has the better predictions. When you factor in bench production, these number will certainly drop. However, assuming that designated hitters and pinch hitters post the 5-year average .655 OPS, they would expect to get a .740 OPS, which would represent a solid improvement over their 2012 mark of .718. And that could look even better when you factor that Cowgill is only given 118 plate appearances, and that players like Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Jordany Valdespin can lead off and mitigate any potential platoon splits.
March 01, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese (49) throws in the spring training game against the Detroit Tigers at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
The story of the rotation, of course, is health. Johan Santana will almost certainly never pitch again as a Met after deciding to undergo a second anterior capsule repair this Tuesday. Similarly, Shaun Marcum has been an unknown this spring with shoulder and neck woes. He’s currently started to start game six against Miami, but until he takes the mound nothing can be deemed certain. The front end of the rotation, highlighted by Opening Day starter Jonathon Niese, star-in-the-making Matt Harvey, and breakout candidate Dillon Gee could contend in the National League, especially with Zack Wheeler knocking on the door. In the meantime, however, Jeremy Hefner (and his 3.66 FIP) will fill in for Santana. Rotation depth (primarily Aaron Laffey and Collin McHugh) is thin, but as long as the front end stay healthy it will prevent that from being an issue.
The 2013 bullpen, on paper, seems completely unrecognizable to its immediate predecessor:
Currently carrying eight relievers (Shaun Marcum is beginning the season on the DL), the Amazins hope for a better result than last year’s 4.65-ERA, 19-blown-save debacle. With two left-handed pitchers and a better set of acquisitions in Lyon, Atchison, Burke, and Hawkins, the bullpen on paper should be significantly better. A healthy and productive pen is vital this year with question marks in the back end of the rotation and (potentially) the lineup.
Mar 11, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis (29) during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. The Mets beat the Tigers 11-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Frankly, this just doesn’t seem like a 90-loss team. In terms of both loss and value, what the Mets have lost in the outfield should be covered between an improving infield and the acquisitions of John Buck and Anthony Recker to replace Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas (and uberprospect Travis d’Arnaud not far away). If the outfield clicks, the lineup could be strong all-around, with more power in left and center field, and significantly improved defense in right.
The rotation will suffer without R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana at the front, but Niese, Harvey, and Gee are a more-than-capable top 3. The real question is how the back end performs. The Mets got 31 starts from guys not named Dickey, Niese, Harvey, Gee, Santana, and Young last year, and those starts resulted in only 150.1 innings and a 5.21 ERA. The secret to improving their rotation is in minimizing starts like those. The ceiling here would be infinitely higher with Dickey, but the floor still may be higher regardless.
The lineup features two potential all-stars (Wright and Davis), and another player (Duda) whose ceiling represents a potentially elite outfield bat. Both Jon Niese and Matt Harvey could potentially represent the Mets in Queens, though it’s less likely. Regardless, they all represent the core of a 2014 team that, with Wheeler and d’Arnaud, could be ready to contend.
If everything breaks right here, I could see the team flirting with the wildcard. I think this team is better than last year’s, and should be close to .500 either way.
Final record: 78-84
So what say you? Are the Mets doomed this season? Or is there enough in Queens to make a run for October?
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