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2010 New York Mets: No Longer a Threat Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey,
April 3, 2009

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Jeff Francoeur OF
Jason Bay OF
Kelvim Escobar SP
Rod Barajas C
Mike Jacobs 1B
Gary Matthew, Jr. CF
Departed Pos.
Gary Sheffield OF
Carlos Delgado 1B
J.J. Putz RP
Livan Hernandez SP
Tim Redding SP
It seems like just yesterday I was perpetually in fear of the New York Mets, convinced that the NL East was annually theirs to lose. That era is over, and the New York Mets of 2010 find themselves asking lots of questions about the upcoming season. This is no longer a roster filled with future stars and future Hall of Famers.

It is fair to say that doubt has set in for the team from Queens. Injuries have gone from freak to common occurrences. The Mets have moved into a new ballpark out of which no one is convinced they can hit a ball. The roster is littered with castaways from other teams, with more broken promises than the inbox on Tiger Woods' iPhone, with prospects of yesteryear that never materialized.

What's worse, this Mets team was forced to watch as their cross-town rivals took on their division rivals in last October's World Series. There is no joy in Mudville, and there may not be for quite some time.

2009 Standings - NL East
East W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Philadelphia Phillies 93 69 .574 0 45-36 48-33 820 709 .566 64-53 29-16
Florida Marlins 87 75 .537 6 43-38 44-37 772 766 .504 58-53 29-22
Atlanta Braves 86 76 .531 7 40-41 46-35 735 641 .562 55-54 31-22
New York Mets 70 92 .432 23 41-40 29-52 671 757 .445 54-65 16-27
Washington Nationals 59 103 .364 34 33-48 26-55 710 874 .406 49-80 10-23

1. What the Hell Happened to David Wright?

David Wright
What is the number one question on the minds of New York Mets fans? It has nothing to do with Carlos Beltran's knee, Jose Reyes' thyroid, Kelvim Escobar's shoulder, or Oliver Perez's head. The number one question which Mets fans must be asking themselves is What the Hell Happened to David Wright?

In his first four major league seasons, David Wright never had fewer than 26 homeruns, 102 RBI, 96 runs, 40 doubles, or a .912 OPS. Then, last season, for no apparent reason, he fell off the map: 10 homeruns, 72 RBI, .837 OPS, 39 doubles in 144 games. For some odd reason, he was suddenly a basestealer, swiping 27 bases in 36 attempts, but he could do nothing else the same. After never striking out more than 118 times, he whiffed 140 times (again, in only 144 games). His batting average and on-base percentage were on par with his career numbers, but his slugging percentage dropped almost 90 points from the previous season. And, he tied a career high in double plays.

One widely circulated but clearly erroneous explanation for this performance was the Mets' new homepark, CitiField. The park appears, for now, to be a dramatic pitchers' park, and last year's team leader in homeruns was Dan Murphy with 12. However, if CitiField were to blame for Wright's power outage, he would have hit more homeruns on the road, but, in fact, he hit five homeruns at home and five homeruns on the road in 2009, indicating that CitiField had almost no impact on him in terms of power (though his road numbers overall were a bit better).

Whatever the cause of Wright's disappointing season, Mets fans need to hope he turns it around big time in 2010. The good news is that Wright is heavier in camp this spring that he was last year, having added significant muscle to his young frame. The bad news is, without an accounting for why he suffered such a poor season in 2009, there is no guarantee that more muscle is the solution, and more bulk may just adversely affect his defense at third base.

2. Will Jason Bay be able to Hit in Citi Field?

Here's a secret for you: Jason Bay was not significantly better during his time in Boston than he had been during his in Pittsburgh. If this comes as news to you, you're not alone, because I though he lit it up for the Red Sox. Fact is, he was amazing for four months in 2009: April, May, August, and September. Unfortunately, he was simply awful in June and July, and is hurt his overall numbers.

Jayson Bay
Bay moves now to New York, and will be joining the rest of the Mets cast in trying to succeed in what has been to this point a vexing ballpark. Make no mistake about it - Bay is not what we would call an elite hitter; he is a very productive hitter who is prone to inconsistency, streakiness, slumps, and in the case of 2007, bad seasons. The good news is, he hit 21 of his 36 homeruns on the road in 2009, which means he doesn't need a home park to make good things happen.

That's a relief.

3. What's happening in Centerfield?

Remember 2005, when the Mets had an embarrassment of riches in centerfield? In consecutive seasons, the Mets had signed Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran, which gave them a pretty fabulous outfield defense. Well, it took five short years to go from Cameron and Beltran to what awaits them in 2010: the Mets are currently conducting a competition for the starting centerfield job between Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews, Jr.

For an outfielder, Pagan hits like an infielder. He hit .306 with a 121 OPS+ last season in 88 games, which is great. He also had a remarkable 39 extra-base hits in 376 plate appearances (22 doubles, 11 triples, six homeruns), which is very impressive. Of course, Pagan will be 28 years old in 2010, has played a total of 267 major league games, and never performed that well in the minors.

Matthews, Jr., on the other, is one of the most over-paid position players in the history of baseball (pitchers are a whole different ball of wax). Presumably, Matthews is now in the fourth year of his five year, $50 million contract that he fleeced the Angels into giving him after the only good season of his career in Texas in 2006. During his three years in Anaheim, Matthews truly hit like a middle infielder, amassing a .708 OPS (85 OPS+) in 370 games. At the age of 35, Matthews might not prove a productive hitter in Colorado, let alone an enormous ballpark like CitiField.

And that is who the Mets are looking at for centerfield until Carlos Beltran returns from injury.

4. Dan Murphy? Really?

Here is a list of the players who will be playing first base in the National League East this year: Ryan Howard (Phillies), Adam Dunn (Nationals), Gaby Sanchez (Marlins), Troy Glaus (Braves),

Dan Murphy
and Dan Murphy (Mets). Yikes.

Here's the thing about Dan Murphy - he kind of takes the Corey Patterson Principle to the next level. While the Cubs consistently moved Patterson ahead to the next level a season too soon from Single-A all the way to the major leagues, the New York Mets somehow managed to make a major league ballplayer out of Dan Murphy without his ever having had a good season at any level. In 2007, he put up a .768 OPS in 135 A+ level games, followed by an .872 OPS in 99 games in 2008, mostly at Double-A ball. Then, suddenly, the Mets decided Murphy was major league ready.

Somewhere, Scott McClain is cursing his fate for not having stayed in the Mets system after 1997.

I guess there are things about Dan Murphy that are seductive - a six-foot-three, left-handed hitter is always hard to ignore, and he really pasted the ball in his 49-game callup in 2008. But this guy is not a legitimate major league talent, at least not now, and that this team has gone from Carlos Delgado to Dan Murphy at first base says a lot about the club.

5. The Pitching Staff is a Mess, but Should it Be?

As skeptical of Pagan, Matthews, and Murphy as I am, I have never really thought that Mets farm products Mike Pelfrey and John Maine were going to be flukes, and I still today believe that Oliver Perez is legitimately talented. At some point, I think you have to look at your coaching and ask if they're getting the job done.

Not to sound like a broken record, but Mike Pelfrey is a six-foot-seven righthander whom the Mets probably rushed to the major leagues too soon. This guy was the ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft, and he did not see even two full seasons in the minors before he became full-time major leaguer. If a guy is dominating the minors, this is fine. But Pelfrey never pitched effectively past the Double-A level. After dominating A+ and Double-A ball in 2006, he struggled at Triple-A the following season. His hits were even with his innings pitched, his strikeouts per nine innings were way down, and his WHIP was 1.35. Nevertheless, the Mets called him up for good, and he got torched (5.57 ERA) in 72.2 major league innings. After a solid-but-not-as-good-as-Mets-media-thought 2008, he got torched again in 2009 (5.03 ERA) in 184.1 innings.

At the age of 26, he could break out in 2010, but I think it would be a surprise.

John Maine
John Maine was certainly not rushed through the minors, and even if he had been, you couldn't blame the Mets because Maine came up in the Orioles system. Maine was dominant there - he struck out lots of guys, didn't give up many hits, didn't walk a lot of guys. He looked good in the Mets farm system as well, and this is where you should begin to question the Mets' coaching staff - this guy was well-seasoned in the minor leagues, and in his first season with the Mets, he allowed a 3.60 ERA in 90.0 innings, gave up very few hits, and struck out over twice as many as he walked. And his numbers have gotten worse every year. His ERA has gone up each year, his strikeouts per nine innings have dropped each year, and his K/BB ratio has hit a low of 1.45. There is no real explanation for Maine's failures, but if this is his comeback year, it wouldn't really be surprising.

As for Oliver Perez, he may be baseball's version of Norman Bates. He has had one amazing season in the majors, one very good season in the majors, and four absolute calamities that make you question everything you know about the world. The good news is that Perez is good for one breakthrough year per Presidential term, and he hasn't had his Obama year yet, so you never know.

Jonathan Niese rounds out the Mets rotation. The 23-year old is a six-foot-four left-hander who has five years of minor league experience during which he has been quite good, but never really stood out. Not much to say here - at least he isn't Livan Hernandez or Tim Redding.

Mets Team Capsule

The Mets are back. For now. The New York Mets swept a double-header against the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday to run their winning streak to six games. The Mets also took over first place in the NL East for the first time since May 29th of last season. The Mets were a team for whom so much went wrong in 2009, but thus far everything seems to be going right in 2010. The hitters are hitting, rookie call-up Ike Davis looks like everything the Mets were hoping for, Mike Pelfrey has remembered how to pitch, and the bullpen has been nigh unhittable. Even Oliver Perez is giving up less than a hit per inning.

6. Johan Santana - Not Much to Say

This season will be Johan Santana's 11th in the major leagues. I am not sure this is a big year for Santana in terms of career milestones; if he is back to his usual self in 2010, then in 2011 he should pitch his 150th win, 2000th inning, and 2000th strikeout. For now, the Mets Ace needs to focus on proving to Roy Halladay that he is still the best pitcher in the division.

Is Johan Santana already a Hall of Famer? It has become clear to me that people mean two different things when they ask this question. First, there is the Sandy Koufax in 1966 version of the question, meaning, if Johan Santana retired tomorrow, would be a Hall of Famer. Second, there is the Dale Murphy in 1987 version of the question, meaning, if Johan Santana's career continues its expected trajectory, would he be a Hall of Famer.

In 1966, if 30 year old Sandy Koufax had retired from baseball out of the blue, he would have been a Hall of Famer. In 1987, if 31 year old Dale Murphy's career had continued on its expected trajectory, he would have been a Hall of Famer. Koufax did, and was, and Murphy didn't, and wasn't.

At this point, Santana is definitely at the 1987 Dale Murphy point - if he continues on what we expect the remainder of his career arc to look like, he will be in the Hall of Fame. I think he has at least two more seasons before he gets to Sandy Koufax, but it is looking good.

7. Carlos Beltran

Here's a Carlos Beltran Fun Fact: his best seasons have always been the ones in which he didn't play a full season. His first .900 OPS season came in a year in which he missed 21 games but still hit 26 homeruns with 100 RBI, 102 runs, and set career highs with 41 stolen bases, 72 walks, and a .307 batting average. In 2006, he missed 22 games but set a career high with 127 runs scored, 41 homeruns, 116 RBI, 95 walks, and a .982 OPS. In 2009, he played only 81 games but hit a career high .325 with a career high .415, and was a 3-4-5er for the first time.

This is good news for the Mets, because Beltran is out until at least June.

Carlos Beltran

Since we pondered whether Santana was a Hall of Famer and invoked Dale Murphy in doing it, let's ask the same of Carlos Beltran. Obviously he doesn't meet the Koufax test; the question is whether his career is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Beltran would certainly appear to have the pedigree of a Hall of Famer. He already has 1000 runs and RBI, and he will soon have 300 homeruns and stolen bases. He will probably end his career with 400 homeruns if he stays healthy. He has won three gold gloves. I think the real question is whether he will continue to be the hitter he has become; early in his career, he didn't get on base particularly well, but he has walked 90-plus times three times in the last six seasons. In just four seasons since 2005 he has raised his OBP ten points, from .350 to .360.

The Hall of Fame is in sight for Carlos, but I think he does still have work to do.

Other points about the Mets.

- Funny thing about Jeff Francoeur: he got traded almost midway through the 2009 season from the Braves to the Mets. He'd hit 5 homeruns with a .250 average and a .634 OPS with the Braves in 82 games, but then hit 10 homeruns with a .311 average and an .836 OPS with the Mets in 75 games. But with the Francoeur, the "Show Me the Money" question always concerns walks and strikeouts, and check this out: in 82 games with the Braves, his K/BB ratio was 46/12. In 75 games with the Mets, it was 46/11. Same guy.

- Luis Castillo begins his fourth season with the Mets and his 15th season overall. In recent years, Castillo would have been considered a liability on the Mets' roster, but last season he was their most consistent player.

- At the tender age of 26, Jose Reyes is the eighth active leader in triples and tenth active leader in stolen bases.

- It is so awesome that Rod Barajas disguised his complete lack of offensive value last season by hitting 19 homeruns. His .226 average and .258 on-base percentage will really kill this lineup once Barajas stops hitting homeruns.

- Francisco Rodriguez's numbers from 2008 to 2009 are startlingly similar in many respects. He pitched almost the exact same number of innings (68.1 vs. 68.0), and gave up similar numbers of hits (54 vs. 51), walks (34 vs. 38), strikeouts (77 vs. 73), and homeruns (4 vs. 7). And yet, somehow his 35 saves didn't come anywhere near the still-shocking 62 he'd had a year ago, and his 3.71 ERA blew his previous year's ERA of 2.24 out of the water. Apparently, the calculus of walks, hits, homeruns, and strikeouts just added up to more runs in 2009 than it did in 2008.

- For a team stretched thin, the Mets sure did say sayonara to a lot of guys this off-season.

Outlook for the Season

This is still, obviously, a very talented team, with some of the best players in baseball in Santana, Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Bay, and Rodriguez. The only thing holding back this team's offense is injuries. The pitching is another thing altogether; if at least one of the guys not named Santana doesn't step up, the Mets will be fighting to finish in third place. I see the NL East as the Phillies running away with the division and the Braves shooting for the wild card, so the Mets have some real catching up to do.

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