Mid-Term Report Card: New York Metsby John Walsh
July 19, 2006
We're just past the All-Star break, and it's a good time to see how things have gone so far. Now I've done some teaching in my professional career, and it's always much more pleasurable to hand out grades to the top students than to the ones who aren't doing well. But, curiously, when writing about baseball teams, it's rather more fun to have some nasty or at least provocative things to say. Unfortunately, the Mets are at the top of the class so far this year, so it's hard to find amusingly snide remarks to make about them.
If I had to write a single sentence summarizing the Mets' performance so far this season, I guess I'd write this: the Mets are kicking some serious butt in the NL East. Check out this graphic of how the Mets have simply dominated their NL East rivals throughout the first half. By the way, these graphs of the divisional races are a great way to visualize what's happened during the course of the season: check them out on the THT team page.
But back to the Mets: how have they managed to get where they are and can we expect them to stay there?
The Mets are second in the National League in runs scored per game (R/G) with 5.31, with only the Dodgers having scored more. (All numbers in this article are as of the All-Star Break.) What's interesting is that the Mets offense looks rather average at first glance:
Team Batting Stats - Mets v. NL R/G BA OBP P/PA LD% BABIP GB% BA/RSP NYN 5.31 .265 .333 3.78 19% .295 44% .266 League 4.77 .265 .334 3.76 19% .301 44% .267Except for R/G, they are average (or worse) in all the categories shown here. You probably realize that I've left something out:
Power Numbers SLG ISO GPA NYN .454 .189 .264 League .425 .160 .257The Mets have more power than the average NL team, and that's what makes them a top-scoring team. Well, that and the 90 (first in NL) bases stolen at a high success rate (81%, second in the league).
So, who's been doing the most damage on offense? Carlos Beltran and David Wright, that's who. Beltran is creating runs at a clip of 9.1 per game and Wright is just behind him at 8.7. They are actually putting up quite similar numbers so far this year:
Mets Sluggers PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB K BA OBP SLG Beltran 345 66 80 19 0 25 68 12 3 52 59 .279 .388 .606 Wright 386 59 107 22 3 20 74 11 2 39 70 .316 .386 .575Beltran has a slight edge in power and patience; Wright is hitting for a higher average. Note that these numbers represent an improvement over last year, especially for Beltran, who managed only 5.8 runs created per game (RC/G) in his first year as a Met. He took a while to get untracked, but it looks like he was worth the wait.
You can't write about the Mets' offense without bringing up their exciting young shortstop, Jose Reyes. I mentioned in my Mets preview that Rickey Henderson had been hired by the Mets to tutor Jose in the fine arts of basestealing and, I surmised, plate discipline. Did Professor Rickey have a noticable effect on his pupil? Here's a comparison of Reyes' stolen base and walk numbers in 2005 and 2006. The 2006 numbers have been projected to 733 plate appearances, which is what Reyes had in 2005.
Reyes' Performance in Prof. Rickey's Basestealing and Patience 101 SB CS SBpct UIBB 2005 60 15 80% 27 2006* 70 16 81% 50 * 2006 numbers projected to full seasonThe stolen bases are a bit better, but check out the unintentional walks; Reyes is on pace to almost double his 2005 total. Add in the fact that his batting average is up from .273 to .300 this year and you get a leadoff hitter with a very respectable .357 OBP, compared to the .300 in 2005.
While Carlos Delgado has not quite lived up to expectations with his .252/.344/.513 line, he hasn't been terrible. As I wrote before the season, the Mets have had below-average production from their first basemen for years, but if Delgado makes even modest progress in the second half, they should escape that fate in 2006.
Another key to the Mets offense in 2006 has been the very solid performance from the bench players that have been used to sub for injuries and ineffectiveness. Cliff Floyd and Xavier Nady have missed significant time due to injuries and Beltran has also missed a few games. However, their replacements, Endy Chavez, Lastings Milledge and Eli Marrero, while not outstanding, have provided solid performance.
Even more impressive is the level of play of Jose Valentin, who was given the second base gig after the Mets finally cut bait on Kaz Matsui. Valentin has responded with a superb .853 OPS, third-best on the team. This ability to fill holes is not to be underestimated —many a push towards the postseason has foundered for want of a solid injury replacement.
The Mets' pitching staff is second in the NL in runs allowed per game: 4.54. The Padres have allowed fewer (4.19), but they certainly benefit in that regard from playing in a ballpark that heavily favors pitchers. In any case, the Mets have excellent pitching/defense to go along with their formidable offense.The amazin' thing is that the Mets have done so well with only about two-and-a-half starting pitchers. Here they are:
Half a Starting Rotation IP H K BB HR ERA W L FIP Glavine 119.0 121 82 36 15 3.48 11 2 4.33 Pedro 101.7 74 111 28 14 3.45 7 4 3.71 Trachsel 96.3 108 46 44 12 4.67 8 4 5.32There are a couple of interesting things to note in these numbers. The first is that Pedro still has the strikeout pitch working. Many Pedro fans have been worried about his declining strikeout-rate over the last several years, but he's punching out more than one per inning, which is fine. On the right, you can see a graphic of Pedro's strikeout and walk rates over the last several years, including the far right points for 2006. The key observation is that Pedro's K/BB ratio is still a very solid 4.0 (fourth in the NL). The other thing to note about the Mets' top three starters is that they all have FIPs (Fielding Independent Pitching ERA) higher than their actual ERAs. This could be due either to luck or superior fielding, it's not easy to tell which, but some regression to the mean in the second half should be expected.
Those three pitchers, though, have started 52 of the Mets' 89 games thus far. That has left 37 starts to a motley crew of crafty veterans (e.g., El Duque), good-looking youngsters (Bannister) and various Quad-A anonymities (Jeremi Gonzalez). Bannister made five starts early, going 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA, before going down with a bad hamstring. On the other side of the coin, Jose Lima was given four starts (wha?) and fared even worse than most of us thought he would: 0-4 with a 10.00 ERA. As a group the 4-5 starters have gone 9-16 with an ERA of 5.55, while pitching about five innings per start. The Mets would certainly like to shore up the bottom of the rotation, especially since Pedro has recently shown some health concerns, missing his last two starts before the All-Star Break. Perhaps Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' top draft pick in 2005 who has recently joined the rotation, will be a key performer. In any case, the Mets are rumored to be searching desperately for an established starting pitcher to bolster the bottom of the rotation.
Turning to the bullpen, Mets relievers have the best ERA of any NL team: 3.24. New closer Billy Wagner, despite a couple of high-profile blown saves, has been solid, posting an ERA of 2.43 with a K/BB ratio of 52/17 in 40 and 2/3 innings of work. In my preview piece, I wondered who was going to replace Roberto Hernandez in the New York bullpen, noting that Hernandez, who has left as a free agent, had put up unexpectedly good numbers for the Mets in 2005. Well, the answer to the question is, of course, Darren Oliver. Oliver, who had a career ERA of 5.07 coming into the season, has thrown 50.3 relief innings (most on the team) with an sparkling ERA of 2.15. His peripherals don't support that ERA (his FIP is 4.03), and I expect his ERA to grow. Still, those runs saved are in the bank and Oliver has really helped this bullpen. The rest of the bullpen has been excellent for the most part, especially Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Feliciano and Chad Bradford.
The Mets currently have a 12-game lead on the Phillies in the NL East, and while bigger and later leads have been squandered in the past, it's hard to imagine any of the other NL East teams waking from their seemingly peaceful slumber to challenge the Mets. Still, can the Mets continue to dominate in the second half and coast into the postseason, well-rested and ready to rumble? Or is there some reason to believe that they have been lucky in the first half or that there might be some other reason to temper expectations for the rest of the season?
Well, I think the performance by the offense is 100% legit. Carlos Beltran is simply doing what he has done in the past. If anything, his 2005 was fluky (bad), not his 2006. As for the Mets' other slugger, it seems to me that David Wright is just living up to his rather lofty expectations. I don't see either one regressing significantly in the second half. I also happen to think that Jose Reyes' recent improvements are going to stick, for the most part. I don't know that he's a true .300 hitter, but the increased walk rate and power (his ISO is up to to .181 from .114 last year) are most likely real gains. Of course, Wright and Reyes are both still very young and can be expected to improve significantly over the next few years.
I'm not sure Jose Valentin can continue to hit like Joe Morgan (actually, I'm pretty sure he can't), but on the other hand Cliff Floyd is back now and when healthy he is definitely an upgrade over his replacements. Xavier Nady still seems to have some injuries that he's nursing, but the Mets have shown that they have capable replacements available.
I'm a little less optimistic about the pitching. I think we can expect to see some regression from the Top Three and perhaps even some health issues. Pedro has actually missed his last few starts due to a hip ailment and then food poisoning. I have already commented on the lack of depth in the Mets rotation: that's why we are hearing so many rumors about the Mets trading for a starter (Livan Hernandez? Rodrigo Lopez?). In the bullpen, I doubt Darren Oliver will toss another 40 innings with an ERA near 2.00, but as a group the Mets relief corps looks very solid. I believe that overall the Mets' pitching will be near the top in the NL rankings at the end of the season.
The final tally: the Mets should win the division handily and will be
a formidable opponent in the playoffs. Mid-term grade: solid A.
John Walsh dabbles in baseball analysis in his spare time. He welcomes questions and comments via e-mail.