Mid-Term Report Card: New York Mets

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.

NL<br />
East race

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?

Offense

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%    .267

Except 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  .257  

The 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   .575

Beltran 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
href="http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/five-questions-new-york-mets1/">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 season

The 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 href="http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/five-questions-new-york-mets1/">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.

Pitching

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   5.32

pedro2.png
There 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.

Looking Ahead

The Mets currently have a 12-game lead on the Phillies in the NL
East, and while bigger and later leads have been
href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/games/standings.cgi?date=1951-08-13" target="new">
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.

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