Season Forecast: Arizona Diamondbacks

Last Five Years:
2009:  70 – 92    (5th in NL West)
2008:  82 – 80
2007:  90 – 72
2006:  76 – 86
2005:  77 – 85

Runs Scored: 720 (8th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 782 (14th, NL)

The Diamondbacks play in a park that helps the offense – 817 runs were scored in games played at home, against the 685 runs scored on the road – so to be in the middle of the league in scoring tells you that the offense isn’t the eighth best offense in the NL.  It’s actually one of the worst.  One reason for it?  The Snakes struck out 1298 times, more than any other team in the majors.

Season Recap:

The Diamondbacks were the surprise team to win the NL Central in 2007 and then opened 2008 like they were going to stomp everyone.  Instead, they slowly collapsed until finally bleeding away the division on the last weekend of the season.

I don’t know about you, but something told me that the 2009 team would have to start guns a-blazing to feel good about the year, and should have been expected to win 80 – 85 games anyway.  Instead, Brandon Webb blew out his shoulder on opening day and the team never really recovered.  When the offense showed little consistent signs of life, the Diamondbacks fell to the bottom of the league and never really contended.  A losing stretch in early May put them behind the eight-ball, and many other losing stretches contributed to losing 92 games and finishing last in the division race.

That being said, as I see it the problem was tied to two things – losing Webb and replacing him with the ineffective Yusmeiro Petit and Billy Buckner probably cost the team about 60 runs defensively.  Despite that, the rest of the rotation and most of the bullpen were somewhat above average players.  That leaves the offense – and the offense wasn’t good enough to help the pitchers.

Pitching:

Danny Haren was magnificent – saving his team about 40 runs with his low ERA (3.14) in a tough park and pitching more than 229 innings.  Haren also fanned 223 while walking only 38 batters.  Doug Davis and Max Scherzer were league average in terms of ERA – though Scherzer looks to have a solid future as a #2 starter right now.  Jon Garland ate up enough innings as a #4 starter.  The only weak link was having to replace Webb with Buckner and Petit.

The bullpen featured no real aces – closer Chad Qualls had a 3.63 ERA and only 24 saves – but they had no problems, unless you consider a couple of short term players.  No reliever with more than 50 innings pitched was worse than league average.  Three of the four lefties, however, weren’t very good in short runs – including Scott Schoeneweis, Daniel Schlereth, and Doug Slaten.

Fielding:

Arizona pitchers weren’t helped too much here, but a lot of that is the park.

The infield of Chad Tracy, Felipe Lopez, Mark Reynolds, and Stephen Drew were basically average, though Lopez and Drew weren’t necessarily good at turning two.  The problem was that a couple of the backups weren’t very solid in limited innings – including the really poor 2018 innings Reynolds played at first and the 241.2 weak innings Augie Ojeda turned in at short.

The outfield should have been better, but Chris Young seemed to take his problems at the plate with him to the field, costing his team about eight runs.  Gerardo Parra is decent enough and Justin Upton, a pretty good right fielder, also got a lot of extra action with so many right handed pitchers on the staff.

Catchers Miguel Montero and Chris Snyder weren’t awful, though they were pretty easy to run on.

Batting:

The highs?  Justin Upton looks like the second coming of Henry Aaron.  You’d like him to walk a bit more, but he has developing power and hits .300.  Mark Reynolds fanned 223 times (!) to set the major league record but he doesn’t care.  He batted .260 with 44 homers, does draw a few walks, and puts runs on the board.  Felipe Lopez hit .301 at second, which was helpful, and Gerardo Parra hit .290 but didn’t do much else – he will be better with time.  Catcher Miguel Montero hit .294 with some power.  Stephen Drew was league average.

The problem is that the lows are LOW.  Chris Young, the regular centerfielder, hit all of .212, striking out 30% of the time, despite showing a little more patience.  Eric Byrnes came back from leg injuries to hit .226 with only 12 walks in half a season of plate appearances.  Chris Snyder batted .200 in 165 at bats.  Former producers Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy didn’t hit.  When Tony Clark retired – his bat failing him – his replacements on the roster, guys like Josh Whitesell and Brandon Allen didn’t hit either.  The really good teams have six or seven positive run producers and a couple of guys who pitch in.  The Diamondbacks had three and sometimes more guys who weren’t getting any hits and no bench players to write home about when the few that could hit took a day off.

Transactions:

On the way in?  Infielder Tony Abreu, acquired from the Dodgers and can play second or short.  He might well be a hitter, but I don’t see him as the new Rafael Furcal either.  Kelly Johnson was signed from Atlanta to play second – a decision I like – and Jeff Bailey was signed away from Boston, another decision I like because he is a solid bench player.  In January, Arizona added Adam LaRoche, which will pay off in the second half…  In March, the Snakes signed Kris Benson, who actually made the roster…  The Diamondbacks traded Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit for pitcher Edwin Jackson and Yankees prospect Ian Kennedy in the deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees…  I’m not sure I’d make that deal, but what the hey.  The other questionable deal was trading for Cubs malcontent pitcher Aaron Heilman.

On the way out?  Yusmeiro Petit was claimed by Seattle on waivers, Doug Davis signed a deal with Milwaukee and Chad Tracy signed with Chicago.  Eric Byrnes was released and called it a career.  Jon Garland was allowed to leave and pitch for the Angels.

Propspects:

At AAA Reno, the two hitting prospects appeared to be former White Sox farmhand Brandon Allen and utility outfielder Alex Romero.  Allen hit like Babe Ruth in 38 games to earn a call, but didn’t amount to much in 104 at bats with the Snakes.  I don’t think he’s THAT good, but he’ll be better in another shot.  Romero has had two trips to the bigs and didn’t hit either time and I think will be lucky to hit .260 in the majors.  The best pitchers in AAA were Buckner and 29-year-old Doug Slaten.  Buckner at least looked like a prospect, but hasn’t yet found his stride in the majors and may run out of time.

Schlereth tore through AA Mobile, fanning 39 in 26.2 innings, which is how he quickly was given a shot at the majors.  He’s a touch wild, but has a live arm.  Bryan Augenstein made nine starts there, finishing with a 0.99 ERA, 36Ks and only 9 walks in 45.2 innings.  Not nearly as successful at Reno, he still earned a tryout with the Snakes.  I think he’s going to be fine but is two years away.  Reliever Josh Ellis had a good year and might make the relief corps by the end of 2010.  A young arm is 2007 first round pick Jarrod Parker, who dominated A+ Visalia before getting sixteen decent starts in AA.

At Visalia, I also like pitcher Josh Collmenter who had a decent K/W ratio (152/55) in his 145 innings and he kept the ball in the park.  Obviously, he’s still a few years away.

Looking ahead for 2010:

The pitching staff will likely be weaker if Brandon Webb can’t pitch – and because I don’t like this year’s rotation compared to last year’s rotation.  I know – Jackson was very good for Detroit, but I think Max Scherzer looks like a solid pitcher.  Call it a wash.  Ian Kennedy won’t pitch as many innings as Doug Davis did and may not be as successful, and even though Jon Garland is just there to take up space, he’s better than most fifth starters.  His replacement may well be a step down and I think he’ll be missed.  As such, I see the rotation falling back by 25 runs.

The bullpen isn’t going to be better with Aaron Heilman – it could be worse by ten runs.

The offense?  I like adding LaRoche and Johnson, which I think could be worth 30 runs, mostly because LaRoche will be solid.  Johnson could come back nicely, but that means being as good as Lopez was last year.  A full year of Parra will be better than Eric Byrnes; if Chris Young can come back at all the outfield will also be better by 30 runs.  Defensively, the changes will not help the team and may make the infield defense a little worse.  However, the outfield defense, with two centerfielders and Upton should be steady.

As such, with 780 runs scored and 810 runs allowed, the Snakes should win 78 games.  That’s an improvement over last year, but not enough to threaten anybody at the top of the division.

Advertisements

Lincecum Takes Second Cy in Close Vote; Free Agency Bidding Starts Today!

Tim Lincecum won the NL Cy Young in one of the closest votes yet, just seven points over Chris Carpenter – and the guy with the most first place votes, Adam Wainwright, finished third.

Not a whole lot of difference between the three (and even Danny Haren, who deserved consideration).  I’ll be honest, I don’t know how I would have voted if given a shot.  Lincecum is awesome, really, so it’s hard to vote against him.  From what I have read, Carpenter’s finishing second had to do with his missing time during the season.  Even Lincecum missed two starts, but he was there pretty much all year.

SI’s Ted Keith argues that Lincecum is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.  He makes a valid point.

Quick Hits…

The last two players to file for free agency, with bidding on players starting today, were Andy Pettitte and Fernando Tatis.  In case you were keeping score, the number of major leaguers eligible who filed for free agency is 171.  [ESPN]

Stephen Strasburg will miss the championship game of the Arizona Fall League to nurse a twisted knee.  No way the Nationals will jeopardize his future, huh?  [ESPN]

The Royals have reached terms with free agent pitcher Brad Thompson, formerly in the St. Louis Cardinals chain.  Thompson isn’t close to being a long term fix – he doesn’t strike people out (180Ks in 385 innings), though he has decent control.  With a team that struggles defensively, Thompson will give up a lot of hits.  Though his career record is 21 – 17, most of that is being fortunate to be on the Cardinals.  At best he is a long reliever who can eat up innings in losing causes.  [FoxSports]

The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Aaron Heilman from the Cubs for two prospects.  Heilman isn’t a bad seventh inning, long reliever type, but he’s never really taken that next step forward.  The Cubs get first baseman Ryne White.  (He’s a Chicago native, born in 1986 – hence that familiar first name…)  White is a Purdue grad, a little power and a good eye, but his batting average needs to get north of .300 to be a serious prospect.  We’ll see if he can take a step forward at A+ Daytona or AA next year.  The other prospect is a pitcher, Scott Maine.  Maine went to the University of Miami and was moved quickly up the ladder in the D-Backs chain because he strikes people out and has decent control.  He pitched well at AA and AAA in 2009,  but my guess is that he’ll start 2010 in Iowa and wait for a chance.  He’ll be on the roster soon, though – and could be a potential eighth inning guy.

Torii Hunter will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, but should be ready for Angels spring training in February.  [MLB]

Could Kansas City host the 2012 All-Star Game?  We down here in Florida, would prefer it to be at our new stadium (if it’s done by then), but we can wait until 2013 and let the good people of Kansas City enjoy a party at the refurbished “K”…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was born on this date in 1866.  He either saved the game or held it back, depending on the issue…  Landis helped get gambling out of the game following the scandals of the 1910s, but he helped prevent blacks from integrating the sport at the same time.

Others celebrating with cake, cards or rememberances:  Andy Coakley (1882), whose shove injured Rube Waddell’s shoulder prior to the 1905 World Series, Rick Monday (1945) – my brother’s first favorite ballplayer – and his teammate Jay Johnstone (1945), Alex Arias (1967), Gabe White (1971), J.D. Drew (1975), and Cub outfielder Sam Fuld (1981).

Griffey’s Last Go? NL Gold Gloves and Hot Stove News…

Everybody is happy – the Mariners, Ken Griffey, Jr., fans in Seattle, and me…  Ken Griffey signed a one year deal to return to the Mariners in what could be his final hurrah.  The Kid turns 40 this month (!) and I might have to sneak off to Tampa to give him one last cheer.   Granted, he’s not going to be an impact player on the field, but few have his impact in the clubhouse or the community.  For a while, he was my favorite player in baseball and I am glad to have him around the game. [ESPN]

NL Gold Gloves…

Similar to the AL, there’s one arguably bad choice among the Gold Glove winners in the National League.  Certainly, there will be arguments, but otherwise the list is pretty solid.  Around the outfield, Matt Kemp, Shane Victorino and speedster Michael Bourn came home with trophies.  The infield features Ryan Zimmerman, Jimmy Rollins, Orlando Hudson, and Adrian Gonzalez.  The battery includes two Cards – Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.  [MLB]

That being said, the choice of Rollins is – like Jeter – one of fame and not of numbers.  Rollins has a very low range factor (3.96 chances per nine innings) and the best range of people playing around 100 games or so belonged to Brendan Ryan of St. Louis.  The guy who had surprisingly good stats was Miguel Tejada.  In my opinion, a healthy Troy Tulowitski is the best fielder of the bunch, so my vote would have gone there.

After years of Cactus, is Grapefruit in the Cubs Future?

Naples, Florida is in the running to host spring training for the Chicago Cubs, which would be a HUGE change for the north siders.  I mean, think of all the Chicagoans who retire to Arizona who will feel cheated!!!  Me – a Cubs fan living in Florida – would love it, but my hunch is that the Cubs are using this to get a better deal near their current home in AZ.  [MLB]

Other News…

Victor Zambrano’s mother was returned unharmed…  Apparently federal agents used a commando-styled attack to rescue the woman.  [ESPN]

Jamie McCourt denies having an affair and wants ownership of the Dodgers.  McCourt tried to get her old CEO job back and failed, and recently suggested that as a lady in a man’s world (law and business) she passed up plenty of opportunities for fun as a supportive wife…  [ESPN]

Brad Lidge’s surgery on his throwing elbow is considered a success and while he may miss a week or two of spring training, the hope is that he will close games on Opening Day and beyond for the Phillies.  [MLB]

Arizona’s Brandon Webb threw for the first time since his shoulder surgery.  First footballs, then baseballs from 60 feet.  Webb said he was encouraged by the progress.  [MLB]

Managerial Roller Coaster…

ESPN is reporting that Jim Riggleman will be announced as the new manager of the Washington Nationals.  Riggleman had the Nationals playing better down the stretch during his interim run last season.  [ESPN]

ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski thinks it’s time for Mark McGuire to come clean about his past before he starts his future as hitting instructor for the Cards.  [ESPN]

Matt Williams will join Arizona and become a first base coach.  [SI]

Thanks for Playing!

Jason Varitek would rather take a pay cut and play for Boston than take his chances anywhere else.  So, ‘Tek signed his $3 million option and will return as Victor Martinez’s backup in 2010.  [ESPN]

Utility infielder Wilson Betemit is expected to sign a minor league deal with the Royals.  If so, he’s an insurance policy for the two players the Royals got from the White Sox in last week’s trade, Chris Getz and Josh Fields – oddly, two players Betemit backed up in Chicago…  [MLB]

Hot Stove News…

The Reds might deal Brandon Phillips, Bronson Arroyo, and Aaron Harang in this offseason.  Apparently, they have a cash flow problem…  [FanHouse]

Having locked in billions of dollars of salaries, the Yankees are rumored to be looking at acquiring more high-priced pitching.  Among those in the future could be Roy Halliday and John Lackey.  Seriously, if this happens we might as well cut the Yankees loose and call it good.  [SI]

Meanwhile, don’t rule out Lackey staying in Anaheim.  According to FoxSports, Anaheim will make a serious offer – and failing that, might go after Halliday, too.  [FoxSports]

Apparently, the Tigers are looking to trade Edwin Jackson following his solid season in Detroit.  According to FoxSports, it’s about the Benjamins…  [FoxSports]

Greg Zaun and Jason Schmidt filed for free agency yesterday, preceded by Eric Bruntlett one day earlier.  I wonder who will gladly pay Schmidt to ride the DL?  [MLB]

Former Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado is looking to play winter ball so people can see him play this winter prior to his signing a free agent contract.  Delgado missed most of 2009 with a hip injury.  [MLB]

Happy Birthday! For you Field of Dreams fans, Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was born on this day in 1877.

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or rememberances include:  Carl Mays (1891) – worthy of Hall of Fame inclusion based on his career but likely will never go because his pitch killed Ray Chapman in 1920, Joe Hoerner (1936), Ron Bryant (1947), Bruce Bochte (1950), Cub favorite Jody Davis (1956), Donnie Hill (1960), Greg Gagne (1961), Dave Otto (1964) – who I remember from his days pitching for Elk Grove High School back in Illinois, Slammin’ Sammy Sosa (1968), Homer Bush (1972), Aaron Heilman.  Wow – that’s a lot of former Cubs on this list…

Nearly Annual White (Sox) Sale in Chicago; Dodgers get Thome

The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t make any earth shattering deals, but did get slugger Jim Thome from the White Sox and Jon Garland from the Diamondbacks for the low price of a player to be named later.  Thome is expected to come off the bench as a left-handed power hitter, and Garland is a fourth or fifth starter and long relief insurance in the playoffs.  For Thome, the White Sox get minor leaguer Justin Fuller – who, to be honest, doesn’t look like much of a prospect.  He’s a scrappy infielder type, but not an impact player.  From a contract standpoint, Thome is a free agent at the end of the year, while Garland has an option for 2010.  Unless he finishes strong, he’ll likely get the buyout from LA.  [FoxSports]

Another White Sox player on the move was 52-year-0ld Jose Contreras, who joins the Rockies.  In exchange for Contreras, the Sox get Brandon Hynick – who might actually be a decent prospect.  He has a history of success, has command of the strike zone, but isn’t a huge strikeout guy.  At best, he’s Jon Garland – who used to pitch for the Sox.  Contreras looks done to me, but he might do well for a month facing guys who haven’t seen him before.  [SI/FoxSports]

Brad Penny found a new home in San Francisco, where he can compete for that fifth starter role.  [FoxSports]

A couple of guys who DIDN’T move?  Rich Harden and Aaron Heilman of the Cubs.  Some reports say a deal couldn’t be reached, but Ken Rosenthal suggests that the Cubs didn’t want to give up the race.  [FoxSports]

Continued numbness in his arm forced the Rangers to shut down the rehab of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Surgery might be next.  [SI]

Meanwhile, Brandon Phillips is playing through an injury – a broken left wrist.  Phillips played through a broken thumb earlier in the year, and now doesn’t want to quit for a hairline fracture in his wrist.  Phillips says he doesn’t like not playing, wants revenge against the guy who hit him with a pitch (Washington’s J.D. Martin, back on August 15th) – but by hitting homers.  [MLB]

Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran begins a minor league rehab assignment, as he has been cleared to play without his knee brace.  [SI]

Buster Olney puts his Cy Young vote in – and picks Zack Greinke.  [ESPN]

Keith Law says that the Angels didn’t get an ace in Scott Kazmir, and that the three prospects received in return will be a much better deal for Tampa.  [ESPN]

Get Ready for September Call Ups!

Hurry Back! Guillermo Mota (LA) goes on the DL with an ingrown toenail.  That’s what it says!  Laynce Nix (CIN) heads to the DL with a bulging cervical disc.

Welcome Back! Other than the call ups, Johnny Cueto came off the DL for Cincinnati.

Troubles in Wrigley; Pitchers in the News…

Lou Piniella says, “Blame me,” and then quickly adds, “but it’s a players game – I can only do so much.”  So which is it?  Where is Jim Hendry – he put this team together…  [SI]

Meanwhile, Milton Bradley says that people don’t just taunt him – some of the taunts demonstrate racial bigotry.  ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski says he might be right – even if Bradley isn’t the warm fuzzy right fielder that Gary Matthews or Andre Dawson were.  [ESPN]

By the way, the Cubs lost two of three to Washington – confirming what I had declared yesterday anyway – the Cubs are dead in 2009.

The saddest thing to happen the game, though, was probably the loss of Nyjer Morgan, who broke his hand sliding into third base and may miss the rest of the season.  Morgan is a former hockey player, the one Pirate that EVERYBODY missed when he was sent packing, and apparently is the most popular person on whatever team he plays for.  Morgan hustles, feels privileged to be a ballplayer every day, and is the guy you want your kid to grow up to be, or the guy you want your daughter to date.  (He was also hitting .351 since joining the Nationals, scoring runs and stealing bases by the bushel.)  Hurry back, dude.  [SI]

Atlanta’s Tim Hudson may make his first start of the season on Monday against the Marlins.  (Hmmm – Checking my schedule…  Yes, I’m free.)

Meanwhile, White Sox starter Jake Peavy’s return has been pushed back one turn – he’s going to make one more start for AAA on Saturday…  My friend, Nick, came to the gym this morning decked out in his Sox garb ($65 at Comiskey Park) and told he he was there for Elvis night.  Though I am a Cubs fan, you have to admit – games at old Comiskey (and even the ugly new one) were always a gas.  [MLB]

I was hoping that the Marlins might give a look-see at soon to be former Red Sox pitcher Brad Penny, and they did.  So did the Rockies, White Sox, Rays, and Rangers.  I wonder who will give him his next paycheck…  [MLB]

A lot of teams ask waivers on any number of players in August, just to see what interest there might be in various players.  FoxSports listed Trevor Hoffman (Milwaukee) and the duo of Rich Harden and Aaron Heilman (Cubs) as people who were on that list and received bids.  It’s getting late in the trading season – after 8/31 you can’t trade at all – and this doesn’t mean a trade is in the works, but you never know…  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Dave Bush came off the DL for Milwaukee.

Hurry Back! Texas desnignated Jason Jennings for assignment.  He was a good pitcher once – like five or six years ago for Colorado.  Jennings has been fighting his control, and actually hadn’t pitched that badly for Texas – but Neftali Feliz is better.

Is it Over? MLB reported that the Dodgers moved Jason Schmidt from the 15 day to the 60 day DL, which means his season – and quite possibly his career – is over.  Schmidt’s body won’t do what his heart and mind want him to do – and it’s tough to watch a really good pitcher go.

2009 Season Forecast: New York Mets

New York Mets
2008: 89-73 (2nd NL East, three games back)
Runs Scored: 799
Runs Allowed: 715

On the heels of an extremely difficult September, the New York Mets added Johan Santana to the rotation and declared the team ready to win the 2008 division crown, if not more.  Unfortunately, while the core hitters performed admirably and Santana was up to the task, the team drifted aimlessly in the spring, fired manager Willie Randolph, got into the race in the summer, and suffered a milder version of the same September let down.  When it was over, the Mets again missed out on a playoff spot by a single game.

Compared to the Phillies, the Mets scored the same number of runs (799), despite playing in a more difficult home park for batters (Mets games away from home produced 52 more runs than games in the now departed Shea Stadium, while Phillies games had more scoring in Citizen’s Bank Park than on the road).  However, the Phillies allowed 35 fewer runs (680 to 715), which accounted for the three games difference in the standings. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two was injuries.  The Phillies had limited lost time to regulars, while the Mets lost several players, including closer Billy Wagner down the stretch, second basemen Luis Castillo and Damion Easley, and tried a dozen left and right fielders in part due to injuries to Moises Alou, Ryan Church and others.

Looking Back on 2008

The Mets got off to a decent start, winning ten of sixteen before drifting through May and June.  Two five game losing streaks put a sting to the team, the first in late May began serious calls for Randolph’s exit, a second in early June finished off his tenure.  When the Mets got to Anaheim, Randolph was sent packing – rather unfortunate in terms of timing – and Jerry Manuel was given a chance to manage a sinking ship.

Manuel’s biggest change was that he basically got the team to stop playing with their heads in a cloud.  In July, there was spark; there was hustle; there was teamwork – something that hadn’t existed in the first part of the season.  And, when the bats of Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran caught fire, the Mets got into the race by winning 18 games in both July and August.

At that point, the Mets ran out of gas.  And arms.  John Maine had bone spurs in his right shoulder.  Carlos Beltran crashed into a wall; Wagner’s arm nearly came off – it had bothered him all year.  The bullpen, not necessarily very good, now lost its only dependable pitcher – when he was able to pitch.  Super sub Damion Easley injured his quadriceps muscle, and David Wright’s game seemed injured.  Despite Santana’s fantastic stretch run, the end of Shea Stadium’s life – at the time the third oldest stadium in the National League – came without one more playoff game.

Tell me about that offense

All things considered, the Mets offense was loaded – it just never seemed to have all the wheels moving at the same time.

The infield offense was solid at three positions, with David Wright continuing to pound the ball, Carlos Delgado finding his swing, and Jose Reyes getting 200 hits again.  The three combined to generate nearly 400 runs of offense.  Reyes’s final numbers look a lot like Jimmy Rollins from 2007 – high numbers of doubles, triples and homers, a lot of plate appearances, and a good stolen base total.  David Wright, by my count, was the second best offensive force in the National League behind Albert Pujols, and Reyes was right behind him.  Had Delgado hit the way he did before June 1 the way he did after it, the Mets would have had three of the five best hitters in the NL.  Only Luis Castillo, finally showing the signs of father time taking over his position, was below average.  His backup, Damion Easley was productive but his bat was slowed.  Easley is 39 but plays like he’s 34, Castillo is 34 but is starting to play like he’s 39 – in either case the Mets need a replacement soon.

In the outfield, Carlos Beltran was the only true regular and was solid.  The Mets used a dozen left fielders (not one played more than 300 innings there), and some could hit – like Endy Chavez or Moises Alou or David Murphy.  Ryan Church hit for two solid months between concussions suffered in collisions with second basemen.  After the second one, which caused him to miss the better part of six weeks, he didn’t fare well.  One hopes Church gets back to where he was last May.  Fernando Tatis – yes, that Fernando Tatis – came back and hit well until his body broke down in September as well.  So, while the corner outfields were generally shared, there usually were at least two outfielders hitting at a time.

Brian Schneider, whose back started bothering him in September, didn’t hit too well but backup Ramon Castro didn’t fare too badly.  Schneider was there to provide solid defensive catching and any offense he provided was gravy.

Defensively:

Schneider was pretty good behind the plate, making few mistakes and showing some mobility.  He was decent in preventing stolen bases, as only two other teams allowed fewer stolen bases than the Mets.  Castro isn’t great against the runners, but he’s decent enough for a backup catcher who can hit.

The infield was okay.  Wright didn’t have the unreal numbers he had in 2007, but it was still his third straight year with above average range.  Reyes continues to improve; he has a cannon for an arm but he’s slightly below average in terms of range.  Castillo was a bit more mobile than he was in 2007, but it was his third straight year as a below average infielder.  Damion Easley remains a solid second baseman and they nearly shared the role.  Delgado is not very mobile – he’s a former catcher playing first base – but he actually had a pretty decent year there.  Since he arrived in New York, his defensive numbers haven’t been as bad as what most people see when they watch him play.  He’s awkward but it’s working.

The outfield defense was as varied as there were players in left field.  Carlos Beltran is still a solid outfielder, and Endy Chavez – now in Seattle – could cover ground.  Ryan Church played well in right.  David Murphy, added in August, showed he could play and will likely start in leftfield next year, and if he is healthy will represent a significant improvement over playing Fernando Tatis, who looked out of place in left or right field.  Marlon Anderson still runs well enough to cover left in a pinch.

The net result was a defense that was likely 20 runs better than average, reflected by the fact that they turned 69.7 percent of the balls in play into outs – the league average was 68.7 percent.

Now Pitching…

Signed to a long term and expensive New York-eqsue contract, Johan Santana pitched magnificently, though he rarely got the support he needed until July.  He started 7 – 7, but didn’t lose a decision for the rest of the year (nine wins) and after a 5 run, two homer outing in Cincinnati, he went 14 starts without allowing more than three earned runs.  By my count, Santana was 43 runs better than the average starting pitcher.

After that, Mike Pelfrey was decent (13 – 11, 13 runs better than an average pitcher), but both John Maine and Oliver Perez were inconsistent.  Still they were better than Pedro Martinez, who may finally be at the end of the line.  He showed flashes of his old self, but the fastball isn’t as lively, the ball is more hittable, and instead of giving up a homer every other start, Pedro is giving up a homer every time he takes the mound.  As of the end of January he still wasn’t signed – and the Mets need starting pitching.  He may find a home for one more go – and he may not want to get his 100th career loss (he has 99, against 214 wins).

The bullpen, however, had problems.  Remember how good the Phillies ‘pen was?  Five guys who were at least 10 runs better than average?  Nobody was that good here – even Billy Wagner, who was great but pitched just 47 innings.  Pedro Feliciano, Scott Schoeneweis, and Duaner Sanchez were average at best (meaning that they gave up a run every other inning), and Aaron Heilman got worse as the season went on – he was 12 runs worse than average and part-timer Jorge Sosa was even worse in just 20+ innings.  So, the bullpen was no better than average, actually slightly below average, whereas the Phillies bullpen was at least 60 runs better than the average staff.

Forecasting 2008:

Last year, I thought the team might age quickly and struggle to meet .500.  Instead, the veterans and Santana held it together through the summer before landing a scant series behind the Phillies.  This year, the front office tried to rebuild what couldn’t be assembled at the all-star break last year – and that’s a bullpen, so let’s start with the pitching.

Santana is as good as it gets, Pelfrey might be able to provide a little more, but after that – John Maine is league average at best and he’s number three.  That the Mets couldn’t sign a starter in the off season (its January as I write this) and is trying hard to sign the inconsistent Oliver Perez – I’m not ready to proclaim the rotation as being improved.  The Mets did sign Tim Redding, most recently a 30 start pitcher for the Nationals, to a contract.  Redding was 10 – 11 with an ERA higher than the league average.  At best he’s an improvement on what Pedro Martinez did last year – but he hasn’t had a winning season in any year that he pitched more than 50 innings.  In late January, Omar Minaya visited Martinez to see if he might have one more year left, which I don’ t interpret as a good sign.  It might be time to see if Ben Sheets has two reasonably healthy seasons in him.  Freddy Garcia signed a contract – but he hasn’t pitched much due to injuries in a long, long time.  Even in 2006, he was no better than a middle of the rotation guy.  I don’t see the rotation as possibly being any better than last year.  I also don’t see them as being much worse.  Let’s call it a wash.

The bullpen was bolstered by the signings of saves record setter Francisco Rodriquez and J.J Putz, who will likely be the eighth inning guy.  Middle reliever Scott Schoeneweis is gone, while Duaner Sanchez and Pedro Feliciano are still here.  At least Aaron Heilman is gone…  Long relief will be manned by a rookie or two.  So, while the starters don’t look to be much better, the relievers might be 20 to 25 runs better than last year.
 
In terms of offense, the infield won’t be any better.  Reyes and Wright are at the age where one or the other might have a monster season, but Carlos Delgado is at the age where he might lose 25% of his production.  On May 25th last season, you might have thought it was already happening.  That leaves Castillo, who is below average offensively and not a guarantee to play 100 games.  His replacement now is Alex Cora, who is a decent backup.  At least he’s younger than the departed Easley.  He isn’t better, though, and Easley might still be a better fielder.  I think they score a few less runs, on the whole, and defensively, they might slip a little – especially on the right side.

The outfield, as a whole, was surprisingly productive considering how many different players played there.  You might see fewer people playing in left field in 2009, but if you added up the offense of the left and right fielders, it wasn’t a hole in the lineup.  Murphy, Beltran and Church make a good outfield when all three are playing.  Defensively, they will be slightly better if Tatis doesn’t play as many innings.  The only fear might be a decline from Beltran who has been less productive over the last two seasons from where he was in 2006.

The catchers are the same lot – only another year older.  There could be a decline of ten runs in production here just because all three catchers on the roster were born in 1976.

So, what you have is a potential gain on the defensive side of perhaps 20 – 25 runs, and what looks like a decline of about 40 runs on the offensive side unless (a) Beltran has one more big year at 32; (b) Delgado retains his swing one more year; and (c) Reyes or Wright turn it up one more notch.  I’ll call it 25 runs on both sides.  The system says 90 wins, which would be enough to win the division, but my gut is admittedly not in step with the system.  What makes me less confident is two bad Septembers and the fact that nobody knows how the new Citi Field (assuming it’s still called Citi Field) will affect the team.  The new stadium could help with attitude and fan support, but it might change the game dynamic in ways that this veteran squad can’t possibly know.

Down on the Farm…

The Mets are leaving New Orleans for Buffalo, and hopefully they will put a younger team there.  There were no position players who are threats to take jobs from the starters.  The best hitter was probably Chris Aguila, and he’s never stuck in the majors.  The best pitcher was Tony Armas, another 30-ish arm who never seems to make a significant contribution to pitching staffs.  Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell made it to AAA after success in AA.  Niese, a southpaw, throws ninety with a big breaking curveball – he had one good start (eight shutout innings against Atlanta) in a September call up.  He looks like a young Barry Zito.  Parnell throws mid to high 90’s – real hard – with a slider, but looks like he needs one more year in AAA.  Either would look good in long relief while learning his trade.

AA Binghamton featured Niese and Parnell as well as Jose Sanchez, who could be a useful long reliever, too.  There were a couple of hitters – some, like Murphy and Nick Evans have seen MLB action, while Mike Carp could be a potential replacement for Delgado in 2010.  He showed growth in terms of his batting average, power, and plate discipline.

At the lower levels, Lucas Duda and Joshua Thole were the best hitters but are far from ready.  Teammate Dylan Owen was 12 – 6 for St. Lucie, with good control and a fair number of strikeouts.