Top NL Left Fielders in 2009

Ryan Braun (MIL):  A threat to win the triple crown at some point, and now a tolerable fielder (much better in left than at third base), Ryan Braun is one of the five most valuable properties in baseball.  (148.3 Runs Created, 1.84 Runs Saved = 150.09 Total Run Production)

Jason Bay, had he played in the NL, would rank here.  The Mets did okay with this signing…

Matt Holliday (OAK/STL):  After arriving in STL, he hit like Albert Pujols and fielded like Chris Duncan.  He’s not usually that bad a fielder, so I wouldn’t worry about it.  (126.5 Runs Created, -13.4 Runs Saved = 113.1 Total Run Production)

Nyjer Morgan (PIT/WAS):  In Pittsburgh, Morgan played left and was supurb defensively and acceptable offensively.  Moved to Washington, Morgan played in center and was supurb both ways.  A late start to his career because he started as a hockey player, he’s the type of player that anybody would be happy to have around.  I don’t think he’s going to be a 100 run producer every year, but for the next three or four years, he might just be a top flight ballplayer.  (76.2 Runs Created, 26.9 Runs Saved = 103.08 Total Run Production)

Josh Willingham (WAS):  Forever, Josh Willingham has been among the worst defensive outfielders in baseball.  Last year, either (a) his back was feeling WAY better than it had been in recent years or (b) Nationals pitchers allowed an ungodly number of fly balls to left than in previous seasons.  Regardless, Willingham had a solid season with the bat in a tough place to hit and caught more than his share of fly balls.  As someone who liked him when he was with the Marlins, to see Willingham exceed our expectations is fun.  (78.5 Runs Created, 5.7 Runs Saved = 84.23 Total Run Production)

Raul Ibanez (PHI):  At some point in the early summer, it looked like Ibanez would hit 50 homers.  And then the aches of being mid-to-late 30s kicked in and things changed.  Still, Ibanez was a valuable performer and contributed to the Phillies success.  I DON’T see him as much better than this in 2010, but if he stays in the remarkable shape he’s in, he should be fine.  (96.0 Runs Created, -13.2 Runs Saved = 82.86 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Also a first baseman, Dunn really should be a DH.  One of the most feared hitters, Dunn just gives a ton of runs back defensively such that his overall value suffers.  In the AL, that wouldn’t matter.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Like Dunn, plays a lot of first base but isn’t an embarrassment here.  Not really the offensive weapon you’d like at the position.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 81.44 Total Run Production)

Chase Headley (SD):  Living in San Diego puts a crimp in his stats, but he’s not a horrible hitter.  He’s really an above average hitter, but a slightly below average outfielder.  The net is just okay, though – and on most teams he would be a fourth outfielder.  (86.0 Runs Created, -4.8 Runs Saved = 81.17 Total Run Production)

Chris Coghlan (FLA):  Two incredible months of two hit games, day after day…  Didn’t come up until May, took about a month to figure things out.  He’s miscast as a left fielder – had played the infield pretty much his whole life until called to the big leagues.  The Marlins hope that he’s their leadoff man for the next three to five years – until he’s due for arbitration, that is.  (86.4 Runs Created, -8.4 Runs Saved = 78.02 Total Run Production)

Carlos Lee (HOU):  See Adam Dunn.  Carlos Lee can hit, even though he’s showing signs of aging, but he doesn’t move around very well anymore and needs to be a DH soon.  (108.2 Runs Created, -31.8 Runs Saved = 76.32 Total Run Production)

Manny Ramirez (LAD):  Cheater.  I’m betting he’s been a cheater for a long time now.  Notice how all the cheaters play for Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre (as well as in Boston, where this was also encouraged)?  People talk about how steroid use will keep Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame.  Will it keep Tony LaRussa out of the Hall?  It should.  (84.3 Runs Created, -10.7 Runs Saved = 73.58 Total Run Production)

Juan Pierre (LAD):  When he bats over .300 and gets on base, he can be a productive offensive player.  In left field, where he still has far more range than most left fielders, he comes out as a positive.  If the White Sox try him in center, where he doesn’t really have that kind of range, and Pierre hits .280 and doesn’t add a few walks, then he’s a bust.  (65.3 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 66.50 Total Run Production.

Seth Smith (COL):  Showed a balanced set of skills – he didn’t get as many at bats, but the rates were much like Troy Tulowitzki.  And, defensively, he was a step up over Matt Holliday.  If he keeps this up, he’ll be a force in Colorado.  (58.8 Runs Created, 7.5 Runs Saved = 66.29 Total Run Production)

Fernando Tatis (NYM):  Played all over for the Mets and was surprisingly good defensively.  My personal take on it was that it was (a) another year in the majors where he felt more comfortable, and (b) a bit lucky.  He also hit pretty well, batting .282 with a touch of power.  Had he done this a few years ago, he might not have disappeared.  (53.3 Runs Created, 13.9 Runs Saved = 66.20 Total Run Production)

Matt Diaz (ATL):  His bat returned, but his defensive range slipped.  Still, a very valuable performer for Atlanta and probably should have been a regular for a couple of years now.  (77.5 Runs Created, -14.5 Runs Saved = 63.02 Total Run Production)

Alfonso Soriano (CHC):  A miserable season for one of the highly priced players on the Cubs roster – but probably isn’t going to give any of that money back.  Below average baserunner these days to go along with a fading bat and abysmal OBP.  Holds his own with the leather, but if the Cubs are going to challenge for the crown, this guy has to make a comeback.  I just don’t think, at this point in his career, that a comeback is possible.  Sam Fuld, who got a lot of innings in the outfield, would be a better leadoff hitter with his .400 OBP.   (59.0 Runs Created, 1.5 Runs Saved = 60.50 Total Run Production)

Garrett Anderson (ATL):  Did about what I expected – which was slip a little further and struggle defensively.  While Anderson is still a better hitter than most people who try to play baseball, he’s now merely league average as a regular.  To be honest, he’s a veteran bench player at best these days.  (65.0 Runs Created, -8.0 Runs Saved = 57.03 Total Run Production)

Carlos Gonzalez (COL):  Fourth outfielder on this roster, but a good one.  Could be a starter on other teams.  (49.0 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved = 53.75 Total Run Production)

Gerardo Parra (ARI):  Called up mid-season, Parra should have room to grow.  Despite the decent batting average (.290), he’s got a lousy OBP and and marginal power – which left him slightly below average in terms of runs created per 27 outs made.  That being said, a second season might be 10 – 15% better – more comfortable in the outfield and at the plate – and if he’s better, Parra worth playing.  Besides, Parra turns 23 in May and made the jump from AA to the majors – all while hitting .290 – those are the things you look for in a prospect.  (56.0 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 53.49 Total Run Production)

Jeremy Hermida (FLA):  Now in Boston where he can take two strikes and always bat behind in the count there instead.  Hermida is actually mobile, but he’s awkward and uncomfortable diving or playing the wall.  In Florida, where the wall is a mini-monster in left field, this was a problem and it showed up in the way he plays.  Having watched him for a few years now, the issue is one of confidence and aggression.  Someone needs to get it in his head that it’s okay to look for a pitch to drive earlier in the count and give it a rip – and that diving for a ball from time to time won’t hurt him.  Otherwise, he just strikes you as someone who has loads of talent but is too passive to take advantage of it.  Chris Coghlan is a patient hitter, too – but when he sees a pitch he can hit, attacks it.  Hermida doesn’t attack anything.  (55.9 Runs Created, -8.7 Runs Saved = 47.20 Total Run Production)

Fred Lewis (SF):  Drew a few walks, but he doesn’t hit for a high average or hit for much power, hence his low rating here.  (40.7 Runs Created, 5.7 Runs Saved = 46.38 Total Run Production)

Jonny Gomes (CIN):  Had a really good year with the bat, but really isn’t a fielder.  I was surprised that Cincy didn’t just scoop the guy up and keep him around, though, but the Reds haven’t always been the brightest of franchises for a while now.  (52.9 Runs Created, -8.5 Runs Saved = 44.43 Total Run Production)

Ryan Spilborghs (COL):  Useful fourth or fifth outfielder who got 300+ innings in left.  Seth Smith earned the job for 2010, though.  (40 Runs Created, 0.1 Run Saved = 40.01 Total Run Production)

Laynce Nix (CIN):  The other half of the left field platoon – Gomes and Nix combineed for 35 homers and 97 RBI – which would rank pretty well up this list.  Nix is younger and a bit more mobile, but I’m not sure I’d take him over Gomes.  Nix has had nearly three full seasons and his career batting mark is .236 with no OBP to speak of.  (43.8 Runs Created, -4.7 Runs Saved = 39.09 Total Run Production)

Wladimir Balentien (SEA/CIN):  Overrated prospect who played pretty well after arriving in Cincinnati.  There’s always hope.  (32.6 Runs Created, 5.8 Runs Saved = 38.3 Total Run Production)

Gary Sheffield (NYM):  The man can hit.  Can’t run much anymore, but still has a smoking hot bat.  Somebody will likely give him a shot, but he’s running out of teams to infuriate.  What do you make of a guy with 500 career homers, and might still have an outside shot at 3000 hits (he’s at 2689), may get past 1700 RBI this year and 1800 for his career, and has more than 250 stolen bases?  If I were San Diego or Pittsburgh or Kansas City, I’d give him a job and leave him alone.  (47.0 Runs created, -9.1 Runs Saved = 37.95 Total Run Production)

Eugenio Velez (SF):  See Fred Lewis.  Andres Torres is better than both of them…  (36.4 Runs Created, 0.5 Runs Saved = 36.9 Total Run Production)

Eric Byrnes (ARI):  The body is finally giving out on the old warrior.  Now in Seattle where he’ll be a fun fifth outfielder.  Still plays great defense…  (24.5 Runs Created, 8.3 Runs Saved = 32.85 Total Run Production)

Lastings Millege (PIT):  The National League’s answer to Delmon Young.  Uninspired ballplayer who hasn’t taken that next step forward.  (31.5 Runs Created, -0.8 Runs Saved = 30.7 Total Run Production)

Chris Duncan (STL/BOS AAA):  Didn’t hit enough, can’t cover any ground.  Needs to launch a new career as a DH or else it’s over and over fast.  (32.2 Runs Created, -15.0 Runs Saved = 17.17 Total Run Production)

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Mets Move Closer to Bay – But Does it Hold Water?

The Mets made their initial splash in the free agent market by signing Jason Bay to a four year, $66 million deal – with a vesting option that would make it 5/$80…

Shall we overanalyze this?

Jason Bay is a pretty darned good player.  He can hit – hits for some power, has some patience at the plate even though he does have fits of strikeouts from time to time.  He can run a little bit, and while his reputation doesn’t support it, last year his defensive stats in left field weren’t half bad.  Boston left fielders, despite having a slightly below average number of outfield putouts relative to the AL, made 4.63 more plays than the average left fielder for every 800 balls in play – second to Seattle (about five guys, none of whom were bad defensive options – Balentien, Chavez, et al.) – so if Bay is a lousy outfielder (and he doesn’t have the range to cover center anymore) it didn’t show up in his stats last season.  For the record, Bay was above average in 2006, league average in 2007, and below average in 2008 – so my take on it is that he’s not far from league average heading into next year.

He’s 31, so Bay is starting to get long in the tooth (31) and by the end of this deal, he might not be worth $14 million a year, but you never know.

Bay will likely get a spot in the middle of the Mets lineup.  Think this through – Reyes, Castillo, Wright, Beltran, Bay – or Bay, Beltran, or something like that.

Bay struggled in the middle two months of the season while in Boston last year – oddly coinciding with the time he was asked to bat cleanup because David Ortiz had lost his bat speed (among other problems).  When Bay was batting sixth in the lineup, he was REALLY good.  The Mets, however, may not resign Carlos Delgado, and with Bay averaging 30 homers a year for the last six seasons, it’s easy to imagine him as the new cleanup hitter.  Hopefully, this trend doesn’t stay with Bay – it hadn’t been a problem for him in Pittsburgh.

Given the struggles the Mets had last year were all tied to injuries – especially with the veterans – adding a 30+ outfielder wouldn’t have been high on my plans but the Mets had few other options.  Gary Sheffield and Fernando Tatis are not viable outfielders, and Fernando Martinez (who is half of Sheffield’s age) doesn’t look ready to take over – he could use a full season at AAA.  And Martinez is the closest thing to an outfielder prospect who could help immediately.  Outfield options are players like Johnny Damon (expensive, old) or Bay (expensive, not young) or Matt Holliday (expensive, prime).  The rest are question marks (Xavier Nady?) – so Bay is probably the best option the Mets had.

Now, to find a first baseman and a quality starting pitcher – the Mets, on paper and healthy, could return to being a contender in the NL East.  I don’t totally BUY it, but crazier things have happened.

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).

Willingham’s Night is Doubly Grand; Hudson Close to Braves Return

For the most part, Mighty Casey Baseball has tended to look at roster issues – injuries, rookies, and transactions – to help someone who is managing his or her fantasy baseball team make good roster decisions or learn a thing or two about players who are on the free agent market.   It analyzes trades, and occasionally gets to tell a longer story or two.   But every now and then something fun happens in a baseball game and you just want to make a note of it…

Yesterday, Josh Willingham became the third National Leaguer (Tony Cloninger, Fernando Tatis) to hit two grand slams in a game.  (Ten have done it in the AL, by the way).  Willingham is a professional hitter, someone all good teams need because he can help the offense and fill in at a few positions on the field, and always gives his best effort.  As a Marlin, he was a crowd favorite and a clutch hitter.  So to see the old Fish hit a pair of slams is pretty cool.  What makes it a geek fest – at least for Tim Kurkjian, anyway – is that on the same night, Tatis himself hit a pinch hit grand slam.  [FoxSports/MLB]

Another of my favorite Marlins, Burke Badenhop, earned a three game suspension for defending Hanley Ramirez.  A few weeks back, Ramirez was beaned a couple of times and felt like his pitchers weren’t backing him up.  This time, when Jeff Weaver plunked Hanley, Badenhop nailed Orlando Hudson in the butt.  In addition to the fine and suspension, Badenhop also received a bunch of high-fives from his teammates.  [FoxSports]

Ten game winner, Kevin Slowey, will require surgery to fix issues with bone chips in his wrist.  Your third place Minnesota Twins are already struggling with a thin rotation, and this isn’t going to help any…  Francisco Liriano (4 – 10, 5.56) – it’s time to step up and be the ace again.  [SI]

Atlanta Braves starter Tim Hudson threw four innings of shutout baseball at Gwinnett last night, signs that his rehab from elbow ligament replacement surgery is going well.  [SI]

My friend, Andy Finch, and I have had discussions about Derek Jeter’s defense.  According to my statistical model, which compares fielders based on the number of plays made per 800 balls in play, over the last three years Jeter’s range has been problematic – which agrees with many other systems of ranking fielding.  An article on MLB.com says that Jeter has spent the last two years improving his lateral movement, and it’s showing up in his range factors, so it will be interesting to see if my systems show the same thing when the year is done.  Personally, this is why you root for a Derek Jeter – he’s constantly working to be the best player he can be.

Another late July trade…  The San Francicso Giants acquired Ryan Garko from Cleveland for minor leaguer Scott Barnes.  The Giants need offense and Garko is a mild upgrade over Travis Ishikawa – mid 20 HR power, a decent batting average and some patience.  Worst case, he platoons with Ishikawa and gives the Giants more depth – especially since Rich Aurilia hasn’t been providing any bench punch and now is injured.  The Indians got a great prospect…  Barnes blew through lower levels, striking out more than a batter an inning with solid control (just 28 walks in 98 innings).  He’s two years away from making the Indians rotation and possibly making a splash.  The Indians have a backload of players who can play first base, and this is a good way to rearrange the talent base.  I like it.  [ESPN]

With Hall of Fame weekend over, MLB looked ahead at who might be part of the class of 2010.  When the ballot is distributed, we’ll look at our options then, but this is a good look-see.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Hong-Chih-Kuo returns to the Dodgers bullpen from the 60-day disabled list, costing Blake DeWitt his MLB role.  Tampa welcomed back pitcher Brian Shouse from the DL.  R.J. Swindle is back with Milwaukee – he’s too good for AAA, and hasn’t yet stuck with the parent club.  I’ll keep rooting, though.

Hurry Back!  The Reds sent Micah Owings (tight throwing shoulder) and Chris Dickerson (bruised rotator cuff diving for a ball) to the DL.

Vin Scully, Voice of the Yankees? Say it Ain’t So!!!

Carlos Delgado is out ten weeks to surgery on his impinged hip – the new injury of the new decade. The Mets can cope as they have a few outfield options and could choose to give one a shot at first base. Fernando Tatis for now. Still – this could be troublesome, costing the team about two to three games in the standings if they can’t find a comparable replacement.

Rickie Weeks went down to a wrist injury, leaving the Brewers with difficult choices in their lineup. He’s having surgery to repair a torn sheath – similar to David Ortiz a while back – and may affect his really quick bat. Weeks is a great fielder and a decent enough hitter who was really putting it together. For now, the Brewers look to platooning and may call up an infielder from the minors. Craig Counsell is probably the best fielder, but Casey McGehee can play some. This is probably worth five wins over the next four plus months in terms of lost productivity.

Eric Chavez’s back is REALLY bad – he said a degenerative disk is so bad that the next pop in his back will require fusing disks and end his career. One day after announcing that, Chavez has reversed that to some degree, saying that he hopes that strengthening and stretching will help, but he’s really just trying to avoid another surgery. Jack Cust has been playing third. As many other writers have reminded Oakland fans, they signed this guy to a six year deal for a LOT of money ($66 Million) and then missed more than two seasons worth of games…

Noah Lowry had problems with numbness in his hand and underwent surgery to fix issues in his forearm. That didn’t work, and now doctors are calling it a misdiagnosis of a circulatory problem and will be removing one of Lowry’s ribs – costing him this season, too. Once a prospect, Lowry’s career is on the brink as well. Others to have had this surgery? Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman.

Josh Hamilton came off the DL, strained his groin, and now is missing a couple of games and hoping not to go on the DL.

David Ortiz took a series off and will play today hoping to get his first homer of the season. Wow. That’s a sentence, huh?

Jason Kendall got his 2000th hit against the Cardinals. MLB.com, in reporting the story, says that his teammates celebrated by putting the honor on the labels of specially marked Bud Light bottles. BUD LIGHT? Not Miller Lite??? Either the reporting is wrong, or somebody should tell whoever put this together that the Brewers play in Milwaukee.

Todd Helton looked like he got his 2000th hit last night, but it was ruled an error. Some are suggesting that the official scorer may reverse that decision (it was a SHOT past a ducking Yunel Escobar). I hope they saved the ball.

Nate Robertson’s back feels better, but he’s not ready to pitch in a rehab start.

Speaking of Tigers, Magglio Ordonez is the second player given time off to attend to a personal matter (Minnesota’s Delmon Young is caring for his extremely ill mom), so Detroit is calling up prospect Wilkin Ramirez. Ramirez is a free swinger who can run some – but there are some odd things in his record. He gets caught stealing more than you would like, and he strikes out as frequently as you get advertisements for credit cards in your mailbox – at least once or twice every day. Ramirez was hitting well in Toledo, though, and earned the shot.

Pat Burrell is on the DL with a neck strain.

Glen Perkins is on the DL with inflammation in his left elbow, as is Oakland’s Dan Giese – though with Giese it’s his right elbow and tied to his ulnar nerve. C’mon, say it with me. He’s got some nerve!

Need saves? David Aardsma is the new closer for Seattle. Until recently, Aardsma’s biggest claim to fame was moving ahead of Henry Aaron for the first spot in your baseball encyclopedia thanks to alphabetical superiority.

The Mets’ Alex Cora injured his thumb sliding into second base and now is on the DL. Cora was playing because Jose Reyes has swelling in his calf (see Jose Valverde) and has called himself “day-to-day” for six days now. (What player on my team isn’t day to day???)

Speaking of day-to-day, Cincy’s Joey Votto has had dizzy spells following a bout with the flu and didn’t make the trip home because he couldn’t fly with the team, so he’s being watched in San Diego.

On the mend? Tom Glavine, Kevin Youkilis, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, and Hiroki Kuroda. Glavine’s recent simulated game went over well.

Want a crazy story? Read this.  Says here that Vin Scully very nearly became the voice of the Yankees.

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.