2011 Season Forecast: Boston Red Sox

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  89 – 73 (3rd AL East)
2009:  95 – 67
2008:  95 – 67
2007:  96 – 66 (WS Champs)
2006:  86 – 76

Runs Scored: 818 (2nd, AL to NYY)
Runs Allowed: 744 (11th in the AL, but considering where they play, it was 6th if you adjust for the park)

2010 Recap:

After a lack-luster start in April, the Red Sox started rolling in May and June, at which point everyone started getting dinged up, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew (which, frankly, was expected).  Bill Hall turned into an everyday player, Darnell McDonald was forced into the lineup, and Mike Lowell’s body finally gave out having to play as often as it did.  Even Tim Wakefield went down with a back injury.  The Red Sox played near .500 the rest of the way, but with both New York and Tampa playing lights out in July and August, the Red Sox weren’t really in the race despite almost making it to 90 wins.

The Red Sox made few mid-season moves of any consequence, other than putting people on the DL.

Starters:

On paper, as good a rotation as can be found.  Jon Lester is an ACE; a lefty in Fenway with a 3.25 ERA and 19 wins who strikes out more than a batter an inning and keeps the ball in the park.  Clay Buchholz earned 28 starts and was even better in terms of runs saved (34 to 26.5), but Lester really had the better stuff and pitched 35 more innings.  John Lackey took a while to get started, but still won 14 decisions and pitched 215 innings.  Daisuke Matsuzaka only made 25 starts, but had a winning record.  Josh Beckett, on the other hand, made 21 awful starts and finished with a 5.78 ERA.  He needs to move off the fastball and find another out pitch.  Tim Wakefield made 19 starts, got swatted around more than usual, and won just four games.  He’s not retired yet, but the league may retire him anyway.

The same five return for 2011, and Wakefield may not have a spot on the roster.  I don’t think Buchholz will match his 2010 rate, but Beckett could be better if healthy.  I don’t expect improvement from the three or five spots (Lackey or Matsuzaka) and worry what would happen if a key starter went down to injury.

Bullpen:

Like Josh Beckett, Jonathon Papelbon was more hittable than in previous years, finishing with a 3.90 ERA.  He walked more batters than usual and just had days where it didn’t work for him.  I think he’ll be fine, but 8th inning stud Daniel Bard could get some save opportunities if needed.  Hideki Okajima fell off a little in 2010, as did Manny Delcarmen.  Guys like Scott Atchison, Ramon Ramirez, Dustin Richardson, and Scott Schoeneweis didn’t really move the needle.  On the other hand, Lester, Lackey, and (down the stretch) Buchholz didn’t need more than two innings of help most nights.

Still, the Red Sox brought in a bunch of guys to help out for 2011, including Bobby Jenks (not really a closer), Matt Albers, Dan Wheeler, and Alfredo Aceves to shore up the pen, which should make it slightly stronger than in 2010.

Catching:

Last year, Victor Martinez proved he could still hit and Jason Varitek proved he could still catch.  On the other hand, Varitek can’t hit much, and Martinez should be a DH.  So, for 2011, Martinez will get to DH in Detroit, and the Red Sox imported Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be the primary starter.  Salty was acquired for prospects in July, 2010 but didn’t play much.  And, he comes to Boston as a question mark.  He has a great work ethic, but hasn’t ever really been a dominant hitter.  And, last year he was sent to AAA because he couldn’t make the throw from behind the plate back to the pitcher.  Let’s hope he’s got this behind him now…

Offensively, this will be a slide – maybe 25 runs – but defensively (unless Saltalamacchia falls off on his game) it could be a minor improvement.

Infield:

The infield was anchored by third baseman Adrian Beltre, who had his best season in Boston, hitting .321 with power, and fielding his position as well as just about anybody.  Shortstop Marco Scutaro didn’t miss many games, but he didn’t make many plays in the field, made quite a few errors, and his batting fell off to league average levels.  The other half missed half the season – Dustin Pedroia only played in 75 games and Kevin Youkilis missed 60.

Youkilis produces a run a game and can still field.  He will be moving off of first base to take over third as Beltre signed a free agent deal with Texas.  And, Adrian Gonzalez was aquired from San Diego (albeit after shoulder surgery) to play first base.  A healthy Gonzalez is a world class hitter and fielder, and if Pedroia plays 140 games, this unit will generate perhaps 15 more runs than they did in 2010.  If Scutaro struggles at the plate this year, it might be time to dig into the minors for glove wizard Jose Iglesias. Jed Lowrie backs everyone up in 2011.

Outfield:

The outfield of Ellsbury, Cameron, and Drew hardly ever played together, so it was a patchwork crew of guys like Jeremy Hermida, Bill Hall, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, and Josh Reddick.

This should change as the Red Sox signed Rays left fielder Carl Crawford for 2011.  Ellsbury will be back, hopefully staying in the lineup and batting in front of the boppers, playing center.  He’s the wild card of this group, not being an especially good defensive centerfielder, and having lost much of the season to build on his offensive tool set.  Drew returns to play as many games as possible in right, with Cameron and McDonald around to pick up games and innings as needed.  If Ellsbury can return to form, and having added Crawford, the offense could improve by 50 runs, easily.

DH:

David Ortiz is still around, having generated 98 runs of offense with a 32 – 102 – .270 campaign.  He’ll still play, but he might get a day off from time to time against a tough lefty with Cameron on the bench.  I don’t see Ortiz repeating 2010, but at least the Sox have options.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Pawtucket’s featured outfielders already got a shot, those being Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddeck – both are mid-level power decent bat types and don’t have jobs in Boston just yet.  Among the pitchers, Michael Bowden keeps getting calls to the Red Sox, but hasn’t been able to stick and probably is looking forward to free agency.

Pitcher Felix Doubront made eight solid starts for AA Portland, earning a trip to Pawtucket.  After another eight good starts, he was in Boston for a few outings and didn’t look overmatched.  I don’t see him making the roster in April, so expect the lefty to start in AAA for 2011.  Anthony Rizzo is a potential power source, having hit 20 homers in Portland after being moved up from A+ Salem.  Just 21, he may start at Pawtucket, but his route to the majors is also blocked.

Salem featured pitcher Stolmy Pimentel, who has decent command but needs a little seasoning.  Infielder Oscar Tejeda hit .307 in Salem, with decent power and some speed.  Ryan Lavarnway showed power and command of the strike zone and should start the year at AA Portland.

Forecasting 2011:

The Red Sox are the consensus pick to win the AL East and possibly the World Series.  It’s hard to argue with the logic.  By my methods, I see the offense improving by perhaps as many as 40 runs, and the pitching holding steady.  The defense will be stronger in the outfield, and the only hole will likely be short and catcher.  With 860 runs scored, and about 740 runs allowed, that puts the Sox around 93 wins.  It’s fewer than many others have predicted, but still enough to edge the Rays for the division crown.

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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.

News and Notes Before Pedro’s Start vs. Cubs Tonight; Is it Over for Percival and Gordon?

The Reds got some good news and bad news…  Good news?  Starter Johnny Cueto’s hip is fine – and now he says it must have been a cramp.  (His pitching is cramping the Reds right now…)  Bad news?  Scott Rolen is going on the DL to deal with concussion symptoms following his getting hit by a Jason Marquis pitch a couple of weekends ago.  [ESPN]

Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez will miss at least two more games resting his sore left shoulder after receiving a cortisone shot to help deal with the pain.  Where is Bill Madlock when they need him???  [FoxSports]

Miguel Cabrera is day to day after getting hit in the hand by a pitch last night.  When Rick Porcello retalliated and hit Kevin Youkilis, there was a brawl (sort of) between the Tigers and Red Sox.

Pedro Martinez gets the start tonight against the Cubs, but the guy who lost his job – Jamie Moyer – isn’t happy about it.  Moyer says he’s going to be a team player and all, but if that’s the case why is he discussing his being “misled by management” with the press?  [FoxSports]

Texas infielder Ian Kinsler heads to AA for a couple of rehab games – should be back soon.  [ESPN]

Todd Wellemeyer, mentioned earlier this week, heads to the DL to rest and heal an elbow with excessive inflammation.  [SI]

Scott Schoeneweis heads to the DL to battle depression, just three months after his wife was found dead in their Arizona home.  His stats show the signs of someone whose heart is somewhere else – completely understandable.  The D-Backs are trying to be as supportive as possible…  [ESPN]

Colorado centerfielder Dexter Fowler crashed into the wall chasing (and catching) a Geovany Soto flyball against Chicago the other night – and now is headed for a precautionary MRI to check out a sore knee.  His offense isn’t changing the world, but Fowler’s range in center has helped keep Rockie pitchers happy…  [SI]

Troy Percival’s shoulder hasn’t allowed him to throw a couple of days in a row – and he’s resigned himself to retirement.  The Rays closer admitted he may not have but one bullpen session left in him at this point.  [ESPN]

Speaking of former Angels relievers, Justin Speier is now a former reliever having been released yesterday.  In his last outing four days ago, Speier gave up three homers in an inning to Texas.  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back!  Twins pitcher Glen Perkins heads to the DL with shoulder discomfort.  Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick heads to AAA with Pedro joining the roster…

Welcome Back!  Braves infielder Omar Infante returns from the DL, as does Reds outfielder Chris Dickerson.

Is it Over?  Arizona released Tom Gordon – the last active player to have played with Royals legend Frank White.  Several weeks ago, I figured out that you could get from Tom Gordon to Rube Waddell in six degrees…  Props to anyone who can figure out how I got there.

Strasburg #1 Pick; Nationals Apply for Bailout Funds

As expected, the Washington Nationals took Stephen Strasburg with the first pick in the draft.  Getting someone with his credentials (195Ks in 105 college innings this year) is certainly exciting and one hopes he is immensely successful for both the team and his career.   I wonder if any Jayhawks will get drafted…  I mean, we need more Jayhawks in the Majors (Tom Gorzellany!).

The draft dominates most baseball coverage, but a few other things happened and are recounted here:

Brad Lidge, erstwhile Phillies closer, goes to the DL with a sprained knee.  I first saw this on a twitter post by Will Carroll, who writes the Under the Knife articles for Baseball Prospectus.  Carroll’s comment suggested that the injury was his pitching and the knee is a convenient DL excuse.  If you have Lidge on your fantasy roster, look for Ryan Madson to get save opportunities.  However, J.C. Romero is also back from his PED suspension and might get a shot or two.  Joining the Phillies is backup catcher Paul Bako.  Really?

Joining Lidge on the DL is another struggling pitcher, Bartolo Colon, who also heads to the DL with a sore knee.  Getting a shot is the White Sox’ 2007 top pick, Aaron Poreda.  Poreda has been solid in his two years and is carrying a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts with AA Birmingham.  Until this year, he showed great control, a lot of strikeouts, few homers allowed, and has been ranked by Baseball America as one of the two best prospects in the ChiSox chain.  He’ll start in the pen, but he COULD be a rotation fixture in the near future.  I’d certainly be interested in giving him a shot.

Toronto’s Jesse Litsch, a 13 game winner last year, has been on the DL with soreness in his elbow since mid-April.  Now, his season is done, as he’s heading to Dr. James Andrews for surgery.  He and Shawn Marcum were solid rookie starters last year, and now both are going to be recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Very sad.

Welcome back Scott Schoeneweis, who was removed from Arizona’s restricted list.  Schoeneweis has been out following the stunning death of his wife several weeks back.  Also returning from the bereavement list is Brewers Mark DiFelice.  Heading to the bereavement list, however, is Giant first baseman Travis Ishikawa.

Nobody signed Kip Wells or Kris Benson off the waiver wire, so both got assigned to AAA.  Meanwhile, Blaine Boyer is with his third major league team this year as sort of a fluke.  Boyer was traded from Atlanta to St. Louis in late April.  A few days ago, Boyer pitched five innings of relief for St. Louis.  St. Louis, needing arms, couldn’t just send Boyer to the minors (he was out of options) so they had to ask waivers and bring up a new pitcher.  Hoping he’d sneak through, it didn’t work – Arizona claimed him.  So, now Boyer is a Diamondback reliever.

J. J. Putz, injured Mets reliever, had surgery to remove bone spurs.  He should be back in a couple of months.  The question is whether or not the wounded Mets can still be in the NL East race then.

Not sure why,  but the Rays signed released reliever Jorge Julio to a minor league deal.  Bad idea.

Colorado traded struggling reliever Jason Grilli to Texas for cash.

You’re Out of Order – The Whole Lineup is Out of Order!

Fun stuff first – the Houston Astros Michael Bourn batted first and second against the Brewers because Cecil Cooper changed his mind about whether Bourn or Kaz Matsui should bat first or second. The lineup card in the dugout said one thing, the one given to the home plate umpire said something else. So, after Bourn led off with a single, Brewers Manager Ken Macha pointed out the error of the Astros ways, the home plate umpire called Bourn out, and then made Bourn bat again. He made another out.

Scott Schoenweis left Florida to return to his Arizona home yesterday when he learned his wife died unexpectedly in their home. The D-Backs reliever is on the bereavement list, and Arizona players chalked the number 60 on hats and shoes in support.

Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury has fantastic range. Last night he caught 12 fly balls – about four times more than the normal day, and as many as any AL outfielder ever.

Welcome back: Cards Chris Carpenter, who beat the Cubs in his return from the DL last night. Kevin Youkilis returned last night and helped the Red Sox top the Jays. And, the first homer of the season for Big Papi! Now, he can relax. Might be time to go get him.

Andy was asking about stolen bases… Arizona’s Mark Reynolds (who?) had four last night against the Marlins.

ESPN reported that Jake Peavy might be heading to Chicago – but not the Cubs. The White Sox… Say it ain’t so!!!

Injury Updates:

Elijah Dukes hits the DL with a strained left hamstring. Say hello to outfielder Justin Maxwell, a 4th round draft pick in 2005 who has power and speed and a big hole in his swing. He will work a walk, but mostly because some pitchers fear him. He’s never hung around any one level very long, so it’s hard to get a reading, but he might have an impact. In 2010.

Oakland infielder Mark Ellis’s calf injury was worse than though – now on the 60 day DL, where teammate Eric Chavez and his shoulder and back reside.

Rick Ankiel is close to returning to the Cards. When Carpenter was recalled, the Cards sent outfielder Shane Robinson back to AAA Memphis.

Nate Robertson returns to the Tigers, costing Lucas French his spot on the roster.

Nick Massett goes to Cincy’s DL list with a left oblique strain.

Boston’s John Smoltz begins a rehab stint with Greenville. Cliff Floyd works his in Lake Elsinore for San Diego.

Comings and Goings:

I mentioned rookie Wilkin Ramirez the other day. The new Tiger homered last night.

Unhappy with Garrett Mock, the Nationals sent Mock to AAA and recalled Craig Stammen. No prospect. The Nats also designated Alex Cintron for assignment and recalled occasional prospect Jason Bergmann.

Craig Breslow got off to a slow start with the Twins, was designated for assignment, but got claimed by the A’s. This is the first time Breslow hadn’t pitched well in the majors, but his overall career has been pretty good. We’ll see if he can’t put it back together.

Doug Slaten will cover for Scot Schoenweis in Arizona; Anthony Swarzak gets Breslow’s spot in Minnesota. Swarzak fits the Twins’ mold – control pitcher, might get a few striekouts. He was pitching well in Rochester (AAA), so he earned a look. Swarzak was a second round pick in 2004 right out of Nova High School in Davie, Florida (about 20 minutes south of here).

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.