1. Make every move with a plan. Don't just acquire "stuff." Don't avoid risk because you're afraid of criticism. And...
2. Pitching, pitching, pitching. Oh, and also pitching.
In Part 3 of our series looking at the Mets ZiPS projections for 2010, we'll draw some conclusions as to what would be the best course of action for the Metropolitans.
To read Part 1, on hitting, click here.
To read Part 2, on pitching, click here.
Once again, all ZiPS projections courtesy of the great Dan Szymborski, via Baseball Think Factory. Listed below are the Mets projected opening day starting lineup, starting rotation, and bullpen, according to the projections:
1. Reyes, SS 117 OPS+
2. Castillo, 2B 94 OPS+
3. Beltran, CF 137 OPS+
4. Wright, 3B 140 OPS+
5. Bay, LF 126 OPS+
6. Murphy, 1B 95 OPS+
7. Francoeur, RF 94 OPS+
8. Santos/Thole C 69 OPS+/87 OPS+
1. Santana, 133 ERA+
2. Pelfrey, 89 ERA+
3. Maine, 103 ERA+
4. Perez, 88 ERA+
5. Niese, 95 ERA+
K-Rod, 138 ERA+
Feliciano, 110 ERA+
Green, 101 ERA+
Dessens, 98 ERA+
Stokes, 95 ERA+
Knight, 94 ERA+
Misch, 89 ERA+
It is an ugly, ugly picture. This is especially so with Beltran out of the picture for an unknown length of time. Let's go by unit here and see what we can predict.
What we have here projects to be a slightly above-average unit. Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Bay all project to have good seasons in 2010, Castillo and Murphy are somewhere around average, and Francoeur and our catcher bring up the rear. I'd say it is a line up with some potential to do some damage.
The bottom of the lineup looks weak, but no lineup in the world has eight starters all projected above average (okay except the Yankees). There is no need for all eight starters to be superstars. If Castillo can get on base early, and Murphy and Francoeur can drive in some of those runners while batting 6 and 7, we'll be great.
Here are the OPS+ numbers for the Mets 8 qualifying starters in prior years next to their projections for 2010:
Not an enormous difference between the two previous seasons, but that was the difference between being 2nd in the league in runs (2008) and 12th in the league in runs (2009). The Mets 2010 projections come in somewhat closer to the 2008 version than the 2009 version (with Jason Bay playing the role of Carlos Delgado) so the Mets have themselves decently well-positioned on offense.
I picked the 2000 team as well because I see some commonalities between that roster and this roster. The 2000 team had two offensive superstars in Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo (blog namesake) and did very well with a cast of average roleplayers around them. The third-base regular on that team was probably Todd Zeile, who hit only .268/.356/.467 with only 22 home runs while playing first base (Daniel Murphy, anyone?).
The 2000 team finished 7th in runs. This team projects slightly better than that.
This is, as usual, the place I perceive to be the weakness on this team. Of course, there are reasons to be optimistic about these Mets -- a computer projection cannot fully take into account the injuries to Maine and Perez, or the bad luck Pelfrey had last season -- but still, these raw numbers are eye opening.
1. Santana, 3.23 ERA
2. Pelfrey, 4.86 ERA
3. Maine, 4.20 ERA
4. Perez, 4.93 ERA
5. Niese, 4.57 ERA
Beyond that, our reserve starters include luminaries such as Nelson Figueroa (5.06), Fernando Nieve (5.19), Tobi Stoner (5.58) and I literally do not know who else. In comparison, the Phillies have TEN pitchers projected to have an ERA better than 5.00 (incl. Moyer, Pedro, and even Rodrigo Lopez). Even the Nationals have a better projected rotation than this, even with the loss of Jordan Zimmermann to surgery. By adding Jason Marquis to Stephen Strasburg and John Lannan, they have a formidable trio up top.
I say this every year - but there are going to be at least eight guys starting for the Mets this year, and probably closer to ten or twelve. In 2008, the Mets had 11 pitchers start a game for them. In 2009 it was also 11. In 2006 we had 13 starters. Even in 2000 we had 10.
In order to be competitive, I think we're going to need one of Pelfrey/Perez to beat their projection significantly and become a #2, AND to add a starter or for Maine to be healthy all year. Obviously, that is asking a lot. If this happens -- say for instance that Pelfrey bounces back to post a 110 ERA+, and we are able to sign Joel Pineiro who puts up a 110 ERA+ as well, I think we'll be okay.
Here's a look at some successful former Mets rotations by ERA+ and compared to a potential 2010 squad:
2010: 133-110-110-103-88 (Santana, Pelfrey, Pineiro, Maine, Perez, including the above assumptions)
2006: 114-88-97-107-121 (Glavine, Trachsel, Pedro, Duque, Maine, 3rd in ERA)
2000: 142-139-111-108-88 (Hampton, Leiter, Rusch, Reed, Jones, 3rd in ERA)
1986: 126-127-139-102-92 (Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez, Aguilera, 1st in ERA... and who knew that Bobby Ojeda was so good that year?)
The common thread here is that all of those teams, 1986, 2000, and 2006 -- had good pitching. The only squad that wasn't exceptional was in 2006. Pitching wins. The rotation as currently constituted w/o Pineiro looks more like bad Mets teams we are used to:
As for this unit, well, anything goes. Bullpen construction from year to year is part planning, part luck. Since our last look at it, the Mets have added Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarishi to the fold. Both of these players are hard throwers and have the potential to really help. According to CHONE, Escobar is projected to deliver a very nice 3.00 ERA next season out of the bullpen if healthy -- a projection I'll take any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Even if neither are stars, the further down the depth chart we push guys like Pat Misch, the happier I am.
As currently constituted, the Mets would need a LOT of luck to compete this season. At a minimum, we need Reyes to remain healthy, Beltran to come back soon and healthy, for one of Pelfrey/Maine/Perez to really take a leap forward, and for Francisco Rodriguez to halt his slide.
As you can probably tell, I am not a pie-in-the-sky optimist about my team. That said, there are a lot of ways that things could break IN FAVOR of the Mets. This is probably truer for the Mets than any other team -- we have many unanswered questions which could end up favorable.
I did write in the last article that I thought the projections for Oliver Perez, Brian Stokes, Nelson Figueroa, and Mike Pelfrey were too pessimistic. Players regularly return from injuries to recover their former levels of play. We have a couple young players on the cusp of delivering at the major league level, such as Fernando Martinez, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Jennry Mejia, and Ike Davis -- and there is no understating how much help those additions would be.
Based on what we've learned, I think the Mets would probably be best served by finding a way to improve their pitching. Whether that addition is someone safe like Joel Piniero or risky like Erik Bedard is less important. What DOES matter is that the Mets spend their money improving the areas which give us the most marginal benefit. As we wrote a few days ago while advocating for Sheets or Bedard:
We need to look NOT ONLY at what our money will buy us --- but who the new player will be replacing. Signing Hudson to replace Castillo, or signing Molina to replace Blanco/Thole would make the Mets better -- but those are moves with NO upside. They would improve us by a win at most. In the Mets current position, they need to address areas of weakness with investments which could pay BIG dividends.Those big upgrades will take place in the starting rotation ONLY. If we can add a guy like Pineiro, who was worth over 4 WAR last year, and bump from the rotation someone like Jon Niese, we improve ourselves dramatically. Not only do we improve from Pineiro to Niese, but then Niese then replaces whoever our emergency starter would have been. Niese bumps Figueroa, who bumps Nieve, and then hopefully we never have to stomach the likes of Jose Lima or Jeremi Gonzalez ever again.
The Mets project to have a decent offense already - it's time for Omar and the Mets to start living up to their promises and deliver us a team that can compete and win in Citi Field.
 We looked at Pineiro a few weeks ago and declared his improvement "for real":
Piniero was 4.8 Wins Above Replacement last year, by far the best free agent remaining... Somehow, Joel Piniero was able to take his career ground ball to fly ball ratio, which has hovered around 1.5 for EIGHT seasons, and ramp it all the way up to 2.54.... His GB/FB ratio was the highest in baseball last year by HALF a point. Derek Lowe was second, at 2.18.
* * *
If you were looking only at the surface stats, everything about Joel Piniero's season last year would scream FLUKE. But because of his increase in ground balls, he allowed less home runs. He allowed less line drives. His unusually low BABIP of .293 might be close to sustainable.