The Mets are in a challenging division that is only getting stronger. The Phillies have the best pitching in baseball. The Braves barely missed playoffs. The Nationals have great young players. And the Marlins are becoming a big-spender. Meanwhile, the Mets are coming off a losing season.
The Madoff scandal casts a shadow over the organization. Owner Fred Wilpon was sued millions for profiting from Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Ticket scales plummetted and the organization is bleeding money. Sportswriters, fans, and random internet commentators all predict years of cellar-dwelling and think the Mets should give up and rebuild.
But the Mets are much better than people think.
Let’s start with last season. The Mets finished 4th in the NL East, with a 77-85 record and .475 winning percentage. Below average. Not terrible. And the Mets are better than they were last season across the board:
GM Sandy Alderson has shored up the bullpen. Mets relievers had an abysmal 4.33 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 2011. Alderson added three solid arms in Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Ramon Ramirez. Francisco will close. He went 17/21 in saves last year, and sports a career 3.72 ERA. Rauch has a career 3.68 ERA with 58 saves.
Ramirez has a career 3.16 ERA, with a sub-3 the last four seasons. Add to the mix lefty Josh Edgin who pitched 10 scoreless innings in spring training, and will definitely see major-league action. This is a bullpen that will go from bad to solid.
The Mets’ starters weren’t bad in 2011, having a 4.12 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. With the addition of a healthy Johan Santana they can only get better. Santana had a good spring and there is no reason why he cannot put up good if not great numbers. Dillon Gee can improve on a decent rookie season with more stamina (3.76 ERA pre-all-star break, 5.25 post).
Niese has been very good the last two seasons for the first four months, and then runs out of gas the last two. If he has more endurance down the stretch he will be dangerous. Improved breathing from nasal surgery couldn’t hurt.
Dickey has been very good the last two years. Pelfrey has been shaky at times but eats innings. The Mets greatest weakness in starting pitching is lack of depth. Injuries will occur, and they have no one in Triple A ready to step up. But overall, their rotation can only be better than last season.
This is the clincher. Even your biggest skeptics would admit the pitching additions help. But most would argue that after losing Reyes and Beltran, their two best bats last year, the hitting will be worse.
First, let’s deal with the misconception that the Mets’ hitting is bad. They were the 6th-best in the NL last season and scored more runs than any team in the division. Losing Reyes and Beltran are major blows, but the team’s youngster’s can make up the difference.
Ruben Tejada is no Jose Reyes. But he does get on base at about the same rate. Reyes had a career-best .384 OBP in 2011, and has averaged roughly .355 OBP the last six years. Tejada had a .360 OBP last season, and hit .303/.368 after the break. He is young and still has room for improvement.
Losing Beltran hurts, but by having Lucas Duda for a full season they wont lose a step. In 301 AB’s he hit .292/.370, with 10 home runs and 50 RBI. Tearing it up in spring training only backs up that he is the real deal.
Add to the mix the return of Ike Davis. He had a solid rookie season in 2010, and was off to a torrid start last year before a freak injury. Now he’s back. This spring he’s shown the power is still there.
David Wright battled an injury last season. But even in his decrease of at bats he showed solid power and speed (in 389 AB’s: 14 homers, 61 RBI, and 13 SBs). Now healthy and over the course of a full season, expect vintage David Wright numbers.
And lastly, do not forget having 2B David Murphy over a full season. He hit .320 in 391 AB’s before a season-ending injury. In the second half of his time with the club he hit .345/.375(.) Defense is not his strong suit, but he showed dedication and rapid improvement at first base. He can do the same at second.
Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of question marks: Is Bay going to bounce back? Do they have the starting pitching depth with injuries? The bullpen seems solid, but will it be elite? The answer to these questions is probably “no.”
But after drawing comparisons with the 2011 Mets, I see a lot of potential for improvement. Progressing youngsters. An eternally optimistic manager in Terry Collins. And a team that is sick of losing.
My 2012 prediction: The NY Mets will be in the vicinity of average, but I will not be surprised if they make a playoff run. 85-79 finish.