MLB March Report: NY Mets

It’s been hard times for the New York Mets’ fans lately. Let’s trace it all the way back to the 2006 season when they had the best team in the National League, won 97 games, then watched their starting pitchers drop like flies to the injury bug and they lost a seven-game heartbreaker to St. Louis in the NLCS. In 2007 they had a big lead in the NL East on Philadelphia and blew it. In 2008 they lost the wild-card race to Milwaukee on the final weekend. Then the bottom really fell out. The last three years have produced sub-.500 records, the Wilpon Family has disgraced the franchise and diminished the financial muscle they should have as a Big Apple and not a lot is expected this year. TheSportsNotebook evaluates the Mets’ ability to get on base, hit for power, starting pitching and relief pitching.

ABILITY TO GET ON BASE: Manager Terry Collins has some decent pieces here. There’s no one like departed shortstop Jose Reyes, who went to the Miami Marlins via free agency, but there’s no reason the Mets shouldn’t get baserunners. Daniel Murphy had a .362 OBP in nearly 400 at-bats a year ago and he’s projected as the full-time second baseman in 2012. Shortstop Ruben Tejada and catcher Josh Thole all fall in the category of halfway decent. And some of the power hitters we’ll be getting to in a moment do a good job at taking their walks. What Collins could really use is for veteran centerfielder Andres Torres to flash the form he did in San Francisco in their 2010 World Series run before being undone by injuries last year. But before anyone’s hopes get too high, consider that Torres is 34 and 2010 was the only really good year he’s had in the major leagues, although in fairness he hasn’t always gotten the chance.

POWER: Rightfielder Lucas Duda got part-time at-bats last year and slugged .482. He’ll get full-time at-bats this time around and Collins is hoping he can a producer in a lineup whose best hitters were injury-plagued a year ago. Ike Davis at first base and David Wright at third can be an outstanding run-producing duo, but both spent most of ’11 on the disabled list. They are expected to play in 2012, but Davis is dealing with some illness problems that may hurt his strength. That’s more a cautionary note, but the condition of Wright’s rib cage is the bigger problem. Even when he played last year it restricted his power, and now he’s torn an ACL. Wright says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, but what kind of power will he be able to generate? And the Mets have to get a comeback year from left fielder Jason Bay. He’s been a complete disappointment since coming over Boston as a free agent prior to the 2010 season. In fairness, he went from a pure hitter’s park in Fenway to a pure pitcher’s one in Citi Field, but the decline has been sharp and it continued in 2011 when park effects were no longer an excuse.

STARTING PITCHING: This is a real problem are. On the surface the ERAs look tolerable, but using the park effects theory to the pitching staff, how bad would they look if they pitched in say, Philadelphia? Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese and Dillon Gee all tend to hover around the mid-4’s. Pelfrey is inconsistent and if he want to see the cup half-full, I guess that means he might pull a really good year out of his hat, like in 2010 when he won 15 games with 3.66 ERA and logged over 200 innings. Niese is only 25 years old and has shown definite signs of potential, so it’s reasonable to hope for improvement. Gee is also still just a kid. Veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey showed his big 2010 season wasn’t a fluke when he was the staff’s best pitcher a year ago. The fifth spot is reserved for Johan Santana if he can get himself healthy—well, I suppose it’s not the fifth spot, because if Santana gets his elbow in gear, he’d be the staff ace, but if it’s not him the last starting pitching spot goes to the completely untested Chris Schwinden. There’s reason to think this staff can be better, but it’s important to emphasize just how much better it needs to be when you consider the favorable pitching environment they work in.

RELIEF PITCHING: I like the group of arms Collins has to work with here. There’s no clear-cut closer and I’m not suggesting this group is so good that you better beat the Mets in six or it’s over. But there are at least four arms that can form the foundation of a steady bullpen that will chew up innings and at least make sure you win the games you’re supposed to. Frank Francisco is the closer for now, and he did a respectable, if not spectacular job in that role for Toronto last year. Jon Rauch can either setup or close and did the latter to good effect on Minnesota’s 2010 playoff team. The best arm of the bunch is Ramon Ramirez who keeps getting shipped off of contenders (Boston to San Francisco to the NY Mets) in spite of ERAs below 3 with good amounts of work. He’ll be a solid arm in the bullpen and it wouldn’t shock me if he gets a chance to close. Between Bobby Parnell and Manny Acosta someone else should pan out and be a stable arm.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 72—That’s a pretty low number. I don’t see the Mets as a winning team this year, but that number presumes them losing 90 games. Let’s just play the game of extremes. Can you see them getting a little bit better starting pitching and moving up around 79 wins? They’re still sub-.500, but they beat total comfortably. I can see that. Conversely, can you see them losing in the high 90s? I think it would take another epic injury plague to cause that, but I don’t see it  if the Mets just have a normal amount of adversity. So the room is clearly on the Over side of this number.