The New York Mets are in a bad place right now.
It would be nice if the Mets were dealing with just one problem, but the organization is shaky at just about every level. Team owner Fred Wilpon is facing a high-profile lawsuit, the front office is forced to do business with a restricted budget, the team out on the field is as weak as it's been in years, and the farm system is one of the weakest in Major League Baseball.
To make matters worse, the Mets play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball in the National League East.
It suffices to say the vibes surrounding the Mets are not overly positive heading into 2012. But for what it's worth, here's a look at how the team is shaping up heading into the season.
2011 Record: 77-85
Key Arrivals (courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com): RHP Ramon Ramirez (from San Francisco), OF Andres Torres (from San Francisco), RHP Jeremy Hefner (waivers), LHP Garrett Olson (FA), C Lucas May (FA), RHP Jon Rauch (FA), LHP Chuck James (FA), OF Mike Baxter (FA), RHP Frank Francisco (FA), C Rob Johnson (FA), SS Omar Quintanilla (FA), SS Sean Kazmar (FA), RHP Fernando Cabrera, RHP Miguel Batista (FA), OF Scott Hairston (FA), SS Ronny Cedeno (FA), 3B Matt Tuiasosopo.
Key Departures: OF Angel Pagan (to San Francisco), SS Jose Reyes (FA), C Ronny Paulino (FA), RHP Jason Isringhausen (FA), LHP Chris Capuano (FA).
Projected Rotation (per official site)
- Johan Santana (11-9, 2.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 2010)
- Mike Pelfrey (7-13, 4.74, 1.47)
- Jon Niese (11-11, 4.40, 1.41)
- R.A. Dickey (8-13, 3.28, 1.23)
- Dillon Gee (13-6, 4.43, 1.38)
- Chris Schwinden (0-2, 4.71, 1.38)
C: Josh Thole (.268/.345/.344)
1B: Ike Davis (.302/.383/.543)
2B: Daniel Murphy (.320/.362/.448)
3B: David Wright (.254/.345/.427)
SS: Ruben Tejada (.284/.360/.335)
LF: Jason Bay (.245/.329/.374)
CF: Andres Torres (.221/.312/.330)
RF: Lucas Duda (.292/.370/.482)
Closer: Frank Francisco (R) (1-4, 17 SV, 2 HLD, 4 BLSV, 3.55 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)
Jon Rauch (R) (5-4, 11 SV, 4 HLD, 5 BLSV, 4.85, 1.35)
Ramon Ramirez (R) (3-3, 4 SV, 11 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.62, 1.17)
Tim Byrdak (L) (2-1, 1 SV, 8 HLD, 3 BLSV, 3.82, 1.41)
Manny Acosta (R) (4-1, 4 SV, 7 HLD, 3 BLSV, 3.45, 1.38)
Bobby Parnell (R) (4-6, 6 SV, 11 HLD, 6 BLSV, 3.64, 1.47)
D.J. Carrasco (R) (1-3, 2 HLD, 1 BLSV, 6.02, 1.68)
Pedro Beato (R) (2-1, 11 HLD, 1 BLSV, 4.30, 1.28)
Josh Stinson (R) (0-2, 1 SV, 4 HLD, 1 BLSV, 6.92, 1.62)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
The Mets didn't get great starting pitching in 2011, but they didn't get awful starting pitching either. Mets starters logged 84 quality starts and combined for a 4.12 ERA. There are teams in the National League that did a lot worse in 2011.
To make matters even better, Johan Santana is healthy. He's looked pretty good in spring training, and manager Terry Collins told CBSSports.com that he expects Santana to be ready for Opening Day.
That's probably too good to be true, but the point is that the Mets are going to have the ace they didn't have all of last season. Getting Santana back will be a huge boost.
This said, it is my presumption that Santana is probably done competing for Cy Young awards. He's been very good for the Mets, but a trend was developing in 2008-10 in which Santana was starting to strike out fewer batters while slightly increasing his walk total.
Still, Santana can rest comfortably knowing that he'll be able to get away with a lot when he pitches in Citi Field. He owns a career ERA of 2.82 and a WHIP of 1.17 pitching in the Mets' home digs. He'll put up similar numbers pitching there in 2011.
No matter what kind of numbers Santana puts up, the Mets will be hoping he at least stays healthy and provides innings. As long as he does that, the Mets will take what they can get.
The rest of the Mets' rotation is a mixed bag. There are some bright spots, and some not-so-bright spots.
Mike Pelfrey will make 30 starts and pitch around 200 innings, but he's also going to give up a ton of hits and allow quite a few earned runs. His sinker allows him to rack up a ton of ground balls, but he's allowed an opponents' batting average of at least .275 in each of the last four seasons, and last season he gave up 21 home runs. That's a lot for a sinkerballer who pitches in one of the toughest hitters' parks in the majors.
The bulk of those dingers did come on the road, for the record. Pitching away from home in 2011, Pelfrey had an ERA of 5.49 and he allowed an opponents' batting average of better than .300. He'll be fine in Citi Field, but don't be in a hurry to watch his starts when he's pitching on the road.
I have more hope for Jon Niese. He's an injury risk, but there's a lot to like about his stuff. It helped him post a K/9 of 7.89 in 2011, which was coupled with a solid 2.52 BB/9. He also had a ground-ball rate of better than 50 percent. When you have numbers like that, you tend to do well.
Niese was just OK, but he should have done well. His BABIP of .333 was a little too high given his other numbers, a sign that Niese suffered from a bit of bad luck. His FIP of 3.36 was over a full run lower than his ERA, another sign that Niese suffered from some bad luck.
So keep an eye on Niese. He could be surprisingly good this season.
I have a soft spot in my heart for knuckleballers, so I'm a big R.A. Dickey fan. In true knuckleballer fashion, though, his numbers make absolutely no sense.
A knuckleballer with a low K/9 and a relatively high BB/9 like Dickey should give up a ton of hits, but Dickey has actually done pretty well in that category in the last two seasons. He's kept his opponents' batting average in the .250 range in each of his two seasons with the Mets, which is due in large part to high ground-ball rates.
What doesn't make any sense are Dickey's home/road splits from last season. Opponents his .239 off him at Citi Field, where he had a 3.51 ERA. On the road, opponents hit .275 off Dickey, yet he had an ERA of 2.99. He also walked more hitters on the road.
The point, such as it is, is that Dickey is unpredictable. He is, after all, a knuckleballer. The Mets should consider themselves lucky that Dickey is the good kind of predictable.
There's some upside where Dillon Gee is concerned. He upped his strikeouts and decreased his walks in 2011, and he kept his ground-ball rate constant with the rate he posted in limited action 2010. The downside is that he gave up a lot of extra-base hits and a lot of home runs. Not surprisingly, he was far more effective at Citi Field than he was on the road.
Still, that was Gee's first full year as a starter. If he keeps his strikeouts up and his walks down, things can only get better. The Mets could do worse for a No. 5 starter.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not an awful rotation. But relative to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Atlanta Braves, the Miami Marlins and the Washington Nationals, the Mets' starting rotation is indeed pretty pedestrian.
Scouting the Bullpen
The Mets' bullpen was not very good in 2011. Mets relievers posted a 4.33 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP and ultimately finished with 24 blown saves.
Over the offseason, the Mets added some key pieces to their bullpen, most notably a new closer in Frank Francisco.
When he's at his best, Francisco is a guy who will come in and start striking hitters out at a solid rate. His K/9 is consistently over 10, and he complements it with a walk rate that never gets too out of hand. That's what you want out of your closer.
The trouble is that Francisco is injury-prone, and he's coming off a season in which he was more hittable than usual. Batters slugged .412 off Francisco in 2011, and he gave up seven home runs in just 50.2 innings of work.
But if you take Francisco out of the AL East and into the NL East, not to mention Citi Field, he should do well. As long as he stays healthy, of course.
In the event that Francisco gets hurt or stumbles closing games out in 2012, Jon Rauch will be able to step in and take over. He's racked up a few saves here and there in recent seasons, even though he's not a dominant strikeout artist and a little too easy to hit. He was especially easy to hit in 2011, as opponents hit .269 off him with 11 home runs over Rauch's 52 innings of work.
But just like Francisco, Rauch should improve now that he's out of the AL East and pitching in Citi Field half the time. He's typically been a solid reliever, and he will be again in 2012.
Ramon Ramirez is another upgrade. He was awful when the Red Sox traded him to the Giants in 2010, but ever since that deal he's been pretty good. He's always been a good fastball-changeup guy, and he's developed a decent slider that has made him even more effective.
Ramirez was particularly good in 2011, posting a rock-solid 8.65 K/9 and a 50 percent ground-ball rate. This allowed him to keep the ball in the yard, as he gave up just three home runs in nearly 70 innings of work.
So the changes the Mets made this offseason are for the better. Things look a little more dicey once you look past the three key guys Collins will be using to wrap up games, but as long as those three stay healthy the Mets ought to do well holding on to leads.
Scouting the Hitting
The Mets were better swinging the bats in 2011 than most people probably realize. They finished sixth in the national league in runs scored with 718, and they finished second in the NL with a team batting average of .264. About the only thing they didn't do well was hit home runs, which is understandable given their home ballpark.
The Mets did all this despite yet another down season from David Wright. Once again, he saw a good chunk of his season lost due to injury, but he wasn't very good when he was able to play, batting just .254 with 14 home runs. It was a return to earth after Wright's bounce-back season in 2010.
There's simply no ignoring how Wright has changed as a hitter since the Mets moved into Citi Field. His walks have gone down, his strikeouts have gone up, and his power numbers have gone way down. His ISO used to hover in the .220-.230 range.
This table will give you a good idea of how much production Wright has been robbed of by Citi Field.
Even if Wright stays healthy this year, it's hard to like his chances of being anything like the player who was one of the top hitters in baseball from 2005 to 2008. That version of Wright is long gone.
Wright's struggles were easy to overlook last season because of the great season Jose Reyes was having for the Mets. Since he's gone now, it will be up to the rest of the lineup to pick up the slack and to generate enough runs to support the Mets' mediocre pitching staff.
Ike Davis is a guy who could help in a tremendous way. Before his season ended early thanks to an ankle injury, Davis was hitting over .300 with and impressive .543 slugging percentage. He even managed to hit five of his seven home runs at Citi Field.
But all bets are off with Davis. His recovery from his ankle injury did not go particularly well, and word came out early in spring training that he had somehow contracted valley fever. Dude just can't catch a break.
On the bright side, Davis told ESPNNewYork.com in early March that he's feeling pretty good despite his diagnosis. If he can play through it, so be it. The Mets should definitely proceed with caution, though.
If Wright and Davis are unable to contribute for any reason, pressure will be on Jason Bay to finally live up to his ridiculous contract. He's been a disaster as a Met, spending much of his time fighting through injuries and the rest of his time not hitting. Before coming to the Mets, he was a .280 hitter with a .519 slugging percentage. With the Mets, he's a .251 hitter with a .386 slugging percentage.
The good news for the three key power hitters in this lineup is that it should be a lot easier for them to hit balls out of Citi Field. The team decided to move the fences in a little bit over the offseason. The New York Daily News has a helpful graphic of how things are going to look.
Concerning the rest of this Mets' lineup, one guy to keep a close eye on is Lucas Duda. Not a whole lot of people noticed, but he hit .322 with 10 home runs after the All-Star break last year, and he even managed to hit .317 at Citi Field.
At the top of the lineup, the Mets would love nothing more than to see Andres Torres return to the form he showed in 2010, when he had an on-base percentage of .343 and even pitched in 16 home runs to go along with 26 stolen bases. The Mets can at least feel comfortable knowing that Torres is not going to be frightened of playing in Citi Field after playing in AT&T Park over the last three seasons.
To me, Daniel Murphy would be perfect in the No. 2 spot. He doesn't have great career numbers batting second, but his ability to avoid striking out and to put the ball in play makes him a prototypical No. 2 hitter. Assuming he too stays healthy, he'll be in for a productive year.
Indeed, I can think of no other lineup where health is such a huge key. If all the pieces in this lineup stay in, um, one piece, I think the Mets will once again be a sneaky-good offensive team. If the key players start dropping like flies again, however, not even new ballpark dimensions are going to help the Mets score runs.
There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding him at present, but Johan Santana is the only guy who can go here.
I mentioned above that Santana hasn't been the same pitcher for the Mets as he was for the Twins, and that has a lot to do with the fact Santana simply hasn't befuddled hitters like he used to.
In Minnesota, Santana was a lock for K/9 of at least 9.00, and he never let his BB/9 climb higher than 2.14. He struck hitters out, he kept the ball down and he generally made it very tough to make solid contact.
But you can tell that hitters around the league caught up with Santana more and more over the years. He allowed an unfathomably low opponents' batting average of .192 in 2004, but his BAA steadily increased each year after, ultimately peaking at .244 in 2009.
What's impressive about Santana's time with the Mets is that he's managed to keep things under control despite a decreased strikeout rate and an increased walk rate. He's been able to keep his BABIP comfortably in the .270-.280 range, and he's taken to inducing a lot more fly balls than he used to. That's a sign that Santana is no fool. He knows how to use his home park to his advantage.
If the Mets get this version of Santana back, he'll go back to being productive. The only real question is whether he could keep it up for 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings.
That's a question I can't answer.
For lack of a better option, I'll have to go with David Wright here.
I've already outlined Wright's biggest weaknesses since the Mets moved to Citi Field three years ago. He's being less patient at the plate, and that has led to more strikeouts, fewer base hits and, of course, lower batting averages.
When Wright actually manages to put the ball in play, he's been pretty good. Although it's decreased each of the last three seasons, Wright has been able to keep his BABIP above .300, with respectable line-drive and fly-ball percentages. He had that miserable season in 2009 when his HR/FB rate was a mere 6.9 percent, but in the last two seasons he's managed HR/FB rates of 15.5 percent and 12 percent.
There's not a whole lot Wright can do about his struggles at Citi Field. In theory, the new dimensions will help, and will allow Wright to go back to being a 30-home run hitter. But alas, it's not like moving the fences in a couple feet in a few key areas are going to cause Wright's numbers to explode across the board.
The best the Mets can hope for is something like Wright's season in 2010, which is something they'll gladly take. But in order for him to achieve that much, he needs to stay healthy.
The Mets are going to need somebody to step up and anchor their rotation in the event that Santana's return doesn't pan out. For me, Jon Niese is the guy for the job.
Niese has progressed as a pitcher over the last two seasons, and I anticipate seeing further progression from him this season. Given the path he's on, something like a K/9 over 8.00 and a BB/9 in the low 2.00s seems reasonable. If Niese keeps his ground-ball rate over 50 percent, he ought to do well.
This is, of course, as long as the ground balls don't find holes, which is something that happened too often last season. A lot of the runners who got on managed to find their way home, as Niese's LOB (left on base) percentage dropped from 70.6 percent in 2010 to 67 percent in 2011.
If things level out for Niese, he's going to give up fewer base hits and allow fewer runs. The gap that existed between his ERA and his FIP in 2011 will shrink, ultimately resulting in an ERA somewhere in the 3.00s.
If this offense stays healthy and clicks this season, that will be good enough for 15 wins.
Prospect to Watch
The prospect Mets fans should have their eyes on this season is the one the Mets got from the Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade: Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler performed very well once the Mets picked him up last season. In six starts for St. Lucie (Single-A), he had an ERA of 2.00 and a K/9 of 10.3.
ESPN's Keith Law has Wheeler ranked as the No. 27 prospect in baseball, and he gives him a favorable scouting report. Wheeler is a hard thrower, capable of reaching 97 miles per hour with his fastball, and he also has a plus curveball. The only thing Law doesn't like is Wheeler's control, which is still coming along.
But hey, Wheeler's control was pretty good after the Mets picked him up. He only walked five guys in 27 innings.
What the Mets Will Do Well
Assuming everyone stays healthy, the Mets will do a couple of things well.
The first is hit. The Mets don't have the most impressive lineup on paper, but it's better than it gets credit for and they have some hitters with some upside. Obviously, the Mets will get a huge boost from Wright if he's able to stay healthy, and Davis can provide another huge boost if he stays healthy and continues to progress as a hitter.
The Mets' rotation won't put up numbers similar to those put up by Philadelphia, but the guys in this rotation at least have the potential to provide innings. That's more than you can say about quite a few rotations out there.
What the Mets Won’t Do Well
I'll just keep this simple and say this.
The Mets aren't going to excel at anything.
Their rotation is decent, but no better than decent. Their lineup is only going to be good as long as everyone stays healthy, and even then it's not going to put up Yankees-like numbers. The bullpen is sturdy at the end, but it's not deep and the Mets are banking on bounce-back seasons from a couple key guys.
In addition, it should be kept in mind that the Mets were the worst fielding team in the National League last year. Even if they improve, their team defense is going to be well short of elite.
I've done my best to put a positive spin on things. And in case you're wondering, I have managed to convince myself that the Mets are not as hopeless as people think they are.
But they're still not a good team. And as far as the National League East is concerned, the Mets are easily the worst team in the division.
That's really all there is to it. The best the Mets can hope for is that the other teams in the division get riddled with injuries, but even if that happens they aren't going to have enough firepower to make a run at actually winning the NL East or earning a wild card berth.
It's going to be a long season.
Projected Record: 74-88, fifth in NL East.
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American League West
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge man-crush on Derek Jeter and would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter: