New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson isn't the type of executive who intentionally causes a stir. His career—spanning from player personnel chief in Oakland and San Diego to a stint in the commissioner's office of Major League Baseball—has served as hands-on training for how to handle the New York media.
Bold predictions and proclamations—especially surrounding a losing team—will get people talking.
That's exactly what happened last week when word, per John Harper of the New York Daily News, floated out of Port St. Lucie, Fla. that Alderson placed 90-win promise on the current edition of the Mets.
Yes, the current Mets that head into 2014 off back-to-back 74-win seasons, haven't recorded at least a .500 season since 2008 and haven't touched 90-plus wins since the 2006 campaign.
As you might imagine, the jokes have ensued around baseball.
All joking aside, there's a chance—albeit small—that the 2014 Mets make Alderson's spring training optimism look prescient.
Remember, at this time last year, three soon-to-be postseason contenders—Cleveland, Boston and Pittsburgh—were just months removed from losing campaigns. Thanks to win jumps of 24, 28 and 15, respectively, the Indians, Red Sox and Pirates crashed the postseason party and shocked baseball.
Cynically, Mets fans will use the following phrase to sum up their hope in Alderson's bold claim: "If everything goes right..."
In baseball, rarely does "everything" go right for a team. Even last year's turnaround stories endured hardships, setbacks and injury issues.
The 2014 Mets don't need to be perfect in order to jolt the baseball world and win 90-plus games, but they do need achieve certain benchmarks to have a chance at turning the snark into shock.
Here a blueprint to a 90-win season at Citi Field.
In sports, perception can easily become reality. When it comes to Mets pitching, the future has overshadowed the present.
Yes, the Mets are blessed with power arms and may soon boast one of the NL's most feared rotations of strikeout artists.
In 2013, however, their pitching staff was actually below average. Despite the presence of Matt Harvey, emergence of Zack Wheeler and start-by-start excellence from Dillon Gee and Jon Niese, manager Terry Collins oversaw a staff with a collective 3.78 ERA.
During the heyday of the steroid era and baseball's offensive explosion, that ERA would have been excellent. In 2013, factoring in the expansive real estate of Citi Field's dimensions, it was good enough for a 95 ERA+.
In other words, Mets pitching was five percent worse than league average.
With 2013 All-Star Game starter Matt Harvey likely sidelined for the entire 2014 season, it's hard to imagine the team owning a better staff, but that's exactly what they'll need to do in order to win big this summer.
Outside of an individual leap from 23-year-old Zack Wheeler, the starting rotation should garner a boost from the ageless Bartolo Colon. Last year, Colon finished sixth in the AL Cy Young vote while racking up 190.1 innings for the Oakland Athletics.
At the top, Colon and Wheeler can form a dynamic duo. Yet, in order for the Mets to become an above-average staff, the team must allow their most talented and dynamic pitchers to emerge and steal innings from replacement-level veterans.
That means Noah Syndergaard—a tall, burly righty armed with a curveball affectionately referred to as a "hook from hell" by manager Terry Collins, per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News—must be held on a strict innings limit during the early part of the Triple-A season. When he arrives in New York after the team wisely waits out baseball's arbitration clock, the team will need 100 innings of that hook.
It also means Rafael Montero—a more advanced, yet less dominant prospect—should make the rotation as the No. 5 starter. Unfortunately, Collins' infatuation with veterans John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka, per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, will likely place a low-upside arm in the early-season rotation.
Regardless of how the Mets start, they need to quickly assimilate their best arms into the rotation. By July, the best five arms must be pitching on a daily basis in order to give the Mets a chance to break .500, let alone win 90 games.
|Potential Second-Half Rotation|
|3||Noah Syndergaard||R||21||3.06 (minors)|
|5||Rafael Montero||R||23||2.78 (minors)|
|MLB Depth Charts|
If that means a guy like Dillon Gee losing his rotation spot, so be it. Last year, Gee impressed fans by reeling off a dominant 18-start stretch (2.40 ERA) from late May through early September. Yet, over the course of 502.1 career innings, the 27-year-old owns a 95 ERA+.
Along with assimilating young, power arms into the midsummer rotation, the Mets could steal a blueprint from the reigning NL champs.
As Jared Diamond explains in The Wall Street Journal, allowing starting pitching prospects to apprentice in the bullpen could serve two purposes: improving bullpen performance and allowing for development into a larger role.
Per Diamond's column: "This is the first time in a long time we have as much depth at pitching," said Frank Viola, the Mets' Triple-A pitching coach.
In time, the Mets pitching staff could be dominant. To win big in 2014, the team will need to turn perception into reality.
When the Mets used a large chunk of their offseason budget to sign Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, it was clear that the team was interested in upgrading an offense that scored just 619 runs last season.
Both Granderson and Young, along with third baseman David Wright and first base hopeful Ike Davis, have 30 home run seasons on their respective ledgers. Yet, while power is an outstanding way to generate runs, the Mets need to improve in another area to sustain offense this summer: on-base percentage.
The "advanced stat" and undervalued commodity immortalized in Moneyball is far from revolutionary in the parlance of current baseball talk. In fact, on-base percentage isn't just correlated with run scoring and success, it's the biggest barometer of offense.
Last year, on the path to scoring a paltry total of 619 runs, the Mets posted a collective OBP of .306, per ESPN.
How poor was that? Only four teams—the White Sox, Cubs, Astros and Marlins—were worse at the fundamental tenant to offense.
Based on last year's results, getting on base at a high clip and winning baseball games were more than just correlated, they went hand in hand.
Of baseball's 11 postseason teams—including the Texas Rangers' 163rd game as a play-in for a wild-card berth—nine were in the top 10 of OBP leaders. Conversely, not one of the bottom-10 teams in OBP qualified for the postseason.
When peeking at the projected 2014 Mets lineup, David Wright's on-base prowess stands out. Over the last two years, the perennial NL All-Star has posted a .391 OBP. Now, the team needs the rest of the lineup to emulate that ability.
By May, don't fret if Granderson isn't on pace for 40-plus home runs, if Young is sporting a batting average around .240, if Duda is on pace to strikeout 150 times or if Travis d'Arnaud struggles out of the gate.
Instead, look for these type of numbers: .364, .341, .370 and .380.
Those are the career-high OBP figures (including d'Arnaud's minor league career) for the key offensive players around Wright in the lineup.
In order for the Mets' offense to support a potentially excellent rotation, the ability to reach base is vital.
Pull Away from Philadelphia and Miami
Despite the 88-loss season in 2013, the Mets were the third-best team in the NL East. Considering how poor the Phillies (73-89) and the Marlins (62-100) were, a third-place finish wasn't a cause for celebration in New York.
If the hierarchy of the division—Braves and Nationals—remains the same in 2014, the Mets must pull away from the bottom of the division.
The best way to do that: beating Philadelphia and Miami during head-to-head battles.
Despite finishing ahead of their division rivals, the Mets didn't play well against Philadelphia and Miami last season. In 38 head-to-head games, the Mets posted an 18-20 record. That losing mark wasn't just the result of one-run losses or poor luck. The NL East bottom feeders outscored the Mets by 15 runs (164-149) during those games.
When breaking down the full 162-game schedule, endless scenarios can be concocted that land the Mets in or around 90-win territory. But it's very hard to imagine a scenario where this team surprises baseball without the benefit of a much-improved record against their struggling NL East foes.
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