A Case Study on Sabermetrics and the New York Mets

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A Case Study on Sabermetrics and the New York Mets
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As a fan, I’m a believer. For this reason, I have been stressing that Mets fans should not overreact to what has happened since the playoff run in 2006.

The Mets collapsed in September two years in a row, then in mid-June the next, but the fact of the matter is, they still retain one of the strongest and most talented cores in baseball with David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana.

I think any general manager in the league would take those four if they were starting a team.

 

Another thing I’ve been saying is that despite the changing of the Mets’ support staff on a large scale, they still have the ability to play to the level of the 2006 Mets, and I’m going to direct you to some numbers that show this.

First of all, if you take a look back at the 2006 Mets, you’ll see some…interesting things. While that team blew away the National League, they didn’t in fact do anything unbelievably well.

They scored 843 runs, a good amount, but they weren’t a prolific offense by any stretch. Very good, but not more.

Additionally, their pitching staff put up a good 4.15 ERA, but it wasn’t a staff that was great at all, maybe just good.

Glavine, Trachsel, Orlando Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, and John Maine made up most of the staff, but none of them posted better than a 3.82 ERA or won more than 15 games. Only Trachsel and Glavine won double-digit games.

And finally, according to BaseballReference.com, the team’s Pythagorean record (expected win-loss record based on runs scored and allowed) was 91-71…not the sign of such a dominant team despite the ’06 squad’s regular season success.

I won’t claim to be a true “numbers” guy, but I have recently done a great deal of research into sabermetrics, primarily via the site FanGraphs.com. I advise you to check it out; it’s beyond awesome.

In case you’re not familiar with sabermetrics, they involve deep mathematical analyses of baseball numbers to create some stats that can show you how good players at things that are tough to quantify, like defense and value to a team.

Some might think it’s cynical to rely on such stats, but this piece is a sort of case study contrasting the 2006 Mets with how the 2010 Mets could be shaped.

Even if you are not a numbers person, I urge you to read it, because it could certainly broaden your perspective.

“The baseball book” may be the most tried and tested method of evaluation, but I think we can move forward and more readily predict a team’s success based on some numbers I’ve found.

The statistic I’m going to be focusing on is called WAR; wins over replacement. This stat is applied to position players (factoring in hitting and defense, I will call it bfWAR) and pitchers (factors in just pitching, I’ll call it pWAR). It directly measures how many wins a player is worth to a team over a replacement-level player.

A replacement is defined as your average free agent major league straggler who may get an invite to Spring Training but doesn’t always make a team. Replacements are generally below average hitters and average defenders.

An average player is worth about 2 wins to his team (bfWAR of 2.0). For pitchers, on the other hand, WARs tend to be smaller, but pitching replacements are closer to your “league average pitcher.”

One other thing to note: WAR is applicable equally for every player no matter how many games they play in a season (i.e., you don’t need to “qualify” to have the stat because players who play more games always have a higher WAR).

The 2006 Mets had a bfWAR of 24.6. Just for comparison, the 2009 Mets had a 12.1 bfWAR, and a good bfWAR for a playoff team is about 24 (when coupled with a solid pitching staff).

The main reason for this drop-off is because of how many wins the Mets lost from players like Beltran, Reyes, Delgado, and Wright.

During 2006, they contributed 7.0 wins, 5.5 wins, 4.6 wins, and 2.9 wins respectively. In 2009, they contributed 2.9, 0.7, 0.8, and 2.2 wins respectively.

The fact of the matter is 2009 was such a fluky season (with injuries, messed up occurrences, and overall bedlam) that anything near it cannot be reasonably expected again.

I’ve calculated, based on each player’s career statistics, reasonable bfWARs for the batters on the Mets.

With these numbers, I’m going to “fill out the roster” based on who out there is available and contributes enough to get the Mets to a point (a given WAR number) where they should get enough value to win enough games to make the playoffs.

I’m going to try to build towards a bfWAR of 24, which is not amazing, but is very good, and coupled with solid pitching, should make a playoff team. The following are the expected WAR from players currently slotted to start for the 2010 Mets.

[If you want to figure out how I came up with these, go to FanGraphs.com and check out each player’s career numbers. I generally came up with fair expectations for each.]

 

3B: David Wright (5.5)

SS: Jose Reyes (5.5)

CF: Carlos Beltran (5.5)

RF: Jeff Francoeur (1.0)

 

Every other position is up for grabs on the Mets. While I’m not going to be factoring in players who add negative WAR ratings (which do exist) I will factor those in at the end (a team’s bench is usually replacement level, and the Mets’ pitching staff generally contributes -3.5 wins in terms of batting).

What the Mets need out of their open positions is as follows: (possible starter in parentheses)

 

C (Omir Santos/platoon?) 2.0

1B (Daniel Murphy?)  2.5

2B (Luis Castillo?) 2.5

LF 3.5

 

Adding up the presented WAR values and factoring out the bench and pitching gives you 24.5 wins, which is about the level of the 2006 Mets (I’ll address who fills each spot later).

Note that the WAR values can be “switched around” between positions, so long as they add up to that magic 24.5.

The 2006 pitching staff was worth 14.2 wins. They were solid, but not great. I think with Santana, and a better closer in K-Rod, the Mets could have a better pitching staff than the 2006 one (contingent upon more consistency and some signings) .

The following are expected WAR values for the starters and relievers currently slotted in for the Mets, (these are subject to change, obviously) and desired values for the open spots.

 

SP1: Johan Santana (5.0)

SP2: (4.0)

SP3: John Maine (1.5)

SP4: Mike Pelfrey (2.0)

SP5: Oliver Perez (1.0)

CL: Francisco Rodriguez (2.0)

RP: Pedro Feliciano (.5)

RP: Bobby Parnell (.5)

RP: Sean Green (.5)

RP: (1.5) [Setup man]

 

Factor in other pitchers, and you get about 17 wins over replacement for pitchers, give or take a few. With a 24.5 bfWAR and a 17 pWAR, the 2010 Mets would be more valuable as a whole in terms of wins than the 2006 Mets. And frankly, it’s my belief that these numbers do translate into more wins on the field.

Now, how to go about filling these spots? I’ve looked at every open position in the “Core-15” that the Mets need to fill and picked out a host of possibilities at each position. Candidates are listed with their 2009 WAR values:

 

SP2

Roy Halladay (7.3), John Lackey (3.9), Joel Piniero (4.8), Randy Wolf (3.0), Jason Marquis (3.8)

There is great risk involved with each candidate, save Lackey. Halladay might be nearly impossible to acquire, and the other three probably won’t live up to their 2009 campaigns, but could be solid. Lackey is the best fit.

 

RP (Setup)

Rafael Betancourt (1.4), Kiko Calero (1.4), George Sherrill (1.4), Mike Gonzalez (.9), Rafael Soriano (2.0)

I speculate that Sherrill could be available via trade, but there are four solid, viable setup candidates who should not be prohibitively expensive.

 

Catcher

Bengie Molina (1.8), Gregg Zaun (1.8), Miguel Olivo (2.2), Chris Snyder (.6, injured), Rod Barajas (.8)

Gregg Zaun could be a good one-year fit in a platoon with Santos (projected worth 1.0 WAR) while Thole grows. While Molina and Olivo fit, they are both horrible defenders who swing at everything. The Mets can’t have more Jeff Francoeurs in the lineup.

 

1B

Nick Johnson (2.4), Lyle Overbay (2.0), Jorge Cantu (1.6), Fernando Tatis (1.5), Ryan Garko (.8), Carlos Delgado (.8)

With the exception of Johnson and Overbay, the candidates mostly fill a platoon along with Daniel Murphy, who I project to be worth 1.0 WAR.

Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, and Lance Berkman could all be potential long-term fits through trade, but would be very tough to acquire.

 

2B

Brandon Phillips (3.2), Orlando Hudson (3.0), Felipe Lopez (4.6)

All viable candidates. Luis Castillo (worth 1.6 WAR last year) could stay, but it’s apparent that the Mets are better off going for one of these guys.

Hudson is probably the most readily available and consistent (Lopez has had some terrible seasons).

 

LF

Matt Holliday (5.7), Carl Crawford (5.5), Jason Bay (3.5), Mike Cameron (3.5)

All good candidates. It’s visible how much Bay’s defense detracts from his value, and how much Cameron’s adds to his. Holliday, in my opinion, is the clear choice.

 

The remaining needs are a sixth starter/swingman type, another short reliever, possibly another catcher, a few utility infielders, and two outfielders. They don’t necessarily need to be worth anything, they are just roster spots to fill.

I like the Mets’ options right now in those categories-I think these seven spots could be filled with the following: Nelson Figueroa/Jon Niese; Brian Stokes; Omir Santos; Fernando Tatis; Angel Pagan; Jeremy Reed; Alex Cora.

They could also be filled from the farm (Fernando Martinez) or outside the organization. These spots are simply not as important.

In short, from the potential available players, it’s clear that the Mets need to spend some money, but in truth, as I’ve always said, they aren’t that far away.

They don’t need to rebuild. They aren’t one game from the World Series just yet, but they need to take the first step and become a playoff team once again.

I’m not going to discuss every potential combination of signings, but I’ll leave you with the optimal lineup based on who’s out there, the ease of acquiring them, and the money available.

Essentially, the point is there going to have to shell out some money and acquire both the best pitcher and batter on the market. But that’s life, and that’s how you can win, as the 2009 Yankees showed us.

 

The “Optimal” Lineup

SS Jose Reyes

2B Orlando Hudson

3B David Wright

CF Carlos Beltran

LF Matt Holliday

1B Daniel Murphy

RF Jeff Francoeur

C Rod Barajas/Omir Santos (platoon)

bfWAR (projected): ~25

 

SP1: Johan Santana

SP2: John Lackey

SP3: John Maine (enough Johns?)

SP4: Mike Pelfrey

SP5: Oliver Perez

CL: Francisco Rodriguez

RP: Pedro Feliciano

RP: Rafael Betancourt

RP: Bobby Parnell

RP: Sean Green

pWAR (projected): ~15

 

            I would be happy to see the Mets go to battle with this team in 2010.

 

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