The New York Mets will start the 2010 baseball season with two of their most influential hitters on the DL.
Carlos Beltran will not resume any baseball activities until April 10 at the earliest, and even then it could be anything between four and eight weeks until he's back in the everyday lineup.
Jose Reyes, meanwhile, will be on the sidelines until at least April 11, after the Mets put him on the DL retroactive to March 26.
He's not fully recovered from a thyroid issue, which forced him to miss three weeks of spring training games in Florida, and even when he did rehab in minor league games, he wasn't given the green light to go full out each and every day.
Along with David Wright, the duo of Beltran and Reyes are two of the Mets most dangerous offensive weapons. But just exactly how much will New York miss their production?
Beltran’s first season with the Mets in 2005 coincided with Reyes’ first full season in the majors.
Over the five years between 2005 and 2009, the Mets are 427-383 (.527). When Beltran has not started a game, the team is a combined 67-81 (.453). When Reyes is not in the starting lineup, the Mets are 48-59 (.449).
When both Beltran and Reyes are absent in the same game, New York is 35-46 (.432)
The biggest sample size comes from last season, when Beltran only started 77 games and Reyes was out from May 20. In the 85 games Beltran sat out, New York went 36-49. In a similar vein, the Mets played .500 ball (18-18) in the 36 games Reyes started, but they fell to 52-74 in the 126 games the shortstop missed.
No Met has more home runs than Beltran in that five-year span (127), and only Wright has more runs batted in.
Similarly, no Met has even half the number of stolen bases (269) that Reyes has, and only Wright has more runs scored. That highlights the importance of all three men.
New York only won 33 of 77 games with both Beltran and Reyes missing in 2009, and 13 of those 33 wins came by two or fewer runs. Production, runs, and victories were hard to come by.
Some of the offensive problems came from the merry-go-round at the two corner outfield spots. Other problems stemmed from having to bat Gary Sheffield, Jeff Francoeur, Fernando Tatis, and Omir Santos in the four-through-seven spots.
Likewise, the erratic and unpredictable pitching of Livan Hernandez, Oliver Perez, and Tim Redding did little to help the number in the win column. Teams can sometime get away with giving up a few runs if they can outscore their opponents.
But if you rank 25th in runs scored and RBI, 26th in slugging percentage, and dead last in home runs, you're not going to win many games if you concede five, six, or seven runs.
The reason the Giants were successful was because their pitchers allowed 146 fewer runs...almost one every game. The Giants finished 14 games above .500, the Mets finished 22 games below.
Could things have been different if Beltran and Reyes were healthy last year? It's all "ifs," "buts," and "maybes," but there's no doubt in anyone's mind that they would have been much closer to the top three teams in the NL East.
Beltran was batting .336 with a .425 on-base percentage when he hit the DL on June 21. He had eight home runs, 40 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in his first 62 games of the season before going down with injury after just 241 at-bats.
The Mets were 31-31 over those games (34-33 overall on the year), and they were just two games behind the Phillies at the top of the NL East.
Beltran had averaged 652 at-bats in his first four season in New York, and if you project his 2009 stats for a full season, he was on pace for 21 home runs, 108 RBI, and 30 steals.
Aside from the power outage, which most players experienced at Citi Field, those numbers were very much in line with career averages. His batting average was on course for a career high.
Prior to 2009, Beltran posted a "wins above replacement" (WAR) score of more than 5.0 in five of his previous seven seasons.
Simply put, WAR takes into account a player's value both at the plate and in the field, adjusting it for position and park, compared to a replacement player.
Beltran started 2009 batting fifth for Manuel’s Mets, but he moved to third when Wright’s struggles continued after the first dozen or so games.
When Beltran went down though, the Mets largely had to rely on Angel Pagan, who performed about as well as could be expected in the lead-off role.
He posted a score of 2.8 over 88 games, showing he had decent value when called upon. Pagan will start in center field again this year in his absence.
Similarly, the Mets were a .500 team with Reyes in the lineup. Reyes was batting .279 with 15 RBI and 11 steals by the time he went down in mid-May after just 36 games. The Mets were 19-17 with him batting lead-off.
Reyes had just over 20 percent of the at-bats he would have had in a fully healthy year, and he was in line for a fifth straight year of 50 steals and 30 doubles.
Instead the Mets got a large dose of Alex Cora. Should Reyes’ return from the DL be delayed—or if he goes down injured during the season—Cora will see a good chunk of at-bats again.
The problem is that he’s a career .246 hitter with awful power, an even worse eye, and below-average speed.
He hit just .207 in 24 games batting in the No. 1 hole, and he made almost as many starts batting seventh or eighth (20) as he did batting at No. 2 in the lineup.
Reyes posted a WAR score of more than 5.0 between 2006 and 2008, and CHONE projections have him posting a similar number in 2010 if he gets around 125 games under his belt.
A WAR score around 5.0 is considered an All-Star level contribution which, considering Reyes was an All-Star in ’06 and ’07, comes as no real surprise.
For those keeping score at home, Cora has only had a WAR score over 1.0 twice in his career. The last time was in 2004 with the Dodgers, confirming what everyone already knows that Cora is a highly replaceable commodity.
The Mets will struggle in many respects in 2010. Their pitching two-through-five is the worst in the NL East, and their bullpen is spotty aside from a few unproven teen-agers and an established closer.
The lineup won't frighten too many other rotations either, especially considering Wright and Jason Bay are the only two true power hitters in the everyday lineup.
The middle infield is as light-hitting as it comes, and even though Mike Jacobs can bring the thunder, he is little more than a fill-in for Daniel Murphy for six weeks.
The value of Beltran and Reyes equates to more than just past statistics and future projections. Their health is paramount to the success of the team, and their participation will directly affect results in 2010.
I'm not going to say the Mets can't tread water without them, but any long-term absence could cripple the lineup. Beltran and Reyes could be worth as many as 10 or 15 wins combined.
I'm not one to dish out unwarranted optimism or over-ambitious pride, but a fully health Mets can honestly challenge for a Wild Card spot this year. They have more questions than answers, but it's an insult to think of them as a 65-win team.
If they are within touching distance in late May, and if no other injuries hit the team, they could give the Braves and Marlins a fun for their money.
The team is not where I thought it would be when owners gathered for winter meetings, but that's not a reason to admit defeat before the first pitch is thrown.
Get loud, support the team, and show the guys you care. There's nothing worse than saying it's over before it's even begun.
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