Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Guide Preview: New York Mets

Next up in our season previews in the NL East is the New York Mets. The last couple of years have seen the Mets on top of the division for much of the season only for them to falter down the stretch to the Phillies. Many pundits seem to think that this means that the Phillies are a team that "knows how to play when it counts" while the Mets "can't quite finish the season." I don't think I buy into that train of thought, but I do think that there is some pressure on the team to do more with their talent. Hopefully for them and their fans, they can. There is an awful lot of talent on that team to stay out of the postseason.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

New York Mets
Last Year: 89 - 73, 2nd Place, NL East

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News2



* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

There's one thing that the Mets organization just can't get away from these days: their late-season collapses in each of the last two years, where they gave up their division lead to the Phillies in the last week of each season. GM Omar Minaya worked hard in the offseason to solidify the bullpen, which blew 29 saves last year. They hope that those changes, and a full year's worth of manager Jerry Manuel, will be enough to push the Mets over the top.
"A season of turmoil ended in familiar fashion, with the Phillies surging past the sagging Mets in September. But this time, there are more reasons for optimism. The team played hard and relaxed for new manager Jerry Manuel, and the front office corrected the team's fatal flaw by acquiring J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez for the bullpen. The lineup is sturdy, and the Mets once again look strong on paper as they christen their new home, Citi Field. (Athlon)"
The big news for the Mets heading into last season was the acquisition of ace Johan Santana. By midseason, it seemed as if the press had forgotten about the southpaw, but a terrific second half reminded everyone why he signed that contract. He finished third in the Cy Young voting last year, and may have finished higher if the Mets' bullpen hadn't blown 9 games in which he gave up 2 or fewer runs.
"At least the team isn't looking for an ace anymore. That title belongs to lefty Johan Santana, who answered the bell after coming over from the Twins in a trade before 2008 spring training.

Santana finished second [sic] to Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum in his first National League Cy Young voting, and most feel it's only a matter of time before the 30-year-old adds the honor to his stash of hardware from his Twins days.

Santana went 8-0 with a 2.17 ERA in the second half of last season (including 4-0 in September) for a rotation that finished sixth in the league with a 4.07 ERA. (TSN)"
But the biggest strength of the Mets is their infield, where they field three All-Stars everyday. With a core like that, the Mets always have a chance to win.
"It was something when three New York infielders (David Wright, Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes) make an appearance on National League MVP ballots. Just when people started thinking that Delgado was washed up at 36, he flashed enough bat speed to convince management to pick up his $12 million club option for 2009. Reyes has been derided for immaturity and a lack of focus, but let's pause to give him his due; he broke Mookie Wilson's franchise stolen base record and became the first Met since Lance Johnson in 1996 to surpass 200 hits. Wright is the team's best all-around player, and he had a productive September (.340 batting average, .993 OPS) while the Mets were on their way to imploding. (Lindy's)"
Spotlight Quote

From the "Scouts' Snapshot" in Lindy's:
"Between Beltran, Reyes, Wright and Santana, they have four of the top 50 players in Major League Baseball. When you have a core like that, you're going to compete year in and year out. But they still have to find the right complementary parts and get over that 88-89 win hump. The bullpen was really the downfall of that club, and Putz and K-Rod might give them the best 1-2 punch in baseball."

The Mets are loaded with talent. With the likes of Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, and now Francisco Rodriguez, they could easily field six or seven All-Stars every year. And for the first five months of each of the last two seasons, they have played that way, staying comfortably atop the division for most of that time. But in each year, as September rolled around, their foothold atop the division began to weaken, eventually breaking down completely, allowing the Phillies to take over the lead for good.

These back-to-back late season collapses lead to the obvious question, what's wrong with the Mets? There's been a lot of virtual ink spilled on that question, but I think it's a little overblown. In each of the last two years, the Mets entered September either 14-games or 16-games above .500 and then closed the month in the same way. That means, of course, that they played .500 ball over September, which is nothing to be upset about. Instead, what happened was that Philadelphia stepped up their play enough to overtake the Mets. It may be regrettable, but it's not exactly a scathing indictment of the Mets like everyone wants to make it out to be.

The Phillies won the World Series last year after getting hot in mid-September and continuing that through to the end of October, and they have a strong chance at repeating with all the talent on that team. The Mets, though, are just as talented and have just as much shot at the playoffs as Philly. The battle for the NL East crown should be a good one.


The Common Man said...

I really like the Mets this year (for obvious reasons), and think Manaya has done a terrific job of aggressively addressing an obvious hole with the best possible solutions. And he was not tempted to significantly overpay for them. That's terrific work.

That said, while I don't believe in inherent clutchiness, I do believe that players and teams can press in stressful situations, and I'll be interested to see if the Mets can hold it together again. More likely, I think they run away and hide this year and win the division by 10 games.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

I still really, really don't trust that starting rotation. Forgive me, but Oliver Perez is not the answer. Now, if Maine '07 and Pelfrey '08 can stay healthy, then they've got something going. But even one injury might show the lack of depth in that rotation.

Still, they are probably still the second-best team in the division and will be in position for the Wild Card.