Monday, March 27, 2006

N.L. East Preview: Your New York Mets

For a man of my cynical nature and stature to come out and predict a division title shakes me to my very core. Because every time I've tried the optimism thing in recent memory, it hasn't worked out. In an extreme case, I've ended up taking a mail tub and bashing it over a Yankee fan's head (yes, this actually happened).

This prediction, of course, comes with qualifiers:

  1. Pedro Martinez must stay healthy.
  2. See number one.

When Petey basically pulled himself from his opening day start, it was the "uh-oh, here we go" moment that we all dread. Because while it could be an isolated incident, it could also be a hint of what everybody was warned about Pedro from the beginning. "Injury Prone". But from what I understand about "the toe", it can't really get any worse physically than what it is...it's just freakin' uncomfortable. So once "the shoe" is made that can adequately protect "the toe", then all should be well. And from the looks of Martinez's three innings of one-hit ball today, all might be well sooner than we expected.

The rest of the rotation is an interesting case. You have Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel as the workhorses at the head of the rotation. Kris Benson and Jae Seo are gone...so the back of the rotation becomes Aaron Heilman and everybody's favorite trade disaster, Victor Zambrano. Now, how obvious is it to say that the rotation the way it is now will not end the season as it starts? Either one of two things is going to happen. Either Omar Minaya is going to make a trade, or Brian Bannister is going to step up and catch fire at the back of that rotation. Undoubtedly, Omar would prefer it to be the former, yet he would be wise to wait until the price comes down on guys like Barry Zito, or Jason Schmidt.


Run support will not be a problem for the starters, as the Mets have added none other than Carlos Delgado to play "big bat" in the middle of the lineup. The question with the lineup, as it was last year will be...the lineup. It seems that Willie Randolph will bat Paul Lo Duca second and David Wright fifth, much to the chagrin of the viewing public. But if it doesn't work, Randolph has shown a willingness to be flexible, and may change it up in the middle of the season, as he did in flip-flopping Wright and Piazza after the all star break in 2005.

Also: How will Anderson Hernandez adjust to being the everyday second baseman, and will Kaz Matsui be with the Mets forever and ever (or at least this season)? You know what has impressed me about Hernandez...during the Mets spring training rout of the Cardinals on Friday, Victor Diaz overthrew the cutoff man as Yadier Molina was trying to score on a double. But on the left side of the field backing up Jose Reyes was none other than Hernandez, who threw Molina out at the plate. Making smart, under the radar plays like that will wash away the dirt and the grime which is the memory of Matsui's fielding, which was so bad it made Doug Flynn prematurely climb into his grave so he could roll over.

But here is why I finally decided to pull a Johnny Chan and go all in with the 2006 Mets: This is quite possibly the best bullpen overall that the Mets have had in a long time. And on this point, I'm going to have to take slight umbridge (I know the spelling police is going to be all over me on that one) with Sporting News columnist Ken Rosenthal. In his blog, Rosenthal takes a shot at the Mets off-season moves:

The way to win isn't by combining breathtaking slugging and questionable pitching, a formula that again will make the Yankees formidable in the regular season but vulnerable in the playoffs. It isn't by making a series of moves at the expense of your rotation -- the way the Mets did this offseason. It isn't by spending a ton of money but still fielding a defensively flawed club, an approach that figures to doom the Blue Jays. Why are teams such as the Braves, Cardinals and Angels successful year after year? Not because they score the most runs, although their offenses usually are strong. No, they succeed because they play the game properly and rarely beat themselves.
What Rosenthal has conveniently left out in his zest to prove that teams that play small ball are the teams that win, however, is that the teams he mentioned as being successful year after year also did it with strong bullpens. And all those moves that the Mets made at the expense of their rotation were made to help their bullpen. Now, here's where I go all MetsGeek on you...

In 2002, when the Angels won the World Series, their bullpen was third in all of baseball in ERA. The Braves were first, and the Cardinals were fourth. In terms of WHIP for that season, the Angels bullpen was first...Cardinals and Braves: third and fourth respectively. In 2004, the Cards were first in bullpen ERA, with the Angels and Braves fourth and fifth. The Cards were first in bullpen WHIP that season, with the Angels fourth and the Braves thirteenth. The World Champion Red Sox that season was sixth in bullpen WHIP.

The Angels were fourth in bullpen WHIP in 2005, with the Cardinals seventh. The White Sox, meanwhile, were ninth in bullpen WHIP, and fourth in bullpen ERA in their World Championship campaign. The Braves, meanwhile, plummeted in both categories with the early presence of Dan Kolb. The Mets, meanwhile, were 24th, 18th, and 20th in bullpen WHIP in the last three seasons. No coincidence that the bullpens in Anaheim and St. Louis remained for the most part stable on all counts, while the Mets bullpen was turned over frequently with rejects, has beens and never weres. Hence, this season, the Mets went and strengthened their bullpen with players in their prime such as Filthy Sanchez (who was strong as a closer in the World Baseball Tournament) Blueback Bradford, Armando Junior, and of course, Country Time Billy Wagner.

I remember the last time there was an uproar over sacrificing a part of the rotation for a bullpen piece. It happened when the Mets traded Mark Clark. In his Met tenure, Clark (22-18) had very similar stats to Kris Benson (14-12)...and actually had a lower ERA and more strikeouts in his time with the Mets. I remember that when Clark was named as one of the players to be named later in his deal, there was outrage. WFAN callers were talking about Mark Clark as if he was Walter Johnson. I mean, Clark was serviceable...but for heaven's sake he's Mark Clark! His greatest accomplishment (caution: South Park reference) was having a planet named after him...sort of.

The real outrage should have been that Mel Rojas came back in the deal.

But that Clark deal also netted the Mets a key N.L. pennant cog, one Turk Wendell, a man who was trashed for his interesting dental hygiene antics. But he was also a heck of a reliever and a clubhouse leader who stood up to the likes of Vladimir Guerrero by pitching inside.

I would say that that Clark deal was a chance worth taking, much like the Kris Benson and Jae Seo deals are chances worth taking, whether they work out or not. (Besides, if Jorge Julio doesn't work out, we can always blame Anna.)

So there it is. The Mets are the pick. And don't think the fact that my Final Four picks have been officially shot to hell doesn't scare me as being a notion that I shouldn't make predictions like this anymore...but I can't very well go to Shea Stadium on Opening Day...can't look on as Jesse Orosco throws the first pitch of the season to Gary Carter...and know that I picked the mortal enemy to win the division. Maybe if this wasn't the 20th anniversary, I can live with myself.

But not this year. Prediction: first place.

28 comments:

Fredstradamus said...

Hoorah! Nice work, dude!

Tommy_Calzone said...

Agreed the starting staff problems are overblown and exaggerated.

The bullpen will be huge and I am not counting on anything significant from Julio.

Nice reading...

Lets Go Mets!

Joe said...

After spending the entire weekend agonizing over how in the world did David Wright not land up on my fantasy team, I'm ready to move on. Let's get the season started already!!!!

Anonymous said...

As much as I am proud of you to say that our beloved Mets are going to win the division; I am very torn because:
1. Our top three pitchers have an average age of 36 years old (Our opening day starter is 40, our "Ace" has toe issues and who is to say that the three innings he pitched this weekend will be a prelude to the season...remember he has to pitch in the Northeast in April and we all know how the wind whips up like no other at Shea...his toe might "ache" because of the cold and the last of the three is a year removed from back surgery).
2. Sans Billy Wagner, do you REALLY trust anybody in the bullpen?
3. Aaron Heilman, will the "real one" stand up? I hope he does well, but I will be realistic in saying that trading Jae Seo is a mistake.
4. Victor Zambrano, are you kidding?
5. Shea Stadium....How many "potential homeruns" will be harmless flyballs in that ball park?
6. The Mets free agent/trade jinx: It happened to Carlos Beltran, who is to say that it won't happen to Carlos Delgado?
7. this is the real reason....you picked them, Metstradamus. Ask the 2000 Vikings if they have ever forgiven you....

Mario

Metstradamus said...

I'm torn too, Mario. But I take nothing you say seriously, because you are a negative Nancy (oh, sorry...is that not politically correct? Negative Nicholas, perhaps?) If the Mets won the Series in 6 games this year, you'd be the first one wondering why they didn't win it in five.

But I'll indulge you, point by point.

1. Don't give me average age...Glavine's 40 throws everything out of whack. And yes, if Pedro's toe acts up, it's going to be a long season. But I'm not worried about April. The Mets have enough starters (Heilman, Bannister, and gasp, Lima to fill in if Pedro has to be babied until May.

2. I trust Wagner, Sanchez, Bradford, and even Armando Jr. more than I trust Looper, Hernandez, Dae Sung Koo, Manny Aybar/Danny Graves. Don't you? Or have you forgotten already?

3. I liked Jae Seo, but let's be real here. He had one good year. Let me emphasize that for your listening pleasure: one...good...year. Let's not treat him as the second coming of Sandy Koufax like we did with Mark Clark.

4. You know how I feel about Victor Zambrano. Why would you even go there? He'll be gone by June.

5/6. I'm guessing your 5 and your 6 really should have been one point. Yeah, it worries me that Delgado is coming to a bigger park. But you know what, Jorge Julio will benefit from the big park just as much as Delgado may be hurt by it.

7. You are a hurtful, hurtful man.

Kyle in Newport News said...

Well, Metstra, it's usually spelled "umbrage," but "Brooklyn umbridge" might be okay. Quite frankly, I think it's much more useful to use the word than know how to spell it... I know how to spell it, but doubt if I've ever used it. Thanks for the reminder! (It's also a half rhyme with "Cubbage").

Tommy_Calzone said...

I can't wait til Dirty Sanchez makes everyone forget about Jae Seo real quick.

I love how everyone throws around age yet fail to mention the youth on this team.

Compare the ages of the 99-00 teams that made post season runs to this one and tell me you don't think this organization is in a much better position for long term success.

The dawn of blogs is actually makin me realize what cry babies met fans are and it is actually makin me feel ashamed at times to admit being one. I do not want to be stereotyped like this.

And I thought Yankee fans were spoiled brats.

These negative nancies (LOVE IT!)
are giving us sensible fans a bad rap!

Enjoy what Omar is doing and pay attention because if you haven't realized what he is doing it is eerily similar to what another NY baseball team did about 10-12 years ago.

Joe said...

Ten bucks says Zambrano is a Met all year long.

Anonymous said...

You are calling me Negative Nancy or Nicholas or whatever your bleeding, green heart thinks, but lets be a little realistic...
Counterpoint# 1: So Heilman, Bannister and Lima are going to keep us afloat until Pedro is more comfortable with his special shoe. I am not being negative when I say "Will the real Aaron Heilman standup?" I am asking a very serious question. Lima...perfect for Merengue night...LOL. But is he the pitcher who looked like Koufax when he shut the Cardinals down in the 2004 NLDS or the pitcher he was with the Royals in 2005? Bannister? Remember...this is still Spring Training....he really hasn't faced a major league lineup, especially with the WBC interuption.
Counterpoint# 2: Your right in saying that the bullpen is better than last year...but seriously, do you REALLY trust that bullpen, sans Wagner?
Counterpoint# 3: Yes, I understand that you trade from strength to strengthen your weakness and I am not comparing Jae Seo to Sandy Koufax either, but I think that keeping either him or "Anna Benson" is a better option than not having either, especially when "the pitcher acquired for Scott Kazmir" is in the rotation by default.
Counterpoint# 4: Please don't mention Jorge Julio, it makes me respect your blog a little less. Yeah a bigger ballpark helps him (we hope), but having Delgado and Beltran start off on fire will be the difference between being a .500 team in April and a playoff contender. We are going to have to score a ton runs, early and often so we can take the pressure off the remaining starters, at least until Pedro's toe stops barking....
Counterpoint# 5: I did tell you to bet the Giants...not my fault...

Hey Tommy Calzone, stick to pizza...
Give me the ages of the top three starters on this year's team and tell me that it is youth? Outside of Reyes, Wright and Beltran, who else? Delgado is going to be 34 in June; Floyd is going to be 34 at the World Series. Don't mention Anderson Hernandez because once the other Matsui is healthy, he gets his job back because of being overpaid.
You want me to appreciate what Minaya has done...ok I will. But I also feel that he is doing the same things that Steve Phillips did. Why not give Mike Jacobs a chance...? He did enough to warrant a shot...but the Mets are becoming the "Short term fix" team. Minaya's job, I believe, will be on the line in the next couple of years because he has a team that needs to win now. You say that what Minaya is doing is similar to what the evil empire did to start their run; If that is the case, where is the homegrown pitching? That has always been our bread and butter. Where is the other position players outside of the three I mentioned? You say that people like me give you "sensible fans" a bad rap. This has nothing to do with being sensible and Metstradamus knows me very well...I have been very skeptical with the Mets since "the worst team that money can buy, volume 1 was conceived. I want the Mets to win as badly as anybody, but I have reservations about them...all I ask is to be realistic because the last time I thought the Mets were going to win was the first year of the Mo Vaughn project...and you know where that ended.

The Metmaster said...

My thought all Spring has been that Pedro's toe has been a finely crafted ruse by Pedro and the Mets to gracefully excuse him from the WBC. He loves his homeland, but he knew and the Mets knew that pitching for the DR would be dangerous business. People have asked "why did he let the toe situation go all winter long without doing anything about it until spring training?" Petey's no fool. And no, I am not Oliver Stone.
Secondly Metstra, I will make my own prediction. I predict, God help me, that the first no-hitter in Mets history will come from Victor Zambrano. He is destined to become the answer to a trivia question, thus torturing us forever by making us remember his name.

Tommy_Calzone said...

YES I have CONFIDENCE in Sanchez Heilman and Bradford.

Not at all in Julio, but that is what it was with Benson. A salary and headache dump.

I did not like trading Jacobs either but if you don't add guys like Delgado you will always be the Pirates (not winning for 30 years).

While Minaya is making a run for it now it is with an eye for the future.

Floyd is a free agent after this season at which point Milledge will step in. YOUTH.

As an aside, do you care how old Floyd is if he repeats 05?

Nady was brought in and has a ton of potential and is young.

Beltran is 28.
Wright is 23.
Reyes 22.
Hernandez 23
Sanchez 28?
Heilman 26?
Bannister, Pelfry, Humber and who knows who else down the pike.

Glavine will be gone barring a cy young type year.

So Pelfry will slot in.

Pedro was a signing that HAD to be made to change the face of this organization. And it was a righteous move for the organization.

I am glad you are a die hard fan as I am. And I am the first one to be critical of the team when it deserves it. (Will someone ever put one in Larry's back?!!! PUSSIES!)

But with 6 days before opening day when the Mets are 10x better than last March 27th don't you think you are being a tad negative?

But what fun is being a fan if your always a cynic?

You can't sincerely root for a guy like Bannister if your bashing what he has done because he hasn't faced a ml lineup yet? That makes no sense if you are a FAN of the Mets in my opinion.

It just confuses me.
Always thought fans pulled for the Mets & left the bashing to Yankee fans.

I NEVER had to argue with other Met fans until the last few years.

Must be the new generation of spoiled fans to go with the spoiled athletes.

I really must be getting old.

This is ridiculous.

Think I was happy with the 93 team?
Nope.
But I still sat in my season seats in September and watched them finish out their 103 losses.

You think I didn't bash them?

But like I said it wasn't a week before opening day.

gimme a fuckin break!

Metstradamus said...

You know what Metmaster, in the scope of the team we root for, it makes perfect sense.

Metstradamus said...

Tommy, read the first sentence of my profile...the one that says "Met fans blast me for being too optimistic." I was specifically talking about Mario. So that's all you need to know.

Mario is Randy Quaid in Major League II.

Tommy_Calzone said...

by the way has anyone noticed how horrible Kazmir has looked?

Anonymous said...

Mario is Randy Quaid in Major League II.....

except I do not stop rooting for the Mets like he did against the Indians in the movie....

Tommy....when you were sitting at Shea in 1993; I was working there...from 1988-2004...I have seen the good, bad, ugly and worst....I am not negative...I am realistic...

Hell, I wanted to shoot Scott Layden and Glen Sather for their stupidity (Sather is now off the list due Isiah Thomas' genius moves). The Mets have done things to make me weary...I want the Mets to win and I want them all to do well...but and there is always a but with this team....

Don't question my alliegence to the Mets...I am not the new generation of Mets fans...I rooted for players like Chris Jones and Anthony Young...because I am a Mets fan...even here in California...hell, remember the game that Pedro lost 2-1 and only gave up 2 hits against the Dodgers....I was there....I planned out the rotation so I can make sure I see him pitch and it was a helluva a game against Brad Penny....
I have read the blog that Metstradamua has written...and if he is picking the Mets to win...that is great...I will wait and see how this team is in June....and see if Minaya pulls off the trade to put us over the top.

Mario

JeterBoy said...

Metstra - I think your prophecy will come true and you will have a chance to revel in the joy of a first place finish you richly deserve. However, I think Mario is spot on with his analysis as a fan of the game. The Mets still have huge flaws in the starting and relief staff and comparing it to prior years is misguided. I think their success will be the result of a young and talented starting eight (this sounds familiar) coupled with a drop-off in competition in the division. The Marlins are done, the Nationals will be lucky to be .500, the Phillies don't have enough, and history will catch up with the Braves (like it did the Yankees). If they don't pull a first place finish off with this team, there is something seriously wrong! That "new generation" of Met fans you speak of will be chirping real loud. I wouldn't be so quick to knock down someone who takes a critical view (not implicating Metstra here).....what do you think they do all day on the internet, sports radio, print media, and TV sports networks?

Metstradamus said...

Here's the difference Jeterboy, I know Mario. I've spoken on the phone with him many times (while sober and otherwise). While I'm not going to knock anyone for taking a critical view (those who read me know I'm as critical as anyone), Mario takes the down side of the issue on everything. So yes, I take things that Mario says with a grain of salt. Just as I know another Met fan who is extremely positive on everything, and trust me I play devil's advocate with him too.

And while I agree with you that the Mets success will be predicated on the drop off of the rest of the division, I think it is valid to compare the team to last years model, especially in the bullpen. This season, Sanchez, Bradford, Heilman (who I wish was a starter but oh well) and Julio are all pitchers reaching their prime. And Wagner is a stud. Now compare that to the way the Mets usually put together their bullpen...their eighth inning set up man was 41 years old last season...and they were lucky that he pitched so well!!! (You want to complain about a 47 year old on the bench, fine. But a 41 year old was the eighth inning set up man last season, a much more important role.) Now considering how many games the bullpen blew for Pedro and the rest of the staff, you have to think that there's a chance that that number of blown saves, whatever it was, could almost be cut in half this season. That will make a huge difference.

Fredstradamus said...

Also, it deserves to be noted that Mario is a lowlife New England Patriots fan. If that doesn't shed some light on his personality, I don't know what does.

iamSINATRA said...

Metstradamus:

This is our first disagreement. The Cardinal Rule (forgive the baseball pun) of being a Met fan is to ALWAYS predict 3rd place in the NL East.

This way you have no chance to look like a fool. If they come in last...you weren't expecting much anyway...if they come in first you had an idea that they were going to do OK...not great but OK.

I was the Town Cryer in '92 who had them winning it all with Firecracker Coleman, Bobby Bo, Brett, Eddie Murray, Willie Randolph (at 2nd), Anthony Young (my prediction as the second coming of Doc Gooden), Jeff "Nice Guy" Kent and the rest of the crew.

It's been 14 years since my bold prediction. I still don't live that down.

Now you understand my logic.

Here's my prediction:
The Mets will place 3rd.

Liberals are on dope said...

Liberals like Mets fans have no place in teh HOMELAND. Liberals are not morul and hate the fact that Freedom is on the march and democracy is good and spreading hope in Iroc.

If only LIberals would stop cheerint bill clinton and his 'cigar smoking' in the oval office they would realize that the HOMELAND will soon jail them for treason.

haaha. Jail all liberals and democratic party commies!!

Anonymous said...

Also, it deserves to be noted that Mario is a lowlife New England Patriots fan. If that doesn't shed some light on his personality, I don't know what does.

Fredstradamus....I am a Giants fan..you can ask your brother...I rooted for the Patriots because I hate the Jets....get your facts straight....
Metsradamus...I do not take the downside on everything....Just like you, I was skeptical on the Rangers and we are being rewarded...Lets just say that I have "guarded optimism" about the Mets and even though last year was an improvement, I am still worried about putting all my eggs in this year's basket.

Metstradamus said...

"I am a Giants fan..you can ask your brother...I rooted for the Patriots because I hate the Jets....get your facts straight...."

Mario, the fact that you are a die hard Giants fan, yet acted like THE BIGGEST PATRIOTS FAN OF THE WORLD FOR YEARS because of your hatred for the Jets, well that makes you a Class A lowlife.

And let's not revisit your 12AM phone call during the Jets/Chargers playoff game after the Chargers tied the game pretending you've been a Charger fan for years only to have the Jets win at the end of the game.

Metstradamus said...

DeBeech, I don't disagree with you. Trust me when I say I struggled with this...big time.

Anonymous said...

Metstradamus...

You should know very well that the Jets are the "anti-christ" of the NFL...
And you know why I hate them...
O'Brien to Toon, touchdown...1988...Jets beat the Giants and knock them out of the playoffs...

Jaap said...

Excellent column first off. Well done.

This line bothered me though:

"You have Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel as the workhorses at the head of the rotation."

Tom Glavine isn't a work horse. He's good for six innings max on a good day. Plus he's 40. How many World Championships are won in the modern era with a 40 year old Opening Day starter?

Bullpens are vital, no question, but without two or three strong starters who will keep the game close to get it to the bullpen, it's irrelevant in the post season, I think.

Of course, putting the cart before the horse, who's happy with Zambrano or Tachsel starting Game 3 of the World Series?

Metstradamus said...

Jaap,

I guess I should have put "workhorses" in quotes...since it's a relative term.

I would actually tend to think the opposite in this respect: I think starters are more important in terms of getting you through the regular season than they would be in the playoffs, where a good bullpen is more vital in the playoffs than in the regular season. Look at the 90's Braves: They always romped through the regular season but their lack of a deep bullpen always killed them in the playoffs. That's why I like how Minaya has erred on the side of the bullpen.

But I agree that Victor Zambrano/Steve Trachsel in game 3 of the World Series scares me. But if that scenario comes true, it does mean that the Mets are in the World Series so I'll take that any day of the week.

Fredstradamus said...

The Mets opened the 2000 season with Hampton (27), Leiter (34), Reed (35), Rusch (25) & Jones (30) for an average age of a smidge over 30.

The 2006 starting five (assuming Pedro, Glavine, Zambrano, Heilman and Traschel) average out to a smidge over 33.

Take Glavine out, and the age thing is not that big of a deal if you ask me. And I think the pundits are right ... it comes down, on the pitching side, on how Pedro's toe holds up.

Just like they said about the 2005 Jets' successes hinging upon Pennington's arm (no pun intended), I think they're right about Pedro's toe ... the coaching job, as I see it, will be to manage moods and expectations assuming poor progress from Pedro.

But six quality innings are all that are being asked of a lot of pitchers, and all I ever asked, say from Al Leiter, for example. So, to Metstra's point, that's the modern-day workhorse for you. And, for me, I'll certainly take six quality innings from any of them.

So long it's not Zambrano any later than June 1.

Tommy_Calzone said...

Possibly supporting the Pedro/WBC "fake out" conspiracy theory;

Bob Sikes former assistant trainer of the mets on his blog was watchin Petey the other day and blogged this observation:

"Pedro's fine. See snap throw to first during the first. That was really stressful on his toe......."

hmmmmmmmm

I agree Pedro is smarter than people give him credit for and would not put this past him.