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RR Season Preview: New York Mets

Following up ken's excellent Phillies preview was a challenge, but I hope everyone enjoys this preview of the Metropolitans. Main sources for this include Baseball Prospectus, the Hardball Times, baseball-reference.com, and Tom Seaver's Wikipedia page.

Disclaimer: I may have gone a bit overboard on this one, but I was procrastinating!

2006
The Mets went 97-65, finishing a whopping 12 games ahead of the Phillies in the NL East and ending Atlanta's 16-year division title streak (NL West and NL East combined). It was New York's first division title since 1988. There wasn't much of a division race, as New York took the division lead on April 6th and didn't surrender it for the rest of the year; they won the division with 2 weeks left in the season. Faced with the struggles of Cliff Floyd and the injuries to Pedro Martinez, the Mets dealt for Shawn Green (who didn't fare much better than Floyd), the enigmatic Oliver Perez, and Orlando Hernandez late in the season.

The hitting stars shined for the 2006 Mets. They finally got their money's worth out of Carlos Beltran, who set career highs in HR, SLG, RBI, OPS, R, won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, and finished 4th in MVP voting. Jose Reyes broke out and became the most dynamic leadoff hitter in the National League. David Wright had a great season and kept the Scott Rolen comparisons going. Carlos Delgado was the idea cleanup hitter, getting on base (.361 OBP) and slugging 38 homers. Even Jose Valentin had a miracle renaissance season at age 36.

Even with all their offensive stars, the real strength in 2006 was the bullpen. Billy Wagner solidified his status as one of the top 3 closers in baseball, and the bullpen went 5 deep, with Aaron Heilman, Chad Bradford, "Suck It" Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Feliciano, and Darren Oliver (!?!?!) all posting ERA+ well above the league average. The Mets also had the highest save percentage in the league at 74%.

The biggest story may have been the health of Pedro Martinez. Petey only pitched 132 2/3 innings, and turned in the worst performance of his career. While his ERA was higher than it should have been based on his peripheral stats (K/9, BB/9, HR/9), there was no denying that Pedro was not himself. If not for a vintage Tom Glavine season (113 ERA+) and competent fill-ins from John Maine (120 ERA+) and El Duque (106 ERA+), things could have gone differently.

In the playoffs, the Mets made quick work of the Dodgers in the Divisional round, but lost a heartbreaking 7-game NLCS to the Cardinals, suffering the indignity of being beaten by a Yadier "54 OPS+" Molina home run. Mets fans were left wondering what might have been had Pedro been healthy enough to spare them a Steve Trachsel playoff start, but in truth, the Mets lost the series because, with the exception of Beltran and Delgado, the bats went to sleep and the bullpen didn't pitch as well as it did in the regular season.

The Reds split a 4 game series in New York during June, with the most memorable game being a comeback win against Billy Wagner. Brandon Phillips had the game-winning 2-run single in that game on June 21st. The Mets took two of three in Cincy in July, with the Reds win coming after a 2 ½ hour rain delay.

2007
Living in Upstate New York, I interact with a lot of Mets fans. Their foremost concern for the upcoming season is the starting rotation. Tom Glavine is as close as there comes to an ace in the group, and he's 41 and more of a #2 guy anyway. El Duque is old, but still has enough left in the tank to give them league average innings. John Maine should be league average as well, and while his high home run rate was a concern, he's only 26 and has potential to improve. The biggest question mark is whether Oliver Perez can look anything like the pitcher who took the NL by storm in 2004, which is looking more and more like a fluke season. While he delivered a heroic start in NLCS Game 7, it's unlikely that he'll perform consistently enough to be a real asset. As for Pedro, the earliest he'll be back is the All-Star break, and when he does return, he's unlikely to be the same pitcher. The Mets are probably just wishcasting with Chan Ho Park as a fill in--even pitching in PetCo, he could only muster a 4.81 ERA last year. With the rotation lacking a true dominant ace, Mets fans regret the Kazmir trade now more than ever.

The Mets have one of the best infields in baseball, and if not for their crosstown rivals, could boast the top left side. Given their performances last year, it is a testament to their potential that David Wright and Jose Reyes are expected to further improve. The mainstream media fawns over Wright, whose combination of good looks and better performance lead many to believe he will take on a Jeter-like omnipresence in New York. While such recognition won't come without pennants and rings, expect him to improve his hitting performance from last year and edge toward superstardom. Reyes's blazing speed makes him one of the most exciting players in the league, as he stole 64 bases (caught 17 times) and hit 17 triples for the second consecutive season. He and Hanley Ramirez should go neck and neck for All-Star starts at shortstop over the next 10 years. Reyes will always hit for high average thanks to his speed, but his improved walk rate shows that he has improved his pitch recognition, suggesting he has set a new baseline for performance rather than simply spiking. On the right side, expect Delgado to put up similar numbers and for Valentin to regress back to his normal career levels. However, LLM's bro should still be good for 15-20 homers. Paul Lo Duca is a great chemistry guy, and while he probably shouldn't bat 2nd, produces adequately for a catcher.

The Mets outfield will be much improved this year with the arrival of Moises Alou from San Francisco. Age aside, the man can rake, especially against lefties (.330/.395/.556 career vs. LHP). Beltran and Delgado struggled against lefties last year, so Alou should discourage extensive LOOGY (lefty specialist) use in the late innings if Willie Randolph bats him between the two Carloses. Beltran probably won't reach the stratospheric heights he did last year, but will still be a contender for MVP. The real weak spot on the team is in right field, where the Mets have Shawn Green and his horrendous contract. Green will likely be one of the worst right fielders in the league, and he has lost all of his once above-average fielding ability. If on-the-cusp prospect Lastings Milledge had shown up last year, it'd be advisable to start him in right, but it looks like he needs some more minor league seasoning.

The bullpen might regress a bit, but Wagner should remain one of the best closers in the game. Heilman and Mota are good setup men, while Feliciano and ex-Red rental Scott Schoeneweis are the top lefties. The Mets made low-risk/high-reward trade, getting fireballer Ambiorix Burgos from the Royals for the middling Brian Bannister. The Royals made Burgos their closer before he was ready, and a low-leverage role in the Mets `pen may be just what he needs to jump-start his development and grow into being a dominant closer. If pitching coach Rick Peterson can help fix Burgos's control, expect him to challenge Heilman for New York's top setup spot by the end of the season.

Defensively, the Mets ranked 2nd in the league in fielding efficiency in 2006, and were very strong up the middle, with Reyes, Valentin, and Beltran ranking in the Top 3 of NL Zone Rating (not a perfect metric, but it'll do).  On the negative side, Alou and Green are fairly useless in the field, and Lo Duca has a noodle arm (76% stolen bases against). There's no reason to expect a sharp downturn in team defense, however, especially since The Slick Fielding Endy Chavez will likely replace Green or Alou in the late innings of any close game.

Overall, the Mets will probably score around the same amount of runs, but they will allow more. Expect a record more in line with their Pythagenport record last year, 91-71. Don't be surprised to see a deadline deal to bring in a starting pitcher, with Milledge possibly being used as a trading chip. If this were Hollywood, Pedro would return in September and pitch them into the playoffs, but he may not have enough left to do it in reality. The Mets will fight it out with the Phillies for the division, but in the weak NL, 90 wins is probably enough for at least a Wild Card berth.

Future
The big news for the future of the Mets is CitiField (Worst. Name. Ever.), scheduled to replace the criminally ugly Shea Stadium in 2009. I'm not all that excited about the design, but anything is better than the donut aesthetic. As for the farm system, the Mets are top heavy with solid pitching prospects Mike Pelfrey and Phillip Humber, both of whom should slot into the rotation in 2008. Don't rule out the chance that one of them will impress in a cup `o joe situation and make a case for inclusion on the postseason roster. Other than Milledge, the top hitting prospect is Fernando Martinez, a toolsy 18-year-old who will either bat leadoff or third in his career, depending on how much his power develops. Either way, scouts say he's very advanced for such a young age. Combined with the young talents of Reyes and Wright, the Mets have the makings of a solid nucleus that could last well into the next decade.

Reds Connections
The only former Reds on the 40-man roster are Schoeneweis, who parlayed his not-terrible performance with the Reds into a 3 year $10.8m deal, and Dave "DWI" Williams, whose presence shows how desperate the Mets are for pitching. The Reds current team boasts no prominent ex-Mets, although as mentioned, LLM is Jose Valentin's younger brother.

Bill Hall All-Star
Jose Valentin (29 games against)
Career stats:                .243/.322/.450 (AVG/OBP/SLG)
Career stats vs. Reds: .283/.365/.522

Moises Alou has more homers against Cincinnati (30) than against any other team. However, he's a bit too talented to be considered for this award.

Tomo Okha All-Star
DWI is as close as it gets, but he's only had 6 starts against the Reds.
Career stats:                22-30/4.64/1.38 (W-L/ERA/WHIP)
Career stats vs. Reds: 2-3/3.09/1.22

Tom Glavine is 26-12 in his career against the Reds, although his ERA and WHIP against us are virtually identical to his career numbers.

2007 Matchups
The Reds travel to Queens for a 4 game set from July 12-15 (Thu.-Sun.). The first 3 games are night games; the second is your standard Sunday afternoon affair. Hopefully a large RR contingent, including myself, will attend. The Mets visit Cincy for a 3 game series from September 3-5 (Mon.-Wed.); the games on the 3rd and 5th are afternoon games. I predict that Harang, Arroyo, and Bailey will lead the Reds to a sweep.

History
Most Reds fans get a bitter taste in their mouths when the Mets come up in conversation, largely because of the 1999 season. The '99 Reds were among the best stories in baseball. They boasted a plethora of young position players who peaked simultaneously, and were led by a savvy manager and a vintage Hall-of-Fame season from their captain, Barry Larkin. In any other season, their 96 wins would have assured them a playoff berth. But not that season. The Reds were one of five teams to win at least 95 in the NL. Going into the final weekend of the season, the Reds led the Mets for the Wild Card by two games. While the Mets swept the Pirates, the Reds lost two of three to the Brewers, leaving them tied with 96-66 records. They played a one-game playoff to decide the Wild Card spot at Cinergy Field on October 4th, the results of which can be summed in two words: Al $%*@#$% Leiter. Leiter pitched a 2-hit complete game shutout and ended the Reds' dream season. Hence, Reds fans do not have much pity for Mets fans who whine about playing second fiddle to the Yankees. Also, Reds fans hate Al Leiter. At least I do.

Two other colorful tidbits of Reds/Mets history are the brawl between Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson during the 1973 NLCS and the trade of Tom Seaver in 1977.

This article does a great job of describing the events of the Rose/Harrelson encounter, including the brutal treatment Rose received afterward from the Shea crowd. As for the series itself, the upstart Mets upset the Reds 3 games to 2, becoming the worst team (82-79) ever to make the World Series. While the legacy of the 1970s Reds is secure, adding one more NL pennant and getting another shot at Oakland would give today's Reds fans even more ammo in debates about the greatest team of all time. In addition to the brawl and the mediocrity, the 1973 Mets are best known for coining two famous baseball phrases: closer Tug McGraw's "Ya Gotta Believe" (which the Mets have trademarked) and manager Yogi Berra's "It ain't over `til it's over." All that scrappy underdog karma almost got them a title; Oakland needed all 7 games to win the World Series.

When the Mets traded Seaver to the Reds in 1977 for Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, and Dan Norman, the New York press dubbed it the "Midnight Massacre." The trade happened because Mets ownership was unwilling to meet Seaver's contract demands. Mets fans hated the deal, and attendance cratered in the ensuing years, with Shea Stadium earning the nickname "Grant's Tomb." Seaver went on to have a successful career in Cincinnati (75-46), though he never matched the 3 Cy Young Awards and World Series title he won in New York. However, Tom Terrific pitched his only career no-hitter in Cincinnati, after having come agonizingly close in New York (he threw five one-hitters for the Mets). The no-hitter for the Reds is particularly vexing to Mets fans because no pitcher in franchise history has ever pitched a no-no. Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Doc Gooden, and Mike Scott are all former Mets who threw no-hitters for different teams.

Despite '99 and '73, the Reds dwarf the Mets in terms of historical significance, having won 10 pennants and 5 titles to the Mets' 4 and 2 (when citing this, always conveniently forget that the Mets have existed for only 45 years). It's always fun to mention the Seaver deal, as well as nonchalantly mentioning Johnny Van Der Meer's consecutive no-hitters. I mean, it can't be THAT hard to throw a no-hitter, right?

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