NY Sports Dog: Hope Springs Eternal: Hinge Points

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hope Springs Eternal: Hinge Points

My good friend Andy gives us a few thoughts on reasons for optimism heading into Spring Training.

I tend to take an optimistic view of the team, and, like Andy, have pretty high expectations for the 2009 Mets.

I won't say my Mets cup runneth over, but the glass isn't half-empty either.


Yes, we would all like to have a slugging left fielder.
Yes, we currently only have one lefty in the bullpen.
Yes, we have question marks in our rotation.

Got it, got it, got it.

Are we Mets fans being needlessly pessimistic as we enter the spring?

No doubt, Mets fans have been burned the last two years, so its understandable. But it's also reasonable to look at the 2009 Mets and see the potential for major improvement over 2008. Not one or two games better (even though that would have been enough to make the playoffs) but as much as a 5-10 game improvement in the standings.

While its silly to go into any season expecting any one player to have in improved season, it may not be silly expecting ONE of your main players to have an improved season, or to expect that a bullpen which was historically bad last year could simply be average or better this year. Its very early, but these potential "hinge points" - points where our season swings into a better posture than 2008 - are as follows:

1) Daniel Murphy

People can say what they want about Tatis, but he will mostly play against lefties, and my guess is the "floor" with Tatis is still a .250 hitter with some power. But Murphy is a big hinge point. If he duplicates last year's numbers, over a full season (say 400 at-bats since its a platoon) he will give the Mets:

27 doubles, 9 triples, 6 HR, 51 RBI, and an .313/.397/.473 split.

Those numbers would be fantastic from a #2 hitter, right? And while they may be less than ideal from a corner outfielder (on a team that really gets all its power from 3 players), they certainly aren't bad. By way of comparison, Jayson Werth, who played corner outfield for the Phils for much of the year, put up a.273/.363/.498 split, and was considered a "steal" by our rivals.

But is that really what he will do? If he falls off and struggles, then we might have a problem. But is that really his ceiling? I don't think its reasonable to expect him to have a .400 OBP in a full year, but at the same time 23-year olds do tend to show more power as they get more comfortable. If his splits were .280/.360/.500, would people like him more? Because those splits aren't inconceivable - his numbers at the Bing last year were .308/.374/.496.

The Sporting News listed Murphy as the 8th best prospect in all of baseball (for what that's worth). If he steps up, the Mets will have a more potent offense than they did last year.

2) A "Big" Season from one of the Big 4

Can the Mets get a truly "big" season from one of their big 4 (Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Delgado)?

Omar is actually right that none of them had a career year - and while it may be silly to expect a career year from any given player in any given year (especially for Carlos Delgado), its also worth nothing that by some metrics David Wright and Carlos Beltran had worse seasons in 2008 than they did in 2007, and that Jose Reyes' season went off a cliff in September (.314 OBP).

While it may be crazy to expect "career" seasons from any of the big 4, if any of them do have such a season it could totally transform the Mets offense.

What if Reyes puts up his 2006 numbers (.300/.354/487) or better? Or if Wright puts up his 2007 numbers - minus the terrible April start (.243 BA and 0 HR) - for a full year? That would be a season of .340/.420/.567 - and definite MVP consideration.

The point is, while it is not a good bet to EXPECT a career season, its not inconceivable that two or more of the "big 4" will have a better 2009 than 2008, so that if the other two remain roughly static, you still see major improvement.

3) How much does an improved bullpen help?

I think we may all be underestimating how much the improved bullpen will help, because we are underestimating how bad it was last year.

Last year's bullpen wasn't just bad for a team with championship aspirations - it was one of the very worst in all of baseball. Only seven teams had a higher bullpen ERA (despite the Mets pitching in a pitchers park and in the NL) and was third in all of baseball in blown saves (and 9th worst in save percentage).

If the Mets wind up having a top-10 bullpen this year (and that's still a big if) its not just an improvement, its a sea change.

Lets say the Mets, instead of blowing 29 saves, only blew 22 of those (which would put them smack in the middle of the pack). That's a 7 game improvement, which would have meant the Mets win the division handily with a 96-win season.

At the end of the day, I'm not saying any of these things WILL happen - but its not crazy for Omar, and us fans, to start the season expecting at least one, if not all, of these 3 hinge points to open our favor.


JK said...

David Wright and Jose Reyes are at their hitting prime this year.

It wouldn't surprise me for Reyes to hit 25 HRs.

Lawyer in DC said...

I agree, although I'd rather see a near .400 OBP from Reyes than 25 HR's. But Reyes, among all of the Mets players, still has the most "upside", which is amazing when you consider what he's done already.

Anonymous said...

Reyes could win the MVP this year with a .400 OBP.

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