NY Sports Dog: Mets Pre-Season Questions: Part 2, The Offense

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mets Pre-Season Questions: Part 2, The Offense

My friend Ravi, a very, very smart baseball guy has written part two of his Pre-Season series. To read Part 1, please click here.


Mets Pre-Season Questions : Part 2, The Offense

In continuing my pre-season look at the New York Mets, I would like to focus on the offense. This past off-season, much has been made about bringing back the same hitters who were in part, responsible for two straight September swoons. However, consider the following:
  • 2006: 834 (3)
  • 2007: 804 (4)
  • 2008: 799 (2)
Those numbers are the run totals (and NL rank) the Mets have put up since the core of the team was formed, in 2006. Now one may look at those totals and notice a declining trend. However, it is important to note that the 2006 team had a much better supporting cast, with a big year out of Valentin, a great first half by Nady, consistent production from LoDuca, and a possible career year from Beltran.

I think the 800 run mark of the past two years is a fair estimation of what we can expect this coming year, provided the core does what it is supposed to.

That being said, there are a few questions this lineup will need to address in 2009. I won’t waste time looking at the Reyes/Wright/Beltran trinity, because we pretty much know what they can provide. I do think Beltran will get off to a better start this season, as he is healthy, as opposed to 208, where he was coming off surgery.

Instead, I chose to focus on 2 Mets about whom there has been much speculation, and whose success is integral: Luis Castillo and Carlos Delgado.

Luis Castillo

Is there anyone in the Met-verse more hated than Castillo right now? In fact, it seems like all the venom that was reserved for Heilman has been directed toward Luis Castillo. At the end of the day, we all know the criticisms…no power…lack of range…but surely there must be positives. Luckily, Robcast23 of Amazin’ Avenue has done quite a bit of grunt work for me.

One thing that is easily forgotten by us fans is just how good Castillo was (even though he was in the division):
  • This was a guy that since he started playing every day hit .290+ nine out of 10 seasons.
  • In that same stretch he posted an OBP below .350 only once, averaging approximately .375.
  • He has 3 Gold Gloves on his mantle
  • Its actually staggering from '02 to '07 to see how consistent he was across the board. He had basically the same season 5 (good) years in a row.
  • The only significant change has been the K%, which has steadily improved each year from a high water mark of 17.5% in '99 down to 11.7% in '08, which is a lot.
In addition, as mentioned on Amazin’ Avenue, there wasn’t meaningful variance in Castillo’s peripherals, when comparing 2008 to his career.

I think the biggest reason for Castillo’s lost season was his inability to get in shape. If you recall, Luis had surgery on both knees before the season. As a result, he came to camp in poor shape, and never really hit the ground running. Supporting my case is the one outlier in all of Castillo’s peripherals. The average player has a BABIP (batting average on balls in play). of .300.

However, some hitters have the ability to consistently maintain a higher rate (whereas pitchers tend to gravitate toward the .300). Luis Castillo is one of the players, as he sports a career .333 BABIP. In 2008, that number dipped to .269.

For a guy with little power, whose speed is so critical to his game, not being in shape is a pretty big deal. To understand the effect his knee surgery/lack of conditioning, look at his defense. Luis is a 3-time gold glove second baseman…Last year, I think Delgado had better range (joking). That doesn’t just happen overnight. Now I’m not saying that he is going to steal 60 bases, or win a gold glove, or have a 30 game hit streak. What I will say that if his offseason commitment to being ready the season is true, then you can expect a BA of close to .300, with an OBP north of .350. Not bad from the 2-hole.

Early reports say Castillo is in fact in excellent shape, and he himself said he is fully healthy. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come.

Carlos Delgado

I may as well copy what I said above and paste it hear, because I can make pretty much the exact same case for Delgado. It was, without saying, a tale of two seasons for Delgado. One was vintage, while the other was forgettable. Some like to believe that it was the dismissal of Willie Randolph, while Delgado’s resurgence started a few weeks prior.

Personally, I believe that is was a series of injuries, which cost Delgado a season and a half.

Is it coincidence that his slump came on the heels of offseason surgery in 2007, with Delgado injured throughout? When you look at how his 2nd half numbers compare to his career numbers, you may not think so either. Thankfully for us, Brian Joura at Fangraphs.com has done a wonderful job in analyzing Delgado’s performance, and giving us a fair expectation for 2009.

The first myth to dispel is that Delgado’s poor performance was because of Willie Randolph, and that his resurgence began upon Willie’s departure. Brian points out that from June 27th until the end of the season, Carlos put up a line of .295/.378/.576 –certainly numbers we are used to seeing from King Carlos- about three weeks before Willie got the midnight axe. (Of all the flak the Mets caught, Jon Stewart’s criticism was by far the funniest).

A lot of detractors say that Carlos cannot maintain his 2nd half production over the course of a full season, and I am inclined to agree. Of course, a look at some of his 2nd half statistics shows that his 2nd half was a tad unlucky. Delgado’s 2nd half BABIP was .295, compared to a career .309. In addition, his K and BB rates were in line with recent trends. However, I also think that while he won’t be as good as his 2nd half line, Delgado’s 1st half will not be so bad.

Ultimately, his full season performance compares very well to what Carlos has done over the past few years. As Brian points out, Delgado’s 2006 and 2008 lines are very similar:
  • 2006: .265-38-114
  • 2008: .271-38-115
One improvement Delgado made over his 2006 stats was his line drive percentage. Carlos did a much better job of squaring up on the ball and making solid contact in 2008, as he hit a higher percentage of line drives, and a lower percentage of fly balls. AS Brian astutely points out, though logic would suggest a higher line drive rate would result in a higher BABIP, the defensive shift teams use seem to mitigate this effect.

One potential red flag is that Carlos had a very high HR/Fly ball ratio. However, watching him day in day out, its not a stretch to say that Carlos still has big time power.

So what caused the most prolific left handed hitter over the past 10 years (non Barroid division) to have a miserable season and a half? Injuries. Prior to the 2007 season, Delgado had wrist surgery. Recently, Delgado has gone so far to say that the injuries were not the cause of his struggles, but rather is was a mental issue. His swing and timing was off. In my opinion, that was a result of the surgery, and recovery time.

In 2007, it seemed that every time he was on the verge of busting out, he got hurt again, ending with the broken hand he suffered at the end of 2007. In 2008, he was able to stay on the field, and address his timing issues. We all know what resulted.

Looking toward next season, it is entirely possible that Delgado’s power output could diminish. Most of Delgado’s homers are hit to right center, which is among the deepest parts of Citifield. At the same time, cheap is not an accurate way to describe Carlos’ homeruns. Delgado seems to be aware of the effect that the new park may have, and he has suggested trying to go down the line more, to take advantage of the right field porch.

My one concern is that this can cause him to change his swing, which could result in another tailspin. I’m not sure if he was joking around with that statement, but I do think he knows what he is doing.

While Carlos may not hit for a .290+ average, I think it is reasonable to expect a 30-35 HR season from Delgado, with 110+ RBI, and a .275 BA. If Castillo is able to stabilize the top of the order (I don’t buy into Jerry’s idea of Castillo batting 1 and Reyes 3), then I can see Carlos exceeding those expectations.

I’d like to give thanks to Amazin’ Avenue and Fan Graphs for providing me with excellent reference material.

Check back soon for Part 3.


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Met4EvR said...

Delgado has to get off to a good start. We can't afford to have him sporting a .300 OBP for the first 2 months of the season.

Another thing. We haven't heard much about how he's feeling other than the usual stuff.

Can't wait to see him in a few games.

Anonymous said...

Great write up.

Who should bat 1-3 in your opinion?

Ravi said...

Thats a very interesting question, as there are so many ways to look at it.

I don't buy into Manuel's suggestion of batting Reyes #3. I think that the 3 hole belongs to David Wright. It is really the 1-2which has several possibilities. Any of following 4 arrangements are plausible: Reyes-Castillo, Reyes-Murphy, Reyes-Chuch, and Castillo-Reyes. I think that in the latter 3 scenarios, batting Castillo in the 9th spot could yield interesting results - we still have Jose's explosiveness beginning a game, and then every other time thru the order, you have a 35-40% chance of Castillo being on for Reyes.

I think the "safe" choice would be batting Reyes-Castillo-Wright at the top of the order. The most intriguing, would be Reyes-Murphy-Wright, with Castillo batting 9. You have three guys capable of getting on base at a clip of .350+, followed by Wright/Delgado/Beltran. This combination may help the team scoring runs later in games, when you don't have Reyes leading off the inning.

Ravi said...

Sorry- I mean in the scenarios where Reyes leads off, with Murph/Church batting 2nd, it would be interesting to bat Castillo 9.

DDUB said...

Wright should bat thrid period.

I like Reys at leadoff and either Church or Murphy in the 2 hole.

Dave Singer said...

100% agree--leave DW at 3rd, and let Reyes leadoff.

With all the little issues we have, why create another one?

How many teams would kill for those two at leadoff and 3rd?

Mets Tailgate said...

Wright should not bat 3rd - your 3 best hitters should be batting 1st, 2nd, and 4th. Delgado should be the 3 hitter. This is based on statistical research, not conventional baseball wisdom.

Think about it this way - the 1st 2 batters make outs to start the game more often then not. Why waste your best hitter in the 3 hole with 2 outs, nobody on? If 1 of the first 2 batters gets on, your 4 batter is almost guaranteed a plate appearance, barring a DP from the 3 batter.

I'm curious though - what are your guys reasons for putting Wright 3rd?

Dave Singer said...


IMO it's pretty simple---statistical analysis has clearly shown that the player who leads off an inning the LEAST in an entire batting order is...

The third place hitter.

The number is actually 8.4%

This means DW has better odds of coming to the plate with someone on base than anyone else.

In contrast, the leadoff hitter leads off an inning (any inning) 21.2% of the time.

You could argue that whomever in your lineup has the highest OBP should bat leadoff, though of course the point of diminishing returns quickly comes to the fore when you look at overall run production.

Interestingly enough, the guy that leads of an inning the second most times in a lineup is the cleanup hitter.

What if your best two hitters actually bat 3rd and 5th, and your two best OBP guys batted 1st and 4th?

Wouldn't that be something?

Mets Tailgate said...

Where'd you find that 8.4% number? The player who bats most often with 2 outs, nobody on (the worst situation in baseball) is also the 3 hitter.

Are you familiar with "The Book" by Tom Tango and a few others? His research is what I based what I said above on. It's fascinating stuff. He proved that the 3 best hitters should bat 1, 2, and 4 to maximize runs produced. Reyes-Beltran-Delgado-Wright should be the first 4. Or switch Wright with Beltran. Putting your best hitter 3rd is just traditionalist baseball thought that no one has really questioned or researched, but "The Book" has.

Mets Tailgate said...

Then again, "The Book" research also showed that the difference between the optimal lineup and inferior lineups is really really small. Like only a few runs per year. So as long as Castillo isn't batting 2nd (there's no way to justify that) I'm fine with whatever.

Dave Singer said...

James...there was a study done...I think you can find it on-line...let me look and post the link.

Dave Singer said...

Here ya go...

Pretty good reading.


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