March 18, 2005

Amazin' Subjugation Part 2


This is part two of a 2005 Mets preview, looking at offense and making the case the Mets are better than Phillies fans want to believe.

Center fielder Carlos Beltran is as much of a sure bet as any free agent signing. He’s 28, clutch and gifted in five areas. He'll give Mets fans plenty to cheer about for many years.

In looking at this year's version of the Mets over last season, the biggest difference won't be Beltran, but an existing group of supporting players that are great candidates to improve.

Let's take a look at the Mets lineup:

1 Jose Reyes SS
2 Kaz Matsui 2B
3 Carlos Beltran CF
4 Mike Piazza C
5 Cliff Floyd LF
6 David Wright 3B
7 Mike Cameron RF
8 Doug Mientkiewicz 1B

INF
Leading the list of players with a great chance to improve is Japanese star Kazuo Matsui, who moves back from shortstop to second this season. Trying to live up to high expectations, Matsui was a bust both leading off and playing short.


Kaz Matsui is a candidate to improve in 2005.

Before going down in August and September with injury, he finally started to figure it out at the plate in July, hitting .336 for the month, along with .500 SLG. Though he's not a power hitter, he's a good doubles hitter with decent speed at his position. Matsui, for all the criticism last year, has an outstanding chance to improve, will be playing his natural position, and will assume a more suitable role, No. 2, in the Mets lineup.

The same goes for Jose Reyes, who moves back to shortstop after an injury-plagued campaign in which he missed over 100 games. Reyes is only 21, still learning, and still filling out. He has virtually no power at all, but as a switch hitter with lightning speed at the top of the lineup, he can become as much of a pest as Juan Pierre in Florida. In 52 games, he stole 19 bases. This spring, he’s healthy and currently leading all players in stolen bases.


Jose Reyes

Moving over to the hot corner, you have to get excited about a guy Peter Gammons confidently labeled "Scott Rolen II." Before getting the call to the majors, David Wright solidified his status as the best hitter in the minor leagues last year. He led the Eastern League in BA for most of the season, ranked 9th in the entire minor leagues with .341, then proved he could do the same in the bigs, hitting .291 with 14 HRs. He was easily the Mets best player at the end of the season.

Scouts see him more, so I'll defer to stats.inc for an abbriviated report:

He hits the ball to all fields, does equally well against righthanders and lefties, and hits for both power and average. He shows rare patience at the plate for a 22-year-old. Big league pitchers do not intimidate Wright, and he does an excellent job of working deep into counts. He has a knack for getting big hits, and his power should increase as his body matures.


Here's what he did in 69 big-league games:

69 G .293 BA .332 OBP .525 SLG 14HR

I often sing the praises of Mike Lowell in Florida, calling him the NL East assassin for his ability to pummel his rivals. But at this stage in the game, I'd take Wright over any third baseman in the East, including Lowell.

Piazza
Now a look at the big man, baseball's all-time leading home run-hitting catcher and best player ever from Norristown, Pa. While the other players I've mentioned have a chance to improve, Mike Piazza doesn’t. Even my grandmother knows he’s on a sharp downward slide of his career and poses a huge liability behind the plate and on the base paths. He insists on trying to make it work behind the plate to end his career as a backstop, but his knees and father time are working against him. He's averaged only 389 at-bats over the past three seasons.

But for some reason, he hits .102 points higher when he's behind the plate instead of at first. Does that mean he'll have a better line this year? Who knows. It's such a weird statistic, who can predict it.

Last year was his worst offensively in terms of BA in a horrible, laughable year for the Mets at first base. They tried everything, and got nothing.

Still, at 36, Piazza's still an above-average offensive catcher with the ability to mash to the opposite field. I look for no more than 20 home runs out of big Mike, catching about 100 games, finishing in the middle of the pack in win shares from NL East catchers.

Batting Win Shares 2004
1. J Estrada ATL C 15.6
2. P Lo Duca LAD/FL C 10.1
3. M Piazza NYM 1B 10.1
4. B Schneider MON C 7.0
5. M Lieberthal PHI C 5.3

That list might look very similar, although I argue Johnny Estrada was a one-season wonder and got more hype than necessary because of his high BA. Where'd his power go after the all-star break?

OF
When I first heard about the Beltran signing, my first thought was "They already have a center fielder." For about a week, I thought GM Omar Minaya was trying to fit too many square pegs into round holes, and one of the players being shoved around was Mike Cameron.

I thought this was a big deal at first, but it’s not. Cameron is an equally good center fielder as Beltran, and shifting over to right field, one of the least significant spots on the field, should be cake.

Offensively, he’s inferior to Beltran mainly because he strikes out way, way, way too much: 142 times last year, and became less selective with his pitches, walking just 57 times, his lowest since 1998.

Still, Cameron is a good example of how the holes in your game become craters because of the constant scrutiny of the NY media. Underneath the criticism is a pretty good line. Thirty home runs was a career best and lead all Mets. Fans see the bad BA (.231), and all those strikeouts, but ignore this guy hit a home run every 16 ABs and stole 22 bases. If he can combine last season’s power, and get that average back up to around .260-.265, the Mets are in business. The addition of Beltran to the lineup will make Cameron better. I look for those walks and RBIs to go up and see him as another candidate to improve.

Over on the other side, I’ve been waiting for Cliff Floyd to improve for too long, but his body now resembles a used GMC Jimmy: Good power if you can get it started.

I drafted Floyd onto my fantasy team last season, thinking he was a good sleeper, but right out of the gate he went on the DL. He still managed to get about 400 AB, but he’s far from outstanding anymore and seems to be sleepwalking through the rest of his career. Maybe they can still get you 20 HR if they ask real nice. There will be worse outfielders next season, but Floyd projects in the bottom third.

Bench
So-so bench but potentially deep with outfielders. I like former-Phillie Eric Valent as a fourth outfielder. He’s like a left-handed version of Jason Michaels but with slightly more pop. He had a good season filling in for Floyd. Miguel Cairo is a capable middle infielder. The rest of the bench will likely include C Jason Phillips, INF Chris Woodward, maybe Andres Galarraga and OF Kerry Robinson. OF Victor Diaz will likely start in AAA.


Former Phillie Eric Valent

An offense built to win
Say what you will about Piazza, Floyd and defensive-specialist 1B Doug Mankiewicz. I like the Mets combination of power and speed. I like Reyes, Matsui and Beltran hitting 1, 2, 3 and believe Beltran was the missing piece.

I'm confident the Mets will contend all season and somewhat confident they will win the NL Wildcard.

6 Comments:

At 2:24 AM, Blogger Danny said...

Small correction: 'Norristown', not 'Norriston'. I was born there as well... which is about the only thing I have in common with Mike Piazza.

 
At 7:25 AM, Blogger Jason Weitzel said...

Thanks!

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger Brian said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Sure, these are all valid points...on paper (on the screen in this case), but history has proven the Mets totally incapable of living up to their potential. In fact, the latest Bill James Handbook has Cliff Floyd as the second most likely player to suffer "any injury" (at 35.7%, just behind Griffey, Jr.). Similarly pitchers, Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson are both more than 12% likely to injure their pitching elbow. This always happens to the Mets, you cannot deny, only bet on it.

 
At 12:46 PM, Blogger el123chico said...

1. i'd take david wright over any 3rd baseman in the game.

2. estrada lost his power because he stopped taking steroids (note - that is only speculation)

 
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