Tuesday, April 3, 2012
The What If Game
You don't have to navigate through too many baseball publications and preview articles to know what people are predicting for the Mets this season. You don't have to compare and contrast the opinions of Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Peter Gammons,Tim Kurkjian or check in with any other baseball pundits and prognosticators. It's not looking too good -- in fact, its pretty terrible. So just how bad can we expect the Mets to be this season? Sportsbook.com has the over/under win total at 71.5. That's predicting them to finish about 20 games under .500. Only the Astros (63) and Orioles (69.5) have a lower over/under (NOTE: Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's odds are off the board since they started the season already in Japan). Sportsbook.com also has the Mets at 100:1 to win the World Series. Again, the Astros and Orioles are the only bigger long shots (300:1 and 200:1 respectively). The Mariners, Padres, A's, and Twins are all 100:1 too. To summarize using these "Vegas metrics" -- the Mets are being pegged as a bottom 5 team in baseball this season. Vegas has them in the absolute bottom tier of teams below the Pirates, Cubs, Indians, White Sox, and Royals -- YIKES!
Being the eternally optimistic Mets fan -- I want to believe more than anything that Vegas, the pundits, and all the naysayers are wrong. My inner Lloyd Christmas wants to believe there is a chance. So what will it take for the Mets to shock the world this season? How is it remotely possible for the Mets to contend in 2012 with the heavily favored Phillies, greatly improved Marlins and Nationals, and always solid Braves? To answer this question -- let's go down the Mets roster and play the "What If" game:
Johan Santana - What if Johan is 100% healthy after missing all of last season and returns to his dominant form? He's looked strong all spring, his velocity is back up to the 90-92 range....What if he starts 30+ games and gives us 185-200 innings? With a very good bullpen (more on that later) isn't it possible he can win close to 20 games, with a sub 3 ERA, and a 1.15 whip?
R.A Dickey - What if we get the 200+ innings he threw in 2011 with the 2.84 ERA and 1.19 Whip he put up in 2010? Isn't 18 wins and a 3rd great season from the late blooming knuckle baller doable?
Jonathan Niese - With 2 full seasons under his belt, and a new 5 year, $29 million extension coming his way -- can the 25 year old pitcher break out this season? No fan or scout will questions his "stuff" -- Niese has a Barry Zito in his prime curve ball in his arsenal. He's been a great 1st half pitcher that tends to tire out after the All-Star break --What if he stays strong for an entire season, keeps his walk totals down, and shows maturity and progression in his 3rd full season? Isn't 16/17 wins, a 3.25 ERA, and a 1.25 Whip reasonable?
Mike Pelfrey - So clearly Pelfrey isn't the 97 mph, flame throwing monster Mets fans were led to believe he was when we drafted him with the 9th overall pick in the 2005 draft. Seems like the Mets haven't had a hard-throwing SP in 20 years (since Doc Gooden). What if Pelfrey embraces the "pitch to contact" type pitcher he really is and actually throws a heavy sinker that stays down in the zone throughout the season? He's still only 28 years old. Derek Lowe -- one of the great "pitch to contact sinker ballers" of my generation didn't have a great season until he was 28/29 years old. How about a modest Derek Lowe type season of 200+ innings, 16 wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.27 WHIP? [BTW - Octavio Dotel started 14 games for the Mets in 1999 -- I think he was the last Mets starter to throw over 95 mph fastball consistently].
Dillon Gee - What if he puts up the same numbers as last season? 15 wins, 4.43 ERA, and 1.38 Whip from your 5th starter is very solid. All you want out of your 5th starter is someone that can eat innings and keep you in games. Although Gee cooled off after a hot start -- I'm confident he'll be steady overall again. He's about to turn 26 this season and for the first time in his career enters the MLB season knowing he's a lock for the rotation. What if he were to improve even just slightly this season?
1. Andres Torres - What if he returns to his 2010 form? That season he led off for the World Champion San Francisco Giants and hit 16 homers, 43 doubles, stole 26 bases and had an OPS of .822. That .822 OPS is higher than Reyes career OPS average.
2. Daniel Murphy - What if he picks up where he left off before getting injured last season? In 109 games last season, he had 125 hits, 28 doubles, and was hitting .320. He was emerging as a terrific contact hitter that put the ball in play. He's also gritty, heady, and understands situational hitting. What if he keeps it going and even adds to the 12 home run total of 2010? He can be a very nice bat and perfect hitter for the 2 hole.
3. David Wright - What if he is fully healthy and has a new found confidence with the new, more hitter-friendly dimensions of Citi Field? What if he gets back to the .300, 25-30 homer, 100+ RBI stud seasons we always use to count on him for?
4. Ike Davis - What if he breaks out as one of the stud young sluggers in the game? He was already on his way last season - hitting 7 homers and 39 hits in just 36 games played before going down to a freak calf injury. He just turned 25, and it looks as though we finally have a 1st round draft pick that has panned out. What if he can maintain the pace he was off to last season before getting injured and put up .300 BA, .383 OBP, and .927 OPS?
5. Jason Bay - What if he really was just spooked by the massive dimensions of Citi Field his first 2 seasons? What if bringing the fences in helps Bay get his swing back? Can he put up a year consistent with his seasonal averages of 22 homers, 80+ RBIs, .373 OBP, and .873 OPS?
6. Lucas Duda - What if "THE DUDE" picks up exactly where he left off last season? "The Dude" hit .292 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs in 100 games last season. He also led NL rookies in slugging and on base percentages last season. This guy is without a doubt the strongest hitter on the Mets and possesses some serious power. What if he maintains a strong batting average, and increases his power to the tune of 30 home runs and 95 RBIs?
7. Josh Thole - What if Josh Thole can be the effective contact/situational hitter he's shown he can be at times? He's very difficult to strike out and has a steady career OBP of .350. He will not give us the leadership and grittiness that Paul LoDuca gave us in 2006 [dam that feels like forever ago] but what if he gives us a similar type year at the plate: .300 batting average, 5 homers, 39 doubles, and .355 OBP. Lucas Duda is going to be in scoring position plenty for him....Mets are going to need him to deliver.
8. Ruben Tejada - .284 batting average and .360 on base percentage with 93 hits in 96 games last season. That is quality production from the 8 spot. Tejada has shown patience and great pitch selection in his short career thus far and he's looked impressive this spring. What if he builds on his nice season last year and becomes a stable bat and solid presence at the bottom of the lineup. Mets haven't had a quality bat at the bottom of the order since Jon Valentin in 2006.
What if a few of the Mets bench players prove they can be quality fill-ins and late-inning contributors? Scott Hairston has got power from the right side of the plate and hit a few big home runs last season. Justin Turner proved he could handle himself at the plate and should be a nice option to give Ike Davis rest at 1st base against tough lefties [The NL east is filled with those now - Cliff Lee, Hamels, Buehrle, Gio Gonzalez, and Mike Minor]. Ronny Cedeno is a very capable backup middle infielder. Mike Nickeas should be a solid defensive backup catcher and Mike Baxter could maybe give us a left-handed complement in the outfield.
The Mets slashed payroll in a major way this past off season - but the one area they chose to spend was in the bullpen. They invested over $15 million for the services of Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco. Both players have had successes closing out games. Mets also got a very nice bullpen piece in Ramon Ramirez in the Angel Pagan deal. What if these three pieces join together nicely along with Bobby Parnell, Pedro Beato, lefty specialist Tim Byrdak and either DJ Carrasco or Miguel Batista as the long man. The Mets bullpen has the potential to be one of the best in baseball this season.
The Mets will need mostly all of the "what ifs?" mentioned above to come true if they want to contend in 2012. The Mets can finally put the Madoff suit behind them and they possess some nice young players and prospects to build with. They also should be able to bring in some nice prospects via trade by the deadline this season. If Rauch and Francisco are pitching well they should bring back good value in a trade to a contender as they are reliable veteran bullpen pitchers on short term contracts.
Personally, I'm just hoping the Mets can play solid, competitive baseball this season and not be totally out of contention by May.
...you can follow Eli on Twitter at @miamicondoguy