What Have We Learned? A Brief History of a Non-Dynasty, Part 1

First things first, allow me to (re)introduce myself.  Many of you, grizzled Amazin' Avenue vets that may be, are probably thinking "Who the hell is Mark Himmelstein?"  Well, Mark Himmelstein is me, formerly known around these parts as Meddler.  Eric Simon and co. have been generous enough to have me join the site's wonderful team of writers.  I'm honored, and look forward to lamenting, and maybe one day even celebrating (please?), with the greatest community of Mets fans there is.  

Just three short years ago, if you asked a Mets fan how they thought this team would be remembered once the decade was over, you probably would have heard words like "accomplishment," "chemistry," "dominance," and even "championship," without a hint of irony.  After a 2006 season that included 97 wins and a trip to the NLCS, it was a success that seemed destined to go on forever.  It didn't.  And though for the next two seasons the team would continue to be better than most Major League Baseball teams, they would stay closer to the average than to the elite.  This relative mediocrity made the process feel more like a tease than the triumph that was expected, despite the relative level of success.  Now, after a 2009 season lost to plenty of bad luck and at least as many bad decisions, there aren't many straws left to grasp at.  What went so wrong?  Everything seemed to be lined up so nicely for a sustained run at success, even a shot at a dynasty.  Two of the best young players in the game had just shot up through the farm system and the organization had the financial resources to match any other non-Yankee club in the league.  Looking back on the events of the last half-decade, things clearly have not worked out as hoped.

The Mets began the Aughties with a bang.  They made it all the way to first World Series since Y2K had officially not happened.  Though they would flounder through the rest of the early part of the decade, it wasn't long before hope would rear its head again.  There was some optimism brewing below the major league franchise.  Finally, some talent coming up through the homegrown ranks.  A young shortstop named Jose Reyes reached the majors the day before his 20th birthday and dazzled crowds with a stunning array of tools.  Meanwhile, a third baseman from the 2001 draft class was starting to garner lots of attention in the upper levels of the minor leagues.  In 2004, David Wright joined Jose Reyes on the major league roster, and it soon became clear that the two were destined to be the face of any and all efforts to revitalize a broken franchise.

 

2005 - The Beginning

Enter Omar Minaya.  Taking over the General Manager position, Omar brought lots of promises to the table.  Youth, athleticism, an "old school" mentality, and a willingness to aggressively shift the organization's financial weight around on the open market.  Right away, he brought in one of the best pitchers in the game and one of the best outfielders the free agent market had seen in a long time:  Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran.  Though the overhaul seemed as yet incomplete by the end of the 2005 season, the signs were encouraging.  Here's a rundown of the final product (The less commonly referenced stats are linked to their glossaries):

Making Runs Happen

PA Avg OBP SLG wOBA HR% HR/FB XBH% BB% SO% SB CS bRAA RS
6146 .258 .322 .416 .334 2.8% 10.7% 7.9% 7.9% 17.5% 153 40 -7.0 722

 

Making Runs Not Happen

BF ERA FIP tRA (SP) tRA (RP) SO% BB% HR% pRAA DE PADE UZR RA
6121 3.77 4.00 4.27 4.22 16.5% 8.0% 2.2% 52.1 .701 1.50 -24.6 648

 

Miscellaneous Facts and Musings

  • The team run differential was +74.  The 83-79 record may have actually been an underachievement for this team. 
  • Pedro Martinez accounted for 50.9 of the 52.1 pRAA.  The rest of the rotation produced just 1.1 pRAA, essentially average. His tRA was a stellar 2.43.  It was arguably best single season pitching performance the Mets got all decade. 
  • Tom Glavine also had his best season in a Mets uniform with a 4.36 tRA and 5.2 pRAA.  After Tommy and Petey, the rest of the rotation was below average, producing a combined -4.1 pRAA, which is perfectly acceptable when your top two starters combine for 57.3 pRAA.   
  • Only eight different starting pitchers were used all season, and four threw at least 150 innings.  Ah, the good old days. 
  • David Wright lead the team in wOBA at .410.  The second best mark on the team, .384, was not Carlos Beltran, Mike Piazza, Jose Reyes, or Cliff Floyd. That leaves _________________. 
  • Though Mike Piazza appeared to be fading away by posting just a .343 wOBA, Cliff Floyd had one of the best years of his career with a .381 mark of his own. 
  • Fun fact:  the offense had exactly the same number of walks as extra base hits:  486. 
  • Its curious how much the PADE and UZR methods disagree on the team-wide defense.

Though the starting pitching was excellent, the rest of the team still needed work.  Carlos Beltran failed to live up to expectations in his first season in Flushing, and his collision with Mike Cameron in the outfield left the offense without one of its more productive players for a good portion of the season. Still, the offense, bullpen, and defense were all within earshot of average, and the starting pitching, mostly thanks to Pedro Martinez's stellar year, was superb.

 

2006 - Destiny or Illusion?

Just like in 2005, Omar brought in two new marquee names for the 2006 season.  Though the faded star of Mike Piazza had finally physically departed, the additions of Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner appeared to be the perfect way to balance a roster with potential for greatness.  Delgado was a force of run creation at the time, coming off an excellent year with the with the Marlins after his shift to the Senior Circuit.  Billy Wagner had the fastball to dominate the late innings and high leverage situations, plus the attitude to win over the infamously ravenous New York Media.  The pair seemed to be a perfect way to correct two of the team's biggest weaknesses the previous season.

Making Runs Happen

PA Avg OBP SLG wOBA HR% HR/FB XBH% BB% SO% SB CS bRAA RS
6291 .264 .334 .445 .348 3.2% 11.8% 9.0% 8.7% 17.0% 146 35 39.0 834

 

Making Runs Not Happen

BF ERA FIP tRA (SP) tRA (RP) SO% BB% HR% pRAA DE PADE UZR RA
6240 4.16 4.37 5.39 3.66 18.6% 8.4% 2.9% 20.9 .703 2.34 9.8 731

 

Miscellaneous Facts and Musings

  • The team run differential was +103.  They were very much for real.
  • The offense was absolutely stellar, lead by Carlos Beltran's ridiculous .441 wOBA, which even more incredibly was held down by a .262 BABIP.
  • The second highest wOBA among Mets outfielders wasn't produced by Xavier Nady, Shawn Green, or Cliff Floyd.  It was Endy Chavez's .359.  Endy added to that a 12.7 UZR in just 814.2 defensive innings, making him a 2.5 WAR player.
  • Carlos Delgado was as advertised, his .389 wOBA was third on the team behind Beltran and Wright. 
  • The surprise of the year was easily Jose Valentin, who managed a .360 wOBA and 9.2 UZR in 94 games at second base, a position he hadn't played since 1994, and had only played 19 games at in his major league career. His 3.1 WAR made him the fifth most valuable player on the team. 
  • Among players with at least as many as PA's as Xavier Nady's 292, there were eight wOBA's greater than .350: Beltran, Wright (.394), Delgado, Reyes (.377), Valentin, Chavez, Nady (.358), and Lo Duca (.354)
  • The pRAA splits were 53.7 for the bullpen and -32.8 for the rotation.  The bullpen supplanted Pedro Martinez as the team's pitching strength, and there wasn't all that much else to talk about in a positive light.  
  • 13 different pitchers started games.  Only four provided positive pRAA figures.  Pedro Martinez still lead the team at 10.3, despite missing most of the second half.  The other three were Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, and Brian Bannister, none of whom pitched the full year either, at least not for the Mets. 
  • Like Delgado, Billy Wagner was also as advertised, posting a 2.65 tRA, tied for the team lead among qualified relievers with Chad Bradford
  • Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, and Duaner Sanchez also each had sub-4.00 tRA's in at least 50 innings apiece.  
  • The team's PADE and UZR match up much better in 2006 than 2005.  They were a quality defensive squad. 

This was a team that got it done in exactly the way the 2005 version didn't, as well as failed in the one area that the 2005 version was superior.  Carlos Beltran emerged as the player the Mets thought they were buying and then some, while Jose Reyes finally grew into the player Mets fans had been hanging their dreams on for years.  Unfortunately, once Pedro Martinez's health began to fail him, the lack of pitching depth was brutally exposed.  It was the one obvious weakness on an otherwise incredibly complete team.  And despite the playoff push coming to a crashing halt in Game 7 of the NLCS, there was even some hope for life after Pedro.  The second half arrival of John Maine and clutchy playoff performance of Oliver Perez promised to give the future of the Mets rotation a new, younger look, and the beginnings of the depth they so lacked in 2006.

 

2007 - Oh So Close

The playoffs seemed like the natural end to the 2007 season even before it began.  The everyday unit that carried the 2006 team was still largely intact, and the previous year's high leverage relief specialists all returned as well. However, the trademark splash Omar Minaya had become known for in his first two years on the job was strangely absent.  This was a bold decision, considering Pedro Martinez, the team's most effective pitcher over the last two years, was slated to miss the majority of the season recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.  And some of the moves that were made were eyebrow raisers.  Scott Schoeneweis and Guillermo Mota were given multi-year deals based on strong, but very short performances from the end of 2006, while major contributors Chad Bradford and Darren Oliver were allowed to walk away in Free Agency.  Still, the roster construction was very similar to the team with a +103 run differential the previous year.  How hard could a second straight NL East crown be?

Making Runs Happen

PA Avg OBP SLG wOBA HR% HR/FB XBH% BB% SO% SB CS bRAA RS
6343 .275 .342 .432 .344 2.8% 11.1% 7.9% 8.7% 15.5% 200 46 42.0 804

 

Making Runs Not Happen

BF ERA FIP tRA (SP) tRA (RP) SO% BB% HR% pRAA DE PADE UZR RA
6293 4.27 4.46 4.93 4.71 18.0% 9.1% 2.6% -6.4 .701 1.51 6.8 750

 

Miscellaneous Facts and Musings

  • The team run differential was +54 runs.  We'll get back to this in a bit.
  • Though it functioned differently, the offensive output was very similar in 2007 to its 2006 predecessor.  Less power, fewer strikeouts, a more aggressive running game, and a slightly lower league average wOBA actually meant their bRAA improved by three runs.  
  • David Wright lead the team in wOBA with a .422 mark.  Moises Alou's .398 was second. 
  • Nine different players had a wOBA of .345 or higher in at least 200 PA:  Wright, Alou, Carlos Beltran (.377), Damian Easley (.367), Luis Castillo (.361), Lastings Milledge (.357), Shawn Green (.351), Jose Reyes (.349), and Ruben Gotay (.345). 
  • The big offensive disappointment was Carlos Delgado, whose wOBA fell to .342. 
  • Though the team lacked a dominant starting pitcher and the rotation as a whole only improved slightly from 2006, they did have three guys who contributed more than any starter from the year before.  Oliver Perez, John Maine, and Orlando Hernandez all produced pRAA figures greater than Pedro's 2006 output of 10.3.   This really says more about the 2006 group than the 2007 one. 
  • Oliver Perez's 4.19 tRA and 16.1 pRAA lead the starting staff in both categories.  I'll say that again.  Oliver Perez once lead a pitching staff in something meaningful.
  • Unfortunately, the 2007 bullpen couldn't do what the 2006 version did to make up for the lack of quality in the rotation.  Wagner was once again excellent, but beyond him, no other reliever managed a sub-4.00 tRA in at least 60 innings.  The only other two relievers who were above average were Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano, with 4.45 and 4.13 tRA's, respectively. 
  • Believe it or not, the second and third best tRA's among relievers with at least 20 IP were from Jorge Sosa (3.74) and Ambiorix Burgos (3.81), but neither threw enough relief innings to have a huge impact. 
  • Though the defense wasn't quite as good as the previous year, PADE and UZR both agree that it was still pretty solid. 

Of course, we all know how this season ended, with one of the greatest collapses in regular season baseball history, and one of the greatest comebacks, care of the Philadelphia Phillies.  Because it went down in this way, and because the Mets did indeed control the NL East for much of the 2007 season, many fans were still willing to write off the failure as the aberration to the rule that was 2006.  But there was one particularly troubling statistical sign:  The +54 run differential.  Looking back at 2005, the +74 run differential yielded an 83-79 record.  Did the Mets actually over-perform in 2007?  Using the Pythagenpat method developed by David Smyth and Patriot, we can project that the 2005 team should have had about a .550 winning percentage, approximately 89 wins, and the 2007 team a .533 winning percentage, about 86 wins, so perhaps they did.  Still, the high powered offense was intact even without superior production from Carlos Delgado or the surprise contributions from Jose Valentin, and Omar had found the back half a rotation that his team lacked in 2006.  Now all they needed was a front.....right?

In Part 2:  2008, 2009, and beyond

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