Has The Mets' Offseason Been Better Than We Thought?

PECOTA projected standings were released yesterday by Baseball Prospectus and, despite unabashed insolence from many fans towards the Mets' offseason, Nate Silver's computer thinks the Mets are a 93-win team that should win the NL East handily.

NL East W L RS RA
New York Mets 93 69 834 712
Atlanta Braves 88 74 819 740
Philadelphia Phillies 88 74 839 754
Washington Nationals 78 84 786 805
Florida Marlins 74 88 769 822

The Mets won 89 games last year and their third order winning percentage was the best in the NL East, edging the World Champion Phillies by a game (As a reminder, W3 and L3 are wins and losses determined using equivalent runs scored/allowed and adjusted for opponent's hitting, pitching and defense. Equivalent runs are meant to represent true talent level, focusing on the building blocks of hitting and pitching while largely ignoring actual run-scoring results.) These facts can't erase another brutal September swoon or the Phillies' championship parade, but it gives us some kind of baseline for 2009. Although, the Mets' W3 was actually 88, one win less than their raw win total, so we can't honestly say that they were appreciably better or worse than their record might indicate.

Barring any unexpected roster changes between now and April 1, the Mets will be returning the same starting lineup that finished 2008. Everyone is a year older, some for better and some for worse. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Daniel Murphy each has an extra year under his belt and each could benefit from the additional experience and the step closer to beginning his prime years. Reyes and Wright are among the best players in baseball and, yes, they might just get a little bit better. Yikes. What Murphy might gain in experience could very easily be offset by regression to the mean, as his .386 BABIP in 2008 will be unsustainable over a larger number of plate appearances.

Luis Castillo isn't getting any younger, but with the blessing of good health and commensurate playing time he should be better in 2009. PECOTA isn't optimistic, but I try to be a little more sanguine about these things. Ryan Church looked downright pitiful in the waning days of 2008, but he also suffered two concussions over the course of the season and missed considerable playing time to recovery and concussion-related ailments. He was hitting .320/.384/.556 on June 1, and while none of us is as good as we look on our best days, nor are we quite as awful as on our worst (.227/.304/.307 after June 1).

Carlos Beltran should regress a little but can still be counted on to be one of the game's finest players, gracefully patrolling the outfield space between Church and Fernando Tatis, who was a magnificent surprise last season. No one will be shocked if Tatis turns back into a pumpkin this year, but he could be plenty useful sharing time in left with Murphy. Carlos Delgado was on the verge of outright release at the end of May but engineered a dramatic turnaround thereafter that secured his option for 2009. The Mets will be counting on him for that same type of production this year, though let's just say that not everyone is convinced.

The Mets' starting staff will be almost identical to last year's model. Johan Santana, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey will try to eat up 750 innings in the first four slots while Tim Redding, Freddy Garcia and Jon Niese hope to form a better-than-league-average fifth starter. PECOTA is not terribly high on Pelfrey, so if he can come close to duplicating his breakthrough performance from last year then the Mets could be in very good shape rotation-wise.

So far things look a lot like 2008, which, again, isn't a terrible thing. Now we move into the area of mass renovation: the bullpen. The point about the countless blown saves by Mets relievers last year has been belabored ad nauseum. Given the bullpen's struggles and the knowledge that Billy Wagner would miss most-if-not-all of 2009, Omar Minaya set out this offseason to remake the relief corps by bringing in established -- and expensive -- arms. Francisco Rodriguez cost him $39 million and a first round draft pick. J.J. Putz cost him Endy Chavez, Aaron Heilman, Mike Carp, Joe Smith and three minor leaguers (plus some $14 million in salary commitments over the next two seasons). PECOTA projects Rodriguez to be worth 20.4 VORP next year. For comparison, Mariano Rivera is projected at 22.5; Jonathan Papelbon at 22.4. Putz is projected at 19.6. You read that right: the tandem of Rodriguez/Putz projects to be about a half-win worse than Rivera/Papelbon. That = good.

Behind those two you have Sean Green, a throw-in from Seattle that will take Smith's spot as right-handed groundball machine. His PECOTA projection is 10.5. Kerry Wood's is 12.4. Pedro Feliciano is projected at 9.6. Duaner Sanchez is at 6.7. Here's what the bullpen total VORP from 2008 looks like next to the projected total for 2009.

2008 Total VORP 2009 Projected VORP
46.5 70.4

That's a 2.5 win improvement, which is huge. If Wagner can return in September -- a long shot, I would think -- the Mets could have three closers and two other good relievers behind them.

This proves nothing except that a computer thinks the Mets will be four or five wins better in 2009 than they were in 2008. There are still games to be played, pitches to be thrown and homeruns to be hit. Hopefully, at least, this will give us one good reason to cease complaining about this winter and be hopeful about the oncoming season. Pitchers and catchers: they report in three days.

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