Learning From Your Enemies, Part 1: Identifying Similarities

It may be difficult to watch games like Tuesday's no-hitter by Roy Halladay and the Phillies, but Mets fans have to find something to do with their time these days. Evaluating possible GMs can only get you through so much of the day.

Thankfully, there is something to be gleaned from the Phillies. The enemy is obviously a large-market team with the same pressures to compete year-in and year-out as the Mets, and they've somehow managed to finally blend their home-grown youth with free agent veterans to find that winning combination. If Abraham Lincoln so famously learned from his rivals, it shouldn't be beneath the Mets to learn from our turnpike counterparts. Really, nothing should be beneath the Mets these days. Let's put our chinstrap beards on and go.

This will be a multi-parter, as it may take a little time to suss out exactly what this teaching moment can provide. In the first part, we'll examine the similarities between the current Mets and the early 2000 Phillies. In the second part, we'll take a look at what the Phillies did to get over the hump. In the third part, we'll see if the roadmap can apply to the Mets.

Looking at the Phillies' MLB.com History page, a quote about 2004 catches the eye:

A team with high expectations was derailed by injuries and inconsistency in the 2004 season. New closer Billy Wagner was limited to 45 games and had two separate stints on the disabled list, and starters Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood missed large chunks as well.

It's hard to gauge Mets fans' expectations these days, but it seems like the last three years have been derailed by injuries and inconsistent play. So much so that the injuries begat a slogan ("Prevention and Recovery") and a focus on keeping the players healthy.

The fact remains that in 2005, the Phillies had a young first baseman (Ryan Howard), two young exciting infielders (Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins), and a home-grown outfielder (Pat Burrell). The rest of the team was filled out by veterans like Mike Lieberthal, David Bell, Kenny Lofton and Bobby Abreu.

The Mets in 2010 have a young first baseman, two still-young and exciting infielders, a good home-grown(ish) outfielder in Angel Pagan, and a bunch of veterans filling out the rest of the team. Though Ike Davis may not be a Ryan Howard, Jose Reyes still has some upside to fill out, and David Wright could actually play Chase Utley to a standstill if you count injuries. And if you count defense, Angel Pagan looks to be more exciting than Pat Burrell. This is not a strictly numbers-based analysis, but the two offenses aren't terribly far apart here. Maybe the Phillies were ahead of this offense in 2005 - Howard has some nice power - but by how much?

The 2005 Phillies rotation was led by underwhelming veterans like Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle, but had some promise in young righty Brett Myers and young lefty Randy Wolf. Vicente Padilla was young, but it was fairly clear that his upside was limited even then.

The 2010 Mets rotation had its share of underwhelming veterans - if you count John Maine and Oliver Perez as veterans. Instead, there's the conundrum of Johan Santana, who has been impressive and somewhat injury-prone in recent times. There's some promise in young righty Mike Pelfrey and young lefty Jon Niese, but Pelfrey doesn't really look like a Myers, and the Mets would be happy if Niese ended up as good as Wolf. Playing the role of 'decent while young and cost-controlled but with an iffy repertoire' or 'our Vincente Padilla' might just be Dillon Gee. R.A. Dickey has no corollary. He's cost-controlled and exciting, but not young. It's not a one-to-one correspondence here - you might want to give the Mets the edge here, at least in 'present' value, but Myers and Wolf would have been ahead of Pelfrey and Niese had they played in Citi Field, most likely.

The 2005 Phillies team had played 2004 in a new park, but had missed the playoffs for all of the 2000s so far. That may be overstating their mediocrity, though, as they had been showing glimpses and had missed out on some wild card appearances by slim margins. 2001, they were 86-76 and finished second. 2002, they were 80-81 and in 3rd. 2003, 86-76 and 3rd, but missed out on the wild card in the final week. 2004 saw them go 86-76 in their new park and fire manager Larry Bowa. 2005 turned out to be an 88-74 season, one game out of the wild card with new manager Charlie Manuel. In the offseason of 2005, the team hired Pat Gillick to be their GM.

We all know the Mets' recent records, but there are some similarities here, as the Mets have stayed near contention most years and have had similar run-ins with new stadiums, coaches, and now general managers.

The last piece of the comparison puzzle is the minor leagues.

Philsprospects05grab_medium
The 2005 Philies Top 10 prospects by Baseball America were headlined by Cole Hamels, Greg Golson and Michael Bourn, but there wasn't another player on the list that really figured in on the national scene. Scott Mathieson was fourth, and he did have a nice fastball, but at that point he had not shown an ERA under four in the minor leagues and hadn't cracked Double-A. Revisionist history aside, it was a prospect list with one rising star and some pieces, but not much depth.

What would the current Mets prospect list look like? Most likely, it would be topped by by young righty Jenrry Mejia, but he hasn't yet shown Hamels-esque upside. Wilmer Flores might be next, and he would probably out-rank Golson and Bourn if only by being an infielder. Fernando Martinez, if he's still a prospect, can play the part of the flawed young outfielder, or Kirk NIeuwenhuis, or Lucas Duda. There's a nice series on this in the FanPost section you can peruse yourself.

The verdict on this comparison might have the Mets' list out in front, at least in terms of depth. There's no Cole Hamels on the list, but it definitely goes deeper. Then again, the lack of superstar prospects is actually a flaw worth considering. Is there some part of the Mets' philosophy - perhaps the preference for college arms - that has not produced a top pitching prospect in recent years? You can love Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee and still understand that none of them are as good as Cole Hamels, and in all likelihood won't ever be.

These teams aren't exact mirror images. In Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard, the Phillies were probably ahead in two key categories. Even with those two players' flaws, they're ahead of their 2010 Mets' counterparts, and there's little in the system that resembles those players. 

But the 2005 Phillies were a large-market team struggling to move from the middle of the pack to the front of the pack. They had some young pieces, some old pieces, and some holes. They had a new stadium, a new manager, and, by the end of the season, a new GM. That sounds a lot like the current Mets, and there must be something we can learn from this comparison.

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