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The 2008 Offense: How's It Looking?

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Conventional baseball wisdom suggests that pitching wins ballgames. Contemporary baseball wisdom posits that the team which regularly outscores its opponent wins ballgames. The Mets had a .775 team OPS last year, good enough for fifth in the National League, though they were closer to falling into eighth place than they were to bumping up to fourth. With Johan Santana chatter buzzing all around us, a lot of folks seem to think the Mets need further upgrades to their pitching staff in order to compete for the NL East title next year. Santana would obviously make some of the team's other problems easier to overlook, but I don't know that the Mets necessarily need an upgrade of that magnitude to be one of the league's better teams in 2008.

If we can put pitching aside for the moment, I thought it would be instructive to look at the Mets' offensive production last season and see where they may be likely to improve or regress this coming season. For lack of a better (read: easier) method, I decided to analyze the team position-by-position, relative to the league, and see where they might come out ahead/behind for 2008.

Right Field

2007 OPS: .724
NL Rank: 15th
NL Average: .786

There's plenty of room for growth here, as Shawn Green OPS'd .761 and it took the combined efforts of everyone else to drag that down to .724. Most of the damage was done by Carlos Gomez's ludicrously-tragic .196/.218/.275 batting line covering 51 at-bats. Endy Chavez hit .324, but slugged no higher as all twelve of his hits went for singles. Lastings Milledge hit .239/.343/.409 in 88 at-bats when he wasn't recording rap records and supposedly poisoning the clubhouse.

The Mets should get better in right, with Ryan Church getting most of the plate appearances and Damion Easley (who hit .318/.318/.500 in 22 at-bats as a right fielder last year) spelling him against some lefties. Church probably isn't enough to push that tandem over the league average, but they should definitely be able to put together a better showing than that of their 2007 counterparts.

Center Field

2007 OPS: .876
NL Rank: 2nd
NL Average: .762

Carlos Beltran collected 552 of the team's 642 at-bats in center field and was one of the most potent bats at the position in the National League. Milledge, Chavez and Marlon Anderson each filled in admirably during Beltran's occasional absence. On the surface, it might appear that the Mets could easily regress from 2nd overall in the NL, but they are probably a safe bet to be about the same in 2008. Beltran is still in his prime as a hitter, so a repeat of his 2007 performance is not out of the question.

The only team that outperformed the Mets in center field last year was the Phillies, and with Aaron Rowand recently fleeing for greener pastures out west, the Phils are likely to see some offensive regression as they try to fill his void.

Left Field

2007 OPS: .815
NL Rank: 9th
NL Average: .834

Moises Alou and his .340/.389/.525 line in left field accounted for slightly more than half of the Mets' offensive output, at-bat-wise, from the position, with nine other players accruing anywhere from three (Jeff Conine) to 84 (Endy Chavez) at-bats while Alou was on the disabled list/resting because he was so old. If Alou can somehow cobble together 400-500 at-bats, the Mets will probably get better in left. That probably won't happen, so the extra at-bats will go to Chavez, Easley, and whomever else the Mets can find to fill in the time.

Shortstop

2007 OPS: .777
NL Rank: 7th
NL Average: .755

This is basically all Jose Reyes, who looked like an MVP candidate in April but had degenerated to a Rey Ordonez clone by September. The projections I have seen peg Reyes to repeat his 2007 performance in 2008, though he definitely has the potential to improve for next year. His upside is boundless, but after starting 2007 as a superstar, he finished the season as the fourth-best shortstop in the division. He *should* improve, but there is little guarantee that he actually will. Assuming he's a Met next year, that is.

Third Base

2007 OPS: .951
NL Rank: 2nd
NL Average: .803

David Wright: what's not to like? Very little. He may even be able to move his rank up to 1st now that Miguel Cabrera has been dealt by the Marlins to the Tigers. Chipper Jones is still a threat if he can stay healthy, as is a full season of Ryan Braun in Milwaukee, assuming his leaden glove remains at the hot corner.

Second Base

2007 OPS: .752
NL Rank: .752
NL Average: .758

Four players collected more than 125 at-bats at second base for the Mets last year: Ruben Gotay (.804 OPS in 126 at-bats), Damion Easley (.775 OPS in 132 at-bats), Luis Castillo (.742 in 199 at-bats) and Jose Valentin (.690 OPS in 158 at-bats). Castillo, given good health, will get virtually all of the playing time next year. The bad news is that he doesn't figure to get any better, and as he ages he will probably only get worse. The really bad news is that the Mets bought themselves four years of finding that out.

First Base

2007 OPS: .797
NL Rank: 11th
NL Average: .846

This is Carlos Delgado, folks. The bright side is that he hit .242/.305/.435 before the All Star break and a far more adequate .285/.375/.469 after the break. If he can maintain that post-break performance throughout 2008, the Mets will be right around average for National League first-sackers, which will be a marked improvement over 2007. If not, well, you know.

Catcher

2007 OPS: .718
NL Rank: 6th
NL Average: .711

If the Mets are inclined to give Brian Schneider the lion's share of the catching duties next year, this mark isn't likely to improve any. In fact, it will probably just get worse, as the Nationals were 12th last year in catching OPS with Schneider getting most of the playing time. Ramon Castro is a much better hitter than Schneider and, actually, a better hitter than most of the catchers in the National League. I am hopeful that he will get close to half of the at-bats next year, but that's probably wishful thinking on my part. Some of it may depend on how Schneider starts out; if his hitting is truly dreadful early on and his throwing arm doesn't make up for it, the Mets might think twice about needlessly throwing away so many at-bats on such an obvious offensive black hole.

Overall, the Mets figure to get better in right, at first and at short, with minor regressions at second and catcher, and little change elsewhere. With a few breaks they could definitely be an improved offensive team in 2008. They probably won't be greatly improved, but I think they will be better overall.