After Sandy Alderson went on his most recent media blitz - talking to bloggers, then fans, and then Mike Francesca in the space of a week - there was some discussion about his attitude vis-a-vis the Mets chances in 2011. Going in with the same roster, but different motivations and different management, could fans really expect this team to do any better this season?
Alderson is in a difficult position. He must advocate for his team, and beat the drum for fans to attend games. They cannot play to an empty stadium and completely write off the upcoming season. On the other hand, it's clearly a rebuilding year, or at least a transition from a roster that is mostly Omar Minaya's to one that has more of an Alderson imprint upon it. Basically, Alderson has to praise Omar Minaya's team, while dismantling Omar Minaya's team.
But the fact remains that Alderson's main claim - that many of the position players on this roster had poor years and could bounce back - that claim is true. If everything broke right, this team could be better. Everything seemed to break wrong over the past few years, perhaps the Mets have a reserve of good luck in the tank.
What could this team do if we put on our rosiest glasses? Let's attempt to answer this question using the statistics and projections currently available to us, and making reasonable - but positive-leaning - guesses about the players' performance this season. In a way, we're continuing the work Mark Simon started yesterday when he listed five ways the Mets could beat the Phillies - except we're going way past five. Call this an attempt to find the absolute (realistic) ceiling for this roster.
Here are the things that will happen in this projection.
1. Johan Santana comes back in June and performs at about 95% of the level he's shown in the last three years.
2. Dillon Gee is an average major league starter while Santana is out.
3. Chris Young pushes the needle to 145 innings and a four-ish FIP.
4. The team finds about as much success in the bullpen as they have the last two years (one non-Rodriguez WAR in 2009 and 2010 combined).
5. Mike Pelfrey takes another step forward.
6. Jonathon Niese takes another step forward.
7. Carlos Beltran plays 130 games in right field and is a positive defensively while hitting at about 90% of his peak level.
8. Angel Pagan stays healthy and repeats his 2010.
9. The other position players stay healthy for the most part.
10. Jason Bay recovers to about 90% of his peak level at the plate.
11. The 28-year-old David Wright plays to about 92% of his peak level.
12. Jose Reyes splits the difference between the 2006-2008 version and the 2009-2010 version.
13. Josh Thole and Ronny Paulino continue to play at their 2010 levels in 2011.
14. Ike Davis adds some pop, up to about the level of an average qualifying first baseman (.203 ISO was average in 2010).
15. Brad Emaus can manage a .335/.395 type of bat, and is only about a -5 with the glove.
16. Daniel Murphy is a competent backup at multiple positions.
17. Lucas Duda can show power and patience as the backup corner outfielder.
Yeah, so 17 things that need to go right for the Mets to hit their ceiling. But that sounds about right.
Using wOBA, batting runs above replacement, defense runs above replacement, and positional bumps to calculate each player's WAR, we'll try to find a reasonable-but incredibly-optimistic team WAR. That should allow us to project a reasonable-but-incredibly-optimistic record for the 2011 Mets. Going into this thing, I'm guessing about 91 wins. Last year, the Atlanta Braves won the NL wild card with 91 wins. This is the stuff dreams are made of in Queens. Here's the worksheet:
|Pos.||Player||BJ wOBA||RG wOBA||PAs||Bat RAR||Gs||Field RAR||Repl RAR||Pos RAR||RG WAR|
|Pos||Player||BJ FIP||RG FIP||IP||RG WAR|
|RP||Rest of Bullpen||0.5|
Wow. Using 48 wins to approximate replacement level, this team's ceiling could be just short of triple digits (48+35.6+15.7=99.3). Compared to the back-of-a-cocktail-napkin work that Dave Cameron did on FanGraphs this week, they'd be neck-and-neck with the Phillies and their 98+ wins.
Of course, Cameron's article was much more realistic than this exercise in faithcasting and hopeful thinking, and the stars would really have to align for this team to win even 95 games. Even though only Josh Thole, Brad Emaus and Ike Davis would show a WAR they've never shown before in the universe represented above, it would take a Willets Point Christmas Miracle to make this projection real. This was a map of what it would look like if each player had their best realistic season - at the same time. It can be fun to dream.
Thanks to Dave Cameron for his help.
Here is an explanation, in the FanGraphs glossary, of the
replacement-level RAR, fielding RAR, and converting FIP to pitcher's WAR.
Here is the Brad Emaus projection from ZiPs that I embiggened for this purpose.
BJ = Bill James Projections; RG = Rosiest Glasses Projections
All WAR projections were run using 2010 run environments.