Saturday, April 04, 2009

2009 Mets Preview: The Hitters

Throughout the offseason a number of people have talked about the Mets' need to add a bat. But really, the fact that they scored five runs in the last three games of the season doesn't change the fact that the Mets had a great offense last year. The 2008 Mets tied for second in the National League in runs scored with 799, 4.93 per game, and ranked third in the league with an OPS+ of 100. And everyone who was any good last year is back this year. True, Luis Castillo and Brian Schneider are also back. But most of the important offensive players are young enough to be counted on to keep up their recent production. I certainly wouldn't have minded if the Mets had added a second baseman who can hit the ball more than 150 feet through the air, but this is not enough to doom the bats to mediocrity.

2008 NL average: .255/.328/.387
2008 Mets average: .249/324/.378

The 2009 Mets have the same crew of backstops as the 2008 team: one guy who can't hit and one guy who can't stay healthy. And even that was good enough to be about league average last year. Brian Schneider hit a little better than he had the previous couple of years while Ramon Castro saw his slugging percentage drop more than 100 points from his big 2007. Now, I wouldn't be shocked if Schneider slugged .300 or Castro came down with Ebola virus, but I think the more likely result is another adequate season from this position. Given the rarity of guys who could theoretically hit a home run on the Met bench, I would also like to see Jerry Manuel use Castro as a pinch hitter late in games once in a while, but I won't get my hopes up.

First Base
2008 NL: .277/.359/.479
2008 Mets: .271/.348/.497

Carlos Delgado is one of the big questions of 2009 given his age and the ridiculousness of his 2008 second half. But as you can see from the overall averages, first base was not a huge plus for the Mets in 2008, due in large part to Delgado's awful start. A thirty-seven year old Delgado may not be able to slug .606 like he did in the second half of last year, but he was so good in that second half that he can fall off somewhat and still be a very useful hitter. I would bet on him getting the 31 home runs he needs to reach 500 and if he does that, I think the Mets will have done well at this position.

Second Base
2008 NL: .271/.338/.408
2008 Mets: .258/.339/.338

So, even in his apparent postmortem state, Luis Castillo can draw a walk or two. You'd think that at some point pitchers would realize that Castillo hitting the ball is not a bad outcome for them and just throw it down the middle, but apparently they haven't yet. Of course, none of this matters because according to the talk out of Spring Training, Castillo is in The Best Shape Of His Life. I mean, I don't know how Met fans can hear that and still be worried. The fact that the Mets didn't bother to sign a decent backup at this position further supports the conclusion that Castillo is gonig to have a big year. Everyone should just calm down.

Third Base
2008 NL: .265/.335/.441
2008 Mets: .302/.390/.531

David Wright is only twenty-six! The only question is whether this will be the year he gets that elusive MVP award.

2008 NL: .276/.334/.404
2008 Mets: .292/.353/.466

Jose Reyes is only twenty-five! Okay, it would be nice if Reyes could keep up his tremendous production all the way through September at some point and finding a backup better than Alex Cora to give him a rest every once in a while might help with that. But really, with a left side of the infield like this, it's easy to understand why the Mets would want to just sit back and watch.

Left Field
2008 NL: .271/.350/.453
2008 Mets: .273/.334/.396

This is a position where the Mets are taking a pretty big chance in 2009. But, as you can see from last year's stats, there's not much place to go but up. Daniel Murphy's stats prior to last season do not look like those a future major league left fielder, but he hit over .300 with a good number of walks in both Binghamton and New York last year. It's reasonable to be wary that this might be a fluke, but watching Murphy last year and seeing his approach, which had him seeing 4.25 pitches per plate appearance, has me pretty optimistic. I don't expect he'll hit for a lot of power like a prototypical left fielder and his defense is still a work in progress, but I think he can put up a high on base percentage with enough doubles to keep the slugging respectable. At the start of Spring Training there was talk of platooning Murphy, but at this point Jerry Manuel seems to have fallen hard for the kid. Seriously, I think I saw him writing "Jerry Murphy" over and over in the margins of his notebook during a recent press conference.

Center Field
2008 NL: .267/.334/.426
2008 Mets: .283/.373/.486

Carlos Beltran: great center fielder or the greatest center fielder? No one in the NL is in either his league or the same ballpark. All signs point to him having another great all around offensive year and winning another Gold Glove (the deserved kind, not the Nate McLouth kind). Anyone who is unsatisfied with what the Mets are getting for their $119 million is not paying attention.

Right Field
2008 NL: .271/.344/.444
2008 Mets: .283/.347/.423

If Ryan Church could hit for a full season like he did for the first two months of last season, the Mets would really have something. But that's unrealistic. After his concussion problems last year and the way he failed to hit in the second half, it's hard to expect much from him. I do think he'll at least play good defense for as long as he's in the lineup. But with Fernando Tatis and now Gary Sheffield on the roster, the Mets have a few chances to get more offense out of this position than they did last year.

If Church does stay healthy and productive, the Mets might have the best bench they've had in a few years, at least offensively. Tatis's .267/.369/.484 line last year was pretty surprising, but he's only thirty-four. If he can get regular work backing up all four corners, he could be a big contributor again. Sheffield may not have much left, but for the league minimum, I am glad Omar Minaya gave him a shot to try to prove otherwise. Those two along with Castro could give the Mets solid power off the bench. Jeremy Reed should provide a little outfield defense once in a while. And Alex Cora can probably stand at second base or shortstop occasionally without too much trouble.

Altogether, this looks like one of the top few offenses in the league to me. There's no way to know how Citi Field will play, but if it's no more offense-dampening than Shea, I think this team should score in the neighborhood of eight hundred runs again. If they can save about fifteen of those for the final weekend, all the better.

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