The U Files # 40: 2003 Season Recap

The Mets began the last two years with the delusion that continuing to update the team registry of bad contracts would produce a contending team. The 2003 year brings the good news that the Mets figuratively met with their psychiatrist, and have overcome the most severe manifestations of dementia afflicting the High Command. Gone is the maven of shortsighted management, Steve Phillips. (Free Preview of Premium Content)

The new management has rid the team of many of the worst contracts, meanwhile improving the farm. Oh, and by the way, the Mets lost 95 games.

Since winning the Wild Card twice consecutively in 1999 and 2000, getting as far as the World Series, the Mets have completed their fall from grace. The Mets record of 66-95, .410 makes for the worst Met season since 1993 (59-103). It is partly due to the fact the Braves won 101 games that the Mets finished 34.5 games out. Still, the Mets record was second worst in the National League. The upside of this is, the Mets have secured the #3 pick overall in the 2004 Amateur Player draft. The leagues rotate for the right to pick first. This year, the NL has the first pick, and every odd-numbered pick. The Detroit Tigers face the ignominy of not picking first despite a historically bad season.

Shea Stadium has depressed run scoring by 6.8 percent in 2003. Thus, the Met run totals of 642 runs scored and 754 allowed equate to 664 park-neutral runs scored and 780 park-neutral runs allowed. The average NL team scored 746.375 runs and allowed 742.563 runs (odd numbers the result of inter-league play). So, the Mets team R+ is 89, and the Mets team RA+ is 95. In other words, the Mets scored 11 percent fewer park adjusted runs than the average NL team, and allowed 5 percent more park-adjusted runs than the average NL team.

At the plate, the Mets received significant help from Cliff Floyd and Jason Phillips, but that's about it. Franchise Cornerstone (of the past age, not the developing New age led by Jose Reyes) Mike Piazza missed half the season with a severely torn groin, and Jose Reyes, while very hot for a while, only amassed 274 AB. Jeromy Burnitz hit .274/.344/.581 as a Met, but due to a mid season trade had just 234 AB as a Met.

It is a telling stat that only three Mets received over 400 AB this season; that Roger Cedeno (481) is one of the three tells of a serious crime committed by manager Art Howe. Jason Phillips (402) and Ty Wigginton (570) were the other two.

Cliff Floyd had an odd kind of year, in two parts. In the earlier part, his batting average was a bit lower than what you'd expect of Cliff Floyd, but his peripherals (walks and power numbers) were excellent. As I wrote in the mid-season recap, Floyd then was just a number of singles removed from being on a pace for another Floydian year, according to the high standards he set for himself the three prior years. In the last few weeks before he left the team to have surgery performed on his balky Achilles tendon, he raised his batting average back to where it should be, but his peripherals fell off. So, Floyd finished with a .290/.376/.518 year in 365 AB. For reference, from 2000 through 2002 Floyd hit .302/.385/.549.

Jason Phillips was the surprising shot in the arm from the farm. His minor league track record, especially his strong walk totals, indicated he had the ability to be an above average offensive catcher as a regular starter. When injuries to Mike Piazza and Mo Vaughn left the Mets with holes at two positions, Phillips became a regular in the lineup, hitting .299/.374/.443. His batting average was above .320 for much of the season.

Ty Wigginton is the clear cut Iron Man of the year for the Mets. Unfortunately, he was not a force in the lineup to create wins. He was basically an average offensive player. However, being an average player in a below average lineup, Wigginton was still one of the hitters whose contributions raised the Mets offense.

Shortstop was manned by Rey Sanchez at the beginning of the year, though it was acknowledged he would be merely a stop gap until the expected promotion of Jose Reyes. Expected to hit little, Sanchez hit even less. In 174 AB he hit .207/.240/.236. That is not a misprint; Sanchez' slugging percentage was lower than his OBP. In early June, Sanchez was traded and Jose Reyes took over the starting shortstop job.

Since his Major League debut on June 10, 2003, Reyes improved steadily to finish with an above average OPS for the year after his season ended Aug. 31 due to an ankle sprain.

Reyes' batting statistics by month

Month

AB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

IsoP

AB/BB

June

73

.205

.211

.342

.553

137

73

July

91

.330

.340

.418

.758

88

45.5

August

110

.355

.408

.509

.917

154

11



His batting average improved steadily, and his power took a dip in July but came back stronger than ever in August (measured by Isolated Power – SLG minus BA). An unapologetic hacker in his first two months, in August he drew walks at an acceptable pace. The symbol of the Mets future hopes, Reyes showed no sign that he'd become anything less than the cornerstone player he is expected to become.

The pitching was less of a problem than the hitting, but not what was hoped for out of a rotation led by Al Leiter and Tom Glavine. However, Jae Weong Seo, a question mark at season's start, turned out to be the Mets best starting pitcher in 2003. Steve Trachsel finished with the most wins, but he was helped by some fortuitous luck in several areas. The fifth starter's spot was a box of worms. Several pitchers made starts in that spot, including David Cone, Aaron Heilman, and Jeremy Griffiths. All failed miserably.

Al Leiter had two seasons in 2003. In the first half, his control was historically bad; he walked 63 men in 97 innings – 5.85 batters per nine innings. His ERA was 5.57. In the second, he walked 31 men in 83.2 innings – an acceptable 3.33 batters per nine innings. His ERA was 2.15. His early struggles appear to have been the result of an adjustment suggested by new teammate Glavine that he pitch to the outside part of the plate more often. In the second half, he reverted to pitching more like himself. As long as he keeps pitching like Al Leiter and not like Tom Glavine, there is hope that Leiter will post a solid 2004.

Tom Glavine was a risk the moment he signed a 3 year, $35 million deal. It could have been reasonably expected that he'd suffer a pronounced decline at some point during the contract. It was hoped he'd stave off that decline as long as possible. That appears not to have happened. Glavine gave up 21 home runs in 183.1 IP on his way to an ERA of 4.52.

Steve Trachsel was the luckiest Mets pitcher, by a fair margin. First, his run support was easily the best of any Mets starter at 5.36 runs per game. Second, he did not pitch as well as his 3.78 ERA. His peripherals were below average – 4.88 SO/9 IP, 2.86 BB/9 IP, 7.87 IP/HR. I'd expect him to pitch like Steve Trachsel next year – average.

Jae Seo had the best year of the four regular Mets starters. Hurt by poor run support, his peripherals were good. He struck out 5.26 batters per 9 innings, allowed 2.20 walks per 9 innings and gave up one home run per 10.5 IP. He should go on to become the next Rick Reed. It was a promising sign that his velocity peaked at the end of the season.

The fifth starter's position was a black hole. David Cone, Pedro Astacio, Aaron Heilman, Jeremy Griffiths, Mike Bacsik, and Jason Roach combined to pitch 33 games – a full starters workload. They pitched 160 innings to a combined ERA over 7. The slot should be more stable next year, with Heilman given a chance to show he's not a bust.

The bullpen was below average, but not a total disaster. ERA is not a good tool to use in evaluating relievers, partly because it does not account for base runners left for the next pitcher to deal with, and inherited runners. Baseballprospectus.com has devised a system for evaluating relief pitchers headlined by a stat called Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP). The Mets bullpen in total scored –4.0 ARP, meaning they allowed four more runs to score than an average bullpen. After closer Armando Benitez was traded, the Mets went to a closer by committee.

Mike Stanton was signed to a 3 year, $9 million contract prior to the season. Like Glavine, he was a risky signing that did not work out. Stanton posted ARP of –2.2. The Mets appear to be stuck with an ineffective reliever for two more years, since Stanton's contract includes a full no-trade clause.

The Mets made three major trades before the July 31 trade deadline. First, they shipped out disgruntled and underachieving second baseman Roberto Alomar for a package featuring reliever prospect Royce Ring. Ring becomes the best relief prospect in the Mets farm. He should be up by 2005 and grow into an important part of the bullpen.

Next, Jeromy Burntiz went in exchange for a group headlined by hard hitting second base prospect Victor Diaz. His position is uncertain due to defensive questions, but there's little doubt he will hit. A comparison I've heard is Jose Vidro.

Armando Benitez was traded to the New York Yankees for pitcher Jason Anderson, who had prior ML experience, and two other relief prospects. Considering that Benitez was the Mets most attractive trade chip, the return was disappointing.

Rey Sanchez left in the more inconsequential of the trades. In return we got a single prospect, OF Kenny Kelly. He projects to a bench player. But, if he can be productive in that role he'll have done more for the Mets than Sanchez ever did.

With the regular season now over, Darren will be giving his thoughts on all the transactions and on the immediate future of the Mets in the "U Files". Usually a premium favorite (a free preview with this article), be sure to check out the rest of Darren's "U Files" this offseason.

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