The U Files # 77: Midpoint Madness

The New York Mets started this season three months ago with moderate expectations only. They were expected to be better than the team that lost 95 games in 2003, but not to be a contender for a playoff spot. As it turns out, the Mets have both surprised and disappointed in ways. (Free Preview of Premium Content)

The Mets stand at 44 wins and 43 losses after 87 games, little past the halfway point and at the All Star Break. The team has scored 387 runs and allowed 365, outscoring their opponents by 22 notches. This would predict a record of 46 and 41; a difference of two games is well within normal variations. The offense has played not far below average (ranking 10th out of 16 teams, 13 runs below average and right in the middle of 9 teams within 25 runs of each other.) while the runs allowed are significantly lower than expected.

While this is arguably somewhat better than the Mets could have been expected to have played, it places them in much better position than had been anticipated. Most expected the Mets to play within a few games of a .500 winning percentage with more falling on the lower side than the higher. It was not expected that this would be enough to put the Mets in the middle of a playoff race. Alas, as the Philadelphia Phillies have underachieved by a considerable margin (largely due to the pitching staff contracting a serious case of homerballitis) and the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves have failed to capitalize on the Phillies' weakness, the Mets are in fourth place at 44-43, but only two games behind the division-leading Phillies.

Pitching/Defense

The Mets have allowed the fourth fewest runs in the NL, while the team ERA is the lowest. Looking at how things break down, many would conclude that the pitchers have done a nearly superhuman job despite a poor fielding. After all, the Mets have made the most errors in the NL. Actually this notion is hard to reconcile with the fact the Mets pitching staff relies heavily on the fielders behind them.

The Mets staff ranks dead last in the NL in strikeout rate (5.70 k/9) yet the Mets have allowed fewer hits than all but 5 NL teams. They are aided by the fact they have allowed the second fewest HR in the league, but even taking just hits the fielders can impact on, the Mets have allowed fewer than just two additional teams. The upshoot is this: the Mets have converted balls in play into outs at a rate higher than all but four NL teams. It is likely that much of this can be attributed to the fielding, particularly center fielder Mike Cameron.

Here is a statistical overview of the starting rotation. $H is batting average allowed on balls in play. PERA is component ERA, calculated on peripherals with actual hits allowed plus SO, BB, and HR. DIPS is PERA with hits adjusted towards the league average.

Name

IP

SO

BB

HR

H

$H

RA

ERA

PERA

DIPS

T. Glavine

128.2

66

33

8

107

0.236

3.01

2.66

2.52

3.29

A. Leiter

86.1

51

46

8

57

0.191

2.4

2.40

2.81

4.27

S. Trachsel

112.2

61

42

13

102

0.243

3.91

3.36

3.59

4.23

J. Seo

79.1

37

30

13

89

.0269

4.88

4.76

4.76

4.76

M. Ginter

54.1

31

16

6

63

0.301

5.8

4.80

4.47

4.14

T. Yates

33.2

21

19

5

49

0.355

8.02

7.22

6.95

5.08



Tom Glavine, former Atlanta co-ace relocated to New York for the 2003-2005 seasons, has forgotten a distasteful 2003 and resumed pitching the way he made himself famous by. If the Mets are a paragon of home run prevention, Glavine is leading the way; he has given up .56 HR per 9 innings – just about cleanly half the league average rate.

Al Leiter has been a great pitcher for many years for the Mets and has been a key to their success (when they had success), but he hadn't done it by pitching like he is now. The decline in his strikeout rate is meager next to the increase in his walks. Not only does his current pattern bring his pitch counts to the point he can't be relied on to go past 5 innings a start, but it does not normally equate to an ERA below 4, much less 3. His $H is absurdly low at approximately 100 points below the league average.

Steve Trachsel didn't seem to get the memo about limiting HR. However, he has managed to disguise some of his failures by allowing a rather high percentage of his runs as unearned. As to his staff-best 9-6 record, he's been getting the run support Glavine (7-7) hasn't been getting.

Jae Seo had displayed trouble with the home run ball at other stops before, though his current rate is abnormally high for most any pitcher. He's not going to strike out a whole lot of batters unless something changes, and a pitcher doing these things is going to have a lot of trouble when his walk rate's as high as 3.4 bb/9. Seo has been the most "honest" Mets starter, as his ERA is basically right where his peripherals put it.

Matt Ginter seems to have done something to offend his fielders. It's a small sample and he won't continue to allow nearly 6 runs per 9 IP. His peripherals are basically average. Tyler Yates might have urinated on the graves of his fielder's grandparents, but it's something he's done consistently if his minor league record is worth anything (there's something to suggest some pitchers can be consistently what would otherwise be unlucky). He's still been pretty bad, if not nearly-a-run-per-inning bad.

Bullpen

Most fans would not believe that the bullpen has been above average, yet according to Baseball Prospectus' stats it has been. Braden Looper has been the leader, as it would not be hard to convince the masses of. He's saved 11.2 runs in just over half a year. Ricky Bottalico has been solid at 4.1 runs prevented. John Franco, against all odds and as it would be a shock to fans, has saved more than he's allowed. The work of Mike Stanton has served to add 6.3 runs to other persons records. Orber Moreno has been fairly effective and journeyman Jose Parra spectacularly more effective than he's apparently been at a whole lot of other stops in limited time. Jae Seo has accounted for 4.7 innings of relief and did a better job than he's done as a starter – saving 2.3 runs. David Weathers did not pitch like the David Weathers that had run up a streak of five effective years. Grant Roberts somehow managed to allow 6.7 runs in just 4.7 innings of relief, pitching with some kind of injury. Tyler Yates has outdone Roberts, with almost 4 runs coughed up in just one inning. Dan Wheeler hasn't been quite as bad as it may have seemed, liming the damage to just over 2 runs on net.

Offense

The Mets have scored fewer runs than their components would ordinarily add up to, and any watcher could tell why. These hitters, for whatever reason since the beginning of the season, seem to have forgotten everything they ever learned about hitting when the bases are loaded. The Mets are 13-80 (163) with the bases loaded. Otherwise the team has hit at a respectable clip.

On the whole the team ranks fifth in the league in home runs, which is a surprise. This had looked like a team with some pop, but which would spend most of it on doubles. The team has still done a nice job of that with 165. The weakness of the lineup has been OBP. The Mets have slugged exactly the league average at .419 despite playing half their games at Shea Stadium, but their OBP is .324. The Mets have hit for above average pure power, as their batting average is 9 points below the league average and they still match the league SLG.

The Mets had planned to move Mike Piazza to first base gradually in hopes of saving his bat. After he hit a home run which broke the all time record for HR by a catcher, he's played more first base than he has caught and, until a recent slump, had enjoyed a resurgence. He's still hitting .297 and though he's been stuck on 16 home runs for a while now it's a solid total after 87 games and it leads the Mets.

Cliff Floyd has missed his usual time and hit for his usual average and power. Unfortuantely, for reasons only Floyd knows, his plate discipline seems to have deserted him. He is a number of walks separated from a typical Floydian effort.

The Mets were proud to trot out two shiny new cogs in their lineup, Kazuo Matsui and Mike Cameron. Matsui, a shortstop revered as the best player in Japan at the time he hopped the ocean, has hit a handful of singles fewer than one might have expected, but his pop has translated quite nicely. Kaz is among the league leaders in doubles with 27, a pace which would give him 50 if continued over the second half. He's bopped seven home runs including two which did not lead off a game. He's walked a bit more than had been expected. He had hit much of the first half with a mechanical flaw from the left side (where he spends most of his time hitting as a switch hitter) as he would step towards first base with his leg kick. Recently this has been corrected and seeing Kaz hit with a more agreeable swing, commentator Keith Hernandez proclaimed that the shortstop would hit .300.

Mike Cameron, coincidentally, has followed the same model; he too is just a few singles removed from what had been expected. Always known more for his solid peripherals than for his batting average, he's taken his average to what is a low by Mike Cameron standards. Hitting .229, Cameron nonetheless has a .330 OBP and has slugged .447. The pure power actually is higher than prototypical Cameron.

The Mets, seeing the use of an additional bat and having a place to put one in right field, traded David Weathers for struggling Houston slugger Richard Hidalgo. Moving home parks seems to have been just the tonic Hidalgo needed; he has regained his stroke and more, hitting 8 home runs in 22 games with the Mets, which coincides with a period when the Mets in general have hit home runs as though it were batting practice.

Though Ty Wigginton has slugged at a rate it is unlikely he can keep up (.500), he has challenged Karim Garcia for least ability to get on base. Only Ty's batting average at .275 is keeping his OBP over .300. Garcia, getting on a mere 27 percent of the time, could slug .500 and still be hurting the team more than helping it. Replacing him with Hidalgo is a revelation if Hidalgo continues hitting half as well as he has for the Mets so far.

The big disappointment has been Jason Phillips. A year after flirting with a .300 batting average, Phillips has been a hitter you wouldn't recognize were it not for the name on the back of the uniform. Whatever he was doing last year, Phillips is hitting as though actively trying to avoid those things. Todd Zeile, despite a few memorable hits, crawls into the break hitting .237 with an OPS of .677.

The Mets have not played as well as one expects from a playoff team. And, the odds are that even in this division that the Mets will not win the division, as there are three other teams who are all playing just about as well. If the chances are one in four that any of them will come away with the title, the odds are then three in four that the Mets will not win it. The Mets have been playing ball that should be enjoyable to watch than last year's parade of losses. This they should be able to continue.

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