Projecting ’15

With Opening Day on the horizon (along with, regrettably, rain), I’m sure you are asking yourself one question:

“How do the writers of the Shea Bridge Report think the team is going to do this year?”

Well, wonder no more, because today, we are proud to present a two-part series, Projecting ’15, in which we will, make no mistake, project ’15.  This team is one to get excited about – more on that in a moment – and the time is near again to get lost in a season of Mets baseball, and more than that, quality Mets baseball.

So, without further ado, Projecting ’15.

Offense:

While this team has been heralded as an up-and-coming pitching powerhouse, the offense, despite the last few years, is nothing to be scoffed at.  We start with the infield – and what an infield it is.

You’ve got Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate – and let me say right now, I am an unapologetic d’Arnaud fan.  I’m sure I don’t need to cite that all-important split yet again – after his recall from AAA Vegas last year, d’Arnaud batted .272 with 10 home runs.  Offensive catchers are, generally speaking, among my favorite player types in the sport, so you can imagine what I see in d’Arnaud – a potential gamechanger from behind home plate. Yes, he has to improve his defense, but more importantly, yes, he can improve his defense.  It can, and will, happen.  So what do I see from d’Arnaud.  Power.  18, 20 home runs.  And average.  About .280, to be exact.  Call me optimistic; just be ready to apologize when d’Arnaud wins the NL Catcher’s Silver Slugger.

Lucas Duda at first is an X-factor on this team – another 30 home run, .350 OBP year from Duda will give the Mets a legitimate slugger, not just a hitter, in the middle of the lineup.  The question about Duda is not whether he has the power to repeat his 2014 home-run hitting performance: a cursory glance says that he does, and easily.  The question is whether he can sustain, or improve upon, his 2014 .253/.349/.481 triple slash, because if he can sustain it, he’ll continue to be one of the more dangerous first basemen in the National League, never mind any improvement, which could make him a bona-fide star.

At second, Daniel Murphy is the closest thing the Mets have to a proven commodity – this may be his last year as a Met, but it’s also a contract year, so don’t expect a downturn in numbers.  Since 2012, Murphy has hit .291, .286, and .289, while playing 156, 161, and 143 games, respectively.  He had a bad OBP year in 2013 – .319 – but brought it up to .332 in 2014, still not great, but certainly serviceable.  He also brought his strikeouts down, from 95 to 86.  It’s hard to project any downturn from Murph, but at the same time, it’s hard to justify projecting improvement – a .290 batting average seems like the likeliest outcome, although I do like the way Murph’s plate discipline has improved, and as such, look for an increase in OBP.  However, it’s a contract year – if Murphy’s batting .315 at the All Star break, nobody will be overly shocked.

At short, you’ve got (yawn) Wilmer Flores.  Wilmer’s got his detractors and his advocates – the one thing the argument comes down to is whether the real Wilmer is the first five months of 2014, September of the same, or better than both of them.  Flores struggled from March to August, but in September and October, hit .278/.313/.500 with four home runs.  Where’s the true Wilmer?  About there, in my mind.  Although I’m not ready to put him on the level of, say, Alexei Ramirez, his minor league numbers since 2012 are too good to ignore.  Wilmer will hit, and I say that with confidence: a .265 average seems realistic, as do 12-18 home runs. Defense?  That’s another story.

Then you’ve got the captain, David Wright.  This is a tough one – all indications from Port St. Lucie are that he’s swinging the bat like he’s rediscovered his form.  For now, I’ll take it.  He looks to have recovered his power, and just as importantly, is hitting the ball to all fields, just the way he did in his heyday of 2005-2008.  As has been repeated approximately 249,851 times, the shortened fence in right should net him a home run here and there.  This one may strike some as unrealistic, but David Wright is 32 – as I’ve said, he’s nearing the end of his prime, not his career, and as much as I worry about his 2014, until proven wrong, I’ll trust that he’s back and rearing to go.  Numbers? .300 average.  20 home runs.  Next?

The outfield starts with Michael Cuddyer, the most exciting new Met, narrowly edging out Sean Gilmartin.  Everyone seems down on Cuddyer, but I’ve learned not to trust the instincts of Mets fans, who moaned and groaned when the Mets picked Matt Harvey (I’ll get there).  Cuddyer, in Spring, looked great – he’s still got the bat speed and the quick swing, and most noticeably, the power – he led the club in spring home runs, with six.  Again, maybe you’ll say I’m too optimistic, and maybe you’re right, but I trust Cuddyer when he says that his injuries last year were of the flukey nature.  Just look at his career – before last year, he played at least 101 games a year from 2009-2013, and at least 130 games in four of those five years.  Yes, he’s getting up there in age, but no, that does not mean that he can’t be a productive hitter in an again-shrunken Citi Field.  I don’t see Cuddyer batting .300 – but I do see him getting pretty damn close, .280 or .285.  And he’s got the power – 20 home runs seems like a middling estimate.

In center you’ve got Juan Lagares, proud owner of a four year extension and a gold glove.  His defense speaks for itself, but his offense?  Well, it could, with improvement, take this team to the next level.  In his first two years, Lagares’ OBP has been 40 points higher than his batting average, and that hasn’t varied much from year to year.  From 2013 to 2014, he increased both those numbers by 40 points, and also decreased his strikeouts by nine while increasing his stolen bases.  The stolen bases are one number which should definitely go up – he stole 20 to 25 a year in the minors, and near the end of the 2014 season, he was given must-run signs, which got his running game going.  Just based on his Spring, his plate discipline and power have improved as well.  I’ll stick to my earlier predictions here – .290, 10 home runs.

Rounding out the outfield is Curtis Granderson, who is just infuriating to watch.  His arm?  His wildly flailing swing?  Ugh!  But there may be improvement coming from that former non-entity in right: reunited with Kevin Long, his swing, at least during Spring Training, was noticeably shorter and quicker.  I still don’t see him improving much, but especially with the new right field fence, an increase in power seems likely.  For Granderson, I’ll set aside a .230 batting average, and 24-28 home runs.

Then you’ve got the bench, which honestly, I’m not crazy about.  In particular, I don’t like the choice of John Mayberry Jr. over Eric Campbell.  Eric Campbell is a legitimate hitter with room to develop; John Mayberry Jr. is 30 years old, and hit .212 last year.  Frankly, not carrying both of them is somewhat ridiculous, and drastically thins out the bench.  With that said, I’ve liked Kirk Nieuwenhuis for some time.  He vastly improved his plate discipline last year, to the tune of a .346 OBP, and with semi-regular playing time filling in for Cuddyer and Granderson, his offense will only improve.  He’s got some untapped power potential as well.  The bench is a bench – it’s not an above average bench, as the Dodgers and Justin Turner have, but it’s a serviceable, trustworthy bench.

Starting Pitching:

Mets fans, despite the fact that our team is more or less defined by the word “believe,” are, for some reason, reluctant to recognize the potential that the 2015 rotation has.  Five names: Harvey, deGrom, Colon, Niese, Gee.  Three pitchers who have, at one point or another in their careers, won at least 13 games.  Two others whose track records say enough.  This staff is GOOD.

Despite what the Baseball Maverick says, Bartolo Colon is not the ace of the staff.  However, he will start on Opening Day.  As I’ve written, he may actually be the worst starter the 2015 Mets have.  Further, the drastic decrease in his numbers from 2013 to 2014 is quite worrying, as if the fact that as if inversely proportionate to his WAR, his stomach seems to be increasing exponentially.  Colon, to me, is most likely to be A) replaced by Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz in June or July, of B) traded around that same time.  Really, what’s the use of keeping him around the entire year?  However, if he does stay, I’ll be generous, based on his 15 wins last year: let’s say, 12 wins, 4.25 E.R.A.

After Colon you’ve got deGrom, whose Spring has impressed me somehow even more than Harvey’s.  Maybe what it is is his remarkable consistency: you could compare footage of his last start of 2014, and his last start of Spring 2015, and you could not spot the differences, complete with the batter swinging and missing.  The Mets offense has improved this year, and as such, so will deGrom’s win total: in the 15-17 range.  And I’m not worried about a sophomore slump; he’s above that.  15-17 wins, 2.75-2.90 E.R.A.

I had planned save Harvey for last, and then make a joke about how that’s exactly what the Mets are doing, but then I realized that I could do exactly the same thing by putting him third.  So yes: it’s ridiculous that Harvey is being “saved” on whatever ridiculous basis is currently the official story.  Really, I’d rather see deGrom start the opener, and Harvey the home opener, but it’s not happening, so it’s a moot point.  The non-moot point is that Harvey – and his 1.19 Grapefruit League E.R.A. – is back.  He has lost nothing, it appears, and may even have improved on his breaking pitches.  Just like deGrom, an improved offense means more wins: I’ll give him 13-16.  And honestly, bash it if you want, but his stuff is there, and his E.R.A. will be too: 2.50-2.70.

Why doesn’t anyone like Jon Niese?  Since 2012, he’s won 30 games as a Met – more, I might add, than anyone else on the staff.  He also has a 3.49 E.R.A. in that span.  Niese is good – people forget it, but it’s true.  This is his year – his E.R.A. is coming down, and the wins are going up, and you’d better believe that I’m serious.  Jon Niese: 3.00 E.R.A., 15 wins.

Dillon Gee is something of a quandary – he stunk up Citi Field in the first half of 2013, pitched to a 2.74 E.R.A. in the second half, then was average, when not hurt, in 2014.  I think he’s better than people give him credit for, but not much better – certainly a serviceable fifth starter.  If he’s pitching well, he could become a trade chip in the summer, with Syndergaard and Matz waiting in the wings, but again, let’s assume a full season: 3.60 E.R.A., 10 wins.

Bullpen

At the beginning of Spring Training, I would have called this, debatably, the Mets’ strongest area.  Then Edgin went down, and today came the news that Black would also open the season on the disabled list.  Still, however, the pen is – finally – a strength.  Mejia, if shaky, gets the job done.  Familia is superb.  Carlos Torres is good enough.  Same goes for Buddy Carlyle.  After that, however, things start to get murky.

The combination of lefties – Gilmartin, Torres, Blevins, MY GOD THEY’RE ALL THE SAME – seems, while not overpowering, about average.  The worry, of course is that, like most Mets lefty relievers, two of the three will be out for the season by April 20th.  I’m not predicting that, but – make a note of this – I’m not saying it won’t happen, either.

The loss of Vic Black really hurts – he was one of the Mets best relievers last year, and was ready to start 2015 without missing a beat.  He still will in short order, knock on wood, but if we learned anything from the Valverde/Farnsworth disaster last year, it’s that missing your best relievers for even a day – namely, Opening Day 2014 – can be detrimental.  Again, he should be back soon, but every day he misses will be a day that the bullpen is less than it can be.

—————————————————————————————

So there you have it: the 2015 Mets.  Will they be great? Let’s get that out of the way right now – while of course nothing is impossible, this is not a great team.  However, it is a good team.  With improvement where necessary, it’s a very good team.  So, to end Projecting ’15: Part 1, I’ve got a few more numbers.

Projecting ’15 – 2015 Wins: 87

Projecting ’15 – Playoffs? Yes

So take that, mull it over, bemoan my optimism, and maintain your dour anger.  When the Mets lead the wildcard race on August 1, I will gladly accept your apologies.

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