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Shea Magnifique?
2005-01-11 12:24
by Mike Carminati

On September 16, the Mets were forced to announce that they were firing manager Art Howe effective at the end of the season after the decision was leaked to the press, perhaps as a trial balloon in the court of public opinion. The Mets finished with a 71-91 record in fourth place in a rather mediocre NL East.

This came after a promising start for the Metsgoes. On July 7, they beat the division-leading Phils 10-1 to climb to within one game of the lead with one game left in the series. They lost the next game, 5-4, and within two weeks had fallen below .500 to stay.

So will the real New York Mets team please stand up? Is it the one left reeling in the shadows of the crosstown Yankees at the end of the season? Or is it the one that seemed so promising earlier in the season with David Wright still waiting in the wings? Is seems that owner Fred Wilpon thinks it is the latter but he is doing everything he can to spackle over the more egregious holes before the start of next season.

At the end of the season, the Mets hired former Expo GM Omar Minaya, who in turn hired former Yankee coach Willie Randolph as manager a month later. After declining arbitration to a slew of older players, the Mets signed free agent Pedro Martinez in the middle of December. Then they managed even to top the Yankees acquisition of Randy Johnson by swiping budding superstar Carlos Beltran for 7 years, $119 M. Their next target appears to be Blue Jay free agent first baseman Carlos Delgado.

So after potentially three major free agent signings, the Mets have to be top contenders in the NL East, right? After all they have promising young players on the left side of the infield in David Wright and Jose Reyes, arguably the best offensive catcher of all time in Mike Piazza, former Japanese player Kaz Matsui hopefully growing into his new role at second base in his second season in the majors, and a deep, rebuilt pitching staff.

Would a team coming back from a sub-.450 winning percentage or a fourth-place or worse finish in one season to make the playoffs in the next be that rare an event? Well, it's been done 83 times in baseball history. Here are the occurrences over the last 15 years:

Chicago Cubs20026795.414520038874.5431
Florida Marlins20027983.488420039171.5622
Houston Astros20007290.444420019369.5741
St. Louis Cardinals19997586.466420009567.5861
Arizona Diamondbacks19986597.4015199910062.6171
Boston Red Sox19977884.481419989270.5682
Chicago Cubs19976894.420519989073.5522
San Diego Padres19977686.469419989864.6051
San Francisco Giants19966894.420419979072.5561
St. Louis Cardinals19956281.434419968874.5431
Boston Red Sox19945461.470419958658.5971
Seattle Mariners19944963.438319957966.5451
Cincinnati Reds19937389.451519946648.5741
Los Angeles Dodgers19938181.500419945856.5091
Philadelphia Phillies19927092.432619939765.5991
Oakland Athletics19918478.519419929666.5931
Atlanta Braves19906597.401619919468.5801
Minnesota Twins19907488.457719919567.5861
Cincinnati Reds19897587.463519909171.5621
Pittsburgh Pirates19897488.451519909567.5861

If you want to look at a team, like the 2004 Mets, that did both, finished with a sub-.450 record, no higher than fourth, then there are just 17 teams in baseball history, though almost half are from the past 15 seasons:

Chicago Cubs20026795.414520038874.5431
Houston Astros20007290.444420019369.5741
Arizona Diamondbacks19986597.4015199910062.6171
Chicago Cubs19976894.420519989073.5522
San Francisco Giants19966894.420419979072.5561
St. Louis Cardinals19956281.434419968874.5431
Philadelphia Phillies19927092.432619939765.5991
Atlanta Braves19906597.401619919468.5801
Minnesota Twins19867191.438619878577.5251
Chicago Cubs19837191.438519849665.5961
New York Mets19687389.4489196910062.6171
Boston Red Sox19667290.444919679270.5681
Cincinnati Reds19606787.435619619361.6041
New York Yankees19256985.442719269163.5871
Boston Braves19136982.448519149459.5951
Brooklyn Bridegrooms18985491.36210189910147.6731
Louisville Colonels188927111.193818908844.6471

So have the Mets done what's necessary to join this list? Can they make the playoffs in 2005? It helps that the NL East is a highly mediocre division. Assuming it will take at least 92 wins to nab the division title and/or a wild card spot, have the Mets improved by 21 games with the personnel that they have added? Will Delgado by the final piece to a Mets come back?

Here's a breakdown of the putative 2005 team assuming that they sign Delgado. Listed are the players' 2004 Win Shares for the Mets only, along with a projection for 2005. For most the projection is based on their 2004 WS total projected out to 162-game schedule depending on their expected playing time. This does not take into account improvements for younger players or declines for older ones, nor does it figure in injuries to key players. It just projects the team's 2005 Win Shares based on 2004 totals:

Name2004 G2004 WS2005 WS Proj2005 G ProjPOS
Carlos Beltran159031159CF
Carlos Delgado1280191411B
David Wright699181383B
Cliff Floyd1131418141LF
Pedro Martinez3301733SP
Mike Cameron1401816140RF
Tom Glavine33151533SP
Kazuo Matsui11414141142B
Jose Reyes53513133SS
Mike Piazza1291212129C
Braden Looper69101069RP
Steve Trachsel33101033SP
Victor Zambrano311029SP
Kris Benson112930SP
Andres Galarraga007831B
Miguel Cairo12207612B
Matt Ginter132639RP
Mike DeJean172651RP
Orber Moreno323664OF
Vance Wilson795579C
Eric Valent1306598INF
Scott Strickland00438RP
Jason Phillips1285496INF
Ron Calloway460386OF
Feliz Heredia470047RP
Others 800
Total WS213262

Notes: Delgado's projection based on 2004 WS plus 10% more playing time.
Wright's based on double the playing time.
Floyd's based on 25% more.
Reyes based on 1.5 times more.
Zambrano's based on entire 2004 WS total plus 10% more playing time.
Benson's based on entire 2004 WS.
Galarraga's based on 2003 WS project to 75% of playing time.
Cairo's based on 50% less playing time.
Ginter's and DeJean's based on there times the appearances, and Moreno's twice the appearances.
Valent's and Phillip's based on 75% of the playing time.
Strickland's based on 2003 WS.
Calloway's based on an average of 2003 and 2004.
Cameron's fielding Win Shares were adjusted to the average right fielder (two less).

Adding up all the Win Shares projects to 87 wins for the 2005 Mets. Of course, this is anything but scientific, but it does tell us a couple of things. First, the Mets are vastly improved on paper (surprise!) but are far from division favorites (also surprise!). They do appear to be likely contenders. However, without some improvements over 2004 by a number of key players, they still seem to be short of a division crown.

If youngsters like Wright and Reyes fulfill their potential tags and veterans (Piazza, Delgado, Cameron, Matsui, Floyd) play like they have in years past, the Mets could very easily garner a division crown. However, if either of their top two starters, Martinez and Glavine, both of whom are aging and/or fragile, falter, and their rebuilt pen does not gel, it could be a disappointing season at Shea.

Either way, they'll probably beat the seemingly non-existent Phils this year.

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