Pressing Questions: The New York Mets

The Mets actually had a winning record at the All-Star break (46-40) last season but ultimately finished 74-88 and in fourth place in the NL East. The offense, pitching and defense were all middling to poor, and an already strong division got even tougher, as the Nationals and Braves might both be among the best teams in all of baseball in 2013 after adding more pieces during the offseason. New York locked up David Wright long-term, signing him to a new eight-year contract extension, but otherwise this is a franchise in rebuild mode, so patience is going to be required, especially playing in the NL East. Still, there are some really interesting young arms on this roster, so the future could eventually be bright.

One other quick note before we move onto the pressing questions is that despite moving the fences in before the start of last year, Citi Field continued to play as a pitcher’s park, tying for 23rd in runs according to Park Factors. However, it did seem to help hitters when it came to home runs, as the stadium ranked 12th in long balls (in 2011, it ranked 28th and it came in at 27th the year before that). It’s a small sample that could mean nothing, but it’s something that could be worth paying attention to moving forward.

Here are some pressing questions regarding the Mets entering the 2013 season:

Q: What’s the deal with Ike Davis?

A: After a solid rookie season, Davis looked like a possible future star over the first six weeks of his sophomore campaign, posting a .302/.383/.543 line before a fluke collision with David Wright injured his ankle so badly he wouldn’t play again after May 10. Primed for a breakout entering his third year, fully recovered from the ankle injury, Davis then suddenly contracted Valley Fever last spring, which almost certainly led to his horrific start – as of June 10, he had five homers with an unsightly .167/.248/.285 line. Davis would then go on to hit 27 home runs over the final 3.5 months of the season, and he somehow finished with 90 RBI on the year despite batting just .227.

It’s probably safe to throw last season’s results out the window, but if you wanted to delve deeper, his .246 BABIP looks especially unlucky since he had a career-high 21.1 LD%, and he hit more fly balls than groundballs for the first time ever, which is a positive sign that his second half power surge is sustainable. Davis has been nothing short of terrible against left-handers over the past two years, but he actually hit southpaws better than righties during his rookie season, and the Mets are going to give him every chance to be an everyday player in 2013. First base is deep as usual, and Davis is a prime example of why it’s perfectly fine to wait on the position in fantasy leagues.

Q: Am I crazy, or does this rotation actually look decent?

A: Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Johan Santana, Shaun Marcum and Dillon Gee have the potential to be a well above average starting rotation, and that's before mentioning top prospect Zack Wheeler, and imagine if they didn't trade R.A. Dickey. Niese just posted a 3.2:1 K:BB ratio with a 48.3 GB% and continues to get better. Harvey has a fastball that averaged 94.7 mph last season (which would've ranked as third-highest among all starters had he qualified) with a plus slider. He needs to improve his control, but Harvey has an impressive minor league track record and just produced a 10.6 K rate as a 23-year-old in the bigs. He very well could be a future No. 1 starter.

After tossing back-to-back shutouts, including a no hitter, Santana's ERA stood at 2.38 on June 1. However, the no-no came at a price, as he was left in to throw 134 pitches in the outing (that included five walks), which seemed especially curious for someone who had just missed an entire season thanks to arm surgery. From that point forward, Santana sported an 8.27 ERA. In fact, over his final five starts, Santana allowed 33 earned runs over 19.0 innings before the Mets mercifully shut him down for good, although the damage had already been done to fantasy owners. Santana was likely dealing with a few nagging injuries at the time, but his back appeared to be the biggest issue, although none of them required surgery, and he's expected to be ready for Opening Day. He's a nice mid-round sleeper.

A tender elbow cost Marcum more than two months last season, and while the results weren't there after he returned, his peripherals were fine, and he looked healthy enough. Still, durability concerns likely led to his affordable contract, as he was inked to a one-year, $4 million deal with New York (consider Kansas City opted to pay Ervin Santana $13 million next season, and his arm might very well be even more precarious than Marcum's). Marcum is the softest tossing righty in all of baseball (only Dickey averaged fewer mph with his fastball), although only one other starter relied on his heater less (again Dickey, but the knuckleballer doesn't count), throwing it just 30.6 percent of the time. The overreliance on breaking pitches likely has something to do with his persistent arm problems, but Marcum was a good (and cheap) gamble by the Mets. Last year's 3.70 ERA was his highest since 2007 (4.13), and three of those seasons he was pitching in the AL East...Meanwhile, Gee just posted a 97:29 K:BB ratio over 109.2 innings. His SwStr% (10.6) ranked 14th in MLB last year (had he qualified), tied with Felix Hernandez. In other words, he might be among baseball's best No. 5 starters.

Q: Who’s going to close?

A: As strong as the rotation is, the Mets' bullpen has question marks, led by the back-end role. Frank Francisco is coming off a season in which he had a 5.53 ERA and 1.61 WHIP. His K rate (9.99) was strong but his BB rate (4.46) was awful, and an inability to stay off the DL remained a concern. Francisco enters the season as the favorite for the closer’s role, but Bobby Parnell is right behind him and might be the better pitcher at this stage of their careers. He not only throws gas (he averaged 95.7 mph with his fastball last season), but Parnell’s 2.86 GB/FB ratio was the eighth highest in baseball (minimum 60.0 innings pitched). Either way, because of the uncertainty, New York’s closing options should be among the last drafted in fantasy leagues this year.

Q: How ugly is the outfield?

A: Pretty ugly, with Lucas Duda projected to start in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis set to man center and Mike Baxter slated to play right. While some platoons may be involved here, let’s take a quick glance at the projected starters. Duda had an .852 OPS in 2011 and hit 15 homers over 401 at-bats last season, but he was mostly exposed, as he finished with a .239/.329/.389 line. Nieuwenhuis posted a .315 OBP, struck out 98 times over 282 ABs and was caught stealing as often as he was successful. Baxter has a career .769 OPS over 2,673 at-bats in the minors. Oh, and they still owe $21 million to the recently released Jason Bay, who hit .233/.317/.369 with 26 home runs over three years with the Mets. It’s safe to say this team’s outfield situation is the biggest mess in baseball.

Q: What about the prospects?

A: With Matt Harvey graduating to the majors, Zack Wheeler is the team’s clear prize in the minors, and one of the best prospects in all of baseball. (As a Giants fan, it’s tough to complain after winning two of the past three World Series, but trading a top-five prospect for 44 games of Carlos Beltran (who didn’t even bring back a draft pick) let’s just say wasn’t ideal. But I digress.) Wheeler isn’t exactly can’t miss, but his stuff continues to impress scouts, and he posted a 3.26 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP and an 8.9 K rate between Double and Triple-A last season at age 22. He sure looks like a keeper, although in redraft fantasy leagues he might not make a huge impact in 2013.

Jenrry Mejia is another interesting hurler in the team’s system, but he’ll likely make more of an impact in New York in middle relief than as a starter, at least in the short term. Travis d’Arnaud is the other prospect worth mentioning, as he was the key (along with Noah Syndegard, who’s also relevant in dynasty leagues and yet another intriguing arm in the Mets’ system) return in the Dickey deal. d’Arnaud was hitting .333/.380/.595 before a knee injury ended his season prematurely last year, although it came in the hitter-friendly PCL league, and it was accompanied by a 59:19 K:BB ratio over 279 at-bats. Still, d’Arnaud is a legit prospect, although he may not be a major factor in 2013 fantasy leagues considering his age and coming off a major knee injury.

Quick Hits: David Wright was hitting .353 with a 1.029 OPS as of July 29, and while he regressed from there on out, he finished as the 24th most valuable fantasy player. Here are his K rates from 2008-2012: 16.0, 22.7, 24.0, 21.7 and 16.7. Your guess is as good as mine moving forward. After Miguel Cabrera, I don’t really have a strong opinion among Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Hanley Ramirez, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman regarding which 3B should be drafted next, other than the obvious advice to take whoever comes cheapest...Daniel Murphy hardly took advantage of his full-time role last year, hitting six homers over 571 at-bats. Cumulatively he ranked 15th, but among second basemen who qualified on a per-game basis, only Mark Ellis was less valuable than Murphy last season among second basemen…Ruben Tejada is even less interesting in fantasy terms, although if you’re in need of cheap power, new starting catcher John Buck has averaged 16.0 homers over the past three years while averaging a modest 406 at-bats, so he’s definitely on the radar in NL-only leagues, despite the BA risk…That is one magic loogie.

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