2013 Mets May Be Better Than You Think

The biggest hurdle preventing the Mets from finishing in third place are these guys.
The biggest hurdle preventing the Mets from finishing in third place are these guys.

The Major League Baseball season is almost under way, and you know what that means: prediction time! Alas, for Mets fans it seems like most predictions are not so favorable for our loveable Amazin’s, but pay no mind to those Negative Nancy’s. I’m here to give you some good news: the Mets are a decent team. Am I being subjective? Maybe a little, but that doesn’t mean I am wrong. I can very confidently say the Mets will not finish in last place, thanks to the always dependable Miami Marlins. However, I’m not going to stop there and say the Mets are destined for a fourth place finish. In fact, I think that by the time October rolls around and the season is over, the final standings showing will show the words “New York” next to the number 3 in the National League East. Not only that, but I think we will see their record being closer to the .500 mark than many are expecting. Here are a few reasons why:

1. The Phillies are old and declining

Everybody in the baseball world seems to have made it a foregone conclusion that the Phillies will finish in third place, being closer to the Braves and the Nationals than the Mets and the Marlins. I really don’t see it. I will acknowledge that Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are two of the best pitchers in baseball, and Roy Halladay is one of the best pitchers of this era. However, Halladay is up there in age (he’ll be 36 in May) and dealt with injuries last year. Even when he was pitching, he wasn’t too impressive. His velocity has dropped significantly this spring and it makes me wonder if he may not be that great anymore. Behind him, the Phillies have Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan. I’m pretty sure that combination is not going to produce many W’s.

On the flip side, let’s look at the Phillies biggest offensive threats:

Chase Utley – 34 years old, 83 games played in 2012.

Ryan Howard – 33 years old, 71 games played in 2012 producing a -1 WAR. (Fangraphs)

Jimmy Rollins – 34 years old, OPS the last three years: .694 (2010), .736 (2011), .743 (2012).

Then we get into the bats surrounding them and you realize there’s not much there either. For all the talk of how horrendous the Mets outfield is, the Phillies doesn’t look much better. Dominic Brown may have potential, and he had a great spring, but until he proves he can do it throughout 162 meaningful games, he’s still a question mark. Ben Revere can catch the ball and run like the wind, but he has 0 career home runs in over 1,000 at bats. Even Rey Ordonez thinks that’s pathetic. Laugh all you want about Lucas Duda, Colin Cowgill, and Marlon Byrd, but you cannot look at both outfields and tell me one has a significant advantage over the other.

2. Matt Harvey and Jon Niese

I am very appreciative of Johan Santana and everything he did for the Mets when he was healthy. News of his latest injury was very disappointing. That being said, I was not surprised at all by the news, and I don’t think it will have as much of an impact on the team as others do. I was completely prepared to have a rotation without Santana even before the news broke last night. Even if he was going to pitch this year, he is no longer the Johan Santana of old. This team has two new pitchers that are ready to anchor the rotation in Niese and Harvey. Let’s play the always popular comparison game. Here are some 2012 stats from two pitchers:

Pitcher A: 30 starts, 188 innings pitched, 6.77 K/9, 3.75 FIP, 4.18 xFIP, 2.9 WAR (Fangraphs)

Pitcher B: 30 starts, 190.1 innings pitched, 7.33 K/9, 3.80 FIP, 3.64 xFIP, 2.3 WAR (Fangraphs)

“Pitcher A” is Jered Weaver, who finished third in the AL Cy Young vote. “Pitcher B” is Jon Niese.

As we enter 2013, ZiPS projects Niese to improve on last year and finish with a WAR of 3.1, while it has Harvey finishing his first full season with a WAR of 2.5. That sounds like a pretty good 1-2 combination to me.

3. Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud

I will never understand why people will harp on an Opening Day roster as if it is the definitive way to define how your team is going to look throughout the season. At some point this year, barring any injuries, you are going to see Wheeler and d’Arnaud playing for this team. Both will make the team immediately better based on the talent they have. I don’t think it’s fair to expect them to have a Mike Trout-like impact, but with the way the Mets are handling them it’s assured that neither will come up until they are ready for the big leagues.

It’s also worth noting that, currently, the Mets are significantly better at the catching position this year. According to Fangraphs, the Josh Thole-Mike Nickeas combo produced a -0.8 WAR last season and both of them are starting 2013 in AAA. That alone makes John Buck’s measly 1.0 WAR look enticing.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Mets are going to win the National League East, but let’s look at two facts: the Marlins are awful and the Phillies have more bad omens than good. For those reasons, among the others I just mentioned, I think it is very feasible that the Mets will finish in third place this season. That may not be the loftiest of goals, but since the advent of two wild card teams it should be enough to keep things interesting for most of the season, since shooting for third place no longer means no chance at the playoffs.