Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide—An Excerpt

The following is a full excerpt from my now available book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

A full analysis and predictions for the New York Mets.

New York Mets
2010 Record: 79-83; 4th place, National League East.

2010 Recap:

The Mets got off to a terrible start, then had a blazing hot streak that vaulted them into surprising contention. Without Carlos Beltran out due to knee surgery and Jose Reyes missing part of spring training due to a thyroid issue, the club held their own through the All Star break when a devastating West Coast swing sent them reeling back into mediocrity.

Jason Bay struggled in his transition to New York and Citi Field and a crash into the left field wall at Dodger Stadium gave him a concussion and ended his season. David Wright had a big comeback year at the plate; Reyes was up-and-down; Johan Santana again got hurt, shortening his season for the second straight year.

The season turned ugly as closer Francisco Rodriguez assaulted his father-in-law in the clubhouse family room, was arrested for assault and suspended by the club.

John Maine got hurt; Oliver Perez was horrific; Jeff Francoeur didn’t listen to anyone trying to help him fulfill his potential.
Mike Pelfrey had a good, if inconsistent, year; R.A. Dickey was a discovery with his knuckleball; and Jon Niese and Ike Davis were two homegrown players to build around.

2011 ADDITIONS:

GM Sandy Alderson was hired.
Manager Terry Collins was hired.
LHP Chris Capuano signed a 1-year, $1.5 million contract.
C Ronny Paulino signed a 1-year, $1.35 million contract.
RHP D.J. Carrasco signed a 2-year, $2.4 million contract.
OF Scott Hairston signed a 1-year, $1.1 million contract.
RHP Chris Young signed a 1-year, $1.1 million contract.
RHP Taylor Buchholz signed a 1-year, $600,000 contract.
INF Brad Emaus was selected from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft.
INF Chin-lung Hu was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
RHP Boof Bonser signed a minor league contract.
LHP Tim Byrdak signed a minor league contract.
C Raul Chavez signed a minor league contract.
OF Willie Harris signed a minor league contract.
LHP Taylor Tankersley signed a minor league contract.
RHP Blaine Boyer signed a minor league contract.
C Dusty Ryan signed a minor league contract.
LHP Casey Fossum signed a minor league contract.
RHP Dale Thayer signed a minor league contract.
RHP Jason Isringhausen signed a minor league contract.

2011 SUBTRACTIONS:

GM Omar Minaya was fired.
Manager Jerry Manuel was fired.
LHP Pedro Feliciano was not re-signed.
LHP Hisanori Takahashi was not re-signed.
C Henry Blanco was not re-signed.
OF Chris Carter was not re-signed.
RHP Elmer Dessens was not re-signed.
RHP Kelvim Escobar was not re-signed.
RHP Sean Green was non-tendered.
RHP John Maine was non-tendered.
3B/1B Mike Hessman was not re-signed.
RHP Fernando Nieve was not re-signed.
INF Fernando Tatis was not re-signed.
LHP Raul Valdes was not re-signed.
OF Jesus Feliciano was not re-signed.

2011 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Mike Pelfrey; R.A. Dickey; Jon Niese; Chris Young; Chris Capuano; Johan Santana.

2011 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Francisco Rodriguez; Bobby Parnell; Manny Acosta; D.J. Carrasco; Taylor Buchholz; Tim Byrdak; Taylor Tankersley; Pat Misch; Oliver Perez.

2011 PROJECTED LINEUP: C-Josh Thole; 1B-Ike Davis; 2B-Ruben Tejada; 3B-David Wright; SS-Jose Reyes; LF-Jason Bay; CF-Angel Pagan; RF-Carlos Beltran.

2011 BENCH: C-Ronny Paulino; INF-Luis Hernandez; INF/OF-Daniel Murphy; OF-Scott Hairston; OF-Willie Harris; 1B/OF-Nick Evans; INF-Brad Emaus; 2B-Luis Castillo.

2011 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: OF-Lucas Duda; INF-Chin-lung Hu; RHP-Boof Bonser; RHP-Blaine Boyer; RHP-Dillon Gee; RHP-Jenrry Mejia; C-Mike Nickeas; INF-Justin Turner; OF-Fernando Martinez; RHP-Ryota Igarashi; OF-Jason Pridie; RHP-Dale Thayer; LHP-Casey Fossum; RHP-Jason Isringhausen.

ASSESSMENTS

MANAGEMENT:

Because of the lawsuit filed against the Wilpons in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and attempted recovery of some of the money, they’re in the process of seeking a minority shareholder to infuse the club with money. How this plays out will be one of the side stories of the season. Or the story if things go badly on the field.

After a long interview process, the Mets hired veteran baseball man Sandy Alderson to replace the fired Omar Minaya.

Alderson’s career has had a fluctuating trajectory. An outsider who entered baseball as a matter of circumstance and going from lawyer to Oakland Athletics GM, he had a long and successful run working in tandem with Tony La Russa to build the best team in the American League from 1988 through 1992. When the money that was available to buy the best players was gone, so was the success. Then La Russa left and the Alderson A’s fell into the netherworld of non-competitiveness.

When Billy Beane took over the A’s, replacing Alderson, and became known as a “genius” because of Moneyball, Alderson’s foresight in building the foundation for the stat-based “revolution” upon which Moneyball was based was credited for getting the ball rolling. Following a stint with MLB’s front office, Alderson took the job as president of the San Diego Padres; his tenure was pockmarked with in-fighting, turf battles and an underlying enthusiasm on the part of the club president to encourage the varying factions—stat based and scouting—to constantly battle for control with one thing in common, fealty to Alderson.

After leaving the Padres, Alderson was given the task of cleaning up the messy disorganization and under-the-table chicanery that went on with baseball in the Dominican Republic. Then the Mets came calling.

After his hiring, he went on all the talk shows and gave as good as he got; intimidating bullies like Mike Francesa, Alderson showed he still has the passion to build a team and do it in a way that isn’t designed to validate his role in Moneyball as his work with the Padres always had the aura of attempting. He’s running the Mets, he’s standing up to all critics and he’s done things the right way in refusing to spend money for the sake of good press; instead, he’s got a plan and is bringing in people with whom he’s worked before and who will enact his edicts without an eye on how it can help their station.

He brought in two former GMs, both of whom failed in their stints as a boss—Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi—and are loyal to Alderson.

His actions and statements have looked good so far and instead of trying to live up to a fairy tale called Moneyball, he’s doing what’s best for the team.

Terry Collins was hired as the Mets manager after a process that took about as long as the GM search.

Collins has been a respected baseball man but his raging temper and known intensity cost him two jobs with the Astros and Angels. His last big league managing job was in 1999 and a mutiny amongst some of the players led to his ouster.

He’s toned himself down a bit as he’s aged, been a minor league director among other jobs in North America and overseas and is a stickler for detail, hustle and playing the game the right way.

The Mets need his discipline and hard charging ways.

For too long, the inmates have run the asylum for the Mets and in order for the culture to change, everyone in management has to be on the same page. That’s not to suggest that Collins is going to be a “middle managing” yes-man as Moneyball implied the field manager should be, but someone who stands up for himself and what he believes while maintaining the respect of the players and his bosses.

Collins is no yes man.

He won’t shy away from telling the players the way he wants things done; nor will he hesitate to bench them if they don’t acquiesce. Because of the new regime, there won’t be the backstabbing atmosphere of unhappy players running to assistant GMs or ownership to undermine the manager.

It won’t be tolerated. Collins is in charge of the clubhouse and the players are going to play and act correctly or they won’t play; nor will they be there for long.

It’s a welcome change after years of dysfunction on all levels.

STARTING PITCHING:

Despite 15-9 record and solid across-the-board stats, Mike Pelfrey’s season wasn’t as good as it appears on paper. He got off to a great start thanks to a new split finger fastball, but once it got around the league that he was using a new pitch, he struggled.
Pelfrey’s season can be divided into parts. From the beginning of the season through June, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball accumulating a 10-2 record; then he was terrible until August when he regained his form. Pelfrey is a contact pitcher, throws strikes and doesn’t allow many homers. In 204 innings, he allowed 213 hits and 12 homers; he walked 68 and struck out 113. With Johan Santana expected out until the summer, Pelfrey is going to be relied on as the number one starter. It depends on which Pelfrey shows up as to whether he’s going to be able to fulfill that mandate.

R.A. Dickey arrived like a bolt from the blue. It’s said that it takes time for a knuckleballer to find his way in baseball, but Dickey had been a journeyman since taking up the knuckleball when injuries derailed his career as a conventional pitcher. Dickey was masterful after joining the club in late May. He went 11-9 in 27 games (26 starts), allowed 165 hits in 174 innings, 13 homers and only walked 42.

Dickey was also a leader on the staff and well-spoken representative for the club. It’s always a dicey thing to expect an older pitcher who has his one big year to repeat that the next year; sometimes it’s a matter of opportunity and figuring it all out; other times it’s just a confluence of circumstances that comes and goes. It’s different with a knuckleballer and I believe Dickey is for real.
To avoid arbitration, Dickey signed a 2-year, $7.8 million contract with a club option for 2013. He has some security for the first time in his career.

Lefty Jonathon Niese was one of the top rookie pitchers in baseball for much of the season before he tired in September. With a good fastball, curve and cutter, Niese put up some terrific performances specifically a masterpiece of a 1-hit shutout against the Padres in June. Niese wound up 9-10 on the season and his ancillary numbers don’t look impressive to the naked eye, but he pitched better than his numbers. In 173 innings, he allowed 192 hits and 20 homers; he walked 62 and struck out 148. Niese has the stuff to be a 12-15 game winner in the big leagues.

6’10” righty Chris Young was signed to an incentive-laden 1-year contract. Young has pitched in 18 games in the past two years. When he’s healthy, he’s tough. His motion is deceptive and his height makes his fastball seem faster than it is; he has a good curve and changeup and he’s willing to pitch inside. His big problems are staying healthy and late season stamina. When he was healthy and pitching well for the Padres, he had a tendency to tire out at the end of the season and couldn’t be counted on for more than 150-170 innings—then in the past two years, the injuries hit his shoulder. If he’s able to pitch, he’s a great, low cost pickup; but after all these injuries what can the Mets reasonably expect? I’d expect very little.

Chris Capuano is a 32-year-old veteran lefty who signed a 1-year deal with the Mets. Capuano was a solid, durable starter with the Brewers for 2005 and 2006, he slumped in 2007 and underwent Tommy John surgery (for the second time) in 2008. He’s a contol pitcher whose strikeout numbers—when he was healthy—were high enough that he shouldn’t be considered a pure junkballer. He gives up his share of homers and hits when he’s not pinpointing his spots, but he was a good mid-rotation pitcher before, maybe he can rejuvenate his career with the Mets.

Johan Santana had surgery on his shoulder and isn’t expected to be able to pitch until June at the earliest. Santana wasn’t as dominant as he was with the Twins last season, but he was good enough to post an 11-9 record and have an ERA under 3.00. Judging by how he actually pitched, he should’ve won 17 games. Santana is one of the top pitchers in baseball, but he was damaged several times by the big inning. Shoulder surgeries are tricky and it’s hard to know what the Mets are going to get when Santana returns.

He’d already lost a few inches on his fastball and with him coming back from another injury that could diminish his velocity even further, it could be an issue reducing his effectiveness further.

Perhaps he’ll have to rely more on his changeup and locating his fastball. He can win that way, but it will take some time for him to learn to pitch differently to account for it.

BULLPEN:

Francisco Rodriguez will return as the closer. After the humiliating way his season ended as he assaulted his father-in-law in the Citi Field family room, he’s going to be on his best behavior. K-Rod is a good closer but the most interesting dynamic will be if the Mets are not contending and K-Rod is approaching the 54 appearances he needs to guarantee his contract for 2012.

The provision in his contract calls for the kicker if he either finishes 55 games in 2010 or has a combined 100 games finished in 2010 and 2011. K-Rod finished 46 games last season. Will the Mets, if they’re out of the race by mid-August, sit K-Rod to “unguarantee” his $17.5 million for 2012? And will the union fight it if they do?
I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to sit K-Rod in order to get his contract off the books.

Another option, if he’s pitching well and behaving, is to trade him while picking up some of the 2012 contract. He’d get a couple of good prospects back and I think this is the likeliest scenario, contingent on his behavior.

Bobby Parnell drew plenty of attention with his fastball after returning from the minors. Clocked at 102 mph, he has the velocity to blow people away. In 35 innings, he struck out 33 and only allowed 1 homer. He did surrender 41 hits, but that was skewered by a couple of games in which he gave up crooked numbers against the Diamondbacks and Phillies. Apart from that, he was reliable and has the potential to be a top set-up man with that power fastball.

Manny Acosta was a solid pickup from the Braves before last season. Acosta has a good fastball and struck out 42 in 39 innings. He allowed 30 hits, but his one bugaboo has always been the home run ball. His control is occasionally wanting and when he falls behind and has to throw his fastball in the strike zone, he tends to give up the long ball.

D.J. Carrasco signed a 2-year contract. A 34-year-old righty, Carrasco is a durable, multiple inning reliever who’s pitched well out of the bullpen for the White Sox in 2008 and 2009 and spent last season with the Pirates and Diamondbacks. He occasionally has trouble throwing strikes, but has strikeout potential.

Taylor Buchholz is trying to regain his footing after missing 2009 with Tommy John surgery and bouncing from the Rockies to the Red Sox as he returned last season. Buchholz was an integral part of the Rockies bullpen in 2008 as a set-up man with a 2.17 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 66 innings. He has a good fastball and wicked curve; his stuff translates better to going once through the lineup and if he’s healthy, he could be a cheap find for the Mets.

Veteran lefty specialist Tim Byrdak signed a minor league contract. Byrdak has been one of the unheralded lefties in baseball since joining the Astros in 2008. He’s 37, has had some trouble with the home run ball and control, but lefties have hit .202 against him in his career. He’s a pure lefty specialist who should make the Mets out of spring training.

Taylor Tankersley is another lefty who, like Buchholz, is trying to regain his effectiveness. Tankersley had a good year in the Marlins bullpen in 2007, but has gotten blasted since. He didn’t pitch in 2009 with a recurring stress fracture in his arm and wasn’t good in 2010. For his career, he’s held lefties to a .223 average so he, like Byrdak, will be a lefty specialist. The Mets will be able to use two lefties in the bullpen, so Tankersley has a good chance to make the team and get into a lot of games.

Pat Misch is a soft-tossing lefty who is short just enough on his fastball that he’s unable to get inside to righties and has to rely on control and spotting his pitches. He has very good control and is a useful pitcher to have around as a long reliever/spot starter.

Oliver Perez is only still on the roster because he’s making $12 million this season. Alderson has said that if Perez doesn’t earn his way onto the roster, he won’t be with the Mets.

I don’t expect him to be with the Mets.

LINEUP:

Catching prospect Josh Thole will receive every opportunity to take over as the starter. Thole is a lefty-swinging slap hitter who’s batted .300 in the minors in two of the past three seasons; his hitting style reminds me of former Pirates catcher Mike Lavalliere—a spray hitter with 25 or so doubles and maybe 8 homers. He has a strong arm behind the plate.

Ike Davis impressed in spring training 2010 and was recalled from the minors in late April. His swing was compared with John Olerud’s, but after watching him over the long term, he’s more of a Lyle Overbay-type with more power. He takes his walks (72 in 601 plate appearances); strikes out a lot (138 times); and has power (19 homers, 33 doubles). The 24-year-old Davis is a good fielder and will hit 25-30 homers in the big leauges with 100+ RBI and a .350+ on base percentage.

The Mets are going to give Daniel Murphy a chance to win the second base job, but I’d prefer to play Ruben Tejada there. Tejada impressed me with his fearlessness and overall solid fundamental play. Early in the season, he was overmatched, but never gave up. He puts a good move on the inside pitch and I believe will be a solid hitter and fielder at the big league level. The 21-year-old has hit above .280 in his last two minor league seasons, takes his walks and has some speed.

After a difficult 2009 season when there were questions as to whether he’d been psyched out by the vast dimensions of Citi Field, David Wright had a very good comeback year. While he’s criticized for the things he doesn’t do—he’s never going to be a megastar player—he’s still unappreciated by Mets fans.

Wright had 29 homers and 36 doubles; batted .283 and his on base percentage dropped from its usual heights of .390 or above, to .354; he struck out 161 times, but that was misleading as he was k’ing at a breakneck pace early in the season but made better contact as the season wore on.

Jose Reyes missed most of spring training with a thyroid condition and was very streaky last season. Tried in the number 3 hole in the lineup (which I thought was a great idea), Reyes went into a funk. He showed flashes of being the five tool machine he was from 2005 to 2008, but his on base percentage sank to .321 and he stole only 30 bases. Reyes is still a superstar talent and is only 27, but he’s a free agent at the end of the year and with the dollars thrown around for Carl Crawford, will the Mets be willing to invest over $120 million in Reyes if he has a big year?

That’s what he’s going to want. At least.

If the Mets are out of contention, they have to at least listen to offers for Reyes if he’s playing well. They could trade him and then pursue him again as a free agent if they so desire.

I think Reyes is going to get traded and if he’s playing up to his potential, they’ll get a lot for him. A lot. It may be the right move in the long run.

Jason Bay struggled through his first season in New York. I doubt it was due to fear—he handled Boston with no problem—but with some players (Carlos Beltran for example) it takes a year to get accustomed to playing in New York. Bay’s defense, criticized as “poor” due to his UZR ratings, was a very good defensive left fielder for the Mets; those that are immersed in UZR explained this as the season moved along…by altering their calculations. Lo and behold, Bay wasn’t as bad as they initially thought. What a shock.

A concussion sustained while crashing into the left field wall at Dodger Stadium ended Bay’s season after 95 games. I believe Bay will be back to his 25 homer, 100 RBI self this season and he was a surprise with his defense, speed, solid baserunning and all-around good play.

Angel Pagan finally stayed healthy in 2010 and showed everyone what he could do if given the chance to play regularly. In 151 games, Pagan batted .290 with a .340 on base percentage; had 11 homers; 31 doubles and 7 triples, plus 37 stolen bases. The switch hitter played hard every play and was excellent defensively in center and right field. The big issue with Pagan has always been his health. I don’t think that one healthy season means he’s automatically gotten over that hump, but he’s the heir apparent to Beltran.

Carlos Beltran was unfairly blamed for the Mets slide after the All Star break because that’s when he came back. Of course it’s possible that the continuity of the club was disrupted by Beltran’s insertion into the mix, but the Mets problems went far deeper than Beltran’s defense or the shifting of Pagan to right and benching of Jeff Francoeur. Beltran regained his timing as the season wore on, but he’s never going to be the force he once was. His injured knee is reducing his power from the left side of the plate and it’s obvious. If he plays the full season, he can still hit his 20+ homers, hit a few doubles and get on base; even stealing a few with canniness once in awhile.

His Mets career has run its course; he’s a free agent at the end of the season and it would be best for all if they parted ways and the Mets got some useful pieces for him.

BENCH:

Catcher Ronny Paulino will begin the season suspended for using a banned substance; he’ll miss the first eight games of the season. Paulino is a good part-time catcher and, batting right-handed, will see time against tough lefties to spell Thole. He has some on base ability and a little pop. Paulino is a good handler of pitchers and throws well.

Luis Hernandez is a journeyman switch-hitting utility infielder. He can play second, third and short and batted .250 in 47 plate appearances for the Mets in 2010.

Daniel Murphy is being eyed as a possible solution to second base. He blew out his knee turning a double play on a take-out slide that was said to have been dirty. Murphy can hit enough to get 300-400 at bats in the big leagues, but he’s not a good enough hitter to tolerate the likelihood of inadequate range at second base. I would make Murphy a roving utility player and use him as the Athletics (under Sandy Alderson) used Tony Phillips.

Brad Emaus is a 25-year-old infielder whom the Mets selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Toronto Blue Jays. Emaus can play second or third and has 15-20 homer power; gets on base; hits plenty of doubles; walks and doesn’t strike out. He bats right-handed and can even steal a few bases.

Veteran outfielder Scott Hairston signed a 1-year contract. Hairston can play all three outfield positions, has some pop, doesn’t hit for a high average or get on base. He’s a fifth outfielder on a good team; a fourth outfielder on the Mets.

Mets nemesis Willie Harris was signed to a minor league contract. Harris is a versatile outfielder/third baseman who had a habit of making terrific plays defensively and getting big hits against the Mets, some of which cost them dearly in 2007-2008 as they fell out of the playoff race. Harris has speed and some pop and is a better hitter than his .183 showing last year with the Nationals.

Nick Evans has shown flashes of being a useful righty bat in the big leagues, but former manager Jerry Manuel didn’t like Evans for whatever reason. He’s hit for power and put up good average/on base numbers in the minors and can play first base or the corner outfield positions.

Luis Castillo is in the same boat with Perez. Alderson has said that he’ll have to earn his way onto the roster. It’s highly, highly, highly unlikely he’ll play well enough to win the starting job at second base in the spring and they won’t able to trade him with other teams knowing the reality of the situation. I expect him to be released early in the spring so he has a chance to hook on somewhere else. It’s time for him to go.

PREDICTION:

Best case scenario in the standings, the Mets are a .500 team. In the NL East, that might get them third place.

The best case scenario in practicality is if they’re around 5-10 games under .500 into the summer, Beltran is playing well enough to convince a few teams that he can help them in their stretch drives and there will be a moderate bidding war for his services in a trade. Alderson is savvy enough to dangle him out there and get a good return for him.

Reyes and K-Rod are different matters. Reyes, a free agent, will yield a significant return in a trade if he’s healthy and playing well. The Mets circumstances financially and on the field make it a question as to whether they’re going to be able to give Reyes the contract he wants at the end of the season if they want to keep him.
I expect Reyes to be traded this summer.

K-Rod’s contract is a huge obstacle; it’s not something that can’t be worked out. If he’s pitching well and behaving, someone will take him.

Alderson and his people are sifting through the muck of years of disorganization and it’s not an overnight process. This season is dedicated to seeing what they have in Thole, Murphy, Pagan, Niese, Dickey, Tejada and the young players on the way. After the year, Castillo, Perez and Reyes are coming off the books. They’ll have money to spend next winter (maybe) and as much as they hesitate to say it, it’s known that the Mets are in a so-called “bridge” year from the Minaya regime to what Alderson, his assistants and Collins are trying to build.

They’re going to have a long year, but it could be productive if they’re smart, fearless and aggressive in trading.

PREDICTED RECORD: 73-89

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN.


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  1. #1 by Bob's Blitz on March 16, 2011 - 12:16 pm

    The volume of accurate and interesting information that Paul Lebowitz can pump out is amazing.

  2. #2 by Jane Heller on March 16, 2011 - 3:13 pm

    Looking forward to your Yankees review – I think.

  3. #3 by Jeff on March 16, 2011 - 7:16 pm

    I pretty much agree with this… especially the Beltran scenario. Sorta sad that THAT’S what Mets fans have to look forward to…. the most…. in my opinion.

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