15 May 2011

Identifing the problem prior to fixing it (Part One)

This little item over at MetsBlog this morning caught my attention.  It's kind of a "Well, duh..." type thing, but nonetheless it's sometimes good to see things in black-and-white and leave no doubt (kinda like the standings, no?).  The last-place Mets starting pitching so far has not unsurprisingly been below the mean.  Realistically, no one expected brilliance, but it's currently even falling short of passable.  The last-place Mets starting staff is 11th of 16 in the NL in innings pitched, 14th out of 16 in ERA, and 12th of 16 in wins.  Whether you want to call that expected, a little disappointing, or a lot disappointing, there's no way that gets you into the playoffs regardless.

Now let's take this a step further.  How are the last-place Mets doing on the other side of the coin, offense?  Here, the story is more encouraging, to the tune of 9th in average, 7th in home runs, 5th in on-base percentage, 6th in OPS, and the bottom line: 6th in runs scored.

Man, if only we had an everyday player we could trade for some arms, right?

I know what you're thinking...."You can't do that, because without [insert Golden Boy of Choice here], those hitting stats wouldn't be near what they are.  Au contraire, mon frere.  Just for the sake of not spending all day on this, I'll look at Jose Reyes first and come back and examine Wright's numbers later.

If we remove Jose Reyes from the equation as of Sunday morning (i.e., just eliminate his at-bats altogether from the team totals and don't even attempt to account for a replacement), some fascinating things happen.  (Fair warning: What you're about to read may proverbially shake the hell out of your snow globe.)

The "counting" stats (home runs and runs scored) are difficult to compare in this exercise because, if you subtract, say, Reyes' HRs or runs scored from the last-place Mets' totals, how many do you take away from the other teams' to keep the comparison relative?  I'm sure there's an answer, but I'm not going to spend all morning trying to figure out the equation.  Instead, I'll just rely on direct comparison for these, i.e. "how is our guy doing vs. the other team's guys?"

Regarding home runs, it's pretty irrelevant.  Reyes only has one, and that's not really his job anyway.  If your leadoff man jacks one out every now and then, great, because he is going to be in RBI situations during the course of a game, but still, it's not in his job description, so who cares?

In the matter of runs scored, Reyes is currently tied for 13th in the NL.  As there are 16 teams in the league and each of them only has one lead-off hitter any given night, that's not spectacular.  Sure, the argument is always that it's only Reyes' job to get on base and its up to everyone else to knock him in, but 1) see the OBP numbers I'm about to unleash, and 2) even playing devil's advocate, the rest of the team can not drive in one player just as well as they can not drive in another.  If the REAL problem is the heart of the order, what difference does it even make how good your leadoff hitter is?

The "averaging" stats are more easily compared.  You can subtract an individual's totals from the teams and still do the division, which then fairly compares to every other teams' averages.

In our hypothetical world without a Jose Reyes, the last-place Mets' batting average drops from .244 to .233 or from 9th to 15th.  Granted, we don't know what other teams' BAs would look like if you removed THEIR leadoff hitters, but I'm not going there.  Suffice it to say the last-place Mets team batting average suffers by 11 points in Reyes' absence.

It gets even more interesting as you carry the exercise out.  Turns out the last-place Mets OBP actually goes up to 2nd in the National League from its current .323 to .353 in a World Without Reyes (the team currently has 321 hits and 150 walks in 1316 ABs and Reyes accounts for 54 hits and 13 walks in 170 ABs; do the math yourself if you don't trust me).  Also, the team OPS bumps from its current .717 to .722, up a spot and tied for 5th (the last-place Mets have 518 total bases, 95 of which belong to Reyes).

None of those are enormous differences, but that in itself is the point when making an objective assessment.  I don't even much care if the BA, OBP, and OPS without Reyes went up or down, the lack of any earth-shattering change either way is what's important.  Under current conditions, there's not much difference in the last-place Mets offense with or without "The Most Exciting Player in Baseball/Most Dynamic Leadoff Hitter Since Rickey/etc. etc."  To assume there will be one and for that reason subsequently not make a trade that would upgrade the pitching--which is a bigger team-wide concern--would be foolish.

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