Thursday, May 31, 2012

R.A. Dickey: The National League's Best Kept Secret?

If you play fantasy baseball on, you would know that Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is currently owned in 90.2% of public leagues. What you would also know is that a week ago that number was only 46.9%. Such a jump is usually indicative of a rookie storming into the show, a la Mike Trout in Los Angeles. Since we're starting with a fantasy baseball argument, let's look at what Fox Sport's Ryan Fowler said about Dickey on May 23rd:

"Investing in knuckle ball pitchers is always risky. His K/9 rate of 8.01 is nearly three strikeouts higher than his average over the last three seasons. Despite an ERA hovering around 3.00 and a 1.20 WHIP, Dickey is a sub-.500 pitcher (19-22) over the last two seasons."

In all fairness, Dickey *did* go 19-22 in 2010-11. Two things contributed to this - a rough start to 2011 (2-6, 4.39ERA through May 31). However, after that point, Dickey had been lights out in 2011. Here's the line on his final 21 starts last year:

21 GS, 1 CG, 6-7 (12-9 team record), 141 IP, 125 H, 43 ER, 31 BB, 89 K, 2.74 ERA, 1.106 WHIP

If you agree that a pitcher's win-loss record doesn't tell the whole story, the *only* knock on Dickey is his lack of strikeouts (5.68 K/9). Other than that, Dickey was one of the best in the National League last year, despite dealing with painful plantar fasciitis. And it's not a trend that has slowed down. If we include R.A. Dickey's 2012 work, we have:

31 GS, 1 CG, 13-8 (20-10 team record), 210 IP, 179 H, 65 ER, 48 BB, 150 K, 2.78 ERA, 1.081 WHIP

Well those sure are a top-flight pitcher's statistics! Let's compare that to a couple other recent National League pitching seasons:

Pitcher A: 32 GS, 8 CG, 19-6 (24-8 team record), 233.2 IP, 208 H, 61 ER, 35 BB, 220 K, 2.35 ERA, 1.040 WHIP

Pitcher B: 33 GS, 1 CG, 13-14 (17-16 team record), 217 IP, 176 H, 66 ER, 86 BB, 220 K, 2.74 ERA, 1.207 WHIP

Pitcher C: 35 GS, 1 CG, 16-9 (22-13 team record), 235 IP, 214 H, 84 ER, 63 BB, 179 K, 3.22 ERA, 1.179 WHIP

(Read to the end for the reveal!)

"But he doesn't have elite strikeout numbers!"

True, but not vital here. This does create a Sabermetric disadvantage of sorts, as many pitching metrics (FIP,SIERA for example) weight strikeouts over other 'out-types' and thus rank him lower. Despite not racking up K's, R.A. Dickey nonetheless compares favorably to his counterparts in ERA, WHIP, and IP/start -- he still gets batters out just as efficiently. It's hard to predict if his K-numbers this year won't regress, but he's done enough to show that he doesn't need them to succeed.

"But the knuckleball is such a random pitch, how do we know this will last?"

This is true. The knuckleball is in itself a "small sample size" element. No one knows it well enough to predict it, not even the men who throw them. Dickey began to throw the pitch full time in 2005, and admits openly that it's a work in progress. However, what we do know, is that he's making a pretty damn good argument that he's got this down. His career ERA with the Mets is 3.08, and 49 of his 68 starts with the Mets have been "Quality" (and he's only given up more than 4 runs in a start 7 times). He's averaged nearly 6.2 innings since joining the rotation, and a stunning (for a knuckleball pitcher) 2.3 walks per nine. And for those who want to argue his success against his past failures, Dickey's last start marked the point at which more than 50% of his Major League innings have come with the Mets.

Robert Allan is also, by several metrics, one of the best fielders at his position. He finished last year with an MLB-leading 58 assists, 3rd in the majors with 8 defensive runs saved, 3rd in the majors (among RHPs) with 5 pickoffs, and 2nd in the MLB (1st in the National League) in Baseball Info Solutions Fielding Bible Awards (source).

When Dickey won the National League POY award last week (2-0, 14.1 IP, 1 ER, 21 K), his name launched into the national spotlight. The secret is out. What some of us have known for a while is that it's belonged there for some time now.

The pitchers used for comparison are:

A: Roy Halladay (2011)
B: Tim Lincecum (2011)
C: Chris Carpenter (2010)

with a combined 5 Cy Young awards between them.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Tale of Two Ikes

Ike Davis' splits page (linked) shows some pretty interesting stats that actually show a distinct dichotomy in Ike's 2012 season.

  • Ike Davis is hitting only .065/.134/.081 at Citi Field this year (4/62, .105 BABIP), and a (relatively) much more respectable .229/.273/.446 on the road (19/83, .241 BABIP). Comparing to his career .263/.334/.450 mark, it seems that though he may be getting hits at a lesser rate, he's driving the ball well in visiting parks.
  • Ike is hitting .280/.308/.520 (7/25, 3 2B, 1 HR) from the 7th spot in the batting order, compared to .133/.194/.242 elsewhere (16/120, 1 2B, 4 HR). Certainly too small a sample size to draw conclusions, and he's still not drawing walks, but Ike's bat has been powerful down in that spot.
  • Ike is hitting .303/.303/.615 (4/13, 1 2B, 1 HR) with runners on the corners.
  • Ike vs. RHP - .146/.219/.271
  • Ike vs. LHP - .184/.200/.327
  • Ike's numbers on balls hit to the outfield - .429/.429/.881 (18/42)
  • Ike's numbers on balls hit to right field - .464/.464/1.036 (13/28)

Ike has been disappointing this year, and has looked lost at the plate. Even with a vote of confidence from Terry Collins, many are still calling for him to spend time in AAA. His poor play at the plate is hurting the team, but the question remains whether the time in AAA will come back to Queens with him. 

I don't claim to have any secrets to Ike's game; in fact I don't have cable in my apartment so I rarely see him play. That said, I think there are two red flags from these numbers:
  1.  Ike Davis is having great results pulling the ball (18/42) and terrible results going to the opposite fields (10/73).
  2. Roughly half (49/101) of Ike's AB's that ended with a ball in play are ground balls, and have yielded only 8 singles. 
It's not a long-term solution, but perhaps Collins and hitting coach Dave Hudgens should work with Ike Davis on pulling balls to right field, which he has always done well, to build some confidence. He can't get much worse at the plate, so perhaps having him focus on one specific task at the plate may help him bust this funk.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Quick Note on Jason Bay (Updated)

I was discussing Jason Bay earlier today, and decided to look at some of his splits.

Bay's career slashline -- .274/.368/.493, 206HR, 234 2B, 30 3B in 4864 PA's
Bay's Mets slashline -- .251/.355/.391, 21HR, 41 2B, 7 3B in 967 PA's
Bay's Citi Field slashline -- .275/.362/.438, 10HR, 25 2B, 5 3B in 462 PA's

For all that's been said about the psychological difference due to the size of Citi Field, he's played almost exactly to his averages in Queens. In his career, he's homered in 4.25% of his plate appearances, and doubled or tripled in 5.43%. In Citi Field, those numbers are 2.16% and 6.49%. That spells a noticeable trade-off, but he still racked up extra base hits at a similar rate (9.68% vs. 8.66%). Away from Citi Field as a Met, the home run rate (2.18%) stayed the same, but the 2B/3B rate plummeted (3.56%). For all that was talked up about Citi Field being the issue, it seems Bay's struggles were really pronounced on the road.

-- Update 5/14 --

After thinking about it, I wanted to take a look at some other players, and compare their slashlines at Citi Field compared to their career averages:

David Wright --
Career: .303/.383/.510
@ Citi Field: .280/.381/.449

Jose Reyes --
Career: .291/.341/.438
@ Citi Field: .315/.366/.484

Carlos Beltran --
Career: .284/.362/.499
@ Citi Field: .290/.374/.475

Ike Davis --
Career: .257/.340/.439
@ Citi Field: .243/.337/.415

Daniel Murphy --
Career: .296/.346/.435
@ Citi Field: .312/.347/.462

At first glance, it seems that the power hitters (Beltran, Davis, Wright especially) suffer hits to their slugging percentages while Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy, both line-drive gap hitters, saw a noticeable improvement. Since David Wright's line was affected almost identically (he actually has suffered a larger drop in slugging than has Bay), let's analyze his stats like we did Bay's.

187HR, 289 2B, 18 3B in 4920 career PA's
HR rate: 3.80%
2B & 3B rate: 6.24%
Overall: 10.04%

24HR, 44 2B, 6 3B in 898 career PA's
HR rate: 2.67%
2B & 3B rate: 5.57%
Overall: 8.24%

What we can see here, is that Jason Bay has actually accumulated extra base hits at a slightly better rate than David Wright has at Citi Field (8.66% vs. 8.24%), but Wright has hit a higher percentage of home runs. Ultimately this allows us to draw two conclusions:

1. Jason Bay's statistics at Citi Field are, believe it or not, almost completely characteristic of the type of hitter he has been over his career. His decrease in slugging followed Wright's almost identically.

2. Jason Bay hasn't really struggled at Citi Field to the portrayed extent. His decrease in slugging could be explained as a direct result of balls that were home runs in Pittsburgh and Boston not being home runs in New York.

Why I'm Sick of Hearing About Payroll Cuts

Back in February, Chris Walendin (@tpgMets) wrote an interesting piece on dissecting the Mets' ballyhooed $52.4 Million payroll cut, and how overblown it may be. (Click here to read it. I'll wait...)

The payroll cut has been one of the favorite shots taken at the team (and the Wilpons) this winter, after watching Jose Reyes go to the Florida Miami Marlins for a $106 Million payday ( reportedly after not receiving an offer from the Mets, which was another hazy issue). Either way, what little money Sandy Alderson spent shored up the bullpen by signing Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch to a combined $15.5 million over two years, and trading an inconsistent, arbitration-eligible Center Fielder for Ramon Ramirez (and an older inconsistent, arbitration-eligible Center Fielder). They resigned Scott Hairston, brought in Ronny Cedeño, and let former first-round pitcher Adam Loewen and Queens-native Mike Baxter battle it out for the lefty bench role. Offensive Jugger-not Mike Nickeas was all-but handed the backup catcher's role. But all 11 of you reading this knew all that.

Back to the money. So the Mets are doomed because they slashed payroll. They spent about $145 Million last year on 77 wins. At that same price, their new $93 Million payroll should be good for about 49 (They would need to go 30-99 from here. I'd take the over). What you'll never hear on ESPN, however, is how the Mets shedded payroll. Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez didn't make the team out of spring training ($18,000,000). Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez were traded ($31,492,102). And, of course, Reyes' contract expired ($11,000,000). The Mets shedded $60,492,102 worth of contracts from five players, only one of whom was on the team on August 1st. Only two of whom provided a significant impact to the team (despite Bobby Parnell's struggles in the role, I take the Moneyball approach on the value of closers). But no, doomed.

Lost in this is the (in fairness, somewhat surprising) effective return of the Mets $24 Million Ace pitcher Johan Santana and their $16,000,000 dynamic MVP-caliber Third Baseman (yes, David Wright played last year, but the difference has been night and day). To me, it's not a surprise that the Mets are 19-14 right now (I'll admit that the 14-6 record in the NL East is delightfully surprising), because the Mets compliment their top players with some scrappy veterans (R.A. Dickey, Andres Torres), plenty of high-potential young players (Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Josh Thole, Ruben Tejada, and Captain Kirk Nieuwenhuis). So much for the Mets' terrible farm system.

The Wilpons were on the brink of ruin because of their legal battles with Madoff Trustee Irving Picard (Note: what was originally a $1 Billion lawsuit will likely only cost them about $70 Million... in 2015.) The harsh reality suddenly isn't. What does it mean? Well, there won't (and shouldn't) be a return to the Omar Minaya era of handing out huge contracts, but there ought to be money to work with. The payroll isn't going to rise much in the next few years (many players are still pre-arbitration), but something like re-signing David Wright is no longer impossible, no matter what Ken Rosenthal or Jon Kruk may tell you.

Sandy Alderson was absolutely shredded by the media this winter for cutting payroll. In reality, he did exactly what he was brought in for. The 'Moneyball with money' GM flipped Beltran for top prospect Zack Wheeler, and Lucas Duda has hit .271/.357/.442 in his stead, despite a slow start in 2012. He gave Dickey a contract, and got 253 innings with a 3.34 ERA in return so far. His extension to Jon Niese could prove extremely variable down the road. The quality of bullpen pitchers fluctuates wildly (and boy, has it), but for the most part they seem to be settling (I'm looking at you, Manny Acosta). The 2012 Mets are captivating; they're easy to root for. They may not win 95 games; hell they may not win 81. But I don't know if there's a team in the National League that works as hard; that wants to win as badly as the Mets. They play with a boyish excitement that's contagious. If nothing else, it's a return to "Mets baseball". Not the most talented, heralded, or respected, they approach every at bat like it's the last out of the 9th inning. They're riding a thin line, but to the trained eye it seems they're starting to best it. They know what they have to do to succeed, and in this early season seem to revel in it. Ya Gotta Believe, because they really do. 

Just remember - despite what the Yankees may say, spending does not equal winning. Ask the Cubs.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Mets After 30 Games!

As of when I'm posting this, the Mets are 18-13 after a 10-6 win over Philadelphia, completing the sweep. I've been writing this for the past two days, and 30 is just a nicer number to work with than 31.

So, we're 30 games in. The New York Mets are a surprising 17-13. It hasn't always been pretty (read: Colorado Rockies), but through 30 games they have yet to be under .500, which says a lot about the way this team has battled and persevered. There have been injuries, and there have been struggles, but the Amazin's have won more games than they've lost so far. And really, isn't that all we can hope for?

Through 30 games -- 17-13 record, 118RS, 140RA (13-17 Pythagorean Record), .262/.333/.375
Straight-math projection -- 92-70, 637RS, 756fRA
Reasonable [read: My] projection -- 84-78, 680RS, 680RA
[Fun Fact! The Mets are tied for the second-youngest team in the National League (third in MLB) with an average age of 27.4 years, as per Baseball-Reference]

What stands out at first glance is the -22 run differential. However, a quick glance at the results shows that in three games - 4/18 vs. Atlanta, 4/27 vs. Colorado, and 5/2 vs. Houston, the Mets were outscored by 26 runs. It's not fair nor reasonable to discount these losses (as much as I'd like to), but it at least lends credence to the argument that the differential and resulting Pythagorean record may be misleading. [Not So Fun Fact! -- Chris Schwinden and Manny Acosta combined to allow 20 runs in 10.1 innings of the Colorado and Houston games]. 

And now, for a position-by-position review of the season so far! (NOTE: I only included the starting rotation and position players for now, I will likely profile the bench and bullpen later this week)

 > Pitching Rotation <

1. Johan Santana
Statistics so far -- 6GS, 31IP, 1-2, 2.61ERA, 25H, 34K, 12BB
Straight-math projection -- 33GS, 170.2IP, 6-11, 137.5H, 187K, 66BB
My projection -- 30GS, 175IP, 11-8, 3.00ERA, 165H, 170K, 70BB

So far, Santana has been everything the Mets could have hoped for and so much more. Were it not for his poor (read: pitiful) run support, Santana would likely be 4 or 5 - 1 right now, with his only loss coming in his 1.1IP start in Atlanta. If you remove that one start, his ERA drops to 1.51. Despite diminished velocity (his fastball is averaging 88.4mph vs. 89.6 in 2010), Santana has shown that he can still succeed. He offsets his fastball by a full 10mph with his circle change up (arguably once the best out pitch in baseball), and shows a competitive fire matched by few. His 9.9 K/9IP will likely drop (he has averaged 7.6 with the Mets), but so should his 3.5 BB/9IP. Coming into this season, we viewed anything from Santana as a gift. Going forward, it seems safe to say that Johan is here to say, but don't take it for granted. Santana was one of baseball's elite pitchers for years, and a return to the top, though unlikely, isn't entirely out of the question. After the work he's put in so far, it's hard to doubt what he can accomplish. [Fun fact! Johan Santana's career worst ERA as a starter? 3.33, with Minnesota in 2007.]

2. R.A. Dickey
Statistics so far -- 6GS, 38.1IP, 4-1, 3.76ERA, 32H, 32K, 12BB
Straight-math projection -- 33GS, 211IP, 22-5, 176H, 176K, 77BB
My projection -- 33GS, 210IP, 15-8, 3.33ERA, 190H, 150K, 65BB

At this point, it's fair to say that R.A. Dickey gives the Mets a second Ace in the rotation. He has thrown a Quality Start in 17 of his last 18 appearances (dating back to July 25th last year), and would likely still have that streak going if not for some rain in Atlanta last month. He has a 3.14 ERA and a 1.208WHIP in 64 starts with the Orange and Blue. However, as is the plight of the knuckleballer, he seems to go completely overlooked outside the organization. Dickey has looked unhittable at times, and continues to exhibit almost inexplicable command of his knuckleball, averaging 3.3 BB/9IP (a full walk over his average with the Mets), which should improve as we move into the summer and the weather gets warmer. There's not an awful lot to say about R.A., he's become automatic. Barring catastrophe, it's safe to say that Dickey has been the best of former GM Omar Minaya's free-agent signings. [Fun Fact! In 2011, R.A. Dickey came into spring training on a guaranteed major-league contract for the first time in his career.]

3. Jonathon Niese
Statistics so far -- 6GS, 33.2IP, 2-1, 4.01ERA, 28H, 29K, 13BB
Straight-math projection -- 33GS, 185.1IP, 11-6, 154H, 160K, 72BB
My projection -- 33GS, 190IP, 13-9, 3.60ERA, 170H, 170K, 85BB

Jon Niese was rewarded with a 5-year, $25.5 Million extension last month, with two options that could push the deal to $46 Million. Niese's numbers with the Mets have not been overwhelming (24-24, 4.36ERA), but his 3.36FIP last year suggests a better performance than suggested. Niese's repertoire and make-up suggest that he could become one of the top pitchers in the National League. So far this year, Niese has performed quite well. He has 4 quality starts in 6 appearances in 2012, and continuing the theme, has had his numbers inflated by a single poor start (5/1 in Houston). He's walking more batters so far, but giving up much fewer hits so far, resulting in a 1.218WHIP which is well below his career 1.437 mark. Given that his BABIP is down to .255 this year from a career .324 average, there's a good chance that the WHIP is down to stay. His strikeout numbers are consistent with his career. His ERA will likely drop some as the season progresses. There's a lot to be excited about with Jon Niese, and he's shown so far this year that our expectations may not be too lofty. [Fun Fact! Jon Niese started this season by taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning against Atlanta. He previously threw a 1-hit shutout in 2009 against San Diego.]

4. Mike Pelfrey
Chris Schwinden
Miguel Batista

Statistics so far* --
  1. Pelfrey -- 3GS, 19.2IP, 0-0, 2.29ERA, 24H, 13K, 4BB
  2. Schwinden -- 2GS, 8.0IP, 0-1, 11.25ERA, 13H, 1K, 3BB
  3. Batista** -- 2GS, 9IP, 0-1, 8.00ERA, 16H, 3K, 5BB

*Due to the uncertainty in this rotation spot, I'm not projecting anything
**Only stats from Batista's starts vs. San Francisco and Philadelphia are included here

Mike Pelfrey got off to a Pelfish start against Washington, giving up 3 early runs, but settling down to grind out 5.2 innings. After that, he had two great starts against Philly (6IP, 8H, 1ER) and San Francisco (8IP, 6H, 1ER). Things seemed to be turning around for him after a largely miserable spring training. He and Dan Warthen made some slight tweaks to his delivery, bringing his hands over his head, resulting in more ground balls and fewer walks. A few days after the San Francisco game we heard reports that Pelfrey had some swelling in his elbow, and experienced some discomfort. And now Pelfrey, unfortunately, is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last week. His first replacement, Chris Schwinden was largely disappointing in his two starts against Colorado and Houston, failing to complete five innings in either start. He has since returned to AAA Buffalo. Miguel Batista pitched well enough Tuesday night (5.1IP, 8H, 2ER) to earn a likely second start, but when that happens is in the air (with the off day Thursday, the Mets can skip this spot in the rotation and have everyone pitch on regular rest). This spot in the rotation is still in flux; most of us are hoping for the healthy return of Chris Young later this month from shoulder surgery. Young will make his first rehab start for Port St. Lucie on Thursday and will throw roughly 75 pitches. If Young can be as effective as he was last April, the Mets will benefit greatly.

5. Dillon Gee
Statistics so far -- 5GS, 32IP, 2-2, 4.50ERA, 35H, 39K, 8BB
Straight-math projection -- 32GS, 205IP, 13-13, 224H, 186K, 51BB
My projection -- 32GS, 195IP, 3.85ERA, 12-10, 180H, 140K, 65BB

And once again, we have a pitcher whose numbers are inflated by one start -- April 23 vs. San Francisco, Gee gave up 12 hits and 7ER in 6.2 innings. That night, his ERA shot from 2.92 to 5.21, from which it's been slowly coming back down. In his two wins, Gee gave up 4ER in 14 innings. In his other 3 starts (2 losses, 1 no-decision), he has surrendered 15ER in 18 innings. Gee's success, as I've written, depends entirely on his ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes. His hit/walk/strikeout rates are much closer to his minor-league numbers than those from last season, which is a positive sign (even if his hits are up, he's allowing roughly the same number of baserunners and striking out more than he did in 2011). It's still early in this season (and in Gee's career) to tell which way Dillon's numbers will trend, but it's hard not to be encouraged by his body of work so far this year. Gee will take the ball Wednesday when the Mets go for the sweep in Philadelphia. [Fun Fact! The Mets have alternated wins and losses in each of Dillon Gee's five starts this year. Tomorrow Gee faces Cliff Lee, who the Mets have beaten once this year]

 > The Offense <

Catcher -- Josh Thole (.284/.356/.370)
Statistics so far -- 92PA, 23H, 1HR, 7RBI, 6R, 12K, 9BB (26 games)
Straight-math projection -- 497PA, 124H, 5HR, 38RBI, 32R, 65K, 49BB (140 games)
My projection -- 450PA, 110H, 5HR, 45RBI, 28R, 55K, 40BB (130 games)

Thole's offense is underrated; he's a career .277/.351/.358 hitter. While that doesn't seem exciting, it's nothing to shake a stick at for a catcher. He opened the 2012 season by reaching safely in 18 consecutive games, something no other Mets catcher has ever done. Thole has committed to an OBP-centric approach; he is showing good discipline at the plate and hitting for consistent contact. His defense, while not great, is showing signs of improvement. Catching a knuckleball pitcher will all-but-guarantee him to lead the league in passed balls. 2012 is a big year for Josh, and so far he has stepped up to the challenge. Unfortunately Ty Wigginton concussed Thole the other night, so his solid start is now on solid pause. [Fun Fact! Josh Thole wasn't converted to full-time catcher until 2008]

First Base -- Ike Davis (.167/.227/.265)
Statistics so far -- 110PA, 17H, 3HR, 9RBI, 7R, 8BB, 31K (29 games)
Straight-math projection -- 594PA, 92H, 16HR, 49RBI, 38R, 167K, 43BB (156 games)
My projection -- 575PA, 140H, 20HR, 75RBI, 60R, 140K, 55BB (153 games)

If I had told you in March that Ike Davis would be putting up Pujolsian numbers in 2012, you probably would have laughed at me. Unfortunately, I'd have been right. Pujols' current slash line? .190/.228/.281 in 127 PA's. Unlike Pujols, however, Ike Davis has potential excuses (that, to his credit, he refuses to blame): he missed most of last year with a potentially career-threatening ankle injury, and he showed signs of valley fever in spring training. At some point, Ike will begin to regain his form, and the numbers will improve (since April 26th, Davis' BABIP rose to .333, compared to .206 overall). Fortunately, the Mets have been finding ways to win games without Ike's bat, and the team can only get better when he's swinging. His defense has been solid to great, with two errors balanced against a number of phenomenal plays. [Fun Fact! Ike Davis pitched for the gold-medal winning 2003 USA team in the World Youth Championships] 

Second Base -- Daniel Murphy (.308/.349/.367)
Statistics so far -- 129PA, 37H, 0HR, 10RBI, 9R, 15K, 8BB (30 games)
Straight-math projection -- 697PA, 200H, 0HR, 54RBI, 49R, 81K, 43BB (162 games)
My projection -- 640PA, 180H, 8HR, 60RBI, 55R, 85K, 50BB (157 games)

Murphy has done exactly what we've expected of him. He's hit. He's hit from the 2-hole. He's hit from the 3-hole. He's hit from the 5-hole. He's hit with 2 outs, with no outs, with men on and off. Murphy's average has spent all of one day below .279, and his OBP hasn't been below .333 yet. His defense has also been exactly what we've expected. He's committed 5 errors and looked lost at times, and he's made some jaw-dropping plays at others. For what it's worth, he has the same number of errors as Dan Uggla in Atlanta. Going forward, if the Mets can get Uggla-or-better defense out of Murphy and an average around .310, I'd consider it a victory. [Fun Fact! Dan Murphy is the only Met to appear in every game so far, and is in the starting lineup for Game 31]

Third Base -- David Wright (.375/.479/.552)
Statistics so far -- 117PA, 36H, 3HR, 17RBI, 19R, 17K, 20BB (29 games)
Straight-math projection -- 632PA, 194H, 16HR, 92RBI, 103R, 92K, 108BB (146 games)
My projection -- 660PA, 180H, 26HR, 103RBI, 97R, 120K, 95BB (155 games)

What can't be said about David Wright? Were it not for Matt Kemp in Los Angeles, David Wright would have made a great case for NL Player of the Month in April. Wright is showing quickly that he can still be the MVP-quality player he was earlier in his career. Even with a broken pinky, David has played almost every day, and has shown that there are no ill effects (he notably hit a home run on the first pitch he saw after missing 3 games). He is also showing rare discipline; his 20 walks in 117 plate appearances far outpaces his 121 walks in 1117 plate appearances the past two years. He's striking out in only 14.5% of plate appearances compared to 23.1% the past two years. Wright's play in 2012 is not only encouraging, it's flat-out fun to watch. I hate the concept of 'clutch', but David Wright has been damn clutch this year. [Fun Fact! With Mike Pelfrey's injury, there's no one on this team who was around for Wright's first four years with the Mets. The next longest-tenured Met is Johan Santana]

Shortstop -- Ruben Tejada (.305/.362/.400)
Statistics so far -- 117PA, 32H, 0HR, 8RBI, 14R, 24K, 8BB (27 games)
Straight-math projection -- 632PA, 173H, 0HR, 43RBI, 76R, 130K, 43BB (146 games)
My projection -- 600PA, 145H, 2HR, 40RBI, 85R, 125K, 55BB (140 games)

Prior to landing on the DL this week, Ruben Tejada was off to a solid start, hitting .305 in his first 27 games replacing Reyes. Since everyone's comparing, here's Reyes' slashline so far - (.226/.308/.322). Tejada has been spraying line drives (Ruben's 10 doubles are tied for 3rd-best in the National League). He has played well defensively, and if the shadow of Reyes does loom over him, he isn't showing it. Ruben is the youngest active Met but has shown he belongs in Queens. His numbers shouldn't decrease too much; while his average may drop, his walk rate will likely increase. Hopefully he isn't out for too long. Tejada is showing a lot of potential this year, and the outlook on this kid is seeming brighter each day. [Fun Fact! At 22 years old, Ruben Tejada would have been the youngest player in AA Binghamton last season]

Because of the outfield situation going forward (Bay/Torres/Duda/Nieuwenhuis and 3 spots), I don't want to make projections for them going forward, as it would be too difficult to accurately project playing time.

Left Field -- Jason Bay (.240/.316/.460)
Statistics so far -- 57PA, 12H, 3HR, 5RBI, 8R, 17K, 6BB (15 games)
Straight-math projection -- 308PA, 65H, 16HR, 27RBI, 43R, 92K, 32BB (81 games)

In short sample, Bay has still been an enigma this year. His .460 SLG is a full 69 points above his average with the Mets. Believe it or not, he was off to a much better start this year, statistically, compared to 2010/11. Unfortunately a broken rib has sent him to the DL with no return currently in sight. For all of Jason Bay's struggles, he's never given up. He's been a consummate professional through it all, and has always given his all. Bay represents an excellent clubhouse guy, but unfortunately hasn't been the player Omar Minaya gave $66 Million to. I can't/won't/don't hate Bay because he's a fighter, and seems like a genuinely good teammate and worker, but the odds of him proving value relative to his salary is between slim and nil. Depending on the performance of the other outfielders, Bay could be facing a platoon, if not a full demotion, at some point this season. [Fun Fact! Jason Bay is one of three Canadians with 200 career MLB home runs.]

Left/Center Field -- Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.310/.381/.440)
Statistics so far -- 114PA, 31H, 2HR, 10RBI, 15R, 33K, 11BB (29 games)
Straight-math projection -- 616PA, 167H, 11HR, 54RBI, 81R, 178K, 49BB (156 games)

Andres Torres' DL trip after opening day meant Nieuwenhuis would get to make his MLB debut in early April, less than a year after shoulder surgery. Since he was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft, scouts have questioned his ability to hit at each level, and he has consistently proven them wrong. So far, he is hitting only .207 against lefties, and he strikes out at a near-alarming rate (28.9% of his PA's). What will most-likely determine his future this season is how he adjusts to those two statistics. He has also made a number of outstanding catches in center field, playing the outfield like a hard-hitting NFL safety. He's proven he belongs in the majors, and has shown consistency at both the top and bottom of the order. Bay's return could present a difficult situation for Terry Collins given his play. [Fun Fact! Kirk Nieuwenhuis went to Asuza Pacific University because they were willing to let him play football as well as baseball]

Center Field -- Andres Torres (.313/.405/.344)
Statistics so far -- 37PA, 10H, 0HR, 6RBI, 6R, 5K, 5BB (9 games)
Straight-math projection -- 200PA, 54H, 0HR, 32RBI, 32R, 27K, 27BB (49 games)

Andres Torres went 0-2 with a walk and a run scored on opening day, and left in the top of the 7th inning after aggravating his calf. He rejoined the team last week in Houston, and has proceeded to play an excellent center field to accompany his good performance at the plate. The word on Torres was that he is an excellent defender, and a bit of a mystery at the plate. Would the Mets get 2010 Torres, or 2011 Torres? So far, the change of scenery has benefitted him quite well as he has shown a great eye at the plate, and a smooth stroke. He has yet to hit a home run, but has shown some power in the gaps to go along with some good speed. Torres will likely become a fixture at the top of the lineup with his discipline and baserunning ability, which allows Tejada or Murphy, both quality hitters, to slot lower in the lineup. [Fun Fact! Andres Torres was actually born in nearby Paterson, New Jersey. His family moved to Puerto Rico a year later.]

Right Field -- Lucas Duda (.247/.336/.398)
Statistics so far -- 107PA, 23H, 4HR, 15RBI, 11R, 27K, 12BB (28 games)
Straight-math projection -- 578PA, 124H, 22HR, 81RBI, 59R, 146K, 65BB (151 games)

Lucas Duda has hit pretty well so far this year. After a pretty quiet first three weeks, he's hit .317/.404/.415 since the second game of the 4/23 doubleheader against San Francisco. He has four home runs to this point, and the projected 22 would certainly be respectable in his first full season as the Mets' right fielder. That said, anyone who's seen Duda connect knows that he has the potential for so much more. As for his defense, Duda has been alright. He doesn't always get good jumps, but that will improve as he gets more experience. He's been working with Outfield coach Tom Goodwin to improve his positioning and reads. Duda's play has largely been to minimize big mistakes. It's a work in progress, but just comparing last summer to now, and the improvement has been significant. His future could be in left field, but in the mean time, he's playing a decent right field and starting to hit like we've hoped he would. [Fun Fact! Lucas Duda hit home runs in five consecutive games for the AAA Buffalo Bisons in 2010, tying a franchise record.]