Series Preview #39: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. New York Mets

Jason Bay consoles himself by thinking about piles of money after making an out.

The Diamondbacks are twelve games above .500.  They are in first place in their division while also being right in the mix for the Wild Card, and people surrounding the team are all talking about what an amazing season it has been while looking ahead to the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Mets are mired in mediocrity, as they sunk a game below .500 on Thursday, and are currently fighting to stay out of the cellar in the NL East.  They traded their star closer and one of their most valuable position players before the deadline and are in the process of retooling for next season.  So, obviously the D-Backs are the much better team?  Well...

Through Wednesday, the Diamondbacks have Pythagorean W/L of 60-57, while the Mets sit just a hypothetical game back at 59-58.  They've scored five fewer runs than the D-Backs, and allowed four more.  Think about that for a second: what amounts to a one game's worth of runs is all that separates the two entirely different season trajectories.  And what's more, the Mets have been a victim of circumstance in addition to random luck.  Consider that:

  • Pitchers Johan Santana and Chris Young, who were expected to form a great 1-2 punch in the rotation, were both lost to the Disabled List for the season by the beginning of May.
  • Key position players Jose Reyes, David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis and Jason Bay were so inspired by Santana and Young's example that they all missed significant time on the DL.
  • The Mets play in the toughest division in the NL, which means that while we get to hang out with the Rockies, Dodgers and Padres, they have to play the Phillies and Braves 35 times this season. 

So, in summation: the Mets are still kinda bad, but the aren't as bad as you (or I) remember them being, and they're just a couple of breaks from being downright contender-ish.

 

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):

Arizona
(65-53)
New York
(58-59)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 95 106
New York
Pitching (FIP-):
100 108
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
44.6 -19.9 Arizona

 

wOBA, OPS and Runs Scored all put New York and Arizona more or less as offensive equals, with the obvious difference between the two teams in wRC+ coming from Chase Field.  But of course, the same holds true for the pitching, as ERA, FIP and xFIP are virtually identical for the D-Backs and Mets, with the edge in FIP- going to Arizona because of their home ballpark.  Like I said, these two teams are far more equally matched than it would first appear.  Given the recent concern about errors on this site, I should at least mention that the Mets have 80 errors to the D-Backs' 66. 

So it could be worse: Mets' defenders not only don't get to a lot of balls, but they also drop the ones that they are in position to catch.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Willie Bloomquist, SS
2. Ryan Roberts, 3B
3. Justin Upton, RF
4. Chris Young, CF
5. Miguel Montero, C
6. Kelly Johnson, 2B
7. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
8. Gerardo Parra, LF

New York Mets

1. Angel Pagan, CF
2. Justin Turner, 2B
3. David Wright, 3B
4. Lucas Duda, 1B
5. Jason Bay, LF
6. Scott Hairston, RF
7. Josh Thole, C
8. Ruben Tejada, SS

This is a lineup that could really use a nice shot of Jose Reyes and his 5.6 fWAR, but alas he's back on the DL with hamstring issues for the duration of the series.  So we'll get to know Ruben Tejada and his .630 OPS instead.  I'm sure everyone here is just torn up about that...

I'm a big Angel Pagan fan, mostly because of his awesome name, but his line of .247/.314/.367 isn't exactly what you want out of a lead-off hitter.  Rookie Justin Turner hasn't set the world on fire with his 94 OPS+, but he's tied for the league lead in Not Being Luis Castillo (nBLC+, for you statheads out there), so I'm sure Met fans will take it.  David Wright is the best hitter left on the team with Reyes injured and Beltran gone, and he would be a premiere player except for his startling inability to hit home runs.  He has 9 in 2011, two years after hitting only 10 in 2009.  Some say it's the park, but he hit 29 home runs in 2010, so who knows?

Lucas Duda was a corner outfielder in Triple-A not too long ago, but following injuries to Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis he finds himself as the starting first baseman for the New York Mets.  He's made the most of his chance, too, hitting .278/.339/.438 in 184 PAs.  Almost two years into the Jason Bay Experience, one has to assume the Mets expected a little more out of their $80 million left fielder than 2.5 fWAR and a laundry list of medical expenses.  Former Diamondback Scott Hairston has been splitting time in right field, but I gave him the starting nod because he's playing well (OPS+ of 135) and because he's Scott Hairston.  My preview, my rules.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Ian Kennedy (14-3, 3.20) vs. Dillion Gee (10-3, 3.93)

Insightful Commentary: With the rest of the rotation struggling, it's worth looking at just how consistent Ian Kennedy has been this season.  Win Probability Added, a statistic that looks at the positive and negative contributions of every player to a given game, shows that Kennedy has had only two truly "bad" (i.e. WPA < -.1) starts this season.  Meanwhile Daniel Hudson, who of course has also been awesome in his own way this season, has eight such starts.  I don't think I'm alone in feeling like Kennedy has taken over the role of "stopper" in the D-Backs' rotation.

The last time we faced Dillion Gee, he was making his seventh start in the majors and looked to be a stopgap option with middling talent.  But he's had a solid enough rookie season, which has probably gotten more attention than it deserves because of his shiny win/loss record.  His BABIP likely will not stay at .240 forever, and that ERA might spike when he regresses, but his FIP is around 4.5, which is fine for a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Saturday: Daniel Hudson (11-8, 3.83) vs. Mike Pelfrey (6-9, 4.53)

Insightful Commentary: In his last four starts, Daniel Hudson has a 5.40 ERA that includes his eight-inning, one-run effort against Lincecum.  His BABIP during that period is an unsustainable .405, but he also has a LD% of 27% and is allowing an OPS of .858 against him.  I'm not saying that it's time to panic by any means, but it is certainly worth keeping an eye on Huddy for his next couple of starts to see if these trends continue.

Mike Pelfrey relies heavily on his sinking fastball, which leads to a lot of ground balls.  However, due to his middling off-speed stuff, he struggles mightily to get strikeouts, as his K/9 of 4.84 is near the bottom of qualified major leaguers.  Pitchers with minuscule K-rates can make it work, but they need to be perfect in almost every other facet of their game.  Mike Pelfrey is not perfect in every other facet of his game.

Sunday: Jason Marquis (0-1, 12.38) vs. Chris Capuano (9-10, 4.51)

Insightful Commentary: Ugh, look at that ERA.  I don't care if it's only two starts, a 12.38 ERA is just viscerally unpleasant to look at.  Sure, Marquis' BABIP of .425 since joining the D-Backs is going to regress, but it would be lovely if he helped it along by not walking as many batters as he strikes out.  Also, he has an ERA of 12.38.  I don't know if I've mentioned that yet. 

Chris Capuano was a Diamondback once.  And then he got traded to the Brewers and won 18 games in a season, and then he didn't win any games at all for what felt like forever, spent about a season and a half in the minors, and magically resurfaced as a mid-rotation option for the Mets in 2011.  If Chris Capuano was a character from a Hollywood movie, he would have learned important lessons about sportsmanship, or he would learned to believe in himself as a pitcher and as a man.  I don't know if any of that has happened, but I trust him more than I trust Jason Marquis at this point.

Final Verdict: The Diamondbacks just finished one of the least inspiring, yet most exciting series I can remember.  On the one hand, they've been struggling of late, and were essentially exposed by a vastly inferior Astros team.  On the other hand, WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!  Such is the dichotomy of contending baseball.

All of the warning signs are there: the struggles against bad teams, the problems in the rotation, the improbable late-inning comebacks that obscure their larger problems.  The magical ride hasn't ended yet, but I can't shake the feeling that it might soon.  The Mets are good enough, but that Goldschimdt homer is still playing in my head, so I'm going to be stupidly optimistic and say D-Backs two games to one.

For the Empire State of Mind, check out the Mets' blog Amazin' Avenue.

All batting data courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise mentioned, all pitching data courtesy of Fangraphs.

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