Series Preview #33: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. New York Mets

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 25: (L-R) Hitting coach Dave Hudgens, Scott Hairston #12, Kirk Nieuwenhuis #9 and Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets look on in the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on July 25, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

For about three months, the New York Mets were one of the better stories of the 2012 season. That feels sort of weird to write, because the Mets are a New York team, and most of us are hard-wired to assume that New York teams operate on a different level than the rest of us, but the Mets were undeniably fun to watch during the first half of the season. By and large, the team is comprised of young, homegrown players of whom little was expected. Even their stars are fun, as David Wright is just about as likable as a big-market superstar can be, and R.A. Dickey has a better back story than most Marvel characters. And this cacophony of players had the Mets in playoff contention well before anyone anticipated. It was fun for a while.

And if you're wondering why I'm using the past tense to describe the joys of the Mets' season, it's because they happen to be in the middle of a full-scale implosion. July in general has not been kind, as it has seen them go 4-14 overall, knocking them out of good playoff position and into the wilderness at the edges of contention. But that's nothing compared to the awful slide since the All Star Break that has seen them lose 11 of their past 12, as they now sit 10.5 out of first in the NL East and 7 out of either wild card. There’s still a chance, but it’s a smaller chance than what the Diamondbacks have, which doesn’t bode terribly well for them.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(49-49)
New York
(47-51)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 99 100
New York
Pitching (FIP-):
94 102
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
15.1 -28.6
Arizona

On offense, at least, we probably could have seen the Mets' improvement coming. The Mets were very quietly above-average offensively even during their awful 2011 (103 wRC+, third best in the NL), and any drop off that might have accompanied Jose Reyes’ departure was compensated for by Wright playing baseball with a GameShark in 2012.

The Mets rotation has been almost perfectly average this year, but the bullpen has been a concern. Think of them as the bizarro-world Rockies. With an ERA of 5.10, and the worst WPA in baseball, the bullpen is the clear weak link of the team. You can point to the large discrepancy between ERA and FIP to suggest that they aren’t as bad as they seem, but there’s also several years worth of data that suggests that the Mets are one of the worst defensive teams in the majors, so take defense-neutral numbers with a grain of salt. They aren’t quite in the same rarefied air as the 2010 Diamondbacks (5.74 bullpen ERA), but they’re in the same stratosphere.

Starting Lineups

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Stephen Drew, SS

2. Aaron Hill, 2B

3. Jason Kubel, LF

4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

5. Justin Upton, RF

6. Miguel Montero, C

7. Chris Young, CF

8. Willie Bloomquist, 3B

New York Mets

1. Ruben Tejada, SS

2. Daniel Murphy, 2B

3. David Wright, 3B

4. Scott Hairston, RF

5. Ike Davis, 1B

6. Jason Bay, LF

7. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF

8. Josh Thole, C

There are maybe four or five players who belong in the NL MVP conversation this year. Honestly, you could convince me that there aren’t even that many, but you’d have trouble convincing me that David Wright isn’t one of them. After trending in the wrong direction for a couple of seasons now, Wright’s turned around and had his best season to date. His OPS is behind only Votto and McCutchen in the National League, and he plays in a worse offensive environment than either of them. He’s a 29-year-old face of a franchise putting together an MVP-caliber season for a team that could be a very solid playoff team in a year or two. But no, I’m sure if we gave them Skaggs, they’d totally give him up. Okay fine, maybe we'd throw in Davidson, but only if they eat the salary...

Luckily, the non-Wright (Wrong?) portion of the lineup is somewhat less impressive. The Mets have about 18 players who can kinda be outfielders if you squint a little, but Lucas Duda's struggles in July have cut down on their options a bit. Scott Hairston has had a very nice year, thanks almost entirely to his slugging percentage of .500. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is considered a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year by people who have never been west of the Hudson River. And Jason Bay is somehow not only not dead, but only 32. His 2009, where he OPS'd .932 and hit in the middle of the order for one of the premier teams in baseball, feels like a lifetime ago.

The Mets couldn't afford Jose Reyes this offseason, losing him to a lucrative contract given out by the Marlins, but their in-house replacement Ruben Tejada has actually out-hit Reyes this year. Literally nothing about that sentence would have made any sense as recently as last year. Baseball!

Pitching Matchups:

Thursday: Wade Miley (11-5, 3.02) vs. Matt Harvey (0-0, N/A)

Insightful Commentary: I hate starts like last time out from an analytical standpoint, because as I watched, I realized I had no idea how much of Miley's success came from him and how much came from the other team. I mean, this is always true, but it's amplified against teams like the Astros, who are barely even pretending to field a competitive roster at this point. Miley looked great his last time out, seven innings, one run, nine strikeouts, complete dominance, but I'm not sure how much of it was Miley making the Astros look bad, and how much of it was the Astros looking bad of their own volition.

Thursday will be Harvey's major-league debut, and Met fans will greet it with all the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the debut of top prospects. The 2010 first round pick was ranked 54th on Baseball America's preseason list, courtesy of a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider. The knocks on him seems to be iffy mechanics and and weak secondary offerings, so the Diamondbacks would be well served to wait him out and force him to use his fastball to get out of jams.

Friday: Josh Collmenter (2-2, 3.82) vs. Jon Niese (7-4, 3.59)

Insightful Commentary: I hadn't really noticed it, but Collmenter's strikeout rate has gone up this year. Like, a lot. His K% has gone up 6 percent from 2011, and his K/9 (for those of you who prefer that) is up to 8.32 after flitting around the low 5s last year. I hadn't been paying much attention, but this uptick in strikeouts has been a major reason he has been able to rebound after losing his spot in the rotation.

At first glance, Niese makes an interesting comp for Wade Miley. He's a lefty with a fastball that hangs around the low 90s, decent secondary offerings and control good enough to make the whole package work. His strikeout totals might be a bit higher than Miley's ever will be, but he's someone who Miley has the potential to grow into. FIP says Niese is getting a bit lucky this year, but his peripherals have all been solid enough.

Saturday: Ian Kennedy (8-8, 4.20) vs. Chris Young (2-4, 3.91)

Insightful Commentary: In his career, Kennedy has a 2.91 ERA in the second half of the season, compared to a 4.25 ERA before the All Star Break. You'll remember that the second half of 2010 saw Ian transform from okay to pretty good, just as the second half of 2011 saw him go from pretty good to one of the best pitchers in baseball. And it's holding true again so far, as he rebounded from a rough start against the Cubs to allow just three total runs in his next 16 innings. And his K:BB during that time? A cool 14:0.

Evil Chris Young has thrown a grand total of 120 innings since 2008. He's also never actually throw 200 innings in a season, so even when he was healthy, he wasn't all that healthy. When he's on the mound, he's still shown that he can be effective, even with reduced velocity from his San Diego days, but those times have been few and far between.

Sunday: Joe Saunders (5-6, 3.51) vs. R.A. Dickey (13-2, 2.97)

Insightful Commentary: Depending on what happens at the trade deadline, this could be Joe's last start ever for the Diamondbacks. I mean, it's equally possible he'll get traded before this, and we've already seen his last start ever. But I've already started writing this, so I may as well give a retrospective on his time here. He didn't get the winning record that Dipoto promised us when he arrived, but it's hard to think of what else he could have done better. He gave us a 3.76 ERA (more than half a run better than what he did in Anaheim) while being a stabilizing presence and a thoroughly reliable mid-rotation starter. And I'll never stop being amazed by this: Saunders' ERA+ since the trade: 110; Haren's ERA+ since the trade: 110. If this is it, Joe, thanks for your time as a Diamondback.

Dickey's numbers, as well as his narrative, have taken a bit of a hit in July. Five starts with a 6.49 ERA will do that to a guy. The peripherals are still a bit solid, but it was always probably inevitable that he would regress at least a little. But then again, if Dickey submitted and did the inevitable, he probably wouldn't be doing this in the first place.

Final Verdict: Free-fall or not, the Mets are a step up from the last couple opponents for the Diamondbacks. I'll say Diamondbacks split the four game series.

Amazin' Avenue is the place for Mets information.

(Stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs)

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