Since 2006, the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets have held fort atop the NL East. The Mets ended the Braves streak of 138 consecutive division titles three seasons ago, coming within one game of reaching the World Series. The following season, both the Mets and Phillies battled down to the wire, with the Phils winning the division on the final day of the season. Last season, both teams again battled into September, with the Phillies clinching the division right before the season ended. This time, they went on and actually won the World Series.
The offseason has proved to be very active for both Omar Minaya and Ruben Amaro, Jr, even though Minaya’s transactions have meant more to his team.
With the vast majority of last season’s squad returning, Amaro’s moves have primarily come in the form of little pieces here and there. He brought in Ronnie Paulino from the Pirates to challenge Chris Coste for the backup catcher spot. Scott Eyre and Jamie Moyer both re-signed. Chan Ho Park joined the team to either take on a similar role to that of Chad Durbin last season and/or battle for the fifth rotation spot. And Raul Ibanez, in a much-maligned deal by many, replaced Pat Burrell in left-field.
Minaya acquired Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, and Sean Green to sure up a bullpen that ultimately cost the Mets the division last season. The lineup will return, in tact, and Derek Lowe may even be added to the rotation. Minaya has made a 3-yr/$36 mil offer to Lowe, though I would bet my bottom dollar that Lowe eventually signs for closer to 3-yr/$45 mil.
How do these teams stack up in 2009? Even though the Marlins are young and offensively talented, and the Braves acquired a solid pitcher in Javier Vazquez, the Phillies and Mets are still the top two teams in the division. Does one have a projected advantage over the other? Let’s break the analysis down into different facets of each team. And, for the record, the projections I arrived at were derived from the results of several different systems, weighted and merged, not just one system.
Both the Phillies and Mets have very potent offensive lineups. Both are also quite solid defensively. Chase Utley, the best player on the Phillies, had surgery following the World Series and may or may not be available for opening day. In calculating these projections, I placed Utley at around 130 games and 520 PA. His offensive and defensive contributions are also lessened due to the likelihood that he will miss some time.
The Phillies starting lineup, not in Charlie Manuel’s exact order, will feature the following players: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Carlos Ruiz. As poor as Howard looks with the glove sometimes, he has actually been eerily close to average over the last few seasons, and projects to just barely below average next season. If he is considered to be a league average first baseman with the glove, then only Raul Ibanez projects negatively on defense for the defending champions.
Likewise, the Mets only project to feature one negative defender: Carlos Delgado. Luis Castillo could prove to be a poor defender with his injury history, but I currently have both he and Daniel Murphy as league average defenders. The remaining starters—Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Ryan Church, and Brian Schneider—all project positively on the defensive front.
All told, the Phillies project to +80 runs offensively in their lineup and +40 runs defensively. After adjustments to value production above replacement level as well as for their positions, the lineup comes out at +26.0 WAR. The Mets offense projects to +93 runs while their defense clocks in at +19 runs. After the same adjustments are taken into account, their lineup proves to be worth +26.1 WAR. Eerily similar.
Yesterday we examined the Mets rotation under a few different scenarios regarding whether or not they sign Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, or Tim Redding. With an actual contract being presented to Lowe, and the likelihood that he will eventually sign, the Mets rotation should feature Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Derek Lowe, and Jonathan Niese. Assuming roughly 150 innings from Niese at a 4.45 FIP, this rotation projects to +14.3 WAR.
The Phillies will bring back Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. The fifth spot is going to be up for grabs between J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, Chan Ho Park, and (gasp) Adam Eaton. As I mentioned yesterday, Happ is my pick to win the spot, which would place the Phillies rotation at +11.8 WAR. The teams may be virtually even in the starting lineup department, but the Mets have a +2.5 win advantage in the rotation.
The Phillies re-signed Scott Eyre and brought in Chan Ho Park, leaving the rest of the relief corps in tact. Players like Gary Majewski and Dave Borkowski were invited to Spring Training, but would only take the spot of Clay Condrey if either were to make the team. Brad Lidge returns as the closer, with Ryan Madson setting him up. After these two, the Phillies will rely on J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, Eyre, Park, and Condrey. This bullpen projects to be worth +3.4 wins next season.
The Mets replaced Billy Wagner with Francisco Rodriguez; Aaron Heilman with J.J. Putz; and added a solid piece in Sean Green. These three will join the likes of Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, Brian Stokes, and Bob Parnell to form a much more formidable bullpen. This relief corps looks like it could be worth +3.6 wins next season. Though this advantage over the Phillies is slight, the ‘pen was a major achilles heel for the Mets last season.
Benches are tough to project, again given the small samples of playing time as well as the uncertainty surrounding who will fill certain spots. Assuming Paulino beats out Coste for the backup job, the Phillies will feature some combination of: Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins, Eric Bruntlett, Ronnie Paulino, and Jason Donald. Donald may be the odd one out of this group. Dobbs is the best pinch-hitter in baseball but is still likely worth under one win next season. Without Donald, these five project to +1.5 WAR.
The Mets will have Fernando Tatis and Jeremy Reed on their bench, as well as Ramon Castro. After that, it does not seem that any backup infielders are on the roster, and the only other bench players that seem like viable candidates to make the team are Angel Pagan and Nicholas Evans. Their bench could range anywhere from +0.6 to +1.2 wins. We can call it +0.9 for now, though this will need to be updated before the season starts. The Phillies have over a half-win advantage here, but this is the only area where they come out on top.
For the Phillies, we are looking at +26 wins from the lineup, +11.8 from the rotation, +3.4 from the bullpen, and +1.5 from the bench. This adds up to +42.7 wins. Given that a team chock-full of replacement players would win 47-48 games, the Phillies are projected to win 89-90 games in 2009.
The Mets will get +26.1 wins from the lineup, +14.3 from the rotation featuring Lowe and the aforementioned Niese projection, +3.6 out of the ‘pen, and +0.9 from the bench. This adds up to +44.9 wins, which we will round up to +45 wins. Added to the replacement wins total, the Mets are projected to win 91-92 games next season.
Once again, the teams are extremely close, and 2009 should treat fans to another stellar battle between the Mets and Phillies.