02/10/2009 3:41 PM ET
Fun with numbers
Using advanced stats to look at the bright side
By Ted Berg / SNY.tv
Celebrate while you can, Brad Lidge. Your rate of home runs per fly ball is unsustainable (fingers crossed). (AP)

Baseball's offseason is way too long, and I generally pass the time poring over the Mets' roster looking for potential problems and obvious holes. Then every so often I detail some of those problems in columns like the one I wrote last week.

This is not one of those columns, though. The weather is getting nicer, Spring Training is right around the corner, and I'm ready to look at the bright side. So here's that.

Carlos Beltran is still really, really good at baseball: I bashed Minaya in that last column for misreading the market this offseason, and I'm not pulling back on that here. But if I can criticize the man for his failures, I should also credit him for his successes, and Beltran's 2005 mega-contract falls into that category. At the time, with Beltran coming off a tremendous postseason in which he drew national media attention, it looked like a buy-high mistake.

Outside of an injury-riddled 2005 campaign, Beltran has been nothing but excellent in a Mets uniform. Many fans still fault Beltran for his paycheck, but they absolutely should not; FanGraphs, which puts a dollar value on players based on their total offensive, defensive and positional value, actually valued Beltran at more than $10 million more than the $18.5 million he earned in 2008. And if those calculations are too abstract, just compare the $55.5 million the Mets owe Beltran for the next three seasons to the $71.5 the Angels owe the inferior Torii Hunter for the next four.

My favorite esoteric Beltran stat I've noticed this offseason, though, is one that merely supports something many Mets fans already knew. According to The Hardball Times, Beltran made 111 plays out of the center fielder's fielding zone in 2008, the most out-of-zone plays anyone has made since THT started keeping stats in 2004. Anyone watching Mets games could have told you that, though: Beltran, flanked for much of the season by infielders playing out of position, pretty clearly decided he'd be handling every fly he could get to, even if it was far beyond the normal realm of the center fielder. Put me down for thinking that's awesome. What a beautiful player.

The Phillies' bullpen is not as good as it looks: Before I dismiss the 2008 world champion Phillies as a lucky team, I should note that every World Series winner of all time was lucky, because to win the World Series, a whole lot of things have to go your way. Obviously, last season was the time and place for the Phillies, and they earned and deserved it and I don't mean to take anything away from their team. Plus, they've got a good squad lined up for 2009 and should be plenty competitive. Just don't expect the Philadelphia bullpen to repeat its absurd 2008 performance.

Take closer Brad Lidge for example. Much has been made of Lidge's excellent 1.95 ERA and 41 saves in 41 opportunities. A regression could be expected simply because Lidge is 32 and coming off his best season since 2004, but his home runs per fly ball rate is even more telling. According to THT, Lidge's HR/F dropped from 14.7 percent in 2007 to 4.4 percent in 2008. THT states in its glossary that "significant variations from 11 percent are probably the result of luck," implying that Lidge's plummeting home-run rate is likely unsustainable.

The same goes for Chad Durbin. Durbin gets something of a pass because 2008 was his first full season in relief so there aren't a lot of numbers to go by, but his HR/F dropped from 13.9 percent in 2007 to 6.4 percent in 2008. Considering that these guys are pitching half their games in homer-happy Citizens Bank Park, smart money says it won't continue. Same goes for the success of Clay Condrey, who posted a solid 3.26 ERA despite a 1.50 WHIP. And it won't help the Phillies that lefty J.C. Romero will start the season on a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use.

Jose Reyes is pretty good also: It's easy to forget that the longest-tenured Met is still one of the youngest; Reyes won't turn 26 until June. That means he's likely still improving, and his 2008 stats back that up. His 118 OPS+ in 2008 was a career best and helped make his slight downturn in 2007 look like an outlier in what could be an upward trend. Reyes also set a new career high in line-drive rate with 23.4 percent.

Another positive sign for Reyes? He's been seeing steadily more pitches per plate appearance since 2004. To boot, he saw 3.5 pitches per turn at bat in 2004, then 3.6 in 2005 and 2006, then 3.7 in 2007 and 2008. It doesn't sound like a huge difference, but a tenth of a pitch per at bat stretched out over the whole season amounts to a lot of pitches.

Dan Fox did a nice piece on P/PA at THT a few years ago, but on a very basic level, it's easy to appreciate the idea of Reyes seeing more pitches early in games, not only working to tire out pitchers but, more importantly, increasing the chances he'll reach base on balls. Reyes' walk rate actually dropped a little in 2008, but if he continues to maintain a 79 percent success rate on the basepaths and improve his batting eye, he'll continue to pay dividends on the four-year, $23.25 million extension Minaya gave him before the 2007 season.

So it's not all bad. Of course, it's not all good, either, and there's plenty more time for complaining. I'll get back to that soon.

Ted Berg is the senior editorial producer for SNY.tv. He can be reached at tberg@sny.tv or via the Flushing Fussing Facebook group.
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