Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Speaking of "The Franchise": Beltran, Wright and Reyes (Part I- Offense)

by Alan Eliot

When Mets GM Omar Minaya signed Astros CF Carlos Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million contract after the 2004 season, the message was clear: we will build our team's future around him. And then followed a very forgettable season: 16HR, 78 RBI, and a .744 OPS, the lowest of his career.

Regardless, Beltran, along with teammates David Wright and Jose Reyes, have been repeatedly called "the young core of this Mets ballclub for years to come" (or some similar derivative) by both management and sportswriters alike. Interestingly, all three have been tagged with the label "superstar" in some form- either "current superstar" or "inevitable future superstar". Beltran, with a career .836 OPS, is not and was never a superstar, 2004 season/postseason and hype aside.

Interestingly, all three players "on the verge of superstardom" have incongruencies on their respective CV's. Beltran's all-star berth in 2005 was a joke, much like his current contract. His other all-star appearance was in 2004- which means he never made it in the 5 seasons between 1999-2003, as a Royal and with a rule mandating one Royal per year on the all-star team. Wright, who won the "defensive play of the year" hands-down in 2005, led the league in errors at 3B and has had trouble at the hot corner since his call-up. Reyes is a leadoff hitter who can neither get on base or hit for average.

This isn't to say that the praise is completely undeserved. All are young and very talented, and much of the hype is driven from projections of ceilings at least as much as current performance, if not more so. Hard as it is to believe, Wright is only in his second full-season, a starting 3B at the age of 23, an excellent two-strike hitter with developing power to all fields. Beltran, 29, may not be the offensive force that everyone believed, but his combination of switch-hitting power, fielding and speed is indeed intriguing, considering that he's in his prime and finally on a productive team for more than 3 months. Reyes will turn 23 in June, a starting shortstop with a strong arm and with unbelievable speed.

It is always difficult to predict how well someone will produce years down the road. Injuries occur. Pitchers adjust. More often than not, young talent doesn't pan out. Today, we profile these three young Mets, analyzing their strengths as well as their weaknesses from what we've seen this season. As always, the final call of whether they will live up to their "superstar" status is up to you. All statistics courtesy of the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, B-Ref and ESPN, and are current through the end of Sunday, May 28.

Carlos Beltran- after a dismal 2005 campaign, Beltran, in just 39 games
1. has nearly equaled (14) his 2005 HR total (16).
2. is second in the league in SLG to Albert Pujols (.622), and is 5th in OPS (1.013)
3. has half as many walks as he did in 2005 (28 to 56)
4. has nearly half as many RBI as he did in 2005 (37 to 78)
Bottom line: what the Mets expected (pre-2005) and more. He was out almost two weeks with an aggravation of a leg injury which kept his production down last season, but has come back in top form.
David Wright - D. Wright had a solid first-year in 2005, finishing in the top-ten in AVG (.306), games (160), hits (176), XBH (70), total bases (301), doubles (42) and RBI (102). He was 22. This season, in 48 games
1. 2nd in hits (62) and 4th in average (.333)
2. 7th in doubles (15) and XBH (25)
3. 9th in runs created/game (8.80) and total bases (105)
4. 13 in OPS (.970)
5. 15th in SLG (.565)
Bottom line: incredibly gifted hitter whose production matches the talent
Jose Reyes- First, the good news: Reyes led the league in triples (17) and SB (60), and was 5th in hits (190) last season. Now, the bad: so many hits due to being first in AB (696) with few walks (27). Plus an OBP of .300, inexcusable for a leadoff hitter. This season, in 49 games
1. has walked 21 times, nearly matching 2005- with OBP inching upwards to .322
2. 5 HR (7 in 2005), 6 3B and 19 SB
3. 6th in the league with 38 runs
Bottom line: in spite of improving numbers, Reyes still will not shake the opinion that he is a power hitter. He seems to want the triple too much, and pops up way too often, when he should be keeping a level swing and taking more pitches, to take advantage of his speed. As long as the OBP remains low, he will be a liability to this team- with this lineup, he doesn't need to produce runs. He just needs to get on base. Which he is not good at doing.

Tomorrow, as part of Wild-Card Wednesdays, we profile the trio's defense and other factors, such as injuries. Stay tuned!

Edit: You can view Part II (Defense) here.

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays


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