New York Mets:
Recap - Despite having the second-best Pythagorean record in all of baseball, the Mets find themselves 1/2 game behind the Braves in the NL East. Atlanta's performance notwithstanding, the Mets have to be pretty happy with how things have gone thus far.
What's Gone Right? - Jose Reyes has made a tremendous improvement in his leadoff skills this year, and appears to be every bit of the leadoff force that Willie Randolph envisioned for the league's leading offensive attack. John Maine and Oliver Perez have been outstanding behind Tom Glavine in the rotation, enabling the Mets to withstand the extremely late arrival of Pedro Martinez this season, and also the inevitable injury to El Duque. The bullpen has also responded very well to Randolph's usage patterns so far.
What's Gone Wrong? - Mike Pelfrey's arrival, for one, and that's left the Mets a starter or two short for the time being. Paul LoDuca is still a vastly overrated offensive player, but in this offense he won't be a millstone. Other than that, very little has gone awry for the Mets thus far.
Who Has Been Better Than Expected? - Shawn Green, easily. It's been a fairly sharp decline since Green hit 30, but his 323/384/504 line makes him the Mets' 3rd most productive hitter thus far. Maine and Perez have also been stellar, although Maine's BB/9 (4.8) would point to a bit more tacked onto the ERA going forward.
Who Has Been Worse? - The expected starts, David Wright and Carlos Delgado, have done very little thus far. Delgado's OPS is barely over .600, Wright is slugging .404, and the two of them are 1-2 in strikeouts. That can't last, and that fact should strike fear in the rest of the NL.
Any Opportunities? - Phil Humber and Jorge Sosa (Sosa already has pitched well for two starts) could help the back of the rotation until the injured veterans return. Sosa is certainly in a park that he can take advantage of, with an offense that will support him quite a bit. I have a soft spot for Ruben Gotay, who hasn't really gotten a fair shake yet in his career. Damian Easley has been so hot it might spoil yet another chance for Gotay, but at the bottom of this lineup the 24 year old could put up some decent numbers.
What to Expect? - The Mets should be able to run away with this division pretty easily, I think, and they are certainly the NL favorites at this point. Once Martinez and El Duque return, the Mets may very well have the best team in baseball.
Buy Low, Expect More - Wright and Delgado, of course.
Sell High, Expect Less - Shawn Green, unfortunately. Damian Easley, clearly.
Sleeper Value - Jorge Sosa. Good situation for him, I think.
Recap - The Braves have ridden an excellent offensive performance to the top of the NL East (home of 4 of the top 5 offenses in the NL currently). Their Pythagorean record, however, would lead you to believe that they aren't quite in the Mets' league.
What's Gone Right? - The kids (Johnson and Francoeur) are developing extremely well, lending enough support to Chipper Jones (who is putting up MVP numbers) to offset disappointing starts from Andruw Jones and McCann. Tim Hudson has returned to Cy Young form, and as expected Rafael Soriano has emerged to team with Mike Gonzalez as stabilizing forces in the bullpen.
What's Gone Wrong? - Spots #4 and #5 in the rotation, for one. Kyle Davies' flashes of brilliance have been overshadowed by elongated periods of wildness, and Mark Redman has been hideous four times out of five. The 1B platoon of Scott Thorman and Craig Wilson has a sub-.300 OBP, and Wilson isn't hitting for power, either.
Who Has Been Better Than Expected? - Kelly Johnson, who appears to be the real deal. That .409 OBP out of the leadoff slot is ambrosia for an offense. Jeff Francoeur is silencing his critics with just enough plate discipline to take advantage of the rest of his hitting skills. Tim Hudson has bumped his K rate up for the 3rd straight season, and he also has his BB/9 back where they used to be in the sub-2.0 range.
Who Has Been Worse Than Expected? - Andruw Jones is hitting .229, and only has one homer in May. Brian McCann hasn't hit a homer since April 4th, but he is still slugging .440. Craig Wilson has been atrocious (172/304/259). We mentioned Davies and Redman already.
Any Opportunities? - Anthony Lerew is already up, and he had one good outing and one awful one. He could be serviceable, but I don't think his ceiling is very high. Gregor Blanco could provide a bit of OBP and speed once Willie Harris turns back into a pumpkin. 29 year old Buddy Carlyle deserves a shot somewhere.....he allows a few more homers than you'd like, but his K rates have always been solid. He may get a shot at the back of the rotation if Davies and Lerew can't get it done.
What to Expect? - The Braves are going to be more competitive than I thought in March. The offense has been terrific, and I can't see it being significantly worse going forward, as A. Jones and McCann will improve enough to offset any slowdowns from the kids or minor injury to Chipper. The pitching, though, isn't going to be good enough to keep up with New York, in my estimation. Hudson and Smoltz and a good 1-2, but the other three spots are going to have their warts. The bullpen should be a strength, and there are enough positives here to make the Braves one of the top two or three choices for the wild card. They should be in the race the whole way.
Buy Low, Expect More - Andruw Jones, definitely. Craig Wilson, only in the deepest of leagues....he may be out of chances with Thorman heating up a bit. I've still got a good feeling about Kyle Davies. There is enough talent there to take him through the control trouble, I hope.
Sell High, Expect Less - Scott Thorman. Someone might get excited about the .500 SLG, but he's walked once in the past four weeks...there's a bit more of a learning curve here for him. Bob Wickman is coming off of the DL tomorrow, but there's no guarantee he will close with Soriano and Gonzalez performing so well in his absence. Wickman shouldn't be bad, he just might not get many saves, and he's really not quite as good as the other two anyway. Willie Harris is in his 14th minute of fame right now. Take what you can get.
Sleeper Value - I'm going to go with Davies, although it's a risk with the Braves having a few other options around. Davies is only 23, with a minor league K/9 of just under 9.0. He's coming off two starts in which his control was easily acceptable, and he hasn't been any worse than the rest of the Atlanta starters with the exceptions of Hudson, Smoltz, and James.
Recap - An excellent offense hasn't quite made up for the league's 4th worst pitching staff, although their run differential would cause you to be much more optimistic about their chances.
What's Gone Right? - Five regulars have OBP's of .365 or better, and a 6th (Jimmy Rollins) is slugging .539. They've stolen 32 out of 39 bases, Cole Hamels has been awesome, and the ancient wonders (Jamie Moyer and Jon Lieber) are providing him with plenty of support.
What's Gone Wrong? - In the expected category, Wes Helms and Adam Eaton. In the unexpected category, Ryan Howard is hitting .204, and is now injured. Replacement bats are scarce. So are replacement pitchers.
Who Has Been Better Than Expected? - Abraham Nunez, who has worked his way into regular playing time by being a slightly more productive version of Neifi Perez. Aaron Rowand, whose OBP is almost 100 points over his career average. Jon Lieber, who has a sub-3.00 ERA despite fanning a batter every two innings.
Who Has Been Worse? - Howard, with an exclamation point. Freddy Garcia, whose peripherals are actually reasonably solid. Brett Myers, who has increased his BB/9 and K/9 rates to astronomical levels.
Any Opportunities? - With Howard out, hopefully Greg Dobbs will get a chance to expand upon his 300/356/500 to start the year. Dobbs/Helms-Nunez would have to be better than Helms/Nunez, right? Other than that, the cupboard is bare at the higher levels, and the major league backups are certainly not awe-inspiring.
What to Expect? - The Phils have enough offense, even with Howard missing some time. The pitching, however, is going to be an issue....particularly the bullpen. They should be able to hang around in the wild card race, but where I would have pegged them as the favorites back in March, I can't say that now. They are probably about the 7th best team in the NL.
Buy Low, Expect More - Howard, if anyone is foolish enough to deal him now. Garcia, whose peripherals indicate better performances ahead. Gordon, who should come back to stabilize the 'pen in a few weeks.
Sell High, Expect Less - Lieber and Rowand, who should both revert to adequate players after performing like start for a month-plus. Everyone else is sort of doing what they do.
Sleeper Value - For lack of a better option, I'll go with Carlos Ruiz. He wrested the job away from Barajas, and his performance thus far is perfectly in keeping with his career stats. He's no star, but he can do this for a few years, and as a catcher that's plenty valuable.
Recap - A surprisingly effective "stars and scrubs"offense hasn't been able to overcome the league's worst pitching staff (near sea level division).
What's Gone Right? - Cabrera, Ramirez, Willingham, and Jacobs have made a formidable lineup core, and some solid young arms have surfaced in the bullpen (picked up from the scrap heap, of course).
What's Gone Wrong? - This is still a team with multiple lineup holes, and the young lefties in the rotation have all been severe disappointments thus far.
Who Has Been Better Than Expected? - Willingham has added a few points of AVG. If that's for real, he might be a star-level bat for a few years. Ramirez has picked up his OBP to elite levels, and looks every bit the future star. Sergio Mitre has been a lone rotational bright spot, with a 2.13 ERA in basically four starts (he went 1/3 IP in one other outing). Henry Owens, Renyel Pinto, and Kevin Gregg have been excellent in the bullpen.
Who Has Been Worse? - Miguel Olivo and Joe Borchard, who usually at least provide some pop to go with their low AVG's and terrible plate discipline. Dontrelle Willis (putative staff ace, 5.40 ERA), Scott Olsen (4.87 ERA, 4.5 BB/9), Anibal Sanchez (4.80 ERA, 6 BB/9, banished to AAA), and Jorge Julio (12.54 ERA, banished to Pike's Peak today) have given the term disappointment a whole new meaning.
Any Opportunities? - Surprisingly, for a team with a reputation for developing young talent, there isn't much that's ready right now that isn't already playing (or hurt). Jose Garcia, currently on the DL, might be able to slip into a rotation spot when he returns if the lefties continue to struggle. Other than that, not much.
What to Expect? - Once Jeremy Hermida, Mike Jacobs, Josh Johnson, and Jose Garcia are fully healthy, the Marlins could be pretty decent. They will still have gaping holes in CF and behind the plate, and the rotation will have all kinds of injury concerns, but on the whole the Marlins are still a young team with a reasonably bright future. Not this year, though. They'll probably be under .500, but there will certainly be a few teams worse than they are.
Buy Low, Expect More - Hermida and Garcia. The injury issues, combined with the lack of a solid big league track record, should keep their values low. They both have a tremendous amount of potential (more for Hermida than Garcia at present, I would guess). Willis has a terrible ERA thus far, but with his mechanics he seems to have some control issues every year. I'd gamble on him to rebound shortly.
Sell High, Expect Less - Wes Obermueller has pitched four out of five times in the four best pitchers' parks in the NL. It'll get uglier. Henry Owens might not have the closer's job once he returns in three or four weeks. I can't imagine he'd stay as effective as he's been thus far anyway.
Sleeper Values - Quite a few here, actually. Hermida could be a huge bat, and he should be back soon. A spot is definitely clear for him. As you can tell, I really like Garcia. Since he's due back well before Johnson, there's plenty of room for him with all of the underperformers in the rotation right now. I can't guarantee that he won't end up in the bullpen, but if it were me I'd try him out as a starter first. Kevin Gregg and Renyel Pinto are both very good pitchers. One of them should be the temporary (perhaps permanent) closer, and the other is a sleeper candidate for the rotation. Both should provide some value. Byung-Hyun Kim was just picked up today from the Rockies. He could end up with a great role or no role at all. He's a huge risk, but moving to Florida can't hurt his value I wouldn't think.
Recap - The second worst offense in baseball has combined with the third worst pitching staff in the NL. Wonder twin powers, indeed. The good players have been bad, the mediocre players have been bad, and the bad players have been, well, bad.
What's Gone Right? - Ryan Church has blossomed into an adequate everyday OF, and Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann have been pleasant surprises in a historically bad rotation (7-20 from SP thus far).
What's Gone Wrong? - An awful lot, honestly. This team wasn't going to be good, but Lopez, Zimmerman, and Kearns have all been awful thus far. Ditto for John Patterson, and Chad Cordero was bad and then injured. Cristian Guzman has the 2nd highest OBP (small sample size alert), and only two regulars are slugging over .400 (yes .400, not .500).
Who Has Been Better Than Expected? - Hill and Bergmann, and there are plenty of reasons to think that it won't last for either of them.
Who Has Been Worse? - Who hasn't? Lopez, Zimmerman, and Patterson are all among the biggest disappointments in baseball thus far, so let's leave it at that.
Any Opportunities? - D'Angelo Jimenez is bucking for his (seemingly) 15th chance to redeem himself. Good luck there, but he has some talent, which is more than you can say for a lot of guys on the Nats' 25-man roster right now. Joel Hanrahan looked great and was probably getting close to a call, but then he got hurt. Collin Balester is only 20 and doesn't look overly ready, but Washington might not be able to resist.
What to Expect? - They'll be bad, possibly bad in a record-breaking way. That pitching staff is awful, and there's really no help in sight. The offense will be better, especially once (if?) Nick Johnson comes back, but it still won't be good. 100 losses is easily within reach.
Buy Low, Expect More - Lopez, Zimmerman, Kearns, Patterson, and Cordero are all above-average players, and none of them has come close to that standard of performance thus far. They should all be significantly better from this point forward.
Sell High, Expect Less - Jason Bergmann walks way too many guys to be any more successful than he's been already. The odds are against him keeping an ERA under 4.00. It's probably too late to sell high on Shawn Hill, who isn't a bad pitcher but is allowing way too few hits per nine given the number of batters he strikes out. He's heading for the DL, though.
Sleeper Values - Jimenez is one, if the Nats manage to get him some PT. Ryan Langerhans is another guy that might have some value for them, because CF has been a tough spot for them to fill. Langerhans doesn't have a lot of pop, but he usually gets on base at a decent clip. He could be a serviceable bottom of the order bat, except in this order he might be near the top.