Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Absurdity of Comparing the 1977 Mets to the 2012 Mets

This past Thursday, a man with a clear agenda penned an article likening the 2012 Mets to the 1977 Mets.  Not just regarding the on-field product (which is ridiculous enough by itself), but regarding all aspects surrounding the team: attendance, outside perception, minor league talent, near-term chances, and more.  Allow me to dissect and rebut Howard Megdal's article piece by piece, before tying it all up very nicely:
 Back then, as now, a group of popular players had just left: Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw; Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran.
 "Group" is defined as two or more, so Megdal is using the bare minimum number of players in order to refer to his aforementioned example as a group.  His first mistake is comparing Tug McGraw to Carlos Beltran.  Tug McGraw was one of the most beloved players in the history of the organization.  Carlos Beltran, as I've pointed out myself, should have been beloved, but wasn't.  He was loved by some fans, while most others' opinion of him fell somewhere between hate and indifference.  Carlos Beltran was traded because he was a pending free agent with a history of knee problems, who the Mets were not going to re-sign.  The move was accepted by most Mets fans, and netted the team Zack Wheeler - who is now viewed by most as one of the top two pitching prospects in all of baseball.  Megdal compared losing Seaver to losing Reyes.  There are two problems here.  The first is the fact that Seaver was the face of the franchise who led the Mets to a World Championship, a man who cried when he was traded.  Reyes, as dynamic as he was, should never be compared to Seaver.  Second, despite what many like to spew as fact, the Mets made an effort to retain Jose Reyes.  Sandy Alderson advised Reyes' agents that the Mets would be willing to guarantee a contract at 5 years totaling $80 million, with an easily attainable option that would've brought the total of the deal to 6 years totaling $100 million had Reyes stayed relatively healthy.  Reyes' agents told Alderson there was no way they would go for that, which is why no formal offer was made.  Reyes told the Marlins he'd leave if they offered him one more dollar than the Mets.  He left for Miami, didn't cry, and has since bitched and moaned that the Mets made no effort to keep him.
 The fans were frustrated, then and now, at an ownership group that wouldn't or couldn't spend enough money to keep the team from deteriorating. 
 Megdal is correct in his assertion that the fans are frustrated.  However, that doesn't make this 1977.  Had the Mets traded David Wright last month, before letting R.A. Dickey walk away at the end of the season instead of picking up his option, he'd have a point.  The first part didn't happen and the second part won't happen, so he has no point.  Ownership was unable to spend large dollars during the off-season because of pending litigation that has since come to a close.  The Mets are 55-60, in third place in the NL East.  Even with their recent tailspin, they've exceeded most expectations in what was seen as a year to evaluate the roster.  The team is still in a precarious spot, but nowhere near as precarious a spot as it was in prior to the Bernard Madoff situation being cleared up.  If the team lowers the payroll further, Megdal may have been proven partially right.  However, no one expects the payroll to drop again in 2013. Moreover, the team certainly isn't "deteriorating." Treading water is a more accurate description.  If they were deteriorating, as Megdal claims, they wouldn't be focusing most of their energy on signing David Wright to a contract extension during the off-season.  They'd be sizing up logical trade partners for July of 2013. 
 The 2012 Mets are playing at a 77-win pace, whereas their 1977 counterparts finished 64-98.
 34 games under .500 and eight games under .500?  Those are equivalent records, apparently.  Thanks for shedding light on that, Howard.
 But their rosters aren't dissimilar, statistically: Both teams had five everyday players worth at least one win above replacement player. The 1977 fivesome was Lenny Randle (4.0), John Stearns (3.2), Steve Henderson (2.5), John Milner (1.6) and Lee Mazzilli (1.0). The 2012 fivesome is David Wright (5.6), Daniel Murphy (1.8), Ruben Tejada (1.8), Scott Hairston (1.5) and Josh Thole (1.1).
Before going into a hysterical player by player comparison, realize this: In 1977, three Mets combined to lead the team in homers with 12 apiece.  The 2012 Mets have three players who have already comfortably exceeded that number with 47 games remaining.  In 1977, Steve Henderson led the team with 65 RBI's.  David Wright has already driven in 74 this season.  Now, my favorite individual comparison is Lenny Randle vs. David Wright (one which Megdal has claimed to not be outrageous).  Lenny Randle was a .257 lifetime hitter who finished his career with 27 home runs.  David Wright is a .302 lifetime hitter, who has hit 27 home runs or more four times in a single season.  Throw WAR at me, and throw comparative ages at me all you want.  You know what trumps both of those?  Traditional statistics and common sense.  The 2012 Mets aren't making the Playoffs (barring something incredible happening).  They do, however, have a solid core of players to build around in David Wright, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Dillon Gee, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Josh Edgin, and others.  The 1977 Mets had a core with far less promise than those mentioned above.
...young, talented Pat Zachry and Craig Swan (0.7 and 0.5, respectively), stood ready to play the parts of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.  If that appears to sell Harvey and Wheeler short, consider that Zachry had been a huge prospect and was the center of the Seaver trade, while Swan went on to win an E.R.A. title. The median outcome for the two prospects can't be much different than what the Mets ultimately got from Zachry and Swan.
Above, we see Howard Megdal, who is not a professional scout or a time traveler, declaring that the "median outcome" of Matt Harvey (4 Major League starts) and Zack Wheeler (zero Major League starts) "can't be much different" than the eventual careers of Zachry and Swan.  He did go on to say in his next paragraph that Harvey and Wheeler could turn into Seaver and Koosman, but that was simply glossed over as being unlikely due to the fact that it doesn't fit his narrative.  Pat Zachry averaged a shade over five strikeouts per 9 innings during the course of his career.  Craig Swan averaged 4.9 K's per 9 innings during his career.  Now, both Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler could flame out immediately.  Both could become Hall of Famers.  There's really no reason to speculate on that, and there's no facts to predict what their professional careers will look like.  What is a fact is that Wheeler and Harvey both have much better pure stuff than Pat Zachry or Craig Swan ever had.  Mentioning that didn't fit Megdal's narrative, though.
But it is unclear that anything other than hope for the future separates the 2012 team from the 1977 team, which, for those who may not remember, went on to become a 66-96 1978 team and a 63-99 1979 team, before the Mets were sold to a new owner.
Yes, Howard, I know: you want the Wilpon's to sell the team.  I don't understand, though, how you can write with a straight face that "anything other than hope for the future" separates the 1977 Mets from the 2012 Mets.  Here's a few things that separate them:
  • The 1977 Mets drew 1.06 million fans, averaging 13,504 per game.  The 2012 Mets have already drawn 1.65 million fans (on pace for around 2.4 million for the season), while averaging 29,569 per game.
  •  The 1977 Mets traded the most popular player in franchise history during the season, while the 2012 Mets did the opposite in attempting to lock up David Wright long-term, only to be told that negotiations would have to wait until after the season.
  • The 1977 Mets played in Shea Stadium and were seen locally on WOR.  The 2012 Mets play at Citi Field, and can be seen locally on SNY, the television network they own.
  • The season after 1977 saw the Mets win 66 games.  Barring something unforeseen, the season after 2012 will see them win far more games than that, while the team hosts the All-Star game.  In addition, if the baseball writers do their job, it will also see Mike Piazza inducted into the Hall of Fame as the first position player to have a Mets cap on his plaque.  
The 1977 team spawned a mess that continued to spiral downhill from 1978 to 1983 with six more losing seasons, before the Mets finally turned it around in 1984.  The 2012 Mets may yet finish at .500.  And even if they don't, I don't think it can be adequately argued that anyone expects 2013-2018 to look anything like 1978 through 1983 did. 

Do the Mets have issues? Yes.  Do most fans wish the Wilpon's would sell? Probably.  However, comparing 1977 to 2012 is pure insanity, and does nothing but add more negative vibes to the ones that were thrown towards this team prior to the season, and the ones that have been hurled at them since their recent slide.  The Mets need a Catcher and three Outfielders for next year.  Talk about that.  They need Sandy Alderson and Co. to be more creative.  Talk about that.  The front office and fans need to get some clarity from Ownership regarding what the payroll will be going forward.  Talk about that.  Or you can choose to be positive and talk about R.A. Dickey potentially winning the Cy Young award, or David Wright's great year, Ruben Tejada's emergence as one of the better shortstops in the league, Terry Collins' leadership, or the rise of Matt Harvey.  But, please, don't use your own agenda to attempt to create a reality that is anything but.  It wastes our time and insults our intelligence.   

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