Over Their Heads?

Last week I heard an interview on XM MLB with Pirates GM Neal Huntington, whose Pittsburgh club is finally threatening to assemble a winning record — which would be the first time since Barry Bonds left town in 1992 (no kidding – the Bucs have had 19 straight losing seasons). Because the team is hovering around .500, there is excitement, and Huntington was asked if he believed the Pirates were peaking or could improve upon their current record before the year was over. Huntington was optimistic, theorizing that his team had a good chance to perform even better because no one was “playing over their head”; thus, there was room for improvement.

An interesting theory, and I’m not sure that it has any legs. But it’s intriguing, and since the Mets game was rained out yesterday, we need to discuss something. So let’s apply that concept to the Mets: could they be better than their current record, based on the idea that no one is playing “over their head”? Or, are there players who have played over their head and helped the team to a better won-loss record than we’re likely to see once we get through 162 games?

Let’s go over each pertinent player on the Mets roster and try to figure it out.

Ronny Paulino – Over his head
Paulino is hitting .455, has thrown out 4 of 5 attempted basestealers (80%), and has a catcher ERA of 1.77. I like Paulino, but there’s no way he’s going to keep this pace for very long.

Josh Thole – Unknown
Thole has been on something of a rollercoaster, both offensively and defensively. I don’t know that we have a handle — yet — on what he’s capable of doing at the MLB level over the long-term. I’d like to believe that he is the solid contact hitter and OBP machine we saw last year, but that was only through a little over 200 plate appearances — not really a large enough sample to know for sure what he can do.

Mike Nickeas – Over his head

I know Nickeas is in AAA. But in his limited time with the Mets, he posted a .798 OPS and seemed on the verge of stealing the catching job from Thole. I don’t believe he could have kept it up, and I do believe his surprising offense contributed directly to at least one of the Mets’ early wins.

Ike Davis – Unknown

We have more of a sample size with Ike than we do with Thole, but it suggests that he won’t be quite as good as he was through the first month of 2011. There’s a possibility he was playing over his head — or he could be growing into a superstar. We’ll know better by the All-Star Break.

Dan Murphy – Not Over His Head

Murphy has had bursts of offensive brilliance coupled with temporary slumps. He’s hitting .263 with a .320 OBP and .720 OPS. Those numbers are not far from his career stats, so I’m going to say he has not played over his head.

Jose Reyes – Over His Head
You may argue with me on this one, but I think he’s only a little over his head. Why? Because I don’t expect him to finish the season with 60 doubles and 30 triples, he’s never hit as high as .320 before, never had an OBP above .360 before, and never had an OPS over .850 before. I could be wrong, though — this could be the Reyes we’ve been waiting for since 2003.

David Wright – Not Over His Head

We’ve seen David hit and field much better than this.

Jason Bay – Not Over His Head
Aside from the first few games after he came off the DL, Bay has not lit the world on fire. We can only hope his best days are ahead.

Jason Pridie – Over His Head

Not with the glove, but definitely with the bat. I don’t see him sustaining that .845 OPS and coming up with clutch homers twice a week.

Carlos Beltran – Not Over His Head
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe Beltran is playing over his head, but I’m not sure he is going to hit any better than he is right now. At the same time, I believe he’s capable of keeping the pace he’s keeping.

Willie Harris – Both

Harris was playing over his head for the first few weeks of the season. He’s not any more; he is suffering from a bad case of “regression to the mean”. I think it’s fair to say that his offensive outburst of the initial week of the season contributed to a few Mets wins.

Angel Pagan – Not Over His Head

Incomplete. But when he was healthy, he seemed to be playing below his true capability.

Starting Pitching – Mixed

We’ve seen better pitching from Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, and Jon Niese. I think Dillon Gee could be pitching over his head, and I’m similarly pessimistic about Chris Capuano. That’s not to say Gee and Capuano are going to implode, but rather, I’m expecting to see their performances slide a bit as the season goes along. Chris Young is an incomplete, but if pressed, I’d say he was pitching over his head. The numbers he put up in his four starts put him — statistically — in a class with elites such as Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum. Granted, he has had his stretches of dominance in the past, but he never was “one of the best pitchers in baseball”, as some people described him.

Bullpen – Over Their Heads

Pedro Beato is not going to go an entire season with a 0.00 ERA. Similarly, I don’t believe Jason Isringhausen and Taylor Buchholz are going to finish with WHIPS below 1.00; nor do I believe K-Rod is going to have a sub-2 ERA when it’s all said and done — though he is likely capable of staying near where he is right now. Additionally, I could be wrong, but I truly believe Tim Byrdak and Ryota Igarashi are pitching as well as they ever will right now.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure what we learned from this exercise, but it was fun nonetheless. Certainly, there are some players who have already played over their heads, and others who have yet to go on a tear. Wright, Bay, and Beltran in particular are key; all three are capable of carrying the team if they ever get hot. There are a number of “incompletes” and question marks. In the end, it appears to me that there has been a pretty good balance of players above/below their heads, and so as the season wears on, the “regression to the mean” for both sides will likely even things out. In other words, this exercise likely has little merit.

What do you think? Do you agree / disagree with any of my opinions? Do you think that there is anything to this above/below their heads theory? Let me know in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Joe May 12, 2011 at 8:04 am
    A lot of ‘over their heads’ there. With a killer part of the schedule approaching, many fans might be covering their heads soon enough.

    Harris really should go. I assume Hu and Hairston are not playing over their heads. Turner would be incomplete?

    The Mets was off, so what, the Yanks decided to play like them? 15 men left on base? KC wins with four runs, four hits (one Jeff F.; v. 12 hits), including after blowing it in the 10th?

  2. Ceetar May 12, 2011 at 9:36 am
    I think Pelfrey and Niese and Dickey are both playing under. Pelfrey’s career numbers are better. Dickey has some periferals that suggest he’s getting a bit unlucky.

    No real data on Niese, but I think he’s better than this overall.

    I think the biggest “under” thing would be as a team, with RISP. They’re bound to hit better than that, and it’ll lead to a lot more runs and wins as as result, even if the pitching doesn’t get much better.

    Similarly with the bullpen. hard to judge. Beato obviously will give up runs, but maybe he’s actually good? Buccholz has talent. Parnell will likely be better than he was when he returns.. Not expecting a huge setback there.