Catcher: Mike Piazza/Vance Wilson vs. John Buck/Travis d’Arnaud: Advantage has to go to the 2003 Mets, who received a 126 OPS+ from Piazza over 273 plate appearances. The gap was expected to be bigger, but Piazza’s first significant injury led to plenty of time for Wilson and Jason Phillips, as did his poorly-planned move to first base.
First base: Jason Phillips vs. Ike Davis: Probably a slight advantage to the 2013 Mets, though Davis’ 110 OPS+ in 2012 was below Phillips’ 115 in 2003. Still, Davis finished strong, and I like his chances to match Phillips offensively, and handily outpace him defensively.
Second base: Roberto Alomar vs. Daniel Murphy: astoundingly, Murphy, and easily. Alomar had been a 150 OPS+ offensive player with incredible defense just before the Mets got him after the 2001 season. But 2013 Murphy has a year of the position under his belt, and is a great bet to outpace Alomar’s 84 OPS+ from 2003.
Third base: David Wright vs. Ty Wigginton: Wright by a ton. Wigginton managed just an 88 OPS+, while Wright is a career 135 OPS+ hitter. Defense is a solid edge to Wright, too.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes vs. Ruben Tejada: Edge to Reyes here, even rookie year Reyes, with an OPS+ of 102 to Tejada’s 2012 mark of 90, and better defense to boot. Only thing that closes the gap somewhat is the 185 plate appearances Mets gave to Rey Sanchez while Reyes was finishing his Triple-A internship, with an OPS+ of 27!
Outfield: Huge advantage, 2003 Mets. Cliff Floyd and his 134 OPS+, along with four months of Jeromy Burnitz at 139 OPS+, far outdistances what anyone can expect from Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter or Collin Cowgill. That’s true offensively, and with the exception of Baxter, that’s probably true defensively, too. Not even close.
Starting pitching: Probably a push. Don’t forget, the 2003 Mets got 30-plus starts from Steve Trachsel (111 ERA+), Jae Weong Seo (110 OPS+), Al Leiter (106 OPS+) and Tom Glavine (93 OPS+). Fifth starter was kind of a black hole, though, between Aaron Heilman, Jeremy Griffiths, David Cone (!) and Pedro Astacio.
The 2013 Mets will have Jonathon Niese, coming off of a 113 ERA+, Matt Harvey, who dominated in 10 starts, Johan Santana, who posted a 79 ERA+ in half a season, and Dillon Gee, who matched Glavine’s 2003 (94 ERA+) in a half-season. Beyond them lurks Zach Wheeler, Collin McHugh, Jenrry Mejia and little else. Essentially, the only chance the 2013 Mets have to produce a far better staff than the 2003 Mets is if everybody stays healthy, Harvey is as good in 2013 as he was in 2012, and/or Gee/Niese take another step forward. Possible, but just as possible are steps back/injuries. So this one’s probably a push.
Bullpen: Enormous edge, 2003 Mets. Consider the following list of pitchers with ERA+ better than 100 and at least 20 IP in 2003 for Mets: Scott Strickand (190), John Franco (162), David Weathers (137), Armando Benitez (136), Graeme Lloyd (128), Pedro Feliciano (126), Dan Wheeler (114).
Here’s the list of returning Mets from 2012 with an ERA+ above Josh Edgin’s 85: Tim Byrdak (88), who will miss most of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, and Bobby Parnell (155).
The 2003 Mets, for the record, finished 66-95. Their manager, Art Howe, did light up a room, though.