Let’s get this out of the way: Sandy Alderson’s front office and Terry Collins as manager have not brought nearly as many wins to the Mets organization as many Mets fans thought they would have by now. That is frustrating. Many of the team’s many losses have been in disheartening fashion. That’s even more frustrating. But I wonder what could really have been expected.
I remember when Sandy Alderson was introduced as the Mets’ General Manager. I remember a lot of talk after that opening press conference surrounding the idea of being in playoff contention within three years or so. But is that really realistic? Yes, teams often reload in one offseason, franchises can do a 180 degree turn in a shorter timespan, but most of those organizations didn’t have absurd amounts of money tied up in aging former-stars like Jason Bay, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez and Johan Santana. Most of those organizations also don’t have ownership dealing with the aftermath of a Ponzi scheme (thanks, Bernie!)
So, fans gave Alderson some leeway. After all, it made more sense to blame ownership and the previous front office. They were the ones who messed up the team’s financial situation.
Somewhere along the way, though, the fans gave up being patient. Every failure became a criticism of Alderson, every tiny success an accident.
You signed Frank Francisco and Brandon Lyon to reasonable deals? Traded for Ramon Ramirez? All three busted? Obviously you have no idea how to work a bullpen.
You signed Curtis Granderson after fans SCREAMED that you needed to do SOMETHING? He didn’t hit immediately? Obviously you don’t know how to negotiate deals or pick free agents.
Travis d’Arnaud is struggling in his first full season in the majors? Obviously your trades for prospects were overhyped and not meaningful.
It’s all craziness, and to an extent that’s how New York sports work. Alderson has failed to put together a successful bullpen. The prospects he’s acquired are either not yet in the bigs or have dealt with struggles. This is the fourth season that Alderson has run the Mets, and they don’t appear to have improved substantially over his first season in terms of on-the-field wins.
The point is that it’s totally rational to be frustrated by continued losing. It’s okay to criticize Alderson too. His moves haven’t (as of this writing) worked out. But take an honest stock of the organization. The Mets have, once Noah Syndergaard makes it to the majors, seven starting pitchers under 30 who are (or should be) capable of success: Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard. He managed to keep “face of the frachise” David Wright, acquired a potential cornerstone catcher (Travis d’Arnaud) who fans and scouts alike fawned over, appeased fans by trading Ike Davis and letting Lucas Duda play daily in a place that isn’t the outfield. The team has a potential stud in centerfield with Juan Lagares.
There’s talent in Queens. There’s talent in the minor leagues too. The Mets may still be just a 75-80 win team this year, and they will probably continue to lose in new, frustrating and “Metsian” ways. But to say that the direction of the franchise isn’t trending up? That’s just silly.
So, Mets fans, I understand if you complain about the slow going of this rebuild. I get that you’re frustrated by losing. I empathize with you entirely. Where we diverge, however, is the search for anything to complain about. I’d much rather watch a four-hour loss than not watch baseball. It doesn’t serve anyone to manufacture new complaints. To reserve a neurotic belief that Terry Collins is intentionally benching his best outfielder (Juan Lagares), or that he’s the worst manager this side of Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. Sometimes, guys, the players on the field need to perform. So far, the players on the 2014 Mets haven’t. And they may not do enough this year to meet Alderson’s 90 win “goal.” (Which, by the way, is a discussion for another time.)
What the Mets have done is improve their overall position. Imagine a car stuck in a ditch. Once you’ve extricate the car, you’ve got a long way to go. Sandy Alderson dumped the contracts that were acting as anchors around the Mets organization’s neck. Now he’s gotta build a team around the prospects and core. Three years was never a realistic timeline. Let’s just accept that and enjoy the baseball we’ve got. Because sooner than you realize, it’ll be the offseason and most of us will be counting down the days till Opening Day 2015.
Early on this season — and on May 13th, it is still early on — the Mets have been nothing if not inconsistent. A 15-11 start, followed by a 1-8 stretch, and as of this writing, two straight wins. We’ve seen hot streaks (Juan Lagares until his hamstring injury, Dillon Gee, Curtis Granderson since May 1, etc.) and cold streaks (Travis d’Arnaud, Ruben Tejada and Bartolo Colon, among others). What should give Mets fans some cause for optimism…you remember what that is, right?…is that some of those cold streaks, even the ones that have lasted through the entirety of the first 37 games, are not particularly likely to continue.
Now, I could likely just as easily point out the successes that are unlikely to continue, but for the sake of optimism — and on May 13, we’re still in the domain of optimism — let’s look at why some of the struggling Mets are likely (or at least capable) of improving over the rest of the season.
It might seem silly to start with Wheeker, after all he’s been pretty darn good as it is. He’s put up an ERA below 4.00 (thanks to a scoring change that took place Tuesday afternoon), he’s got a strong strikeout rate and has kept the Mets in games. But truth be told, Wheeler could be pitching even better. Here’s his stats via Fangraphs:
Now, many of those numbers look about right. But what if we look at the things that can be improved upon? First, his walk rate. He’s basically had no better control than his rookie season. Typically, you can expect pitchers, the more experience they gain, to walk fewer batters. That’s not universal, but he could certainly improve just a bit, perhaps drop that BB/9 figure to about 3.5. Next, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The major league average is .295 so far this year. Wheeler’s figure is way higher. Part of that is likely pitching in the expanse of Citi Field’s outfield, but probably not all of it. With the Mets’ outfield defense, Wheeler should be able to turn more batted balls into outs.
If Wheeler can walk fewer batters and give up fewer hits, it stands to reason all of the other statistics will begin to look better. Not the least of which are wins and losses (which, for a pitcher are not important, but the more wins Wheeler gets, the more wins the Mets get, and that’s a good thing).
Rice was far from a world-beater last year, and if we’re being fair, it’s tough to expect too much more from a pitcher who never broke into the majors until his age 31 season. But looking at Rice’s numbers, it’s hard to argue that he shouldn’t pitch better than he has thus far. His statistics via Fangraphs:
Rice has been pretty poor when it comes to three major statistics: walk rate, strikeout rate and BABIP. Striking out just 6.5 batters per nine innings is not just below his figure from last year, it’s thoroughly mediocre. The same goes for walking 5.6 batters per nine innings. A sample size of just under 10 innings makes looking at relievers a bit of a farce in May, but it’s hard to imagine that Rice can’t improve both his strikeout and walk rates.
Add in a BABIP similar to Wheeler’s, and you can easily imagine a scenario in which Rice allows fewer runners and strikes out more batters. That’d allow him to strand more inherited runners and and give up fewer of his own. A pretty good combination, if he can manage it.
This one will be unpopular. Let’s get the simplest stuff out of the way. Tejada has been mediocre for much of this year. And until the last two games, that would have been generous. I’ve been a defender of Tejada’s since Spring Training. At that point, I looked at his situation pretty simply: He put together 877 terrific plate appearances in 2011 and 2012. He hit over .280, played decent defense, and was about what you wanted as a number eight hitter…all while playing in the majors before the age of 24. Last year was terrible. He didn’t hit well, he didn’t field well and he got hurt. It was bad. But I put more stock in 877 plate appearances than I did in 227 from last year. Bigger sample size means more predictive.
The early season hasn’t quieted my fears about Tejada or anyone else’s. But looking deeper than the statistics shown during broadcasts paints a slightly different picture. Tejada has struck out more than he did in 2011 or 2012, which is a bad sign, but he’s also walking a LOT more. Add in a higher line drive percentage and a lower BABIP (that’s not a combination you often see), and one could argue Tejada has been somewhat unlucky.
Remember in 2012, when Tejada worked countless at bats to full counts, especially after falling behind 0-2? Tejada’s always had a good batting eye. If he maintains his walk rate — and even if his strikeout rate remains a bit higher than you’d like — you can expect his line drive rate and BABIP to balance out. His LD% won’t likely stay above 30%, but his BABIP should climb in the direction of major league average (which, again, is .295). I don’t know that I’m confident Ruben will hit .280 with a .330+ on-base percentage like he did in 2011-2012, but I do think he’ll see his batting average climb towards .260ish and his on-base percentage climb ever-so-slightly towards about .320. Those numbers would please any Mets fan.
I’ll allow Toby Hyde of Mets Minor League Blog to start off this section:
Mets fans, Don't worry about Travis d'Arnaud. Approach is there (9.5% BB/17.1% K), 17% LD% (lg avg is 20). .230 BABIP (!), lg avg is .298.—
Toby Hyde (@tobyhyde) May 12, 2014
It’s pretty simple really. He’s got above average walk and strikeout rates, which mean he’s got a good idea of where the strike zone is and he’s not swinging at too many bad pitches. He’s got a slightly below league average line drive rate, which you’d think he can improve upon. On top of all that he’s got a .230 BABIP, which is FAR below the league average. His numbers may not be there, but since an 0-15 start, he’s got a borderline respectable .244/.319/.390 slash line. Those numbers aren’t great either, but it’s a start. Look for d’Arnaud to hit even better as he gets more and more comfortable.
He’s a 40-year-old, overweight pitcher who’s coming off a career year. So, expectations of Colon should have been tempered. He has struggled mightily — BUT — he’s only really struggled in three of his eight starts. Five of the eight have been pretty good quality.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s look at his numbers as a whole. His strikeout rate is just a hair above his career rate and his walk rate is significantly better. Much like Wheeler and Rice, Colon has been victimized by a high BABIP. Once again, that is partly because he’s playing in a big outfield where more batted balls will fall in. But it’s still a much higher number than you’d expect.
With Colon, there’s one other stat that I think lends itself to improvement between now and September: home runs allowed per fly ball. Colon was never likely to live up to his crazy rate from last year — where only six percent of fly balls allowed by Colon ended up over the fence. But to double that? That’s equally crazy. A rate of 11.8% is about average, Colon’s typically been better than average. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that he can drop that figure a bit. If he can improve any two of those four statistics (strikeouts, walks, hits allowed and home runs allowed), you’re looking at a tolerable if excruciatingly uninteresting pitcher. The Mets would take that.
Now, all of this is an exercise in small sample sizes, best guesses and hypotheticals based on baseball (which Suzyn Waldman would have you all know, “you can’t predict”). Still, it’s far from crazy to think that these five Mets — key players all — can be noticeably better than they’ve been thus far. And if that happens, the Mets are looking a handful more wins over the rest of the season.
Note: I’m sorry for playing into the overuse of “____-gate” for the title of a scandal.
Matt Harvey caused trouble for himself and for the Mets today by tweeting out a photograph of himself in a hospital bed — giving the middle finger. Plenty of sportswriters, reporters, social media strategists and fans are asking why Harvey would do this. But the real question is: why the heck do we care?
Yes, Matt Harvey is a famous and talented athlete with a large following. Yes, children idolize him. Yes, it would be nice for him to be a “proper role model,” but the belief that all athletes should subscribe to the Derek Jeter strategy of ultra-saccharine, say-nothing, vagueness is silly. If every athlete answered every question with “I just try to give 110 percent” and “it’s good for us to get the win” and constantly called their owners and coaches by their last name, we fans would get bored. If Harvey was Derek Jeter-lite, Mets fans would find a way to criticize that. “We don’t want to just imitate the Yankees,” they would say.
I understand the criticism. Harvey putting out a photograph of what many people consider a supremely vulgar hand gesture is — one might argue — the wrong thing to do for any celebrity. But let’s recall that Harvey is a 25-year-old man who wants to pitch in the city that never sleeps. He may take advantage of his “celebrity,” but let’s remember that he didn’t ask for it. That is a key point.
It’s easy to pick up this “story” and to shame Harvey for making an “immature decision,” or for being “inappropriate.” But the truth is, he doesn’t have any responsibility to the fans or the media. His responsibilities lie solely with himself and his organization. The only expectations he needs to meet are those that involve rehab, and one day, pitching again.
That’s why it’s unfortunate that Harvey opted to delete his Twitter account. Because while his wasn’t the funniest, most insightful or most unique athlete Twitter, it did provide his followers with a glimpse into his personality, his life as a star athlete. It was honest. Now, I imagine the pressure on Harvey to be vague, boring and saccharine will only increase. If he ever returns to Twitter, I’d expect his account to be even less honest, to hide his personality and emit a facade that more closely meets the ridiculous and pointless expectations that many people apparently have for him.
Matt Harvey didn’t need to apologize for his tweet. The Mets reportedly asked him to delete the image. He should have done whatever the team asked. But he could have simultaneously owned that image. He could have owned that decision. He could have owned the fact that he, unlikely any number of athletes, does and says the things he does because he feels like it. He could have proved to the public that his public persona is the real him, and not the perfectly-crafted facade that many athletes use.
Instead, we’ll spend the next week hearing about how Harvey’s tweet proves his immaturity and how unlike Derek Jeter he really is. As far as I’m concerned…*yawn*
I wish there was a statistic that covered “almost-comebacks.” The experience, exactly like Wednesday night’s Mets game, where a team falls behind and NEARLY comes back, inevitably falling just short. I’d like to see this statistic, because I wonder whether my belief that this almost-comeback experience, is maddeningly common for the Mets in particular is true.
In the absence of an official statistic, we’ll have to deal in the abstract.
On Wednesday night, the Mets fell behind 4-0 before rallying for three runs in the ninth. Just enough to get fans on the edge of their seat, but all the while, many of them just knew how it would end. We’ve seen this movie before. Leave runners on base early? Fail to hit for eight innings? Give up late insurance runs? Well, after all that, why wouldn’t the Mets make it appear like the game was particularly close. They seem to do it often.
Heck, if you Google search the phrase “Mets comeback falls short,” you can find stories about tonight’s game, August 2010 games against the Phillies and Marlins, and 2012 games against the Cubs and Brewers. And that’s all in the first two pages.
That’s felt like the formula. The Braves took the early lead, built on it in the middle of the game while the Mets lineup slumbered, and hung on for dear life. Make no mistake, the Braves were the better team on Wednesday, and a four-run comeback against Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel is a HUGE task to ask of any lineup. But when you watch a team get so close, it’s maddening to see them fall one hit short.
It’s an art to lose games late, and the Mets have perfected it. With closers over the years like Braden Looper, Billy Wagner, Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell who’d make their livings walking a tightrope, the Mets have kept their fans nervous in the ninth since I became a fan in the late 1990s. In recent years though, it’s less nerves. It’s excitement. But still an excitement where — since 2006 — fans expect that tinge of disappointment. The late runs are promising, a positive thing to take away from games against better teams, but a disappointment nonetheless.
I may not have statistics to back it up, but anyone who’s watched the late-2000s Mets has likely felt the same way at some point — with varying degrees of optimism or frustration.
That’s sort of how the Mets have operated over the last eight years. They’ve always felt closer than they actually were.
Since 2007′s collapse, the Mets have been behind the eight ball pretty much annually. In the offseasons before the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, the team tried to just plug holes. The starting rotation needed strengthening, so Omar Minaya traded for Johan Santana. The bullpen failed them in 2007 and 2008, so Minaya acquired J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. The lineup was week in 2009 — due to injuries, actually — so he added Jason Bay. Each time, there was a certain logic — albeit flawed — behind the acquisition. Minaya added a foursome of talented players. And none of them led the Mets to so much as a playoff appearance.
So, over the last few years, when a game ends the way Wednesday night’s did, Mets fans have barely flinched. The Mets have been a team that played “gritty” baseball for a decent portion of the year, only to fall apart.
It’s a defense mechanism for Mets fans. Expect failure and you won’t be too disappointed. But with the pieces (seemingly) coming together, young stars cracking into the big leagues…the days of expected disappointment may be numbered.
In the meantime, enjoy games like this. Losses are rarely fun, but for a flawed team, being that excited up through the final pitch? That’s what baseball should be like. That’s what Mets baseball has been, is and will be. That’s what competitive baseball feels like. And the last few years has just been the faintest taste of what Mets fans hope to experience in the near future.
Other than the actual baseball, my favorite part about Opening Day is the statistics that come out of it. I remember in 2005, Dmitri Young hit three home runs on Opening Day, prompting a cavalcade of “He’s on pace for 486 home run” statements. So, every year, after Opening Day, I like remind myself that individual games are not predictive of anything — and that statistics, while actually very important, can and are selected to prove what the person speaking wants them to prove.
So, the statistics from Opening Day that translate to the full season:
- Andrew Brown, Juan Lagares and even David Wright will not hit 162 home runs.
- Curtis Granderson won’t strike out 486 times.
- The Mets won’t score 1,134 runs.
- Neither Scott Rice nor Carlos Torres will walk every batter they face all season.
- The Mets will not go 0-162 and will not lose a key player to a season-ending injury every day of the season.
While those statistics, both good and bad, will not go continue on their “pace,” there are things that we CAN take out of Opening Day’s game:
- Juan Lagares showed a little bit with his bat early, and didn’t get too anxious to swing in the 10th inning. If he can swing a decent bat and maintain plate discipline, he will end up playing way more than Eric Young Jr. (0-4, 4 K’s on Opening Day)
- The Mets need to strike out less. They are unlikely to show the kind of power they did on Opening Day, slamming three home runs. So, if they can’t string together base hits, the lineup will look similar to a stretch late last summer where they averaged about two runs per game.
- Dillon Gee looked, until his final inning, like the Dillon Gee from the second half of last year. He’s no lock to be that kind of pitcher all year long, but he may be the kind of pitcher capable of keeping the Mets in most games he pitches.
- The bullpen is STILL a huge question mark. Jose Valverde’s success can’t be counted upon based on one outing any more than the rest of the bullpen’s failure can. But all of the concerns that I outlined here, still exist.
Is Opening Day an accurate way to analyze or define any team? Absolutely not. Could most of the predictions made in this post turn out wrong? Sure. There’s a reason the baseball season is 162 games long — so that we don’t have to judge a team on a small sample size. So, sit back, get ready for game 2 of 162 tonight, and remember, when someone TRIES to give their way-too-early analysis, refer to this song by Ted Berg, now of USA Today.
Opening Day is here, finally. A chance to start fresh. An opportunity to take an entirely new ball of clay and turn it into a season of excitement and fun. 2014 could be a year of thrills for Mets fans, or yet another year of disappointment, but on Opening Day, fans can dream only of the former.
Last year at this time, I was at Citi Field, courtesy of the Mets and MLB’s #RandomActsOfOpeningDay. It was the first Opening Day I’d ever attended in person. The chance to watch the players line up on the foul lines, to have the team that I would spend the next six months watched nearly every day, to witness the season’s opening act…was something else entirely.
Expectations may be higher for 2014. Fans may be more skeptical. But when push comes to shove, Opening Day is pure newness. Citi Field will be awash with the glow of promise, and for a few hours, devoid of cynicism. The 2014 season is about to begin, and on Opening Day, that’s a beautiful thing.
We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part eight of the series, we’ll take a look at the bullpen.
Opening Day Closer: Bobby Parnell
Opening Day Rotation: Jose Valverde (Setup Man), Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, John Lannan, Scott Rice (Lefty Specialist), Carlos Torres (Long Man)
Looking to the Future: Jack Leathersich, Vic Black
If you think you have a good handle on how good the Mets bullpen will be, well, you’re probably lying. There are question marks — if not major concerns — with every single one of these players. A brief run-through:
Parnell – Return from neck surgery
Valverde – Bad 2013, spent time in Triple-A
Jeurys Familia – Must cut down on walks (7 BB/9 in brief MLB career)
Germen – Got hit hard in September, did he wear down, or was he pitching over his head?
Lannan – Has never pitched out of the bullpen before, can he do it?
Rice – Appeared in 73 games by early September, then needed surgery. Can he recover?
Torres – Also struggled in September, with an ERA over 4.00 in 31 innings. Worn out or regression to the mean?
So, what will the Mets get from their bullpen? I’ll hedge my bet and say “something around the league average.” Bullpens are fickle. Relief pitchers, with the exception of top-level closers, are impossible to predict from year to year. The individual pitchers on this list are talented, and it wouldn’t take too much effort to envision a hypothetical situation in which the bullpen is successful. It’s also not difficult to imagine the Mets bullpen imploding like the 2007-2010 Mets bullpens.
There are some popular names in the upper levels of the farm system, notably Black and Leathersich. Black is a hard-throwing righty and Leathersich is a lefty who typically tops out in the low-to-mid 90s. The two should both start the year in Triple-A and could easily force their way up to the big league team. The two are likely to bring plenty of strikeouts with them, but must cut down on their high walk rates.
The Mets also have veteran Kyle Farnsworth in the minor leagues. While he didn’t look very good in Spring Training, they’ll consider him decent depth in case of injury.
My best guess is league average, though I’ll admit that “below average” is a safer bet than “above average.” There’s talent and plenty of hard throwers, but very little certainty. Even Parnell, who was a good closer in 2013, had been inconsistent from year-to-year before last season. If the bullpen performs, they could be holding onto plenty of leads — given the Mets relatively strong starting pitching. But that is a big “if.”
How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:
Well, on the one hand, the Mets should not be too confident about their bullpen of question marks. On the other hand, neither should any other MLB team.
The Mets bullpen is constructed in a sound way. A pair of lefties, a long reliever, a closer and setup man with experience and plenty of high-velocity arms. There’s depth in the minor leagues and likely clearly defined roles in the majors. And yet, there are so many questions that it would take someone blinded by fanhood to presume the Mets bullpen won’t cause agita this season. So, Mets fans, you’ll probably be biting your fingernails and sitting on the edge of your seat come the 8th and 9th innings of close games this year. But that may be better than in past years, when there was no nervousness, because you knew the Mets bullpen was going to blow it. In 2014, I expect far more people to ask on Twitter “will the Mets blow this lead?” and fewer people to ask “We KNOW the Mets will blow this lead, the question is how?”
We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part seven of the series, we’ll take a look at the starting rotation.
Opening Day Starter: Dillon Gee
Opening Day Rotation: Gee, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Niese
Opening Day Dark Horse: Jenrry Mejia (if Niese is unable to start April 6)
Looking to the Future: Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard
The rotation might be the best part of the 2014 Mets. There’s depth, veteran experience with youth mixed in and most of all, there’s talent.
Gee may not be the Opening Day starter that Mets fans were hoping for, but with Matt Harvey out for the year, Gee gets the call. His second-half ERA of 2.74 is darn impressive, and he looked like he had finally gotten “back” from his aneurysm scare last offseason. The fifth starter job seems likely to go to Dice-K, though many Mets fans were hoping Mejia would win the spot.
The talent is wonderful, the depth is nice and in 2015 both of those things will only be improved with Harvey’s return. By adding Colon, who had a stellar year in Oakland, the Mets can argue that — after a rash of injuries to the Braves — they have the second-best rotation in the division.
In a way, the rotation is boring. Other than Wheeler, there’s no starter on the Opening Day roster that wows you. But steadiness is a valuable commodity in pitchers. Which is why I think going into the season with Matsuzaka in the fifth starter spot over Mejia is a logical decision. Mejia has more talent, better stuff and is younger, but he’s never pitched 120 innings in a season. The team goes into the year with a reliable rotation and Mejia gets the chance to fine tune his readily apparent skills. Mejia will be in the rotation — if he’s healthy — by the end of the year, and if he looks like he did late last summer the Mets will be thrilled.
Colon, Gee and Niese are wildly different pitchers that can be described in the same way. They’re consistent. None of them are aces, but all three are the kind of pitcher who can take the mound every fifth day (the Mets hope) and keep their team in a game. Colon throws nearly all fastballs. Gee and Niese each rely more on their off-speed stuff. But Mets fans can be confident any day that any of the three are on the hill.
Expect Montero and/or Syndergaard to join the big league club in the area of June or July, as Harvey and Wheeler have before them. Montero is much more ready now, Syndergaard has much greater potential. Both will play a big part in the Mets success, either through performance or in Montero’s case, if the Mets opt to trade him.
Oh, and Zack Wheeler. He’s not Matt Harvey, and anyone making that comparison is fooling themselves. But Wheeler has brilliant stuff. If he can command his pitches better, Mets fans could be in store for another fun breakout season for one of their young pitchers.
Very good. There are six guys who have an argument to be in the rotation come Monday. Two more who — again, assuming health — will inevitably join them. Between those eight, the amount of potential production and hypothetical trade value is through the roof. If the bullpen can hold opponents down, the Mets rotation will win more than their fair share of games.
How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:
Pitching will probably be the Mets’ strength this season. There’s just so much of it, and even more in the pipeline. They may struggle to hit at times, which could limit the number of wins that the starters rack up (Channeling my inner-Brian Kenny #KillTheWin) and the bullpen is a question mark, but the starters should be sturdy. I can envision Gee, Niese and Colon each putting up numbers along the lines of a 3.50 to 3.70 ERA and a respectable 1.30 or so WHIP. Wheeler, if his command is improved, could be better than that. The remaining pitchers would then only need to live up to fifth starter status, which is more than doable.
That said, as Toby Hyde over at Mets Minor League Blog would remind us, “pitchers break. That’s what they do.” The Mets will more than likely lose a starter to an injury at some point this year. The hope is that by building up their depth, they can withstand such an injury. At the minimum, the rotation needs to stay intact until the summer when Montero or Syndergaard can serve as a replacement.
We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part six of the series, we’ll take a look at the outfield.
Opening Day Starters: Curtis Granderson (LF), Juan Lagares (CF), Chris Young (RF)
Opening Day Backup Possibilities: Eric Young Jr. (LF, CF, RF), Andrew Brown (LF, RF)
Opening Day Longshots: Kirk Nieuwenhuis (LF, CF, RF), Matt den Dekker (LF, CF, RF)
Looking to the Future: Cesar Puello (CF, RF), Brandon Nimmo (CF)
So we’re at the portion of these previews where we can either get bogged down by specifics and risk getting repetitive (which players are listed in each outfield spot, how to order starting pitchers or how to classify relief pitchers), or we can take more of an overview approach. So for the next three outlooks, we’ll look at the outfield, starting rotation and bullpen as one “position” each.
What’s interesting about the 2014 Mets outfield is that for the first time in what feels like forever, it’s incredibly versatile. I would argue that all three starters and Eric Young Jr., could play any of the outfield positions in a pinch. In fact, each of those players except Juan Lagares have — however small — major league experience at all three outfield positions (and Lagares’ defense is the least of anyone’s concerns). The current flexibility should allow the team to completely avoid any situation in which a bad outfielder — see Lucas Duda or Jordany Valdespin in just the last few years — has to take significant time in the outfield.
Most of the debate throughout spring training has been between EY Jr. and Lagares. I get it, EY provides speed and because of that is a nostalgic version of what a leadoff hitter should be. In fact, I like EY a lot. He can play a number of positions tolerably, he is fast, he’s not a bad contact hitter and he gets on base at a so-so rate. He’s a PERFECT fourth outfielder. He may even be a bit better than your average-to-above-average fourth outfielders. That’s a great problem to have. Lagares, meanwhile, is the best defensive outfielder the Mets have had since Carlos Beltran. Bar none. Lagares may not hit enough right now to warrant playing everyday, but with his defensive skill set, I believe he’s got to start until he proves he CAN’T be placed in the lineup everyday.
Granderson and Young were both brought in this offseason to provide power, but they also both play solid outfield defense and bring a bit of experience…and in Granderson’s case, a second veteran leader to pair with Wright. #Intangibles. Granderson spent most of last year healing from a pair of freak injuries, not the type of thing you expect to recur. He’s not gonna bat .300, but a .320 on-base percentage and a .450 to .500 slugging percentage would be more than fine.
CY, who’s been somewhere between a slightly below average bat and a slightly above average bat, is the toughest to judge. He strikes out a bit too much for my taste and hasn’t shown as much patience the last two years, playing two-thirds of the time. When he’s played everyday, he’s put up a slash line of .240/.319/.438, good enough for an OPS+ of 95, just below league average. He’s probably not going to be a star, but in the 6 or 7 spot in a lineup, he provides power and a so-so eye.
The other options are far less exciting. Nieuwenhuis and den Dekker are similar players. High-strikeout bats with pretty good gloves at any outfield position. Decent depth, but unlikely to be a major part of the next Mets contender.
Puello and Nimmo are very different players. Puello is probably AAA-bound, a hitter with some pop but a need to improve his plate discipline. Nimmo is a youngster, farther off, but by all accounts has great plate discipline and a line-drive bat. Nimmo’s got pop too, but hasn’t shown much of it in professional ball. Both have high ceilings, and the Mets — down the road — will probably be glad both are in their farm system.
I’m optimistic. The outfield should be darn good defensively, with three guys with good range. Lagares as the captain of the outfield may regress somewhat from his absurd season last year, but from watching him play center field, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a top tier defensive outfielder. Young and Granderson should bring the pop that the Mets need to support Wright in the lineup. The only fear is that the two of them are no locks to provide significantly above average batting averages or on-base percentages — a fear that is mitigated by their other skills.
Eric Young Jr.
Matt den Dekker
How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:
I expect the Mets are decently confident. And I think they should be. Granderson and Young are veterans. They may have flaws in their game, and Granderson may be a bit older, but both can play baseball. I expect the two will provide good defense and at least average (Young) and good, not great (Granderson) offensive production provided they stay on the field. Lagares won’t be an offensive stud, but that glove/arm can play. Young’s a useful player and could be a player similar to Dave Roberts of the 2004 Red Sox, or even perhaps more productive (just maybe without the World Series appearance this year).
We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. Fittingly, in the fifth post in the series, we’ll look at #5, Mets Captain David Wright and third base.
Opening Day Starter: David Wright
Opening Day Backup Possibilities: Josh Satin, Daniel Murphy, Zach Lutz
Looking to the Future: Wilmer Flores
As I mentioned in yesterday’s second base outlook, third base is clearly the simplest position to project. After all, who could possibly start over “Captain America?” Wright is one of the three to five best third basemen in the major leagues. He may have missed time due to injury last season, but he was still worth over 5 wins above replacement. He’s a franchise player, with a franchise contract, who represents the Mets franchise in a way that no one has before. Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza are the only ones close.
Wright is 31 now, certainly reaching the end of his “prime,” but he’s got skills that tend to age well. Power and bat control like his often last, particularly due to his strong wrists. His stolen base numbers, a solid average of about 18 for 24 per year, is not based on speed, but on baserunning intelligence. His range is good, but based as much as positioning as it is a quick first step. Wright is a stud, and anyone who knows baseball knows it. Average, power, speed, glove…Wright’s got it.
Satin and Murphy will likely be the backups to start the year, and it’s beneficial to the Mets to have such flexibility. Murphy can play first or second base in addition to third, and Satin can at least play first base. Neither one would light the world on fire, but have shown decent bats. If Wright were to *knock on wood* miss significant time, I’d imagine Wilmer Flores would get the look. Flores’ bat — as mentioned in previous outlooks — is a true plus tool. He can hit the ball, and always has. Third base might be the best position for him, in that it requires less lateral quickness and range than shortstop and even second base.
For the future…well, it’s Flores, unless he’s traded. The Mets have Wright locked up for six more years, so the future is probably a ways off.
Very, very good. Wright, as I said, is a top third baseman in the majors. He puts up every number you could possibly want and has shown himself to be a team leader with a lot of pride. The Mets should be fine at at least one possession. Even at the backup spots, the Mets can get decent offensive production in a pinch.
How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:
As comfortable as they are about any other position on the diamond. Wright has been — with the exception of a mediocre 2011 — a productive and consistent star every year of his career. If healthy, he’s good for a slash line around .300/.360/.450 pretty easily. He’ll put up 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases and play solid defense. Any team in the big leagues would take David Wright, and considering free agent contracts this winter, he’s not terribly overpaid either. He is the team’s captain and their best player.
If Wright were to get hurt, that’d be damaging to the Mets, though they could probably get tolerable production from the Satin, Murphy, Flores group. The production would still drop, however, and their defense is not quite as sharp as Wright’s. Even still, third base would likely be the least of their concerns, with first base and shortstop being manned by question marks.