Spring Training Worries
Should Mets fans be worried about the team’s showing in Florida? After all, the Mets finished their Grapefruit League schedule with a 7-16 record (and 5 ties) – not exactly the best indicator of a talented team on a mission.
In 2015, spring training went much differently. It began with voluntary offseason Mike Barwis workouts, which had a large number of Mets position players coming into camp gushing with confidence about how they’d have a physical edge over their opponents. Next up was all the talk about “no one expects us to win, but we expect to win” and fire and energy and a new and improved hitting coach, which segued into a raging hot start at the plate. For the first half of Spring Training 2015, the Mets looked like the 1927 Yankees. Even when the bats cooled against better pitching, the team kept winning, finishing a Florida-best 19-12. When the regular season began, the Mets started out 13-3, and it was that stretch that kept their season record near .500 and the playoffs within reach despite a poor May and June.
Contrast that to 2016. The talk has been just about the only element in common. “Getting that close to winning the World Series makes us even hungrier!” Well, that sure didn’t manifest in the results. As a whole, the Mets did not hit well, or pitch well, or field well, or run the bases with any great skill. As other teams rounded into form, the Mets did not, failing to win any of their last 13 games. The news out of camp has been about cars and contracts and diminished velocities and bumps and bruises and bladders and last year. Are these the warning sings of a team that’s coasting? Or perhaps a team that’s not that good?
Here’s my take:
The effort on the field is not the problem. Mets fielders are diving for balls. Mets batters are busting it out of the box. Beyond that, Terry Collins and this squad have earned the benefit of the doubt. For the duration of Terry’s tenure, the Mets have been a hustling team. (My one worry on this front is Cespedes, who seems unwilling to stray out of his comfort zone, and thus won’t steal bases, dive for balls, or play right field. He does get down the line harder than anyone, though.)
The focus in the batter’s box is not the problem. It certainly isn’t perfect, but overall the Mets have not been waving at pitches off the plate, or taking fastballs down the middle, or taking defensive 2-0 cuts, or committing any other obvious sins of inattention. They certainly haven’t hit with runners in scoring position, though.
Fatigue for star pitchers might be a problem. Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia were probably the two biggest health risks on the team after 2015, and both have looked off in spring training. Jacob deGrom has looked stellar, but his diminished velocity does make me wonder about the impact of his own hard-working 2015.
Bullpen talent might be a problem. Antonio Bastardo, Jerry Blevins, Hansel Robles, and Erik Goeddel are all capable of performing well at the major league level, but none are particularly safe bets to do so in a given year. Blevins has trouble with righties, Robles has trouble with control, Goeddel has trouble with health, and Bastardo isn’t the wiry heat machine of his Phillies days any more.
Finally, I am a little worried about the offense. The lack of power and clutch hitting in spring training might be nothing more than some slumps and some bad luck, but it’s never reassuring to enter the season without a single spring breakout performance. None of the Mets’ older players have done anything to make us think they’re defying Father Time; none of the Mets’ younger players have done anything to make us think they’re poised for a forward leap.
At least Juan Lagares seems to have his speed and agility back.
What did you see this spring? What are your concerns, and what concerns do you think are overblown? Please let us know in the comments!
We baseball fans have difficulty keeping the marathon nature of the season in perspective, especially with the expectations we have for the 2016 Mets. Really, only two things concern me during spring training in any given year. The first is obviously health, and overall the Mets have had a good camp with minimal lost time. The second is specific to aging vets, and whether they are showing very concerning signs that they have “lost it”. DW and Colon are the most at risk and I haven’t seen any indications that they are done. So, ready to roll. Play ball.
Agreed on Colon, he’s looked as good as ever. He’s been working on a change-up, so who knows, maybe there’s even more there.
Good point about the marathon season. I don’t think it’s possible to look at March and predict October… but a nice start in April is also a good thing, and the Mets don’t look primed for that, to my eyes. I guess we’ll see what happens when the lights come on!
Bastardo’s ability to locate. He’s been reasonably consistent over the years, but his tatooing this spring was accompanied by his own acknowledgment of feeling “off”. Given the erratic nature of relievers in general, I’ll take those concerns seriously.
The neutralizing effects of the shift. With Grandy, Conforto and Duda, our opponents all utilize strong shifts, and the players have a tendency to hit right into them. I was hoping to see much more of these three going the other way this spring. By and large, it blows my mind why teams aren’t emphasizing this more. If there’s an exploitable weakness in the game that’s addressable, this seems to be it. The team that successfully neutralizes the shifts is going to have a nice advantage. I was hoping that might be the Mets. Not based on the limited evidence I saw.
Other than that…..no concerns specific to spring. The bullpen is cause for worry. As is Cespedes’ defense. But those were concerns going in.
There are situations where you don’t want Duda bunting, but in all the rest, I think he should bunt. Get a few bunt singles leading off innings against each opponent, and then the shift will go away, or at least change.
(Very few hitters today hit opposite-field ground balls. I doubt it’s easy to change that. That’s why I’m suggesting bunts. But who knows, maybe one day some minor league hitting coaches will stop taking their cues from sluggers and start watching footage of Tony Gwynn…)
I’m totally with you, Gregg — it’s disappointing that the Mets didn’t work on this at all in Grapefruit League games.