Beltran is the Reason the Mets Stink (?)

It’s amazing that I can spend hours and hours going through video slo-mos to put together thought-provoking posts on K-Rod’s hidden ankle injury, Mike Pelfrey’s mechanical flaws, and the proper way to “frame” a pitch, and those articles get little or no attention from the mainstream blogs.

But I pose one offhand, half-joking question buried in the game notes of a recap about the coincidence between the Mets sleepwalking and the arrival of Carlos Betlran, and the sentence gets picked up all over the blogosphere, causing comments from dozens of ill-mannered people with their hair on fire. Go figure.

My apologies to everyone who found my question “embarrassing”, “reprehensible”, “idiotic”, “stupid”, etc. I have to admit I’m stunned by the volume of vile responses both here and on other blogs. I had no idea there were that many maladjusted people with an unnatural emotional attachment to Carlos Beltran.

Here is the question once again, for those who missed it yesterday:

Is it a coincidence that the Mets’ overnight change from a fighting, tenacious team to a bunch of sleepwalkers began when Carlos Beltran returned to active duty?

The question mark at the end means it’s a question. Questions are posed for the purpose of discussion. Instead, most people chose to see this as a statement and indictment of Carlos Beltran, and directly attacked me personally. Luckily, my skin is about eight inches thick, and I hope all the clever driveby commenters enjoyed their sophmoric epithets.

For those who weren’t paying attention, much was made of the “chemistry” when the Mets were doing well. Various media and blogs couldn’t say enough about the “new attitude”, “fight”, “spirit”, and overall camaraderie that existed on the Mets in 2010. More than one highly respected journalist publicly stated or wrote about how the 2010 Mets clubhouse had a much more positive vibe than in years past, mostly thanks to having “personalities” like Jeff Francoeur and Rod Barajas around, and also because it was “finally David Wright’s team”.

Was it true that the clubhouse attitude was different thanks to the new mix of players? Probably. Was it the main reason the Mets had a winning record, and were sitting in second place before the All-Star exhibition? Maybe, maybe not — who knows? The Beaneheads have yet to figure out a stat to measure team chemistry.

Yes, the Mets dropped two to the Braves heading into the break. But they also ran into a red-hot Braves team. And yes, the Mets lost two of three to Reds before that and they lost a series to the Marlins a week before that. But they did split a series with the Nats and won series from both the Tigers and the Twins in the weeks before the break, and from Opening Day through the break they displayed a level of hustle, effort, and gumption that was missing in past years from more talented teams. I admit that is a subjective opinion and some (many?) people may disagree. But that’s what my eyes saw.

In the 8 games since the break, the Mets have looked lackluster. Their body language — to me — has significantly changed, for the worse. To me they look like they’re sleepwalking. To me, they resemble the Mets of 2007-2009.

So what has changed since the break? For one, Carlos Beltran is back in uniform. Does that mean I blame HIM for my perceived change in attitude? Not necessarily. What we MIGHT question, however, is whether the changes that had to happen to put Beltran back in the lineup had an impact on the attitude. Namely, the removal of “Mr. Personality” Jeff Francoeur from regular duty and the shift of Angel Pagan from centerfield to right field.

At the same time, Josh Thole has taken playing time away from Barajas and Henry Blanco (two who were lauded as clubhouse and on-field “leaders”), and supposed “cancers” Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo returned to the roster. So maybe it was unfair to identify Beltran only in my question; the reason I did was because he was the individual that everyone seemed focused on as the person who would have the most impact on the club — he is a marker, a symbol, if you will. Further, the team’s great chemistry was positioned as going hand in hand with the emergence of David Wright as the team leader. If Beltran is back, can Wright still be the leader? Or must he step aside and allow Beltran to lead the team? And if indeed Beltran is identified as the leader, is it unfair to question whether the change in leadership is related to the change in attitude? I say QUESTION, not indict — there is a difference.

On another note, in addition to the hype about the team’s chemistry, there was hype about the Mets’ improved defense, particularly in the outfield. Francoeur has been horrendous at the plate lately, but his defense has been stellar and sometimes game-changing. At the same time, Pagan has been outstanding in center field. Outfield defense and athleticism has been mentioned many times in various channels as part of the reason for the Mets’ success in Citi Field.

So when Beltran and his bulky knee brace was inserted into centerfield, the Mets immediately downgraded their defense in center and also in right, because Pagan is good but not as good as Francoeur defensively in the corner. Though, it can be argued that defense has had nothing to do with the Mets’ struggles, since their offense has been so anemic. Again, I don’t think it’s unfair to pose the question, since six of the losses were by a margin of two runs or less. Yeah, if the Mets scored more then the defense is moot; but when you’re only losing by one or two runs, every detail is magnified, both on offense and defense.

To be clear, do I truly believe Carlos Beltran is the sole reason the Mets have been awful in the second half? Of course not. But do I think it’s worth discussing whether the dynamics surrounding his return may have had some influence on the team’s current woes? Yes, absolutely. That doesn’t mean Beltran is to blame — only that he’s a victim of bad timing.

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. gary s. July 23, 2010 at 11:19 am
    boy, u really are a glutton for punishment, joe..the entire team is in a slump..the phillies went through this for the same amount of games about 6 weeks ago.I agree that moving pagan out of center is dumb and bringing back perez and castillo only because the wilpons owe them money is insane.That said, how does a team go from a contender to a beer league team on a 2 week time frame??
  2. Anthony July 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm
    I was surprised as well that your one comment gets picked up by everyone, yet all the other great work you do never gets recognized.

    I have no problem with your question you posed and hate that you have to devote a post to explain your rationale.

    Keep up the good work.

    • JAM73 July 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm
      I absolutely agree with Anthony.
      I have been reading this blog for several years and find Joe’s commentary to be insightful and smart. I may not always agree with him, but the work he puts in and research conducted is clear to anyone who is more than a cursory reader.
      It is a shame that this is the post that got picked up. Way to go Matt, super job. Hopefully next time he’ll link to something that is more than just a question posed instead of trying to instigate a riot
  3. Biggus Rickus July 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm
    The question is dumb because the Mets simply aren’t that good. They never were that good. They got hot for two weeks and took 12 of 13. Otherwise, they played .500 ball in the first half. This awful streak they’re on now is a regression back to where they should be, around .500. It is no more indicative of the quality of the team than that hot streak was. There’s no magic to it. It’s not personalities clashing or any other clubhouse nonsense. It’s what happens over the course of the season when you’re an average to slightly above average baseball team. In another week they’ll start hitting again (as much as they can), Beltran will still be in the lineup, they’ll win some games, etc. And there will be no voodoo involved then either.
  4. metsie July 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm
    I also have no problem with the question as it was posed…
    I think those that read it may have inferred that the mention of Carlos’ name was an indictment when really it was just a notation of time frame.

    Yes they have struggled since Carlos got back. You could also say they have struggled since the All star break which is also an accurate designation of time frame.

    That doesn’t mean Carlos or the all star break is the actual reason for the hitting slump although if they are here are a few reason why they would be…

    As for how could Carlos have an effect? Well how about the team being so over confident now that Beltran, Reyes and Santana was back in the lineup that they decided that being patient at the plate wasn’t needed anymore because with Carlos they were going to score runs in the dozens! So just swing at everything even if it’s out of the strike zone which is pretty much what they have done since the Break!

    Perhaps Reyes’ return is more to blame, yes he’s back and yes he has always been the catalyst for the team. He hasn’t been on base much either so maybe he is to blame here!

    Perhaps it has even more to do with the fact that they keep trying to steal bases and getting picked off instead of letting the guys who should hit, hit with a runner on base and create a hole to hit through on the right side!

    In conclusion on Beltran, the only thing Beltran has had a negative effect on is fielding. He is rusty and not able to get to some balls that pagan used to catch. This has cost us some runs but considering how many we were scoring you could hardly say that it cost us any games. It’s only reasonable effect could be those extra runs made them defeatist in their ability to catch up. None of which has anything to do with Beltran!

    • joe July 23, 2010 at 4:19 pm
      This was EXACTLY the type of discussion I was hoping for when I posed the question! Thank you Metsie, both for acknowledging the question as a question (rather than an indictment) but also for providing your argument intelligently. Strong, well-made points.
  5. Walnutz15 July 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm
    ‘Tis the season for cherry-picking, apparently.
  6. Joe July 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm
    The only thing wrong with the comment was the player you mentioned. It’s not Beltran. It’s Castillo that’s the mush…
    • joe July 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm
      True enough, but I don’t know one person who suggested that Castillo would have a positive impact upon his return. Further, the Mets didn’t have to make any significant adjustments to the roster / lineup to get Castillo back into it — all they had to do was send down a light-hitting rookie and put a light-hitting, rangeless veteran on the bench.

      Going back to mid-June, the buzz has been that the Mets will be a better team when Beltran returned — some (including Omar Minaya) even positioned Beltran as a major “midseason acquisition”.

      But I get what you’re saying.

  7. Staunch July 23, 2010 at 8:22 pm
    I don’t even know you anymore.

    This team is just not good. Pelf was pitching over his head. French Fry doesn’t belong even near a baseball field, except for in the stands. Davis was bound to regress. Bay is slumping all season. Johan’s lost a step (but is still effective). Reyes, except for a couple of weeks, has done squat. Barajas is an automatic out. The bullpen is a mess.

    Seriously, the only guys on this team who have held their own, are Wright, Pagan, Davis (just because he’s a rookie), Niese, Tak, and Dickey. Maybe Pelf too, but he’s been really lucky. His K/BB rate is awful.

    You can’t have 6-9 guys on a 25 man roster hold their own and the rest not perform up to expectations and expect to make the playoffs.

    Obviously, it’s Beltran’s fault.

  8. Paul July 23, 2010 at 8:32 pm
    This is all a shame, really. Joe, you don’t deserve the criticism. And honestly, I don’t think Beltran deserves it either. You are a fantastic blogger. And Beltran really is a fantastic baseball player. Is it his fault Frenchy isn’t so great in the clubhouse anymore? Last I checked the clubhouse wasn’t in right field…

    If Frenchy wants to set an example and be a leader, then he should simply do it. Since when does the lack of your name in the lineup card stop you from being a positive clubhouse presence? I mean, how annoying are those WR’s or RB’s who complain about not getting the ball enough? I didn’t think Frenchy would be one of those guys… but maybe he is.

    And as much as Barajas has been big for us, maybe it’s getting to his head. The guy hit .183 in June and a whopping .132 in July! How can you complain that Jerry isn’t rewarding your efforts by giving Thole and his .400+ average more playing time? Really Rod? Maybe you should try choking up a little and “complaining” with some hits?

    But speaking of not rewarding effort: we just DFA’ed “Everyday Nieve” while Ollie still sits on the major league roster. Is it wrong for us to wish Ollie would just juice up and get slapped with a 50 game suspension?

  9. MetsiesRule July 23, 2010 at 11:20 pm
    Its a dumb question because it gives Beltran magical powers. He’s missed a couple of ball in CF but that’s about the extent of the problem.

    Teams go on winning and losing streaks, hot streaks and slumps – its normal – no need to ask silly question like the one you asked. It really was a dumb question.

    • Joe Janish July 23, 2010 at 11:27 pm
      Then my second grade teacher was wrong — she told me “there’s no such thing as a dumb question”.

      I blame her, and Beltran, for everything.

  10. Paul Zummo July 24, 2010 at 7:20 am
    Boy, tough day to write a blog post suggesting that Frenchy was a better right fielder than Pagan, huh?
    • joe July 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm
      Not at all. Did you see that Russell Martin challenged Pagan’s arm on a shallow sac fly? There’s NO WAY Martin tries to score if it’s Francoeur out there.

      Also, maybe Francoeur doesn’t have to slide and dive to make the plays Pagan did — maybe he gets a better jump and/or is better positioned. No one knows.

      The statheads call one game a “small sample size”.

      • Paul Zummo July 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm
        Gee, Joe, getting defensive. It was merely a rhetorical question. Of course, if you actually think that Francouer gets to those balls, I really have nothing much to say for your baseball analytical skills.
        • Joe Janish July 24, 2010 at 10:06 pm
          Gee, Paul, what do you expect when you make a snide comment? It was merely a response.

          Glad you have nothing to say for my baseball analytical skills, because I’m not interested in hearing them if you think Francoeur doesn’t actually get to those balls. Not taking anything away from Pagan, but it’s not like those balls were uncatchable by a plus MLB outfielder.

      • Biggus Rickus July 24, 2010 at 8:04 pm
        Yes, we do call one game a “small sample size.” You know why? Because in a single game, someone like, for a random example, Dallas Braden could retire all 27 hitters he faces. Would you rather have Dallas Braden and his perfect game over Johan Santana, who has never thrown one?
  11. Joamiq July 26, 2010 at 8:51 am
    The “I’m just asking a question!” defense is very Glenn Beck-esque. Just saying.

    Also, do you really think Francouer’s range is better than Pagan’s? Francour’s range has been quite poor for the last three years. Pagan’s is clearly superior.