First-Half Report Card

Report Card imageFrom an outsider’s perspective, Mets fans should be very happy that their team is in first place at the half, a full two games ahead of the Braves and four and a half in front of the Phillies (or “Philthies”, as some fans like to call them). Perhaps as exciting is the fact that the crosstown Yankees are struggling through their worst season in over ten years, under .500 and ten games out of first.

The insiders, however, know better.

Most diehard Mets fans are not happy with the 2007 team, for several reasons — the most glaring of which is that they’re somehow not last year’s team. At this time in 2006, the Mets were 52-36 and running away with the NL East — 12 games ahead of Philadelphia and 13 over Atlanta. Currently, they’re 48-39, which is not bad, but below this team’s par.

Maybe Mets fans were spoiled by last year’s runaway, and expected a similarly relaxed summer in 2007. The frustration is that the faces have not changed from last season, so one would expect similar, if not better results. After all, aren’t Jose Reyes and David Wright getting better every day? Shouldn’t Carlos Beltran be in his prime years right now? Weren’t John Maine and Oliver Perez supposed to solidify the starting rotation?

Something happened on the way to running away with the division again, and it started around mid-May. On May 6th, the Mets were a .700 team, with a 20-9 record. We Mets fans were all patting ourselves on the back — this was going to be a lot easier than we thought! It wasn’t quite as noticeable then, but the snowball was at the top of the mountain at that point. Of course, we didn’t expect the Mets to continue at a .700 clip, so the losses here and there weren’t a big deal. What was a big deal, however, was the sudden change in offensive strategy and the slowly evolving change in overall attitude.

In April, the Mets mixed some small ball into their offense, creating runs with walks, bunts, steals, hit-and-runs, and productive outs. By the first week of May, however, players stopped taking strikes and getting into deep counts. As the month went on, some bunts were not well-placed, and there were some defensive lapses. Here and there, you’d see someone not run out a ground ball late in game that was out of hand. It was a subtle change, to be sure, starting with a few veterans. First, Carlos Delgado began watching fly balls from the batters box, rather than running. Not a big deal at the time, but then you saw Delgado and occasionally Beltran not running hard on the bases all the time. Or Beltran would “forget” how many outs there were. Soon, David Wright was occasionally dogging it down to first on ground balls back to the pitcher or to the right side. Paul LoDuca was first-pitch swinging in situations he should have been taking. Damion Easley would allow ground balls to pass about a foot to his side without a dive — or let well-thrown balls plunk off his glove. But the Mets were still winning, and all these “little” issues could be explained away, in one way or another, and justified by Willie Randolph. Little did Randolph know that his turn of the cheek to this little snowball in May would create an avalanche in June.

Of course, we don’t need to go into detail recounting June — most of us were there, and saw what happened. It wasn’t the 12-16 record that bothered us so much as the team’s glaring lack of passion throughout the month. The tenacity of the 2006 team had vanished — rather than go for the kill when it smelled blood, these 2007 Mets rolled over and played dead when things got too tough. If the opposing team had opened up a lead to four runs or more, the Mets bagged the game. The notion of quality at-bats went out the window. Hustling down the line? Diving for balls? Why bother? The game was out of reach, better to save energy for the next night. After all, look what playing hard did for Moises Alou and Endy Chavez — it sent them to the DL.

At the end of June, the Mets looked like they were about to turn it around, taking three straight from the Phillies in Citizen’s Bank Park. But they didn’t take the fourth game — a game they could have, and should have won. In fact, it looked as though the Mets were happy enough with winning the series, taking three out of four, and didn’t care so much whether they won that final game in Philadelphia. And they didn’t — they lost 5-3 to an average rookie pitcher with a 5.00 ERA. Any bit of fire that might have been left in that series was completely snuffed by the thin air in Colorado, as the Mets were pasted in three straight by a cumulative score of 34-12. Again, it wasn’t the losing so much as the sleepwalking that frustrated us fans. If you’re not interested in playing on a particular evening, and it’s a West Coast game, let us know ahead of time and we’ll hit the sack early — thanks. If you don’t care to perform, why should we care to watch?

The final four games of the first half, in Houston, brought similarly mixed results. The Mets won two of the first three games, including a remarkably dramatic, gumption-filled 17-inning victory. But two things were wrong with this series — and both resulted in losses. The first issue is, how does Wandy Rodriguez throw a complete-game, 4-hit shutout against the “mighty” Mets? Secondly, after the tremendous, hard-fought win of game three, how do you simply roll over and give away game four to Roy Oswalt and the Astros? And don’t you dare try to tell us fans that you didn’t give that game away — we saw the starting lineup, and the starting pitcher. If Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph were given reports that Dave Williams was ready to make a Major League start, then someone needs to be fired — because an 82-MPH fastball with zero command is not going to cut it in a Sunday over-30 league, much less an MLB game. And please, do not use the excuse that he had to be on the roster, because we know full well that either David Newhan or Sandy Alomar could have been dropped from the roster to clear a second spot with, say, Brian Lawrence or Philip Humber for that one day. Instead, we saw the .210-hitting Newhan batting second, and Alomar batting in the 8th slot, while the hot-hitting Ramon Castro sat the bench. You can’t put one over on Mets fans, we’re too smart. We can see when a team is satisfied with a split in a four-game series, and chooses to use the final game against an All-Star as an opportunity for Williams to get another rehab start, crossing your fingers he can go five innings — rather than KNOW he can give you a quality outing.

So how do we grade the first half of the season? Hard to say. If the first half ended on May 15th, it would be an “A” — at worst, an “A-“. Yet, it’s difficult to give a first-place team lower than a “B”, even if the effort at times has been more deserving of an “F”. That said, it may be more appropriate to grade the Mets on their 2007 season as a whole — which, at this point, is “Incomplete”.

Keep checking back here over the All-Star break, as MetsToday will be presenting a player-by-player analysis of the team, based on first-half performances and observations.

Meantime, post your comments on what you think of the Mets’ 2007 season so far.

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. Walnutz15 July 9, 2007 at 2:00 pm
    82 mph with no command?! — sounds like you were there, behind me at Citizen’s Bank Park, as I pitched to Ken Griffey Jr. on the Verizon Fastpitch videoscreen.

    Watch out Dave Williams….I’m lefty, too — and will take less than League Minimum.

  2. joe July 9, 2007 at 2:07 pm
    See, that’s your problem — you’ll take less. If you demanded a three-year, $11M salary, you might have created a market for yourself.

    How else did Blowenweis and Darren Oliver end up with jobs? (Or your local yokel Jason Marquis and that astounding reward for mediocrity?)

  3. sincekindergarten July 9, 2007 at 5:05 pm
    Showeneweis, actually, has done decently for us–on the road. And, in a LOOGY (What the Hell does that mean, anyway?) role, he’s supposed to be good.

    As for me, I’m a righty, who can maybe hit 80 mph (if I work at it!), but I’ve got a pretty good curveball.

  4. joe July 9, 2007 at 8:00 pm
    Erik, I will allow you a mulligan on that last comment. Do not ever let Schoeneweis and decent (or any adjective above that) combine in the same sentence. Ever. Not ever.

    LOOGY = Lefthanded One Out GuY. Or in Blowenweis’ case, a mucus-filled yellow projectile you hock from the mouth.

    Now, you sound quite like Aaron Sele. Is it possible that the two least valuable members of the Mets’ bullpen are reading MetsToday, and commenting under assumed names ?

    If not then I think the both of you should show up at the next Mets’ open tryout. I’d be happy to catch you both (I’m four years younger than Sandy Alomar Jr. and can still throw better than him).

  5. sincekindergarten July 9, 2007 at 8:30 pm
    Joe, while I appreciate the compliment about being in the Mets’ pen, I actually think Sele has a couple more good surprises in store for us–on the field. Also, Sele knows how special this team could be, and, right now, I’d take him over our version of ‘Roid Boy any day. (This could be the Blue Moon I’m drinking right now talking, too.)
  6. joe July 9, 2007 at 8:35 pm
    Gosh I hope you’re right, it would be nice.

    Are you drinking Blue Moon wine from Oregon? You know you can get better bang for your buck from Spain, Argentina, or Italy.

  7. sincekindergarten July 10, 2007 at 4:28 am
    No, it was a Blue Moon beer. It’s a specialty brew from Coors that was out there for a while, not selling, then some genius came up with the idea of drinking it with an orange wedge in it. It started selling by the keg. I don’t like fruit in my beer, though–I like it straight-up.
  8. Micalpalyn July 10, 2007 at 10:09 am
    Have you watched the above bullpen pitch?

    Mota: his lider is fine. He nibbles on the outer part of the plate way too much, and misses. But his slider looks good and his velocity is fine. He just needs confidence.

    In contrast (nicely) sele’s curve is the real deal.

  9. joe July 10, 2007 at 11:14 am
    << Have you watched the above bullpen pitch? >>

    The Mets bullpen?

    << Mota: his lider is fine. He nibbles on the outer part of the plate way too much, and misses. But his slider looks good and his velocity is fine. He just needs confidence. >>


    << In contrast (nicely) sele’s curve is the real deal.>>

    WHEN it’s on. When it’s not, it’s hard to get by with an 84-MPH fastball with a weak, flat run. If his fastball ran down, or had some life, he might be OK. But the curve HAS to be sharp for him to be effective. There’s a reason he was one of the last men standing just prior to ST.

  10. Micalpalyn July 10, 2007 at 12:23 pm
    There is a pattern: The two BEST Met pitchers Ollie and Maine are the best FB pitchewrs(include Wags in that group). Not only does the FB have movement but they are unhittable if they are using the UPPER and outer pt of the plate. Ollie is least successfull wwhen he pounds the lower pt of the plate particular low middle, caus hiiters sit on that pt of the zone and wait.

    Hence the discussion that he is best when he is wild’ , actually he needs to sety his slider up with a FB that uses the entire strikezone.

    From Steve Popper: …..But that doesn’t mean that the Mets won’t be checking in with the White Sox about the availability of Javier Vazquez or Jose Contreras. But if Martinez shows the form of an ace, the price the Mets are willing to pay will drop.

    The Mets are caught in limbo on the mound and in the outfield. They have Pelfrey and Phil Humber waiting in the wings, but neither has shown he’s ready to be counted on – particularly Pelfrey, who is 0-7.

  11. joe July 10, 2007 at 2:01 pm
    the Mets would be silly to wait for Pedro. He won’t be truly ready for at least another 6-8 months
  12. Micalpalyn July 10, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    I’d like to see him, as a 3 month rental in lieu of Julio Franco.

  13. joe July 10, 2007 at 3:25 pm
    Dmitri Young? No way, his attitude is questionable.

    I’d rather trade next to nothing for Jeff Conine, who can still play the field without embarrassing himself (and still play multiple positions — 1B, 3B, LF, RF).

  14. Micalpalyn July 10, 2007 at 6:20 pm
    Conine has been a nemesis of the Mets and Yanks and will not play for the Mets. My original thought is Mike Lamb. Hillenbrand wants to start.
  15. joe July 10, 2007 at 7:33 pm
    Conine will not play for the Mets because he is their nemesis? Or because he has something against New York? Or something else?

    He’s not going far in Cincinnati this year, I’d think he’d welcome a deal to a first-place team. Maybe we can get the Reds to “throw in” that other outfielder … what’s his name? Griffin? Grifter? something like that …

    Lamb might be nice but I don’t think the Astros are going to part with him as long as Ensberg is stinking up the joint. You’re right about Hillenbrand — I see him joining the Yanks to push Cairo off first and cause a commotion with the NYC press.

  16. Micalpalyn July 11, 2007 at 9:55 am
    Again Joe…history!!

    1. In 19999& 2000 SP had a trade in place I think first Octavio and Cedeno then Wilson and Escobar for Griffey, tbut Griffey nixed both trades. Usually the Mets dont call twice. David Wells turned the Mets down in 1995, then when HE came calling there was no love.

    With seattle (my home till last yr) in a race and Griffey’s outspoken love for that City, that IS where he should go!

    We should laud Omar for what we DO have. Frankly I LOVE that Gomez and Millz are here and are the future at LF-RF respectively, with Carlos B. in between. Alou is the perfect complement getting 60-70% of the starts in LF right now. I think CB should get 90% of the starts in CF with Gomez/Endy getting 10%. And Green is a non factor when Endy comes back. Easley starts in RF 10% of the time, Endy 20-30%% and Milz 60%.

  17. Micalpalyn July 11, 2007 at 10:00 am
    The All star game show cased our big 3. They did there what they do every day for us.
    The supporting cast needs to click into gear.

    Why dont you do a story on the Mets prospects? Probably going down by levels and rating 4-5 guys who may eventually help the Mets. I’ll chip in.

  18. joe July 11, 2007 at 11:09 am
    Ed: in regard to Griffey nixing the deals way back when … what does that have to do with Jeff Conine? Am I missing something … i.e., did the Mets try to trade for Conine once and he said no? Fill me in, I don’t recall.

    As for a story on the Mets prospects, I’ll put that next on the agenda — as soon as I finish these midseason analyses.

    But in the meantime email to me your thoughts on the prospects.