Mets vs. Nationals Notes

A few random notes pertaining to Tuesday’s spring training contest between the Mets and Nationals …

Dillon Gee‘s beard is weird. It’s downright silly, in fact. He looks like he’s trying out as an extra in a ZZ Top music video. That said, I hope he keeps it and allows it to grow longer.

In all seriousness re: Gee, it’s nice to see his fastball velocity sitting at 88-89 MPH right now — which is mid-season form. It means he’s in shape and ready to go, which means he likely put in some work before spring training began, which means he was motivated to earn the spot in the rotation that was more or less his to lose. In my worthless opinion, Gee needs to be forever motivated, and to work harder than everyone else, in order to succeed in MLB, because his talent is and skill set is below MLB-caliber. I say this as a compliment; in other words, he’s an overachiever. I like that he wasn’t afraid to pitch to contact in this outing, and got quick outs as a result. Gee may not ever be a Cy Young candidate, and he isn’t an ideal choice for a postseason start, but he’s a fighter, he’s smart enough to understand his limitations, and he’s learning to be savvy. My feeling is that good hitting teams will usually beat him, but he will dominate aggressive teams such as the spring training Nats. Of course, hitters tend to be more aggressive in March, but I’d like to point out that yesterday’s game was a an example of how Gee can and will feast on the vulnerability of free swingers. Hey, Tom Glavine won 300+ games with such a strength, and Jamie Moyer may pitch as a 50-year-old thanks to overly aggressive hitters. I’m not saying Gee will ever reach the levels of those men, but I do believe that if he continues to quietly improve, he will be a solid and coveted back-end starter — someone along the lines of a Bobby Jones.

Gee’s diametric opposite was on the mound for the Nationals — Stephen Strasburg, whose raw talent is downright frightening. Yet, the results of Strasburg’s performance were underwhelming. Even though Strasburg’s final line was pretty good — 5 innings, two hits, one run — considering his firepower, anything less than a no-hitter is a disappointment. That, my friends, is the power of expectations. You see this guy throwing lightning bolts and you expect opposing hitters to be completely overwhelmed; it’s a surprise anyone can manage a foul tip, much less a base hit. So when Strasburg gives up a solo homer it’s a stunner. In contrast, we expect to see Dillon Gee allow several hits and a few runs, and when he doesn’t, it’s a happy accident.

Speaking of solo homers off Stephen Strasburg, the one in this game was struck by Lucas Duda. I have to say I’m not entirely convinced one way or the other about Duda, in terms of whether he’ll succeed in 2012. On the one hand, I saw a hitter in 2011 who seemed raw and polished at the same time, and equipped with the tools necessary to be a legit middle-of-the-order MLB hitter. On the other hand, I wonder if 2011 was a Mike Vail-like mirage. Can Lucas pick up in ’12 where he left off in ’11? What happens when NL pitches find his vulnerabilities and adjust to him? Will he be able to adjust back? Memories of Vail, “Super” Joe Charboneau, Kevin Maas, Shane Spencer, Phil Plantier, and other half-season / one-season wonders make me cynical. But, seeing Duda connect against the Nats wunderkind was encouraging to say the least. And a bomb to the opposite field, no less!

Nice to see Ruben Tejada back in the lineup, moving in the field well and swinging the bat freely. He doesn’t look like he’s hurt, so hopefully he’s completely healed.

But as one Met returns, another leaves. Andres Torres left the game with a calf injury that may be worse than a minor day-to-day issue. I think it’s time to move Jason Bay to center; he did it in Pittsburgh and performed admirably. Bay won’t be a Gold Glover out there but he’ll hold his own. The way I see it, if Bay continues to not be the slugger we hoped he’d be, then perhaps the Mets can extract some value by placing him in a more premium position such as CF. I’m convinced he’ll look better than Adam Loewen in the middle of the outfield.

More things happened but I’ve rambled for too long already. What did you see in this game? Post your notes in the comments.


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. glenn edwards March 21, 2012 at 8:15 am
    Excellent article – I go to your website every day.
    I’m a huge Met fan but I’m afraid they won’t get many wins this year..glenn edwards
    • Joe Janish March 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm
      Glenn, thanks so much for being a loyal visitor — I’m so glad you are enjoying the site. Please feel free to call me out / put me in my place / correct me / argue any time. The back and forth banter with everyone is what makes this site so much fun for me, and I appreciate your attention and participation.

      As a huge Met fan myself I have to agree — it’s gonna be a long year. But hey, it’s all about managing expectations, right?

  2. DaveSchneck March 21, 2012 at 8:34 am
    The beard can stay so long as he pitches like he did last night. The Dude will be interesting to watch, but, to borrow your line, in my worthless opinion, he differs from those you listed somewhat in that he looks like a hitter with a plan, takes walks, and will go the other way. With his raw power, that approach, and apparently good pitch recognition, he may be better prepared to maintain success at this level.
    • Joe Janish March 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm
      I’m not sure I completely agree re: the comps. Shane Spencer put up impressive numbers in his minor league career, including .367 OBP and .880 OPS in 6 AAA seasons. Charboneau was a beast with high OBPs in his AA and AAA years leading up to his 1980 RoY campaign — he hit .350 in each of the two years prior to his MLB debut. Vail struggled in his first years as a pro but, like Super Joe, blossomed in his AA and AAA seasons with crazy high AVGs and OBPs. Duda actually reminds me A LOT of Maas and Plantier for the very reasons you point out. Both of those flash-in-the-pans were similarly known for great patience and discipline, ability to go the other way, etc., with Maas being a closer comp since he, like Duda, didn’t blossom as a homerun hitter until reaching the bigs. That’s how I remember all of those hitters and the numbers support me — as Casey Stengel would say, you could look it up!
      • DaveSchneck March 22, 2012 at 8:27 am
        Good points, you’ve done more homework than me. Let’s just hope the Dude can avoid the fate of those you mention, as it would really help accelerate Fred Wilpon’s “return to prominence”.
  3. Izzy March 21, 2012 at 10:17 am
    Disagree about Bay to center. If there is an opportunity for everyday play, give the job to one of the kids as long as Collins doesn’t bench him for Hairston or some other has been. I don’t buy the don’t bring up the kid routine, unless you’re gonna have him sit and rot.
    • Joe Janish March 21, 2012 at 11:54 pm
      I agree with you that, if given my druthers, Captain Kirk or Den Dekker are out in CF if Torres can’t be there. However, in reality I’m seeing factors that suggest that those two will be kept behind — possibly to prevent their MLB clock from ticking. Also, this Torres issue smells of an unclear, day-to-day type of thing that could keep him out anywhere from a few days to a few months. That said, my feeling is that the Mets brass will do everything possible to fill what they hope is a temporary hole with people already projected to be on the Opening Day roster. I’m actually mildly surprised that they’re sending Valdespin out there. It’s kind of crazy, when you think about it, considering that Valdespin may currently be the team’s best 2B option, but he could instead be in CF, therefore creating weaknesses at two of the supposedly all-important “up the middle” positions.
  4. MikeT March 21, 2012 at 10:29 am
    The difference between Duda and those others you mentioned is a Minor League track record that indicates future MLB success. Lucas flew under the radar in the Minors because he was a first baseman that did not hit many HRs. Basically that means he was written off. But he did hit for average and his other peripherals, such as OBP and SLG, did indicate a good player. He is the rare case of developing power late for a minor league player. Plus, he is closer to his prime than people realize since he is 26 this year. So Lucas may never be a marquee player, but he will hit well the next five seasons and right now he is a bargain.
    • Joe Janish March 21, 2012 at 11:56 pm
      Mike, see my response to DaveSchneck. Maybe you’re not as old as me to remember those guys, in which case you may want to check out their minor league stat lines on Baseball Reference. The comps are somewhat similar.
  5. Joe March 21, 2012 at 10:51 am
    Gee looks like a gamer to me (the beard makes him look like a Civil War general) and that is appreciated. I don’t expect Cy Young. I expect a gutsy performer who will as a whole give you good games. Hope he works out that way.

    Duda’s home run came after what very well might have been strike three. Sometimes, the ball goes your way. Mets seemed to repeatedly lose out there. That’ what little margin of error gets you.

    Nice to see a clean game from the pen. I’m with Izzy as to having a youngster play. Also, the team needs to find someone on the waiver wire and/or via that new five day at the end of Spring Training rule as a back-up OF and/or starter. Not enough spare parts there.

  6. Steven March 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm
    Thanks Joe. I really appreciate your analysis and healthy skepticism. I hope to read your take after every game this year if you have the time and inclination. My observations from the game are as follows:

    1. Regarding Gee. Saying a pitcher has below average stuff is not too damning considering that by definition half of the number 3 starters probably have below average stuff. In any case, I feel you dont give enough credit to an above average change-up. The key for Gee will be staying ahead in the count. If he does that and can limit the walks, I would expect a lot of quality starts and with this offense he may even get 13 -16 wins

    2. I feel you are going out of your way to avoid being very complimentary of Duda; probably because, like all of us, you have been burned a lot by being enthusiastic by a potential superstar hitter showing up in a Mets uniform. The facts are that with everything we have seen Duda appears to have the physical tools and the knowledge of the strike zone to be an all star, but we are afraid to voice that for fear of being disappointed. If he has a weakness, it is not all that apparent. As far as his ability to adjust, I observed the following yesterday. The Nationals and Wilson Ramos have faced Duda a lot and probably discussed how they were going to deal with Duda before the game. Duda hit two tremendous homeruns last year with Ramos behind the plate. Fast forward to last night. In Duda’s first at bat, Strassburg struck out Duda with a 97 MPH fastball up and in. On his second at bat, Strassburg tried the same thing, and Duda hit it over the fence to the opposite field. I suspect that Ramos will never again call for a 97MPH fastball up and in.

    3. Parnell appeared to have taken something off his fast ball. That is encouraging in his development toward being a pitcher rather than a thrower.

    • Joe Janish March 22, 2012 at 12:03 am
      Hmm … is “healthy skepticism” a good thing? LOL!

      Thanks, I appreciate your comments and your continued loyalty.

      I like Gee, but 13-16 wins may be a little over his ceiling. If this were 1978, when back-end starters regularly threw 225+ innings and had 25-30 decisions, I’d be with you on the 13-16 win figure. But in this day and age, anything over a dozen wins is a major accomplishment — heck, King Felix won the Cy Young with 13 wins.

      As much as I like Gee, I don’t see him hanging around long enough, in enough games, to earn more than 10-12 victories for what is sure to be a bad Mets club. I think his win total of 2011 had much to do with taking everyone by surprise in the first few months of the year, along with an offense that included Reyes and Beltran, and a bullpen that ended with K-Rod. Gee won’t have the benefit of such luxuries this year.

  7. Mark Tahiliani March 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm
    I think the Mets are going to be a better team than most people give them credit for. Will they set the world on fire, probably not but I don’t think they will be all that bad.