28 Days Later: The State of the Mets

David Wright is off to a great start.

28 games into the season, the Mets are 15-13, sitting in third place in the NL East.  And if it weren’t early May, I’d say something like, “if the season were to end today, the Mets would be the second Wildcard team.”  But it is only early May.  With that said, let’s take a look at the current state of the team.

Positives

First, the good news.  The Mets are exceeding expectations.  Yes, the expectations were low, but expectations are being exceeded nonetheless.

They went 13-10 in April, which isn’t bad in and of itself.  However, according to the May 7th issue of Sports Illustrated, they faced the 4th toughest schedule by winning percentage (.535) in the major leagues.  Meanwhile, the Dodgers and Nationals, teams that got off to screaming hot starts,  faced the 30th and 29th toughest schedules, respectively.

Individually, several players are off to great starts in 2012.  David Wright is off to one of the best starts of his career, hitting .375/.481/.545 with a team-leading 14 RBI.  Daniel Murphy is hitting .315/.358/.378.  The Mets need more extra base hits out of Murphy, but it’s hard to be dissatisfied with his average and OBP.  In addition, he’s played a surprisingly competent second base.  He hasn’t been without errors, but like his team, he has exceeded expectations.  Similarly, Josh Thole (.282/.356/.372) has performed well at the plate, while showing improvement behind it.

If I were to write a hacky grade-the-Mets article (not that I’m above doing so, for future reference), I would give Ruben Tejada an A+.  At the tender age of 22, Ruben has stepped into the spikes of one of the team’s most beloved players, Jose Reyes, and has played reliable defense while raking line drives all over the outfield (.305/.362/.400).  He lacks the stolen base prowess and extra base hitting of Reyes, but he’s stayed within himself and played his game.  He’s been outstanding.

Note: Tejada pulled a quad muscle tripping into the first base bag on Sunday.  Jordany Valdespin has been taxi-squadded to Philadelphia in case Tejada is placed on the DL.

Injuries, Illnesses, and poor performances have forced manager Terry Collins to shuffle his lineup early this season.  As a result, some young players have been asked to grow up sooner than expected.  One such player is Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who has been a revelation in the outfield.

Taking over center field after Andres Torres went to the DL after Opening Day, Nieuwenhuis has shown gap-to-gap power, speed, and

Santana and his shoulder have produced great results.

the ability to cover major ground in the outfield.  The knock on Nieuwenhuis throughout his minor league career has been his penchant for striking out.  This has been apparent at the major league level, as he leads the team with 31 Ks in 94 ABs.  Apart from that flaw, he has been a valuable fill-in for New York.  And now, with Andres Torres back, and Jason Bay out (and no word on his return), Kirk will continue to fill a valuable substitute role in left field.

Off the bench, Mike Baxter is hitting .318/.400/.455, and Scott Hairston‘s swing-hard-in-case-you-hit-it approach has produced 2 homers, 10 RBI, and his first career cycle.

The biggest positive of all has been the comeback of Johan Santana.  This hasn’t been a one-concert Led Zeppelin reunion type of comeback.  This has been a Rolling Stones Steel Wheels World Tour type of comeback.  Santana is 1-2 with a 2.61 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.  He has a Santana-like 9.87 K/9 innings ratio, despite living in the high-80s with his fastball.  Can he keep it up all season?  That remains to be seen.  But he has delivered beyond expectations so far, and seems to be getting stronger with every start.

As for the rest of the starting rotation, R.A. Dickey (4-1) has been as consistent and reliable as the mountain he climbed in January, and Dillon Gee and Jon Niese are developing into solid major league starters.

The Negatives

Always save the worst for last.  And the worst so far has been Ike Davis.

The Mets counted on Davis to be the Mets cleanup hitter, protection for David Wright, and a consistent power threat.  Instead, he has gotten off to a .168/.225/.274 start.  He can’t lay off the curveball, and has had a tendency to take pitches down the middle of the plate.  Each is a sign of a hitter that lacks confidence.  His home/road splits are interesting.  He’s hitting an Ike-like .283/.327/.500 with 3 home runs and 7 RBI on the road.  At home, he’s only hitting .064/.120/.064 with no homers and 3 RBI.  Maybe they should move the fences back.

Not quite as disappointing has been Lucas Duda.  He got off to a horrid start, only to turn things around.  He’s still not hitting as well as the Mets hoped, but he hasn’t been the lineup killer that Davis has been so far.  He’s coming off a rough week in which he had to endure a bout with the flu.  Duda still leads the team in home runs with 4, which speaks to a larger problem.

The Mets, once again, are lacking in the power department.  They’re 6th in major league baseball in OBP (.336 – Moneyball), but 20th in slugging (.379).  What’s more, they’re 26th in home runs (18).  This is largely due to the struggles of Davis, Duda, and the injury to Jason Bay (who wasn’t exactly tearing it up before he went down).

On the pitching side of things, Mike Pelfrey was pitching wonderfully (2.29 ERA).  Yes, that Mike Pelfrey.  He had just pitched his best game of the year – maybe of the past two years – when he was diagnosed with a partial ligament tear in his throwing elbow that sent him the Tommy John operating table.

In his stead, Chris Schwinden was recalled from Buffalo, and was promptly returned to Buffalo after two ugly starts.  Miguel Batista gets the next crack at Pelfrey’s place in the starting rotation.  As Bob Murphy used to say, “Fasten your seatbelts!”  Next in line would be Jeremy Hefner, who pitched 3 solid innings of relief earlier this year.  The Mets are justifiably reluctant to rush their two top AAA prospects, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia, to the big leagues, for fear of stunting their growth, and because neither has yet to have consistent success in Buffalo.

Meanwhile, ineffectiveness has spread through the Mets’ bullpen like a disease.  The best Mets reliever has been Bobby Parnell, who has learned how to pitch, and not just throw, thanks in part to a knuckle curve taught to him by former Met, Jason Isringhausen.  Jon Rauch got off to a great start but has faltered of late.  Tim Byrdak let up a game-tying grand slam to Todd Helton last week, but has otherwise been solid.  Ramon Ramirez has been inconsistent at best.

Frank Francisco is 7 of 8 in save opportunities, which goes to show how deceiving that stat is.  His ninth-inning adventures have made Mets fans long for the “relaxing” days of Francisco Rodriguez.

Finally, Manny Acosta and Batista have been coming in from the bullpen with flamethrowers strapped to their backs.  When these two enter the game, avert your eyes, and put your kids to bed early (not necessarily in that order).

So that’s where we are after over a month of baseball in 2012.  There’s a lot to be happy about, but a lot to improve upon as well.  There’s still reason to have hope, and that’s all a Mets fan can ask for these days.

Mets 2012 Games, Opinion and Analysis

About the Author

Paul is a freelance writer, blogger, and broadcast technology professional residing in Denver. A New Jersey native, he is a long-suffering Mets fan, a recently-happy Giants fan, and bewildered Islanders fan. He's also a fair-weather Avalanche and Rockies supporter. In his spare time, he enjoys the three Gs: Golf, Guitars, and Games.

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