Have the Mets Peaked?

With a half-season gone by, the Mets are in third place in the NL East with a 46-40 record, only 4.5 games behind the first-place Nationals and a half-game behind the second-place Braves. There is no question that this is a surprise — everyone, including yours truly, expected the Mets to be closer to the basement than the top of the standings by the All-Star break. But can the Mets keep it up? Rather than blow my hot air, let’s start with three opinions from the teeming millions who read MetsToday.

From the comments thread of Sunday’s game against the Cubs:

SiddFinch says:
July 8, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Losing 2 out of 3 to the sad sack Cubbies is not the way to enter the break. I hope I’m wrong, because they are a resilient bunch, but this team might’ve peaked. The two post-break series on the road in Atl. and Wash. are crucial. In fact, the rest of the month (with a majority of games on the road) looks to be challenging. But this team has been full of surprises this year, so LGM!

Steven says:
July 8, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I agree that the six games in DC and Atlanta will set the tone for the team, and more importantly, the front office. If the Mets can manage to win 4 our of six, I think the FO should make some trades to improve the bullpen and the catching.

James says:
July 8, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Don’t get me wrong, I like this team. I mean, I really like this team. They play with lots of gusto. However, they have 4 really big problems right now that simply cannot be overcome except at the expense of valuable minor league prospects, in this order:
1. the fielding and base running (i.e., poor fundamentals!!!!)
(duda will be in american league by 2014, and lots of stupid base running mistakes, poor outfield fielding, etc)
2. 7th inning is 2nd biggest problem (no relief)
3. 8th inning is 3rd biggeset prob (no relief)
4. 9th innning is 4th biggest prob (though Francisco has at least been about average when healthy)

So I ask you, is this team really any better than the team that was 48-40 at the break in 2010, also upstarts, etc? I don’t think so.

SiddFinch, Steven, and James all bring up excellent points. As well as the Mets played in the first half, they didn’t exactly build momentum going into the break by losing two out of three to the lowly Cubs. It could be seen as bad luck for the Mets, in that they caught the Cubs at a time when they were doing well; the Cubs won 7 of their last 10 going into the break, and had won 7 of the 10 games immediately preceding their most recent series with the Mets. Further, on Sunday they had Ryan Dempster come off the DL to give them both a physical and emotional boost. But if you look at it that way — that the Mets just hit the Cubs at the wrong time — then you also have to consider that the Mets hit the Dodgers at just the right time. Which of those two series is more reliable in measuring what kind of team the Mets have right now, and will have in the second half? I’m not sure, but as pointed out by SiddFinch, the first six games after the All-Star Exhibition — against the two teams immediately above them in the standings — will be something of a litmus test for the Mets.

If the Mets take four of the six games against the Braves and Nats — heck, if they split — it can be argued that they’re very much “in the race.” As much as fans love this team as it’s currently constructed, I think most will expect the front office to make a few moves addressing current flaws. Certainly, at least one if not two bullpen arms need to be acquired from outside the organization. Perhaps a righthanded bat, if Jason Bay isn’t seen as the answer. Maybe another move.

But what if the Mets lose four of those first six? Should the white flag go up? James jogs our collective memories, taking us back to 2010. Johan Santana had spun seven stellar innings in fronting a 3-0 shutout over the Braves on July 11, giving the Mets a 48-40 record — in second place, only four games out of first — going into the All-Star break. Was confidence high? You betcha. Santana’s shoulder hadn’t yet failed, and the team was getting Carlos Beltran back immediately after the break. There was buzz about an improved clubhouse, which had been injected with energy and enthusiasm by youngsters such as Josh Thole, Jonathon Niese, Ike Davis, and Ruben Tejada.

However, the second half of 2010 did not fulfill the promise suggested by the first.

After the break, the Mets lost their first three to San Francisco and dropped nine of their first eleven. By August 2, they were 53-53, in fourth place, 7.5 games out of first. Many valid factors as well as questionable theories abound as to why the Mets failed. There was the #BlameBeltran meme; there was Jose Reyes playing through an oblique injury; there was Jason Bay underperforming; there was Jerry Manuel making head-scratching decisions; there was the series in Puerto Rico prior to the break that many point to as the beginning of the end. Mind you, this crash came before K-Rod’s meltdown and before Santana’s shoulder gave out. So why did the Mets fail in 2010, and is there anything that can be learned from that catastrophe to be applied now?

The 2010 team — like this year’s vintage — was flawed. In 2010, though, the flaws were swept under the rug, and as a result the Mets didn’t make any moves at the July deadline to address them. It seemed as though everyone was more worried about their jobs and saving face than in putting a solid “product” on the field. We didn’t yet know for sure that the Mets were on the brink of bankruptcy — that everything was spinning out of control, not just on the field, but off of it, too.

In 2012, the Mets acknowledge their flaws and presumably are past their financial problems. Maybe that means a deal or two will be made before the end of the month. Maybe it means decisions will be made to keep the team “in the hunt.” Whether they do stay in the postseason race or not is up for discussion.

What do you think? Have the Mets reached their peak, or are they just a few, obtainable pieces away from a playoff berth? Will they — can they — make the necessary moves? Are they fine just as they are, and yet to reach their 2012 apex? Does past history, and 2010 in particular, make you less optimistic about this club? Why or why not? 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. DaveSchneck July 9, 2012 at 10:30 am
    For my two cents (or less), I think this team can go either way and agree with Steven, the two series right after the break will set the tone. They need to avoid a terrible start to the 2nd half. Given the collapses of 2007 and 2008, along with the fades of 2010-11, is very important for the franchise for this team to drive strong to the finish, playoffs or not. Yes, we all would love the playoffs, even this one game baloney version, but what is most important is to avoid the fade and the negativity that comes with it. As in 1984, and 2005, the fanbase needs to have some reason to be excited. 85+ wins, playoffs or not, competing to the end of the year, with Harvey, Wheeler, and a few others having good sesons and pushing the bigs, are step 1. Extending Wright, addressing C, the pen, and acquiring that elusive big righty bat, spending over $100 mil, and the cycle of negativity will perhaps be broken.
    • MikeT July 9, 2012 at 10:45 am
      Seems like the key point here is that the two series after the break will be telling… well I’m not sure I agree in principle. June was supposed to be telling, right? The Mets had a winning record in June, and they faced the toughest portion of their schedule. The Mets could get swept the 6 games after the break and it would be awful, but this team has rebounded every time they have fallen down. So my thought is that these two series will not tell us anything new. If they do not split the 6 then they will go 4-2 or 2-4. Either way what have we learned? Not much.

      6 games is not enough to learn anything, but I do agree that how they come out of the break will be important. The break itself is usually significant as good teams come out firing and middling teams seem to stagger and not recover. So what I am looking for is a team that is competitive and alive after the break, not lethargic and non-competitive. To me that is more important that the results in the standings (at least in the first 6)

  2. MikeT July 9, 2012 at 10:33 am
    I think every time we think this team is going to fall back to our expectations they win a bunch of games, I think they have a winning record against teams with a winning record, and I think they still have room for improvement.

    I also think that they play to their opponent’s level, have exceeded expectations in key areas, and have been healthy in key areas.

    So ultimately I think that I like watching this team play baseball, and expect more of the same in the second half. I also think that if they can get into the playoffs, Dickey makes them dangerous and that is an exciting thought.

  3. Mike Kelm July 9, 2012 at 12:36 pm
    I agree with the idea that it could go either way. It really depends on what is the “normal” performance for many of these players, which we simply don’t know. You just can’t figure out if these guys are a legit 85 win team or if they are a 75 win team that is playing above themself and going to crash to earth soon. Is Tejada a .380 OBP player, or is this just because he’s played half as many games as everyone else and is a bit fresher? If he is, we may have found our long term lead off hitter. If not, we have our 8 hitter batting first. Does Ike Davis hit .280 the rest of the season or .200? If he hits .280 and Wright keeps hitting the way he is, we have a powerful 1-2 punch in the line-up. If not, then good luck?

    The other bigger question is “Do the Wilpons want to win?” Mets attendance is still down compared to last year with 40 more home games to go. We’ve cut the roster by record amounts, but if the Wilpons decide they aren’t making money, they won’t be willing to do any pickups this month. I think if the Wilpons don’t make a move or worse, trade off pieces, the players will fall apart. If they feel ownership has their backs, they’ll hang in there. They will probably just miss the playoffs, but at least they’ll be playing meaningful baseball come september.

    • MikeT July 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm
      The bad vibes of the first few weeks explains the low attendance. The fans did not believe in the team, and no one showed up. I think there is a buzz with the team, and if they continue to play well I think attendance will pass last years. I bet if you plotted attendance from last year and this year you would see last year trended down as the year went on, and this year it is trending up.
  4. micalpalin July 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm
    -I expected the Mets to be where the cubs are. This is more than i hoped. Plus I have the MLB package for the first time. The team is BETTER than i hoped. They are young, home grown, GOOD and exciting.

    -I think Ike might be back. After a .200 1st half…he looks to be coming together. Laugh but I can see a Darryl strawberry (1989) line of 225avg/ 29HR/77rbi in 475ABs.

    I think acquiring a good catcher, and a righty bat as big factors going into July31st. I dont put any weight on the atlanta, DC series.

    NOTE to blog..there are 2 WC spots. If the team is where they are now on July31st what do you think Jeff Wilpon will do? (hint …Scott Kazmir).

  5. Rob July 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm
    I think that the Mets have been pretty consistent all year long. They’ve faltered against the bad teams and played tough against the good ones. I don’t think that will change going into the second half. They need a couple of bullpen arms to get them from the seventh to the ninth. Francisco is probably the closer for the foreseeable future, as I don’t think that they would trade for a better arm and give up anything that they’ve been developing in the interim unless its a major major long term arm for the future. I’m not sure that I see the need for a catcher….particularly at the price it might cost them.
    Anyway, we’ll see what happens. Strap in the for the second half…it’s gonna be a heluva ride.
  6. James July 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm
    They have peaked and will not win more than 81-84 games. Don’t get me wrong, I like this team. I mean, I really like this team. They play with lots of gusto. However, they have 4 really big problems right now that simply cannot be overcome except at the expense of valuable minor league prospects, in this order:
    1. the fielding and base running (i.e., poor fundamentals!!!!)
    (duda will be in american league by 2014, and lots of stupid base running mistakes, poor outfield fielding, etc)
    2. 7th inning is 2nd biggest problem (no relief)
    3. 8th inning is 3rd biggeset prob (no relief)
    4. 9th innning is 4th biggest prob (though Francisco has at least been about average when healthy)
    So I ask you, is this team really any better than the team that was 48-40 at the break in 2010, also upstarts, etc? I don’t think so.
    • James July 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm
      Joe- Sorry to repeat my comment here…now that I have read the whole post! Thanks for the acknowledgement.
  7. Mike B July 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm
    I dont want to be negative about this team, They over achieved for the first half of the season and they could overachieve in the second half.

    But I am down on the front office, like joe stated this is exactly what we were looking at in 2010. The front office needs to do a few things.

    1. Sign David, you dont have to be a fortune teller to see DW is going to get 17-18 million for 6-10 years. give it to him now. gives you the freedom to make some moves.

    2. MAKE SOME MOVES. IN 2005-08 the mets signed everyone and didnt grow much talent now they have a lot of young talented overachieving guys and they dont surround them with the help they need. too much of one thing is never good mix it up trade some prospects for proven talent.

  8. argonbunnies July 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm
    The testing phase will be our undoing. Sandy’s plan is to see what our internal options can contribute before making any acquisitions. This means valuable ABs in crucial games will be wasted on a Jason Bay who really needs a couple weeks in the minors to get going after not playing for a long time, and a Jenrry Mejia who’s yet to mature in terms of command and has thus far been unable to get AAA hitters out pitching in relief. I expect disaster on both fronts, especially Bay, given his longer leash. He’ll be an automatic K for a while, and at that point, how far will we have fallen behind the Nats and Braves?

    So, though I do think it’s possible that we could keep this run going with a few wise additions, I don’t see that happening.

    Personally, I’d pounce on Huston Street today. The Padres might value the salary relief enough that they might not need any prospects we’d miss. As for a RH bat, why not try some low-risk options, like Vlad and Manny in AAA?

  9. Crozier July 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm
    We’re discussing if a team that’s won 53.5% of its games has peaked. That translates to 86, 87 wins. Since that could actually be enough to qualify, I suppose it’s worth considering. The answers posted suggest it could go either way, and that’s true, because there aren’t too many ways for them to go (up, down, same…or, I suppose, “way down” is another option). It would be interesting if they maintained their marginally winning ways, but this is an average team buoyed by two career years and a surprising performance or two. They’re okay. With a little more talent and a couple smart moves they might improve next year (the aforementioned career years are significant variables). For now, let’s hope they remain a pleasant surprise, but I expect nothing more — and I’m good with that.
  10. Crozier July 9, 2012 at 11:15 pm
    Joe J.,

    I’m interested in your take on Wally B. Were he managing the team now, would that make any difference? I know you aren’t a fan of Terry, and I understand that; a number of his moves, or lack thereof, have been irritating to exhausting. But who in your opinion is a better fit for this group of mostly young quasi-talents?

    • Joe Janish July 10, 2012 at 8:42 am
      I’m not sure how much difference — good or bad — Wally would make with this team. It seems that Collins’ job is to execute the plan created by the Ivy Leaguers in the front office, which is predicated on putting high-OBP guys into the starting lineup regardless of their defensive abilities and baseball IQ. That said I’m not sure how much control or choice Collins has in choosing who gets the most playing time, and/or if he’s even allowed to discipline players. I have seen things happen in the field and on the bases that I know would never be tolerated by Wally — how would he have dealt with those issues? Would he have blown up? Would he have sat down the players involved? If so, would he then have been reprimanded by the front office?

      The Mets wanted a puppet in the dugout, and that’s what they have. After seeing a season and a half of this, I’m not sure Wally Backman would have been a good fit. He’s probably better off managing a club that values fundamentals, defense, and speed.

  11. Joe July 10, 2012 at 9:27 am
    I don’t know if they peaked. The team, like lots of middle of the road teams, have peaks and valleys. It is quite possible one or more NL playoff spots will arise because some team has a run, others (see last year) a collapse.

    The Cubs games are par for the course — they won two of three vs. the Phils, including a 9th inning win, and came back to earth, especially with the break. It is not like the team has been on a decline for two weeks or something.

    The proof will be in the games — cliche but we do try to be realistic around here, yes? Unlike last year, two key players aren’t going to be traded. Who’s to know if some major player will get hurt.

    The starting rotation is deeper than last year and if necessary Hefner or someone else can fill in too. Ike seems to be playing better. The bullpen can kill the team but Beato just might provide relief and FF has been adequate (and Parnell, at least short term, a credible replacement).

    BTW, calling Collins a “puppet” is a tad much even if you think someone else would have done a better job. But, whatever. The bottom line is that many people, I dare say maybe a majority, last winter was cocksure this team would stink. It does not. Collins has the players, however flawed, playing tough, including bucking up after tough losses. I think some people have been proven to be wrong though I have no idea how some other person would manage.

    • Crozier July 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm
      I don’t think Mr. Janish was speculating on Collins’ puppet status. Moneyball (the book; haven’t seen the movie) made emphatically clear that the manager wasn’t valued in Billy Beane’s organization, and prior GM Alderson was BB’s mentor. Puppet is perhaps more cruel than necessary, but I don’t think my preferred term — “custodian” — is much kinder.

      I should have considered all this before I asked Joe about Backman.

      • DaveSchneck July 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm
        The “Moneyball” notion of the manager not valued or acting as a puppet was primarily based on Art Howe and his old-school, traditional approach. Ten years later, many old-schoolers, and Collins to some extent, have been swayed by the sabrmetric approach as at least an ingredient in decisin-making. I think the world has changed enough that we can’t just assume Alderson sees the manager as unimportant.
      • Joe Janish July 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm
        Thanks Crozier. Yes, Moneyball the book was exactly what I was referring to, in addition to my research on GMs who value sabermetrics and conversations with people “close to the situation.”

        By calling Collins a puppet or custodian or whatever, I’m not stating anything new. Nor is this situation unique to the Mets. It’s common knowledge and accepted that the standard or trend in MLB today is to blueprint a ballclub at a table full of numbers crunchers, scouts, and front office personnel, and then have someone execute the blueprint. Look around MLB and there are Terry Collinses everywhere — Dale Sveum, Bob Melvin, John Farrell, Eric Wedge, Brad Mills, Manny Acta, Ron Roenicke, Ned Yost … the list goes on and on. GMs hire someone who is a good soldier, can be trusted to follow the playbook, won’t make waves in the press, and has an tempered ego. As a result we now have a league full of boring managers who lack creativity — but that’s the safest, most controlling, and most reliable way for a GM to run a team.

        To DaveSchneck below – I don’t know that Moneyball was based on Art Howe. My interpretation was that Beane initially preferred Howe because he was willing to take orders, but fell out of favor when he started deviating from the plan.

        • DaveSchneck July 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm
          you are right, I didn’t mean specifically Art Howe but the fact that he represented the old-school interpretations of judging player performances. I agree with your points of the manager profile of today…while there is an Ozzie he is dlearly the exception. MLB is much more corporate and measured throughout, but that is the multimedia and datacentric age we live in.
  12. James July 10, 2012 at 1:22 pm
    So what does it come down to? The Mets for most years of their existence have been a penny pinching conservative front office with mediocre players in key positions and aging veterans underperforming. What I think is more of a departure, and highlighted by the collapses of 2007 and 2008, is that this team has tolerated mediocrity (I’m including Parnell and his straight as an arrow fastball here) in 7th and 8th inning relief roles even longer than the early 1960s teams might have tolerated.

    So what does it come down to? The same thing it always has except for the Hernandez and Piazza eras: Ya Gotta (f”in) Believe!

  13. JimmyH July 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm
    Without improvements in the ballpen and adjustments at the plate for Ike, Duda and Niewenhuis this team will fade, remember this team if the ballpen hadn’t so many leads or at least held the opposition, this Mets team would be easily in first place by several games, as it is 3rd place is a gift with how many games they’ve given away–so a couple of tweaks will almost guarantee a playoff birth, without improvements in the above the Mets will miss the playoffs and not by much.
  14. SomeGuy July 10, 2012 at 8:30 pm
    One blown Papelbon save away from going into the break 2-4 against 2 of the worst teams in the NL…
  15. argonbunnies July 11, 2012 at 6:31 am
    Hey, weird stat: the Mets’ starters have gotten batters to swing at a ton of pitches out of the strike zone. Whether this is them being good or their opponents being bad, I don’t know. But here are their ranks among qualified MLB starters:

    1. Gee
    9. Dickey
    12. Santana
    24. Niese