28 Games Later: The State of the 2013 Mets
28 games are in the books in 2013 – 28 embarrassing, encouraging, disastrous, delightful, hopeless and hopeful games. One night, a fan could go from swearing off his beloved Mets for good, while another game brings about a glimmer of hope. But the Mets have given us no reason to believe that 2013 edition of this team will deliver anything more than a glimmer.
The bad defense, volatile starting pitching, inconsistent hitting, and an unreliable bullpen overshadow the tremendous early season starts of budding ace Matt Harvey, the surprising John Buck, and the consistent David Wright.
Let’s try to figure out what can we make of this 12-16 team on May 6th.
Coming into Spring Training, the Mets knew they were going to be without Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, who was traded to the Blue Jays for Buck, C Travis d’Arnaud, and young RHP Noah Syndergaard. They counted on Johan Santana to pitch on Opening Day and 30 more times during the year. Santana’s anterior capsule suffered another tear, presumably in March, and he was lost for the year.
That left a once-solid rotation on paper only paper thin.
LHP Jon Niese, never more than a number 2 or 3 starter in his career was counted on to be the interim ace. Niese has been very good, and is coming off a career year in 2012 (13-9, 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP). He got off to a decent start, even while trudging through the Nordic elements of Minnesota and Colorado. On Sunday, however, he walked 6 Braves and gave up 7 earned runs. Lucas Duda and Wright made a couple of glaring miscues behind him that weren’t called errors (and typically aren’t , but it’s unlike Niese to battle his control as much as he did on Sunday). Every pitcher has an off day.
RHP Matt Harvey’s off-days have been as good as a lot of pitchers’ on-days. The 24 year-old won pitcher of the month honors in April going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and has averaged 10.3 SO/9. His starts have become events to the point where the Mets hold regular ticket and t-shirt specials on the nights he’s on the bump. Seems like a lot of pressure for a guy with 16 major league starts under his belt. Harvey seems to have the makeup of a guy who can handle it – he’s a classic ornery pitcher. Manager Terry Collins has pointed out how grumpy he is on gameday, a trait shared by many pitchers, including former Mets Ron Darling and Dickey.
The team (and the fanbase) has put a lot of pressure on this kid – because he’s been that good. And right now, he’s the best thing about this team.
The rest of the rotation, particularly Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner, and the now-departed Aaron Laffey, got off to a dreadful start. Dillon has shown signs of improvement, his fastball jumping from the mid-80s to the high 80s, which makes his changeup more deceptive. And Hefner has been spot on his last two starts, giving up only 3 runs in 15 total innings.
And as we all know, help is on the way in the form of Zack Wheeler. After a rough start to the season, in which he had trouble controlling his fastball, Wheeler has put together two straight scoreless outings in Triple-A Las Vegas. If he keeps this up, he’ll be in Queens by the middle of June at the latest (which would ensure that he wouldn’t be a “Super Two” player).
Ah, the bullpen: The bane of the Mets’ existence for the last 190 games.
In 2012, Mets relievers combined for a 4.65 ERA, second worst in major league baseball. This year, they’re third-to-last with a team 4.76 ERA.
After the season, the Mets parted ways with RHP Jon Rauch, who was generally reliable with occasional bouts of ineffectiveness, RHP Ramon Ramirez, whose career to a nosedive the second he donned the orange and blue, and RHP Manny Acosta who earned the nickname “The Acostalypse” among fans for his ability to pour gasoline on an already raging fire. They also lost the effective LOOGY Tim Byrdak to an anterior capsule injury. He may return later this year, but it’s unknown at this point.
This season, new faces include RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP Scott Atchison, LHP Scott Rice, and RHP LaTroy Hawkins. Returning this year, this time as the team’s closer in lieu of the injured Frank Francisco is RHP Bobby Parnell.
Each have had a flame out or two, or just flat out blew a hold or save opportunity, but the real damage has come from young lefties Josh Edgin (9.64 ERA recently demoted to Double-A Binghamton) and Rob Carson (17.18 ERA), and sidearmer Greg Burke (7.36 ERA, recently demoted to Triple-A).
Parnell has been outstanding thus far, saving 3 games and compiling a 0.62 WHIP. He’s blown a couple of saves, one the direct result of a fielding miscue. Lyon and Atchison recently had off-outings after a strong start, and Hawkins has been very consistent after two bad outings to start the season. Rice has truly been a revelation. The 14-year minor league veteran finally made his MLB debut on Opening Day, and since has been a rock-solid lefty out of the ‘pen. He’s held left handed batters to a .129/.200/.161 slash, and has produced 27 ground balls on which there have only been 4 hits.
There’s still hope for the bullpen this year – especially if they aren’t overworked, which would require starting pitchers to go deeper into games.
The Mets lineup started the season like a house afire, getting on base, getting clutch hits, and scoring runs at a pace that put them second or third in the league as a team. But that success ground to a halt in mid-April.
John Buck cooled off after he seemingly never missed a good pitch to hit, players like Marlon Byrd and Collin Cowgill failed to sustain their offensive success, and Ike Davis once again became a black hole in the middle of the lineup.
Buck is still a major upgrade offensively and defensively at catcher. He continues to hit for power (10 home runs), even if his slash has returned to a more Buck-like .255/.292/.592.
Davis abandoned the good approach he had in Spring Training as soon as the starting gun fired on Opening day. Davis hacked at anything and everything, especially on the first pitch, and struck out four times en route to an 0 for 5 game. Since then, he’s reverted to the hitter he was for the first two months of 2012. He’s batting only .172/.271/.312. He can’t reach pitches on the outside corner. He won’t move closer to the plate, because he feels it takes away his ability to read the curveball. It’s not like he’s reading pitches effectively now.
When he does make contact, Davis has the ability to hit the ball a long way, as evidenced by his 4 homers. But the Mets need him to be more than that. They need him to be their everyday left-handed cleanup hitter. When he’s not, they have to shuffle the lineup and put Buck or Lucas Duda in the cleanup spot, neither of whom is ideal. It will be interesting to see if the Mets lose patience with Davis faster than they did last year and send him to Triple-A. But if they do, who replaces him?
Speaking of positions in the lineup that are not ideal, the Mets don’t have a true leadoff hitter. They’ve tried Cowgill, Ruben Tejada, Mike Baxter, and Jordany Valdespin. Apart from Cowgill, who was demoted to Triple-A after a dreadful start, they all bring one element of a leadoff hitter to the table. But none of them represent the complete package. Valdespin would be an interesting choice, since he’s slightly improved his plate discipline, and seems to shine when he is in the spotlight. As Mets radio announcer Josh Lewin pointed out, Valdespin is a “raging bonfire of narcissism.” And that bonfire must be fueled.
Valdespin, like many players on this roster, is not a good fielder. Duda catches everything he gets to. The problem is, he doesn’t get to much. Valdespin, Duda, Cowgill, and the rest of the shaky Mets outfield have all taken bad routes to the ball, sometimes in situations that have cost the Mets games. Duda (.250/.411/.524 with 6 homers) and Valdespin (2 clutch pinch-hit homers and 10 RBIs) have at least contributed with the bat.
And then there’s David Wright. Like the good boy sitting in the front of a rowdy classroom, he continues to contribute consistently, and handles himself the way an actual major league ballplayer should. The recently anointed Mets captain is hitting .313/.425/.576 with 5 home runs and 23 RBIs.
Daniel Murphy got off to a screaming hot start, but has cooled off of late. He’s still hitting .283/.322/.425 with 8 doubles.
The State of the Mets
For the Mets to improve, the bullpen has to prove it’s not simply a repeat of its 2012 incarnation, and the offense has to get better. As Dan Capwell pointed out, there’s not much help on the horizon offensively, so this motley band has to get it done. If Ike Davis can somehow get it together, there will be at least a small chance for a somewhat reliable everyday lineup.
Manager Terry Collins has done a good job creating a better team-oriented atmosphere in the clubhouse, but he has made some questionable in-game decisions, but those are often the result of having to make up for a lack of talent. Not to take Collins off the hook – if he can handle the bullpen better than he has, and avoid issuing intentional walks to batters with 1-2 counts, it would definitely be a help. Ultimately, how the manager performs is only going to make a small difference in the performance of the Mets, as they are constructed now.
So, in 2013, prepare for more bad baseball intermixed with moments of hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel…but it’s a long tunnel.