Searching for Rays of Hope

London to Brighton Veteran Car RunSo, the Mets have lost 6 games in a row, and have fallen to 14-23, 6.5 games behind the NL East leading Atlanta Braves here on May 16th. Besides Matt Harvey, the starting rotation has been horrible, besides Bobby Parnell, the bullpen has been unreliable, and the Mets’ offense, which lit up opponents the first two weeks of the season, has gone colder than Jeffery Loria’s Grinch-like heart.

This has left even the most loyal and upbeat Mets fans in a funk, and has even prompted some to ask for divine intervention. But it can’t be this bad all year, can it?

Instead of another Mets blog post about how bad this team is, let’s try to find some rays of hope in this otherwise gloomy pallor of baseball.

Matt Harvey

This is the obvious one. Harvey is the Dark Knight in an otherwise dark night.  He was pitcher of the month of April, nearly threw a perfect game two starts ago, and only gave up 2 runs in 7 innings when he had virtually no command of his pitches for the first 5 innings in his last start.

Jon Niese isn’t this bad

I’m not one to base all of my player evaluation on statistics (just as I’m not likely to base it all on scouting – one needs to use all available tools to thoroughly evaluate a player), but Jon Niese’s start to 2013 is clearly a statistical aberration compared to his career numbers.  But let’s take a look at his last three seasons.

From 2010-2012, Niese averaged a 3.97 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9 IP, and 7.6 SO/9 IP. So far in 2013, he has a 5.93 ERA and 1.76. Most alarmingly, he has walked batters with much greater frequency (4.8 BB/9) and struck them out far less (4.6 SO/9).

Still, he was able to get by without his A-game until his last two starts. He gave up a total of 15 earned runs over that two-game span, inflating his 3.31 season ERA to an embarrassing 5.93.

So why the sudden downturn? He’s only 26, so he should be entering his prime, not departing it. He says he’s not hurt (but we all know most athletes don’t like to use injuries as excuses). He believes he’s dropped his release point this year, which has flattened out his breaking stuff, and given batters a longer look at the ball.

This article by Amazin’ Avenue seems to corroborate Jon’s self-analysis. While Niese is young, he has enough major league experience under his belt, not to mention the athleticism, to correct this issue. Based on his track record, there’s no way he can continue his poor performance.

Dillon Gee isn’t this bad

Dillon Gee will never be confused with a Cy Young-caliber pitcher. He’s very much an average major league pitcher who has shown bursts of above-average performance. But Dillon seemed to really be finding himself before he got hurt in the middle of the 2012 season.

He gave the Mets innings (averaging over 6 per start) and he honed his control to the point where he struck out an average of 8 batters per nine innings while walking an average of 2.4. Then he experienced numbness in his pitching hand. It turned out to be a result of a malformed blood vessel in his shoulder. He had surgery to correct the problem, but was lost for the season.

It seemed to take Dillon a few starts to build up his velocity.  He started out this season reaching 85-87 MPH on his fastball. His velocity has increased to 89-91, which is about where he was last year.  This increase in velocity creates more separation with his changeup. Mets analyst Ron Darling feels that Gee has also been dropping his arm angle, much like Niese. If Gee can correct that, he should be much more effective than he has been, even if it translates to a nice, average 4.50 ERA.

Shaun Marcum is still building strength

Marcum is a classic case of a guy who came back too soon from injury. Not because of the risk of reinjury, but because he hadn’t fully rehabbed and built strength back into his arm. The Mets, desperate for starting pitching, plugged him into the rotation before he was ready.

In his first three starts, Marcum wasn’t able to finish 5 innings of work. He showed major signs of improvement in his last start however, going 6.2 innings, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 5 hits, while walking only one batter. That’s more like a classic Marcum start, and it came against the tough lineup of the Cardinals.

Again, based on his track record, and the fact that he seems to be building stamina and arm strength, expect more starts like this one, and fewer like the previous three.

The offense should find a happy medium

The first two weeks of the season, the Mets were on a tear. At one point, they led the league in runs scored. Everyone in the lineup not named “Ike Davis” was contributing. Then suddenly, somewhere in the arctic conditions of Minneapolis and Denver (not using the weather as an excuse, mind you), the Mets bats froze.

Suddenly, everyone (including Davis, but except David Wright) found themselves in a slump.

There have been some signs of turn-around: Daniel Murphy is 7 for his last 16, John Buck picked up his first RBI in a while, and Wright continues to be consistent. It ain’t much, but at least the entire lineup isn’t in a funk anymore.

It stands to reason that there has to be a middle ground between their hot streak to begin the season and their current cold streak. And who knows, maybe Davis will find a way to turn it around in mid-June like he did last year.

Zack Wheeler will be up soon

Probably in mid-June, so he won’t be Super-2 eligible. Wheeler got off to a rough start for the Las Vegas 51s, but has pulled it together lately. In his last three starts, he’s 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA. He’s struck out 19 while walking only 3 in 20 innings.

He will miss his next start due to an inflamed clavicle, but all reports are it’s not serious (though we’ve heard that before, haven’t we, sports fans?)

Payroll

The only way the Mets’ record could be worse is if they had overpaid for their roster. Remember 1992 and 1993? How about 2002 while we’re at it?

The L.A. Dodgers ($216 million payroll), Philadelphia Phillies ($159 million), L.A. Angels ($142 million), and Toronto Blue jays ($118 million) all have losing records.

At least the Mets ($88 million) didn’t overpay for their replacement and sub-replacement level players. Payroll seems to equal expectations in pro sports. Expectations were low for New York, and they’re meeting those expectations.

They’re not going to lose all of their remaining games

Most of all, there will be a time, be it today, tomorrow, next week or next month, when the Mets will win a game. I can almost guarantee it.

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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