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.

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.
  1. Izzy May 16, 2013 at 11:26 pm
    Seems like you get your words right from the fax machine of the Great Mistake. Surprised you didn’t have a paragraph gleefully reminding fans that Minaya is gone. Afterall who wants a GM that gives fans winning seasons.
    • Joe Janish May 16, 2013 at 11:45 pm
      Izzy, your schtick is getting old and tired. I don’t disagree with your opinion of this organization but I also don’t disagree with trying to find some bright spots. If all we did was complain about how crappy the Mets are and how Alderson’s plan is a sham, and how Minaya wasn’t nearly as bad as the saberheads would like us to believe, we’d soon have no reason to keep the conversation going — we’d all just agree and that would be that, and I’d shut down the site because there’d be nothing left to discuss.

      We have a pretty loyal group of visitors and commenters here, and I’m certain we all know your stance by now. It would be great if you would mix it up a bit, because in the past you offered a broad range of good topics to banter and argue. This recent singular focus is tiring and not conducive to thoughtful engagement — it only elicits defensiveness.

    • Paul Festa May 16, 2013 at 11:53 pm
      LOL. You’re my favorite comedian, Izzy.
    • Paul Festa May 16, 2013 at 11:54 pm
      When I say I can “almost” guarantee a win, I’m not exactly being Mr. Optimistic.
  2. Dan B May 17, 2013 at 8:46 am
    Let me attempt to turn Izzy’s comments into an interesting conversation. Is it possible for a team with a bad owner to win? When I was in my 20′s and active in sports, I thought it was all about balls and strikes and all teams had a shot. Now that I am in my 40′s and active in business, I think the organization is more important then the farm system. I believe the Mets will never have prolonged success with the Wilpons, and specifically Jeff Wilpon, running the team. I also believe the GMs has less input into this team then most would think. Can a good GM overcome a bad owner?
    • Paul Festa May 17, 2013 at 10:50 am
      They did it in “Major League.”
  3. Dan B May 17, 2013 at 8:48 am
    By the way, I am not asking if we think Alder son is a good GM. I already know how most of us would answer that. I am keeping the question broader.
  4. azulnaranja May 17, 2013 at 10:48 am
    Dan, I think you may be right, although there may be some exceptions. However, I was thinking about all the big names and contracts that the Mets handed out between, say, 2003 – 2009, whether under Phillips, Duquette or Minaya. Can we say that any of them was a great success? Glavine, Cameron, Floyd, Martinez, Beltran, Delgado, Castillo, Santana, Bay. Were any of those guys a complete, unqualified success? I can understand how ownership could be a little “gun shy” and want to wait to clear out the last of those contracts before spending again. Having said that, this team clearly needs an infusion of talent, and the failure to add at least something this winter was negligent. And if they don’t add anything next winter (let alone later this summer), then that would be really bad.
  5. Quinn May 17, 2013 at 11:39 am
    I try and think of myself as an optimistic fan but there is very little on the horizon. As pointed out we have Harvey, hopefully Wheeler and Syndergard but looking past a couple big names that we are excited about there is NOTHING! Our starting rotation will be strong If everything goes as planned but with a poor defense at the Major league level and not much in the minors coming up. Den Dekker provides defense but is also an automatic out and the corner outfielders in LV are Duda clones it seems. The bullpen is bad and it seems everyone who has shown promise in the minors has flamed out once getting to NY. Taking the poor defense and lack of bulpen this completely negates a strong rotation. So being optimistic you would have to think we wouldhave a plethora of offense read, again this doesnt seem to be the case for goodness sakes our clean up hitter bats below the mendoza line and we just signed Rick Ankiel! That signing completely obliterated my optimism.
  6. Vilos May 17, 2013 at 1:19 pm
    First of all, let me say that at some point this year, I don’t recall exactly when, it became evident that the front office had punted 2013. Therefore, for me, the story about this year was how the Mets were going to go about developing a new contender. Who would stay, who would leave, who would come, and how they were they going to do it.

    Recently, the Mets signed Ackiel and I read that SA said that he was intended on being a bridge to future players. I thought, what is he talking about, this goes against the obvious plan of letting young players play, there isn’t any can´t miss prospect in the system to wait for, etc

    But today, something clicked and I think I understood the message. Let me try to explain.

    I think that the plan the front office has for the Mets to play out during this year is the following:

    We all know we don´t have much. We have a third baseman for life and the first month and a half of the season has reveled that we have an ace pitcher. We can probably add that we have a couple of useful pitchers who should be part of the next contending team such as Niese, Parnell and maybe Gee and Familia.

    We also have the idea that pitching prospects should give us strength and depth both for the rotation and for relief.

    Finally we also have the idea that catching is also tended for.

    So the rest of the year, we need, for the above to continue to play and develop and to understand who else on the current team is a keeper or at least a mlb ballplayer.

    To start off, I think the FO knows that Duda is not a keeper in left field. I think what they are trying to do with Duda is to give him a full years round of AB, so that they can compare him with Davis. Up until now, Davis has a edge but is far from a given, so the jury is still out which one to keep. Plus, everyone in baseball is thinking, if Davis can pull off another second half, then he’s legit. Therefore the play here is: choose who if either, is the first baseman of the next contender, and trade the other by adding value to both Duda (by giving him another position) and Davis (by giving him the chance to work out his problems).

    Second base is also pretty clear what the plan is. Give Murphy full time to learn the position. He’s made progress from what I read and see, and he can hit, so either he becomes a trading chip, for a similar player from another organization deep in outfielders and short for second baseman, or he can also end up staying. If he were to leave, the Mets have JV and Turner to handle the position and maybe take it, while Flores continues to develop.

    At shortstop Tejada is nowhere near an all star such as Jose and this first month has exposed his defense, but he still has age on his side. What can the Mets lose to let Tejada play this out? Also, since he’s young, they can afford to not carry a vetern back up and keep both JV and Turner around to continue to get AB’s and see if they stick. The only concern at short should be to continue to take high round picks to fill the pipeline.

    Finally the outfield. First of all, as I said before, I don´t think Duda will stay in left. He either is traded or he moves to first. Second, we all know that the Mets must make a big time deal for an all star outfielder. Who and when, I don’t know, but for the Mets to contend, they need a Beltran caliber outfielder. Third, they will also have to sign a second outfielder who is a mid range on the rise type ball player. Someone making between 5 to 10 mm a year. Just look at the upgrade at catcher comparing Buck with any catcher on the Mets the past three years or more. Bring in an equivalent outfielder, and you have two competent corners.

    To end, we get back to where we began with the Ackiel story. Well, the Mets have three young, sound defenders in Lagares, Kirk and Matt whatever his name is. So during these first two months, the Mets realized neither Brown or Cogwill fit the role, and that they are better served continuing to get Abs in AAA. They realized that JV is not a centerfielder, and that Byrd isn’t up for center anymore. So they brought in Ackiel to platoon with Lagares and “bridge” (wait) for either Kirk or Matt, whoever is ready first, to make a move. A sound defensive centerfielder, with two competent corners make for a contending outfield.

    Does it make sense?

  7. Vilos May 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm
    Just a small point I forgot. The Mets must take the best outfielder available with their first pick this coming year.
  8. Quinn May 17, 2013 at 4:38 pm
    Back to being optimistic. There are a couple things the FO could do.
    First recognize you are not in a hitters park and place increased emphasis on fielding even to the sabr heads there are defensive metrics. Ofcourse this would place more pressure on Wright to produce. This concept would allow DD to roam CF aslong as he bats 8.
    Another thing they could do is realize what Duda is. Stop looking at his body, he is an OB machine stop batting him in the middle of the line up move him to the number two hole were wright can drive him in. Also move him to 1st so his defense wont be a negative. This would free up Davis for a trade.
    Players that could be traded for a legitimte RF would be murphy and Davis (and any other fringe veteran not essential to future) Now this trade does not need to be a 40 HR guy just someone who could legitimately protect wright. Remember we arent in a hitters park so maybe abandoning the traditional idea of a masher in the 4 hole should be considered.
    Of course this is all contigent on D’arnaud, The young pitching and Flores to flourish in their respective roles aswell as relying on Tejada to play more consistent.
    See were only a trade away!!!!
  9. Joe May 18, 2013 at 10:15 am
    At least the Mets ($88 million) …

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/teams/new-york-mets/salaries.html

    This link has the current salary at about $72M (the difference is presumably basically Bay) with $24.6 going to Santana, $6.5 to Francisco. So, that is $41M. 1/4 of that is going to David Wright. So, you have $31M for the rest of the team. Heck, Buck/Marcum gets you $10M. So, that means $21M for 22 players. This is Astros level.

    Anyway, I appreciate the attempt to help fans avoid the spiked kool aid. I think there is a reason to think the team isn’t THIS bad. Again, the team is not, you know, GOOD or something. But, honest fans knew this year would be mediocre. They pined for that recently.

    On this front, the recent run thru the rotation is promising. Marcum and Niese had good outings. Hefner (again — he had two truly bad outings, one against the Phils, which appears to have his number, the other against the Nats) also (again) had a good outing. He struggled … against the Cards (best team in NL?) … and settled down, going six innings, three runs. Not seeing much from Gee though he gave you five recently.

    The bullpen is okay. The hitting still stinks though Murphy (who is a perfectly serviceable second baseman … sorry haters) has shown life again. Ike/Ruben/Lucas in particular are trouble spots. Buck gave you a great April. Came back to earth. Also, after false starts, no one really shined in the OF. The team needed to find someone there. The Ankiel signing was sorta embarrassing.

    Oh, and too much bad baseball. A few times, coaching didn’t help — bad outfield positioning etc. — but when even David Wright cannot tag out runners, who gave themselves up, that’s no good. The ray of hope is that they can’t continue such sloppiness.

    The hitting might be my biggest concern.

  10. Dan Capwell May 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm
    Paul–congrats on the link over at Pravd…er Metsblog! For some odd reason they don’t like me!
  11. argonbunnies May 19, 2013 at 9:28 am
    Paul, I agree on Niese and Marcum. Possibly on Gee too (though he clearly isn’t the guy he was last year, so I dunno how much to draw from the past). As for the offense, though, 15 good games followed by 25 terrible ones does not suggest a “happy medium” to me. This team is 26th in the majors in OPS, and those numbers include the hot start. The Mets aren’t as bad as the last few weeks, but overall they’re still a very bad offensive team.

    Wheeler’s sore AC joint is actually a shoulder issue, and that’s cause for alarm, given (a) his stressful-on-the-shoulder mechanics and (b) the Mets strategy of shooting him up with cortisone and throwing him back out there without figuring out what caused the problem. Beyond that, his minor league K rates don’t indicate someone who’s ready to dominate major leaguers. At this point in his career, throwing a high-velocity sinker, don’t forget that Wheeler is 2006 Mike Pelfrey. I’m sure he’ll be more fun to watch than Hefner, but let’s admit that the odds of him being another Harvey are minuscule.

    Finally, the Mets’ low payroll may indicate that we aren’t clogged with expensive underperformers, but I don’t see a reason to care whether our awful players come cheap or not, unless “cheap” means “money will be spent on better players”. Which is true in theory, but not in practice, as the losing drains the team coffers and the free agent market offers no solutions. There is no 2005 Carlos Beltran out there for us to get; his former team already paid him $200mil to stick around for the next decade.

    Virtually all the MLB teams that are better than the Mets spent the last 5-6 years developing better players than the Mets. So sure, the Mets have an even chance to change their fortunes after a 5-6 year process. But how far along are we now? If we’d made any real strides, relative to the competition, wouldn’t our farm system at least be in the consensus top 50%? There’s not much point in drooling over Montero as our 5th starter in 2014 if our lineup is full of garbage, regardless of the garbage’s price tag. Good teams do better than that. In the Cardinals organization, Wilmer Flores would have had trouble cracking their top 20 prospects in recent years, while he’s been a Mets top 3.

    The gap between where we are now and where we want to be is so huge that it will take a lot of brilliance, a lot of luck, or a lot of time to fix. Are you feeling lucky?