Biggest Surprises of the first Quarter

Now that the Mets are one quarter of the way through their 2016 schedule, what have we learned? Who has been better than expected? Who has disappointed? Here are my top 15 surprises so far. Chime in to the comments and let us know what’s surprised you!

The good:

Hitting homeruns

The Mets lead the National League with 60 HRs!

Asdrubal Cabrera‘s defense

I didn’t figure a shortstop with limited range could be that much of an asset. Cabrera’s been stellar on every slow-developing play, though, and his reliability (up until Thursday night) is a truly stark contrast to the Mets’ previous options at the position.

Michael Conforto seizing the #3 spot

Conforto allowed us to dream of an MVP candidate before proving himself to be as vulnerable to slumps as the next guy. Even with some inconsistency, he looks prepared for a spectacular sophomore season, hitting third for a contender. It’s still to be determined whether he can hit MLB lefties, however.

Yoenis Cespedes‘s patience

Ever since the Mets’ first homestand, Cespedes has been chasing fewer really bad pitches than in the past. With plenty of respectable hitters behind him, even a fair walk rate will help score the team some extra runs.

Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz

Thor’s stayed healthy and added weapons, while Matz has been tough for batters to square up despite inconsistent secondary stuff. It’s not a surprise that both youngsters continue to improve, but their rate of improvement has to be seen as great news.

Antonio Bastardo

After looking awful in March, and despite diminished velocity, Bastardo has been fantastic in most of his outings, getting back to his bread and butter: a fastball with the most vertical rise in MLB.

Addison Reed

94 mph and a decent-to-good slider is nothing special in today’s relief pitching. Yet Reed has racked up a ton of whiffs and gotten a bunch of late-inning leads to Familia.

Stellar relief pitching in general

Out of a group like Reed, Bastardo, Robles, Blevins, Henderson and Verrett, you expect some ups and downs. At any given moment, some will be hot, and some will be cold. Well, not so to begin 2016! In addition to Familia’s expected effectiveness, every single member of his supporting cast has been good, giving the Mets the deepest ‘pen in the league.

The bad:

Not hitting except for homeruns

The Mets are hitting .235, tied for second-worst in the NL. Their hitting with runners in scoring position is dead last at .208, and their Clutch WPA stat is 35% worse than any other team in baseball outside of Houston. We’ve seen a high number of HRs, an average number of walks, and a whole lot of choking.

Matt Harvey

Except for 6 innings against the Padres and his first 2 innings against the Reds, the guy wearing the Matt Harvey jersey has shown nothing in common with the guy who wore it in 2013 and 2015. Velocity down, command erratic, and no idea where the ball is going in the strike zone. We didn’t know it was even possible for him to be this bad with his right arm still attached.

Jacob deGrom

He’s gone from elite at 95 to merely effective at 92. This team might need him to be elite.

Wilmer Flores

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that a young player playing sporadically would struggle, but .180 with 2 RBI and bad defense is bad enough to make me wonder if he’s better off developing in the minors.

Alejandro De Aza

With that little playing time, I guess even veteran bench guys can struggle.

Travis d’Arnaud

His body can’t even survive a routine thing like throwing? It’s looking more and more like he’s too fragile for this sport. It doesn’t help his stock that the Mets’ pitch-calling and basestealer-catching improved dramatically once Travis went down.

The impossible:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Bartolo Colon steps to the plate…

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What’s NOT Wrong with Matt Harvey and How To Fix What Is

Mets pitcher Matt Harvey pitching motion at max external rotation

Tonight Matt Harvey faces Stephen Strasburg. Normally that would be an exciting sentence for Mets fans, Nationals fans — heck, baseball fans in general. Instead, it’s a sentence that makes Mets fans cringe.

Why? Because Matt Harvey is a mess (at least, that’s how The New York Post describes it). And the headline is apt — Harvey admits

“I’m just not feeling comfortable throwing a baseball right now, so it’s frustrating.”

So what’s his problem? How can it be fixed?

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Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 3-1

After reading the replies to a recent article here on MetsToday (Who are 2016’s Ten Most Important Mets?), I’ve come up with final rankings for this exercise, which I’ll proceed through in countdown fashion. For each player, I’ll list my subjective predictions, based on watching nearly every inning and every plate appearance over the last few years. I’ll do my best to identify something that I think the national experts and pundits have missed.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Second installment: Mets No. 6-4

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.

 

Prelude

MetsToday voters overwhelmingly picked Yoenis Cespedes as the Mets’ most important position player, and five young arms as the team’s most important players overall. The feeling here in March seemed to be that the 2016 Mets would go as far as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Jeurys Familia would take them.

Here on May 18, the Mets are on a pace for 94 wins, but things haven’t exactly gone as planned. Familia hasn’t blown a save, but also hasn’t dominated the way he did for most of 2015. DeGrom hasn’t been sharp and hasn’t been able to throw hard, seeing his whiff rate cut nearly in half. Harvey’s been awful. The two pitchers with the least experience, Matz and Syndergaard, have been leading the way. Are they better than Harvey and deGrom? Are they just hot right now? Are some of the Mets’ ace hopefuls on the upswing of their careers, while others, still only in their 20s, are already on the downswing? Are Harvey and deGrom, purportedly healthy, going to find it tomorrow and return to their 2013 and 2015 selves, respectively? Or are Matz and Syndergaard destined to decline soon too, from throwing too hard for seasons that run too long?

To provide some perspective on these questions, I’d like to look back 18 years to one of the great untold stories of pitching greatness, and the decline thereof, during my time as a baseball fan. I’d like to talk about Greg Maddux.

Best Pitcher Ever?
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Darryl Strawberry: Career Counselor?

ICMYI Jose Reyes was suspended recently until May 31 for violating MLB’s domestic abuse policy. The ugly details of the “alleged” incident last Halloween involving Reyes and his wife (interestingly enough the same night the Mets hosted Game 4 of the World Series) are just a Google search away.

It was the latest in a steady downward spiral of his career path for Jose since he departed the Mets after the 2011 season. A path which has included two trades, several stints on the DL and a steep decline in both his slash lines and his WAR. He is likely on the move again, as the Rockies have a budding superstar at short and Reyes is owed a ton of money through next year. It is a sharp decline for the guy who less than a decade ago was one of the top five offensive players in team history.

And, there is another member of that somewhat diminutive club who predicted it.

Back in September of 2011, when Jose was trying to be the first Met to win an NL batting crown, Darryl Strawberry surfaced and warned Reyes to stay in New York. Darryl was uniquely qualified to give that advice has his nearly surefire hall of fame career went up in smoke (and probably his nose) after he departed Queens for his hometown of LA after the 1990 season. Instead of listening, Jose took a houseboat-sized load of cash from the new-look Miami Marlins, beginning an odyssey that has taken him from Miami to Toronto and now Denver and the suspended list.

Reyes was a mere sad shell of his former self during Colorado’s visit here last August. He has deteriorated since. It’s hard to say what might have happened if he stayed here, but as one of the more beloved figures in Met history, he might have at least been given some compassion and direction. Look at how the Mets have worked with David Wright as his injuries have curtailed his effectiveness and most likely, his career.

Reyes meant something to this town. Now, he is just another unwanted, over-the-hill mercenary with apparent behavioral issues. It’s just another precautionary tale about choosing money over a good situation, one that will no doubt be discounted by the next homegrown superstar in his walk year. **cough**cough**Matt Harvey.

And no, I am not advocating a trade back here.

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Game 19 Recap: The Start of Something Big?

There are those moments in Mets history when you just know. When the team does something that transcends the boxscore, sending a subliminal message that this is going to be a special season. Sometimes, the message comes late in the season. For the 1973 Mets, it was the September “Ball On The Wall” miracle. For last year’s heroes, it was the Wilmer Flores walk off homer over the Nats in August. Sometimes, though, the moment is early.

2006 had Carlos Beltran’s 2-homer game in a 16-inning win over the Phils in mid-May. The 86 Mets had Wally Backman’s diving stop of a Terry Pendleton liner that started a game preserving double play. That game was in late April. When the Mets left St. Louis one day (and more victory) later, the Cards all but ran up the white flag.

Granted, those other wins came against key divisional rivals, something the Cincinnati Reds definitely are not. Although that infamous extra inning affair with them back in 86, when Ray Knight cold cocked Eric Davis and Jessie Orosco played left field, was for me at least, the moment that I knew the Mets where not about to blow the big lead they had in the NL East and that they where going back to the playoffs.

But on a night where they looked as if they had rolled over and died, a night when a patchwork lineup made Reds starter Brandon Finnegan look like Cy Young, on a night when “Big Sexy” showed a few blemishes, two injured Mets starters blasted and blooped the team to an improbable 4-3 win over the Reds at Citi Field. In so doing, they drew within two games of the fast-starting Washington Nationals.

Exhale everybody, Washington won’t run away with it. There will be a pennant race in the NL East after all.

ICYMI, the Mets entered the seventh inning trailing 3-0. With one out, Juan Lagares drew a walk, which was followed by a Kevin Plawecki single. (BTW, I have grown tired of waiting for Travis d’Arnaud, bring on Plawecki). After a dramatic pause, Yoenis Cespedes stepped out of the dugout and strode to the plate to bat in the pitcher’s spot. In a rare case (for him) of successful gamesmanship, Mets manager Terry Collins fooled the Reds into believing that Lucas Duda, rather than Cespedes, would pinch hit. As a result the Reds kept Finnegan in for one pitch too many. “Yo” blasted Finnegan’s first offering 345 feet off the old wall in left, tying the game and turning Citi into an insane asylum. Next, Curtis Granderson tripled and one out later, David Wright blooped a single over third, plating the go ahead run. Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia got the final six outs. Final score: Mets 4, Reds 3.

After a lethargic spring training and a slow first week, the Mets appear to be hitting a good stride. FWIW, I would move Wright out of the 2-hole and instead go Cabrera-Conforto-Cespedes-Duda-Walker two through six, respectively. This isn’t hating on David, as I certainly appreciate all he has done for this franchise, but his power is all but gone and his bat has slowed. I maintain that he will retire long before his contract is up.

The Mets window of contention is wide open right now. As was the case last year, they are looking at some potential key defections in the offseason, so there is (or should be) a sense of urgency to this year. It’s an overused cliché for sure, but momentum in baseball is the next game’s starting pitcher. The Mets have a pretty good one going for game 20. Let’s hope he gets untracked.

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Mets Recap: Conforto gets Comforto, Harvey Dented and More

So…maybe they needed a fire lit underneath them after all. After last week’s controversial all out effort to beat the Marlins, the Mets have won three of their next four games, including a series win on the road in Cleveland. Last night, David Wright drank from the fountain of youth that he must have hidden somewhere in Philadelphia, while Noah Syndergaard continued to look like the next Nolan Ryan. All told, a tidy little 5-2 win over the Phillies.

Suddenly, that lead the Nats have doesn’t seem all that insurmountable, no?

Two other developments are worth noting. The first is the ascendancy of Michael Conforto to the three hole in the batting order. No pressure kid, just go out there and carry the lineup. So far so good, a slash line of 333/375/733. If (and its still a big if) he can maintain some semblance of this pace, he provides a stabilizing presence in the lineup, probably the first since Wright was in his recognized prime. Of all of his swings, I was most impressed by one that Conforto took on a foul ball last night. The ball was nearly in on his wrists, but he was able to turn on it, sending a rocket down the right field line that was barely foul. With Wright fading and players like Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud appearing to be too streaky and/or injury prone, Conforto has a good chance of being the next big face of the Mets, at least among the position players.

Speaking of former faces of the Mets, the last Matt Harvey start was disturbing. ICYMI, Matt flirted with perfection for four innings last Saturday before being strafed by the Cleveland batters for five runs in less than two innings. The loss lowered Matt’s record to 0-3 and his ERA is a whopping 5.71. Worse, his WHIP sits at 1.55, nearly half a runner higher than his previous norms. Pitching coach Dan Warthen claims to have discovered a flaw in Matt’s delivery. Let’s hope that is all it is. Early returns for sure, but the Mets offense appears to be very much a feast or famine machine and their bullpen has been shaky, to say the least. That puts all the pressure on their vaunted starting staff to cover this multitude of sins. If innings and injuries have reduced Harvey to a mere mortal, the Mets will be without a vital cog in their defense of the NL crown. Matt’s next start, probably this Friday in Atlanta will be a very important one, as he tries to get back on track. There is certainly an unlikeability factor about Matt, but there is no doubting that the Mets really need him to be Matt Harvey.

And finally, a big sigh of relief, all the way around, for Jacob deGrom. Not only did he avoid the DL for his lat injury, but his infant son is by all accounts past a medical scare and came safely home. Its cliché for sure, but it is incidents like that which remind us of what really counts and what’s just entertainment.

I think we’re in for a season that will be both fascinating and turbulent. So in the words of the late, great Bob Murphy: “fasten your seatbelts.”

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Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 6-4

After reading the replies to a recent article here on MetsToday (Who are 2016’s Ten Most Important Mets?), I’ve come up with final rankings for this exercise, which I’ll proceed through in countdown fashion. For each player, I’ll list my subjective predictions, based on watching nearly every inning and every plate appearance over the last few years. I’ll do my best to identify something that I think the national experts and pundits have missed.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Third installment: Mets No. 3-1

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.

 

#6. Yoenis Cespedes

SourceGAVGOBPSLGOffDefWAR
Steamer129.256.303.4597.91.62.9
ZiPS140.270.314.50016.02.53.9

Was 2015 the beginning of a new level of performance, or a career year? I’ll guess the latter. At the time he caught fire for the Mets, Cespedes was 29 with roughly 2000 MLB plate appearances under his belt, and it’s unusual for hitters to make big improvements at that stage. We also saw his flaws in late September and October, as his free-swinging ways were more costly once his timing was no longer perfect. This is who he’d always been, and this is who I think he’ll be going forward: an extra-base hit machine who makes way too many outs. It’s nice to know how much damage he can do when he’s hot, but when he’s not, you can forget the “lineup presence” narrative. Pitchers are not scared of a guy they can get to chase pitches above and below the zone.

On the positive side, the Mets’ deep lineup and leadoff walk machine (Granderson) should help make Cespedes’s doubles and homers extremely productive. 100 RBI from Yoenis would not surprise me, and that’s saying something in today’s game.

Beyond that, I expect him to play more than the projection systems do (I don’t see any particular injury vulnerabilities, he generally plays under control), but I expect his defensive value to take a hit with more time in his less-adept position, center field.

My prediction:

GAVGOBPSLGWAR
150.267.311.4693.6

 
 

#5. Steven Matz

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Does Terry Collins Read Mets Today?

To quote Howard Cosell, “what a performance.” The calendar may have read April 13, but the Mets acted as if it were October 13, as they pulled out all the stops; from high-priced outfielders supermanning it into the stands, to their valuable closer getting five outs, coupled together with some aggressive base running, all in an effort to stem a losing streak and getting a win over what may prove to be a very pesky division rival.

I may be in the minority on this, but I applaud these efforts. As I wrote here, have wasted way too many days and nights of my life watching players and managers wearing Met uniforms that appeared to be simply mailing it in. “There’s still plenty of time,” they would say, or “wait until the weather gets warmer,” or “they (the Pirates, the Phillies, the Braves, etc.) will have their slump and we’ll close the gap.” The dearth of championship banners waving in the breeze on top of Citi Field is a good indication of the results of this way of thinking.

After Wednesday’s tour de force, Mets manager Terry Collins made several statements that made me wonder if he isn’t lurking somewhere on this blog.”The perception is there’s no energy here, which is completely not true,” Collins said. “That we’re not prepared. That we’re overconfident or we’re not taking things seriously. I heard that and it made me sick to my stomach.

“I (Collins) said, ‘We’ve got to win this game. We’ve got to show people we mean business…I just thought it was important for our fan base, to stay excited.”

Isn’t this what we want? So why is he being ripped in the papers, on talk radio and in other blogs? I thought the feeling was that after watching the Royals rub their collective noses in it for two days to open the season, that we wanted this kind of play, right from the start. We got it from them yesterday and now we don’t like it?

What’s wrong with us?

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This hat is called Nike New York Mets Royal Blue Heritage 86 Cooperstown Vintage Relaxed Mesh Back Adjustable Hat I kind of like the logo, don't you? Not sure I'm ready to go back to the mesh back and adjustable snap-back style that I wore exclusively from age 6 to 18. Retro is cool, I guess, but, isn't it lame ...

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8.5 mets-nike-hat

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