David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
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Fourth Rotation

The Mets’ hopes for 2017 rest in large part on their starting pitching staff. Is this quintet a major strength which can carry the team? Or do various health and effectiveness concerns place them somewhere short of that status? Let’s take a look at the fourth rotation through the Mets’ (hopefully) fab five and note what we’ve seen.


What I saw

Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard used an extremely methodical delivery in a perfect first inning, but then began missing up with everything once men were on base in the middle innings. Noah also routinely got ahead in the count with fastballs and then threw more fastballs, making it easier for the Phils to stay in at bats. After a leadoff single in the 5th, Syndergaard went back to being more deliberate, and pitched more effectively. In the 6th and 7th, he was fortunate on a bunch of hard line outs.

Matt Harvey

I didn’t see this game. Leapfrogging deGrom in the rotation thanks to Jacob’s stiff neck, Harvey pitched on regular rest, posting a decent line against a good offensive team but striking out only two. If there’s anything to read into the postgame comments, it’s not good: Collins called him “not sharp”, and Harvey expressed relief that things didn’t spiral out of control like last year. I would have been much more heartened to hear him say, “I figured out how to work with what I had,” or something else more active and less lucky.

Jacob deGrom

DeGrom showed no-hit stuff for the first time through the order, hitting the black on both sides
of the plate with tons of life at 96-98. But virtually all the pitches he threw were fastballs. He tried a few sliders and just missed. He bounced a change-up. The second time through the lineup,
that wasn’t enough. Every time his fastball was off the plate, the Nats took it. Every time it caught too much plate, they hit an opposite-field line drive. By the time Jacob committed to throwing some sliders, the Nats were rolling. By the time he threw his first curveball, he’d allowed 3 runs and was on his way out of the game. Strange to see with Rene Rivera behind the plate, whose pitch-calling I usually prefer to d’Arnaud’s.

DeGrom also wore down, throwing 93 without much precision by the end of a laborious 5th inning. Maybe he came out too fired up and wasted too many bullets early on? Or maybe the neck stiffness which pushed back his start came back after a few inning breaks?

Zack Wheeler

This start was a testament to the effectiveness of mixing pitches, alternating between fastball, slider and curve without ever throwing the same one too many times in a row. Great sequences by Wheeler and Kevin Plawecki, and great objectivity by the umpire, who consistently called a strike a strike regardless of how far Wheeler was from the target. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen so many inside strikes on pitches where the catcher set up away, or high strikes on pitches where the catcher set up low. Wheeler was rarely within a foot of his target, but still wound up throwing a lot of strikes, leading to short at bats and the Nats never really getting a read on his stuff. Perhaps his slider was particularly deceptive, as the Nats were taking fastball hacks at it all night.

Zack kept the ball down a little better as the game went on, but still hit the inside corner by accident as often as he hit the outside corner on purpose. Apparently pitching inside works even if you don’t mean to! Wheeler’s line would have looked very good if not for one pitch in Murphy’s wheelhouse with the bases loaded. Still, this start has to be concerning for his complete inability to repeat his motion and locate his pitches.

Robert Gsellman

Pitching on extra rest after an off day and a rainout, Gsellman had very little working for him. His fastball was running and sinking a bit, but it wasn’t sharp and late, and the Braves clearly saw it well. They sat on the fastball away and calmly lined it to the opposite field, past a Mets defense that was playing mostly to pull. That’s where those 10 hits in 4 innings came from. Shades of Mike Pelfrey, anyone?

As the game progressed, Gsellman stopped trying to force his slider (which was consistently up), mixed in some good change-ups, and got a little better movement on his fastball. As a team, though, the Mets never did adjust to the Braves’ approach, e.g. by pitching inside.

What did you see?

Please share your observations in the comments!


Third Rotation

The Mets’ hopes for 2017 rest in large part on their starting pitching staff. Is this quintet a major strength which can carry the team? Or do various health and effectiveness concerns place them somewhere short of that status? Let’s take a look at the third rotation through the Mets’ (hopefully) fab five and note what we’ve seen.


What I saw

Noah Syndergaard

Much like his in first two starts, Syndergaard’s velocity and fastball command were good but not at their best. He didn’t look dominant, but the Marlins didn’t hit him hard either. He threw more two-seamers than usual, with great movement but poor location (the pitch to the glove side consistently ran back over the middle). Three great signs: a 100 mph fastball up and in to put away Christian Yelich; a slow motion clip of his motion in which his arm is not nearly as late as it used to be; and the fact that the Marlins only attempted one stolen base. Hopefully the torn fingernails that forced Noah from the game were a one-time concern.

Jacob deGrom

I didn’t see the familiar deGrom motion. He was staying taller through his delivery, possibly getting less extension, and producing less obvious run on his fastball. After a few yanked pitches to the glove side, a few bad breaking balls, and an atypical reliance on two-seamers, I was pessimistic about Jacob’s outing. Then he got angry and established an absolutely dominant groove, striking out 13, many of those on fastballs.

It looked like deGrom was headed for his first win until Collins left in a gassed Fernando Salas to face Yelich as the tying run and Yelich hit one into the upper deck.

Matt Harvey

Harvey had great life on his fastball, and mostly commanded it well at 94-95 mph. His slider had good tilt and depth. He mixed in a few good curves, but not many, and his change-up wasn’t a major factor (he got some up early and may have decided to stay away from it). Matt arguably faced more adversity in this start than his previous ones, and it was nice to see him come through this test without the sort of collapse that became routine in 2016. His command did look a bit worse with men on, but it wasn’t anything catastrophic.

Zack Wheeler

I didn’t see this one live, but all the plays I saw with Zack on the mound in the condensed game video clip seemed to come on 3-2 pitches. Wheeler’s pitch count reached 86 through 4 innings. Unwelcome shades of 2014.

Robert Gsellman

Gsellman repeatedly froze lefties with the Bartolo Colon come-back two-seamer to the inside corner. He also snapped off some sharp curveballs. Robert didn’t throw quite enough strikes with his secondary pitches to keep hitters off the fastball – his slider in particular was mostly in the dirt – but he was still effective, and looked strong through 7 innings and 98 pitches.

What did you see?

Please share your observations in the comments!


Second Rotation

The Mets’ hopes for 2017 rest in large part on their starting pitching staff, which has the potential to blow the competition away… if they stay healthy. Let’s take a look at the second rotation through the Mets’ (hopefully) fab five and note what we’ve seen.


What I saw

Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard finally brought back his curveball, and his full mix of pitches was too much for the Marlins to handle. Noah had trouble getting his fastball down, but his gas often works better upstairs anyway. A dominant outing, with the final line marred only by one bad pitch to Dee Gordon.

Jacob deGrom

Jacob’s fastball was flat, and even when he located it at 95, hitters were able to foul it back. The only other times I’ve seen the pitch lack its signature late life were when deGrom was injured (with the last 3 starts of 2016 being the prime example).

His secondary stuff was up in the first inning, but he got it down after that (though not the fastball) and pitched five good innings on primarily curveballs and change-ups. As Ron Darling said, even deGrom’s bad starts are pretty good.

Matt Harvey

Harvey didn’t show any consistent ability to locate his fastball, but the pitch was 94+ with great life, and his arm swing looked more free and easy to me. His secondary stuff featured the sharpest downward break I’ve ever seen from Matt, though it was often in the dirt.

Zack Wheeler

Wheeler took a huge step forward. Just like his first start, he threw plenty of strikes, but this time he mixed in effective breaking balls. Despite occasionally yanking or spiking a pitch, Zack’s location was solid overall, with lots of sinkers at the knees generating easy ground balls. Not his most dominant performance, but arguably the best I’ve ever seen him pitch… for the first 5 innings. In the 6th he had nothing, and Collins left him out there to load the bases anyway. (Which Hansel Robles promptly un-loaded via a grand slam meatball to Maikel Franco, turning Wheeler’s line from 0 earned runs to 3.) In non-contact sports, injury generally occurs when pushing past the point of fatigue, and Wheeler threw a dozen or so offerings after losing all ability to finish his pitches.

Ron Darling made the excellent point that managing to the pitch count has this downside: not only do managers pull a guy who’s cruising because the pitch count gets too high, they’ll also leave in a guy who’s gassed because the pitch count looks low.

Note: The Phillies fouled off a few short-breaking, high-velocity sliders, leading me to wonder: Are all five Met righties throwing the Warthen slider now? And if so, are opponents going to get used to it?

Robert Gsellman

Fastball command continued to be a problem for Gsellman. To his arm side, it was occasionally unhittable and otherwise okay, but to his glove side it was flat and up. Unfortunately, d’Arnaud kept calling for that pitch, even after Gsellman had carved up some Marlins hitters with his curveball. The curve was great all night until Robert tried to throw it on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded and it didn’t break.

His line looks horrible, but he retired the Marlins in order in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th innings. The first 4 runs he allowed were the result of an error that was bizarrely scored a hit, and one bad pitch to Marcell Ozuna for a two-out grand slam. Then in the 5th he was left in after running out of gas, much like Wheeler.

What did you see?

Please share your observations in the comments!


First Rotation

The Mets’ hopes for 2017 rest in large part on their starting pitching staff. On paper, the Nationals and Marlins have better hitting and defense, but the Mets’ rotation has the potential to blow the competition away… if they stay healthy.

A team’s group of starting pitchers is often referred to in baseball as “the rotation” for how it cycles from #1 through #5 (usually) then back to #1 again. Let’s take a look at the first rotation through the Mets’ pitching staff and note what we’ve seen. Is everyone looking healthy and effective?


What I saw

Noah Syndergaard

Not his best location, but not bad either. Better downward movement on his change-up than I’ve ever seen. Usual great velocity, but that waned in the later innings along with slider command. Removed because of a blood blister on his middle finger, which probably accounts for some issues. I’ve always thought Noah was more effective when he pitched up and/or inside more than occasionally, and used his curve regularly as a change of speed. He did neither, which was fine against the Braves, but we’ll see against better opponents.

Jacob deGrom

Great fastball through three innings – not up to Jacob’s peak, but better than early 2016. After emphasizing his change-up during spring training, he didn’t throw it in this game; perhaps the cold was to blame. He showed great command of his slider, painting backdoor to lefties, something I’ve never seen from deGrom. This was the first time I’ve seen him throw the Warthen slider, with higher velocity and shorter break than in the past.

Jacob took a mighty swing at a high fastball in the 3rd inning and grimaced, and after that his velocity dropped from 94-96 to 92. Hopefully these two things are not related, and the reduced speed can be attributed to “first start, cold night”.

Matt Harvey

I saw the same Matt Harvey I saw early in games in 2016. Lots of strikes with different pitches, keeping hitters slightly off balance, but rarely hitting the glove or fully commanding anything. His fastball was mostly 94-95 with a little movement, and his secondary stuff was often elevated. The real test would have come with baserunners on, but the Braves never managed that – all of their batted balls went right to the defense, or over the wall.

I didn’t notice any signs of anything amiss, physically, but I also didn’t see the delivery I saw in 2013 and parts of 2015, when his arm seemed to come through more freely to get the ball down and to his glove side.

Zack Wheeler

Wheeler looked as good as I’ve ever seen him in the first inning, dotting the knees with a running fastball at 96. For the rest of the game, his fastball was all over the place, and his breaking balls were mostly hangers. His command of his secondary stuff was so poor that I’m wondering how much he’s actually pitched in the last two years and whether he ought to be progressing through the minors as he rediscovers his stuff. At least he didn’t fall back into the nibbling pattern that was his undoing in many starts in 2014.

His motion might be slightly improved, but is more or less as scary as ever. I am reminded a bit of Rich Harden.

Robert Gsellman

Gsellman’s best weapon wasn’t there – his two-seam fastball was running flat instead of sinking, and the Marlins destroyed the pitch. Fortunately, Gsellman kept the Mets in the game with some well-timed change-ups and well-placed curveballs. He also did an admirable job of keeping his composure through adversity, a great sign in his 8th big league start.

What did you see?

Please share your observations in the comments!


Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2016?

This is the fourth annual article on this topic.
The 2014 edition is here.
The 2015 edition is here.
The 2016 edition is here.

The story so far…

After providing fans with an exquisite array of heartbreak, disappointment, frustration and disgust from 2007-2013, the Mets finally reversed course in 2014. Despite a 79-83 record, the 2014 season saw a big jump forward thanks to Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and 6th-runner-ups Travis d’Arnaud and Jeurys Familia. Add in the emergence of Juan Lagares and Lucas Duda, and the progress of several top prospects, and the future finally looked bright. In 2015, that future arrived in late July, when acquisitions to bolster a weak supporting cast allowed the team’s exceptional starting pitching to carry the Mets all the way to game five of the World Series. Entering 2016, the New York baseball headlines eagerly questioned whether the Nationals had a realistic shot at the Mets, and whether the Mets had a realistic shot at “Best Rotation Ever.”

So what actually happened in 2016?

Well, the short answer is that the team finished 8 games behind the Nationals but won 87 games and made it to the Wild Card game, where a bad outing from Jeurys Familia was all Madison Bumgarner needed to send the Mets home for the winter.

The long answer is much more complicated. Very little went exactly as planned. There were a lot of disappointments, but also a lot of pleasant surprises. The pitching staff did excel, but that was less about Matt Harvey and more about minor leaguers stepping up and a career year for the team’s 8th inning guy. The Mets’ corner infield bats got hurt, but the middle infielders suddenly morphed into sluggers. Prospects backslid, and aging veterans turned it on late. Given their position in mid-August, playing past Game 162 was a triumph, and the 2016 team deserves as much credit for clutch play and intangibles as any Mets squad in recent memory.


I’m not sure where all that leaves us going forward. Should Mets fans be optimistic based on two consecutive playoff appearances? Or should we be pessimistic based on the team’s worsening injury history, the projections which all favor the Nationals, and the fact that 2016’s path to success doesn’t exactly look repeatable? Should 2016 be viewed as this team’s toughest trial, or as the kind of grind they’ll need to endure every year if they hope to play in upcoming Octobers?

Let’s examine how the Mets’ roster has progressed since this time last year. I’ll focus on future takeaways, but also give some nods to 2016’s developments in the never-ending soap opera that is Mets fandom.

Stock Up, Stock Down


Travis d’Arnaudstock: down
From 2013-2015, d’Arnaud juggled health, offense, and defense. He never put all three together at once, but seemed to be trending upward overall. That came to a halt in 2016, when he combined injury with poor play on both sides of the ball. The missed time and the ugly throwing would have been much easier to tolerate if he’d repeated his .485 slugging percentage from 2015; unfortunately, he cratered at .323 instead. Age 28 isn’t necessarily all that late in a catcher’s development, so d’Arnaud retains some of his ceiling, but he’s shown that his floor is way too low for a contending team’s comfort.

Kevin Plaweckistock: down


The case for starting Juan Lagares

Jaun Lagares

Imagine you have a pretty good slugger on your team — not an MVP candidate, more like a borderline All-Star. Someone like Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton, or maybe Marcell Ozuna or Melky Cabrera, or maybe Carlos Beltran. A hitter with flaws, and risks — maybe they get injured too much, or are too slump-prone, or strike out a ton — but overall a good hitter, without a doubt. Now imagine that, in the field, they’re below average; might hurt you a bit out there. So, this player… do you play them? Do you put them in your lineup every day?

This isn’t a trick question. If you’re anything like the typical baseball fan, or player, or manager, or executive, the answer is “yes.”

Okay, second imaginary scenario: you have a hitter on your team who doesn’t make a lot of outs. He draws walks, gets hit by pitches, bunts for singles, and so on. You have other guys who do other things better, so this get-on-base guy doesn’t play every inning of every game, and that’s fine. So what should his role be? Do you only use him when you’re trailing late in games and the guy leading off the inning isn’t very good and you want to pinch-hit with a rally-starter? Or do you use your on-base machine, y’know, most of the time, figuring that every time he reaches base instead of making an out is a good thing?

Again, not a trick question. Again, it seems to me that the obvious, agreed-upon answer is “yes.” You use this player most of the time. Sub him out when the situation warrants; otherwise, let him play.

Doesn’t this make sense? If you have someone like Carlos Beltran on your team, you’d like to give him four at bats every day, right? And if he’s slow and wears down easily and can’t field anymore, you still try to get him as many at bats as you reasonably can, right?

Now imagine the exact same player, except he does it with his glove rather than his bat.

That’s Juan Lagares.

 best 2-year dWARworst 1-year dWAR
Juan Lagares6.90.4

In 2013-2014 combined, Baseball Reference credits Juan Lagares with 6.9 defensive WAR. Then in 2015 he was awful, with 0.4 dWAR. Then in 2016 he was only given a part-time role.

Those other players I mentioned above, the ones who do it with their bats? In the last few seasons (I looked back as far as 2012), they’ve had good years and bad years too. None of them were demoted to part-time roles.

 best 2-year oWARworst 1-year oWAR
Justin Upton6.82.0
Carlos Gonzalez6.7-0.1
Carlos Beltran6.30.3
Melky Cabrera5.20.4
Marcell Ozuna4.10.7

When a hitter demonstrates that type of ability but then has a bad year, most teams give him another chance. And sometimes another, and another. When a hitter shows he can be elite, he doesn’t wind up in a role where he’s only used if the situation is perfect.

Juan Lagares shouldn’t be a back-up. Juan Lagares shouldn’t be playing only when the Mets are leading and he can sub in for a player who won’t bat again, on the off chance that someone hits a difficult fly ball his way in the tiny portion of the game remaining.

Juan Lagares should be given the chance to recapture his form from 2013-2014, to see if he can save the Mets as many runs with his glove as some of those hundred million dollar men add with their bats. He should be pinch-hit for when the situation calls for it, and left in the lineup otherwise to work his magic on as many defensive plays as possible.

Juan Lagares should be the Mets’ 2017 starting center fielder.


Mets bullpen needs a split

Putnam, Uehara, Holland

I’ve always been a fan of rare pitches. It’s made sense to me that a pitch batters see less often will be harder for them to recognize, and a pitch they get fewer swings against will be harder to barrel up. In today’s game, the cut fastball is the latest pitch to go from rarity to trend, and it’s recently gotten to the point where batters are crushing the mediocre ones.

Not so with our old friend the split-finger fastball. The big pitch of the 1980s is now thrown by very few MLB pitchers, and every time a guy from Japan comes over and features a good one, it seems to produce great results. Akinori Otsuka? Hideki Okajima? These guys weren’t studs in Japan, but their out-pitches sure translated to MLB. Was it because their splitters were particularly great? Or was it because MLB hitters didn’t have any to practice on? In 2006 Salomon Torres led MLB in appearances and was the Astros’ and Brewers’ kryptonite, throwing a fastball whose velocity was embarrassing for a late-inning short reliever. He didn’t throw it too much, though; his go-to pitch was his splitter.

The Mets aren’t primed to throw out huge dollars or give away huge talent for a sure-thing reliever. But bargain-hunting doesn’t seem appropriate for a team with a lot of “win now” to it either. So how about a mixed-bag guy with a great out pitch? How about betting on the splitter?

First up is Koji Uehara, a strike-thrower with the best K/BB rate in MLB history. He’s a free agent who’s willing to pitch in a variety of roles and shouldn’t break the bank. His fastball is deceptive and made more so by his sharp, diving splitter, which he throws a ton. The risks: he’s 41, can be homerun prone, and had his worst year as an MLB reliever last season.

Next up is Zach Putnam. Putnam throws his splitter almost exclusively in some outings. When it’s at its best, he doesn’t need anything else. Putnam pitches for the team which just traded away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, so I have a feeling he’s not off-limits. I’d guess that the Mets should be able to part with a palatable amount of minor league upside for him. The risks: health. Putnam’s arm is extremely late in his delivery, and he’s already had shoulder and elbow problems in his short career.

Finally, we have former elite closer Greg Holland, more of a guy who happens to throw a splitter than a “splitter guy” like Putnam and Uehara. At his best, Holland’s fastball, slider and splitter were all elite. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery and looking to re-establish himself, so this is as cheap as he’s going to get. Unfortunately, the place where he’s looking to re-establish himself is in the 9th inning, where the Mets’ incumbent just saved 51 games.

I don’t know which of these options is the best bet, and which is the most doable for the Mets. But I do think they’d be well-served to pick the best option and go for it. I’d love to see the swings the NL East would get against the splitters thrown by these guys they’ve never (or at least rarely) faced before. Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy may not have ever seen anything like it!

Which of these three pitchers would you prefer? Got any better ideas for relief help? Let us know in the comments!


Braves preempt market on innings-eaters

Dickey and Colon

In case you missed the news, the Atlanta Braves just made two player acquisition moves. News broke on Thursday that they had signed R.A. Dickey and on Friday that they had signed Bartolo Colon.

I think it’s a huge whiff on the Mets’ part to not bring back Colon. Was the team unprepared to negotiate? Was the $12.5M price tag way too steep? Were the Mets somehow not interested in Bart’s services?

Dickey would have been a fine back-up plan, another low-ceiling, high-floor innings-eater. But the Braves gobbled him up first.

I don’t think I need to be particularly pessimistic about the Mets’ young starters’ health to predict that we’ll be seeing a lot of innings from pitchers worse than Colon in 2017.

Plus, as a fan, it’s going to be hard for me to root against Dickey and Colon the 5 or so times the Mets face them this year.

Oh, and also, a division rival just got better.

As a Mets fan, I’m not happy with these developments, not one bit. What’s your reaction?