Tag: michael cuddyer

Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves

It was a very productive opening series for the New York Mets as they took two of three from the Washington Nationals to start off the season. Bartolo Colon was impressive on Monday, pitching six innings of three-hit ball in a 3-1 victory. Matt Harvey stole the show on Wednesday, pitching six shutout innings and striking out nine Nationals.

So the Mets are sitting at 2-1 and travel to Atlanta for a three-game series against the Braves at Turner Field. The Braves opened the season with a sweep over the Marlins in Miami, outscoring them 16-3. Fredi Gonzalez’s team is one of three undefeated teams in the National league, along with Cincinnati and Colorado.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: LHP Jon Niese (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Eric Stults (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Niese makes his 2015 debut on Friday after posting solid numbers last season. In 30 starts in 2014, Niese posted a 3.40 ERA and a 9-11 record — though his ERA predictors say he over-performed slightly with a FIP of 3.67.

Niese didn’t blow anyone away with a fastball that averaged 88.5 MPH in 2014, but ranked in the top 20 in the NL in keeping the ball in the yard, allowing only 0.82 HR per nine innings.

However, home runs were a major weakness for Stults, who allowed more HR per nine innings than any other qualified starter — despite making 13 starts at spacious Petco Park for the Padres last season. Stults was able to earn a spot in the Braves rotation based on a strong spring training.

Stults is another soft-tossing left-hander who will struggle to record strikeouts as he averages less than six per nine innings in his eight-year major league career.

Saturday: RHP Dillon Gee (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (1-0, 1.50 ERA)

It was anticipated that Gee would be headed to the bullpen or possibly to a different team for the 2015 season until RHP Zack Wheeler was lost for the season with an arm injury. Gee only pitched 137.1 innings in 2014, posting a 4.00 ERA. As a student, a 4.0 is excellent, but as a pitcher that is the equivalent of a “C” average.

Gee saw his changeup improve drastically, a pitch that was only 0.7 runs above average in 2013, but improved to 9.9 runs above average in 2014. At only 28 years-old, Gee is still developing as a pitcher, but if he can keep having success with his changeup in 2015, then it will not be a stretch for him to keep his rotation spot for the whole season.

On the other hand, Teheran was the Braves Opening Day starter. He pitched well, allowing only one run over six innings and striking out six Marlins on Monday. Teheran was once a top prospect in the Braves system, but it took him longer than anticipated to develop into a No. 1 starter. However, he’s enjoyed a great deal of success in the last two seasons, recording a 3.20 ERA in 2013 and then improving on that with a 2.89 ERA last season.

Teheran was one of the few major pieces that Braves Interim GM John Hart did not trade this offseason, or right before Opening Day in Craig Kimbrel’s case. The right-hander ranks ninth in the NL in wins over the last two seasons with 28. Teheran has flashed some of his potential, but he could be due for a breakout season that puts him up there with Matt Harvey, deGrom and the whole Nationals rotation for the best young arms in the division.

Sunday: TBD vs. Alex Wood (1-0, 3.60 ERA)

The Mets have yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday’s contest, but we can assume it will be opening-day starter Bartolo Colon. Colon was impressive in the win over Washington, pitching six innings and surrendering only three hits and one run. In a game in which he became the oldest Mets pitcher to start on Opening Day (40), Colon looked like he 15 years younger (well, maybe five).

Colon’s effectiveness at his ripe old age is due to pinpoint control his fastball, spotting it on both sides of the plate and up and down in the zone. Surprisingly, Colon has won 43 games in the last three seasons, including a team-leading 15 in 2014 for the Mets. Location doesn’t necessarily go away with age, so we could see Colon putting together more solid outings as the year progresses.

Wood pitched five innings in a win over the Marlins in 2015 debut, allowing four hits and one run. He made 35 appearances last year, including 24 starts. Wood had great success in his 171.2 innings pitched and showed that he can strike hitters out at the major league level with 170 in 2014. Wood will get better as he continues to gain experience and has a secure spot in the Braves rotation.

Players to watch

Mets:

I don’t know if Travis d’Arnaud could have asked for a better start to the season. He is 5-11 (.455 AVG) with 4 RBI to begin the 2015 campaign. According to Mark Simon of ESPN, d’Arnaud could become the first Mets catcher ever to have an RBI in each of the first four games of season. We’ll see if he can get it done against Stults on Friday.

Michael Cuddyer is your early clubhouse leader in strikeouts with five through three games. I know it’s early, but the 21-million-dollar-man might want to improve his .231 average before Mets fans jump to conclusions and assume that signing him wasn’t worth giving up a first-round pick; maybe some have already made the assumption.

Braves:

With Jason Heyward, the Upton brothers and now Kimbrel gone, Freddie Freeman is the new face of the franchise. He was also unsurprisingly one of the top performers in the Miami series with five hits, including two doubles, in 13 at-bats (.385 avg.). If the Braves do any damage on offense this series it will be because of Freeman.

Eric Young Jr. will need to be more productive out of the leadoff spot for the Braves. The 2-10 he went in the opening series is not going to get the job done. Gonzalez has already used Jace Peterson to hit leadoff once and he could do it a whole lot more if EYJ continues to hover around the Mendoza line.

Though Mets fans are familiar with ex-Met EYJr, there are a number of other new faces on the Braves. The previously mentioned Peterson and Phil Gosselin platoon at second base; Jonny Gomes, Cameron Maybin, Nick Markakis, and Young, Jr., comprise the completely overhauled outfield; Christian Bethancourt, who was promoted from the minors at the tail end of last year, starts behind the plate — backed up by A.J. Pierzynski; Kelly Johnson returns to beef up the bench, along with Alberto Callaspo; and Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, Cody Martin, and Brandon Cunniff are new arms in the bullpen. Oh, and Wandy Rodriguez, Trevor Cahill, and the aforementioned Stults make up the back of the starting rotation. Not exactly the Atlanta team you remember from 2014, eh? If nothing else, the 2015 Braves are … different.

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Time is Ripe to Trade Dan Murphy

I know conventional wisdom says the Mets, a financially strapped team that is at least another season away from contention, should almost certainly hold on to a guy like Daniel Murphy, but I can’t help but think they’re best off trading him this winter.

First and foremost, this is assuming the Mets have completely buried the idea that Daniel Murphy can be an everyday second baseman (or at least the better half of a platoon). In which case, Murphy is most valuable as an everyday third baseman.  By keeping Murphy on the bench, the Mets fail to maximize his utility. In other words, for those not familiar with economic jargon, he’s more valuable to another team than he is to the Mets, so long as David Wright is still around.

Of course, a lot of people contend that Murphy would prove quite useful and accumulate plenty of at-bats as a “super-sub.” While the whole Ryan Freel-esque “super-sub” idea sounds really good in theory, it’s flawed and doesn’t really jive with the composition of the current Mets roster.

For one, even if it were the case that Murphy could collect 300-400+ at-bats in a utility role, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s more valuable to another team where he’d accumulate 550-600 at-bats. In other words, an average everyday player provides more value than the best utility player. It’s the same reason why it’s usually ill-advised to move a valuable starting pitcher to the bullpen. (In fact, moving an everyday player to the bench is probably worse; at least pitchers are almost guaranteed to improve their performance if converted to relief. Many hitters’ productions would suffer with more sporadic playing time).

Further, the Mets would be hard-pressed to find playing time for Murphy as a backup. Murphy can play first and third reliably, but David Wright — barring injury — will play every day unless a brutal slump necessitates he take a day off. Ditto Ike Davis, and both Murphy and Davis are left-handed, so he can’t even spot Davis occasionally against a tough southpaw like Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels.

Murphy can probably play second occasionally, so there’s that. Than again, we’ve seen what happens when Murphy only plays second every now and then. He can maybe — maybe — play the corner outfield, though, like Davis, he and Duda are both left-handed. Murphy’s defense will undoubtedly negate a lot of his value in the outfield, so it isn’t that hard to find a fourth outfielder, ala Scott Hairston, that could provide similar value.

Which begs the question, what really is the value of Murphy’s versatility? While Murphy’s offense (.750-.800 OPS.)  is definitely an asset at second — and given the declining state of third base, at the hot corner as well — he doesn’t really provide much value anywhere else. Like I said, fourth outfielders aren’t that hard to find.  Murphy’s offensive production is below average for first basemen, and there are plenty of AAAA mashers out there who could probably provide the same offensive production at first.  And we’re only talking occasional playing time, so marginal differences in value don’t really make a huge difference

Perhaps I’m being naïve here, but the whole value of versatility seems pretty overblown. After all, instead of counting on one guy to be your backup at almost every position, wouldn’t having a solid fourth outfielder, a slick-fielding middle infielder, and a backup first baseman/pinch hitter extraordinaire accomplish the same thing?  Maybe having a super-utility guy allows the team to carry an additional bullpen arm, but a National League team still has to carry at least a four-man bench regardless.

Some people will argue that the Mets should keep Murphy around in case Wright/Davis/Bay/Duda or whoever gets injured. But it’s stupid to keep Murphy around solely because of the possibility that someone might get hurt (especially since none of those players are particularly injury-prone), at the expense of trading him for say, another starter, an outfielder, etc. that you know will play everyday.

Again, if the Mets think Murphy can hold his own at second base, then it makes a lot more sense to hold onto him. His UZR last season was actually quite good at second, although we’re talking about a very small sample size. Having seen his past two seasons derailed by injuries at second base, I imagine the Mets are quite skeptical.

This is also assuming the Mets don’t, of course, trade David Wright instead. At the very least, however, I don’t expect Wright to be dealt before the beginning of the season. Because his 2013 option is voided if he’s traded, Wright’s a one-year rental this year, and a one-year rental the following year to the team that trades for him, and it makes little sense for the Mets to trade him now, as Wright is coming off his worst season and the walls are finally being moved in to accommodate Wright. Although, on the flip side, if Wright merely repeats his 2009-2011 performance, despite the new Citi Field dimensions, his value will not hold steady, but further decrease, since such a season would pretty much confirm the fact that Wright will never re-approach his 2005-2008 MVP-caliber seasons.

What exactly could Murphy fetch in a trade? It’s hard to say, but given production at third base is the lowest it’s been in over a decade, now might be the best time to capitalize on his value.

If the Phillies fail to sign Michael Cuddyer, Murphy could be a very attractive option for the Phils. Murphy appeals to the Phils for the same reasons they are interested in Cuddyer: he could play first base until Ryan Howard returns, and replace Placido Polanco at third, and even occasionally play left or second.  Ideally, the Phillies would want a right-handed bat to balance out their lefty-laden lineup, but otherwise, Murphy certainly dovetails with what the Phillies are looking for.

What could the Mets get? Here I think are a few potential options.

Daniel Murphy for Vance Worley

I think a Murphy for Vance Worley swap could benefit both teams. Worley isn’t as good as his 3.01 era. last year indicates, (3.66 xFIP) but a potential cost-controlled number three or four starter is still quite valuable.

Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell for Domonic Brown

Ok, this might be a bit too optimistic on my part. The Phillies situation with Brown, however, reminds me a lot of the Mets situation with Lastings Milledge four years ago. Not to say Brown will be a bust like Milledge, but Milledge was a similarly highly regarded prospect at the time the Mets dealt him. The Phils appear to have soured quite a bit on Brown the past season, and do not seem willing to commit to him as their everyday left-fielder next season. As the Mets did by trading Milledge to the Nationals for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, the Phils would be trading Brown’s potential for two more dependable  (not to mention cheap) options for next season, at two areas they could use improvement at (first/third base and bullpen). It wouldn’t be the first blunder Ruben Amaro’s ever made.

What do you think? Does it make sense to keep Daniel Murphy around? Why or why not? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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