What Went Wrong: Underachievers
Why did the supposedly most talented team in the National League fail to win at least 90 games in 2007? At least part of it was due to several players falling short of expectations. Fair or unrealistic, the following players were counted on to do more than their 2007 output.
After establishing career highs in every single offensive category in 2006, the world was predicting superstardom for Jose Reyes in 2007. Surely an energetic 24-year-old who seemingly improved every day would continue to evolve, and perhaps make a run at a triple crown.
And on the heels of a hot spring training that led into an explosive April, it appeared that Reyes would fulfill the prophecies. Instead, it was a downhill slide from around July through the end of the season.
Reyes was on fire in April, batting .356, and though he cooled to .268 in May, he responded in June with .330. From there, he slowed to a near stop: .265 in July, .272 in August, and a dismal .205 in September. There are all kinds of reasons offered, probably all of them correct in some small way. The firing of Rick Down, who supposedly “got” Reyes, has been mentioned. The fact that he ran like a maniac in August under Rickey Henderson’s tutelage couldn’t have helped.
Here’s my take: he started to get in a rut in July, mostly due to a poor approach — not letting the ball get deep and swinging at questionable pitches. This is when bad habits began which occasionally affected his hitting mechanics. In August, he stole 23 bases — seemingly stealing for the sake of running up his season total, rather than for the purpose of winning games (the next-highest total for a month was 17 during his hot April). By getting caught up in the numbers game, he exhausted himself by the end of the game, and gave away late-inning at-bats. His wearing out in these later innings also further affected his already inconsistent hitting mechanics as well as his mental focus. By September he was mentally fatigued, and losing confidence — which caused him to press. That combination — more in his head than his body — was what caused his abysmal performance in the field and at bat in the last four weeks of the season.
Regardless of what was the TRUE reason behind Reyes’ disappointing season, the fact was, it WAS a disappointment. Though he stole a Mets-record 78 bases, his .280 average, drop in power, and absence down the stretch were among the most influential issues of the Mets’ demise. Although it wasn’t necessarily fair to believe he’d improve upon his eye-popping 2006 numbers, it was within reason to expect him to show up in September. It was a disappearing act that most Mets fans won’t soon forget.
For the first time in a dozen years, Carlos Delgado failed to drive in 90 runs. For the first time in ten years, he failed to drive in at least 99.
Delgado was brought to New York for two reasons: 1. to provide protection for Carlos Beltran; and 2. to drive in runs. He failed miserably on both responsibilities, and saw his batting average drop to a paltry .258. We didn’t mind his .265 in 2006, but 38 homers and 118 RBI will overshadow a mark 20 points below his career average. Once among the top five most feared hitters in all of baseball, Delgado is a shell of his former self, waving weakly at pitches in the dirt and boosting his average by punching grounders through the hole vacated by the third baseman as part of “the shift” maneuvered against him.
The Marlins granted Delgado an obnoxiously huge contract — $64M over five years — because he hit 35-40 homers, drove in 100-135, and batted near .300 with regularity. He also posted high OBPs, taking walks around a hundred times per year. In 2007, however, his 24 HRs, 87 RBI, and 52 walks were a horrendous output for a man making $14.5M. What worse, is as his numbers go down, his salary goes up — the Mets are on the hook for $12M of a $16M payout in 2008.
It may have been his offseason surgery, nagging injuries, the new baby, or a combination of excuses that caused his demise in 2007. It doesn’t matter — the point is, the Mets expected much more from Delgado, and he came up grossly short.
His average dropped more than 45 points from the .318 posted in 2006, and his defensive skills continued to erode. While his 2006 average was more than anyone could expect, he was counted on for somewhere between .280 -.290, a better than .311 OBP, and a bit more punch than his .378 slugging. Yes, he did drive in 54 runs — 5 more than last year — and nearly doubled his homerun total. However, it came at the expense of 21 less doubles — not to mention 34 less runs scored. We didn’t expect Paulie to vie for the batting title, but we wished he were on base more often, and didn’t hit into double plays so often (18 times, or once ever 25 at-bats). His inability to throw out runners after July was reminiscent of Mike Piazza — but at least Mike provided a big bat in the middle of the lineup. If LoDuca returns in 2008, it will only be by default — there just aren’t any more exciting options available in the marketplace.
Hard to believe a guy who hits 33 homers and drives in 112 runs could be a disappointment. And you can’t pin the Mets’ failures in 2007 solely on Beltran. However, he’s one of highest-paid players in baseball, and with that comes some expectations. For example, to carry a team on your back for occasional stretches.
However, Beltran never carried the team, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that he’s just not that type of superstar. He is a great all-around player — certainly one of the best, and one of the few players who does everything well. But more a complementary player than a marquee star. With good players around him, and a slugger hitting behind him, he’ll do very well. But he’s not the go-to guy.
His end-of-season numbers were very good, almost excellent. But many Mets fans might be surprised he amassed 33 HRs and 112 RBI, probably because of the several pockets of the season where he simply disappeared. He had a big April, and finished strong, but otherwise was somewhere between inconsistent and non-existent on offense. His defense was stellar in centerfield, worthy of another Gold Glove. But he batted .234 in May, .238 in June, and .208 in July — amassing a grand total of 13 homers in those three months. That’s fairly impactful considering that he was the Mets’ #3 hitter for most of that time, before being dropped to the cleanup spot. Of course, people will blame his numbers on Delgado not providing protection, and/or Alou not being in uniform, but if that’s the case then the theory holds — he’s not a “go-to” guy. And that’s too bad, considering what he’s being paid.
Yes, Lastings was a disappointment — though not completely his fault. First of all, he was supposed to push Shawn Green and eventually take over right field. He gave it a damn good run in spring training — and probably deserved the job based specifically on March — but Green went ballistic in April and ended that idea. Nearly simultaneously, Milledge injured his foot and was MIA until July — while every Mets outfielder hit the DL, one by one.
Had Milledge remained healthy, he — and not Carlos Gomez — would have been Moises Alou’s replacement in left field. And while it was nice to get a preview of Gomez, it’s possible Milledge could have “broken out” and started realizing all this potential we keep hearing about. Instead, he played in only 59 games, got less than 200 ABs, and by those numbers alone was an underachiever. Again, not all his fault, but we expected more.
Many, many fans and pundits thought Omar Minaya was out of his mind for signing Mota to a two-year deal after he was caught for PED and suspended 50 games. At the time, I was one of the few to defend Minaya’s decision, for this reason: guys with Mota’s skillset are not available for $5M over two years. In other words, Mota was an absolute bargain — or do you know of another pitcher with 8 years’ MLB service, a 95-MPH heater, often filthy changeup, and closing experience at that price?
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out well — Mota off steroids did not have the confidence needed to get the job done. It didn’t help that Willie Randolph had an unfounded fascination with him, and didn’t understand the concept of cutting losses. His unwavering confidence in Mota had much to do with the Mets’ downfall in the second half of the season.
If Mota had been HALF as good as he was in September of 2006, the Mets would have won at least 2-3 more games from June to September. And that’s all that would’ve been needed to earn a postseason spot.
Ouch. The Mets refuse to give Chad Bradford a three-year deal early in the free-agent market, then hand over a three-year deal to “The Show” at the tail end — a signing that literally came out of nowhere. Unfortunately, Minaya based that contract on The Show’s ability to hit 94 MPH in 2006, acting as part-time closer for Cincinnati — and not on the guy with the mysterious leg problem and sudden inability to break 90 in 2007.
The Schoeneweis signing looked pretty good in April, when he posted a 1.86 ERA. However, his ERA in May was a hair under TEN, and gave up over five runs per nine in June and July. His August was better — a 3.38 ERA — and September was a so-so 4.66. He did save two games in three days down the stretch while Billy Wagner’s back was barking, but it was hardly enough for fans to forget the other 68 games in which he appeared.
Schoeneweis was supposed to be the LOOGY to handle Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, as well as a guy to give the Mets two-inning stints in tight games once or twice a week. As it turned out, he pitched two complete innings only once all season — mainly because he was knocked out of a game before finishing one. As with Mota, had The Show been merely half as good as he was in September 2006, the Mets might have won an extra two or three games — which would have put them on the field in October.
And now we find out that Schoeneweis — like Mota — was a steroid abuser. Calling Jay Horwitz, Jay, it’s time for damage control … AGAIN.
Scary thought: what if Mota and The Show chose to take the needle again, say, in August? And they pitched like they used to, and pushed the Mets into the postseason by winning another two or three games? Makes you wonder how many games — and postseason teams — in the past years have been tainted. But that’s for another article, on another day.