I thought now would be a good time to take a look at this year’s Mets. Why? Because at this point, with the Mets 22-23 after 45 games and in 4th place, 4.5 games out of first place and having been swept by the Braves, I’d like to hope things have just hit rock bottom. Let’s take a look at the team.
Carlos Beltran: We’ll start with Beltran since he’s currently the only Mets’ starting outfielder who is healthy. Beltran is a funny case; it feels like he’s underachieving but it’s hard to say how much. His OBP is fine; .377 is very good. His hitting has started to turn around a little, with .265 lower than you’d like, but not terrible. He’s still playing his usual great center field, so that’s not the problem either.
The issue has been with power; he has struggled to find his power stroke since undergoing double-knee surgery last offseason. Even that hasn’t been terrible; he has 13 doubles and 3 triples, but only 4 homers. I have to think at some point, some of those doubles are going to start going over walls, and he’ll wind up with his usual 30+ homers by the end of the year. He hasn’t been playing bad, but he hasn’t been playing up to expectations yet either; I think he’ll get better.
Ryan Church: He has quickly become a fan favorite in New York, showing great power (9 homers, which leads the team) and a really strong throwing arm in right. His .920 leads the team, thanks in part to his team-leading .537 slugging percentage. With just over a quarter of the season completed, he has been arguably the team’s best hitter.
However, one has to think if Church can sustain this over a whole year. Last year was his first season as a regular in the majors, and he OPS’d .813; he’s hitting over 100 points higher than that right now. He’s not young at 29 years old, either, and he’s hitting out of line with his career levels (he did have a strong year in 2006 in Washington, but he had only 230 PA’s that year, 173 of which were against right handed batters). I am not trying to be a turd in the punch bowl here, and I’m certainly not meaning to dampen one of the few highlights of this year; I do think Church will have a fine year, but he’s going to cool off a little bit. He is hitting just a little bit over his head right now.
Moises Alou: I think if you are expecting much of anything out of Alou this year, you are kidding yourself. He’s just not able to keep himself healthy enough to play every day. He will play well when he is available, but he will not be healthy enough for what this team needs. Left field is going to be a place the Mets will have to address in the off-season, since Fernando Martinez doesn’t look to be ready anytime soon, but it is doubtful there will be many free agent options who will be anything startable available.
Endy Chavez: I would not be upset if I never saw Chavez take another at-bat ever again. Great defensive replacement, but a terrible hitter. I was kind of amused when Keith Hernandez implied that Chavez was a more dangerous hitter than Brian Schneider today; he may be a faster hitter, but the only danger he presents at the plate is danger to any threat the Mets had of scoring runs.
Angel Pagan: He’s currently on the disabled list, and beforehand, it looked as though he had fallen out of favor with manager Willie Randolph, who had taken to platooning Pagan with Chavez for some reason. Regardless, it looked like the rest of the league had caught up with him and it’s questionable that he is even good enough to be a 4th outfielder in the National League.
Marlon Anderson, Fernando Tatis: They are only outfielders under the Willie Randolph/Omar Minaya rule that states that all bench players are considered extra outfielders. Hopefully, the bench will not get thin enough to where we see Ramon Castro shagging down flies in left at some point this year.
Carlos Delgado: He’s had himself a roller coaster year; a nice first week, a prolonged slump, a non-controversy started by the New York media over a non-curtain call, and everything in between. What we’re left with is a highly-flawed starting first baseman; he has only 6 doubles to go with his 6 homers, good for a .366 slugging percentage. He’s walking at a decent rate, but still only getting on base at a .303 clip. He is really hurting the team right now, and at 35 years old, you have to wonder if there is anything left. I think there is more than what he’s shown, but not much more, and the Mets should keep their expectations low. The Delgado trade for Mike Jacobs looked good in 2006, but has looked progressively worse since, and while Jacobs’ ceiling may be low, he is a much better hitter than Delgado at this point.
Luis Castillo: Believe it or not, there is some good here; his .370 OBP is actually very good. He also plays a decent defensive second base. That ends the good. He is not a power threat, and his wheels are rapidly declining. This is a bad combination, particularly batting second, because he has become more and more of a DP threat as a result. He would actually make an ideal #9 hitter in the American League, but in the National League, he is being shoehorned into the role of a #2 hitter, and I’m not sure that’s his best slot anymore.
Jose Reyes: After a lost April, Reyes is finally starting to show some signs of life. He seems to be getting fooled more, which is leading to more outs; his walkrate is only down slightly, and his pitches per plate appearance is in line with previous seasons. Normally, I’m not one to dwell on a player’s strikeouts, but Reyes does need to lay off bad pitches, because it will help him draw more walks, and drawing walks should be a big element of his game. Drawing walks helped make Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines two of the best leadoff hitters of all time, and Reyes would be wise to emulate them.
David Wright: Hard to find fault with David Wright; he leads the team in OBP, second in SLG, second in OPS. He’s had his normal issues with throwing, but he still finds his way to a lot of balls that an average 3B wouldn’t. He had that week-plus long slump earlier in the year, but that really just seemed to “correct” him down to his regular levels, since he started the season ridiculously hot. Any Mets fan who speaks ill of David Wright is a crazy person.
Damion Easley: He will get his fair share of at-bats since Castillo seems to have a catcher’s schedule. This is bad, because Easley is 39 years old and probably close to done. I mean…any time you expect 200 at-bats from a player who missed a game to attend his child’s high school reunion (by the way, congrats to Easley the Younger), that’s not a good sign. By the way, Easley is also the Mets’ only backup shortstop currently on the roster, and waiting in the wings in New Orleans should Reyes go down is Anderson Hernandez. That’s what I call, “playing without a net.”
Marlon Anderson: Nominally, the Mets’ backup first baseman and first pinch hitter off the bench. Unfortunately, whatever potion he had been taking to make him an effective pinch hitter has apparently worn off. The Mets are in big trouble if he gets major at-bats this season.
Fernando Tatis: He is considered to be a four corners replacement, though how well he can actually play the outfield is up in the air. One has to wonder if he will still have a job when the Mets’ outfield is completely healthy; I am thinking he just might keep his job if he can hit even a little bit, because of his perceived versatility. I have to admit, it’s a scary thought that Fernando Tatis could possibly see major time for the Mets this year.
Brian Schneider: He’s hitting at the high end of what you’d expect out of the Brian Schneider spectrum; good average, good OBP, no XBH’s (1 double and 2 homers). He’s going to need to keep hitting to keep his value, and based on his recent history, it’s dubious he can continue to do that. The strange thing is, his defense, which was supposed to be his calling card, has been suspect, with a lot of passed balls. He’s doing a good enough job throwing runners out, though.
Ramon Castro: Hard to say anything since he’s been hurt. I think he’ll be fine, but he’s started slow.
Wright and Church are the only players playing at or above the levels you would expect. Reyes and Beltran have struggled some, but have shown signs within their stats that turnarounds can be expected. Castillo and Schneider are what he thought they were, but we didn’t really think they were that great. Left field has been something of a problem spot filling on a consistent basis since the start of the year, and right now, is a spot that looks like a real problem. Delgado looks to be just about done.
Looking at team stats, the Mets are 10th in the National League in runs scored, which is not particularly good. This is somewhat puzzling at first, because they are 6th in on-base percentage, and you would figure that a team that is in the top half of the league in avoiding outs would score some runs. Unfortunately, they are also 14th in slugging percentage; this is just a team that isn’t hitting the ball for extra bases, exemplified by Delgado, who has a mere 12 XBH’s. The problem would just seem to be “hey guys, hit the ball harder,” but unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
The key is for Beltran to start hitting more balls over walls, to get some sort of production out of left field, and for the team to make a decision on Delgado; at some point, they have to decide if he’s ever going to get his power stroke back, and if he isn’t, what to do about first base. They have some low-regarded prospects raking in Binghamton right now who might deserve a promotion to New Orleans just to see what they can do in preparation for a Delgado release. The trade market is weak, and most teams will require prospects the Mets either don’t have or would be foolish to trade. Same with left field; who knows how often Alou will play. Right now, between first base, second base, left field, and catcher, this team is getting zero power; 29 XBH’s between Alou, Pagan, Delgado, Schneider, and Castillo. That’s half of the team’s starting lineup that isn’t hitting for any power.
Aaron Heilman: We’ll start with the bad news. Heilman is awful. His strikeout rate is actually up, but so is everything else; he’s averaging 5 walks per nine innings, almost two homers per nine, and a nice robust 6.35 ERA. He has also inherited 8 runners and allowed 6 to score. Quite simply, he should only be pitching when the Mets are up or down a lot.
Matt Wise: He’s doing his best to make Heilman feel good about his numbers. He’s only pitched 5 innings, so it’s way too early to say he can’t turn it around, but man…he’s a guy who just does not inspire confidence so far.
Duaner Sanchez: At first, he looked strong coming back from injury, but he has pitched poorly of late. He’s not striking guys out and walking too many. It’s early, but you have to wonder if he’s going to return to his early ‘06 form. Mets fans might want to temper some of their earlier enthusiasm. On the plus side, he has not allowed any of the five runners he inherited to score.
Scott Schoeneweis: He has pitched much better than he did last year, but at the same time, he hasn’t been getting strikeouts, only 4 per nine. On the plus side, he’s not allowing walks or hits, but you have to wonder if he’s getting some help from the defense with the hits, and how long that will last. He’s also not much with runners on, having allowed 7 of 16 inherited to score. Expect some fall off.
Pedro Feliciano: He’s been good with keeping runs off the board, but bad with keeping baserunners off of the diamond. A 1.62 WHIP is not very good, but his ERA is only 2.70, and that’s not aided by unearned runs. If he can’t stop allowing baserunners, expect the ERA to balloon, especially if he doesn’t stop walking guys. It would also be nice to see more strikeouts. Also of note; only 2 of 14 inherited runners have scored.
Joe Smith: Quite simply, Joe Smith has been awesome. He’s not walking guys, he’s striking out a batter per inning, his OPS against is .495. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is 4.71, meaning he’s a great guy to bring in when you need a double play. Part of this is usage; he’s only faced 16 left-handed batters, who he has typically struggled against. Still, here’s my favorite Joe Smith stat; he has inherited 16 runners, tied for the most on the club, and only one has scored. Quite simply, Joe Smith rocks.
Billy Wagner: Billy Wagner rocks, too. He’s striking out 10 per nine, has walked only four batters all year, and has not allowed an earned run all year (he does have 4 unearned runs to his credit). You have to expect some drop off at some point, but if the Mets hitters could actually put some leads together for Wagner, you’d have to feel confident about him retaining them.
Johan Santana: I won’t speak ill of Santana. He’s allowed a lot of home runs, but has otherwise been very good. Still…I can’t help but feel we haven’t seen THE Santana yet, the best pitcher in baseball Santana. I think we will, especially once the home runs drop.
John Maine: His last start nonwithstanding, Maine has been very good this year. It was a rough start, and he’s walking a bit more than you’d like, but overall, a lot to like. He’s quietly emerging as the #2 on this staff.
Oliver Perez: Typical Ollie season; he has been maddingly inconsistent. Last year, in something like 21 of his 26 starts (I don’t have the exact stat), he gave up either 5 or more runs, or 2 or fewer runs. It’s been par for the course this year; he’s allowed 2 or fewer runs in 4 of his starts, and 5 or more runs in 4 of his starts, and he’s only started 9 games. It is always going to be feast or famine with Ollie, it seems. It would be nice if he kept the walks down, but the high strikeouts are a good sign. Your guess is as good as mine as far as what he does from here on out.
Mike Pelfrey: Another “Your guess is as good as mine” candidate. Big Pelf has made 8 starts: 4 starts went for 2 or fewer runs, and 3 starts went for 5 or more. Unlike Perez, he’s not getting strikeouts (only 4 per 9), which is a discouraging sign for a guy who has really strong stuff. He’s getting more ground balls than flyballs (GB/FB ratio is 1.41), but with that sinker, you’d like to see him get more grounders. He’s had good starts and bad starts, with not a lot in between, and you really get the feeling that he is underachieving. I’m not sure Rick Peterson is the ideal pitching coach for Big Pelf.
Claudio Vargas: He’s only made two starts, and likely isn’t long for the rotation. He’s looked OK so far, and could be a good candidate to replace the departed Jorge Sosa as the new long man after Pedro comes back.
Pedro Martinez: Ah, Pedro. Is he retiring? Is he staying? What can we expect out of him? Who knows. He will have to be monitored carefully when he does come back, but I think he is capable of making some sort of contribution. But he should be considered a Moises Alou-type, where you will only get production in spurts.
Orlando Hernandez: I would be shocked if he pitches at all this year, and if he does, I’d like to see him in the bullpen. But even expecting Alou-like spurts out of El Duque seems far-fetched.
The overall picture at first glance feels like the pitching has been good this year. Yet the Mets are 11th in the NL in runs allowed. Why is that? They are slightly below average at walking batters and striking batters out, which is not a good start. They are slightly above average at home runs allowed, strange considering the problems that Johan, Heilman, and Jorge Sosa have had with allowing homers. The big problem seems to be their .338 OBP against, 10th in the NL and above the league average.
Some help will come from Pedro Martinez pitching in the 5th spot instead of Nelson Figueroa and Claudio Vargas, assuming he’s relatively close to his old levels. Some help will come from Jorge Sosa no longer polluting the Mets’ bullpen. And some help will come from Aaron Heilman presumably being used in less important situations. Still, look at above; two of the Mets’ starters have been maddeningly inconsistent. Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey need to pitch closer to the high end of their spectrum than the low end if this team is going to prevent runs from scoring. If they can do that, this is a pitching staff that can really get cooking.
It feels like there is a lot of “ifs” on this team. A lot of players are underachieving. Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey, even Aaron Heilman…these are guys capable of better. Chances are, 1-2 of these guys will never put it together for the Mets this year and will continue to struggle, with another 1-2 turning it around and putting together really strong years. Who gets hot, how hot they get, and who doesn’t get hot, and how cold they get, will determine this team’s future.
Then there is management. Willie Randolph is in some serious trouble. Getting swept in Atlanta this week was disastrous, particularly after the comments he made in the press on Monday. Now the team is under .500, he looked like an absolute raving maniac in the press, and the perception is that he has lost control of the team. I’m not sure how accurate that is, or how much “control” a manager even has on a team, but I do know when a person is losing control of their sanity, and right now, it certainly seems like the pressure is getting to Willie big-time. He may not be the Mets’ manager a week from now, much less a month from now.
I also want to take a moment to talk about “chemistry.” I keep hearing about how the reason this team isn’t playing well is because they lack chemistry. From where I sit, the reason they aren’t playing well is because…they aren’t playing well. They aren’t hitting for power and they aren’t keeping the other team off the board. Chemistry is a product of winning, not the other way around. This team is one 7 game winning streak away from everybody talking about how great these guys play together. Does anybody think that the reason Carlos Beltran isn’t hitting more home runs is because he (hypothetically) doesn’t get along with Marlon Anderson? That the reason Oliver Perez is so feast-or-famine is because of his long-running blood feud with Duaner Sanchez (scheduled to finally end after the season with a duel at the OK Corral)? Of course not, although I could see how the Sanchez/Perez duel may be a bit of a distraction in the locker room.
The point is, there is talent here. A lot of talent. There’s certainly no guarantee that this team will ever play to their level of talent, but there would certainly seem to be a very good chance that at some point, a metaphorical switch is going to go off and this team is going to play to its potential. It’s no longer too early to be a little concerned, but it’s still probably too early to panic, especially with nobody running away with the NL East. Better days are ahead, Mets fans. Let’s hope one day we look back at this day as the lowest point, and are able to laugh about that time in late-May when we had lost hope in our team. I’ll tell you, with every passing day, it gets harder and harder to believe in this team. But my hope isn’t gone yet.