3/4 Review of the Mets Season
August 10, 2013
Mets Three-quarter mark Review and Forecast
The Mets are 52-61, for a .460 winning percentage. They are two games behind the Washington Nationals for second place in the National League East, and one game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies for third place. The Braves are out of sight in one direction, and the Marlins out of sight in the other.
The Mets have turned two weaknesses into relative strengths, the outfield and the bullpen, and have managed to maintain a strong rotation, even while losing Johan Santana early and Jon Niese mid-way. It's easy to forget, with the dominance of Matt Harvey and the emergence of Zack Wheeler, that Santana and Niese were projected to be the number one and two starters before the season.
The outfield took a long time to take shape, but the current trio of Eric Young, Jr., Juan Lagares and Marlon Byrd has outperformed all expectations to become a reliable and enjoyable group.
The bullpen has survived lots of injuries and a revolving door to more than hold their own, getting surprising performances from Scott Rice, Carlos Torres, LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison and David Aardsma. Bobby Parnell has built on last year's improvement, and until his injury was one of the more dominant and reliable closers in the league. The Mets even welcomed back Perpetual Pedro Feliciano, who didn't miss a beat.
On the other hand, another strength has turned into a big question mark as the season has progressed. The infield was supposed to be the reliable part of the offense and defense, with no major question marks before spring training. Quickly, however, Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis started struggling, both offensively and defensively, and before long, fans were waiting for one or both to be demoted.
Tejada got hurt just as he was about to be demoted, and the team rightly decided to leave him in Triple A. Davis finally got sent down, and has done a bit better since being recalled, although his power has dramatically decreased, which is not a good sign for his and the team's future at first base.
It was good to see that the Mets were willing to demote or release people who weren't performing, regardless of expectations. Lucas Duda is now a minor leaguer, not because he got worse, as much as that other players surpassed his value while he was injured. The various injuries and poor performances have given the team an opportunity to check out guys like Andrew Brown, Josh Satin, Wilmer Flores and Omar Quintanilla, and they have made some positive contributions.
Even the injury of David Wright, which would have totally destroyed them the past couple of years, has given the team an opportunity to see Flores at his arguably best defensive position, without disrupting any other positions. I'm sure he will get to play some first base and second base before the season ends, to get a better sense of his value moving forward. I know sabermetricians don't believe in this, but he seems like an RBI machine, which is something the Mets could really use.
As for Matt Harvey, it is beyond remarkable that the Mets have had two seasons in a row with such dominance from a starting pitcher: last year's version of R. A. Dickey was a joy to behold and root for, and it seemed like he was improving with every single pitch.
This year, if possible, Matt Harvey has been even more dominant, although without quite the number of wins to show for it. Harvey is one of the best pitchers I've ever seen, and he, too, seems to be improving with each outing. And, unlike Dickey, Harvey's dominance is not enhanced by pitching in CitiField. Dickey's home-road ERA (home 5.97/road 3.08) splits this year tell me that a lot of his success was due to playing in the National League in a park that makes it hard to hit home runs.
Zack Wheeler is doing slightly better than I expected this year, although my sense is that he will never be as good as Harvey is now. I think Noah Syndergaard will end up being better than Wheeler, not as good as Harvey, and that all three will be top major league starters for years to come. Not a bad three-fifths of a rotation!
Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Jennry Mejia give the Mets three more good starters for the next few years, providing what should be one of the league's best rotations for years to come. There are several other top pitching prospects that might claim a spot or two, giving the Mets the luxury to trade for position players as needed.
Then there is the matter of the manager. I have to say I'm not a big Terry Collins fan. His decision-making around when to pull pitchers is questionable, and he talks way too much about things that should remain private. I suppose I'm a bit old school, but his comments about protecting his players from having their feelings hurt makes me cringe on a regular basis.
He reveals too much of the team's thinking, too, and I just don't see the point. I know the media asks a lot of questions, but Collins could learn from Sandy Alderson how to answer a question without actually saying anything.
Moving upstairs, the afore-mentioned Alderson has done a pretty good job, amidst lots of criticism and accusations from fans. Lots of people seem to think that Alderson agreed to take over the team to slash the payroll as a favor to Bud Selig. Whatever you think about his motivation, he has done what he said he would do: change the culture, get rid of excess payroll, and stockpile pitching prospects.
This strategy looks like it will start to pay off in the next few years, and I fully expect the team to compete for a playoff spot sooner rather than later. I don't see the need for the Mets to operate like a small-market team, and really hope that starting next year, people won't accuse them of it. I suppose the only way to eliminate that criticism is for the Wilpons to sell the team, but that doesn't look likely anytime soon, unfortunately.
In summary, I would say that the first three-quarters of the 2013 season has been a little better than I expected, overall, and I cautiously expect that they will not collapse again like they have the past few years. I've been fooled before, though, so until it happens I will still have that fear in the back of my mind.
The biggest concern is the troubling number of injuries to many of their key young and prime age players, including Niese, Wright, Edgin, Parnell, Duda, Tejada and d'Arnaud. There have been lingering questions about the team's medical and training approach for the past few years, and it doesn't seem like that has been resolved positively yet.
Moving forward, it will be very hard to win a championship without improving that aspect of the organization, but I have some confidence that the brain trust will find a way. Just by no longer relying on high-risk players in order to save money could help a bit with that: witness the predictable injuries to Shaun Marcum and Scott Atchison this year, and Chris Young the past two years.
The best part is that it's fun to be a Met fan again, especially when Harvey is pitching, and I really look forward to seeing Wheeler and Syndergaard as they get settled over the next couple of years.
© Judy Kamilhor 2013