Yoenis Cespedes: the Good, the Great, and the Ugly
Thoughts about baseball, from the perspective of sports psychology and the role of sports in society. It includes team and player analysis, predictions, and what I think needs to be changed in Major League Baseball. Brought to you from the heart of baseball, Brooklyn, by baseball gods productions.
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
The Mets 2012 season was one of the strangest of all time. I really believed that the team was as good as it looked before Johan Santana got hurt. Then, late in the season, it looked like the Mets were the worst team in the league.
They had all kinds of short winning streaks, in which they played extremely well, and then they would go through a horrible stretch where they couldn't win at all.
From May 25-June 30, the Mets had two four-game winning streaks, one four-game losing streak, three three-game winning streaks, and three three-game losing streaks. So 30 out of 34 games were part of either winning or losing streaks of at least three games.
Later in the season, from August 19 to October 2, the Mets had two six-game losing streaks, one five-game losing streak, one four-game losing streak, two four-game winning streaks, and two three-game winning streaks. 35 out of 41 games involved winning or losing streaks of at least three games.
During that time of mostly losing (16-25 from August 19-October 2), the Mets managed two streaks where they won seven out of eight games! That means they were 2-23 in the other games. Truly bizarre.
In addition to the team as a whole being streaky and beyond unpredictable, I would say that one Met player had the strangest year of all time. That player is Johan Santana.
Up until the end of June, Santana, along with R. A. Dickey, gave the Mets one of the best one-two punches in baseball. Here are Santana's won-lost and ERA by month:
April 0-2 2.25
May 2-0 3.09
June 4-2 2.77
July 0-3 13.50
August 0-2 19.89
Total 6-9 4.85
During that time, he pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1, and after the no-hitter, he had two bad starts, giving up ten runs in ten innings.
After June 30, he ended the season with the worst streak of starting pitching the Mets have ever seen. He gave up 7, 6, 6, 8, and 6 runs in his final five starts, never going more than five innings. This may have the been the worst five games by a starting pitcher in the modern era.
He was pitching with several injuries during that time, which is probably good news, since it suggests that with a few months to recuperate, Santana may be able to pitch reasonably well next year.
There were some obvious bright spots this year, including R. A. Dickey's amazing year, David Wright's offensive and defensive contributions, Matt Harvey's excellent debut, Ruben Tejada's emergence as a good everyday shortstop, and Scott Hairston's power in the outfield.
Other signs of future life include Ike Davis's remarkable turnaround after about the worst start you can imagine; Kirk Nieuwenhuis's debut, before the league caught up with his weaknesses; Jordanny Valdespin's power pinch-hitting; and the continued development of Jon Niese and Dillon Gee.
Lucas Duda and Ike Davis had very disappointing starts to their seasons, and both could easily have ended up in the minors. Davis was spared, mostly because the Mets didn't have anyone to replace him, besides Duda, who was also struggling to hit, and to play the outfield.
Jason Bay continued to struggle, although there were some positive signs late in the season, after the pressure of playing everyday was removed, and he had more time away from his most recent concussion.
Josh Thole had a terrible season, as much defensively as offensively. There was a period of about three games in which he botched tag plays at the plate at least twice, and maybe more. He didn't just miss the sliding runner, he also was in terrible position to receive the throws, giving himself no chance.
I remember a series a few years ago in which I noted that the Mets got out-caught, by Yadier Molina, of course, and in 2012, I can say the Mets got out-caught on an almost daily basis. Mike Nickeas, Rob Johnson, and Kelly Shoppach contributed some good defense and pitch-calling, but offered little offense, and overall ability.
Mike Pelfrey got off to a surprisingly good start, and then had to be shut down for Tommy John surgery, leaving the Mets a little short in the rotation the rest of the year. Dillon Gee had his season end with a blood clot and surgery to repair it. He was also pitching well when he went down.
Santana's second-half of awful pitching and mounting injuries led to his being shut down in August, again leaving the Mets short in the rotation for the rest of the year.
When three of your five opening day starters miss as much time as Santana, Pelfrey, and Gee did, the season is unlikely to go well. The offense tried too hard to pick up the slack, and that was a disaster of its own.
Next time: What the Mets have to do to get ready for a more successful 2013.
© Judy Kamilhor 2012
Danny Abriano wrote an interesting column on his Rational (Sometimes) Mets Musing blog called When Pessimism Breeds Absurdity. His point is that the Mets are being portrayed as a horrible team, where in reality they are a slightly below average team with the potential to contend in the near future.
He also has a poll for How Many Games Will the Mets Win in 2012? 78% of voters chose either Between 70 and 77 (40%) or Between 78 and 85 (38%). I would say that the Mets will probably win between 76 and 79 games in 2012. They will most likely be fighting the Nationals or perhaps the highly-combustible Marlins for 4th place. Not good, but hardly catastrophic.
The Mets that finish 2012 will look a lot different from the ones that start the season. I expect Mike Pelfrey will be gone, and either Chris Young or Matt Harvey to replace him in the rotation at some point. Some of the relief pitchers will probably be released or traded, and I expect to see some younger guys take their place, possibly even Jenrry Mejia 2.0.
David Wright might be gone by the trading deadline, replaced by a few decent prospects, with Justin Turner likely taking over at 2B and Daniel Murphy sliding over to his natural position at 3B. This one is 50-50, depending on a lot of variables. I would like to see him stay, but won't be devastated if he is traded for some top prospects.
Other possible trade candidates include R. A. Dickey (please don't), Jason Bay (unlikely to find takers), Johan Santana (along with a boat-load of cash, still unlikely), Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez, Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, Manny Acosta, Ike Davis, and Jon Niese. The last two would only be traded if they get a huge return in prospects.
As of now, this is how I see the opening day 25 man roster:
Lucas May/Mike Baxter/?? (until Scott Hairston comes back)
R. A. Dickey
Garrett Olson (until Byrdak comes back)
Miguel Batista/D.J. Carrasco (if they can't trade him)/Danny Herrera
D.L.: Tim Byrdak, Scott Hairston
The bottom line for me is that I am a Mets fan, so I will follow and root for the team, no matter what. I am curious what moves Sandy Alderson will make, and how the players will perform.
Let's Go Mets! Play Ball!
© Judy Kamilhor 2012
I don't know about you, but I have already given up on the possibility of the Mets making the playoffs, expanded or not, in 2012. I'm okay with this, as it should prevent Sandy Alderson from having to sign overpriced players to make it seem like they are going for it this year.
The Mets' goals this off-season seem to include:
The two Wild Card races are practically over, and it's only Labor Day. Not a big deal in itself, but it takes away the drama of the American League East division title race between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Does it really matter who wins, since both are virtually guaranteed a playoff spot already?
I know it's never going to happen, but I think baseball would be better with four eight team divisions, and four playoff teams. This would require adding two expansion teams, and perhaps some radical realignment.
It would eliminate the Wild Card, which is fine with me, since it would return baseball to its special position as the only sport that doesn't reward teams for finishing second.
I know that it's much more likely that baseball will go in the opposite direction and add two more Wild Card teams. The proposed system would still be an improvement over the current system, if only because it will make it harder for a Wild Card team to win the World Series, which has happened way too often.
Going back to my radical proposal, there is something great about the eight team unit, harkening back to most of baseball history, when there were eight teams in each league, and the only interleague play happened in Spring Training and the World Series. Of course, it would be double that old model, but I like the symmetry and mathematical beauty of it all. And the DH would have to be eliminated, which is one of the best parts.
Here's my dream MLB configuration:
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|Chicago White Sox|
Two more games before the All-Star break and the Mets are three games over .500, guaranteeing that they will be over .500 at the break. I've never been this excited by a .500 team. They play the game the right way, at least better than in several years. They are even developing a killer instinct, which has been the missing link since the 1980s.
Yesterday's win was especially good to see, because in losing the game before, it looked like the news about Jose Reyes missing more time than initially expected may have had a negative effect on the team's confidence. Right now, attitude is the key ingredient, because it's not pure talent that is driving this team. Terry Collins has already shown me more than his two predecessors about motivating and getting the most out of his players. I admit that I did not expect him to be this good for this team.
I don't envy Sandy Alderson right now, because the decisions he has to make are challenging ones. What I would do in his position is: