Amazin’ly Average (so far)

With a day off today, the Mets have time to reflect on losing six of their last seven games. Things could look pretty pretty crappy right now. 

But a day off is also a good time to put something in a broader picture: it’s nothing short of miraculous that the Mets were in a position to lose six of seven games and still have a 32-29 record in the middle of June. 

This team could have folded a long time ago. What reasons could they have had for throwing in the towel and calling it an inevitable losing season? 

  • Ike Davis, supposed to be a core part of our lineup, has arguably been the worst hitter in baseball this year with a .162 average. 
  • The Mets have a bullpen ERA of 5.46. The next highest ERA in MLB? The Cubs at 4.41. According to sources at the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s like really, really bad. 
  • In March, more people would have thought Omar Quintanilla was a new dish at Taco Bell instead of the team’s latest shortstop for the last stretch of time. 
  • Mike Pelfrey. Season-ending surgery. Remember him?
  • Jason Bay is still the Jason Bay of the Mets. He’s hitting .197. 
  • Andres Torres, who has played 38 games this season in primarily centerfield, is hitting .209. 
  • The Mets may need to move the fences in another 20 feet if Daniel Murphy wants to start knocking it out of the park. In 232 at-bats, he has yet to homer. 
  • The Mets have a run differential of -19. 
  • The team ace, Johan Santana, began the season returning from a shoulder surgery people were unsure he’d ever recover from.

The fact that they are above .500 despite all of this is incredible. 

This year, the NL East was meant to be a race between four teams, with the poor ‘ole Mets limping their way to another rough finish. In March, don’t you think everyone other than a Mets fan would have laughed at the notion that they’d be above .500 at this point in the season? What if you told those people they’d be above .500 given everything up there? 

Before the season, 50 ESPN writers made predictions for the MLB season. Not one of the 50 said the Mets would win the NL East or claim either of the wild card slots. Each of the other four teams in the division received plenty of mentions in the predictions. 

And right now, the Mets are pretty average. And average isn’t acceptable, in the long run. Nor does it mean the Mets will be average at the end of the season—they could be better or worse. 

But, take a look at the lineup they’re trotting out there on a daily basis, the stiff competition in the NL East, the injuries, the pitching—isn’t it pretty goddamn amazin’ that the Mets are average at this point? 

And Ike Davis won’t hit .162 all season. The bullpen can’t have a 5.46 ERA all season (they can’t be that bad…right? right?). Daniel Murphy will probably end the season with a home run and an OPS above his current mark of .690, because he’s just a better hitter than that. 

Maybe Omar Quintanilla will be a recognizable name among Mets fans by the end of the season because the dude is hitting .314 with a .956 OPS. 

And Johan’s arm is only going to get stronger. 

It’s pretty awesome that the Mets are in a position to compete right now. Between the disastrous bullpen, major holes in the lineups and injuries to critical players there was a lot of room for this team to be dreadful. Miserable. Terrible. God awful. 

Yet here they are. 32-29. 

A lot of these problems can be fixed over the next couple months—at 32-29 the Mets have a legitimate shot of winning the NL East or a Wild Card birth. With everything that has hit the fan so far this season, that’s pretty freakin’ amazin’. 

A Reminder to Believe

I rarely have trouble believing. 

But with the Mets, particularly in the last couple years, reasons to validate those beliefs have been few and far between. Not that believing needs validation—the funny thing about faith is that it needs no justification—but it’s nice every once in a while. Otherwise, us fans might go and build a golden calf or something. 

The start to this season is has been an uplifting moment, reminding me why I believe. Whether the Mets finish 162-0 or 4-158, stretches like these are a taste of the deliciousness of fandom. 

And what’s best about the 4-0 start is how it is so antithetical to the pessimistic same-‘ole-Mets narrative that grows louder seemingly every season. 

Let’s take a game-by-game look at the Mets four wins to start the season: 

  • Game 1: Mets 1, Braves 0 - In his first start in over a season, Johan Santana throws five shutout innings, but leaves the game without a lead. Classic Mets, not giving Santana run support and ruining a day that should have been his glorious comeback. David Wright goes hitless in his first two at bats. Same ‘ole Mets, same ‘ole Wright of the last couple seasons. But wait—Wright notches an RBI single in the next inning, giving the team a 1-0 lead. The Mets have nowhere near good enough a bullpen to maintain a 1-0 lead, it’s just a matter of time until they blow it. Four relievers, three of whom were newly acquired in the off-season, combine to allow two hits and zero runs as the Mets win on opening day. 
  • Game 2: Mets 4, Braves 2 -No way the Mets can keep this up. The offense just isn’t good enough. Who cares about moving the walls in, this team just doesn’t have any power. Lucas Duda went hitless in the opener and isn’t actually a MLB hitter. Wright might have gone 2-for-4 in the opener, but as Keith Hernandez always says, Wright is only at his best when he’s going the opposite way and his RBI single was to left field. First inning, Wright homers the opposite way to right field. Fourth inning, Duda homers. Seventh inning, Duda homers again. Only one of the two jacks would have gone out at the old Citi Field. After R.A. Dickey allows just two runs in six innings, and the bullpen combines for three scoreless frames to make the Mets 2-0. 
  • Game 3: Mets 7, Braves 5OK, this has been nice but sweeping the hated Braves to start the season? Laughable. And is Ruben Tejada seriously going to lead off? That dude looks like he belongs more in the nine slot. Through six innings the Mets led 7-0. Unlike last game where they were carried by the longball, the Mets rally for all their runs, led by a 4-for-5 performance from Tejada in which he hits two doubles, registering two RBI and runs scored. And through six innings, Jon Niese has a no hitter going. It gets broken up in the seventh and after two unearned runs, and the Braves rally themselves back into the ballgame, down just 7-5 after eight innings. Classic Mets, pitcher takes a no-no into the 7th inning and we’re not even going to give him the win. The bullpen finally decides to blow a game, and it’s after a no-hit bid. Of course. Like the previous two games, Frank Francisco tosses a scoreless ninth while striking out the last batter he faces, giving the Mets a 3-0 start.
  • Game 4: Mets 4, Nationals 3 - Mike Pelfrey on the mound? The question isn’t winning or losing, it’s losing by how much. Pelfrey allows a run in the first inning and two more in the third, giving the Nats an early 3-0 lead. Told ya so! Just wait for the wheels to REALLY fall off. The Mets tack one on in the third and rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis launches a bomb in the fourth, knotting the game up. Oh of course, tie this game up just to give us hope and break our hearts. The Mets WOULD do that. Pelfrey regains his composure, and grinds out more scoreless ball through 5.2, while the bullpen picks it up without allowing a hit for the remainder of the game. Daniel Murphy knocks home an RBI single in the ninth to a chorus of “undefeated” chants at Citi Field as the Mets move to 4-0. 

Now, the italics there, that wasn’t me. I’m not the self-loathing type. I wouldn’t be a fan, particularly of the Mets, if I didn’t have the capacity for irrational optimism. 

Those italics, however, are the narrative of what some people usually assign to the Mets. Maybe fans don’t actually do that and it’s just people on the radio but you hear it over and over again—same ‘ole Mets.

Everything the Mets could have done to shake our hope and keep us from believing in these first four contests, they have done the opposite. 

I’ve always remembered to believe, but these four games made me remember why. 

Forks in the Road

One heavily discussed topic of late is how a number of players on the Mets have something to prove. If not something to prove, they are in a nebulous area where it is unclear whether they deserve to be starters, platoon players, bench players, or some combination of the three. 

Unfortunately one of those is Daniel Murphy, who regularly looks uncomfortable in the field but was showing why he belongs in the bigs with his bat this year, hitting .320 in just under 400 ABs prior to going down for the season with a leg injury. 

Another one is Mike Pelfrey. Once a top draft pick and an annual tease on the hearts of Mets fans, he sometimes looks like he could be a very good middle of the rotation starter and innings-eater, while sometimes the 6-foot-7 righty looks more lost than talented.

A third is Angel Pagan who had a miserable start to the season hitting .159 in April prior to hitting the disabled list. He has been inconsistent since but has the potential to hit well from both sides of the plate, be athletic in the field, steal bases and provide pop as he has shown with long balls in two consecutive games entering play yesterday. 

Which directions could these three guys go? Below is a career comparison - a favorable one and an unfavorable one - for each of these three players, showing how these three players with their skill-sets could head in such different directions.

Daniel Murphy

Jason Philliips (unfavorable) - Remember him? He played the majority of the Mets’ games at 1B in 2003 and catcher in 2004. At 27 years old in 2003, he batted 5th in about half of his plate appearances and finished the season hitting .298 with an .815 OPS. Middle-of-the-order linchpin of the future, right? Wrong - in 2004, he hit .218 with a measly amount of power and was subsequently traded to the Dodgers for the man, the myth, Kazuhisa Ishii. Like Murphy, he was never particularly deft in the field but led fans to ignoring that through his strong 2003 season that seemingly showed he was a good enough major league hitter to make up for it. Hopefully Murphy is a better hitter - and he probably is - but the risk still exists for putting too much faith in a guy who hasn’t played a full season and doesn’t have a definite position.

Dmitri Young (favorable) - Now, not everybody would like to be favorably compared to Dmitri Young, the man who is listed on FanGraphs as weighing 298 lbs. Realistically though, if Murph’s career ends up like Young’s, he and fans should both be happy. In the 10-year span from 1998-2007 with the Reds, Tigers and Nationals, Young played above 100 games in eight of those seasons. Twice, he was an All-Star and regularly hit near .300 with an OPS above .800. In the 2003 season with the Tigers, he hit .297 with 29 HRs and a .909 OPS - numbers I think any fan would take from a full season of Murphy. Like Murphy, Young was a poor fielder with no clear position, playing 1B, 3B, LF and RF but made up for it by being a consistently good hitter. 

Mike Pelfrey

Kris Benson - Once upon a time, Kris Benson was the first pick of the MLB draft. With an ERA lower than 4.00 just once in his career, he was still always able to sell teams on the fact that he had potential, and stayed in the league through last year because of that. Every time he made a good start, he was finally starting to scratch his potential but every time he pitched poorly it was some catastrophic regression. Realistically, it probably just meant he was mediocre through and through. Pelfrey as he is now is a servicable Major League starter, just like how Benson was for the majority of his career. But people always expected Benson to be more because he was a top pick and the same has happened to Pelfrey - even if he may be a decent back of the rotation starter, he may never be the opening day front line guy that the Mets once expected him to be. 

Derek Lowe - Lowe’s career has been many places, and Pelfrey’s career path will never follow it exactly. Lowe was an elite closer in 2000, and transitioned to being a full-time starter afterwards. That said, as a starter Pelfrey ideally could end up like Lowe. He has had his ups and downs as a starter - 21 wins in 2002 with a 2.58 ERA with only 14 in 2004 at a 5.42 clip - but has always been a reliable rotation piece since then even if he hasn’t been an ace. I don’t think even the most ardent of the Big-Pelf-Optimists expect him to be an ace, but if he could be the type of sinker-balling-innings-eater-who-gets-the-job-done-even-without-striking-guys-out type of pitcher that Lowe has been for the Dodgers and Braves since 2005, he’d be an important part of any winning Mets club.

Angel Pagan 

Coco Crisp - Crisp is far cry from a bad player, but he is also a distance away from what many expected he could be. Once a big up-and-comer for the Red Sox and then the Indians, he has never turned out to be more than talented, athletic, but mediocre. He hasn’t hit more than 10 HRs since 2005 or knocked in more than 60 RBIs. He’s a very good defender, which makes it worth putting him in the lineup everyday. Pagan isn’t quite there yet defensively - he often takes bad routes and misplays balls - but he may get there with his athleticism. Yet, in terms of skills at the dish Pagan will ultimately be a disappointment if he cannot have a better career at the plate than Crisp. He showed the potential for being better last season, but with his regression in 2011 it seems far from a sure thing. 

Shane Victorino - Love him, or more probably hate him because he’s on the Phillies, Victorino embodies a lot of qualities that Pagan could and should if he reaches his potential. Although Victorino had a down year last year at the plate, from 2006 though this year he has effectively used his athleticism at the plate and in the field. He won a Gold Glove the last three seasons and consistently seems to hit a touch below .300 with some pop and speed - 10 or more HRs  and 25 or more SBs every year since ‘07. Ignoring their differences in grit and intangible qualities, if Pagan could become the type of defenisve and offensive threat that Victorino is, which he seems to have the tools to do, Pagan would have a great career. 

__

Fair or unfair, couldn’t Murphy, Pagan and Pelfrey go in those respective directions? Maybe through moves (or lack of moves) by the Mets during the 2011 off-season, we’ll see which direction Alderson and the front office thinks these players will go. 

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Dog House Resident of the Week: Mike Jacobs

Along with the weekly Man-Crushes come the Dog House Residents. For every awesome player on your team, there’s also an equally terrible player, which I’m pretty sure is the exact definition of Newton’s third law of motion.

I’m just going to say this as plainly as possible: Mike Jacobs has been awful this week. Before today’s game, he’s got one hit, 2 broken bats, and a bunch of strikeouts. The Citi faithful started to really let him have it, before he finally broke through with his 2-run shot this afternoon. If he can hit a bit of a groove, then maybe, just maybe, I won’t feel nauseous every time he walks to the plate. Do I want him to do well? Yes, of course. Do I trust him to sustain any type of rhythm at the plate? Not whatsoever.

Ever since he was traded to Florida years ago, all fans have been clamoring for was his return. Finally, he’s back, and I’m glad. Why? Because those same people get to learn that he isn’t close to the player they thought he was. Now am I saying that Daniel Murphy's much better? Not really. For one, he doesn't have the pop. He, somehow, probably isn't a better fielder. The sooner he returns, though, the sooner we'll get to find out once and for all whether Murphy is a capable major league first baseman. If he is, great. If he's not, then hopefully we'll see the beginning of the Ike Davis era before too long.

Speaking of Ike, he’s got 4 hits, 2 doubles, a homer, and 4 walks in 14 PA so far in AAA Buffalo, which I wouldn’t put that much stock in if it wasn’t for his fantastic spring. How soon will we start to hear “I like Ike!” chants? Probably sooner than you think.

Mike Jacobs, you almost changed my mind today. One good swing doesn’t a good week make, however. Welcome to the dog house.

*Bonus item! Mike Jacobs is the true Dog House Resident of the Week, but Jerry Manuel is in there with him. Can anybody, anywhere explain to me why it was a good idea to hit him 4th in the lineup between David Wright and Jason Bay? Please don’t tell me it was to split up the righties, because all he did was split up the good hitters with one godawful hitter. Luckily, it took him only 2 games to wisen up on that. Although, it’s 2 games too many.

Man-Crush(es) of the Spring: the Prospects

Submitted by Dave Rosado

I grant you that there are still 2 weeks left in spring training, but these guys are so exciting to watch that I’m confident in making the following arguments.

Slugging percentages of .917 and 1.000. Batting averages of .472 and .500. 6 homers between the two in exactly 60 at-bats. 57 total bases. And they said the Mets farm system was weak. Who am I talking about? Anybody who’s paid attention this spring should know that these are the numbers of Ike Davis and Fernando Martinez. These are a couple of guys that we’ve heard plenty about (moreso about F-Mart) the last couple of years, but only now have gotten to see just how good they can hack it. And how about that Jenrry Mejia?

F-Mart

Martinez used to be called the “teenage hitting machine,” but has taken a bit longer to be noticed because of all the injuries he’s had to deal with. Last year, when up for a cup of coffee, Martinez struggled at the plate and in the field (type his name into a Google search and look at the auto-fill options. “Faceplant” is one of them). His value took a little bit of a hit, and he wasn’t spoken about too much for the rest of the season. This spring, however, has been Fernando’s coming out party. Unfortunately, however, there’s a pretty slim chance we see him patrolling center field at Citi anytime soon, with Angel Pagan likely getting the nod. Martinez has not been playing center in Florida, and I’m guessing the logic is that they’ll keep him at AAA to get uninterrupted playing time while Pagan keeps Carlos Beltran’s spot warm for him. Might he end up being a blue chip in a trade deal down the line?

Ike Davis

There’s been less hullabaloo concerning Ike Davis when compared to Martinez before this spring, but it’s clear this “kid” (he is 23 today) can hit. And hit. And hit. He’s made a few errors in the field, but his reputation is that of a more than capable defender. So why is the prevailing thought that he’ll start the year in AAA? Daniel Murphy, whose hype machine (through no fault of his own) ran completely rampant last year, will get every opportunity to fail at first base in 2010. He’s hitting a paltry .133 this spring, but look! He’s got a new, taller batting stance! I like Murphy a ton. He’s a hard worker, he’s great when interviewed, and you can really tell that he cares. Can you hit a ball into the gap with caring, though? We’ll get a chance to find out, and I’m far from alone in saying that Murphy’s leash will shorten in a hurry if he continues to struggle into April and May.

Jenrry Mejia

The guy I least want to start the year in the Majors is the guy who’s most likely to. Go figure. Still, he’s having a very productive and impressive spring, basically using one pitch to strike out 8 in 9.1 innings pitched. Talk about efficient. There are guys who, when pitching, are just fun to watch, and he’s one of them. It’s easy to see his potential, and his “I’m ready now” attitude is always a plus. Thing is, the bullpen does not look like a weakness on this year’s Mets team, but manager Jerry Manuel, perhaps in a bid to save his job, insists that Mejia be a part of it when the squad comes north anyway, and that’s the unfortunate part. I believe he should be in the minors to get some more seasoning as a starter, which would potentially make him much more valuable to this team down the road. Instead, he’ll probably be pitching in the 8th inning, which certainly might be an upgrade from Bobby Parnell, but in a role that might interfere with his development, especially if he hits a snag and starts struggling against some bonified Major League lineups.

Man-Crushes

These guys are the reason to watch spring training this year. They’re energetic, full of talent, and are basically pounding on the door to the MLB. That’s why this trio of Mets prospects gets my nod for Man-Crushes of the Spring.