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’. 

Jason Bay says there is a running joke going around team: “We still have a few days to trade for Carlos [Beltran] back.

sportsnetny:

Mets having a Grand Ole Time in Detroit 

Watch Beltran’s slam here

Spy in the Press Box

One of my favorite baseball books I read as a kid was, “Moe Berg: The Spy Behind Home Plate.” If you aren’t familiar with the tale of Moe Berg, he was a major league catcher in the 20s and 30s, serving as a spy for the CIA afterwards. 

Saturday night, I felt like Moe Berg. Well, not really - but let me explain.

For reasons unrelated to Hot Foot, I had a press pass to Saturday night’s Mets-Angels game. The work I had to do was easily accomplished before the game started, so the rest of the evening I was able to just take in the experience from press row, the view behind the glass. 

To start off with, I had to make something clear to myself before I went to the game: even though I was credentialed, I am still clearly a fan. Going to one game with a press pass didn’t mean I was selling my fandom - even though my work was done, I was going to experience the entire press shabang for the novelty of, “hey, when am I going to be able to do this again?” 

The way I solidified this to myself, I wore my lucky Mets tube socks beneath my khakis and button down, so even if I were disguised as press, I still knew underneath I was a fan. Despite the white socks under khakis, I still felt overdressed among the other media types. 

For the record, these are the same lucky tube socks that were written about in Sports Illustrated, and the same socks that - when worn - have never resulted in a Mets’ loss. Thus, the outcome of Saturday night’s game was decided as early as when I got dressed in the morning. (For the record, this isn’t the type of thing I claim after the fact - I tweeted before the game that I was wearing the socks. They are very powerful, but I fear wearing them too often…you can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.)

Some parts of having the press pass were naturally awesome as a fan. Getting to see all the players just hangout in the locker room? Incredible - it made the human element of the game realer than it ever has been. The locker room itself is very nice, where the players hangout with their iPads, iPhones and the such. As a tournament Scrabble player, it was very tempting to offer players help in their games of “Words with Friends” but I figured that would be bad form and I held myself back.

Similarly, being on the field before the game and hanging out in the dugout was a phenomenal experience. I got to watch Fred Wilpon chat up Terry Collins behind the batting practice cage. Probably the coolest part was getting to watch the players go through drills. Outfielders had to shag fly-balls and hit cutoff men, just like on a high school baseball team. Hitters in the cage had to lay down bunts, with discerning coaches watching closely from the foul lines. My favorite was watching Chip Hale stand at 2B with a bat, and nail choppers to Lucas Duda standing at first, helping him with short hops and picking the ball. Clever. 

In the dugout, I became friendly with some of the reporters who were all interesting and happy to see a new face. There is an intriguing dynamic between the players and the press, where for the majority of the time the media-type are flies on the wall, while depending on one’s closeness with specific players can insert himself into the mix more often. Kevin Burkhardt for example, who does an outstanding job as the field-reporter for SNY and will undoubtedly do great things with his career - is clearly well respected and liked by the players, which allows him to banter and chat with them in a way that other journalists wouldn’t attempt to in the dugout.

Interesting side note - the players’ food spreads are obviously off-limits to the press. But there was a definite unwritten code that writers can take from the boxes of gum in the dugout. I saw almost every writer do it. Gotta wonder how weird things like that develop. They have cheap food options available to the press, but if I’m at Citi I’m going to take advantage of the awesome vendors. So yes, I waited 20 minutes for Shake Shack. It was worth it, and I was still back in my seat for the first pitch. 

Oh, did I mention my seat? I didn’t have a section number, a row number or a seat number - I got to sit in the press box. The view - although it’s through windows that open nearly all the way vertically - is fairly good. It’s on the 5th level - the same one with the luxury boxes and the annoucers’ booth - slightly up the left field line from home plate. But, let me tell you, as a fan there was nothing worse than the atmosphere inside the press box. 

Like I wrote on Twitter during the game, being in the press box was like being in purgatory. I was at the game, but not really. It’s the middle ground between being at the game physically, but not emotionally. You’re at the game, but watching through glass. The Mets score and you see and feel the crowd cheer, but you can’t do so yourself. I was antsier than a 3-year-old with chicken pox. 

Here’s a brief list of things I wanted to do, that I would do in the stands at a normal game, that I couldn’t from the press box:

  • Sing the national anthem
  • Cheer/Clap
  • Throw peanut shells on the ground
  • Spit sunflower seeds
  • Pay too much for beer*
  • Give nasty looks to fans of the opposing team
  • Do the wave
  • High-five strangers

Let me tell you, there was no worse feeling for me than seeing Carlos Beltran’s 460+ foot home run that landed at the back of the Shea Bridge, only to look around and not be able to high five the strangers sitting around me, as is completely customary to do in the stands of a game after something like that. I felt like a traitor. Probably like how Ice-T felt when he started playing a cop on television. My younger self would have despised it. Hell, my present self did. 

I went down to the locker room after the game, because hey, if I had the press pass I was going to ride it for what it’s worth. It was great getting to see the players joke around after a win, see them poke fun at each other and be normal people. Josh Thole teased Ruben Tejada about his luggage. Jose Reyes made fun of Jason Bay for showering so quickly. Scott Hairston and Willie Harris brought their kids in. I loved it, I ate it up. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the press, the beat writers, saw right through that. Many of them are great writers, who I was thrilled to meet…some of their columns I read religiously. But, they’re there just churning out a story. They all huddled around Mike Pelfrey’s locker until he walked in, waited until they got their quote and then moved to Carlos Beltran’s. Then Reyes’s. Just to crank out some post-game copy.

Thank god I’m back home now to read it - even if I do write professionally one day, I never want baseball to become a chore. 

Look for his picture to be printed on the side of milk cartons in the coming days.
Willie Harris has been filling in quite nicely, but the bench is woefully thin, especially since the call-ups of Ryota Igarashi and Jason Isringhausen. Jason’s absence has already had an effect on the lineup. This is bothersome.

Look for his picture to be printed on the side of milk cartons in the coming days.

Willie Harris has been filling in quite nicely, but the bench is woefully thin, especially since the call-ups of Ryota Igarashi and Jason Isringhausen. Jason’s absence has already had an effect on the lineup. This is bothersome.

Seven Players Total Over $100 Million In 2011

Looking ahead to the offseason, I have totaled up the numbers of the contracts for players that are on the books for next season. The most interesting part of it is the fact that it only takes seven players for the Mets to exceed the $100 million mark.

Johan Santana: $22.5 million

Carlos Beltran: $18.5 million

Jason Bay: $16 million

David Wright: $14 million

Oliver Perez: $12 million

Francisco Rodriguez: $11.5 million

Luis Castillo: $6 million

The Mets total payroll for 2010 was only about $126 million!

Not only is this a starting point for the offseason, but the Mets still have to figure out what to do with four key players in Jose Reyes ($11 million club option, $500,000 buyout), Pedro Feliciano (FA), Angel Pagan (Arb. Eligible), and Mike Pelfrey (Arb. Eligible).

Whether it be Omar Minaya or a new general manager, they are going to have the huge task of finding ways to remove some of these high-priced veteran players that should not be on the team (Perez, Castillo, etc).

The Mets can choose to non-tender Jeff Francoeur, as he earned $5 million in 2010 in arbitration and will again be arbitration eligible this year. John Maine’s $3.3 million will almost certainly be off the books next season as well. The Mets also still owe $1 million to Gary Matthews Jr. in 2011.

It’s quite simple. The Mets have their work cut out for them this offseason. Fans are demanding changes and something will need to be done.

Jesus Feliciano will replace Bay on the roster.

It’s still too early to declare a “winner,” but year one certainly looks like it’s going to Holliday and the Cardinals.  
I’ve been very impressed by Bay’s defense and speed (10 SB, 0 CS), and I’m still holding out hope that he’ll start hitting this year, but it might already be too late.  It’s hard to imagine that the Mets wouldn’t be in the thick of it right now if they had Holliday’s consistent and powerful bat.
I don’t buy the idea that Bay can’t handle New York after he hit the way he did in Boston.  New York is the big city, but in my book, the Mets are still a step down from the Red Sox in terms of intensity and pressure.  
Nor do I buy into the idea that Citi Field has sapped his power (he has three homeruns at home and on the road) or the idea that the stadium’s dimensions have gotten into his head (there’s as much evidence that someone has put a voodoo curse on his bat).  He’s just having a bad season.
After this season, the Mets will have Bay for three more years at $16 million a season, with a $17 million club option for 2014 that will almost certainly become guaranteed if he stays healthy.
As a Mets fan, I didn’t understand why the team seemingly never went after Holliday, and instead bid against themselves for Bay’s services, especially when it meant getting the older, (slightly?) inferior player and saving less than $1 million per season.  But that’s the way it’s been for this team and it’s fans lately.  
By all accounts, Jason Bay is a great guy with an accomplished major league track record.  He plays the game hard and is easy to root for; even when he’s not contributing with his bat, he’s running into walls making game-saving catches.
Let’s hope, for everyones sake, that he starts hitting sooner rather than later.

It’s still too early to declare a “winner,” but year one certainly looks like it’s going to Holliday and the Cardinals.  

I’ve been very impressed by Bay’s defense and speed (10 SB, 0 CS), and I’m still holding out hope that he’ll start hitting this year, but it might already be too late.  It’s hard to imagine that the Mets wouldn’t be in the thick of it right now if they had Holliday’s consistent and powerful bat.

I don’t buy the idea that Bay can’t handle New York after he hit the way he did in Boston.  New York is the big city, but in my book, the Mets are still a step down from the Red Sox in terms of intensity and pressure.  

Nor do I buy into the idea that Citi Field has sapped his power (he has three homeruns at home and on the road) or the idea that the stadium’s dimensions have gotten into his head (there’s as much evidence that someone has put a voodoo curse on his bat).  He’s just having a bad season.

After this season, the Mets will have Bay for three more years at $16 million a season, with a $17 million club option for 2014 that will almost certainly become guaranteed if he stays healthy.

As a Mets fan, I didn’t understand why the team seemingly never went after Holliday, and instead bid against themselves for Bay’s services, especially when it meant getting the older, (slightly?) inferior player and saving less than $1 million per season.  But that’s the way it’s been for this team and it’s fans lately.  

By all accounts, Jason Bay is a great guy with an accomplished major league track record.  He plays the game hard and is easy to root for; even when he’s not contributing with his bat, he’s running into walls making game-saving catches.

Let’s hope, for everyones sake, that he starts hitting sooner rather than later.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: “Halfway” Home

We made it. We’re at the All-Star break, Carlos Beltran's coming back on Thursday, the team hasn't lost 17 players to injury, and they're 8 games over .500, good for 4 games back in the NL East, and a game back in the Wild Card standings. So what's good, what's bad, and what's badder..er (ugly)? Let's discuss:

The Good - Santana’s becoming Santana

Johan Santana has given up only one run in his last 23 innings, and none in his last 16. He’s got 2 straight wins, which has pretty much been unheard of during his time with the Mets (though through nearly no fault of his own), and his ERA is now 2.98. It’s funny that, while his greatness is appreciated, it hasn’t been mentioned as often as his line drive home run down the right field line, against the foul pole, in his start against the Reds. What I’d like to mention, though, is the reason I love the guy. In the 9th, when Jason Bay (who I’ll get to very, very soon) FUBAR’ed an easy fly ball, Jerry Manuel went to the mound to take Santana out of the game. The meeting on the mound lasted about as long as a sneeze, as Santana looked his skipper right in the eye, and said “I’m finishing.” and Mr. Overmatched himself immediately went running back to the dugout. But a couple pitches later, the game was over. That’s an ace.

Honorable Mention: Angel Pagan has been the greatest and most pleasant surprise of the team this year, by far.

The Bad - Where art thou, Jason Bay?

There it is. There’s the line that nobody seems to be willing to say, and why is completely beyond me. He’s now hitting .265, with 6 homers (4 of which came in 2 games), and 44 RBI. I don’t think I need to tell you that this isn’t his usual pace, and the streaky hitter hasn’t hit a streak that’s lasted more than 5 minutes. He’s got 2 hits in the last week, none in his last 10 at-bats, and sat yesterday on his own bobblehead day to give him that much more rest over the All-Star break. He looks completely lost at the plate, and finally, the boo birds have started to swarm him during this homestand. Beltran’s going to bring a huge boost to this lineup, and hopefully take some pressure off of Bay, allowing him to get back to basics and work on getting back to being productive. What I’d like to know though is why Beltran was absolutely murdered his first year here, as he was struggling yet stoic, and everybody thought he didn’t care, while Bay, who’s also struggling and also stoic, has gotten a pass until very, very recently.

The Ugly - Are the Mets broke or not?

First we heard that the Wilpons lost a ton of money because of Bernie Madoff, then we heard that they actually gained money because of him, before hearing that really, they lost money. Schwa? Which is it? Attendance is dropping, and Bob Klapisch has reported for the Bergen Record that the Mets are losing around $10 million a year because of it. What’s worse, the wide perception is that the team will not be able to add payroll dollars by the trade deadline. This is concerning because, while the Mets are definitely contenders and will remain that way through September, I don’t believe that, as constituted, this team will be able to gain a playoff spot without adding another arm. Hopefully, if this is the case, Omar Minaya and the Wilpons get clever and add another piece while not having to dip into the coffers.