Here comes the optimism

April 26, 2010

Am I happy today as a Met fan?  Sure, why wouldn’t I be?  The Mets have won six out of seven and stand at one game above .500 today.  That is certainly beyond what I expected at this point.

Let me point out a few things that I believe have pushed the Mets beyond my expectations to this point.

1) Ike Davis -I did not expect the Mets to actually release Mike Jacobs so soon and inevitably call up Davis.  Let’ s just say that this move was a bit out of character for the Mets and leave it at that.  Davis is a ray of sunshine for Met fans.  There is not one person in Met Land that isn’t pulling for this kid to succeed, myself obviously included.  As long as he is here, the level of optimism is just a notch higher around here.  Let’s just hope that if he slumps, that the Mets do not decide to send him down simply because Daniel Murphy happens to be ready to play at the same time.

Mike Pelfrey at Be Gone With Wilpon

Mike Pelfrey has certainly "cooked up" some success with his first four starts in 2010.

2) Mike Pelfrey – There are surely some readers that want me to eat some crow here, and to date, this is justifiably so.  Mike Pelfrey’s ERA stands at a microscopic 0.69 after four starts, and has run his scoreless inning streak to 24 innings.  Those are some incredible statistics that even the most optimistic Met fan would not have expected.  Listen, I have been very impressed with the way he has gone about his business so far.  I still do not believe, unfortunately, that he is a dominant pitcher for the same reasons I always have.  He is not a strikeout pitcher.  In order for him to succeed, he needs to keep the ball low, and often times, out of the strike zone.   In his first few starts, hitters were approaching their at bats against him very aggressively.  In yesterday’s game against Atlanta, the Braves took the more patient approach, leading to 100 plus pitches thrown in only five innings of work.  This patient approach also led to five walks allowed.  I just feel that Pelfrey needs to be perfect in order to succeed here on in, and perfect is what he has been thus far.  It is just that perfection is a hard thing to maintain through a full season of work.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

3) The Bullpen – In yet another area that would warrant the need for me to eat some crow, the Met bullpen has been extremely productive.  (Eating some crow as I type)  I had stated my concern for anyone not named Felciano or Rodriguez to be a viable member of this bullpen.  So far, Igarashi, Takahashi, and Nieve have proven my concerns to be unfounded…at least in April.  My concerns remain for the simple reason that the two Japanese pitchers have exactly 14 appearances between them, and that Fernando Nieve has had limited starts throughout his three incomplete years of major league experience.  I restate that I am a fan of the proven pitcher in comparison to the unproven pitcher.  Why?  Major league coaches, scouts and players have a way of writing a book on inexperienced pitchers.  When they do, they make adjustments on how to approach each plate appearance against that pitcher.  It is then inherent upon that pitcher to make an adjustment of their own to remain successful.  Will these three relievers succeed in this quest?  Only time will tell.

4) Jose Reyes – It appears that Jose is healthy.  He is running hard, he is playing stellar defense, and he is beginning to hit the ball as well.  Through it all so far, he has also produced from his new position as the number three hitter in the order.  This is great news for the Mets, especially since Carlos Beltran will be out for a long, long time to the surprise of no one.  However, like Mr. Beltran, Jose has to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season.  Once you get that injury label tagged to you, it takes a while to shake it off.

4) The level of competition – It isn’t as if the Mets have played anyone who is a World Series contender to date, other than the St. Louis Cardinals of course.  Of the Marlins, Nationals, Rockies, Cubs and Braves, do any of these teams strike fear in you?  Each of these teams are obviously flawed in at least one area of the game.  The Marlins can hit, but can’t field or close out a game.  The Nationals can’t do much of anything.  The Rockies are average in most areas.  The Cubs can’t hit or close out a game.  Finally, the Braves can’t hit, run the bases, or field, as we just witnessed this past weekend.  This is extremely odd for a Bobby Cox team mind you, even if it is his last season on the bench in Atlanta.

What will the Mets do against the the better teams?  Well, they did lose two out of three to St. Louis already. One thing is certain.  The better teams always expose another team’s weaknesses.  This will certainly play out as the season unfolds.

In summary, there is plenty to be happy with on April 26th, fresh off this latest sweep of the rival Atlanta Braves.  Will it continue?  If you believe like I do that the Mets have exceeded expectations thus far, then perhaps it will not.  If you believe conversely that what you have seen is a true gauge of what the Mets are as a team, then you will obviously feel differently.  Whichever the case, it has been a fun week, hasn’t it?

This position lacks the excitement that most of the other positions have.  That is because it will be occupied by a player who will never appear in an all-star lineup, but  at the same time will not have you scratching your head wondering why this player is your regular right fielder.  Let’s cut to the chase.

Jeff Francoeur – When the Mets parted ways with Ryan Church and acquired Francoeur, it was easy to see why the trade was made…from the Mets’ perspective for a change.  I believe that the trade was one-sided, with the Mets on the positive side.  Yes, I did just say that!  Hey, not EVERY move made by Omar Minaya is horrible.

Church had some ability.  He could field quite well, and handled right-handed pitching just fine.  However, his inability to hit a lick against southpaws was glaring, and this ultimately relegates him to a platoon player at best.  Sprinkle in his propensity to sustain injuries (AKA Met Disease), and you have a guy who could be out of baseball in the next couple of years.  Since the trade, the Atalanta Braves gave up on him after witnessing his lack of production first hand.  He has since been signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates to serve as their fourth outfielder.  I guess the path to baseball non-existence has already begun for Church.

As far as Francouer is concerned, he has suffered a bit of a fall from grace himself.  Here is a guy who was one of the jewels of Atlanta’s farm system.  When he arrived in the big leagues in 2005, he shot out of the cannon like a bat out of hell, looking like he could not miss meeting his high expectations.  He posted stats of .300, 14 and 45 on just 257 at bats.  2006 and 2007 were very productive full seasons for Jeff, posting at least 100 RBI in both seasons, although the rest of the numbers were lower than the scouts anticipated (.260 batting average in 2006 and only 19 HR in 2007 to name a few). It was 2008 that produced the most disturbing numbers for Francoeur.  With a stat line of .239, 11 and 71 in over 650 at bats, coupled with an obvious lack of confidence, it is easy to see why the Braves began to show some significant frustration.  He began to drop lower in the order, and even had a stint in the minor leagues that season to help regain his confidence.  This is not supposed to happen to a one-time blue chip prospect. Finally, after another slow start, the Braves could not hold back their disappointment any longer, and made the trade for Church with the Mets.

It looks like this cover was a bit off with its expectations

Fracnoeur had a decent showing with the Mets after the trade last year, posting numbers of .311, 10, and 41 in 289 at bats.  Not bad.  The ultimate positive with Francoeur is that he looks like a decent player.  The superstar label was trashed years ago now, and that is fine.  He does not take a walk and strikes out plenty, which relegates him to batting a bit lower in the order.  However, with projected numbers of .275, 22 and 95 in a full season, I think any Met fan would take that over what Church could offer as a platoon player.  After all, Francoeur’s splits versus right and left-handed pitching is not that bad.  In fact they are fairly typical of most big league right-handed hitters.  His defense will not stand out as either negative or positive, but with a strong arm in right, I think we’ll take that as well.

What else can I say?  It doesn’t make me nauseous to see him out in right field every day, so that is certainly something.  Isn’t it?