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?

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Back to Reality

April 7, 2010

Bad starting pitching?  Check.  Bad bullpen performance by anyone not named Feliciano or K-Rod?  Check.  Horrible baserunning blunder?  Check.  Bad managerial decision?  Check. 

Now that Johan Santana’s opening day start is in the rear-view mirror,  this combination of events is certainly troubling to witness.  After all, this was a game that the Florida Marlins were desperately trying to give away.  On a positive note, you have to give the Met hitters some credit for hanging in there against the Marlins untalented group of relievers.  However, on a night where the Met bats were a little sleepy, it takes more than quality at-bats that create walks to actually win a game.   

John Maine was very unimpressive in his first start of the season, as his fastball rarely broke the 90 mph mark.  This is awfully disturbing for a guy who has been injured for two seasons.  Jerry Manuel stated that we need to “throw this start away” due to the fact that it was Maine’s first start coming out of spring training.  We’ll see, but excuse me if I have my concerns.

We all know that the bullpen is going to be a mess this season, as the Mets will bounce back and forth between unproven and untalented relievers  trying to find a diamond in the rough.  If the Mets can not capitalize and win a game while Pedro Feliciano or Francisco Rodriguez are still in the game, we surely will see plenty more of what we saw tonight.

Fernando Tatis’ decision to break home on a wild pitch with limited real estate behind home plate, and late in a close game, is inexcusible.  This play just made us feel like 2009 never ended, as baserunning gaffes were the norm last season.

Lastly, how could Jerry Manuel take the bat out of Jason Bay’s hands by having Wright steal second with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning?  His answer was, “We have good hitters behind Bay in Gary Matthews.”  This was followed up by the same reporter with the question of, “Why then is Jason Bay being paid sixty plus million to be here?  Wasn’t it to have him hit in these situations?”  Right on Mr. reporter, whoever you are.  Jerry just deflected this comment with the same nonsense that he originally stated, perhaps truly believing that Matthews is in the same league as Bay when it comes to hitting a baseball.

Ahh, welcome to 2010 Met fans.  Are you ready for more?

Finding a reliable eighth inning guy can be a tenuous process for any ball club.  However, in today’s baseball, it is essential that you have someone reliable in this spot.  The eighth inning involves extreme mental conditions that only some can handle.  It does not produce the same pressure that a closer endures on a game to game basis because there is still that safety net warming up behind you.  This point aside, the bridge to the closer does have its inherent pressures just the same.

The top teams usually have someone who is not only talented in this spot, but that same pitcher will also have some major league experience nine times out of ten.

This brings us to the list of candidates that the Mets have fighting for this spot.  Of all of these players, none have more than what amounts to one full season of major league experience amongst them.  It appears that the Mets have thrown their chips onto the table and are going for broke here.

Of all of the candidates, only Bobby Parnell and Fernando Nieve have any major league experience.  Ryota Igarashi has never pitched against major league hitters.  Jenrry Mejia, although currently looking extremely dominant, is still just twenty years of age.  It is as if the Mets just threw some guys into a basket and decided to see what happens.

There is, however, one guy who I believe could handle this spot at least adequately.  That guy is Pedro Feliciano.  The Mets believe him to be their seventh inning guy as always, but beggars can not be choosers.  Feliciano is the only pitcher on the roster who has actually pitched in the eighth inning, albeit on a fairly limited and intermittent basis.  Most importantly, he has experienced prolonged success at the major league level, and he has shown that appearances certainly are not a factor for him thus far.

Is there anyone more fit to be K-Rod's set up man than Felciano?

Unfortunately, I believe that the Mets will keep him in the seventh inning and in only certain situations (against the elite lefty hitters) in the eighth inning.    This leaves the bridge to Francisco Rodriguez a shaky one at best.

Hey, you never know.  One of the other inexperienced candidates could emerge and do well here.  However, I like to play the odds as a gambling man, and these are odds that I would have to walk away from.

Can’t this guy be optimistic about anything?

As I have mentioned in other various posts, I consider myself a realist.  If the majority of what comprises the Met roster appears to be sub-par in my eye, then the words I pen may be construed as negative.  I understand the perception here.  Regardless of how I come across, I will not apologize for my opinions.  After all, this is my blog, isn’t it?  Well, that is that.

I move on now to another shortcoming of the 2010 New York Mets, the bullpen.  I have already stated my low expectations for this year’s starting rotation as a whole.  With low expectations placed there already, the importance of the bullpen is raised tenfold.  Let us break down the current pitchers that will likely be a part of this intricate facet of the team.

Francisco Rodriquez – K-Rod is widely regarded as the one “sure thing” the Met bullpen has going for it in 2010.  I think that giving him this tag is a little dangerous.  If you glance over his career statistics, you will notice some disturbing trends.  One of those trends is a marked decrease in strikeouts over the past 2 seasons.  He still strikes out just over one batter per inning, but the average has slipped from the 1.4 average he posted from 2004 to 2007.  His batting average against and WHIP have also fallen off in recent years.  Some people want to chalk up last year’s poor second half to K-Rod mailing it in after the entire team went on the disabled list.  Listen, mental lapses happen in baseball, and last year certainly passes as an acceptable situation for one to occur.  However, I point to something a little more meaningful when it comes to K-Rod’s decline in production.   Pitching is a physical activity, is it not?  When a starting pitcher reaches a certain amount of innings, typically his production begins to falter.  This is particularly true for a power pitcher.  Why should it be any different for a reliever, especially one that is used as often as K-Rod.  Rodriquez’ pitching style is also quite violent as he twists and flails his body with his follow through.  Wouldn’t it stand to reason that after having pitched 520 career innings, that there is the possibility of his smallish-frame showing signs of wearing down?  That is absolutely my belief and my major concern for K-Rod moving forward.  This is the best reliever the Mets have by the way.

Could K-Rod's violent delivery and excessive innings be the cause of his decline in productivity?

Bobby Parnell – Parnell was one of the few players that actually excited me going into last season.  He started out like a bullet fired from a shotgun in April and May looking rather dominant as the Mets’ seventh inning man.  He even had a brief period of success once J.J. Putz went down as the eighth inning guy before losing his confidence, and ultimately his meaningful innings.  The Mets could not stop the bleeding with this guy, and after his confidence was completely destroyed, he was further confused when the Mets made him their 5th starter.  That was a total disaster, because the Mets barely afforded him the time to stretch out his innings and get comfortable once again as a starting pitcher.   Instead, they fed him to the wolves without any confidence or comfort whatsoever.  I believe that Parnell still has some upside, which is more than I can say for most of the other members of the Met bullpen.  If the Mets are to have any success, it will unfortunately fall on Parnell’s inexperienced shoulders once again.

Pedro Feliciano – There was once a time where I did not like Feliciano.  That time has passed.  After all, a left-handed reliever who can pitch over 80 innings in a season with relative success is no one to feel dislike towards.  The only thing wrong with him is that he has no help yet again from the left side of the mound in 2010.  Seriously, why do the Mets continue to make the same mistakes over and over again?

Ryota Igarashi – We all know by now that you never know what you are going to get with a Japanese import, regardless of their success in Japan.  We know this especially well as Met fans, as we seem to take more chances on guys like this than any team in the bigs.  Therefore, I will not count on Igarashi at all for 2010, even though the Mets did when they signed him to a guaranteed 2 year, $3 million deal this off-season.  Once again the Mets like to guarantee contracts to unproven players rather than giving that same money to someone who is proven.  My head is in my hands right about now as I take a break from typing this.

Sean Green – There was an interesting article posted about Green here, where there are illustrations on how his delivery has evolved in the past 2 years.  There were thoughts that he might be following the development of Chad Bradford, who was a player the Mets should never have let go when they did after the 2006 season.   Whether the changes Green  has made in his delivery lead to more effectiveness or not remains to be seen.  Throughout his career, Green has been an average reliever at best, so any improvement would be welcomed.

Kelvim Escobar – Enough has been written about this guy to date that I do not need to mention anything here.  Until he actually pitches more than 2 consecutive appearances without getting injured, he deserves no additional chatter.

R.A. Dickey –  This is a guy who throws a knuckle ball with little success.  Not much more to say here.  He was signed to a minor league deal, although with the lack of depth in the bullpen, he actually has a shot of making the team.  Gasp!

Pat Misch – Another starter that could serve as a long reliever or spot starter for the Mets.  Unfortunately, his talent is also limited.

Jenrry Mejia – As reported here by The ‘Repolitans, Jerry Manuel went a little crazy over this kid after watching him pitch one day in training camp.  He has good stuff, but come on.  Let the kid go to the minors and hopefully develop into a real major league pitcher before we talk about him any further.

That is all there is to say about our bullpen candidates.  I have only listed the players that hold at least slight meaning going into April.  Like I said, the bullpen is certainly not a strength for the Mets this year.  Then again, after reviewing all aspects of the team, what area of the team really is?