Figuring Out The d’Arnaud/Plawecki Platoon

Since cracking the Opening Day roster in 2014, Travis d’Arnaud has averaged 90 games per season behind the plate with last year being his high at 112 games.  This is because d’Arnaud has not withstood to the day-to-day rigors of catching.  Each and every year, he deals with a different injury to another part of his body, and as a result, the Mets have been left scrambling to figure out their Major League catching depth.

With the re-emergence of Kevin Plawecki as the Mets catcher of the future and the minor league signing of Jose Lobaton, the Mets are in a much better position from a catching standpoint than they have been in years past.  While the Mets have better depth, the end game should be to keep d’Arnaud healthy for a full season.

And for that matter, with Plawecki finally showing the type of bat the Mets believed he had, the team needs to find a spot for him in the lineup.

To that end, a platoon between the catchers makes sense.  Fortunately, both catchers seem inclined to go forward with the plan, and they both thrived under the situation last September with d’Arnaud hitting .297/.343/.656 in 20 games and Plawecki hitting .278/.400/.426 in 19 games.

So based upon their production in an admittedly small sample size, we know it could potentially work.  What we don’t know is how it should work next season, especially when you consider both are right-handed hitters.

Perhaps, the Mets should approach this from a different perspective.  Instead of focusing on what pitcher is on the mound for the opposing team, the Mets should focus on what pitcher is on the mound for their own team.   That is, much like what we saw in 2016 with Noah Syndergaard and Rene Rivera, assign a catcher to a Mets starter based upon whom the pitcher works best.

When you look at the numbers, what is quite startling is just how much better the Mets starters numbers are with Plawecki behind the plate.  There is a very important caveat to that.  Plawecki did the bulk of the catching of these pitchers back in 2015 when they were all healthy and dealing.  It was d’Arnaud who had to deal with each one of them having real injury issues which corresponded with diminished stuff and stats.

Basically, this will come down to comfort, and for starters, we know that likely means Plawecki will be catching Syndergaard because as we saw in 2016, he and d’Arnaud have had difficulty getting on the same page.  As an aside, it was somewhat telling Syndergaard was caught by Plawecki and Tomas Nido in his two “starts” at the end of the season.

Coincidence or not, there may be something to Plawecki not catching Jacob deGrom at all last season.  Given their track record together, which includes deGrom winning the 2014 Rookie of the Year Award and his amazing 2015 postseason, or their both having lower case ds in their last name, there is a rapport between deGrom and d’Arnaud which should continue.

Likely, you want to get each of the catchers 2-3 days in a row when they do play in order to afford them to maximizing rest and getting in rhythm.  To that end, d’Arnaud should catch deGrom with the fourth and fifth starter, whoever they may be.  This would set up this type of rotation:

  1. Jacob deGrom (d’Arnaud)
  2. Noah Syndergaard (Plawecki)
  3. Jason Vargas (Plawecki)
  4. Matt Harvey (d’Arnaud)
  5. Steven Matz (d’Arnaud)

Really, after deGrom and Syndergaard, you can order the pitchers anyway you want, and you can certainly resort them depending on which catcher and pitcher feel most comfortable as a tandem.  In the end, what really matters is Mickey Callaway, Dave Eiland, and Glenn Sherlock communicate with the starters and catching tandem to find the best fit for each pitcher.  If done properly, we may see the catchers last a full season, and more importantly, we could see the pitching staff as a whole revert to their 2015 level.

Platoon?

As I wrote in my last post, the Mets have a lot of versatility. After thinking about it, I noticed something:

2B: Kelly Johnson (L) & Wilmer Flores (R)

3B: Daniel Murphy (L) & Juan Uribe (R)

CF: Kirk Nieuwenhuis (L) & Juan Lagares (R)

This is the making of the perfect platoon situation.  Last night the lefties played against the right handed Zach Lee. The aforementioned lefties were in the lineup. Once the game was out of control, the better defensive players were the Juans who came out onto the field (can’t wait to use that pun again). 

I believe Collins will look to ride the hot hand more than he’ll look to platoon players. However, when the Mets have faced lefties this year, he has loaded the lineup with right handed batters. I think the platoon system is the prudent way to go that unless/until the Mets get reinforcements (trades, players returning from injury). 

Remember, the only two times the Mets won the Workd Series, they effectively used a platoon system. 

Wilmer Flores Reminding Mets Non-Tendering Him Was A Mistake

In the past offseason, Brodie Van Wagenen opted to non-tender Wilmer Flores making the player who once cried at the thought of leaving the Mets a free agent. Last night, he not only returned to New York, but he would face the Mets for the first time. In the fifth inning last night, he would homer against his former teammate Jacob deGrom:

The homer was a bittersweet moment for Mets fans. In fact, there was a smattering of applause in the stands as the Mets still love and respected Wilmer. It should also be bittersweet because non-tendering him was a real mistake.

Looking back at it, Flores was a 0.5 WAR player last year. Given the construct of 1.0 WAR being worth $9 million on the free agent market, Flores was worth about $4.5 million last year, which coincidentally, was roughly what he would have been worth in arbitration.

But seeing what he was worth last year is not exactly the point. The point is when you look to sign a player, whether in free agency or arbitration, you are looking to pay for future value. With that in mind, It is important to remember Flores was a player turning 27 years old and entering his prime.

But it was more than just his entering his prime. He has cut down on his strikeouts and increasing his contact rate at the plate. It wasn’t just more contact, but it is also harder contact. It’s part of the reason why he had been above league average hitter. Part of that development as a hitter was his transitioning from being a platoon bat to being a player who could hit both right and left-handed pitching.

This is typically the part where someone jumps in to point out his defense. No, Flores is not a good defender. No one can or should claim he is. However, Flores has shown himself good at first base and passable at second. In a pinch, he is someone you could have play at third or short. No, not for more than a game or two, but there is value in his ability to stand there for a short duration.

Looking at the defense, we should remember he would have been depth on the Mets. He was a guy who could have been on the field when Todd Frazier and Robinson Cano went down. With Jeff McNeil‘s ability to play third and outfield, the Mets could have limited Flores to second. An important note here was he was a player who never complained about his role and was a good guy in the clubhouse. There is an immense amount of value in that.

We also know Flores has the clutch gene as the Mets all-time leader in walk-off hits. In extra innings, Flores is a .378/.404/.667 hitter in extra innings. This, along with the crying and his being one the players who stayed on the field longest signing autographs, made him a beloved Mets player.

So far this year, Flores is a 0.7 WAR player. That’s a higher WAR than any current Mets bench player. This highlights the Mets mistake in letting him go, and that mistake is further exacerbated when you consider the Diamondbacks are ahead of the Mets in the Wild Card standings. As time elapses, the Mets are going to have to contend with Flores helping other teams and reminding the Mets of the mistake it was letting him go.

20/20 Hindsight: So Much For Being a Fringe Postseason Team

The Mets are seven games over .500 for the first time since May 1, 2018. Yes, that’s Two Thousand Eighteen. That’s where the Mets are after sweeping an Indians team which had apparently given the Yankees fits. This goes to show you just how well these Mets are playing right now:

1. Not too bad for a fringe postseason team, huh Cleveland?

2. One of the reasons why the Mets won this series, and one of the reasons why they have been winning games in the second half is how clutch they have been. Specifically, by wRC+, the Mets offense is the second best in the Majors in the second half from the seventh inning on.

3. The other reason is the bullpen has been terrific of late. Specifically, Justin Wilson has been great coming out of the bullpen, and he has been the guy Mickey Callaway trusts to get the Mets out of jams. For example, on Tuesday, he came into a situation with runners on first and second with one out, and he struck out Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado.

4. Wilson bailed Steven Matz out of a jam. This should serve to at least partially vindicate Callaway’s decision in Atlanta.

5. Matz is once again on one of those rolls where it seems he is one of the aces on this staff. In the second half, he’s 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, and a 4.75 K/BB. Ultimately, this is what Matz can be when he’s used properly by the manager, and he is spinning that curveball.

6. With his great pitching and Wilson bailing him out, Matz would get the win. He also got the win because Michael Conforto hit a huge go-ahead homer in the sixth.

7. As impressive as that homer was, Conforto did something all the more impressive the following day. He visited a children’s hospital to read to pediatric cancer patients, give them better hospital gowns, and overall just spend time with them. Stuff like that will always be more impressive than anything he does on the field.8

8. This really has become a team you enjoy rooting for game-in and game-out. Conforto gives time to pediatric cancer patients. Matz does all that work for first responders. Todd Frazier helped build a special needs baseball field in his home town. The list of the charitable endeavors from these players goes on and on.

9. With respect to Frazier, Gary Disarcina isn’t a very good third base coach. His send of Frazier on the wet dirt with Tyler Naquin‘s cannon in left was plain dumb, especially when he knows the Mets were going to pinch hit for Jeurys Familia in that spot.

10. Familia has been great of late, and he looks more and more like he should be reinserted into the closer’s role on the nights the Mets aren’t going to Seth Lugo to close it all out.

11. The Mets bullpen is emerging as the best in the National League right now. Lugo is the best reliever. With Familia, Wilson, and Brad Brach, they have battled tested relievers who are turning it on at the right time. Luis Avilan is as good as a LOOGY as there is right now. We’re even seeing Paul Sewald raise his game up a level.

12. The bullpen breaking out like that came at a key time as Marcus Stroman was lifted from the game due to a sore hamstring. On that note, what is it with the Mets and hamstrings of late?

13. It is good to see Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo on rehab assignments making their way back to the team. On Nimmo, he’s played three games in four days indicating his return is all the more close. When the Mets are healthy, they are going to have some interesting lineup decisions.

14. While we should be excited about the McNeil and Nimmo rehab appearances, the Jed Lowrie rehab assignment seems more like one of those old David Wright “rehab assignments.” Lowrie has only served as a DH, and Callaway has said they are doing that to play it safe. That doesn’t exactly sound like a guy charging his way back to the team.

15. With how great Juan Lagares has been playing of late, the Mets are probably best served platooning Todd Frazier and Joe Panik with McNeil bouncing between second and third. When Stroman pitches, the Mets should probably keep Frazier and Panik on the infield with McNeil in the outfield to optimize the outfield defense.

16. You can understand riding out this J.D. Davis hot streak for as long as it goes, but when this team is fully healthy, he belongs on the bench because Conforto and Nimmo are simply better baseball players.

17. When Davis made that catch in left field, there were memories of Mike Baxter, and it made you think for a second Noah Syndergaard was going to pitch that perfect game.

18. Syndergaard has been great of late, and he is giving Jacob deGrom a run for his money as to who the best ptcher is on this staff right now. Syndergaard is currently on a stretch where he has eight straight quality starts. In that stretch, he has a 1.82 ERA, 0.976 WHIP, and a 9.1 K/9. This is exactly what he was in 2016.

19. Here’s a fun and interesting thought: With the way the Mets starters are pitching, who do you possibly remove from the rotation when the Mets face off against the Dodgers in the NLDS?

20. The Mets have an opportunity to slay a lot of demons from the late nineties in this weekend series against the Braves. While the Braves may have a Freddie Freeman, they no longer have Chipper Jones or Brian Jordan. To that end, the Mets no longer have Armando Benitez or Mel Rojas. This should (hopefully) be a fun series.

20/20 Hindsight: Mets Win A Series In Kansas City

The Mets went to Kansas City looking to sweep, and they wound up having to settle for less than that. Ultimately, they got the job done even if they did not perform well at all:

1. Alex Gordon may be the only Royals player remaining, but it was still good to see the Mets win a series in Kaufman Stadium, and it felt even better seeing Jeurys Familia get the win in a deciding game.

2. It’s also great to see Michael Conforto homer in a game against the Royals and not watch the Mets not blow the game. Seeing where Conforto hit that homer, we should have called that a Blue Moon Shot.

3. Congratulations to Pete Alonso for breaking Cody Bellinger‘s National League rookie home run record. He now joins Mark McGwire and Aaron Judge as the only rookies to hit 40 homers in a season. This has been a great ride, and he’s now in line to join Darryl Strawberry as the only other Mets position player to win Rookie of the Year.

4. It is criminal that when Alonso broke the record the call was made by Wayne Randazzo on the radio side and Gary Apple on the TV side. The Mets have all-time great broadcasters, and somehow that’s what we were left with for this great moment. Mets needs to do better when there are vacations.

5. There were two different times Alonso looked like he was going to break that record. The first ball was called foul, and to his credit, Alonso shook it off and delivered with a huge go-ahead two RBI single. The next time the ball actually hit the foul line towards the top of the right field wall. Many times we see people struggle or slump as they near a milestone; Alonso powered onward.

6. Jacob deGrom had his 12th start of the season pitching 7.0+ innings allowed two earned or fewer. That mark ties him with Hyun-Jin Ryu for the most in the Majors. This should only highlight how great deGrom has been this year and how deserving he is of another Cy Young.

7. Yes, Ryu is having a great year, but deGrom’s year is arguably better. For starters, deGrom has more innings pitched and strikeouts. Moreover, he has a higher K/9, K%, K-BB%, FIP, xFIP, fWAR, and bWAR while leading in other other categories as well.

8. One of the reasons the Mets took this series was Joe Panik playing great. Since joining the Mets, Panik is hitting .333/.379/.444 with a double, triple, and two RBI with two walks. On a side note, he was the second baseman when the Giants beat the Royals in the 2014 World Series.

9. With Jeff McNeil down, the Mets needed Panik to step up, and he has. The same goes for Juan Lagares, who has been the 2015 postseason version of Lagares who has hit .458/.458/.583 since August 13.

10. With the way Panik and Lagares are playing, it appears Todd Frazier is the guy who has to go to the bench. Since the All Star Break, he is hitting .192/.239/.377. If he’s hitting this way, he cannot be in the lineup.

11. Going forward, Frazier has hit .283/.359/.543 off left-handed pitching. To that end, he should work out a de facto platoon with Panik, and given his glove, he should be the third baseman when Marcus Stroman is on the mound. Short of that, he should be a power bat off the bench and late inning defensive replacement.

12. These two were needed all the more with J.D. Davis twice going down with a calf injury in this series. With how hot he’s been hitting, the Mets need his bat in the lineup, and they were without it in a series against the Royals. One side point here, good for Mickey Callaway for being cautious in taking him out rather than leaving him to run 90 feet.

13. Davis coming out of Sunday’s game forced Amed Rosario to play left field. It didn’t take long for the ball to find him, and the played the ball like he’s been out there all year. He also doubled in his only at-bat as an outfielder. Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise because Rosario has been legitimately great lately.

14. Since the All Star Break, Rosario has hit .368/.403/.544. He’s a 3 DRS at shortstop. When McNeil went down, he took over the leadoff spot, and he’s been hitting .333/.383/.535 in the leadoff spot. He is literally doing all that is being asked of him, and he is emerging as a legitimately great player. This has been a real joy to watch.

15. Rosario having to play left field only highlights the stupidity of the Mets going with Ruben Tejada over Dilson Herrera. What makes the move all the more hilariously stupid was the Mets justification for going with Tejada over Herrera was versatility. Between the two, Herrera is the only one with outfield experience. Since Tejada rejoined the Mets, he is 0-for-8 at the plate with two strikeouts and someone already a -0.3 WAR. Herrera is hitting .294/.368/.706 while playing second base and left field. Again, this decision made zero sense.

16. On the topic of baffling decisions, when Robert Gsellman landed on the Injured List, the Mets called up Walker Lockett over Chris Flexen. Between the two, Flexen has the better stuff, and he has experience pitching out of the bullpen.

17. One area where Callaway was criticized for making a baffling decision was using Edwin Diaz to get out of a bases loaded no out situation. While it was a near disaster with a grand slam overturned on replay, Diaz got out of the inning allowing just two runs. In his next appearance, he pitched a scoreless ninth with two strikeouts. Maybe, just maybe in the long run, this was a great decision by Callaway.

18. Zack Wheeler‘s start against the Royals was disappointing. That’s two straight disappointing five inning starts from him. This time, it was probably more bad luck than anything. However, this is his first real postseason race, so it will be interesting to see how he handles things in his next start.

19. The Mets would have been better off with a sweep, but they still won the series. They’re also just two games back of the second Wild Card. Overall, when looking at this stretch of six games, many are discounting just how hot and grueling that stretch of road games are in Atlanta and Kansas City along with their losing one of their hottest hitters.

20. Good for the White Sox for having Bill Walton and Michael Schur do color commentary with Steve Stone out. As noted on Saturday, that is what the Mets should have been doing by using the multitude of great local broadcasters and fans in Gary Cohen’s and Howie Rose’s absence. On a final note there, John Sadak did a great job on the radio. Here’s hoping there’s a spot for him in 2020.

Possible Jeff McNeil Replacements

First and foremost, it’s obvious there is no replacing Jeff McNeil. The Mets can’t do that. As noted earlier, the Mets need Juan Lagares and Joe Panik to play like everyday players while hoping the healthy players on this roster raise their games. The Mets are also going to need production from the player who occupies McNeil’s spot on the roster (should he land on the IL).

According to various reports, the first person under consideration is Ruben Tejada. Part of the reason the Mets are considering Tejada is the great year he is having in Syracuse. Through 71 games, he is hitting .330/.408/.476 with 19 doubles, a triple, six homers, and 38 RBI.

It should be noted like the Major Leagues, there has been a juiced ball issue in Triple-A, and Tejada’s numbers could be attributed to that. For example, Tejada hit .230/.291/.298 in 101 games for Triple-A Norfolk last year. Tejada last played in the Major Leagues in 2017 when he hit .230/.293/.283 in 41 games for the Orioles.

The bigger issue with Tejada is the fact he has never played the outfield in his professional career. One of the things which made McNeil so important was his versatility and ability to play almost all seven defensive positions. With respect to Tejada, he has mostly played third base this year along with some time at second and short. Overall, while Tejada may hit, he is not going to be able to provide the versatility the Mets need causing the team to have to lean on Aaron Altherr all the more.

Another former Met on the Syracuse roster who should merit consideration is Dilson Herrera. Unlike Tejada, Herrera has some outfield experience playing 10 games in the outfield for Syracuse and 11 games for the Reds last season. It should be noted Herrera did not rate well with a -2 DRS in 56.2 innings for the Reds last year, but he should have the opportunity to work with Luis Rojas, who has done a fine job helping Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis not be nightmares in left field this year.

Offensively, Herrera has had a very good year in Syracuse hitting .255/.332/.528 with 26 doubles, a triple, 22 homers, and 53 RBI. Now, the juiced ball effect should be taken into account for Herrera like it was with Tejada. That said, Herrera hit .297/.367/.465 in 71 Triple-A games last year. Herrera did not impress during his call-up to the Reds last year hitting .184/.268/.414 in 53 games. However, it should be noted he hit five homers for the Reds last year showing Herrera could help provide some pop off a bench currently bereft of it.

Looking at former Reds currently in the Mets system, the team should also consider Arismendy Alcantara. Looking at his Major League numbers, Alcantara has hit less than Tejada or Herrera. In fact, over the course of his limited playing time from 2014 – 2017, he hit .189/.235/.248. Like Tejada and Herrera, he his having a good year with Syracuse hitting .302/.363/.523 with 12 doubles, five triples, 10 homers, 41 RBI in 73 games.

Defensively, he is much more versatile than either Tejada or Herrera. In fact, over his career, the two positions he has predominantly played have been center field and second base. In many ways, that makes the switch hitter a very good replacement for McNeil as he is going to provide the same level of versatility the Mets need.

If the Mets wanted to look outside the organization, Josh Harrison was released by the Detroit Tigers on August 9. In 31 games for the Tigers, he hit just .176/.219/.265. Part of his struggles could be attributable to his having an injury plagued year with him having a shoulder injury in March and a left hamstring tendon strain which landed him on the IL on May 28. Harrison has not played in the Majors since then.

Harrison has not played well in his seven game rehab stint before his release. Of course, the long layoff could have been a factor. However, it should also be noted Harrison hit .250/.293/.363 in 97 games for the Pirates last year.

One other note with Harrison is he’s not as versatile as you would believe. Since 2016, he has predominantly played second base, and he last played more than one game in the outfield in 2017. He last played more than 10 games there in 2015. Put another way, he is really now just a 31 year old infielder who is on the decline.

Looking at all the options, the Mets need to consider what they want for the bench piece. Are they looking for a platoon for Panik at second? Do they want the best possible hitter to pinch hit? Are they looking to catch lightning in a bottle? Do the Mets value versatility, comfort with a particular player, or possibly a name which could inspire faith among the team and fanbase?

The Mets focus is going to dictate which direction they should go. Ultimately, given the ability to play multiple positions and the team’s need for a bat off the bench, arguably, the Mets should look towards Dilson Herrera. However, the decision is not that clear cut, and the Mets can very justifiably decide to go with any of the other aforementioned players.

UPDATE: According to reports, the Mets are going with Tejada.

Mets Finally Listening To What Everyone Told Them Over A Month Ago

It doesn’t matter who is the General Manager or the manager. The Mets always want to tell everyone else they are wrong, and they are smarter than you. There is plenty of history on this front during the Wilpon Era.

Steve Phillips told us Alex Rodriguez was a 24 and 1 player. So, instead of pursuing A-Rod, he signed Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Kevin Appier, and Steve Trachsel to try to improve the team. When that didn’t work, he made a series of questionable moves over the ensuing two years which somehow led to Roger Cedeno being a center fielder. Ultimately, Bobby Valentine was fired, and he was not too far behind.

There were plenty of decisions past that point. The most recent example was Terry Collins‘ insistence that Michael Conforto was a platoon bat because he was a young left-handed hitter the team had no time to develop because they were trying to win. Somehow this led to Matt Reynolds making a start in left field despite never having played the position in his life.

Now, we are in the era of Brodie Van Wagenen and Mickey Callaway, and things remain the same way.

With Dominic Smith jumping out of the gate hitting well, Pete Alonso showing no signs of being overwhelmed as a rookie, and the team’s questionable outfield depth, everyone said it was time for Smith to get reps in the outfield again. Everyone included Mets hitting coach Chili Davis. The Mets scoffed at the idea and instead insisted it was better for Smith to be a younger version of Julio Franco or Lenny Harris.

The Mets gave up Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn in a deal which helped bring them Edwin Diaz. There were big games early in the season where the team needed their closer to go more than four outs. That was all the more the case with Jeurys Familia‘s struggles. But no, we were told Diaz is just a three out pitcher who was to be saved for save chances only.

To begin the season, Jacob deGrom had no consistency with the catchers behind the plate. That became more of an issue with Wilson Ramos not hitting or framing. Given how deGrom has reached Greg Maddux like status with this team, the strong suggestion was to make Tomas Nido his personal catcher as deGrom was the one pitcher who could easily overcome his lack of offense, especially with Nido’s pitch framing. Instead, the Mets said deGrom was not pitching well enough to warrant a personal catcher.

J.D. Davis was atrocious at third base. In fact, by DRS, he was the worst third baseman in the Majors. With him clearly not suited to the position, everyone said to the Mets they should at least try Davis in left field. It wasn’t until the Mets literally had no other choice that it would happen.

And that’s where we are now. The Mets are under .500 and in third place. Callaway’s job has seemingly become tenuous. Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are on the IL while Jeff McNeil is dealing with an abdominal issue. Justin Wilson is on the IL, and Familia just had another poor performance. Suddenly, the Mets, who knew better than everyone, suddenly don’t anymore.

Now, Smith will get reps in left field, and Davis can start playing out there more. Diaz can pitch more than three outs when the situation merits. Nido will now be deGrom’s personal catcher. Of course, the Mets waited a long time to finally admit they actually don’t know better than everyone. The question now is whether they waited too long.

Fortuantely, the Mets finally listened to everyone. Now, the goal is to finally get through to them that everyone else is indeed smarter than they are and that the Yankees financial model is sustainable. In fact, it could be sustainable for the Mets as well if they were willing to try.

Gsellman Needs To Open Vargas Starts

After last night’s game, Mickey Callaway indicated the team was looking to get only five innings out of Jason Vargas. This was the plan even with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia being unavailable and with Seth Lugo feeling sick. With the Marlins hitting rockets off Vargas, Callaway held hard and fast to the plan removing Vargas after just 74 pitches.

While the win was nice, Vargas’ performance and the plan for him is troubling. After all, if the Mets cannot trust Vargas to go more than five innings against the Marlins, what are they going to do when he faces the other teams in the division? Do the Mets see him even reaching the fifth against lineups featuring Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, or Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto?

The answer is probably no, and the question is how the Mets plan to adapt.

The obvious choice is to remove Vargas from the rotation. The issue there is their Triple-A starters did not fare well in the Majors last year. While you may believe in Corey Oswalt‘s increased Spring velocity or Chris Flexen‘s new physique, it would be wise to give them time in Syracuse first to see if their offseason progress translates to results.

Since dipping into Triple-A isn’t the answer yet, nor is rushing David Peterson or Anthony Kay, the Mets most likely and perhaps most successful option would be to utilize an opener.

Last year, the Rays were the first to utilize an opener. In tabbing Sergio Romo as his opener, Rays manager Kevin Cash said, “The way that their lineup stacks generally speaking is very heavy right-handed at the top It allows us in theory to let Sergio to come in there and play the matchup game in the first . . . .” (Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times).

In essence, the goal of the opener is to get a traditional reliever to start the game and face a platoon advantage in the first. After the reliever gets through the top of the order, the starter can come in and “start” his game against the bottom of the lineup thereby permitting him to not only get an easier start to the game, but arguably, to get deeper into the game.

In the case of Vargas, you saw the Marlins stack right-handed batters against him. After all, it makes sense with right-handed hitters hitting Vargas well. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, right-handed batters are hitting .262/.324/.464 off of him, which translates to a 4.74 FIP.

As a result, the Mets need an opener who can counteract a team loading up their right-handed batters against Vargas. Given his history as a starter, it would make sense for the Mets to make Robert Gsellman as the opener on the games Vargas starts.

From what we see so far this season, Gsellman is not part of the late inning mix. That is reserved for Diaz, Familia, Lugo, and Justin Wilson. Rather, Gsellman is going to be used like he has been so far in this series. When the starter goes five (or less), he is going to be the first guy out of the pen to eat some innings before handing it to the late inning relievers.

If the team is going to use Gsellman for an inning or two whenever Vargas starts, why not make it at the beginning of a game? Why not put pressure on the opposing manager to opt for either having right-handed batters face Gsellman so they’re in place to face Vargas later, or to start their left-handed batters and have a wave of substitutions to face Vargas?

The point is by starting the game with Gsellman, Callaway would be creating a situation that is beneficial for Vargas to enter the game. If you are only getting five innings from him, why not make it against a team’s worse hitters? Why not use Gsellman against a right-handed lineup without fear of seeing a pinch-hitter? If nothing else, it can’t hurt.

Opening Day Just Like Van Wagenen Drew It Up

Four years ago, the Nationals and Mets kicked off the 2015 season with two former Cy Young Award winners. Like today, it was Max Scherzer for the Nationals. For the Mets, it was Jacob deGrom in place of Bartolo Colon. While that 2015 opener was a low scoring game, today was a true pitcher’s battle.

Over 7.2 innings, Scherzer looked like the pitcher who has dominated the National League over the past three years. In each of those seasons, Scherzer led the league in the strikeouts including striking out 300 batters last year. Against, the Mets he would strike out 11 batters. Looking at him pitch, his stuff was completely unfair:

He was all the more dangerous with him getting some really favorable calls, two of which came against Michael Conforto. With him allowing just two hits and three walks, it was clear he did not make many mistakes. But on the one he did make, Robinson Cano would send it opposite field for a homer in his first at-bat as a Met:

That would not be the only impact Cano would have on this game. In addition to the home run, Cano would make a heads up and savvy veteran play in the field in the third when the Mets 1-0 lead was teetering:

With the ball not being hit quite hard enough and with Jeff McNeil having to hesitate a slight second to keep the runner from breaking right away, Cano was smart in catching Victor Robles making a rookie mistake breaking to home on the play. Robles’ mistake took the 1st and 3rd one out situation and turned it into an inning ending double play.

Basically, deGrom took it from there. If there was any question deGrom was going to repeat his 2018 Cy Young season or if the extension drama affected his preparation for the season, they were quickly dispensed. In six shutout innings, deGrom just walked one and would strike out 10 batters. He ramped up his game when he needed.

For example, in the sixth, Trea Turner led off the inning with a single, and he would quickly steal second (his second steal of the game). With Turner’s speed, Wilson Ramos never really had a chance against him. That was evident when Turner stole third after an Anthony Rendon ground out. With a runner on third and one out, deGrom would just embarrass Juan Soto:

After a Ryan Zimmerman fly out, the threat was over, and Mickey Callaway would tab Seth Lugo for the seventh. Like deGrom, he picked up where he left off in 2018 by striking out the side.

What was curious about that top of the seventh was Nationals Manager Dave Martinez would leave in Scherzer to strike out to end the inning. This meant Scherzer would go one inning too far.

Dominic Smith would get the rally started with a one out walk against Scherzer. Scherzer was lifted after striking out Brandon Nimmo for the third time, and Pete Alonso would get his first career hit with a single off Nationals reliever Justin Miller.

Martinez would go to they lefty Matt Grace to face Cano. Cano proved he still is a platoon neutral bat sending an RBI single to left scoring Smith to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.

Callaway would then go through some mechanations to set up the final two innings.

After his first career hit, Alonso was lifted for Keon Broxton. Broxton then stayed in the game for defense replacing Conforto in right. With Alonso out of the game, Smith would stay in the game at first for defense. After that, it was Jeurys Familia getting through a scoreless eighth in his new role as Mets set-up man.

Edwin Diaz would make his Mets debut in the ninth with a two run lead to protect. He’d get the Nationals in order to preserve the 2-0 lead and register his first save as a Met. Interestingly, the first two outs were fly balls to right with Broxton fighting through the tough sun to record the out.

All in all, the Mets have once again won on Opening Day continuing their MLB best winning percentage on Opening Day. They’re now 38-20 (.655) on Opening Day. That’s not the only impressive record from today.

With his performance today, deGrom had his 25th straight quality start putting him one behind Bob Gibson for the all-time record. At the same time, deGrom extended his own MLB record with his 30th straight start allowing three earned or fewer.

Today, Brodie Van Wagenen looked like a genius. Cano delivered the only two RBI in the game. Alonso delivered a hit in a rally giving the Mets an insurance run. Diaz had the save. And of course, the pitcher he long advocated to extend pitched like an ace. Really, this is as good a start to the Van Wagenen Era as he could have hoped.

Game Notes: For the first time in Mets history six players were taking part in their first ever Opening Day (Alonso, Smith, McNeil, Luis Guillorme, Tomas Nido, Tim Peterson). Conforto and Lagares were the only two Mets not to reach base safely at least once in the game.

MLB Rule Changes Overly Impacts Relievers

Major League Baseball has announced a series of rule changes to go into effect for the 2020 season. Some of the proposed rule changes include:

  • Injured List increased from 10 to 15 days
  • Assignment to the minor leagues increased from 10 to 15 days
  • Maximum of 13 pitchers on the Major League roster
  • Position players are not permitted to pitch unless very specific circumstances are met
  • Relievers must face at least three batters
  • Roster sizes increased from 25 to 26 players

Perusing all of these rules, you can not help but conclude it will have long lasting ramifications upon relief pitchers. In fact, you can argue the effects on relievers are damaging.

The most controversial of these rule changes is the three batter minimum. What is interesting is this is a rule change Major League Baseball had purportedly wanted to test in the Atlantic League during the 2019 season before trying to implement in the Majors. Instead, the test is going to be throw by the wayside, and it is going to be implemented anyway.

The result is the effective elimination of LOOGYs, and there will be a severe limiting of any pitcher with platoon splits. This means players like Jerry Blevins and Luis Avilan, two relievers who have one year deals, may be pitching the last year of their careers. Maybe.

Think about it, if you are a Major League team, how can you carry a LOOGY and have him pitch in critical innings know the opposing manager can just send up three straight pinch hitters to tee off on your pitcher? You have that extra batter now because of the rule change adding a hitter because, well, you are only allowed eight relievers.

This is the complete absence of strategy which is part of what makes late inning baseball so interesting. You have fans engaged during the game critiquing moves, and they create discussion points for days. Now, well, it’s paint-by-numbers baseball. You just put in relievers instead of planning out the inning to get as much leverage as possible.

That aside, remember a specialization job in baseball is effectively being eliminated.

As if that wasn’t problem enough, there is an issue with respect to the health of relievers. No, we should not expect pitchers facing three batters in an inning to cause them to brake down. That’s the case even if that would be an extra level of exertion the pitcher was not prepared to give.

The bigger issue is the mop-op games. There are times when a managers needs to lose a battle to win the war. They need to realize when his arms need a break, and sometimes, albeit rarely, he will need to use a position player. The problem is a manager’s ability to do that is now restricted.

According to the new rules, a position player can only pitch if he’s a designated two way player (right now, this only applies to Shohei Ohtani), in extra innings, or either team is up five runs. Seems reasonable in theory, but in practice, it could be much different.

Reasonably speaking, you could have had an extra inning game the previous night and had your starter knocked out early. Under the rules, if you are down just five, you have to go to your main bullpen guys, who may be exhausted, especially during those stretches in the summer. you cannot go to a position player. No, you need to stick with your tired relievers, who may have needed a real break.

Remember, this is more than asking a reliever to pitch to three batters. This is requiring him to pitch to three batters in every game. That means if you pitch three straight days, that’s at least nine batters. At a certain point, that puts a real strain on a reliever’s arm.

Of course, a team could respond by sending a pitcher down. Well, not even that is as easy. Instead of losing a tired arm for about three series, you are losing one for five. Maybe in a soft spot in your schedule, the Mets would be willing to send down a Robert Gsellman for a short stretch to call up a more rested arm like Paul Sewald or Jacob Rhame. The Mets are not doing that for five series because the hit is too prolonged.

The option for a quick IL stint also comes off the board because again you are talking five series instead of three. That leaves the option of just calling up another pitcher and use them as the 26th man on the roster. Again, that is problematic because a team is only permitted eight relievers, and in recent years, teams have been carrying that many relievers anyway. If you are carrying eight relievers, and they are tired, you’re back in the earlier predicament on time in the minors or the IL.

There’s one other consideration here. In September, teams have had the opportunity to call up every player on their 40 man roster. Now, teams only get two. Now, according to how the rules are written, that has to be two additional position players IF you are already carrying eight relievers. This further restricts a team’s ability to bring up a fresh arm, and anecdotally, a team does not get a chance to find their version of the 2002 Francisco Rodriguez, who played a huge role in the Angels winning the World Series.

However you break it down, these rules unduly affect relief pitchers. They are losing certain jobs. They are being required to do more than they previously have. Their ability to obtain a rest after a stressful game has been restricted. In total, this looks more like a plan not well thought out and pushed forward because Rob Manfred wanting to put his stamp in the game and Tony Clark not serving enough of a deterrence.

Of course, we would know more if this was tested out in the Atlantic League as was originally planned, but baseball instead opted to plow ahead without knowing the long term effects. When you break it down, it’s inexcusable for baseball to gamble with the integrity of the game and with the careers of pitchers without even having tested it.