Anthony Swarzak

20/20 Hindsight: Mets Season A Little Less Rocky

The Mets went from a very bad loss on Friday to winning a series against the Rockies, a team ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. All in all, it was a good weekend with a lot of great things happening:

1. Noah Syndergaard is not getting enough credit for reinventing himself on the fly. He’s lost his slider due to the new ball, and he’s adapted by throwing more four seamers and his curveball, two pitches he needed to develop further. He’s really turned a corner and maybe he’s on the brink of a stretch like he had in 2016.

2. It does seem every Mets pitcher likes pitching to Tomas Nido. It should come as no surprise as he is a first rate defensive catcher and pitch framer.

3. That said, we cannot have Nido being the personal catcher to Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. That is especially the case when Wilson Ramos has been the Mets best hitter for over the past three weeks, and he has improved his rapport with the pitching staff. Fact is, Ramos has to play.

4. That said, Nido should play a little more. In the first month plus of the season Ramos played in 28 of 29 possible games, and he started in 22 of 29 games. The Mets played 28 games in May, he played 24 games and started 19. Apparently, easing off the throttle off the 31 year old catcher with an injury history has benefits.

5. Speaking of easing off the throttle, Robert Gsellman was dominant in his one inning on Friday, and then he didn’t pitch in the subsequent two days. Getting him more rest could make him more effective like he was earlier in the year. That’s the hope at least.

6. For those who were clamoring for Drew Gagnon in pressure situations, you got to see why Mickey Callaway was hesitant to put him in those spots as he allowed homers to David Dahl and Daniel Murphy. In three of his last five appearances, hes’ allowed runs with two of them being three run blowups.

7. That’s the thing with pitchers like Gagnon. They’re effective in a role like long reliever, but pressure situations are a different animal. From what we’ve seen, Gagnon definitely has a spot in a Major League bullpen just not in the seventh or eighth inning. That’s alright. There’s nothing wrong with having pitchers who can pitch effectively in certain roles.

8. Jeurys Familia has been great in his last two appearances retiring the side both times. If he’s turning the corner, the Mets bullpen is now more than just Edwin Diaz and Seth Lugo.

9. Todd Frazier is not this good, but he was also not as bad as he was to start the season. That’s the inherent problem with judging players over hot and cold streaks and especially over week-to-week production. Overall, what we have seen from Frazier is he’s a very good defensive third baseman who can draw walks and has pop in his bat. At least, that is what he is when he’s healthy. He’s healthy now, and he’s finally helping the Mets much in the same fashion Sandy Alderson thought he would.

10. The Mets need Frazier all the more because Jed Lowrie is apparently as real as the Tooth Fairy.

11. Speaking of moves which blew up unexpectedly, Robinson Cano has been less productive than Jay Bruce or Anthony Swarzak, both of whom have been traded in the division and are now working to beat the Mets.

12. With Juan Lagares having a -3 DRS in center and seeing Carlos Gomez play in center, the Mets should give a real consideration to seeing Jeff McNeil in center. As we see he has above average speed, good instincts, and an ability to quickly learn new positions. This would allow Brandon Nimmo to go to left field, which is a more natural fit whenever he comes off the IL.

13. Of course, if Dominic Smith continues to hit and play a passable left field, you could move McNeil to second. Of course, when Cano is healthy that raises a whole other list of issues. However, that falls under the category of good problems to have, which is a really nice change of pace around here.

14. Amed Rosario is an extremely talented player. We keep seeing glimpses of it, but we also see frustrating stretches. Part of this is the coaching staff with the Mets being one of the worst shifting teams there are, which has a negative impact on Rosario’s defensive numbers. There’s also the fact he’s still working to figure things out. Hopefully, sooner or later, something finally clicks.

15. Speaking of something clicking, Mets need to hope Pete Alonso is finally clicking again. While he’s hitting just .223/.298/.559 since May 1, Alonso is hitting .281/.349/.649 0ver his past 15 games. One thing to track here is Alonso is much better against left-handed pitching.

16. Bob Klapisch’s article in Bleacher Report on the Wilpons on their handling of their attempts to void Yoenis Cespedes‘ contract as well as all the other areas where the Wilpons are petty, over-matched, cheap, and whatever other adjective you want to use, is exactly the type or articles which need to be written instead of the paint-by-number fire Mickey Callaway articles which are being written.

17. Prior to this series against the Rockies, the Mets had exactly one series win against a team with a winning record. That series was the April 22 – 24 series at home against the Phillies where they blitzed them over the first two games before the Phillies destroyed Jason Vargas in the final game of that series. Things went sour for the Mets after that.

18. Mets haven’t been good for a while now, and it does seem like things are turning a corner. Fortunately, the Wild Card and division are still well within reach.

19. The Subway Series always seem to be a seminal moment in the Mets season. They appear headed in the right direction and the Yankees not so this next series could prove to be a springboard for the Mets.

20. What happened to David Ortiz was horrific, and instead of rushing to judgment like Dallas Braden, we should be just offering our prayers for Ortiz for a speedy recovery.

Trade Worsens: Cano Somehow Worse Than Bruce & Swarzak

When looking at the trade where the Mets acquired Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, there are already a number of developments to show why this trade was horrible for the Mets.

The most obvious is the respective performances of Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn with both of them shooting up the prospect rankings. That goes double for Kelenic.

There’s also the performance of Cano. By the looks of it, the Mets may not even get one good year from the 36 year old second baseman coming off a PED suspension. Remember, this is just year one of a five year $100 million commitment.

As bad and/or injured as Cano has been, no one could have reasonably predicted he wouldn’t be as good as Jay Bruce has been this year. For that matter, he hasn’t even been as good as Anthony Swarzak. To make it all the worse, the Mariners traded Swarzak to the Braves and Bruce to the Phillies.

Essentially, the end result of the trade is Bruce, Swarzak, and Cano have been working to keep the Mets out of the postseason. That’s well beyond what most assumed would be the reasonably pondered worst case scenario for this trade.

And again, this is just year one of Cano. Mets fans should shudder to see year five . . . and that’s when Dunn and Kelenic should reasonably be contributing at the MLB level.

Not good. Not good at all.

Sandy’s Team?

When the Mets were winning the 2015 pennant, there was a push in some circles to refer to that team as Omar’s team. Depending on your point of view, it was intended to either credit Omar Minaya for his leaving behind a better than advertised talent base, or it was to deride Sandy Alderson, who never gained traction with some Mets fans.

Even if it was said in jest, there was a nugget of truth to it. The core of that team, the pitching, was mostly there because of Omar Minaya. In fact, Minaya was the General Manager who drafted Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz. The other key starter, Noah Syndergaard, was obtained in exchange for R.A. Dickey, a pitcher who was brought to the organization by Minaya on a minor league deal.

Minaya was also the General Manager who drafted Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy. Jeurys FamiliaWilmer Flores, Juan Lagares, Hansel Robles, and Ruben Tejada came to the Mets as international free agents signed during Minaya’s tenure. Minaya’s impact on the team went further than this with Sandy Alderson utilizing players brought to the organization during Minaya’s tenure to acquire Travis d’Arnaud and Addison Reed.

Taking it a step further, Minaya was the Assistant General Manager when David Wright was drafted, and he was the General Manager who gave Wright his first contract extension.

Overall, Minaya’s fingerprints were all over that 2015 team much in the same way Alderson’s fingerprints are all over this year’s Mets team.

Yesterday’s starting lineup featured four former Alderson draft picks (Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil) and the player who his regime gave the second highest international signing bonus in team history (Amed Rosario). Robinson Cano came to the Mets when Brodie Van Wagenen traded two former Alderson first round draft picks (Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn) and two players Alderson had signed in free agency (Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak).

Looking further, the lineup also had two Minaya holdovers, one of which in Lagares who Alderson gave a contract extension.

Really, when you truly break it down, the only player on the Mets Opening Day lineup who has zero ties to any previous Mets regime was Wilson Ramos.

When you break it down further, the only Mets players who have no ties to previous regimes were Ramos, Luis AvilanJustin Wilson, and Jed Lowrie, a player who opened the season on the Injured List and who currently has no timetable to return. Considering Familia was a free agent signing, you could potentially credit him solely to Van Wagenen even if he was seeking to return to the team. The other 20 players on the Opening Day roster were either players brought to the team by Alderson, or they were players who were acquired utilizing players Alderson brought to the organization.

Given the narrative which was in place four years ago, the question should be presented whether the 2019 Mets are Sandy’s or Brodie’s team.

The answer is this is definitively Brodie’s team. As the General Manager, he was the one who set into course a series of transactions made to build the Mets in his image. It was he who decided to extend deGrom and to bring in Cano. When you are the General Manager, you are the one making the decisions, and you should receive the credit or blame if your decisions succeed or falter.

As for Sandy Alderson, Mets fans should be appreciative of the talent he acquired during his tenure. Alderson not only left behind a talented group of players, but he left behind a very likeable group of players. In the end, the Mets were better off for him having been the General Manager, and we can only hope we can say the same when Van Wagnen’s tenure as the Mets General Manager ends.

Re-Examining Mets Offseason

At this moment in time, with perhaps a very minor move or two, it would appear the Mets are done adding pieces this offseason. The different holes in the roster have been noted, but what we have not really seen done is an examination of the Mets decision making process. It is something which should be done more earnestly.

Dumping Swarzak’s And Not Frazier’s Contract

Purportedly, one of the selling points of the trade to obtain Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz was to move the contracts of Jay Bruce (2 years, $28 million) and Anthony Swarzak ($8.5 million). While moving Bruce was certainly understandable, it was curious the Mets moved Swarzak instead of Todd Frazier ($9 million).

As we have seen relievers tend to be mercurial, and it is quite possible with a healthier season, Swarzak could have been much more productive in 2019. Depending on the moves the team made in the offseason, he reasonably could have been the last man in the bullpen.

As for Frazier, we have seen the Mets make his spot on the roster tenuous. Pete Alonso appears poised to be the first baseman sooner rather than later, and the Mets brought in Jed Lowrie with the purpose of playing him everyone, albeit at different positions across teh diamond.

Seeing there being a multitude of free agents who could play third base, wouldn’t it have been better to move Frazier over Swarzak? As we saw, the Mets could have replaced Frazier with Lowrie. Other options included Mike Moustakas, Marwin Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Neil Walker. The Mets could have accomplished the same versatility they sought to accomplish by signing multiple players from this group, and they could have had platoon options over Frazier’s bat. It’s noteworthy with the exception of Moustakas these are switch hitters making them more useful bench players than a player who has never played a reserve role in his career.

Why Didn’t McNeil Play Winter Ball?

The very minute the Mets obtained Cano, it was clear Jeff McNeil was going to play some outfield. Now, it could be argued the amount of outfield he played depended entirely on the other moves made this offseason, but nevertheless, the plan was always to have McNeil see some time in the outfield.

Considering McNeil played exactly 17.0 innings in left field in Triple-A last year and just 56.1 innings in the outfield in his six years in the minors, you would have thought the team would have found a spot for him to play winter ball to hone his craft. After all, the team did try to get Dominic Smith time playing outfield in the Dominican Winter League (it didn’t work out).

Now, because the team couldn’t make any moves to improve the outfield, they are going to play McNeil in left all Spring with the hopes he can get up to speed over the course of less than two months worth of games. It should also be noted this decision is moving Michael Conforto from his best defensive position to right, and it is forcing Brandon Nimmo to center, a position the Mets have been reticent to play him at the Major League level.

Why Trade Plawecki if d’Arnaud Wasn’t Ready?

In his four year career, we have all seen Kevin Plawecki‘s warts, but through it all, he has established himself as a viable backup catcher at the Major League level. While the Mets may have felt the need to choose between him and Travis d’Arnaud, that decision would not have been forced upon the Mets until the moment d’Arnaud was ready to play. As we see now, d’Arnaud is not ready to play.

Instead of keeping Plawecki, they traded him for an underwhelming return in the form of Sam Haggerty and Walker Lockett. The only player of value in the trade was Lockett, and he had been previoulsy traded for Ignacio Feliz, an 18 year old who signed for an $85,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic two years ago.

Instead of hedging their bets wisely, the team instead signed Devin Mesoraco. Say what you will about Plawecki, but he is far superior to Mesoraco. He’s a better pitch framer, and he is the better hitter (93 to 92 wRC+). And before anyone invokes Jacob deGrom, you need to explain how Mesoraco was the reason why deGrom was so great.

Where Are the Extensions?

There has been a growing trend in baseball for teams to lock up their young players. For example, the Yankees have already locked up Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks, and they are working on locking up Dellin Betances as well. These actions promise to keep the Yankees core together while keeping them cost controlled to what promises to be a team friendly discount.

At the moment, the Mets have free agency concerns of their own. After 2019, Zack Wheeler will be a free agent. After 2020, deGrom will be a free agent. After 2021, a significant portion of the Mets current Mets core will be free agents with Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz will be headed to free agency.

We know deGrom has put himself on the front burner, but what are the Mets doing besides him? After all, if CAA is in town, it means the team can negotiate extensions for both deGrom and Syndergaard. There is also nothing preventing them from reaching out to the agents for the other players.

Really, this is the biggest part of the offseason which needs examination. What exactly is the plan going forward? Do the Mets have intentions of building something much sustaining, or is this a one year gamble? Are the Mets playing things out in 2019 and reassessing. At this moment, we don’t know. Hopefully, the Mets do.

The Gift of the Mets

Seven point five million. That was all. After allowing David Wright to play in one last game, the Mets only had $7.5 million in insurance proceeds for the 2019 season. The accountants went over the numbers three times, but the money remained the same. $7.5 million. Soon, it would be Spring Training.

There was nothing for Brodie Van Wagenen to do put to mortgage the future. So he did.

While Brodie began to toil away, we can look at the home. Citi Field. A ballpark which was helped built by $615 million in public subsidies with $20 million a year coming from Citibank for the naming rights.

In the executive portion of the building was a corner office with a name on the door – Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon.

When the name was first placed there, the team had a top five payroll in the sport. They had a chance to advance up until their final games in each of the past three seasons. Now, after the Madoff scandal, the money was tighter. More creditors. More debt. Less liquidity. He carried this burden as his General Manager entered his office.

As the meeting began, Brodie was looking off in the distance trying to synthesize his thoughts. They each had promised a winner, but there was just $7.5 million in insurance proceeds to spend. He spent all offseason looking for ways to move contracts around, but $7.5 million was just not enough. Every free agent cost more than he expected, and teams wanted more in deals than he anticipated. Being new to the job, he was not quite prepared for that.

Only $7.5 million to build depth, to add a center fielder, mostly just to put this team more firmly in contention. He spent all offseason planning for more, something that would make them the favorites he declared them to be. Something, anything, to justify moving from a lucrative career as an agent to being a General Manager.

During the meeting, Brodie and Jeff took notice of the 2015 pennant banner. They were both very proud of that for different reasons. For Brodie, it was his clients, Jacob deGrom and Yoenis Cespedes, who had played key roles in getting the Mets to that point. It gained both them and himself notoriety.

For Jeff, this was one they did on their own. They survived everything, and they actually went to a World Series. He proved he could oversee a team’s rebuild and come out the other end with a winning team. Nothing meant more to him than that team. He could stand in a room with the Steinbrenners, and he could tell them he built that team from pure guts and guile, which is something they could never accomplish with their free spending ways.

After the meeting was done, with not much headway, each went back to the drawing board to see what they could to to put this team over the top.

Brodie began making phone calls. He knew Robinson Cano had a no trade clause and wanted to come back to New York, and the Mariners wanted to rebuild. He tried and tried again. They asked for Justin Dunn. He wasn’t too keen, but he agreed if they took back Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak. They then wanted Jarred Kelenic. He didn’t want to do it, but he wanted to get a World Series for his former clients.

He calculated how he could spend the savings. A catcher like Wilson Ramos. There wouldn’t be room for much more, but they could be better, closer. He pulled the trigger. He was eager for Jeff to come home from safari to tell him the news.

After the deal was done, he began to question himself a little. After all, he just mortgaged the entire future to contend for just two years. He didn’t have the money to address all of the team’s needs. The Braves added Josh Donaldson. The Nationals added Patrick Corbin. The Phillies added Jean Segura, and they were in hot pursuit of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

But still, what could a General Manager do with just $7.5 million.

Brodie, who was usually self assured as most agents are, began questioning himself. Instead of boasting what he had accomplished like he had declaring the Mets frontrunners, with Jeff, he was more measured. He really found himself just praying his decision would be met with approval.

Jeff, fresh from safari, popped into Brodie’s office with a bemused look on his face. He was more quiet than usual, which was something Brodie was unaccustomed. He was not ready for that.

Brodie began explaining himself without so much as a question being asked. “Jeff, we actually saved money on the 2019 payroll. Cano is a Hall of Fame talent. Diaz was the best closer in baseball. You wanted to win, and this is the closest we can get to doing it. If I can’t trade for J.T. Realmuto, I can sign Ramos. He wants to be here. We can figure it out from there.”

Jeff just put out his hand, and he shook Brodie’s hand. He gave an assuring pat on the shoulder. Then from inside his jacket pocket, Jeff took out some papers, and he put it upon Brodie’s desk.

“I gave you marching orders, and it looks like you delivered. I am very proud of the job you just did. But if you open that, you will see why I have not been as enthusiastic as you may have thought I would be.”

Brodie unfolded the papers. Initially, there was a wry smile, and then a look of pure shock and horror.

For there was the extension. Due to his role as the General Manager, he could no longer get that extension for deGrom. As an agent, Brodie wanted nothing more than that extension, but due to the conflict of interest, he was not allowed to go and give it to deGrom. He could not even be a part of those discussions.

Brodie exclaimed, “But with the team being better, there will be more fans! There has to be. More fans and more revenues. It’ll happen. I promise.”

Jeff gave that knowing look and just smiled. Both knew the last years of Cano’s deal was going to stop the Mets from giving deGrom any sort of a contract extension, especially with Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Brandon Nimmo soon to follow. They also knew without deGrom going forward, the Mets chances to being relevant into the future was going to be severely compromised.

Jeff just said, “Lets just put this all aside now, order lunch, and let’s talk as friends like we used to do.”

The Mets, as you know, were once run by devoted, passionate, and smart men, who brought the Mets the 1986 World Series. Frank Cashen, Nelson Doubleday, and Fred Wilpon were the first to deliver Mets fans a World Series in the era of free agency. Being wise, not only did they win the World Series, but they had an era of prolonged success like the Mets have never seen before or since.

And here I have told you about two Mets leaders who were not so wise. Each sold something valuable in order to try to win a World Series, and they go in each other’s way. Somewhere, if people will listen, they will tell us they are building the 2019 Mets to be the best team in baseball, and they are smart enough to win for the next decade. They will tell us no matter how much we all doubt.

They are the Mets.

* Adapted from the short story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

 

Be Wary Of The Free Agent Reliever Market

Last year, teams went out and spent roughly $400 million on relief pitchers in free agency. Part of that was probably in large part due to teams relying more heavily on their bullpens. Another factor might have been there were some well known and seemingly quality options available.

Of all that money thrown around, there were five relievers who received contracts with a total value in excess of $20 million. There were 10 relievers who had a deal with an average annual value of at least $8 million. None of these relievers would finish in the top 10 in ERA, FIP, strikeouts, or fWAR.

Digging deeper, from this top group, Wade Davis was the only closer in the top 10 in saves, and Tommy Hunter was the only reliever to finish in the top 10 in holds. That doesn’t mean teams did not spend wisely on relievers last offseason. It means the upper tier of free agent relievers did not pitch the way their teams had anticipated.

Jared Hughes signed a two year $4.5 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and he had the fourth best ERA among relievers. Steve Cishek signed a two year $13 million deal with the Cubs, and he had the tenth best fWAR among relievers.

While not in any top 10s, there were some other cheap relievers with very good years. Seunghwan Oh signed a one year $2 million deal with the Blue Jays, and he had a 2.68 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and a 10.5 K/9 before he was traded to the Rockies. Fernando Rodney signed a one year $4.5 million deal with the Twins, and he delivered 25 saves with a 3.09 ERA before being traded to the Athletics.

Now, there were some top end guys who performed very well. For example, Davis was second in the majors in saves. Pat Neshek certainly earned his contract with a 2.59 ERA albeit in an injury plagued year.

Injuries are a whole other ball of wax. In addition to Neshek, we saw Anthony Swarzak, Brandon Morrow, and others lose parts of their season to injuries. In the case of Swarzak and others, there was just an inability to produce at their 2017 levels which had gotten them the big contract.

Now, every reliever and free agent class is different. Sure, Craig Kimbrel could cash in and continue to be a great closer. We could see Andrew Miller brush aside his injuries issues and return to his 2016 ALCS MVP form. It’s also possible relievers like Zach Britton will never approach their apex again leaving you shelling out millions of dollars for a replacement level reliever.

In the end, if you are going into the deep end of the free agent reliever pool you have to be right, but seeing how successful bullpens are built, you have to question why you would even go there.

The most successful relievers were guys like Josh Hader, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Diaz, i.e. young cost controlled converted starters. You also saw teams strike rich on good value in free agency. With that being the case, it is probably in a team’s best interest to identify those fringe minor league starters and those relievers who can provide better value at a lower cost.

Considering how the Mets may be feeling the budget crunch in attempt to build a winner, it might be time to look at a Chris Flexen with his fastball and curveball in the bullpen while simultaneously waiting out the top tier reliever market with the hopes of building a deeper, better, and yes, cheaper bullpen.

Mets Outlast Nationals

Like two nights ago, the Mets had the opportunity to take out one of the leading Cy Young candidates to help Jacob deGrom‘s Cy Young case. Like with the game against Aaron Nola, the Mets dealt a small blow but could not deliver the knockout punch.

The Mets did try. In the third, Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce went back-to-back to give the Mets a 3-0 lead.

The one weakness in Max Scherzer‘s game this year was the long ball, and the Mets took full advantage. Conversely, the major strength in Scherzer’s game was the strikeout, and he mowed down the Mets.

After the Bruce homer, the Mets had just one hit and one walk, which did allow Scherzer to go seven. In total, Scherzer increased his lead over deGrom in innings and strikeouts, but his ERA rose .04.

For a while, it seemed as if the Mets were going to hit Scherzer with a loss because somehow someway Jason Vargas was out-pitching Scherzer.

The only damage against Vargas was an Anthony Rendon two run homer in the sixth. Seth Lugo, as part of his 1.1 innings, got the final out of the inning to preserve the 3-2 lead.

After Scherzer was pulled, the Mets immediately went to work against left-handed reliever Matt Grace.

Jeff McNeil hit a leadoff triple, and he’d come home on a Bruce single past the drawn-in infield to give the Mets a 4-2 lead. It wasn’t enough for this Mets bullpen.

Anthony Swarzak allowed the first two to reach in the bottom of the eighth, and Daniel Zamora would come on to face Bryce Harper. In the lengthy at-bat. Zamora would get the best of Harper who just missed out as he flew out to deep right field.

Maybe because it was because he opted to take the bullpen cart, but Robert Gsellman would surrender the lead. He first run came on a Rendon groundout, and the second scored on a Juan Soto RBI double.

With that, Scherzer was off the hook. With us living in a world where deGrom may win the Cy Young with a losing record, the loss was probably inconsequential.

The game would go extras, and the Mets seemed poised to end it early with them loading the bases in the 10th with just one out.

However, even with Greg Holland losing the strike zone having thrown seven straight balls, Jack Reinheimer swung at a 1-0 pitch and hit a soft tapper to Holland, who started the inning ending 1-2-3 double play.

In that 10th inning, McNeil was surprisingly sent up to bunt. In that at-bat, home plate umpire made a few very questionable strike calls, including ruling McNeil bunted at a pitch. This led Mickey Callaway to flip and earn his second career ejection.

In the 11th, Brandon Nimmo hit a leadoff double, and he would be stranded there.

What was surprising was how Jacob Rhame returned serve. After allowing a leadoff double to Ryan Zimmerman, who tagged up and moved to third on a Matt Wieters line out, Rhame would strike out Mark Reynolds and Victor Robles to end the inning.

Finally, in the 12th, the Mets retook the lead.

Amed Rosario led off the inning with a single off Jefry Rodriguez, and this time, McNeil would get the bunt down.

The bases were loaded after Conforto was intentionally walked, and Bruce walked after him. Jose Lobaton pinch hit for Rhame, and he delivered with a go-ahead sacrifice fly to give the Mets a 5-4 lead.

Paul Sewald was given the 12th, and he delivered his second career save with a 1-2-3 inning. Just because it was a 1-2-3 inning, it doesn’t mean it was uneventful.

After Heyward was called out on a pitch outside the strike zone, he argued the call, and he was tossed by Home Plate Umpire D.J. Reyburn. Heyward didn’t even bother going to the clubhouse. Instead, he watched the final out from the bench.

Come next week, Harper will join the Mets in watching games from the bench as the Nationals will soon be eliminated from the postseason.

Game Notes: Wilmer Flores was shut down for the rest of the year after being diagnosed with arthritis in his knees.

Matz Helped His Friend, Mets Didn’t Help Matz

The Mets had won 19 consecutive games in which a Mets pitcher had hit a homer.  That included Steven Matz‘s last start when he had homered.  Well, Matz woud hit a homer again in this game giving you hope it was going to be 20 straight:

That homer came off of Aaron Nola, and it not only gave the Mets the lead, but it put a little dent in Nola’s Cy Young case.  Certainly, Matz was cognizant of that as after Matz trotted around the bases, he walked up to Jacob deGrom and said, “That was for my friend.”

Really, Matz did all he could do to help deGrom win the Cy Young.  In addition to the homer, Matz was good on the mound.  In his five innings, he would allow just two hits while walking five and striking out four.  In addition to the hitting and pitching, Matz would make an incredible behind the back catch to start a double play:

With the four walks, Matz’s pitch count was up.  At 91 pitches, it made the decision to pinch hit for him in the top of the sixth an easier one than it normally would be.

At the time the Mets had a 2-0 lead because Dominic Smith would double home Brandon Nimmo in the fourth inning.  Smith and Nimmo would take part in another two out rally in the fifth.  After Nimmo walked because, well that’s what he does, and Dom singled, Gabe Kapler would pull Nola and put it Pat Neshek.  Neshek walked Kevin Plawecki to load the bases, and Mickey Callaway sent up Wilmer Flores to pinch hit.

Flores would strike out on three pitches.

That Flores strikeout was a missed opportunity.  With the inherited runners on base, it was a chance to put a further dent in Nola’s Cy Young wishes.  It was also a chance to tack on some needed runs.

The Mets would add .02 to Nola’s ERA which probably won’t have much impact on his Cy Young chances.  Because the Mets failed to take advantage of the opportunity, they would also miss a chance to saddle Nola with the loss. Well, it was the missed chance and the bullpen implosion.

Jerry Blevins started the fire by walking Carlos Santana and hitting Aaron Altherr with a pitch.  Callaway then brought on Drew Smith, who just could not get anyone out.  First, it was a Wilson Ramos single.  Then a Justin Bour double.  Finally, Jorge Alfaro homered.  Anthony Swarzak would come on and get the Mets out of the inning without allowing another run.

But by then, it was too late.  The Mets fell behind 5-2, and they did not have another run in them.  It didn’t matter much as the chance to really dent Nola’s Cy Young case went by the wayside.

Game Notes: In a recent BBWAA poll, deGrom was overwhelming voted as the Cy Young winner.

Mets Fail deGrom Again

Tonight was one of the few important games remaining on the Mets schedule because Jacob deGrom was starting.

Early on, it looked like deGrom had it all going. After issuing a leadoff walk to Rafael Ortega, deGrom struck out the side. In fact, he’d go the first 3.2 innings without allowing a hit.

Brian Anderson then hit a slow roller up that middle Amed Rosario couldn’t get to and Jeff McNeil could not field cleanly. Derek Dietrich singled cleanly to put two on with two out.

deGrom went 0-2 against Lewis Brinson, and he tried to go up in the zone to get out of the inning. He didn’t get it up enough, and Brinson drove it to deep center. Austin Jackson, who is in there for defense despite a -13 DRS, took a bad route and wasn’t nearly quick enough. Instead of being out of the inning, deGrom was down 2-0.

We knew the Mets weren’t getting him off the hook as they were providing deGrom with his typical run support. Really, Michael Conforto was the only one who showed up with his bats.

After being stranded at fourth with a leadoff double, Conforto would make sure he scored in his next at-bat as he homered off Jose Urena.

Overall, the Mets had four hits in the game. Two were by Conforto. The other two were by Dominic Smith and deGrom.

Even if the bats did get going, the bullpen would’ve made it a moot point.

JT Riddle, he of a career .371 SLG, hit a no doubt homer off Anthony Swarzak in the eighth. Robert Gsellman was tasked with keeping at 3-1 in the ninth. He didn’t.

He wasn’t helped out by Brandon Nimmo making an ill advised dive for an Anderson sinking liner. Instead of two on, it was an RBI triple. A Dietrich RBI double made it 5-1.

Overall, deGrom’s final line in the loss was 7.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K. This was his record 25th start in a row allowing three earned or fewer.

As noted by the eminent Jerry Beach, this was the 10th time deGrom allowing two earned or fewer over seven innings and did not get the win. There are only six pitchers to do this in 2018, and it’s only happened 10 times total.

In the end, deGrom is now 8-9 because the Mets two out rally in the ninth, highlighted by a Kevin Plawecki two run homer, sputtered out with a Rosario broken bat ground out.

Mets lost 5-3 in a game they could’ve helped deGrom.

Game Notes: Todd Frazier was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. McNeil moved to third, and Wilmer Flores played second. The Mets had 9/11 patches on their caps. Again, there were no First Responder caps.

Mets Problem Isn’t Analytics, It’s The Wilpons

As reported by Mike Puma of the New York Post, Mets owner Fred Wilpon does not want to hire a younger and more analytics driven executive for two reasons.  The first is he feels he will have a harder time connecting with that person.  The second and perhaps all the more baffling is the “thought among team officials that perhaps the Mets became too analytics driven in recent seasons under Sandy Alderson’s watch . . . .”

Taking the thought at face value, we really need to question which analytics the Mets are using to inform their decisions.

For starters, look at Asdrubal Cabrera.  Everyone knew he was no longer a shortstop, so that left the question over whether he should have been a second or third baseman heading into the 2018 season.

In 2017, Cabrera was a -6 DRS in 274.1 innings at second.  That should have come as no surprise as he was a -10 DRS the last time he saw extensive action at second base (2014).  Conversely, in his 350.1 innings at third last year, he had a 1 DRS.

Naturally, the Mets went with Cabrera at second this season where he has been an MLB worst -20 DRS.  That makes him not just the worst second baseman in all of baseball, it makes him the worst defensive infielder in all of baseball.

Of course, the Mets got there by acquiescing a bit to Cabrera’s preference to play second over third.  This was also the result of the team turning down a Paul Sewald for Jason Kipnis swap.  That deal was nixed over money.

With respect to Sewald, he was strong when the season began.  In April, he had a 1.91 ERA and a 0.805 WHIP.  Since that point, Sewald has a 5.73 ERA, a 1.485 WHIP, and multiple demotions to Triple-A.

As for Kipnis, he has struggled this year hitting .226/.313/.363.  It should be noted this was mostly due to a horrific April which saw him hit .178/.254/.243.  Since that tough start to the season, Kipnis has gotten progressively better.  Still, it is difficult to lose sleep over Kipnis even if the rejected trade put Cabrera at second and it led to the Mets signing Todd Frazier, who is hitting .217/.298/.368.

In addition to bringing Cabrera back into the fold, the Mets also brought back Jay Bruce after having traded the then impending free agent to the Cleveland Indians for Ryder Ryan.

At the time the Mets signed Bruce, they needed a center fielder.  The team already had Yoenis Cespedes in left, and once he returned from the disabled list, the team was going to have Michael Conforto in right.  Until the time Conforto was ready, the team appeared set with Brandon Nimmo in the short-term.

In 69 games in 2017, Nimmo hit .260/.379/.418.  In those games, Nimmo showed himself to be a real candidate for the leadoff spot on a roster without an obvious one, especially in Conforto’s absence.  With him making the league minimum and his having shown he could handle three outfield positions, he seemed like an obvious choice for a short term solution and possible someone who could platoon with Juan Lagares in center.

Instead, the Mets went with Bruce for $39 million thereby forcing Conforto to center where he was ill suited.  More than that, Bruce was coming off an outlier year in his free agent walk year.  Before that 2017 rebound season, Bruce had not had a WAR of at least 1.0 since 2013, and he had just one season over a 100 wRC+ in that same stretch.  In response to that one outlier season at the age of 30, the Mets gave Bruce a three year deal.

Still, that may not have been the worst contract handed out by the Mets this past offseason.  That honor goes to Jason Vargas.

The Mets gave a 35 year old pitcher a two year $16 million deal to be the team’s fifth starter despite the fact the team had real starting pitching depth.  At the time of the signing, the Mets had Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Chris Flexen, and Corey Oswalt as starting pitching depth.

Instead of using five of them and stashing four of them in Triple-A, the Mets opted to go with Vargas as the fifth starter.  Even better, they depleted their starting pitching depth by moving Gsellman and Lugo the to bullpen.  Of course, this had the added benefit of saving them money thereby allowing them to sign Anthony Swarzak, a 32 year old reliever with just one good season under his belt.

The Mets were rewarded with the decision to sign Vargas by his going 2-8 with an 8.75 ERA and a 1.838 WHIP.  He’s also spent three separate stints on the disabled list.

What’s funny about Vargasis he was signed over the objections of the Mets analytics department.  From reports, Vargas was not the only one.  Looking at that, you have to question just how anyone associated with the Mets could claim they have become too analytics driven.  Really, when you ignore the advice of those hired to provide analytical advice and support, how could you point to them as the problem?

They’re not.

In the end, the problem is the same as it always has been.  It’s the Wilpons.

They’re the ones looking for playing time for Jose Reyes at a time when everyone in baseball thinks his career is over.  They’re the ones not reinvesting the proceeds from David Wrights insurance policy into the team.  They’re the ones who have a payroll not commensurate with market size or World Series window.  They’re the ones rejecting qualified people for a job because of an 81 year year old’s inability to connect with his employees.

Really, you’re not going to find an analytical basis to defend making a team older, less versatile, more injury prone, and worse defensively.

What you will find is meddlesome ownership who thinks they know better than everyone.  That’s why they’re 17 games under .500 with declining attendance and ratings while saying the Yankees financial model is unsustainable at a time the Yankees are heading to the postseason again and the team has the highest valuation of any Major League team.