There is a buzz circulating around the Mets due to the moves Brodie Van Wagenen has been making. On paper, the team he is assembling is better than last year’s team, and the narrative is this team will have a better chance at making the postseason than last year’s team. However, that narrative may not exactly hold up.
Remember, last year the Mets were 17-9 entering May. It was right around that point the injuries started piling up, and the Mets depth or lack thereof became a problem.
Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki were injured leading the way for Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido. Todd Frazier would have the first disabled list stint of his career leading to the team rushing Luis Guillorme to the majors before he was arguably ready, and with the team playing far more of Jose Reyes than they ever should have done.
Michael Conforto was rushed back from injury before he was ready. Yoenis Cespedes‘ heels wouldn’t let him play anymore, and Jay Bruce‘s plantar fascitiis increasingly became an issue. Matt Harvey‘s Mets career was finished, and Noah Syndergaard was heading to yet another lengthy trip on the disabled list. Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares would also be making their annual trips to the disabled list.
By the way, this wasn’t the full season’s worth of transactions. That’s just through the end of May.
From there, the Mets would have a 15-39 record over May and June, including a disastrous and soul crushing 5-21 June which all but eliminated the Mets from postseason contention. Remember, this was the same team when healthy that was among the best in all of baseball.
Last year wasn’t an anomaly. The 2017 Mets were a promising team on paper, but they never got off the ground because of injury issues, which would also correlate to under-performance from a number of players. If you go back to 2016, that starting lineup and rotation was built to contend for a World Series, but due to injury issues, that team needed a furious finish and unlikely performances from players like Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and T.J. Rivera to capture a Wild Card spot.
Until the Mets address their bench, they are running the risk of their season not living up to expectations.
We know Wilson Ramos is an injury prone player as is his backup d’Arnaud. We know Lagares is injury prone. Syndergaard and Steven Matz have their own not promising injury histories. While he has generally been healthy, Robinson Cano is still a 36 year old second baseman, and players in their late 30s do not tend to be durable. That’s nothing to say of the unknown injuries like we saw with Frazier last year.
At the moment, the Mets are ill equipped to handle these injuries. In terms of the infield, the Mets have Guillorme, who was not ready last year, and Gavin Cecchini, who struggled in his limited Major League opportunities and missed much of last year with a foot injury. There is also Rivera, who missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery and ensuing setbacks. The catching depth may actually be worse with Patrick Mazeika being your last line of defense.
The outfield depth is Dominic Smith, who the Mets don’t even seem inclined to let compete for a first base job, and Rajai Davis, who is a 38 year old outfielder that has not had a good year since 2015.
All told, the Mets are in desperate need of some depth. If they don’t acquire it, you are once again asking the same group who faltered last year to succeed. Those players are still young and can improve, but it is difficult to rely upon them. With that in mind, Brodie Van Wagenen needs to make sure he has money available to address the bench. If he doesn’t, then the Mets may very well suffer the same fate they had over the past two seasons.
Fortunately, he still has time.
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.
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.
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?
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 Wright‘s 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.
For quite a while, Mets fans have bemoaned the ridiculous lineup with Eric Campbell and John Mayberry, Jr. hitting in the middle of the lineup. As bad as that lineup was, tonight’s ridiculous lineup might have taken the cake.
Despite Luis Guillorme arguably being the best defensive shortstop in the entire Mets organization, he started the game at third with Jose Reyes, a player who has been a bad everything for a few years now playing the most important position on the infield.
Dominic Smith started the game in left field because for some reason the Mets wanted to get another look at Kevin Plawecki at first base. This meant the far superior pitch framer in Plawecki was at first base while Devin Mesoraco caught.
Really, looking at this lineup, you have to wonder if the person making that lineup wanted to get fired. Considering Mickey Callaway essentially let it be known he didn’t want to play Reyes, he may not be the person filling out the lineup card.
Whatever the situation, it was a sick joke, and it was a joke that had no one laughing, especially not Lugo.
The good news for Lugo was he would allow just one earned run in his five innings pitched. The bad news is when he left the game in the fifth, the Mets trailed 3-0. The reason for that is the defense behind him was terrible.
What was a surprise was both of the errors leading to the unearned runs came from Guillorme.
Guillorme couldn’t field a ball off the bat of Starling Marte. Marte was probably safe anyway, but it was ruled an error. The first batter of the game reached, would promptly steal a base, and he would eventually score on a Josh Harrison sacrifice fly.
It was Harrison who reached on a two out throwing error by Guillorme in the third. He’d score on an Elias Diaz single. It should be noted that was a ball Rosario probably fields.
Really, the only earned run against Lugo was a second inning Gregory Polanco second inning solo shot.
After Lugo labored through five, partially due to his defense abandoning him, it was time for Tyler Bashlor to make his Major League debut. He was rudely welcomed to the big leagues by a Josh Bell excuse me opposite field line drive two run homer.
While none of this was a surprise, okay, the Guillorme defensive struggles was a bit of a surprise, the Mets fighting back in this game was a bit of a surprise.
After Jameson Taillon dominated the Mets for six innings, the team would finally get to him in the seventh.
That prompted Clint Hurdle to bring in Steven Brault. He walked Michael Conforto putting the tying run on base with no outs. The rally would die there as Jose Bautista struck out, and Asdrubal Cabrera hit into an inning ending double play.
In the eighth, the Mets put two on with one out. That rally fizzled as Plawecki struck out, and Guillorme grounded out.
That was pretty much it for the Mets. In his second inning of work, Robert Gsellman couldn’t get through the ninth unscathed. This time a tough play for Guillorme was scored a hit. Gsellman would do well to limit the Pirates to one run when they had the bases loaded with one out, but really, who cares at this point?
The Mets aren’t doing nearly enough to win games, and now, they are putting out embarrassing lineups.
Game Notes: To make room for Bashlor on the roster, Chris Flexen was sent down to Triple-A.
There’s shooting yourself in the foot, and then there is doing what the Mets did against the Rockies today.
Somehow, the Mets grounded into five . . . FIVE! . . . double plays.
Each one of them were brutal.
Bautista would be erased when Kevin Plawecki grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
In the third, after Brandon Nimmo hit an RBI single to pull the Mets within 5-2, Frazier would hit into the inning ending 5-4-3 double play.
Speaking of Reyes, he can’t field and doesn’t know how to use sunglasses:
How is Reyes to know to put his sunglasses on? He's only been alive for 35 years. pic.twitter.com/5GbS3AvmIs
— Good Fundies is short for Good Fundamentals (@goodfundies) June 21, 2018
Finally in the eighth, after the Mets pulled themselves to within 6-3 on a Flores sacrifice fly, Devin Mesoraco hit into the inning ending 5-4-3 double play.
You combine all of these double plays with Steven Matz allowing five runs on eight hits and two walks in 5.2 innings, and you have all the makings of a 6-4 loss.
Much of the game was deja vu back to the previous game.
That really put the Mets behind the right ball despite their breaking out for three runs in the first.
Still, despite falling behind 6-4, the Mets would take the lead with a four run fifth.
Asdrubal Cabrera hit a two RBI single to give the Mets a 8-6 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, right after the Mets retook the lead, the Rockies took it back with Ryan McMahon hitting a three run homer to give the Rockies a 9-8 lead.
At this point in time, it appeared like this was going to be a classic back-and-forth Coors Field game. It certainly felt that way in the sixth as the Mets loaded the bases with one out and Rockies reliever Harrison Musgrave having lost the strike zone.
In a surprise decision, Callaway tabbed Kevin Plawecki to pinch hit instead of Amed Rosario. Perhaps it was the reliever having lost the strike zone and Callaway wanting a hitter who has a better read of the strike zone.
In any event, the choice was Plawecki, who worked a full count, swung at a borderline pitch which was probably ball four, and he hit into the inning ending double play.
That was it from the Mets. After that, there were no more rallies. With the Rockies scoring a run off Anthony Swarzak in the bottom of the sixth, the final score would be 10-8.
Suddenly, a Mets team who appeared poised to make a little run is now just hoping to earn a split.
After a heartbreaking loss, the Mets immediately responded in the first, and it all began with a Brandon Nimmo leadoff walk.
Of course, that was not nearly a big enough lead for Jason Vargas, who immediately surrendered the lead in the bottom of the first.
In subsequent innings, Nimmo and Michael Conforto would homer to recapture the lead at 5-3. Of course, in the bottom of the third, the Brewers tied the score again.
That would be it for Vargas. He lasted just three innings allowing five earned on six hits. With his performance, he managed to raise his 9.87 ERA to 10.62. So much for pitching well against a bad Marlins team.
After all was said and done, the Mets lost this game 17-6, and with Flexen, they lost a potential option to start in Monday’s doubleheader.
Remember, the Mets lead this one 3-0 before the Brewers even picked up a bat. This is as bad and inexcusable a loss as you get in a season full of those.
Game Notes: According to Callaway, with Amed Rosario getting the day off, Reyes started over Luis Guillorme because Reyes was the better shortstop. Jerry Blevins pitched well not allowing a hit over 1.1 scoreless innings.
The Mets once vaunted rotation seemingly has three holes in it. Steven Matz has failed to pitch at least five innings in half of his starts. Against teams that are not the Miami Marlins, Zack Wheeler is 1-3 with a 6.97 ERA. Jason Vargas finally lasted five innings in his last start, and those five scoreless innings lowered his ERA from 13.86 to 9.87.
With each poor start, there is a renewed call for Seth Lugo to join the Mets rotation. To a certain extent, those fans will get their wish when Lugo gets a spot start next week. However, the question still remains about whether he should be in the bullpen or the rotation. In this edition of the Mets Blogger Roundtable, we tackle that exact question:
Michael Baron (MLB)
It’s not that simple, especially without having Anthony Swarzak at their disposal. Right now, they don’t have an effective reliever – other than Lugo – against left-handed hitters. AJ Ramos has struggled as well. Lugo is one of three relievers they can count on to get the ball to Jeurys Familia, and because the rotation is so thin, he continues to come up aces in extended relief outings. Also, Lugo seems to have found a niche in relief, knows how to get outs in short stints utilizing a heavier fastball and that curve, proving to be a huge asset for them in this role. But, there is a need in the rotation – starters not named Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard have an ERA over 6 (as of 5/20) and are struggling to throw even 4 innings consistently. So, they might have to rob Peter to pay Paul at some point in Lugo’s situation.
If Anthony Swarzak can be as effective as Lugo has been when he returns from the disabled list, then and only then should Lugo be considered for a role in the starting rotation. Otherwise, why mess with a good thing? There’s no guarantee Lugo will be able to pitch as effectively when he has to pitch five-plus innings as a starter. It’s up to Wheeler, Matz and Vargas to step up their game so Lugo can continue to be at the top of his in the bullpen.
Moving a pitcher whose primary flaw was the inability to get batters out a third time through the order from a role where he’s more effective because he doesn’t have to do that would not seem to strengthen either the rotation or the bullpen.
He’s a vital part of the bullpen, but if the rotation continues to struggle I would want him in the rotation. But only when Swarzak comes back, so they aren’t short handed in the bullpen.
Ultimately, the Mets are going to need to try something. Ideally, you would give a llook to Corey Oswalt or Chris Flexen in the rotation, especially with a doubleheader scheduled for Monday. It should be noted Oswalt had a terrific start yesterday in Las Vegas, and Flexen’s last start in Vegas was great as well before he was called up to languish in the Mets bullpen.
Really, the Mets need to try something here because unless the Mets are facing the Marlins, neither Wheeler nor Vargas has been cutting it. Who knows what will get Matz going again? In the end, Lugo may just be the best available starting pitching option, and the Mets are going to have to replace him with one of the aforementioned pitchers in the bullpen. While that may sound risky, it should be noted Lugo has been a much different pitcher in the bullpen than he has in the rotation. Maybe the same will hold true for Wheeler, Matz, etc.
While what the Mets should do with Lugo remains uncertain, one thing that remains certain is the Mets have a great fanbase and group of bloggers who regularly write about the team. I encourage you to read their work in the attached links.
The Mets were aware but not yet set on putting Jacob deGrom on the 10 day disabled list, so rather than make sure Corey Oswalt was in line to start the opener against Cincinnati, the team decided to add P.J. Conlon to the 40 man roster and have him make the start.
After Conlon’s short start and with Jason Vargas making a start, the Mets needed to add a fresh arm in the bullpen who could give them some length. Instead of calling up Chris Flexen, who was on normal rest, the team called-up Oswalt, who was on three days rest. Since that time, the team has more than ample opportunity to use him, and they haven’t:
|Game||Bullpen Innings||Relievers Used|
|May 8th||6.0||Lugo (1.0), Ramos (1.0), Blevins (0.1), Robles (0.1), Sewald (1.1)|
|May 9th||3.0+||Gsellman (2.0), Lugo (1.0), Ramos (0.0)|
|May 11th||4.0||Lugo (1.0), Sewald (1.0), Ramos (1.0), Familia (1.0)|
|May 12th||7.0||Gsellman (3.0), Sewald (2.0), Ramos (1.0), Familia (1.0)|
Overall, the Mets needed to go to their bullpen for 19+ innings in a four game stretch. Robert Gsellman and Paul Sewald went multiple innings on multiple occasions. AJ Ramos appeared in four games with Seth Lugo appearing in three. Breaking it down, there were plenty of chances for the Mets to get Oswalt in for even an inning. They didn’t.
It’s more than that. For a team gun shy to use Oswalt on short rest, between days off and rain outs, Oswalt has not pitched since Saturday, May 5th, he is not going to get a chance to pitch until 10 days after his last star, and that’s if he’s even used. Effectively, Oswalt has skipped two starts so he can sit idly by in the bullpen.
This is not how a team handles their top Major League ready starter. Oswalt needs to be on a mound pitching, working on his game, and generally improving as a pitcher. Really, there is no benefit to him by his not pitching, and seeing how Mickey Callaway is reticent to use him, there is really no benefit to him even being on the roster.
The roster spot could be better allocated towards Buddy Baumann, who could serve as a second left-handed pitcher in the bullpen, or Tyler Bashlor, who has been lights out in Binghamton. You could even argue the spot should go to Conlon, who could serve as the 2015 version of Sean Gilmartin.
As for Oswalt, he’s serving no purpose right now, and he’s not getting the starts he needs. The Mets need him in Triple-A at the ready in case Vargas doesn’t improve. He needs to be at the ready in the event Steven Matz suffers another injury. Really, they need him to do anything other than sitting unused in the bullpen. That’s not benefiting anyone.
Well, if you were feeling good about the Mets after their win last night, those feelings were quickly dispatched. Todd Frazier, arguably their second best position player all year, landed on the disabled list meaning Jose Reyes was in the starting lineup. Worse than that, Jason Vargas was the starter.
Right away, Vargas loaded the bases, and he then allowed a Eugenio Suarez two RBI single to give the Reds an early 2-0 lead. It was a minor miracle the Reds did not score more from that point.
However, they would score two more in the second with Suarez once again being the catalyst. His RBI double scored Joey Votto from first, and he would come home on a Tucker Barnhart, the catcher the Reds kept, RBI single.
Overall, Vargas’ final line was 4.0 innings, six hits, four runs, four earned, two walks, and one strikeout. As poor as that start was, it should be noted this was his best start this year. With his pitching, you almost have to question why he’s guaranteed a starting spot while the team is keeping some pitchers in the minors and sending another one to Cincinnati.
That four run margin would prove to be enough for a number of reasons.
The first was Reds starter, Luis Castillo, no not that one, but then again it doesn’t really matter because nothing good happens to the Mets when there is a Luis Castillo on the field. He would limit the Mets to just a single over the first five innings.
Finally, in the sixth, the Mets would break through on a Wilmer Flores one out homer. Now, Flores did not start the game. Rather, he was double switched in for Amed Rosario despite Rosario being the one Met with a hit, and Reyes being a terrible defensive shortstop.
The Mets would continue from there with a two out rally. With consecutive walks to Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce, and Adrian Gonzalez, the Reds forced home a run. That’s when Mickey Callaway opted to pinch hit Brandon Nimmo instead of Juan Lagares or even the newly acquired Devin Mesoraco to face the left-hander Amir Garrett.
Nimmo struck out to end the rally, and things would only go downhill from there.
AJ Ramos was fighting it, but he kept the Reds off the board in the sixth, but he would allow a double to Scott Schebler, and with Votto coming up, Jerry Blevins would come into the game. He got his man, but he would be pulled for Hansel Robles.
After a Suarez single, Scooter Gennett would have Robles pointing to the sky again with his three run homer giving the Reds a 7-2 lead.
Making this game worse was the fact the Mets had called up Corey Oswalt in place of P.J. Conlon to give them some length in the bullpen. Of course, they called up Oswalt on three days rest instead of Chris Flexen on full rest. The end result was Callaway ripping through his bullpen trying to save Oswalt’s arm . . . the very same Oswalt who was called up to supposedly help protect against that.
That’s embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing as getting blown out by the now nine win Reds team.
Game Notes: On the eve of the game, Matt Harvey was traded to the Reds for Mesoraco.