Now that Major League Baseball has finally done the right thing in shutting down Spring Training and postponing the first few weeks of the 2020 season, we can now look at how this will impact individual teams. With respect to the New York Mets, this shutdown is exactly what they needed. That may seem a bit crass, but it is true nonetheless.
At the moment, the Mets were put in a precarious situation as Michael Conforto was dealing with an oblique injury. This injury left the Mets in a position where they needed to go with a couple of first basemen in J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith in the corners or go with Jake Marisnick in an everyday role despite his inability to be even a near league average hitter when he knew what was coming.
This shutdown doesn’t just give Conforto time to heal, but it also gives Yoenis Cespedes more time to heal and get ready for the season. According to all reports, he had been working quite hard to get back on the field, and he was making considerable progress. However, even with all of his progress, he had not yet been playing in full games.
The further back the season is pushed; the more time Conforto and Cespedes have to get ready to play games. With each day the start of the season is pushed back (that’s an unknown at this point), the greater the chance Conforto and Cespedes will be ready for Opening Day.
Even if they are not ready for the new Opening Day, they will miss fewer games as a result of the delay to the start of the season. That means we are this much closer to an outfield of Cespedes-Brandon Nimmo-Conforto. That type of outfield takes the Mets from postseason contender to World Series contender.
It is not just Cespedes who is rehabbing from an injury which robbed him of his 2019 season. Dellin Betances was only able to pitch 0.2 innings for the Yankees last year due to a shoulder injury and then a partially torn Achillies. It was only recently he began pitching in Spring Training games.
As is typically the case, it takes Betances time during Spring Training to go from the low 90s to the upper 90s. When Betances is able to get to that point, he is a completely different reliever. It may be difficult to remember now, but when Betances can ramp up his fastball to the upper 90s he truly is the best reliever in baseball. The more time he has to get back to that pitcher (which may not be a given) the better for him and the Mets.
Generally speaking, the more time the Mets pitching staff has to work on things, the better. This is the first year with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. There are things he wants to share with players, and there are tweaks in deliveries and pitch sequencing/usage he wants the staff to make. Getting to get some of that out of the way now as opposed to in games helps.
Speaking of more time to prepare for the season, this is Luis Rojas‘s first year at the helm. While he has managed most of these players previously, he has not done it at this level. The more time he has to bond with the team and manage expectations the better he and the team will be set up for success.
Overall, the coronavirus has created a serious situation, and things should not be taken lightly. It may seem crass to say this about a virus which is infecting people at a scary rate leading to the shut down of all pro sports and society as a whole, but this is a bad situation which will help the New York Mets.
With the news of Michael Conforto straining his oblique, he will likely miss Opening Day, and it is possible he will miss approximately a month. That is a month to figure out what is the best way to manage his absence. That is a problem all the more problematic given how the Mets only have two outfielders who are everyday caliber with Conforto being one of them.
There are a number of potential solutions, each of which are fraught with with their own problems.
The Mets could go with J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith in the corners. However, with their OAA and sprint speed that is not a viable defensive solution. They could also go with Jake Marisnick in center, but he was a well below average hitter and among the worst hitters at his position even when he knew what pitch was coming.
The Mets could better mix and match in the outfield if they could put Jeff McNeil back in a corner outfield position. As we saw last year, he was a good defender out there, and as we saw, he was an All-Star in left last year. However, in order for that to happen, the Mets need to have a replacement for him at third as McNeil is slated to be the everyday third baseman.
On that note, Eduardo Nunez is having a good Spring Training, and according to reports, he feels the healthiest he has in years. As reported by Tim Britton of The Athletic, Nunez took time off to heal as he said, “Last year, I couldn’t even play defense, I couldn’t hustle, I couldn’t steal any base, I couldn’t hit for power, so it was really tough.”
If he’s completely healthy, which Nunez asserts wasn’t the case in Boston, he appears to be on track to making the Opening Day roster. More than that, he could insert himself into the everyday lineup with Conforto’s injury.
In his 10 year career, despite his speed, Nunez has never been a good defender. In fact, he is a negative defender at every infield position. That said, his best infield position is third base. That’s not exactly inspiring with him having a -22 DRS there in his career. However, notably, he amassed a -12 DRS in his two years with the Red Sox.
Prior to the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Nunez had not been all that bad at third. After posting a -4 DRS in 2014, he had a -3 DRS over the ensuing three seasons with two of them being at a 0 DRS or better. It should be noted his OAA numbers were not all the positive with a -6 in 2017, 0 in 2018, and -3 in 2019.
All told, he is just not good at third. However, what he appears to be is playable there over a shorter duration. Of course, the question is whether it is worth playing him there. On the surface, the answer is probably not. In his two years with Boston, Nunez’s wRC+ was 70, which is worse than Marisnick.
Of course, that number was dragged down by Nunez’s woeful 2019 season. Looking back to the three seasons prior to Nunez’s Boston years, he had a 106 OPS+ making him slightly above league-average. Slightly above league average with the bat and below league average as a fielder isn’t a bad mix for a solid utility player.
However, for an everyday player it is less than ideal. In fact, it is not a recipe for success. Ultimately, this means Nunez shouldn’t be the solution for Conforto in his absence. That would then mean McNeil stays at third, and the Mets are left with either a center fielder who can’t hit or a pair of first baseman in the corners.
Right now, if the Mets don’t make a move, they are going to need Yoenis Cespedes to make unexpected progress, or they are going to need Luis Rojas to show deft touch in mixing a matching his lineup. That is not an enviable position to be in, but that’s where the Mets stand due to their not addressing their outfield depth this past offseason.
Part of Spring Training is getting through healthy and ready for Opening Day. Fortunately, Brandon Nimmo‘s heart is fine, and his neck is not presenting any further issues. We are awaiting news on Michael Conforto. Right there, the Mets have had injury issues already with their two everyday outfielders.
Yes, there are only two.
Going over to Baseball Savant, there are only four players on the Mets really capable of playing the outfield on an everyday basis. Conforto led the Mets with a 6 OAA last year, Nimmo was not too far behind with a 3 OAA. After that Jeff McNeil had a 0 OAA indicating he could handle the position. In terms of McNeil, he is no longer part of the everyday outfield equation as he is slated to be the Mets everyday third baseman.
As good as Conforto was last year in the outfield, Jake Marisnick was even better with an 8 OAA in center last year. So defensively, the Mets have three outfielders. The problem with Marisnick is he can’t hit.
Among center fielders with at least 300 plate appearances, his 86 wRC+ ranked 26th. Keep in mind, that was when Marisnick knew what pitch was coming.
With the way Marisnick hits, or better put can’t hit, the Mets are looking for more offensive options in the outfield, As a result, the Mets plan on playing J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith in the outfield on an everyday basis with Marisnick as a defensive replacment. Presumably, Davis is going to get the bulk of the playing time. Simply put, that is a very bad idea.
Last year, Davis had a -7 OAA in left field. Some want to argue he was just thrown out there, and he will get better with more playing time. That argument overlooks Davis not having the skill set to succeed in the outfield.
Davis is not a fast runner. In fact, his sprint speed is only 26.3 ft/second. To put it into perspective, that makes him slower than Pete Alonso. Essentially, this means Davis has the speed of a first baseman in the outfield. As we saw with Daniel Murphy in 2009, just because you got away with it for a portion of one year, you should not rely on it going forward because you are going to get burned.
What was said about Davis applies to Smith as well. Even with a vastly superior -3 OAA, he is a step slower than Davis. What this highlights is you should not count on first basemen in the outfield for anything other than a start here or there.
Keep in mind, Davis and Smith having strong arms are non sequiturs. If you can’t get to a ball, it doesn’t matter how strong your arm is. A strong arm will never compensate for playing outs into hits and singles into extra base hits because you can’t get to a playable ball.
So, when you break it down, Conforto and Nimmo are everyday Major League outfielders. Beyond them, McNeil is a third baseman now, Marisnick can’t hit, and neither Davis nor Smith can be relied upon to adequately field the position.
Overall, this puts the Mets in a situation where they need to find another third baseman to move McNeil to the outfield, or they can just go out and sign Yasiel Puig. Keep in mind, that’s what they need to do when everyone is healthy. Things become much more dire if Conforto gets bad news.
The plan was to fill-in here and there with some combination of J.D. Davis, Jake Marisnick, Dominic Smith, and maybe Jeff McNeil. As for McNeil, he’s slated as the everyday third baseman making his filling-in as an outfielder a rob Peter to pay Paul situation.
In sum, the Mets are very shallow in the outfield. The situation worsens when you consider there isn’t any real Triple-A depth. That makes hoping Yoenis Cespedes can return into NEEDING Cespedes to return.
Seeing Troy Tulowitzki‘s inability to return from the same surgery, that’s not an enviable position. That goes double when you consider Tulowitzki didn’t suffer a broken ankle during rehab like Cespedes did.
All told, the Mets cannot sustain an injury to either Conforto or Nimmo because that leaves them with two outfielders who should not be playing everyday in the outfield.
Already this Spring, Nimmo has had a heart scare, and now, Conforto is being evaluated for an oblique injury. Throw in Davis’ shoulder, and the Mets shallow outfield depth is already being tested.
The Mets supposedly have designs in winning the 2020 World Series, and their purported plan is to have depth across the board. That only works if you have depth, which the Mets don’t have in the outfield.
Sooner or later, the Mets are going to need Puig. The longer they wait to sign him the more they run the risk of his not being there when they become truly desperate.
It’s time to stop messing around and pretending like two everyday outfielders are sufficient. It’s time to sign Puig.
During the Mets Spring Training game against the St. Louis Cardinals, ESPN miked up Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith. If baseball was hoping to make players more accessible and let their personalities shine to grow the sport, they chose the right team and the right group of players.
That goes double when it comes to Alonso and Smith.
With Alonso, he was exactly what he’s been since day one. He was cheering on his teammates like Marcus Stroman when he recorded a strikeout, and he talked about his hitting philosophy and approach. It should come as little surprise that the player who coined #LFGM would drop not one, but two F-bombs:
Pete Alonso dropping the F bomb on live TV. pic.twitter.com/ojNvMveHwp
— Michael Mayer (@mikemayerMMO) March 4, 2020
What’s funny is while he was miked, we caught Brandon Nimmo saying the word “crap,” which is pretty funny considering the squeaky clean image he has as a player.
While Alonso being miked up was good enough, and you got fun insights from players like McNeil, the clear star of the broadcast was Smith. Of all the players, he was the one whose personality and sense of humor shined the most. We saw that when he make Astros’ sign stealing related jokes at his expense not once, but twice:
Here's audio of Dominic Smith joking about former 2017 Astros player and now teammate J.D. Davis having plenty of "cheat sheets" pic.twitter.com/kr4yGFQzq5
— Michael Mayer (@mikemayerMMO) March 4, 2020
With Smith, you really got a sense of how funny and self depreciating a person he is. In addition to cracking jokes at his and his teammates expense, noting they call McNeil “Squirrel” all the more knowing he hates it, he also spoke about the impact the RBI program had upon him personally.
Smith was so engaging ESPN opted to bring him back on before the end of the telecast. Of course, part of that could’ve been attributed to his having ear piece troubles and his completely talking over Davis.
Overall, Smith was the most engaging and likable player to be mikes up. That’s really saying something considering Alonso was one of the other players. On that note, we’re going to be lucky to get more Alonso during the season as there will be a microphone at first base at Citi Field this year.
That said, the ability to get to know these Mets players is worth it, especially Smith. Really, he’s everything MLB wanted from this experiment, and he can only grow in popularity from this, and he should because this experience highlighted what a great guy he is.
Overall, this was a great day for baseball and the New York Mets because we got a sense of the great personalities there are on this Mets team. These are easy guys to root for, and when they win, it’ll be all the better because we’re getting to know and love them for more than their baseball prowess.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to listen to it, it’s provided here.
There was some rather important news to emerge early in Spring Training. As reported by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin noticed a change in the baseballs saying, “I think it’s awesome. To me, they feel a little softer and you can definitely notice the seams a little more. Last year, it was like throwing a cue ball.”
In addition to Eflin saying the ball is different, the Mets seemed to get the old Noah Syndergaard back on the mound in his first Spring Training start. That meant not just a more confident pitcher, but also one who was able to locate his fastball and throw that nearly impossible to hit slider.
— Jacob Resnick (@Jacob_Resnick) February 26, 2020
As we saw in the World Series, Major League Baseball is comfortable changing the ball midstream. That said, at least during Spring Training so far, it appears the baseball is fixed, and we are back to a point where pitchers are better able to throw their pitches, and as a result, the balls may not be flying out of the park at a nearly historic rate.
In her article for The Athletic last year, Dr. Meredith Wills noted the changes to the baseball led to a “more aerodynamic ball.” Ben Lindberg of The Ringer noted it was a livelier ball. In essence, it was a ball easier to lift and drive even if a similar swift and quality of contact would not have led to nearly the same results. So far, it appears the baseball has reverted back, and we will be looking at different results.
When it comes to a pitcher like Syndergaard who noted the difficulty getting the grips and throwing his slider, that’s a very good thing. When it comes to players who broke out in 2019, that could prove very problematic. Pick a team, and you will find a player who broke out in 2019, and those players are now going to be counted upon to replicate that success.
Look at some of the 2020 World Series contenders. The Yankees had Gio Urshela. To a certain extent, it was the entire Twins roster with particular focus on Mitch Garver, Max Kepler, and Byron Buxton. The Astros are replete with issues including the jump in the stats of Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and the somewhat unexpected breakout of Yordan Alvarez.
On the National League side of the ledger, J.D. Davis was a completely different hitter than he was in Houston. Howie Kendrick had his best ever year at the plate at 35 years old. The Braves were led by a bounce-back year by Josh Donaldson (Twins problem now) and Ozzie Albies. This was the case outside of the National League East with players having power surges and rebound seasons across all of baseball.
If you follow a team close enough, you can pinpoint a player who either broke out in 2019 or rebounded in that season. For some, that might’ve been real adjustments made leading to significantly improved results, and they will continue producing at that level in 202o.
For others, a change in the ball is going to lead to their reverting to the player they were in previous season, no longer seeing a halt in their decline, and/or seeing their breakout seasons becoming outlier career years. When it comes to these players, there will be much tangential analysis as to why they are not repeating their 2019 season. While it is a worthwhile endeavor, the answer for the decline or reversion is going to be MLB fixed the baseball.
If you give a Met a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of 2% milk,
When you give him the milk, he is getting ready to hit like Straw,
When the Met is done eating his cookie,
He’ll want another and another and another.
He will go outside to get an Insomnia Cookie.
When he is outside he will see the Home Run Apple,
Seeing the apple will make him want to crush baseballs.
The pitcher will have to pitch a ball,
The outfielders ready with their gloves.
To the pitcher, he’ll look strong like a Polar Bear with his bat.
The pitcher will throw a pitch,
He’ll hit a HOME RUN!
He’ll do a bat flip and dance like a Squirrel to celebrate.
When he starts to dance, the press will want to take his picture.
When he sees his smiling face, he’ll want to text the picture to all of his friends.
When talking, they’ll talk about how to play the game the Wright way.
They’ll talk about scouting reports, camaraderie, and giving the extra 2% on the field.
Talking about the extra 2% will remind them they’re thirsty.
So, they’ll get a glass of milk.
And chances are . . .
If they gets themselves a glass of milk, they’re going to want a cookie to go with it.
On February 21, 2019, Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen told reporters the MRI on Jed Lowrie‘s knee revealed “no significant damage.” The following day, Lowrie’s injury was described as nothing more than “soreness behind his left knee,” and ultimately, the team gave no estimates for when Lowrie could return to play.
As we know that no significant damage would eventually be classified as a capsule strain. That capsule strain became the Mets know really knowing what was wrong with Lowrie, and by all accounts, the Mets still do not know what is wrong with Lowrie.
All we know at this point is he was limited to just eight pinch hitting attempts in 2019, and he showed up to Spring Training this year wearing a very large brace on his left leg. Realistically speaking, no one knows what, if anything, Lowrie can contribute in 2019. Really, no one knows if Lowrie will ever be able to play again.
Almost a year later, J.D.Yoe Davis dives for a ball at third, is taken out of the game, and he undergoes an MRI. When announcing the results of the MRI, Brodie Van Wagenen announced there was inflammation, a pre-existing labrum tear, and that they need to reassess Davis in a week.
J.D. Davis' MRI didn't reveal any new structural damage and will begin rehabbing today, according to Brodie Van Wagenen pic.twitter.com/lbqkVEHEgq
— SNY (@SNYtv) February 26, 2020
While some circles will paint that as good news, it is hard to calculate it as such, especially with what we knew heading into Van Wagenen’s statements. First and foremost, Mike Puma of the New York Post reported Tigers team doctors examined Davis and determined “there wasn’t labrum or rotator cuff damage.”
Davis, himself, was unaware he had an existing torn labrum. The Tigers doctors, without the benefit of an MRI, were unaware of it. In very short order, this went from nothing to a pre-existing injury, inflammation, unable to do baseball activities in a week, beginning rehab, and re-evaluation of the injury in a week or so.
However, Van Wagenen wants us to now believe the Mets were well aware of the injury, and that now, it is not going to be an issue.
While it is very possible that is the case, there is a certain element of Yoenis Cespedes to this. Supposedly, the Mets were always aware he had double heel issues, and yet, they initially expressed disbelief he would need the surgery before finally acquiescing.
No one is going to say Davis needs surgery. By the same token, no one is going to say Davis will be a complete non-factor in 202o like Lowrie and Cespedes were in 2019. However, what we have seen with Lowrie, Cespedes, and even David Wright (spinal stenosis initially ruled mild right hamstring strain), the Mets have a very poor history initially diagnosing significant injuries and setting forth a plan to get the players on the field.
The initial news for Davis isn’t as dire as many feared when he first went down and needed an MRI. There is hope he can come back in a week and be ready to resume baseball activities. However, with this being the Mets, no one should take anything out of this other than we won’t know if Davis can play until we see him active and playing in Queens.
We haven’t completed the first week of Spring Training games, and suddenly, the Mets are moving towards being put in a position where they will need to find their Opening Day left fielder. Arguably, we are not yet at that day, but from the looks of it, that day of reckoning may soon come.
Yoenis Cespedes has been rehabbing from his double heel surgery, and according to indications, he is doing roughly 85% of what the other Mets players are doing. Cespedes has been pushing hard, but no one quite knows if he is going to be able to be ready for Opening Day, and if he is, no one knows if he can play everyday.
To some, Cespedes was seen as a luxury because the Mets had other options in the outfield. Depending on how things shake out, that may no longer be true.
J.D. Davis dove for a ball at third, and he is being at least temporarily shut down. He has a “pre-existing” labrum tear and inflammation. Davis says he will be ready for Opening Day, but we heard the same refrains from Jed Lowrie last year, and when we look at history, the Mets have a terrible history diagnosing and handling injuries.
Brandon Nimmo, who was supposed to be ready to go for Opening Day, is now dealing with a cardiac issues. He is undergoing cardiac screening, and at this point, we don’t know what the exact issue is, and really, we don’t know how this issue (to the extent there is one) will limit him.
Right there, the Mets are potentially down three outfield options. That leaves Jake Marisnick, who was a below average hitter even when he knew what pitch was coming, and Dominic Smith, who suffered a stress fracture playing the outfield last year. Keep in mind, where the Mets stand right now, they are in a position to play Marisnick and Smith everyday with their backup outfielder being Jeff McNeil, who is also their everyday third baseman.
The question is what then happens when or if either Marisnick or Smith go down? There just isn’t the depth in Triple-A to sustain an injury. When you look at it, the Mets are getting increasingly shallow in the outfield, and that is before the season even begins.
With Puig, the Mets are getting a good fielder, who even at his worst, is a league average bat. No, Puig is not the superstar many thought he’d be when he debuted with the Dodgers. Rather, he is a solid, good, durable, and reliable everyday Major League outfielder. Put another way, he is exactly what the Mets don’t have.
Now, it is possible Cespedes will be ready by Opening Day. Davis’ shoulder and Nimmo’s heart may not keep them out of the Opening Day lineup. Marisnick could have a career year, and after a full offseason, Smith could be ready to play everyday in the outfield. Still, that is a lot of question marks, and it is unwise to hinge your season on all of that breaking in the Mets favor.
Seeing that is the case, the Mets should be acting quickly to sign Puig. If nothing else, they’ll put themselves in a position to have too many player for too few spots. That’s a much better problem to have than not having Major League caliber players to play the outfield because the Mets waited too long to act and some other team signed Puig at the precise moment they needed him most.
Major League Baseball has implemented new rules which not only restrict the use of left-handed relievers (i.e. LOOGYS), but they have also severely restricted the ability of position players to pitch in games. In fact, according to the new rules, a position player may not pitch unless it is extra innings or “his team is losing or winning by more than six runs when he enters as a pitcher.”
There is a caveat there where a position player can freely enter a game if they are designated as a two-way player. A two way player is someone who has 20 games started as a position player and has pitched 20 innings. As the rule implies, this is a status a player achieves during the course of the season.
Obviously, the 20 way player rule was implemented for a player like Shohei Ohtani who serves as both the Angels DH and a member of their pitching rotation. However, that does not mean other teams should not look to take advantage of this rule.
For the Mets, that means pitching J.D. Davis every opportunity they get.
When the Mets traded for Davis, one of the justifications for the deal was he could step in a reliever if needed. In fact, in his brief Major League career up until that point, Davis had made three relief appearances for the Houston Astros allowing an earned run over 2.2 innings. In those 2.2 innings, he struck out four and walked one.
That was his first pitching experience since college. While at Cal State Fullerton, Davis had 20 appearances. While pitching 43.1 innings, he had a 2.70 ERA, 1.177 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, and an 8.1 K/9. In his draft report, Baseball America noted ” shows good arm strength off the mound, showing 91-93 mph heat and a decent breaking ball, but his fastball is straight and his arm action isn’t great.”
Put more succinctly, Davis isn’t a Major League quality reliever, but he is a capable pitcher who could help a team out of the bullpen in a real pinch. The thing is you never know when that pinch is going to come.
Far too often, we see times in the season where the Mets pitching staff is completely gassed. The pitchers weren’t giving the length needed. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have begun piling up the multiple inning outings. That puts more of an onus on the one inning relievers to push harder than they typically should. Following the Mets, this happens at least twice a year.
With those stretches, an already questionable Mets bullpen will cost the Mets some games they wouldn’t otherwise lose. The job for new manager Luis Rojas and new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner is to find ways to mitigate against that. While being more judicious in how you use your pitching is one element, another is knowing when you send out a position player to pitch.
Early in the season, whenever the Mets have a six run lead or deficit, they should put Davis into the game to accrue innings necessary to achieve that two way player designation. Later in the season, that will allow the Mets to use him in four or five run games when they feel they need to save their pitching staff to give them a break.
Remember, this is an extremely talented Mets bullpen, but it is one with some health issues. Lugo has the torn UCL. Gsellman partially tore his lat. Dellin Betances is coming off an Achillies, and he had shoulder issues prior to that. Justin Wilson pitched through elbow soreness. Edwin Diaz has bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Michael Wacha was shut down with shoulder problems multiple times in his career.
Point is, bullpens, even the best bullpens, need breaks whenever they can get them. That can come in the form of a Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard complete game, and it can come in the form of Davis coming into a game and eating an inning here or there when the opportunity presents itself.
In order to really accomplish that, the Mets should remember a 162 game season is a marathon, and they need to prepare in April and May for problems which may come into play in July and August. Those problems are usually bullpen exhaustion related. To best prepare for that, the Mets should begin implementing strategies to get Davis qualified as a two way player so he is available when they really need help down in the bullpen.