James Loney

The James Loney Era Is Over

Due to Lucas Duda‘s broken back and Sandy Alderson believing Eric Campbell was the best possible option for the 25th man on the Opening Day roster, the Mets were forced to go out and acquire James Loney for $1 from the San Diego Padres.

Look, there are plenty of jokes you can make about the Mets getting ripped off in the deal.  You can also point out to how Loney was a terrible hitter who not only couldn’t hit for power, but he also couldn’t draw a walk.  In the field, you could crack jokes about how dead people are able to stretch more than Loney was able to at first base.

Behind these jokes, the simple fact was Loney was better than what the Mets had at the time.  Loney was the end result of poor planning by this Mets organization.  Lost in all of that was Loney was actually good for a stretch of time.  From June to July, Loney was a .288/.343/.451 hitter.  While it wasn’t the production you may look for out of first base, he was still a solid major league hitter.  And he was a solid major league hitter at a time when Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera were mired in deep slumps.  Without Loney’s bat, it is quite possible the Mets would have been further under .500 than they would have been.

There were even some clutch hits along the way like his 100th career home run that helped the Mets beat the Miami Marlins:

The main issue with Loney was he was playing above his head, and he fooled everyone into thinking he was going to keep up this level of production.  He certainly convinced a Mets front office who was once again either unwilling or ill-prepared to handle the first base situation at the trade deadline.

In the end, Loney showed the Mets his best ability was his availability.  That speaks volume when you consider the entire Mets Opening Day infield spent at least one stint on the disabled list.  Heck, even the primary backup, Wilmer Flores, had a season ending injury that required offseason surgery.

Overall, it was not his fault he was not the hitter the Mets needed him to be.  Ultimately, Loney was just Loney.  It was good enough to help the Mets capture the top Wild Card spot, but ultimately, it was not enough for the Mets to beat Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card game.

Loney has now signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers thereby putting an end to the possibility of his returning to the Mets.  It’s likely he won’t have a Kelly Johnson type return either.  The chapter in Mets history is closed, and generally speaking, the Mets were better off for him being a part of it.  And no, it’s not a stretch to say that.

Mets Final Season Grades – Utility Players

Throughout the season, I attempted to grade the different Mets players performances for each month of the season. In determining the year end grades, the aggregate of the monthly grades given was considered, but it wasn’t conclusive.  For example, one player’s awful month could be more than offset by having an incredible month.  Also, those decisions were made in the heat of the moment.  There has been a cooling off period in giving these finals grades, and with that, there is time for reflection.  It should also be noted the Wild Card Game did have some impact on these grades as that game was part of the story of the 2016 Mets.  Overall, the final grades assessed considered the monthly grades, but also took into account that player(s) overall impact on the Mets season (good or bad).    For the fourth set of grades, here are the Mets utility players:

Wilmer Flores B

Early on in the season, Flores mostly struggled with getting limited playing time.  It was difficult cracking into the starting lineup when Neil Walker, David Wright, and Asdrubal Cabrera playing well in April.  As the season progressed, and the Mets became more and more injured, notably Wright and Lucas Duda, Flores was needed, and he really stepped up.

Where Flores really thrived was being used as a platoon option against left-handed pitching.  Against lefties, Flores would hit an astounding .340/.383/.710 with four doubles, 11 homers, and 28 RBI.  If you extrapolated those numbers of the course of a full 162 game season, Flores would’ve hit 36 homers and 93 RBI.  That would have made him the best hitter in the Mets lineup this season.  However, Flores’ numbers were nowhere near that as he struggled against right-handed pitching hitting .232/.289/.353 with 10 doubles, five homers, and 21 RBI.  It should be noted Flores had 107 plate appearances against lefties and 228 plate appearances against righties.

For the season, Flores hit .267/.319/.469 with 14 doubles, 16 homers, and 49 RBI.  Flores’ numbers were an upgrade over his 2015 numbers.  Given how he has progressed each year over his career, and the fact that he is only 25 years old, we should see an improved Flores at the plate in 2017.

Even with some optimism, there is some doubt.  Despite his improvement at the plate, he still didn’t walk enough, and he doesn’t hit right-handed pitching enough to play everyday.  While he made marked improvements at shortstop as the 2015 season progressed, Flores regressed there defensively in 2016.  In fact, Flores did not play all that well defensively at any position; although, he did show some promise at first base.

Part of the reason for Flores foibles could be he’s prone to the occasional gaffe (similar to Daniel Murphy).  It could be him trying to do too much, it could be him having more faith in his abilities than he probably should, it could be his high effort level, or it could be something different altogether.  Whatever it is, it was front and center when Tim Teufel made the baffling decision to send Flores home during that September 10th game against the Braves.  It was absolutely a bad send, but it quite have possibly been a worse slide.  Flores going in head first against a catcher like A.J. Pierzynski lead to his season-ending injury which required surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in the offseason.

The best thing you can say about Flores in the 2016 season was he was missed.  During the Wild Card Game, the Mets were one bat short against Madison Bumgarner.  With Flores’ stats against left-handed pitching, he could have gotten that one key hit the Mets needed to win that game.  Except, he was injured and unable to play.  The hope is he learns from this experience and comes back a better player in 2017.

Eric Campbell F

After Ruben Tejada was released on the eve of the season, Campbell was a surprise member of the 25 man roster.  Unfortunately, Campbell was not up to the task as he regressed yet another season.  In 40 games, Campbell hit .173/.284/.227 with one double, one homer, and nine RBI.  While the Mets organization was high on him to start the year (at least higher on him than most people), he didn’t do enough to justify their faith in him.  It was his play that forced the Mets to go out and get James Loney to play first base after Duda’s injury.

Despite the fans apparent hatred of him, he still has use as minor league depth, and if used in small doses, he could have some benefit to a major league team as a pinch hitter and very part time player.  Simply put, he was asked to do too much in 2016.  That was one of the reasons he was removed from the 40 man roster, and it is why he is a minor league free agent at the moment.

Matt Reynolds C

Reynolds numbers during the 2016 season were lackluster.  In 47 games, he only hit .255/.266/.416 with eight doubles, three homers, and 13 RBI.  Still, it is hard to call Reynolds first 47 games in the major leagues disappointing because he did show some promise.

In his limited duty, Reynolds did show himself to be the Mets best major league ready defensive shortstop in the entire Mets organization.  He also played well at second, third, and left field despite his playing a vast majority of his professional career at shortstop.  In fact, the first ever game Reynolds played in left field was at the major league level.  All Reynolds did in that game was play a representative left field and hit the game winning home run.

In 2016, Reynolds showed he could potentially be a major league bench player.  As a former second round pick, many might have wanted more from Reynolds than what he has shown.  That is not entirely fair at this point because he’s only played 47 games as a major leaguer, and in those 47 games, he showed he deserves another shot to be a major leaguer.  With that in mind, despite his numbers being disappointing, Reynolds did have a succesful 2016 season, and we should look forward to what he can contribute in 2017 and beyond.

Ty Kelly C+

Just making it to the major leagues after his long odyssey in the minor leagues was a major accomplishment.  And even though he made it to the majors as a result of a rash of injuries, he did earn his way to the majors with his hot hitting in Las Vegas.  While he initially struggled, Terry Collins finally figured out what he was, and Kelly began to thrive.

Despite his being a switch hitter, Kelly was really best suited to facing left-handed pitching.  While the sample size is really too small to derive a definitive conclusion, it should be noted Kelly put together much better at-bats from the right-hand side of the plate than he did from the left.  As he faced more left-handed pitching, Kelly’s numbers improved, and he finished the season hitting .241/.352/.345 with a double, a triple, a homer, and seven RBI in 39 games.

In the field, while Kelly was used all over the place, and he performed better than anticipated.  His best positions were probably third and left field.  Unfortunately, Kelly did not demonstrate sufficient power to play at either of those positions.  It should be noted that Kelly isn’t going to be a regular at the major league level.  Rather, he is a bench player, so it is quite possible, his relative lack of power may not be as big an issue for him.

Ultimately, Kelly was rewarded for his hard work and resilence.  He was rewarded not just with getting called-up to the majors, but also by being put on the Wild Card Game roster.  In a season with a number of highlights for him, his seventh inning pinch hit single certainly has to rank well up there.

Editor’s Note: the grades for April, May, June, July, August, and September/October can be found by clicking the links. If you want to see the prior entries, here is the link for catchers, and here is the link for middle infielders.

Mets Final Season Grades – Middle Infielders

Throughout the season, I attempted to grade the different Mets players performances for each month of the season. In determining the year end grades, the aggregate of the monthly grades given was considered, but it wasn’t conclusive.  For example, one player’s awful month could be more than offset by having an incredible month.  Also, those decisions were made in the heat of the moment.  There has been a cooling off period in giving these finals grades, and with that, there is time for reflection.  It should also be noted the Wild Card Game did have some impact on these grades as that game was part of the story of the 2016 Mets.  Overall, the final grades assessed considered the monthly grades, but also took into account that player(s) overall impact on the Mets season (good or bad).    For the third set of grades, here are the Mets middle infielders:

Neil Walker B

If the month began with an “A,” you knew Walker was going to be great.  In April, he hit .307/.337/.625 with nine homers and 19 RBI.  In August, he hit .389/.450/.667 with six homers and 10 RBI.  In the months that did not begin with an “A,” Walker wasn’t as good.  From May 1st – July 31st, Walker hit .242/.322/.369 with eight homers and 26 RBI.  Basically, Walker was feast or famine at the plate.

On the positive side, Walker became a dangerous hitter from the right-hand side of the plate for the first time in his career.  That played a large role in him tying his career high with 23 homers despite him only playing in 113 games.  The other positive note was that Walker played some of the best second base of his career.  Basically, when Walker was on, he was one of the best second baseman in the game.

Unfortunately, when he wasn’t on top of his game, he wasn’t a very good player.  We could chalk it up to him being a streaky player, but with this being his first season with the Mets, we really don’t know that to be true.  More likely, Walker’s struggles were related to his back.  He stated there were periods of time over the summer his feet were numb.  That would more than explain his issues.  It also explained why he opted for season ending surgery despite him being hot at the plate and the Mets trying to get into the Wild Card picture.

Overall, Walker hit .282/.347/.476 with 23 homers and 55 RBI in 113 games.  These were good numbers from a player that at times was a very pleasant surprise during the season.  It is unknown if he will re-sign with the Mets.  No matter what his future plans are, Walker left an overall positive impression during his time in Flushing.

Asdrubal Cabrera B

Lost in Cabrera’s hot streak to end the season was the fact he was not great for most of the season.  Up until August 1st, when the Mets finally put him on the disabled list, Cabrera was only hitting .255/.308/.410 with 13 homers and 33 RBI.  Those 33 RBI are astounding when you consider he seemingly went the entire summer without getting a hit with a runner in scoring position.  To make matters worse, his defense just was not good.  He had a -4.2 DRS and a -7 DRS at the position.  To put those numbers in perspective, people were frustrated with Wilmer Flores at the position in 2015, and he had a -2.5 UZR and a -10 DRS.

Essentially, for most of the season, the Mets got an older version of Flores.  However, there were two things missing: (1) the 30 Cabrera did not have Flores’ upside; and (2) the tears.  The best you can say about Cabrera was he made all of the routine plays, which made everyone feel as if he was the better option.  It did not matter he couldn’t get to as many balls – he just looked better at the position.  In reality, he wasn’t any better than Flores was.  That was at least true until Cabrera came off the disabled list.

From August 19th until the end of the season, Cabrera was the best hitter in baseball.  During that stretch, Cabrera hit .345/.406/.635 with 10 homers and 29 RBI.  If not for Cabrera’s hot hitting, the Mets probably don’t claim one of the Wild Card spots.  This month and a half long stretch was so good, it made you forget about the middling to poor play the preceded it.  Keep in mind that even with this insane stretch, Cabrera still hit .280/.336/.474 with 23 homers and 62 RBI.

With Cabrera signed for one more year (with an option after that), the hope is that Cabrera’s knee is completely healed (it did not require offseason surgery), and that he can be more like the guy he was to finish the year than the player who was not very good to start the year.

Kelly Johnson B-

With the Mets poorly crafting a bench to start the season, they were unable to withstand the long DL stints of Lucas Duda and David Wright.  Accordingly, the Mets traded for Johnson in what is looking like it will become an annual tradition.

Johnson’s second stint with the Mets was better than his first.  In 82 games, Johnson hit .268/.328/.459 with nine homers and 24 RBI.  He did most of his damage as a part time player over the summer.  At that time, he was a key contributor off the bench who could be relied upon in a spot start or a pinch hitting appearance.  Unfortunately, with the Walker and Flores season ending injuries, Johnson was asked to do more, and he showed why he was better as a bench player.

In the final month of the season, Johnson played in 22 games hitting .208/.255/.313 with one homer and four RBI.  Heading into the Wild Card Game, he informed the Mets he didn’t feel comfortable playing first base thereby leaving the team with James Loney at first base.  It was a huge decision in a game the Mets were shut out by Madison Bumgarner.

Once again, Johnson did enough to show the Mets he should return in the 2017 season.  However, given how the Mets do business, it appears as if they are more comfortably trading away another Akeel Morris type of prospect over giving him a market deal and strengthening their bench.

T.J. Rivera A

Rivera went from being constantly passed over for a chance to play in the majors to being the Mets starting second baseman in the Wild Card Game.  Overall, Rivera would get to play in 33 games hitting .333/.345/.476 with three homers and 16 RBI.  In the Wild Card Game, he was one of the few Mets batters that could hit Bumgarner with him going 1-4 with a leadoff double in the fifth that probably should have set up the Mets to take the lead.

Overall, Rivera showed himself that he is good enough to be a major league player.  Given the low walk rates (in the minors and the majors) and his not having a true position, he is most likely no more than a utility player.  Considering he was undrafted and the Mets continuously passed him over, that is a remarkable achievement.

Editor’s Note: the grades for April, May, June, July, August, and September/October can be found by clicking the links. If you want to see the prior entries, here is the link for catchers, and here is the link for middle infielders.

Mets 2017 First Base Options

One of the biggest issues with the 2017 Mets was the production they received from first base.  The precipitous drop in production was a major factor in why the 2016 Mets scored fewer runs than the 2015 Mets.  Remember, the 2015 Mets once infamously had John Mayberry, Jr. and Eric Campbell hitting in the middle of the lineup.  With that in mind, getting improved production out of first base needs to be a priority for the Mets this offseason.  Here is what should be available for the Mets this offseason:

INTERNAL FIRST BASEMAN

Lucas Duda

Duda is exactly the player the Mets need to revive their offense in 2017.  From 2014-2015, Duda hit .249/.350/.483 while averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI.  He is a home run threat in the middle of your order, and he is the classic slugging first baseman.

The issue with Duda is no one knows if he is healthy.  In 2015, he went on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his lower back.  In 2016, he suffered a stress fracture in his lower back, and he took longer than expected to return from the injury.  While he tried admirably to try to play in the Wild Card Game, he just wasn’t ready.  For the season, he only played in 47 games hitting .229/.302/.412 with seven homers and 23 RBI.

While all indications are Duda is completely healthy, it is unknown whether he can withstand the rigors of a 162 game schedule.  It is also unknown whether he can return to form after suffering back injuries in consecutive seasons.  At the moment, it is anticipated he will earn approximately $7 million in arbitration.  For the production we know he is capable of producing, that is a steep bargain.  Not knowing if he can produce, $7 million could be an expensive gamble, especially in light of Wright’s situation.

Dominic Smith

Smith is coming off a terrific year in AA where he finally began to fulfill some of the offensive potential he has by hitting for more power in the second half of the season.  He is a a highly regarded prospect who is already a slick defender at first base.  Still, he is just 21 years old, and he has yet to have an at-bat above AAA.  He is not ready to be the Opening Day first baseman, and it is quite possible he may not be ready to play in the majors next year.

PLAYERS CHANGING POSITIONS

David Wright

Time and again, people state Wright should just move across the diamond and play first base.  Saying that presents a clear misunderstanding of the first base position and how taxing it would be on Wright.

Other than catcher, first base is the most demanding physical position for a player.  At first base, a player is constantly stretching, turning, and twisting in the hopes of getting a throw from one of his infielders that much quicker to turn a close play into an out.  With a runner on first, the first baseman has to spring off the bag and into his defensive position as the pitcher delivers the ball.  Like a third baseman, he charges the bunts and dives for balls down the line.  According to Dr. Walter P. Jacobsen, DO, a neurosurgeon, these activities that are high impact and require twisting are activities that should be avoided.  These activities are more prevalent at first than third base.

Even assuming this was incorrect, that Wright was better suited to first base, when is he going to get the opportunity to transition there?  Wright had season ending cervical fusion surgery, and presumably, he is going to need to spend most of his time in the offseason rehabbing and figuring out yet another pregame routine that will permit him to play in as many games as possible.  As such, there is no time for him to learn first base.

Jay Bruce

Without or without Cespedes’ return, the Mets are going to have a glut of everyday caliber outfielders, and one of them may need to find a new home.  That new home could be on another team or at another position.  With UZR and DRS rating Bruce was the Mets worst outfielder, he would be the likely candidate to move to first base.

The one caution is Bruce has only played three games there in his major league career, and all three of those games were two years ago.  Even accounting for that, Bruce may have the athleticism to adapt to first base and succeed there on the major league level.  It is also a way to keep him and his 30 home run caliber bat in the lineup every day while also allowing Curtis Granderson, another Mets right fielder who can hit 30 home runs, in the lineup everyday.

Still, before moving someone over to first base, Mike Piazza should always be a caution to Mets fans that not just anyone can move over there.  It is a difficult position that requires hard work in the offseason.  If this is the plan, the Mets need to implement it sooner rather than later.

Michael Conforto

None other than Keith Hernandez believes Conforto should be playing first base with him saying, “He more than likely is going to end up at first base, though it’s unlikely he’ll be anything more than average there.”  (nj.com).  While it is far from a ringing endorsement, it is notable when Hernandez, the best defensive first baseman in major league history, states you should play his position.

For his part, Conforto is open to the possibility saying, “I took some reps in college over at first base just for emergency-type situations. I think that’s something that’s very, very interesting, something I’d be open to, obviously. I just want to help the team.”  (New York Post).

Moving Conforto there means you won’t have to displace a veteran like Bruce.  However, it does create a few problems.  First, choosing to move Conforto over Bruce also means choosing to move the better defensive outfielder out of the outfield.  Second, moving Conforto there could become a potential barrier to Smith or Peter Alonso at first base in the upcoming seasons.  Third, having Conforto change positions to the infield could be yet another obstacle in the young player’s development.

For a myriad of reasons ranging from a wrist injury to uneven playing time to him just falling into slumps like any other player, the 2016 season was a lost one for Conforto.  He went from the Mets top hitting prospect to a young player Terry Collins entrusted to little more than pinch hitting duty down the stretch.  It is quite possible the best thing for him is for the Mets to pick a position in the outfield and let him stay there and allow him to work with Kevin Long to get back to what worked well for him.

EXPENSIVE OPTIONS

Miguel Cabrera

Tigers GM Al Avila has already announced the Tigers are looking to get younger and shed some payroll this offseason.  With that in mind, the Tigers have a number of interesting trade candidates making big money like Cabrera.

At 33, Cabrera had another terrific season hitting .316/.393/.563 with 38 homers and 108 RBI.  Should Cespedes depart this offseason, Cabrera would more than replace Cespedes in the lineup.  However, the Mets chances of obtaining Cabrera are unlikely due to the cost.  First, it is going to take a huge haul of players to obtain them, and in the past, the Mets have shown unwillingness to move one of their big pitchers like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, or Steven Matz.  Given Cabrera’s production, it is likely the Tigers ask for one of these players and/or a big prospect like Smith, Amed Rosario, or both.

Even if there was a middle ground on players the Mets deemed acceptable, it is hard to imagine them adding Cabrera’s contract.  Cabrera still has seven years $132 million left on his deal.  The contract carries through to his age 40 season, and there are two vesting options at the back end of the deal for $30 million a piece.  If Cabrera does not age well, this contract would become the type of albatross Sandy Alderson typically avoids.

Justin Turner

Bringing back Turner would be a page out of the Todd Zeile handbook.  While Turner has not played regularly at first base, he has shown the ability to play over there, and his bat may help the Mets improve in 2016.

Moreover, Turner may need to move to first base to lengthen his career.  Over the past few seasons, he has had knee issues, and he may not be well suited for the third base position in the time of the modern shift era that requires a third baseman to cover more ground than they did a decade or so ago.

There does remain some issues for Turner.  First and foremost is the aforementioned knee issues.  Second, Turner took off when he played in his hometown.  There is no telling if he would struggle playing on the east coast again.  Third, he regressed from an on base perspective this year.  In 2014 and 2015, Turner was a player who had a .384 on base percentage with a .492 slugging.  This year, Turner’s OBP dropped to .339 even while his slugging percentage stayed in the same vicinity (.493).  This might have been a product of his knee issues or it could have been a product of him swinging for the fences more as evidenced by his career high 27 homers.

In either event, Turner is not the safest choice, especially when you are asking him to play out of position.  These fears become magnified when you consider Turner will likely received a qualifying offer, and he will likely get a big contract offer from someone, including but not limited to the Dodgers, to play third base.

THE DESIGNATED HITTERS

Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion may prove to be the biggest power bat on the free agent market.  He is coming off a year that saw him hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 homers and a league leading 127 RBI.  Over the past three seasons, Encarnacion is hitting .269/.361/.544 while averaging 38 homers and 112 RBI.

There are two issues with Encarnacion.  First, much of his stats have been generated as a result of him hitting in the Rogers Centre, which is a hitter’s park.  In his career, Encarnacion has hit .272/.360/.535 there.  Last year, on the road, Encarnaction was a .246/.342/.492 hitter on the road.  While it is a drop-off, the Mets would gladly take Encarnacion’s road production from their first base position next year.

Therein lies the real problem with Encarnacion.  He’s a DH.  Encarnacion has not played more than half a season at first base in his entire career.  In his last five years with the Blue Jays, he has split his time between first and DH.  While advanced metrics like UZR and DRS rate him to be an average first baseman, it is unknown whether he could withstand the rigors of playing in the field everyday.  Those concerns are amplified for a player that will turn 34 next year, will command a large contract, and will most likely recent a qualifying offer.

Carlos Santana

Seemingly, from the moment Santana came up to the Cleveland Indians as a catcher, the team has sought a position for him.  He has proven his best position is DH.

Santana is coming off a terrific year that saw him hit ..259/.366/.498 with 34 homers and 87 RBI.  Those were the highest home run and RBI totals of his career.  In his six full seasons with the Indians, Santana has averaged 24 homers and 81 RBI.  With his on base skills and his switch hitting ability, Santana would be a welcome addition to the Mets lineup.  However, like Encarnacion, the real question is whether he can be an everyday first baseman.

Like Encarnaction, he rates as average when he does play there.  Unlike Encarnacion, he played almost a full season there in 2015.  Moreover, he is four years younger than Encarnacion.  So while both may receive qualifying offers and large contract offers on the free agent market, Santana may prove to be the better bet for the Mets should they look to upgrade the first base position in free agency.

QUESTIONABLE OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION

James Loney

The best thing you can say about Loney in 2016 was he was a definitive upgrade over the Mets internal options like Campbell.  Unfortunately, Loney showed little that would entice the Mets to bring him back next season.  Loney finished the year hitting .257/.287/.369 with five homers and 18 RBI in 63 games after the All Star Break.  He also showed he had limited range and an inability to stretch far for throws made to first.  While he was an improvement over what the Mets had in 2016, the Mets are simply going to have to do better than him in 2017.

Mike Napoli

The Cleveland Indians took a one year flier on Napoli this offseason, and it has been a boon for them as Napoli has been a major contributor for a team now playing in the World Series.  Still, there is caution for Napoli, who has a history of hip problems, and whose numbers were not great this season.

In 150 games, Napoli hit .239/.335/.465 with 34 homers and 101 RBI.  In 2015, Napoli bounced around, and he hit .224/.324/.410 with 18 homers and 50 RBI in 133 games.  With Napoli turning 35 next year, it is hard to believe he will have another strong campaign.  Furthermore, the last thing this Mets offense needs is another low OBP guy who is seemingly all or nothing at the plate.

Adam Lind

For a few seasons, Lind had proven himself to be a good on base player who may not have the traditional power you typically want from the first base position.  In 2016, Lind played for the Mariners, and his production fell off a cliff.  In 126 games, Lind hit .239/.286/.431 with 20 homers and 58 RBI.  Historically, Lind has also struggled to hit left-handed pitching.  Lind is more of a buy-low candidate in the event there are no better options than he is an upgrade you would seek on the free agent market.

BEST CHOICE

Ultimately, it may behoove the Mets to bring back Duda for one more season.  If he produces at his normal levels, he will be exactly what this offense needs.  Better yet, if he produces at that level, the Mets could give him a qualifying offer next offseason thereby helping them gain a first round draft pick in the process (assuming no changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement).  Furthermore, with Duda, the Mets have a nice bridge to Smith should he take another leap this year and prove himself ready to contribute at the major league level ahead of schedule.

Not So Great Scott: The Mets Missed Bob Geren

In the Wild Card Game, the Mets ran James Loney out to first base. In his very first at-bat, he snuffed out what could have been a rally by hitting into a double play on the first pitch he saw from Madison Bumgarner. In the seventh, he failed to field a groundball not hit too far from him that allowed Angel Pagan to reach on an infield single. That play effectively erased any chance that Noah Syndergaard could go back out for the eighth inning. Speaking of the eighth inning, with the Mets desperate for offense, Terry Collins pinch hit Eric Campbell for Loney.

Fact is, Loney shouldn’t have started that game. He didn’t have good numbers against left-handed pitching. He has been even worse against Bumgarner. However, he had to start with Lucas Duda not being ready to play, and with Wilmer Flores having suffered a season ending wrist injury.

All year long, Flores had demolished left-handed pitching. In 49 games against left-handed pitching, Flores hit .340/.383/.710 with 11 homers and 28 RBI. The Mets needed his bat in the lineup, and they needed him to play first base. However, he wasn’t available because of a crucial decision, or indecision, that was made on September 10th.

In that September 10th game, the Mets and Braves were tied 3-3 in the eighth inning, and Flores was standing on second base after a two out double. As we would soon see, with Flores’ speed, it was far from a guarantee that he would score from second on a base hit. Kelly Johnson would get a pinch-hit single. Flores “raced” around third, and he slid headfirst into home plate. In the ensuing collison, A.J. Pierzynski got him out – not just out at home plate, but also out for the season. Fact is, there is no reason why Flores wasn’t lifted there for a pinch runner. How did this happen?

Well, acccording to Collins, “We certainly had enough guys who could have ran for him, which we should have.” (Kevin Kernan, New York Post). Collins would go on to say, ““I was trying to get the pitching set up and get a pinch hitter in and got distracted, my faultI told [bench coach] Dickie [Scott], like I said, we were trying to get the pitching set up and get a pinch hitter, get somebody to hit for the pitcher who was coming up. I certainly should have had somebody ready to pinch run.”

Ultimately, Collins, being the manager and never one to make excuses, took responsibility for the failure to pinch run for Flores. However, it wasn’t just Collins’ mistake. It was also Bench Coach Dick Scott‘s mistake.

The bench coach’s job is more than just acting as a sounding board for the manager when seeking to make a move. The bench coach is also responsible for having a grasp of the matchups that are upcoming. They need to be aware of moves the team needs to be making in the next couple of innings. Overall, the bench coach needs to help prevent his manager, and ultimately his team, from making a gaffe that could cost them a game. During that confusion, Scott needed to remind Collins to get a pinch runner. He needed to be the clear head. If he did think of it, he needed to have a strong enough voice to get through to Collins.

What was simply astounding is the Mets almost repeated the mistake a week later. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Mets were trailing the Minnesota Twins 1-0, and Ervin Santana was dealing. Loney was intentionally walked putting runners and first and second with no outs. Despite Loney representing the go-ahead run and being perhaps the slowest man in all of baseball, he was not pinch run for during Alejandro De Aza‘s at-bat. After De Aza walked, Loney was on second, again representing the go-ahead run. The Mets then sent Michael Conforto to bat for Jerry Blevins, and still Loney remained on second. After Conforto took the first pitch did the Mets send Ty Kelly out to second base to pinch run for Loney.

These weren’t isolated incidents. There are several other examples to pull from including the famous Collins’ rant about not knowing whether Jay Bruce or Brandon Nimmo is faster. If Collins didn’t know that, his bench coach sure should.

While Collins has his faults as a manager, there was never this sense of indecisiveness that we saw from the team this season. While Collins usually made head scratching moves, he usually had a justification for them. He would say that someone was swinging a hot bat, or the player has been a good player for them all season, or simply that he liked the matchup. He would never say there was distraction and confusion in the dugout. There was no reason for him to say it because Bob Geren was a good bench coach that helped not just his manager, but also his team. That calming presence and attention to detail was missed this year.

Geren’s work with catchers was also missed this year.

During Geren’s time in baseball, he has be renown for his work with catchers. If you recall, when Travis d’Arnaud had first come up with the Mets, there were many questions about his defense. In his first full season, he actually led the majors in passed balls, which is all the more alarming when you consider he spent a good amount of time in AAA. It wasn’t just the passed balls. During the season, d’Arnaud had trouble framing pitches, and his mechanics in all aspects behind the plate were out of whack – especially his throwing.

Working with Geren, d’Arnaud has built himself into one of the better catchers in baseball. He no longer has the issues with passed balls. He has shown the ability to call a good game. He is an exceptional pitch framer. There is probably no catcher better in the league in fielding a throw and getting the tag down without violating the plate blocking rules. In 2015, d’Aranud was actaully league average in throwing out base runners.

While d’Arnaud was good behind the plate this year, his mechanics throwing the ball took a step back. It could have been the shoulder injury, but it also could have been him missing the calming presence of Geren. Eventually, it became so much of an issue that Rene Rivera had to become Syndergaard’s personal catcher due to Syndergaard’s difficulties holding on base runners and d’Arnaud’s weak arm. There is no telling how all of this affected him mentally and whether this carried over to his offense.

So overall, the Mets truly missed Geren in the 2016 season, d’Arnaud especially. It was a rough first year for Scott as the bench coach. Despite it being a rough year, he will be returning to the staff next season. Although it has not been announced, he will presumably be returning to the same role. Hopefully, the growing pains are out of the way, and Scott will be a more effective bench coach in 2017.

Some Wild Card Game Questions

As Conor Gillaspie joined the ranks of Dave Henderson, Mike Scioscia, and Yadier Molina, all I was felt with was the feeling of “What if . . . ?”

It was one of several questions, I have thinking about last night’s Wild Card Game. Not all of these are second-guesses, nor are they are particularly the reason why the Mets lost the game. Clearly, the Mets lost the game because Madison Bumgarner was Madison Bumgarner. Furthermore, not all of these questions have answers. Still, there are some questions that just need to be asked:

  1. If Kelly Johnson didn’t feel comfortable playing first base, did the Mets consider playing him in right field? KJ was 7-20 off Bumgarner and Jay Bruce was 3-23 heading into the game.
  2. Why were the Mets batters so aggressive early in the game? The idea was to outlast Bumgarner and get into the Giants bullpen. Instead, Bumgarner needed just 21 pitches to get through the first three innings putting him well on pace to finish the game.
  3. If the Mets carried Kevin Plawecki to give them three catchers to permit Travis d’Arnaud to hit for Rene Rivera when the Mets needed offense, why did Rivera bat in the bottom of the seventh when you already knew Noah Syndergaard was coming out of the game?
  4. Also, with a tight game, once Rivera came out, why wasn’t d’Aranud double switched into the game with the pitcher’s spot due up in the eighth? Doing that would’ve permitted the Mets to go two innings with Reed. Note, as it turned out with Reed throwing 20 pitches in the eighth, this became a bit of a moot point.
  5. If you were going to pinch hit Eric Campbell for James Loney late in the game for offense, why not just start Campbell at first? Loney is awful against left-handed pitching, and he’s even worse than that against Bumgarner.
  6. How healthy was Lucas Duda? If he was good to go even for a pinch hitting appearance, he needed to be on the roster.
  7. How was it that Campbell and Ty Kelly were the Mets first two options to pinch hit off the bench? It’s astounding to think about how you couldn’t really argue that much with the decision.
  8. After the T.J. Rivera double, should the Mets have gone all-in on the inning considering that was most likely going to be their best chance to score off Bumgarner? If Bruce is unable to bunt, couldn’t you have brought in Juan Lagares to lay one down? Do you at least consider pinch hitting for Rivera in that spot, especially with Loney on deck? If Lagares did come into the game, you at least had his defense in center field for what was a tightly contested ball game.
  9. Should Terry Collins have ordered Jeurys Familia to walk Gillaspie? If you do, you create an out at any base, and you definitively get Bumgarner out of the game. For what it’s worth, I completely agreed with the decision to pitch to Gillaspie, but I still think the question needs to be raised.
  10. Was this the last time we will see Yoenis Cespedes, Duda, and David Wright wearing a Mets uniform? Duda and Wright were on the field wearing their Mets uniform for player introductions.

Ultimately, Collins did a terrific job last night. While you can argue with some decisions, he put his team in position to win that game, and his players didn’t execute. Even if one or two things change, the Mets still probably lose this game, which is the most depressing thought of all. With all of these questions that linger unanswered there is one remaining that we will find out the answer to around the same time next year:

Can the Mets get back to this point for a third straight season?

That is the biggest question of all.

Simply Wild: Syndergaard/Bumgarner Was Every Bit Smoltz/Morris Was

Do you remember who got the game winning hit in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series?  It is one thing that is not often discussed because Jack Morris pitched a game so great that people cannot shake the idea that he should be a Hall of Famer.  In the other dugout was a young right-hander named John Smoltz who matched Morris pitch for pitch.  There were pivotal plays in that game you can point to as to why the Twins ultimately won.  However, the biggest reason was Morris was able to go the distance and the young Smoltz was only able to go 7.1 innings.

Last night wasn’t the World Series.  However, it was a winner-take-all game featuring just a tremendous pitching match-up.  The Giants had the grizzled veteran, Madison Bumgarner, who has laid claim to the best active postseason pitcher, if not all time.  The Mets were sending out Noah Syndergaard, who throws harder than anyone in baseball and is coming off a Cy Young caliber award season.   Simply put, you do not get better than this.

Bumgarner and Syndergaard were even more dominant than you would’ve thought they could be.  Combined, the two aces threw 227 pitches.  Only six of those pitches would result in base hits.  The two would combine for 16 strikeouts with just five walks.  No one would reach third base against them let alone score a run.  In July, this is a game that is game you would call an instant classic.  In the postseason, this is a game for the ages.

In the end, what did the Mets in was the fact Syndergaard was only able to go seven, and the Mets didn’t take advantage of their chances to score off Bumgarner.

The best chance came in the fifth when T.J. Rivera hit a leadoff double.  After a Jay Bruce strikeout, T.J. was quickly erased when Rene Rivera hit a grounder to the shortstop Brandon Crawford.  Being the Gold Glover and smart baseball player he was, Crawford caught T.J. straying just a little too far off second.  T.J. did alleviate some of the gaffe by forcing a run down that allowed Rene to get to second.  Ultimately, it didn’t matter as James Loney was intentionally walked, and then Syndergaard struck out to end not just the inning, but also the Mets only real threat of the game.

It was important to cash in there as no one was scoring off these pitchers today.  Syndergaard had a no-hitter going for 5.2 innings until Denard Span hit a single up the middle.  Span would try to turn this into a rally by stealing second (he was caught by Rivera earlier in the game), but it didn’t matter as Curtis Granderson turned into Endy Chavez for one play:

As we would find out later in the game, Endy Chavez was the right analogy.

Overall, the Giants could do nothing against Syndergaard.  He would pitch seven innings allowing just two hits while walking three.  He just dominated the Giants lineup.  Perhaps the best evidence of this is his 10 strikeouts on the night.

The turning point in the game was Syndergaard getting lifted.  It was completely the right move, and there should be no one second guessing it.  By that point, he had thrown 108 pitches, and he started to look gassed as he put the Giants to rest.

With Syndergaard out of the game, the Giants bats seemed to awaken.  Conor Gillaspie (more on him in a minute) greeted Addison Reed with a leadoff single.  After a Bumgarner sacrifice bunt, the Giants had a runner in scoring position with the top of their lineup coming up.  Reed would get Span to pop out for the second out setting the stage for a battle with Brandon Belt.  Reed really got squeezed in this at-bat with him throwing two or three clear strikes that were just not called.  Not only was Reed a bit flummoxed, but Rene seemed as if he was as well.  On the very next pitch, Reed got one over that Rene just missed (by the way the home plate umpire missed it too as it should have been called a strike).

This sent runners to second and third.  The Mets made the obvious choice there to intentionally walk Buster Posey to get to Hunter PenceThere was an ominous tone to the inning with the umpire missing strike calls, and the Giants seemingly gaining confidence with Syndergaard out of the game.  Reed then showed the world why he was the best relief pitcher in the National League this season by striking out Pence to keep the game tied up at 0-0.

After another feckless turn at the plate, the Mets brought in Jeurys Familia

He was in trouble immediately.  Crawford lined an opposite field double.  On the play, Yoenis Cespedes didn’t run hard after it.  If he was completely healthy, he has the speed to cut that ball off and keep Crawford at first.  What we don’t know is how healthy that leg is or whether or not he has that extra gear to cut that ball off.  What we do know if that he didn’t even try to do it.  With Crawford on second, the Giants had the exact situation the Mets squandered in the fifth inning.

Despite Angel Pagan trying to give himself up, Familia was having issues throwing strikes to him.  Many of his pitches landed short of home plate.  Still, Familia battled back into the at-bat, and after Pagan was unable to get the bunt down, Familia struck him out.  Familia then had similar issues with Joe Panik eventually walking him despite being 2-2 on him.  This set the stage for Gillaspie to have his Gene Larkin moment:

For what it’s worth, it was Alejandro Pena that gave up the walk-off hit to Larkin.  The Braves had obtained Pena from the Mets and made him the closer in the stretch drive.

Given Granderson’s catch earlier in the game, you could also refer to this as Gillaspie’s Yadier Molina moment.  Older Mets fans will call this the Mike Scioscia moment.

This was a crushing blow, not just because it gave the Giants a 3-0 lead, but also because it allowed Bruce Bochy to keep Bumgarner in the game instead of going to a bullpen the Mets were desperate to get into all game long.  Bumgarner came out in the ninth and made quick work of Cespedes, Granderson, and T.J.

This would be Bumgarner’s second complete game shutout on the road in the Wild Card Game.  He showed the Mets and the entire world why he is the best big game pitcher in all of baseball.  Oddly enough, he had been bested by the Mets young ace, Syndergaard.  While Syndergaard might’ve bested him, Bumgarner outlasted him.  Ultimately, that is why the Giants are going to Chicago and why the Mets season is over.

If you’re not a Mets fan, this has to be one of the best baseball games you have ever seen in your life.  If you are a Mets fan, you walk away taking stock in the fact that Syndergaard had the game of his life at a time when the Mets needed him most.  This year, Syndergaard didn’t just establish himself as the Mets ace; he established himself as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.  Last night, he took that a step further by announcing he’s a big game pitcher that’s every bit as good as Bumgarner.  In what has been a tough end to the season, Syndergaard gives you hope for the future.

Reasons to Believe the Mets Will Win the Wild Card Game

Noah Syndergaard

Yoenis Cespedes

Asdrubal Cabrera

Curtis Granderson

 

T.J. Rivera

Jay Bruce

Alejandro De Aza

Rene Rivera

Jose Reyes

James Loney

Lucas Duda

Kelly Johnson

Travis d’Arnaud

Michael Conforto

Juan Lagares

Jerry Blevins

Fernando Salas

Addison Reed

Jeurys Familia

Oh, and in case, you still think winning the Wild Card Game is impossible, there’s Bartolo Colon to show you nothing is impossible:

Josh Edgin & Robert Gsellman on the Wild Card Game Roster; Lucas Duda, Seth Lugo, Josh Smoker Left Off

The New York Mets have announced their Wild Card Game Roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game tonight at Citi Field

Catchers

Infielders

Outfielders

Pitchers

There were a few surprises on this roster. The one that immediately stands out is the Mets not carrying Lucas Duda on the roster. In a short period of time, Duda has gone from in the conversation to starting at first base tonight to not even being on the roster. His will be a big bat the Mets will miss for a late inning pinch hitting opportunity.

The next surprise was the Mets carrying Gsellman over Seth Lugo. While Gsellman has been the hotter pitcher over the past couple of starts, Gsellman does not have the experience Lugo has coming out of the bullpen.

The biggest surprise was the Mets carrying Edgin over Josh Smoker. This season, Smoker has struck out 14.7 batters per nine, and he has gotten the Mets out of a few tough jams. Edgin, on the other hand, has struggled this season due in large part to him not fully regaining his velocity after Tommy John surgery. However, despite the surprise, there is some justification for the decision.

First, both Smoker and Edgin are one inning pitchers. Each time Terry Collins has tried to push Smoker past one inning of work, he has allowed a second home run. With them both being one inning pitchers, the Mets most likely sought to use the pitcher who matches up better against the Giants. Given the Giants have many left-handed batters, Edgin seems to be the better choice. This season, lefties are hitting .235/.300/.235 off of Edgin as opposed to .360/.448/.600 off of Smoker.

Overall, the hope is that the Mets don’t have to use Edgin or worry about leaving Smoker off the roster. First and foremost, Blevins is going to be the LOOGY in the big spot, and Robleshas reverse splits. Additionally, the Mets 7-8-9- combination of Salas-Reed-Familia pitch just as well against lefties as they do to righties. In the end, so long as Syndergaard and the back end of the bullpen do their job, as we all expect they will do, the Edgin/Smoker decision will not amount to much.

The Mets Have a Chance Against Madison Bumgarner

As we head to the Wild Card Game, we already know that we are going to see an epic pitching matchup between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard.  Presumably, this game is going to be won and lost on which pitcher blinks first and allows a run.  It is going to be a daunting task for both offenses.

In Bumgarner’s career, he has made six starts against the Mets going 5-0 with a 1.86 ERA and a 1.025 WHIP.  In four starts at Citi Field, Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA and a 0.828 WHIP.  Bumgarner faced the Mets twice this year with very different results.

On a May 1st game at Citi Field, Bumgarner earned the win pitching six shutout innings allowing six hits and three walks while striking out seven.  On an August 18th game at AT&T Park, in what was supposed to be a pitcher’s duel against Jacob deGrom, both pitchers struggled.  Bumgarner still got the win despite allowing six hits, four runs, four earned, and three walks with six strikeouts over just five innings.

With that in mind, looking at the recent history, the Mets do have something to build their confidence against Bumgarner as they head into Wednesday’s game.  There’s reason for confidence because the healthy Mets on the 40 man roster have actually fared well against Bumgarner:

Presumable Starting Lineup

  1. Jose Reyes 3-9
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera 3-7, 2 RBI, K
  3. Yoenis Cespedes 3-10, 2B, RBI, 3 BB, 3 K
  4. Curtis Granderson 0-3, BB, K
  5. Jay Bruce 3-23, HR, 4 RBI, 6 K
  6. T.J. Rivera 2-3
  7. Lucas Duda 0-1
  8. Rene Rivera 2-3, 2B, HR, 5 RBI
  9. Noah Syndergaard 0-2, K

Bench:

Have Never Faced Bumgarner (2016 against LHP):

Look, anytime you face Bumgarner in an elimination game, you should not feel comfortable.  In the 2014 Wild Card Game, Bumgarner pitched a complete game, four hit, one walk, 10 strikeout shutout.  In Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, Bumgarner came out of the bullpen on two days rest to throw five shutout innings to give the Giants their third World Series title in five years.

Once again, this is an even numbered year, and the Giants are once again sending Bumgarner out to the mound to begin the run to another World Series.  Standing in his way is 60’6″ postseason Syndergaard and a collection of Mets bats that have hit him well.  The Mets have a good chance to win this game.

Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online.