Kevin Pillar

20/20 Hindsight: Mets Finally Lose Opening Series

After the opening series against the Washington Nationals was canceled due to COVID19, the New York Mets finally played their first series of the season. They should’ve taken the series, but didn’t;

1. That was your typical Jacob deGrom start. He’s dominant. The Mets don’t score. The bullpen blows it.

2. Much was made of deGrom coming out after six. People overlook deGrom being part of and agreeing with the decision. He had a long layoff, and it’s going to be tricky getting everyone through the season.

3. James McCann was a mixed bag. He called a great game, and he was great framing it. However, he did let some balls get behind him, and he did a Wilson Ramos impersonation on Luis Guillorme‘s throw.

4. With J.D. Davis being down, Guillorme and Jonathan Villar may get a chance to prove they should play everyday. So far, they’re making a good case.

5. Pete Alonso looks like a man on a mission. He’s completely locked in at the plate, and his defense has never looked better. He could be on the verge of an MVP type season.

6. It was actually surprising to see his ball didn’t go out on Tuesday night. Last year and the year before those balls might’ve been 20 rows deep. Instead, that ball died at the wall. That may be a real sign the ball isn’t traveling like it did in prior years.

7. The Mets were down because the bullpen hasn’t been great so far.

8. Trevor May has struggled in both games, but it was good to see him come into the second game, fight it, and get out of the inning unscathed. That and his taking ownership of his poor performance is an indication he is going to be just fine in New York.

9. The Aaron Loup signing was curious, especially given the three batter rule. We saw just how that can help a team implode. After he plunked Bryce Harper, he was facing J.T. Realmuto. It should come as no surprise that inning got out of control.

10. There were some good signs out of Jeurys Familia and Miguel Castro. Overall, with Edwin Diaz not getting into a game, the Mets best reliever in the series was Joey Lucchesi, who is also their fifth starter.

11. There could be some questions as to how Luis Rojas managed these games, but it is first important to remember he is not the one who fills out the lineup card. Some of his decisions are also very defensible like leaving in Kevin Pillar in the fourth inning of a game where the Mets had deGrom on the mound and had a 2-0 lead.

12. The fact the Mets would not bat Brandon Nimmo atop the lineup is beyond crazy. Even with a left-handed pitcher on the mound, it’s crazy. In fact, Nimmo has been the Mets best hitter against left-handed pitchers the last two years. The second best? Dominic Smith.

13. Dominic Smith isn’t a platoon player, and he shouldn’t be treated as such. He showed that on his first at-bat of the season.

14. Jeff McNeil has hit the ball with real authority so far this season. It was probably a good idea to get him a mental break ahead of coming to New York.

15. On that note, we are likely going to see a number of players miss some unexpected games here and there as they get vaccinated and deal with the side effects. Well, everyone except Davis.

16. Marcus Stroman was great on the mound, and he not only looks like an All-Star with that new forkball, but he could be a very real contender for the Cy Young this season.

17. Francisco Lindor has been everything as advertised so far this season. His defense has been great. He is giving good at-bats. He was a real leader talking to David Peterson after a rough outing. The Mets are very lucky to have him around for the next decade.

18. The long layoff was probably a factor, but Peterson showed he probably needs more time in Triple-A, which is fine. It would’ve been better to put Jordan Yamamoto in the rotation to start the season. That goes double when the Mets could have skipped the fifth starter, which they are.

19. Michael Conforto struggled with runners on base during this series, so naturally people are going overboard in their reaction. Fact is, Conforto is still a .271/.393/.512 hitter with runners in scoring position in his career. He’s going to be fine, and the Mets should still be pushing to sign him to an extension to make him a Met for life.

20. The Mets were put at a disadvantage not playing the Nationals series, and the Atlanta Braves got to fact that decimated Nationals team. Mets showed some rust, but this is still a very good team. They’re now in the flow of things, and we should look for them to have a good first homestand of the season.d

Mets Bullpen Very Shaky In Mets First Win Of 2021

Despite his having an argument for being the Mets second best starter, with all the injuries, Marcus Stroman got the tab by default. You wouldn’t have known that with how dominant he was.

In his six innings, the Phillies could only muster three hits. Unfortunately, one of them was a Didi Gregorius solo homer marking the only run Mets starters have allowed over 12.0 innings this season.

One of the reasons Stroman got away with just the one run was his defense. There was one double play turned, and Pete Alonso robbed Gregorius of what should’ve been a game tying extra base hit.

Much like Jacob deGrom yesterday, Stroman would also get just two runs of support. Those came courtesy of Dominic Smith who got the start after not playing yesterday.

Just like deGrom, Stroman was lifted after 6.0 innings despite only throwing 85 pitches. Unlike deGrom, that move didn’t backfire.

The reason was Phillies reliever Vince Velasquez had a maddening seventh. He faced eight batters in the game (going back to the sixth), and not one batter put a ball in play.

Luis Guillorme led off the seventh, and he’d fall behind quickly 0-2. He battled back in the at-bat, and he drew the first of four walks in the inning.

One of those four walks was to Kevin Pillar who pinch hit for Stroman. After his pinch hitting appearance, Brandon Nimmo came up, and well, his drawing a walk against a pitcher trouble locating is a near lock. After his walk, it was 3-1.

The Phillies went to Brandon Kintzler. Only this time, he didn’t get out of the inning with a double play. Francisco Lindor hit a deep fly to center for a sacrifice fly and his first RBI as a Met.

Nimmo and Pillar tacked on another run with a well executed double steal. Michael Conforto then capped off the inning with an RBI double.

With the Mets entering the bottom of the seventh ahead 6-1, you’d assume they’d be in cruise control. It was far from it.

Miguel Castro was shaky in the seventh. After two quick strikeouts, Adam Haseley doubled, and he came home on a Rhys Hoskins pinch hit RBI single.

After an Alec Bohm single, Luis Rojas made a very questionable decision. There were two outs, Bryce Harper was up, and Aaron Loup was warmed up. Rojas stuck with Castro, and he was rewarded for it when Castro got Harper to line out to center to end the inning.

In the eighth, Rojas gave Trevor May an opportunity to shake off his first appearance of the season. May was quite shaky allowing two hits and throwing a wild pitch. Still, he’d settle down and get Roman Quinn to end the inning.

Alonso would hit a two run homer in the top of the ninth to expand the Mets lead to 8-2. With that large gap, Rojas went to Jeurys Familia to finish the game.

Haseley led off the ninth with a single, and Hoskins followed with a cue shot double. Alonso went back to get the ball, but his throw trying to get Hoskins was errant allowing Haseley to score. Notably, neither ball was hit particularly hard.

After Familia struck out Andrew McCutchen, Hoskins stole the vacated third, and Familia followed by walking Harper. J.T. Realmuto knocked in the Phillies fourth and final run on a fielder’s choice.

In the end, it was an 8-4 win. Stroman was great. Smith and Alonso homered. The offense finally exploded, but man, the Mets bullpen has looked shakier than we suspected it might be.

Game Notes: J.D. Davis left the game after getting hit by a Chase Anderson pitch on the hand in the second. His x-rays were negative, and he’s day-to-day. Nimmo walked three times.

Dominic Smith Not A Platoon Player

There are certain left-handed pitchers where no matter how good your left-handed batters are, you’re sitting them. Names which come up mind include Clayton Kershaw and maybe Madison Bumgarner.

Whatever your list, it’s not going to include Matt Moore. As such, when the New York Mets sit Dominic Smith against him, they’re announcing they see Smith as a platoon bat.

If that’s the case, it’s extraordinarily bad decision making, and really, it’s a poor assessment of the talent on this Mets roster.

Honestly, that is an assessment which should’ve been discounted last year. In 2021, Smith hit .283/.391/.509 against left-handed pitchers.

That wasn’t a one year anomaly either. In 2019, Smith hit .303/.361/.515 against them. Overall, since 2019, Smith has hit .291/.380/.512.

That equates to a 141 wRC+. In that time, only Brandon Nimmo, another left-handed hitter, has a better wRC+. Yes, he’s even better than Pete Alonso (126).

That means not only is Smith one of the Mets best hitters, but he’s one of their best against left-handed pitching too.

For sake of comparison, Kevin Pillar, who started over Smith, has a 119 wRC+. Albert Almora‘s is a woeful 40. All told, while Pillar is good, he’s not better than Smith.

Now, you can argue this is too much of a reaction to just one game. After all, Pillar is going to have to get into games. There are also other factors like his defense why you’d play him.

That said, this was the Mets first game. There was literally no other competing objective than put your best team on the field. That makes their first game a clear indication they believe Pillar is a better player against left-handed pitching than Smith.

That puts Smith in a platoon role where he sits against left-handed pitching. With Smith being one of the best hitters against left-handed pitching, they’re flat out wrong and making a mistake.

Smith is an everyday player. In fact, he’s clearly one of their best, and there’s no reason why he isn’t playing everyday.

Jacob deGrom Opens 2021 Season In Typically Great And Disappointing Fashion

When you think of Jacob deGrom, you think of the best pitcher in baseball. You also think of a pitcher who gets no run support.

Perhaps, you can understand why deGrom was against the universal DH. He knows he needs to provide his own run support in his efforts to try to get a win.

For the first (and last?) time in Mets history, deGrom became the first Mets pitcher to get the team’s first hit of the season. Overall, he’d go 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI.

He’d go six scoreless innings pitching phenomenally. He kept dialing it up to 100 MPH overpowering Phillies batters. When there was contact against him, the Mets defense actually showed up.

The problem was, as usual, deGrom received no run support. In that fourth inning where he and James McCann drove in a run, the Mets had bases loaded and one out.

The Phillies lifted Matt Moore for Brandon Kintzler. Kintzler got Kevin Pillar to hit into the double play he needed to get out of the jam. Pillar was a surprise lead-off hitter even with the left-handed starter, and he wasn’t great at the plate.

There was some debate about Dominic Smith there. The problem with the thought process is the Mets already had a lead with deGrom on the mound. Arguably, at that point in the game, defense was the priority. There’s also your top hitters after Pillar if he doesn’t hit into that double play.

Now, deGrom would only go six despite 77 pitches. It made sense giving the layoff, the Mets wanting to use him Sunday, and trying to get him through 162 games after last year. Despite that, deGrom had another scoreless start.

The Mets offense went dead for the next four innings giving the Phillies a chance. In the seventh, Miguel Castro didn’t give the Phillies a chance with a strong inning. It was a much different story for Trevor May in the eighth.

May got the first batter he faced out, and then he imploded loading the bases. That’s when Luis Rojas went to Aaron Loup to face Bryce Harper despite the three batter rule.

The decision immediately blew up with Loup plunked Harper. He then allowed a game tying single to J.T. Realmuto. The game then changed on the next play.

Alec Brohm hit a chopper to Luis Guillorme, who was in for defense for J.D. Davis (who was turning routine pop outs into adventures). Guillorme made a high throw home James McCann misplayed in Wilson Ramos fashion. With his being out of position and lunging, it hit off his mitt allowing two runs to score.

All told, that disaster of an inning turned a 2-0 lead into a 5-2 deficit. From there, you have your glass half full/half empty analysis.

Jose Alvarado retired the first two Mets quickly. After that, the Mets showed some fight. Pillar and Francisco Lindor hit two out singles bringing the tying run to the plate.

Michael Conforto hit an RBI single which dropped right in front of Harper. Interestingly enough, Joe Girardi left the left-handed reliever in against Pete Alonso.

For a moment, it looked like a massive mistake as Alonso gave it a ride. However, it’d fall just short with Harper catching the ball at the wall.

With that, the Mets lost a game they had no business losing. Perhaps some of it was rust. Perhaps it was just this being the way it goes when deGrom starts. Whatever the case, the Mets lost.

Game Notes: Brandon Nimmo hit eighth, and he was 1-for-3 with a walk. In the post game, deGrom agreed with getting pulled after six.

Mets Will Win 2021 NL East Title

Maybe this is just the excitement which comes from Opening Day. Certainly, that is amplified by new ownership, the Francisco Lindor extension, and Jacob deGrom taking the mound. However, taking everything into account, this New York Mets team is the best one we have seen since 2015 and probably 2006.

Like most times the Mets are good, they are going to be led by pitching. Their starting staff is great, and when healthy, it is the best in baseball. Part of the reason why is deGrom is still the best pitcher in baseball. Behind him right now is Marcus Stroman. Stroman has made adjustments and added new pitches, and he looks set for a career year. That is really saying something considering he has been a gamer his entire career, and he was the World Baseball Classic MVP.

Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco may be the two most underrated pitchers in baseball. Looking at their FIP, they pitch at or near an ace level. In this rotation, they may be no better than third or fourth starters. It’s not just doing deGrom-Stroman-Syndergaard-Carrasco. This is one of the deepest rotations in all of baseball.

Behind that quartet is Taijuan Walker who was once a top 100 prospect, and he seems poised to take a big step forward after using analytics to help him improve. After Walker, the Mets have David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, and Jordan Yamamoto, each of whom could be around a three in most rotations. For the Mets, they will eventually be on the outside looking in.

They are all going to be better pitchers because they have the tandem of James McCann and Tomas Nido behind the plate. Both of these players are strong catchers who are excellent pitch framers. Having catchers like that behind the plate make good pitchers even better. When your starting pitching is great and operating at a high level, you are going to win a lot of games.

This is paired with an incredible lineup. They Mets have an embarrassment of riches on that front. Consider Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil have each been All-Star lead-off hitters, and they aren’t even the Mets best lead-off hitter. That’s Brandon Nimmo. With that group plus Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith, their 1-6 of their lineup can and probably should be hitting in the middle of the order.

Now, this Mets team isn’t perfect. Far from it. The first problem is their bullpen. The good news on that front is between Edwin Diaz and Trevor May, they have the last two innings covered well. The hope is at least one of Dellin Betances, Miguel Castro, or Jeurys Familia can figure it out to become that seventh inning reliever. That is at least until Seth Lugo is good to return. When that happens the Mets bullpen will be in great shape.

Another factor there is the Mets have some other interesting options. Sooner or later, Drew Smith will be healthy and ready to rejoin the bullpen. It should also be noted when the Mets have their full rotation, someone like Lucchesi can move down to the bullpen where his churve could be a weapon on par with Lugo’s curveball.

The other issue is the defense. Simply put, having J.D. Davis at third is unacceptable. He can’t remotely field the position. Having Dominic Smith behind him makes the left side defense one of the worst in baseball. To that, they may not be the worst in the division with the Atlanta Braves probably being worse with Austin Riley and Marcell Ozuna.

It’s very possible Brandon Nimmo can succeed with positioning in center. After all, he’s had positive OAAs in center most of his career, and he does have the speed for the position. Jeff McNeil seems more comfortable at second, and while Alonso has his defensive issues, he is quite adept and receiving throws around first.

While the lineup has serious defensive issues, the bench does not. Luis Guillorme is a Gold Glove caliber defender. Albert Almora and Kevin Pillar are also quite good. With the lead, we can and should see Luis Rojas run all three out with Smith moving to first base. When that happens, the Mets defensive alignment turns from questionable to really strong.

Therein lies the key. Aside from health, Rojas is going to be the biggest key to this Mets season. He is going to need a deft touch as to when to utilize his defensive replacements. He and Jeremy Hefner are also going to have to get their rotation healthy through the season, which is all the more challenging because of the shortened season last year. They are also going to have to find the right mix in the bullpen while making sure they don’t overuse their best relievers.

Right now, the Mets have the right mix to have a great season. They also have an owner willing to invest in the team, and they have Sandy Alderson in charge, who we know will not be shy making a key trade or two to improve this Mets roster.

Looking at the Braves, their pitching has durability issues, and their defensive issues may be worse than the Mets. The Phillies don’t have the starting pitching, and their bullpen was a disaster last year. The Marlins are young and not deep. The Nationals still don’t know what they are going at key positions on the field.

Taking everything into account, the Mets are the best team in the National League East. If Rojas is up to the task, and there is every reason to believe he will be, the Mets are well poised to return to the postseason again and let their pitching take them back to the World Series.

20/20 Offseason Hindsight: Let The Steve Cohen Era Begin

Steve Cohen purchased the New York Mets, and suddenly, everything got better. After Cohen purchased the Mets, things were different, very different:

1. It’s still unbelievable to think the Mets added $92.1 million to the 2021 payroll alone. If nothing else, that announced everything was different.

2. The Francisco Lindor trade was a franchise defining trade. He’s a superstar as future Hall of Famer.

3. It’s still hard to believe a contract extension won’t get done. After him, Noah Syndergaard may get one next.

4. It’s hard to see Scott Boras letting Michael Conforto sign an extension now. However, if he does, he will be poised to be the next captain and break a lot of David Wright’s records.

5. Speaking of breaking records, Jacob deGrom looks primed to have a great year. He cane out in midseason form, and it’ll be a shock if he’s not the Cy Young.

6. When Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco return, this will be an all-time Mets rotation.

7. It’s still curious the plan to start the year is to put David Peterson in a position where he bounces back and forth all year.

8. Speaking of curious decisions, how do the Mets make all of these moves and build a ground ball staff only to trust J.D. Davis at third.

9. They’re also putting a lot of stock in Edwin Diaz being great, and Miguel Castro figuring it out. Although to be fair, it’s not the same with Davis as this was the result of Seth Lugo‘s injury.

10. Dellin Betances looks done. With him, we may find out just how much Cohen can tolerate and whether the Mets know how to handle a sunk cost.

11. With Jordan Yamamoto not making the Opening Day roster and Luis Guillorme not getting a starting job, we see Spring Training competitions are a complete fraud.

12. For all the lip service Sandy Alderson gave to making the Mats a better defensive team, he did what he always did in putting multiple first basemen in the field.

13. They may be deadening the ball, but Pete Alonso looks ready to murder them. He’s completely locked in and looks poised to have a monster year.

14. Marcus Stroman also looks set to have a great year. He may be a surprise Cy Young contender, and it may behoove the Mets to lock him up before his price tag soars.

15. Stroman is a reminder the Mets never needed Trevor Bauer. Bauer may have another great year, but he’d be a fifth starter on this team, and he would’ve prevented the Mets from extending their stars.

16. All told, this is a team who has a deep lineup and a very good starting rotation. There are holes, but the team seems confident they can win.

17. The black jerseys returning does give this team big 1999 vibes.

18. Luis Rojas may emerge as a surprise manager of the year candidate. This team is that good and so is he. The key will Be how well he utilizes his defensive replacements in Guillorme (who should be starting), Albert Almora, and Kevin Pillar.

19. James McCann seems like the perfect addition to this team. The pitchers seem to be raving about his leadership and work behind the plate. If he hits a little (and he can hit a lot), he’s going to be great.

20. Everything about this organization is different. The team is vastly improved. They’re looking to keep their best players. They’re beefing up their analytics and player development. Overall, it’s a great time to be a Mets fan.

Francisco Lindor Extension Negotiations Isn’t Same Old Mets

In case you were wondering just how much the Wilpons have scarred New York Mets fans, we see the reactions to the Francisco Lindor contract discussions. Seeing it, you’d think the Wilpons were again outbid for a borderline MLB reliever.

It should be noted the Mets have offered Lindor a 10 year/$325 million contract. That’s an AAV of $32.5 million which would pay Lindor until he’s 37 years old.

It would make it the largest contract in Mets history given to David Wright by more than double. It would fall only short of Mookie Betts and Mike Trout for the largest extensions in MLB history. It’s on par with the extension given to Fernando Tatis, Jr., and it would put him only behind Bryce Harper in the division.

Yes, Lindor has every right to negotiate for every last penny, and he’s in his right to reject that offer. After a big year, he could get a better offer, and perhaps he won’t. That said, you have to respect him betting on himself.

That’s what this is. It’s a mixture of Lindor thinking he’s worth more and betting on himself. You can say that because the Mets made an extremely fair and reasonable offer.

It’s part of a completely different offseason for the Mets where they added a lot of payroll. Seriously, you wouldn’t see the Wilpons make these moves in one offseason let alone two or three:

Adding those salaries up, the Mets added $92.1 million. Read that again. The Mets added $92.1 million to the 2021 payroll.

What exactly about that is the same old Mets? If it’s missing out on Trevor Bauer, George Springer, or not extending Lindor yet, it’s over focusing on the negative. Likely, it’s schtick, scarring from the Wilpon era, or just a want to be miserable.

Whatever happens with Lindor will happen. We can judge that on Opening Day as well as the 2021 season and beyond. Whatever the case, this is a very different Mets organization than we’ve seen from the Wilpons, and it should be viewed and treated as such.

Making Sense Of Mets Signing Kevin Pillar

When you look at the New York Mets 40 man roster, Albert Almora was probably the only player you trusted playing center field. Unfortunately, even with his success working with Chili Davis in the past, he really didn’t have a sufficiently good enough bat to stick in the lineup. That made Almora good depth, especially with his having a minor league option.

It appears Almora is going to use that option this year with the Mets signing Kevin Pillar.

Pillar, 32, used to be one of the best defensive center fielders in the game even if he didn’t have the Gold Gloves to show for it. In fact, from 2015 – 2017, Pillar only trailed Kevin Kiermaier in terms of DRS among center fielders. He had accumulated the sixth highest WAR among all Major Leaguers during this stretch.

After that, Pillar’s defense took a nosedive. From 2018 – 2020, Pillar has a -14 DRS. Essentially, he transitioned from Gold Glove caliber to a player who needs to move to a corner outfield position. To be fair, OAA has painted a slightly different picture with Pillar posting a -1 OAA over that stretch.

Regardless of whether you trust DRS or OAA, it should be clear Pillar’s days of being a defensive replacement are all but over. He no longer has the glove to be that late inning defensive replacement, and truth be told, Brandon Nimmo has posted not too different defensive numbers. In fact, over the last three years, Nimmo has a -11 DRS and -2 OAA albeit in fewer innings.

Looking at it that way, you could question what role Pillar would play. To that end, the answer very clearly could be as a platoon bat. In fact, over the past three years, Pillar has a 105 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Over the past two years, that number is a 119 wRC+.

Of course, the problem is that’s not necessarily an upgrade for the Mets. Over the past three years, Michael Conforto has a 112 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Nimmo has a 126, and Dominic Smith has a 128. That makes all three of the projected Mets Opening Day outfield as better hitters against left-handed pitching.

That said, Pillar is still a better option that players like Almora, Guillermo Heredia, and Mallex Smith. You can trust Pillar a lot more defensively than Jose Martinez. Really, when you break it down, Pillar provides good depth at all three outfield positions, and he gives the Mets some late inning pinch hitting and double switch opportunities.

Pillar is also a solid hedge against injuries. On that front, teams are going from 60 games to 162. There is likely going to be more attrition than we see over the course of a typical season. We will likely see some more injuries, and we almost assuredly going to see players need to take off more days than they usually would.

Undoubtedly, Pillar has improved the Mets depth. He’s a player you can trust in the starting lineup for extended stretches, and he pushes Almora to the minors. He is a late inning defensive replacement for a team starting a first baseman in left field, and he is a good pinch hitting option against left-handed pitching. All told, while not awe inspiring, this is a move which makes sense and makes the Mets better.