Lucas Duda. Travis d’Arnaud
Mets Hitting Coach Kevin Long
Current Position: Mets Hitting Coach (2015 – present)
Age: 12/30/66 (50)
Managerial Experience: 1998 Wilmington Blue Rocks (A) 6-1; Spokane Indians (A) 44-32 (League Champs)
After a dismal 2014 season, the Mets fired Dave Hudgens and brought Long aboard to serve as the team’s new hitting coach. Certainly, Long’s previous working experience with Curtis Granderson, and the Mets wanting to get the biggest free agent acquisition in the Sandy Alderson Era going didn’t hurt. In his time with the Mets, Long has certainly distinguished himself to the point where he’s actually been referred to as a “rock star.” (MLB.com).
To name a few, we have seen Granderson, Daniel Murphy, Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce, and Neil Walker become better hitters under Long’s tutelage. Generally speaking, when Long’s message gets through, we see players both increase their OBP and their slugging. As noted in a New York Times article, 0ne of the reasons why Long is able to help players improve as hitters is they compile all the relevant data, they filter it down, and they convey that information to the players in the hopes they absorb it and to put it to good use.
In terms of not just the modern manager, but any manager, you are looking for an individual who not only has the ability to understand the data provided to him, but also the best way to convey that data to the players in a way that is effective. As noted with player like Murphy and Cespedes, it has worked. Conversely, we have also seen Long fail to help Travis d’Arnaud and Juan Lagares reach their offensive ceilings. That’s certainly something that has held the Mets back and forced the team to acquire some players over the past few seasons.
Another issue with Long is his lack of managerial experience. He has not managed anywhere since 1999, and he has not managed above short season Single-A ball. Accordingly, we really have no idea how he would handle being in charge of every aspect of a clubhouse, a pitching staff, personalities, and playing time.
To that end, it should be noted Long has a good relationship with former Yankees and Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who is noted for helping fix pitcher’s mechanics. After all the times the past few seasons we have heard Mets pitchers point to mechanical issues, the team could certainly use a pitching coach like Eiland to replace Dan Warthen.
Still, with Long, we have seen a coach that already has the respect of the players in the Mets clubhouse, and he has a report with the front office. We see someone who is a good communicator and someone who has the ability to understand and translate data. Ultimately, we may not know what type of manager he would become, but we do know he has the tools to succeed as a manager.
What The Players Say:
Granderson: “If that were to happen, obviously he’d be up for the challenge. He’s always energetic, he communicates, which I think is the biggest thing a manager needs to have . . . So many things can be resolved if people just communicate.” (Newsday).
Alex Rodriguez: “And that’s why I think Kevin Long could be a good manager. It’s more like a CEO of a public company. You’re basically getting information from your board and ownership and you’re transferring it to your shareholder which are the players.” (WFAN)
Understandably, Mets fans probably want someone with more experience, and some want a completely new face. However, with the current front office going nowhere, you are going to need someone who you know has a good working relationship with the front office. It also helps that Long has a respect in the clubhouse, and the ability to communicate with this players.
Due to his strengths, Long would be a fine choice for manager with one caveat. With his lack of experience, Long is going to need a strong staff with an accomplished pitching coach and a veteran bench coach to help guide him. Short of that, and the Mets are really just setting up Long for failure.
On October 29, 2010, in the wake of the Madoff scandal, Sandy Alderson took over as the Mets General Manager. Alderson inherited a team with some big stars like Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and David Wright. With that he also inherited a team who finished the 2010 season with a hefty $126 million payroll, which ranked sixth in the major leagues. Due to some backloaded contracts reaching their expiration, the 2011 Opening Day payroll was actually inflated to $143 million.
Alderson went to work dismantling a team that was disappointing on the field in what was the beginning of a real rebuilding process. Luis Castillo was released before the season started. Oliver Perez was not too far behind him. Getting rid of the underperforming players the fans hated was the easy part. The hard part was what ensued.
The Mets first traded Francisco Rodriguez, who was getting dangerously close to having an expensive $17.5 million option vest. Then he traded Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler. Surprisingly, Alderson didn’t trade Jose Reyes, who was the National League leader in batting average. Instead, he would let Reyes become a free agent, and he would recoup a draft pick when Reyes signed a $106 million contract with the Marlins.
And just like that what was once a $143 million payroll became a $95 million payroll in a little more than a year. In subsequent years, the Mets would let Johan Santana‘s contract expire and not reinvest the money. They would release Jason Bay, and again re-invest the money. Then the Mets would shop R.A. Dickey after he won the Cy Young Award. They obtained Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud in exchange for him which was a sure sign the Mets were more invested in rebuilding than contending.
It was also a sign that the Mets were cash strapped due to the Madoff scandal. The payroll would reach its nadir in 2o14 when it was actually $85 million, which ranked 21st in the major leagues. A bewildered and frankly angry fan base was left wondering when, if ever, the Wilpons were going to permit the Mets to have a payroll commensurate with their standing as a big market major league franchise.
Now, over the past two seasons, the Mets payroll has gone from $85 million in 2014 to $101 million to start the 2015 season. In that offseason, the Mets actually went out and signed Michael Cuddyer to help them become a more complete team. When Cuddyer faltered and David Wright would suffer from spinal stenosis, the Mets made moves and added payroll. The team first traded for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe (even if the Braves paid part of their salary). The Mets then acquired Yoenis Cespedes and what was a left of his $10.5 million contract. In 2015, the Mets spent a little more, but more importantly they spent what they needed to spend to compete.
In 2016, the Mets initially put out signs they were not moving off their roughly $100 million payroll when they signed Alejandro De Aza to platoon with Juan Lagares in center. It was perceived as a sign the Mets were not going to spend; it was a sign they were not willing to go the extra mile to get Cespedes. But then something happened. Cespedes didn’t find that massive deal on the free agent market. Instead, he re-signed with the Mets for $27.5 million in 2016. After 2016, Cespedes had the option to opt out of the remaining two years $47.5 million left on his contract.
With the Mets paying Cespedes a hefty salary to start the season, the Mets Opening Day payroll rose all the way to $135 million. Before Cespedes was re-signed, there was some doubt about whether it was really the insurance on Wright’s contract that allowed them to make those in-season moves, the re-signing of Cespedes calmed down a fan base that worried when or if the Mets would be willing to spend. Better yet, when the Mets had some issues scoring runs, they went out and traded for Jay Bruce.
Surprisingly now, we are back at the point of wondering if the Mets are willing to spend. The $135 million payroll was a positive step, but it is still less than the first payroll Alderson had with the Mets, and it was only ranked 15th in the majors. Cespedes is a free agent, and no one is quite sure if the Mets will re-sign him, look to acquire a big name free agent like Jose Bautista, or if they are going to stick with the Michael Conforto–Curtis Granderson-Bruce outfield. The Mets also have a number of other areas to address this offseason.
The first step was Neil Walker accepting the $17.2 million qualifying offer. With that, according to ESPN‘s Adam Rubin, the Mets current payroll obligations are $124 million. That is just $10 million under what the 2015 Opening Day Payroll was. If the Mets were to re-sign Cespedes, or another big name free agent, the payroll is going to go well past the $135 million mark.
The problem is the Mets need to go even further than that. Not only do they need Cespedes, or a reasonable facsimile, they also need to re-sign Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas, or again, a reasonable facsimile thereof. The Mets may also want to add another backup catcher given Travis d’Arnaud‘s injury concerns, Rene Rivera‘s lack of offense, and Kevin Plawecki having two disappointing seasons. The Mets may also want to sign a veteran starter considering the health issues of their rotation and Bartolo Colon having signed with the Braves this past week. There’s a lot the Mets need to address here, and it isn’t likely that $10 million is going to cover all of it.
So again, we are back at the point of wondering how far the Mets are willing to go to compete. Will they have a payroll in the upper half of all of baseball? Do they have the funds to spend like a big market club? At this point, no one knows the answers to these questions. While Mets fans may be apprehensive, it is too soon to to pass judgment. That time will come when we see how the Mets handle the Cespedes situation.
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 first set of grades, I will start with the catching position:
After a breakout 2015 season, this was supposed to be the year that d’Arnaud broke out and became an All Star caliber catcher. Instead, we were faced with another injury plagued year, discussion of moving on from him and acquiring Jonathan Lucroy, and finally him effectively losing the starting job to Rivera.
Let’s start with the good. Believe it or not, and many Mets fans don’t believe it, d’Arnaud had another great year behind the plate. He was once again one of the best pitch framers in all of baseball, he called a good game, was the Mets best catcher in terms of limiting wild pitches and passed balls, did another phenomenal job of navigating baseballs plate blocking rules, and had the full confidence of his pitching staff. And yes, while his throwing took a major step back this year due to a combination of poor mechanics and a shoulder injury, he was better than advertised trying to throw out base runners. With that said, despite many of the stolen bases having come off the pitching staff this year, yes, d’Arnaud did regress, but it was not to the point where he became a major liability.
Now the bad. There is no way to put it nicely. d’Arnaud was simply terrible at the plate this year. In 75 games, he hit just .247/.307/.323 with only four homers and 15 RBI. He didn’t have one extra base hit or an RBI off of a left-handed pitcher the entire season. His numbers were almost as bad as they were in his 2014 rookie season when Mets had to send him down to the minors to let him fix his issues at the plate. The Mets couldn’t afford to do that this season.
In some ways, d’Arnaud is unique across the game of baseball. He is the rare catcher that is expected to be a significant offensive contributor for his team. He didn’t just fail in that regard; he was actually a liability at the plate. This was the main reason d’Arnaud eventually lost his starting job. If he hit, he would’ve played more, but he didn’t. In the end, it was a disappointing and yet another injury plagued season for him. However, his 2015 season gives us hope, and that is why we can expect him to rebound and be a significant contributor next year.
If you want to be fair to Plawecki, you would say he should never have started the season as the Mets backup catcher. The former first round pick had the potential to be more than just a backup, and with that he should have been in AAA honing his craft instead of waiting idly by until d’Arnaud got injured again.
Still, that is not an excuse for Plawecki to once again squander the opportunity given to him. Y0u think d’Arnaud’s offensive stats were bad? Plawecki’s were worse. In the time he was the backup and took over for d’Arnaud, Plawecki hit .194/.301/.258 with five doubles, one home run, and 10 RBI in 41 games. He wasn’t much better in his September call-up. For the season Plawecki hit .197/.298/.265 with six doubles, one homer, and 11 RBI.
Sure, Plawecki did hit well in AAA like everyone seems to do. In 55 games with Las Vegas, he hit .300/.348/.484 with 11 doubles, eight homers, and 40 RBI. While not outstanding for the Pacific Coast League, it did show a marked improvement over what he has been in the majors. However, they were still empty numbers. As we saw in Plawecki’s limited time in September, he had made no adjustments while in AAA. He was still a pull happy ground ball hitter who does not make a lot of hard contact. With the Mets likely returning d’Arnaud and Rivera next year, he is likely going to get one last shot to improve and make himself a major league hitter.
With all that said, it should be pointed out that Plawecki has established he can be an effective backup catcher at the major league level. While he was touted for his offensive skills, Plawecki was really established himself as a good defensive catcher with excellent pitch framing skills. Given the fact that catchers tend to develop later than other players, it would be unwise to cut bait with him even with the rise of Tomas Nido.
Rene Rivera C+
This season the Mets got the best out of what Rivera could offer. He was a good defensive catcher, he helped Noah Syndergaard through his issues holding on base runners, he mentored Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, and we discovered he could actually hit left-handed pitching pretty well. With his work with young pitching, and with d’Arnaud’s struggles, Rivera effectively took over the starting job late in the season.
Overall, this was the second best season of Rivera’s career. Still, he was not very good. He only accumulated a 0.4 WAR and a 69 OPS+. Most of his offensive stats were from a nine game July hot streak that saw him hit .323/.400/.581 with two doubles, two homers, and seven RBI. Other than that nine game stretch, Rivera hit .201/.256/.292 with two doubles, four homers, and 19 RBI in 56 games. Those are Plawecki type numbers the Mets wanted to move away from when they made the switch from Plawecki to Rivera as the backup catcher.
Another note, Rivera was awful behind the plate in the Wild Card Game. Yes, he did go 1-3 off Madison Bumgarner. However, it was his work behind the plate that was troubling. Many criticized the work of home plate umpire Mike Winters for missing a number of close pitches made by Mets pitchers. However, it should be noted that Buster Posey, a superior pitch framer to everyone, was getting those calls for Bumgarner. While he is usually a good pitch framer, Rivera was terrible at it during the Wild Card Game stabbing at many pitches. With that he extended some at-bats making Syndergaard go deeper into counts and not allowing him to pitch into the eighth. Also, his passed ball and poor pitch framing cost Addison Reed some pitches and quite possibly gave the Giants some confidence heading into the ninth against Jeurys Familia (note: Rivera had nothing to do with Familia making a bad pitch to Conor Gillaspie).
That game marred what was a pretty good year for Rivera. Given his rapport with Syndergaard, he should start the year as his personal catcher. It will also be nice to have him around should Gsellman or Lugo need to make some spot starts next season.
Look, even with the Mets remaining schedule, it was unrealistic to expect them to finish the year undefeated. They’re going to lose some games. Tonight was a game you’d expect with Sean Gilmartin, who hasn’t started a game in over a month, having to make the spot start because Noah Syndergaard has strep throat.
Things went worse than expected. Right off the bat, the Phillies went up 3-0 off a Maikel Franco three run homer. Gilmartin then loaded the bases, including an intentional walk to the right place hitter Jorge Alfaro. Things were going so poorly for Gilmartin tonight, he couldn’t escape the jam. Opposing pitcher Alec Asher would hit a two RBI single chasing Gilmartin from the game.
Terry Collins brought in Rafael Montero, who eventually got out of the jam. Of course with him being Montero, he’d make things a lot worse.
Under his watch, the Phillies lead would expand to 10-0. Given the state of the Mets bullpen, Collins did the smart thing and made Montero just get through it. Montero allowed five earned on 3.1 innings. Collins pulled him after 67 pitches.
The bright side about going down 10-0 is Collins was able to pull his starters and give them some time off. Collins gave his starters to put a run on the board, but they didn’t. With that, Collins pulled Jose Reyes, Asdrubal Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, and Curtis Granderson. He replaced them with T.J. Rivera, Gavin Cecchini, Ty Kelly, and Brandon Nimmo.
Astutely, Collins also left in Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, and Michael Conforto. Each of these players need to get some reps if they are going to be the postseason contributors the Mets need them to be.
This is the group of players that would make the game some fun. While the starters couldn’t hit Asher the backups could.
Duda got the rally started by busting it out of the box and reaching on a Freddy Galvis error. After a d’Arnaud single, Franco would throw the ball away. Instead of a possible inning ending double play, Cecchini reached, and Duda scored.
After a Rivera single, Nimmo would hit a double scoring Cecchini. Kelly then hit a sac fly scoring Nimmo. Collins then pinch hit James Loney who ruined everything by making an out. Being fair, he did hit the ball hard down the line, but still, it’s Loney.
The 51s would then get two more in the sixth. Collins actually kept Conforto in against the left-handed reliever Joely Rodriguez. Conforto got the rally started with a one out walk, and Duda followed with a single up the middle. After a d’Arnaud strikeout, Cecchini would get his first career hit with an RBI double to right-center. For some reason (oh right, he’s a bad third base coach), Tim Teufel held Duda who could’ve scored easily. Fortunately, it wouldn’t come back to bite the Mets as Rivera dribbled down the line for an RBI single. It’s a hard hit single in the box score.
In an attempt to not go to anyone who will pitch in the playoffs, Collins tried to push Jim Henderson to a second inning. Normally, this would a really bad move, but all things considered, it was understandable. When Henderson got in trouble, Collins went to Josh Smoker to try to get the Mets out of the jam.
With Cesar Hernandez reaching on a bunt single Smoker double clutched on, and A.J. Ellis swiping third when d’Arnaud tried to pick him off, it looked like the come back dream was dead. When Odubel Herrera lifted a fly ball to left, it was a foregone conclusion. Except it wasn’t. Kelly would unleash a parabolic throw home that would beat Ellis by a mile to keep the score at 10-6.
Kelly would then lead off the bottom of the seventh with a single. Alejandro De Aza pinch hit for Smoker and flied out to center. Eric Campbell then hit into an inning ending double play. It seemed as is the Mets best chance of winning the game was over. You would be wrong.
Phillies reliever Hector Neris would issue back-to-back one out walks to Duda and d’Arnaud. Cecchini would then hit his second career double, barely missing a home run, scoring Duda to make it 10-7. Finally, the Mets could bring the tying run to the plate. Unfortunately, Rivera flied out to shallow center, and Nimmo popped out.
At this point, you were expecting the Mets to come back in the ninth to win it.
Things got so insane Jay Bruce hit a pinch hit no doubt home run against Phillies reliever Michael Mariot. Campbell then came back from 0-2 and worked out an 11 pitch walk. That allowed the Mets to bring Conforto to the plate as the tying run with Duda behind him. Once Conforto walked, Duda came up as the go-ahead run. It was the first time all night, the Mets got the go-ahead run to the plate.
Duda popped out leaving it to d’Arnaud. Sadly, d’Arnaud hit a come backer to end the game. There was some slight disappointment with that. However, the young players made this a fun game to watch. Instead of losing 10-0, we got a sense of what the future may look like. It looks like a group of gritty, never say die, talented players.
Yes, the loss hurts, especially with the Cardinals having already won and the Giants winning. However, if you are going to lose, you might as well have your big guys get some rest and watch your young players thrive in the process.
Final Score: Phillies 10 – 51s 8 – Mets 0
Game Notes: With Cecchini, Nimmo, and Conforto playing, the Mets had three of Sandy Alderson’s first round draft picks in the same lineup. With the loss, the Nationals clinched the NL East.