Michael Conforto

Jeurys Familia & Terry Collins Blew This Game

There were two reasons to believe that the Mets were going to win today’s game against the Rockies.  The first was that since July 10th, the Mets have alternated wins and losses, and the Mets lost last night.  The second reason was that Jacob deGrom was taking the hill during a day game, and deGrom is the Dayman having gone 15-3 with a 1.63 ERA and a 0.923 WHIP in day games.  In his last start, deGrom threw a complete game shut out.

With that in mind, you knew a Rockies team who played a night game was not going to do any damage against deGrom.  They didn’t as deGrom pitched seven scoreless innings allowing just five hits and walk one while striking out six.  Trevor Story was the only Rockies baserunner to reach second base, and no Rockies even reached third against him.  Seemingly, the only reason deGrom was lifted from the game having thrown 97 pitches was to get some more offense.

The Mets were in need of it as well.  The team didn’t have Jose Reyes and Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup due to injury.  Michael Conforto was sitting because the Rockies were starting the left-hander Tyler Anderson.  That meant Alejandro De Aza, and his extremely poor splits against lefties, was in the starting lineup.  Furthermore, Rene Rivera was starting over Travis d’Arnaud.  It was a weak lineup that featured the still struggling Neil Walker was batting cleanup.  It should then come as no surprise that heading towards deGrom’s spot in the lineup in the seventh inning, the Mets were only up 1-0.

That run would be scored on a Rene Rivera two out RBI double scoring James Loney from first.  Perhaps inspired how the Sid Bream-esque Loney was able to score from first, Rivera was thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple.  He made the ill-advised last out of an inning at third base.  Even with that, he had a terrific day going 3-3 with two doubles and an RBI.  It was Rivera who would leadoff the seventh inning with a single off Rockies reliever and former Rays teammate Jake McGee starting a curious chain of events.

De Aza followed Rivera’s single with a double to deep left-center field.  That double would have scored anyone other than Rivera.  Still, the Mets had runners at second and third with no outs.  Terry Collins then made the bold choice of using Cespedes as a decoy.  The Rockies took the bait walking Cespedes to load the bases.  As Cespedes had a flare-up of his quad before the game preventing him from playing the field, he would be lifted for the pinch runner Steven Matz.  It was a defendable position considering with his bone spurs there was no way Matz would ever pitch in this game, and he has decent speed.  Furthermore, the Mets did not want to waste their bench any further.  After Collins made two very good and defendable decisions, he began to make some baffling decisions.

The Rockies would bring in the right-handed reliever Scott Oberg into the game to pitch to Juan Lagares.  Rather than keeping Lagares, his best defensive center fielder, in a tight 1-0 game, Collins went to his bench.  Instead of going with Michael Conforto, the best hitter he had on the bench, Collins went to Kelly Johnson for some reason or other.  At this point, the Mets struggles with runners in scoring position would really become magnified.  Johnson would hit into a fielder’s choice with Story choosing to take the force out at home.  Bases were still loaded, but now with one out.  Granderson would chase a ball in the dirt to strike out putting it all on Wilmer Flores to come through.  He didn’t.  He hit a shallow popout to the center fielder Charlie Blackmon to end the inning.  The Mets had bases loaded with no outs, and they still could not score.

The Mets were very fortunate they have an incredible bullpen that would hold onto this lead.  Despite pregame overtures that Jeurys Familia would be unavailable for today’s game, Collins went to Addison Reed in the eighth.  Reed would record two outs and would allow a single to DJ LeMahieu.  Collins then lifted Reed for Jerry Blevins, who struck out Carlos Gonzalez to get out of the inning.

Familia would come on in the ninth on a day he was supposedly unavailable, and a day after he blew his first save in approximately one year.  Of course, it wouldn’t be easy as it never is with the Mets.  Story would hit a leadoff single, and he would steal second.  Rivera was late on the throw, and it got through the infield.  Familia would then walk David Dahl on a 3-2 count.  Daniel Descalso was sent up there to lay down a sacrifice.  With two strikes, he laid down a bunt spinning towards the line.  Rivera let it go as it seemed as if it was going to go foul giving Familia the strikeout.  Instead, the ball stopped dead on the line loading the bases with no outs.

It seemed like Familia would get out of it for a split second.  He struck out Tony Wolters to get the first out.  Then Cristhian Adames hit a ball that Loney just booted.  The Mets weren’t going to turn two, but the Mets could’ve recorded at least one out.  With that, Story would score the game tying run.  With Blackmon at the plate, Familia spiked a ball at the edge of the grass that just ate up Rivera behind the plate.  The wild pitch allowed Dahl to score the tying run.  At that point, Familia intentionally walked Blackmon, and Collins lifted him from a game he shouldn’t have been used in the first place.  Hansel Robles then came on and get the Mets out of the inning without any further damage.  Maybe, just maybe, he should’ve pitched in the eighth or ninth rather than a tired Familia who Collins had declared was not available for this game.

When you peruse the official statistics for this game, you will see Familia blew the save and took the loss.  That is true.  However, it was a series of curious late inning decisions by Collins that really set the stage for this loss.  It is quite fitting the very Kelly Johnson Collins had to bring into the game would make the final out in the ninth.

Game Notes: A night after going 3-3 with a walk, Walker was 3-4 on the day.  It appears like his deep two and a half month slump might be coming to an end.

Give Terry Collins Credit for Sticking by Alejandro De Aza

Lately, when the Mets have needed a pinch hitter or someone to double switch into a game, Terry Collins first choice off the bench has been Alejandro De Aza. What follows is much hand wringing and consternation from Mets fans. It leaves fans questioning why he didn’t go with Kelly Johnson or Wilmer Flores. They question whether Collins knows what he’s doing.

It turns out that Collins just might know what he’s doing.

Since June 30th, De Aza is hitting .286/.444/.429 with a homer and six RBI in 27 plate appearances stretch across 17 games.  For sure, this is a small sample size, and it shouldn’t distract from the fact that De Aza has not been good all year.  His .181/.258/.267 batting line will attest to that.  However, what it is is a start for De Aza.  It is him finally taking advantage of the opportunities Collins has given him.  De Aza is back to being a useful player on the bench for the Mets.

It may not be that surprising.  Looking over his career, De Aza is typically a slow starter, who usually begins playing better in June.  However, given his relative lack of playing time, De Aza has found his stride later in the season than he usually does.  If his career patters hold true, De Aza is bound to have a good finish to the season.  In his career, the final month of the season is his best as he hits .274/.352/.425.  That is his highest OBP and SLG in any month of the season for his career.  Last year, De Aza hit .262/.388/.361 in the final month of the season for a San Francisco Giants team that was within striking distance of the National League West as the month began.

De Aza is back in a pennant race, and he is performing like it at a time when the Mets need him.  Yoenis Cespedes‘ quad has left him hobbled, and it may require him to take the occasional day off.  This has forced Michael Conforto into center field in order to keep his bat in the lineup.  With that said, the Mets need to play musical chairs late in the game to get their best defensive outfield into the game, which usually requires the Mets holding back Juan Lagares.  This means the team needs De Aza to step in as a pinch hitter, pinch runner, or a defensive replacement himself.  As strange as it may sound after his terrible start, the Mets need De Aza now.  Fortunately, he is finally producing.

For most of the year, Mets fans wanted De Aza off of the team, but Terry Collins and the Mets front office has stuck by him.  It is starting to look like De Aza is starting to reward the Mets faith in him.  They deserve credit for seeing through the early season struggles and allowing him to get back to form and put him in position to have a strong finish to the season like he typically does.

Stanton Owns deGrom

Fun fact: Giancarlo Stanton absolutely crushes Jacob deGrom:

How do you hit the scoreboard in that park?  It’s bigger than Yosemite. That ball travelled 441 feet, and it gave the Marlins a 3-2 lead. 

Stanton would follow with an RBI single in the fourth expanding the lead to 4-2. On the year, Stanton is 5-5 with three homers against deGrom this year. 

It was part of a night that saw deGrom get chased early from the game.  In his prior starts, his velocity seemed to be increasing, but in the fourth inning it dropped to the 90-91 MPH range. After he departed in the fourth, Seth Lugo would walk Marcell Ozuna and Derek Dietrich back-to-back thereby walking in a run which was charged to deGrom. deGrom’s final line would be 3.2 innings, 10 hits, five earned, one walk, and five strike outs. This outing would raise deGrom’s ERA from 2.38 to 2.76. 

For his part, Lugo would finally allow his first earned run in the majors when Prado hit a fifth inning RBI single scoring Adeiny Hechavarria

It should be noted Lugo was double-switched into the game along with Alejandro De Aza as Terry Collins seems to be the only person remaining who has faith in De Aza. De Aza took over for Juan Lagares, who started the game despite the Marlins starting the right-hander Jose Fernandez. Lagares was presumably starting as Yoenis Cespedes is still dealing with the quad, and the Mets didn’t want to see Curtis Granderson in center again. 

Eventually, the game got out of hand. As a result, we got to see Antonio Bastardo pitch two innings only allowing a run (minor miracle). It got out of hand enough for Collins to put Michael Conforto in center in the bottom of the sixth. He would get only one chance catching an Ozuna pop out with aplomb. 

Conforto getting an opportunity in center was about the only good thing that happened on the night. Jose Reyes continued his struggles against righties going 1-5. Asdrubal Cabrera channeled his inner Gregg Jefferies going 0-2 with runners in scoring position stretching his streak to 0-31 (Jefferies was 0-37). Neil Walker continued to be Neil Walker. All that combined, and you get a 7-2 loss. 

Game Notes: The Mets two runs came off a Cespedes third inning RBI single followed by a James Loney sacrifice fly. 

The RISP Issue

Time and time again, we have all seen the Mets fail to get a base hit with a runner in scoring position.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Mets woeful .207 team batting average with runners in scoring position is the worst in all of Major League Baseball.  It is 53 points lower than the .260 league average and 89 points lower than the St. Louis Cardinals .296 team batting average with runners in scoring position.  It gets worse.  The Mets have a .288 team OPB with runners in scoring position, which is again the worst in the Major Leagues.  This is 49 points lower than the league average .337 OBP with runners in scoring position, and it is 90 points lower than the St. Louis Cardinals league leading .378 team OBP with runners in scoring position.

At this point, what usually follows is a debate between traditional fans and fans that follow more of a stats based approach.  Traditional fans believe hitting with runners in scoring position is a real skill set, and if a team is unable to hit with runners in scoring position, a team will be unable to score runs.  Stat based fans will tell you hitting with runners in scoring position isn’t an actual skill, and like anything else, everything tends to regress to the mean.  Regardless of your point-of-view, all fans tend to subscribe to the back of the baseball card concept wherein players tend to play to their seasonal averages on a year-in and year-out basis.  With that common ground in mind, here are how the current Mets players have fared with runners in scoring position along with the amount of times they have come up this year with a runner in scoring position:

Player PA 2016 Career
Asdrubal Cabrera 70 .180 .256
Eric Campbell 19 .125 .168
Yoenis Cespedes 70 .254 .301
Michael Conforto 56 .250 .256
Travis d’Arnaud 24 .182 .224
Alejandro De Aza 23 .050 .294
Lucas Duda 34 .185 .235
Wilmer Flores 41 .297 .270
Curtis Granderson 73 .274 .242
Kelly Johnson 50 .214 .261
Ty Kelly 10 .111 .111
Juan Lagares 21 .158 .271
James Loney 37 .281 .302
Brandon Nimmo 11 .200 .200
Kevin Plawecki 30 .240 .274
Jose Reyes 8 .167 .285
Matt Reynolds 12 .250 .250
Rene Rivera 31 .259 .235
Neil Walker 75 .254 .276
David Wright 38 .226 .293

* Kelly Johnson’s stats includes his 2016 stats from his 49 games with the Braves this year

While much of the ills of the season has been pinned on Campbell, Kelly, and Reynolds, the three of them have combine for only 41 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.  To that end, another scapegoat, De Aza, has not hit whatsoever with runners in scoring position.  These four batters have combined for 63 plate appearances which is still less than the plate appearances the either Cabrera, Cespedes, Granderson, or Walker have had individually this year.

Of that group, Granderson is the only batter who is hitting well with runners in scoring position.  In fact, he is the only one who is hitting higher than his career average with runners in scoring position.  Considering the fact that Cabrera has not gotten a hit with a runner in scoring position since April, it should be no surprise that he is the biggest culprit of the group.

The one encouraging sign is that most of these Mets players are underachieving with runners in scoring position. If these players finish the rest of the year producing at the rate they have done throughout their careers, this Mets team will start to score many more runs. 


Mets Lost a Game They Had No Business Winning

One of the Mets hottest hitters, Asdrubal Cabrera, and the Mets best hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, got a day off with the Mets playing a day game after a night game. Kelly Johnson was getting his first start since July 1st. Wilmer Flores and James Loney were the number three and four hitters in the lineup going up against Kyle Hendricks, who has only allowed three earned runs over his last 31 innings pitched. The Mets sent Bartolo Colon to the mound on a hot and humid day at Wrigley. Long story, short, the Mets had no business winning this game. 

They didn’t. 

It started in the first with Colon issuing consecutive two out walks. Both runners would then score on an Addison Russell bases clearing double. Anthony Rizzo would then hit a homer in the third (solo) and the fifth (two run) shot. Following that home run, the Cubs put two on with one out chasing Colon from the game. 

Antonio Bastardo came on and allowed an inherited runner to score on a Javier Baez RBI single. That closed the books on Colon who allowed eight hits, six earned, and two walks with one strikeout in what was an ugly outing. Bastardo only allowed that one hit in 1.2 innings meaning this could very well be the best game he’s pitched as a Met. 
The Mets did have their chances. In the second, the Mets threatened in the second. Travis d’Arnaud hit a double that would have scored anyone but the slower than Sid Bream Loney. After a Johnson walk, Juan Lagares hit into an inning ending 5-4-3 double play, which was nowhere near as impressive as the one the Mets turned last night.

Loney’s speed prevented the Mets from scoring another run in the fourth. With two outs and Loney on second, Johnson singled to center. Human windmill Tim Teufel sent Loney who was gunned down at home by Jayson Heyward. Ironically, the one time the Mets get a hit with a runner in scoring position, it’s Loney at second, and the runner still doesn’t score. 

As usual, the Mets didn’t score until a home run was hit. In the eighth, Flores hit a two run homer off Cubs reliever Travis Wood. It made the score 6-2, but it was too little too late. The Mets lost two of three to the Cubs, but they still won the season series against them 5-2. 

Game Notes: Johnson was a perfect 4-4. Michael Conforto got his first extra base hit in his return with a fifth inning double. He was 1-4 on the day with a strikeout. With Lagares playing today, he was back in left, and Curtis Granderson was back in right. 

That Was a Great Game

That was just a good baseball game. It featured a pitcher’s duel between the Cubs ace Jake Arrieta and one of the Mets aces Noah Syndergaard

The Cubs struck first in the third when Syndergaard threw a wild pitch, which probably should have been smothered by Rene Rivera who made a backhand stab at the ball, allowing Willson Contreras to score. The Cubs were primed to score again in the following inning. Arrieta led off with a double, and he tried to score on a Tommy La Stella single. However, he would be mowed down by the new right fielder Michael Conforto:

As the replay would show, Rivera made a great tag. 

Syndergaard gutted his way through 5.2 innings throwing 105 pitches. He allowed seven hits, one unearned run, and two walks. He would strike out eight batters including his 300th career strike out. Jerry Blevins took over and would combine with Hansel Robles (two innings), and Jeurys Familia (33rd save) to win a 2-1 game. 

The loss was no fault of Arrieta, who was terrific. He pitched seven innings, one run, and one walk with eight strikeouts. For a while, it appeared like the Mets wouldn’t score that run, and that the Mets would lose 1-0. Then Jose Reyes did what he used to do best, what he was brought back to do. He hit his 100th triple as a Met and gave the Mets a chance to build a run off his speed. 

He would score off a Curtis Granderson sacrifice fly. The Mets tried to build another rally in the seventh. There were runners on first and second and Blevins was due up. For some reason, Terry Collins went to Alejandro De Aza instead of Kelly Johnson. Apparently, Collins was the only person who thought De Aza would come through in that spot. He didn’t. 

In the ninth, there would be no De Aza or Arrieta standing in the Mets way. Neil Walker hit into a fielder’s choice after a James Loney leadoff single. Initially, it was ruled a double play, but replay would overturn the call. Walker was safe, and it wasn’t particularly close. Walker moved to second on an Asdrubal Cabrera single. After a Conforto strikeout, it appeared the Mets would fail to score a runner in scoring position again. 

Instead, Rivera would hit a bloop single off Pedro Strop scoring Walker making it a 2-1 game. If that was the end of the game, it would have been a terrific game. However, it was what happened in the bottom of the ninth that made this a great game. 

Familia walked Addison Russell and Miguel Montero to start the inning. Javier Baez then laid down a terrific bunt that he beat out. It was bases loaded with no outs. That’s a problem for mere mortal closers. It wasn’t an issue for Familia and his bowling ball sinker. 

With the infield drawn-in, Matt Szczur to hit a ground ball to Loney, who threw out Russell at home. That brought up Kris Bryant to the plate, who could be the most dangerous hitter in the Cubs. Familia got him to ground into a game ending 5-4-3 double play. 

It was a great instinctive move for new third baseman Reyes to go did the double play instead of the force out, and it was an incredible turn by Walker, who took a slightly offline throw with the runner bearing down on him to get the last out of the game at first. 

This was easily the most exciting game of the year, and it was a great win. 

Game Notes: Granderson started in center, and he was shaky out there. It is supposed to be temporary until Conforto is ready to take over. In his first full game back from AAA, Conforto was 0-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Yoenis Cespedes really looked hobbled out there. 

Maybe Conforto in CF Isn’t a Crazy Idea

One thing that gets lost in the shuffle is that in Yoenis Cespedes‘ first game with the Mets is Terry Collins started him in left and put Curtis Granderson in center.

Heading into that game, Granderson was the more experienced center fielder having played 12 seasons in center field. Up until 2012, he was an average to very good center fielder who had averaged a 2.0 UZR and a 4 DRS in his first six full seasons as a major leaguer.

In 2011, he took a step back with a -5.1 UZR and a -2 DRS. Granderson would show he was no longer capable of being a center fielder the following year when he posted a -18.1 UZR and a -7 DRS. The Yankees moved him to right fielder where he has played so well that he was a National League Finalist for the Gold Glove. In reality, Granderson belongs in right considering his diminished range and weak arm.

For whatever reason, Cespedes became the main center fielder from his second game with the Mets through this year. The Mets turned to Cespedes who had averaged a -3.1 UZR and a -4 DRS in his three years of limited duty as a center fielder for the Oakland Athletics. Last year with the Mets, he posted a -3.2 UZR and a -4 DRS in roughly two months of duty.

The Mets dealt with Cespedes’ relatively poor play in center as he was mashing the ball. The Mets did it as a means to get his, Granderson’s, and Michael Conforto‘s bat in the lineup. It is the same reason why the Mets have accepted Cespedes playing a poor center field this year with his -10.1 UZR and -5 DRS. Strangely enough Cespedes is on pace to put up similar or worse numbers than those that forced Granderson out of center. In some ways, it is safe to say Cespedes isn’t a center fielder.

With Cespedes’ injured right quad he is now both literally and figuratively not a center fielder. The injury is hampering him at the plate and in the field, and as he stated, “I’d rather play left field because I feel more comfortable. And also it’s less work on my leg.” (ESPN.com). With that in mind, Cespedes wants to remain in left field, his Gold Glove position, for the rest of the year.

Even with Cespedes being a poor center fielder, his inability to play center creates a dilemma for the Mets. Granderson has established he can no longer play center. Juan Lagares is back to his Gold Glove form, but he can’t hit righties. His one-time platoon partner, Alejandro De Aza, can’t hit anybody. In some ways, it’s incredible that the Mets have four outfielders with center field experience.  In other ways, it’s astounding that none of them are a viable center field option for the rest of the reason.

With that in mind, Collins has stated he’s considering using Conforto in center despite Conforto not having worked out in center since college and him not having played the position since presumably Little League. Given the limitations of the other four options, this idea may not be as crazy as it once may have sounded.

Putting Conforto in center allows the Mets to keep him, Granderson, and Cespedes in the same lineup. Furthermore, Conforto has shown the tools to play an adequate center field. He has good range, takes good routes to balls, and has a strong and accurate arm. He’s a player who has shown himself to not only be a hard worker, but also open to coaching.

It’s important to keep in mind that Conforto was once the player who scouts believed couldn’t handle left field.  When he was called up to the majors last year, he showed he was a very good left fielder.  Given his natural instincts and athleticism, it’s not absurd to think he could handle the position even if it is just for the short term.  Given the other options before the Mets, it is certainly worth a try especially since the Mets need his bat in the lineup.  In all seriousness, it is not like he would be worse than what Granderson and Cespedes were there.  So, to that end, Conforto may actually wind up an improvement.

Really, it’s not crazy to think this could work.

There’s an “S” in RISP

One thing that has become apparent with this Mets offense is they forgot there is an “S” in RISP because time and again runners find their way to second and third only to die. It was more of the same tonight. 

The Mets were 0-7 with RISP. The team left seven runners on base in a game they lost 5-1. This includes, but is not limited to, the two runners left on base when Travis d’Arnaud hit into a 4-4-3 game ending double play. Coming into the night, he was hitting .190 with runners in scoring position. 

This includes Neil Walker striking out in in a critical eighth inning spot where he came to the plate as the tying run. Coming into the game, he was hitting .258 with runners in scoring position. The fact that it is higher than his batting average tells you how his season has gone since April. 

It includes Asdrubal Cabrera grounding into a double play killing a two on no out rally in the second with the score tied at zero. He’s now 0 for his last 28 with runners in scoring position. 

The other Mets who failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position tonight were Juan Lagares (.167), Curtis Granderson (.150), Yoenis Cespedes (.259), and Jose Reyes. As usual, the Mets couldn’t score a run unless someone hit a homer. In fact, the only run the Mets scored on the night was a Wilmer Flores solo shot off Jon Lester in the seventh. Unfortunately, with the Mets not hitting with runners in scoring position, it was too little too late. 

With the Mets struggles with runners in scoring position, the game was effectively over when Anthony Rizzo hit a three run third inning home run off Steven Matz. Matz’s final line would be five innings, eight hits, four earned, one walk, and five strikeouts. Again, he is not the same pitcher with the bone spurs as it is preventing him from incorporating his slider. Matz is now 0-7 in his last seven decisions. 

Making things worse was a ball going through Cespedes’ wickets in the bottom of the eighth. Albert Amora hit a single to left that most likely would’ve scored Matt Szczur, who had previously hit a two out double off Erik Goeddel.  Szczur could walk home easy after the ball went between Cespedes’ legs and continued all the way to the ivy. It should be noted, he had a good throw earlier in the game:

Still, there were some positives to the game other than the Flores’ home run. Seth Lugo remains unscored upon in his young career after pitching another two scoreless innings. Michael Conforto made a pinch hitting appearance, and he had a well struck opposite field single. 

Other than that, it was a lost night that leaves you scratching your head about the problems with runners in scoring position.  You need to be concerned about Matz’s pitching. And while it is too early to be concerned, it should be noted the Mets fell to third place in the NL East to the Miami Marlins, who also have sole possession of the second Wild Card as of tonight. 

Mets Biggest Trade Deadline Acquisition 

Now that the All Star Game has come and gone and the non-waiver trade deadline two weeks away, Major League Baseball is in full pennant drive mode. Teams are assessing their needs and targeting the players who could fulfill those needs. Given the state of the Mets offense, the team needs a bat more than anything. Fortunately for them, they don’t need to go outside the organization to acquire that player as the team is recalling Michael Conforto

If Conforto is the player he is supposed to be, the player we’ve seen glimpses of, it’s doubtful any team could add a player who will have the impact he could have on the Mets. 

When Conforto was called-up last year, he hit a respectable .270/.335/.506 with nine homers and 26 RBI in 56 games. Extrapolating that over a full 162 game season, Conforto would’ve had 26 homers and 75 RBI. Seeing Conforto over the course of the second half last year coupled with his play in the postseason, that seemed like it was his floor. 

Conforto’s April seemed to justify everyone’s high expectations. Conforto jumped out of the gate hitting .365/.442/.676 with four homers and 18 RBI. He was on pace to hit 29 homers and 133 RBI. Those numbers may seem unrealistic in a player’s first full season, especially for a player who never played in AAA, but they didn’t for Conforto. He was that good of a hitter. 

Conforto forced Terry Collins to move him up to the third spot in the order. He was clearly the team’s second best hitter behind only Yoenis Cespedes. Conforto was well on his way until disaster struck. 

From May 1st on, Conforto would hit .148/.217/.303. He would only get eight hits in his last 75 at bats.  Everyone had a theory as to what happened. Some blamed the platoon system getting him out of a rhythmn. Others thought the game Madison Bumgarner dominated him and the rest of the Mets lineup got into his head. There was also the cortisone shot he needed in his wrist and his falling into bad habits at the plate. Whatever the case, he all but forced the Mets hands, and he was demoted to the minor leagues. 

To his credit, Conforto put the work in he needed to down in AAA, and he has seemingly returned to the player he was; the player we all thought he could be. During his first ever stint in AAA, Conforto hit .344/.420/.623 with three homers and 15 RBI in 16 games.  While his manager Wally Backman did sit him against two lefties, Conforto did get at bats against lefties going 6-16 with three walks and four RBI. More importantly, Conforto got back to being more patient at the plate and using the whole field more. 

Additionally, Conforto played some games in right field thereby giving Collins’ more outfield alignment options, which should hopefully ensure Juan Lagares never again steps foot in any position other than center field.  It should also help Collins figure things out with Cespedes stating he needs to play more left field with his injured quad. 

Overall, Conforto has done what he needed to do in the minors. He’s ready to come back. He’s coming back at the right time too with Cespedes’ balky right leg and  Brandon Nimmo struggling. 

Conforto should be an even bigger boost to the Mets than he was last year. In fact, given what we’ve seen, given what he’s capable of doing, he will help the Mets more than any player any team adds to their major league roster prior to the trade deadline. 

Editor’s Note: this was first published on metsmerizedonline.com

Highlighting Terry Collins’ Poor First Half

With homefield advantage on the line and the Mets in playoff position, Terry Collins managed the All Star Game like seemingly every other manager has previously managed the All Star Game.  He put more of a premium on getting all the players in the game than winning the game.  Well, everyone except his own players Jeurys Familia and Bartolo Colon.  Other than the Mets players apparently being upset at this, it is hard to criticize Collins for how he managed the All Star Game.  Still, there are many managerial decisions Collins has made in the first half of the season that invite scrutiny.

First and foremost, there is the way he handled Michael Conforto.  First, he didn’t let him get any time playing right field in Spring Training.  The end result of that was Collins putting Juan Lagares in right and Yoenis Cespedes in center on days that Curtis Granderson was given the day off.  There really is no excuse for putting Lagares, possibly the defensive center fielder in the game, anywhere but center.

The other mistake is not letting Conforto hit against lefties until Madison Bumgarner took the mound.  Collins was hampering his development by doing that.  At the end of the day, this is the Mets best position player prospect, and in many ways, he was the second best hitter on the team.  Collins was willing to sacrifice all that to get Lagares’ bat in the lineup instead of sitting an older Granderson who had the very platoon splits that worried Collins.  By the way, Granderson is also 35 years old and could use the occasional day or two off.  Conforto’s season began to fall apart, and he needed to be sent down to AAA.  By the way, Collins is making the same mistake with Brandon Nimmo.  However, it’s even worse with Nimmo as he’s doing it to get Alejandro De Aza‘s bat in the lineup.

While on the topic of developing players, Kevin Plawecki has faltered for yet another season under Collins’ tutelage.  Last year, there were a number of excuses why Plawecki didn’t succeed from his being rushed to the majors to his sinus issues.  This year, he had no such excuses, and he still didn’t produce.  While Plawecki deserves a large amount of the blame, Collins certainly deserves some of it, especially when his position with Conforto is that he is not here to help players develop as major leaguers when the Mets have a win-now team.

Another major issue this year was Collins’ handing of Jim Henderson.  Henderson was a feel good story that turned into a potential nightmare.  The day after Henderson threw a career high 34 pitches, which is puzzling in its own right, Collins used Henderson to pitch in the very next game.  He did it despite knowing that Henderson needed to be handled lightly due to his having two shoulder surgeries.  He did it even after watching what happened with Johan Santana.  Collins knew all of this, and yet he used Henderson in that spot as he said an April 13th game, the eighth game of the season, was deemed to be a must win game.  Henderson’s production fell off after that, and now he is on the disabled list.

There was also his handling of Noah Syndergaard.  Last year, the Mets wanted to initiate a six man rotation to alleviate some of the early innings Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom pitched early in the season.  The idea was to both keep them healthy and keep them fresh for the length of the season.  To be fair, Collins use of Syndergaard in any one particular start has not been egregious.  However, it was curious how he shoehorned Syndergaard into a relief appearance after Syndergaard was ejected throwing at Chase Utley.  The Mets had an opportunity to rest their ace until his next start.  Instead, Syndergaard got the adrenaline going and was ramped up in a relief appearance on his throw day.  By the way, in Syndergaard’s last start his fastball velocity dropped to 91 MPH, and he left the game with a dead arm.

Speaking of how he is handling pitching, it is amazing that Collins took part in talking Steven Matz out of opting for season ending surgery to address the bone spurs in his elbow that has clearly hampered his pitching.  Not only was Collins willing to risk Matz suffering a more severe injury, he’s also willing to put a limited pitcher on the mound every fifth day.  Keep in mind that since the bone spurs became an issue, Matz has been 0-3 with a 5.05 ERA and a 1.430 WHIP.  His slider usage has dropped from 13% to 3% of the time.  It’s always troubling when a manager doesn’t protect his players.  It’s even worse when he doesn’t protect the young injured ones.

There is also the curious drop in production this team has had since May 1st.  Here’s how some of the Mets best hitters have fared since that point:

April Since
Curtis Granderson .241/.347/.471 .238/.335/.453
Neil Walker .307/.337/.625 .232/.318/.345
Asdrubal Cabrera .300/.364/.400 .249/.305/.435
Michael Conforto .365/.442/.676 .148/.217/.303

Now, there are many factors to this including some of these players getting nicked up a bit.  There’s something to be sad for the natural ebbs and flows of a season as well.  There should be some note about the injuries to the players surrounding them.  However, with all that said, these players have had a significant drop off in production under Collins’ watch.  Whether it was helping them make adjustments and finding days for them to get the rest they needed, Collins didn’t do that as their manager.

There have been other issues dealing with Collins in-game management that could be highlighted as well.  To be fair and balanced, it should be pointed out that Eric Campbell, Ty Kelly, Matt Reynolds, and Rene Rivera have played far more games than the Mets ever wanted or expected them to play.  It’s hard to expect a manager to win under those circumstances.  It should also be noted that there were significant injuries to David Wright, Lucas Duda, and Matt Harvey which have further weakened the Mets.

Through all of that, Collins still has the Mets in a position to make the postseason.  If he makes better decisions, and the Mets begin playing better, they should be in the postseason, and with that pitching staff, they still have a legitimate chance to return to the World Series.