Nelson Figueroa

Mets Treat Diamondbacks Like Dodgers Treated Them

With the way Zack Wheeler was pitching, you figured the Mets had this game in the bag, and it was time to start looking ahead to see if the team could put together a winning streak.

Entering bottom of the sixth, the Mets had a 3-1 lead on the strength of a second inning rally. In that inning, Michael Conforto had a leadoff single, and he would move to second on a Wilson Ramos single. Conforto scored on a Todd Frazier RBI single, and everyone scored on an Adeiny Hechavarria double which landed just below the yellow line in center.

Wheeler had allowed one earned, but he had allowed just four singles. He had also struck out six. With his having thrown just 73 pitchers, his going deep or completing the game wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. It was after the sixth.

Ketel Marte led off the inning with a homer. After an Adam Jones one out single, Christian Walker hit a go-ahead homer making it 4-3.

Walker was the guy who really did Wheeler in. He was 3-for-3 off Wheeler with two runs, the homer, and two RBI. The other Diamondbacks combined to go 4-for-24 off Wheeler.

For a while, this looked like it was going to be another brutal Mets loss. After the Hechavarria double, the Mets offense had an 0-for-10 stretch with RISP.

This meant the team blew a fifth inning leadoff double by Wheeler, who is now hitting .321 this year.

In the seventh, Juan Lagares snapped an 0-for-13 streak with a leadoff single. Wheeler bunted him over and later that inning Dominic Smith drew a walk after an eight pitch at-bat. Neither Lagares nor Smith would score as Pete Alonso grounded out to end the jam.

Fortunately, the Mets not only got Wheeler off the hook, but they also got him a lead with a big two out rally started by a Frazier bloop hit off Matt Andriese. Hechavarria singled to put that dreaded runner in scoring position for J.D. Davis, who was pinch hitting for Lagares.

Davis hit a soft tapper deflected by Andriese which could not be fielded cleanly by Nick Ahmed. This allowed Frazier to score.

Carlos Gomez pinch hit for Wheeler, and he hit a ball down the line. With it picked up by the ball boy (or man), it was ruled a ground ball double allowing Hechavarria to score giving the Mets a 5-4 lead.

Fresh off the IL, Seth Lugo relieved Wheeler in the bottom of the eighth. He would allow a one out “triple” to Eduardo Escobar. In reality, Gomez completely misplayed that routine fly into a triple.

We then saw just how much the Mets bullpen missed Lugo. Lugo responded by getting Jones to pop out. After an intentional walk to Walker, he got Tim Locastro to pop out to end the jam.

With this being Lugo’s first game back since coming off the IL and Edwin Diaz still unavailable, Mickey Callaway went with Robert Gsellman for the save opportunity. Gsellman pitched a clean ninth to record his 14th career save (first this year).

Now, you feel a lot better about this Mets team. They pulled back to within a game of .500 after a hard fought win. We will see if this is the start of something or just a blip.

Game Notes: Home Plate Umpire Randy Wolf was forced to leave the game after getting hit in the mask by a foul tip. Details are emerging with respect to Nelson Figueroa‘s firing from SNY. Daniel Zamora was sent down to make room for Lugo on the roster.

Mets Internal Options Better Than Vargas

At this point, it’s clear Jason Vargas isn’t just pitching with a fork in him; he’s got the whole utensil drawer there. As such, it’s time to look for someone to replace him in the rotation. While Mets fans have been imploring the team to add Dallas Keuchel, it seems like the Mets would not be willing to add that much payroll.

Fortunately, the Mets still have some very interesting internal options:

Seth Lugo – definitively the Mets fifth best starter, but he arguably has more value in the bullpen.

Robert Gsellman – hasn’t had the success in the bullpen everyone imagined he be and may just be better suited to the rotation

Corey Oswalt – it’s hard to get a read on him with how the Mets have jerked him around, but he’s still had flashes of viability

Chris Flexen – he has a surgically repaired knee and is in terrific shape giving hope he can finally put that fastball/curve combo to good use.

Anthony KayMets haven’t been shy rushing starters from Double-A to the majors, and Kay has excellent spin rates on his fastball and curve.

David Peterson – the Mets 2017 first round pick is off to a good start, which is more than you can say for Vargas.

Hector Santiago – he was an All-Star in 2015, and based on what we’ve seen having previously being an All-Star is all you need to get a rotation spot.

Drew Gagnon – in his one start last year, he at least managed to pitch into the fifth, which is much better than what we’ve seen this year.

P.J. Conlon – last year, Conlon showed he shouldn’t be trusted for more than 2-3 innings. It’d be nice to get a fifth starter who could provide that much length.

Walker Lockett – he’s in Extended Spring Training with an injury, and he had a 9.60 ERA in the majors last year, so all told, he’s an upgrade.

Mickey Jannis – there’s a better chance he turns into the next R.A. Dickey than Vargas has another quality start

Paul Sewald – Mets have never been worried about pushing Sewald too far, so certainly, you could see them randomly asking five from him, and those five would likely be better than any five Vargas throws this year.

Nelson Figueroa – if he was good enough for the Mets to lose Darren O’Day, he’s certainly good enough to pitch in Vargas’ stead.

Mickey Callaway – had a 6.27 career ERA and last pitched in the majors 15 years ago, which means his arm is probably fresh enough to hit the mid 80s.

Luis Guillorme – it’s not like they’re using him as the team’s backup middle infielder, and we know he’d at least be able to field his position well, which unlike Vargas, would be at least one thing Guillorme could do well as a pitcher.

Devin Mesoraco – since people want to claim he was the reason Jacob deGrom won a Cy Young, maybe he could take that expert knowledge and turn it into pitching effectively instead of sulking at home.

J.D. Davis – he has a career 3.38 ERA in limited appearances, which make sense considering he hits and fields his position like a pitcher.

Dominic SmithSmith pitched well in high school, which is a higher level than Vargas can get out right now.

Pete Alonso – his being on the Opening Day roster was supposed to be the difference between the Mets making the postseason and not. With Vargas being terrible every fifth day, he’s apparently going to need to do more than hit.

And therein lies the problem. The Mets sold their fans they desperately needed 12 games from Alonso while simultaneously punting 32 starts from the fifth spot in the rotation. That’s an even bigger joke than anything said in this post.

Syndergaard’s Greatness Should Be Celebrated, Not Nitpicked

After the Mets home opener, Nelson Figueroa discussed how Noah Syndergaard has too much talent and ability than to need 11 pitches to strike out Yan Gomes. If you have watched the post-game over the past few years, this has been a common refrain with Figueroa, and it is something which has been espoused elsewhere.

Essentially, the gist is Syndergaard is not getting the most out of his talent, and as a result, he is not the dominant ace many expected him to be when he first burst onto the scene in 2015. By and large, this is an unfair characterization.

Just focusing on Thursday’s start, Syndergaard threw 98 pitches over six innings. He allowed just one hit with two walks while striking out six. If that were any other pitcher, even Mets ace Jacob deGrom, we would consider that to be a very good start, and there would not be any ensuing criticism.

If you dig deeper, you realize Syndergaard was even better than the numbers suggest. For those watching, it was obvious Syndergaard was getting squeezed by home plate umpire Pat Hodberg. He’s a notoriously bad home plate umpire.

In 2015, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said of him, “He’s a young umpire, and he needs to figure out a better strike zone.” (Jennifer Lagosch, MLB.com). Apparently, things haven’t improved with Michael Fulmer said of Hodberg last year, “I made my fair share of mistakes, but there’s 10 calls about pitches inside the zone that he called balls. I let him know he missed 10.” (ESPN).

Going back and examining that second inning, Hodberg missed a number of calls

Going deeper, Juan Soto led off the inning with a walk, but according to Gamecast, at least two of the called balls were strikes. Those types of umpire errors contribute to Syndergaard’s difficult inning and perceived under-performance.

All of that aside, Syndergaard was very good on Thursday as he has been throughout his Major League career.

Since his Major League debut in 2015, he leads all starters in average velocity. He has a 2.69 FIP, which is second in the Majors to just Clayton Kershaw. His HR/9 is second to just Lance McCullers. His 2.97 ERA is fifth behind Kershaw, deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner. His K/BB ratio is sixth putting him behind Kershaw, Chris Sale, Josh Tomlin, Scherzer, and Corey Kluber.

Looking at his stats, the biggest knock you have against him is his fWAR since he was called up to the majors ranks just 15th. Considering there are 30 teams in baseball, this definitively shows Syndergaard pitches like an ace. Overall, when you break down his stats his name comes up among pitchers who have won Cy Young awards and who are widely regarded as aces.

As deGrom has shown since the beginning of the 2018 season, any pitcher has room for improvement, and that would certainly apply to Syndergaard. That said, by any measure Syndergaard is a great pitcher who should be celebrated instead of nitpicked after his starts.

Congratulations Dillon Gee

After an eight year career, former Mets pitcher Dillon Gee has announced his retirement from baseball. While Gee spent time with the Royals, Rangers, Twins, and even Japan, he is a New York Mets player through and through. The fact Gee emerged to even be that is quite remarkable.

Gee was a 21st round draft pick out of the University of Texas. He didn’t throw consistently in the 90s. None of his breaking pitches were great. Looking at that profile, you would not immediately peg him as a guy who was going to make it to the Major Leagues.

Overlooked through all of that was Gee knew how to pitch. He could locate his pitches, and he knew how to sequence them. With that knowledge and his underrated stuff, Gee just dominated in the minors. A year after he was drafted, he posted a 1.33 ERA in Double-A Binghamton. He would come to Spring Training in 2009, and he would catch the eye of then Mets manager Jerry Manuel.

You could have expected to pinpoint that as the moment where Gee took off. He didn’t because in Triple-A Gee was 1-3 with a 4.10 ERA and a 1.303 WHIP in just nine starts. He watched on like the rest of us as the Mets dipped down to Triple-A for Tim Redding, Nelson Figueroa, Pat Misch, Fernando Nieve, and Jon Niese. As that 2009 team faltered, Gee was left with us Mets fans wondering, “What if?”

The reason why Gee was no in the mix was a torn labrum leading to season ending shoulder surgery for a torn laburm. As we would eventually see with Johan Santana, that could be a career killer. Fortunately, even with him struggling in the minors in 2010, it wasn’t one for Gee.

Gee would finally get his chance at the end of the 2010 season, and over the course of seven brilliant innings against the Nationals, he proved he belonged. He did that all the more so as Gee had a 2.18 ERA in five MLB starts. That stint established he was a Major Leaguer, and he would become a fixture in the Mets rotation.

There were several highlights from Gee in his Mets years. In 2011, he would start the season 7-0 surpassing Jon Matlack‘s rookie record of six consecutive wins to start a season. He would set a career high with nine strikeouts in a game. And then, once again, there was an issue with his pitching shoulder. This time, Gee had a clot an arterial clot requiring season ending surgery. By the end of 2012, he had a promising start to his career, and he also had two significant and potentially career altering shoulder surgeries.

Once again, Gee would beat the odds, and he would once again establish he was a big league pitcher. While he teetered early on in 2013, he would re-establish himself in May with a terrific start against the Pirates allowing just one run in five innings. After that, he would have two more moments which would be arguably be the highlight of his career. The first was a 12 strikeout performance against the Yankees in the Subway Series:

It was a huge moment as the victory secured the Mets ever, and to date only, season sweep against the Yankees in the history of Interleague Play.

Later that season, Gee would flirt with a no-hitter for six innings against the Braves. It wasn’t the first or last time Gee would have that type of a performance, but it was special nonetheless.

This would lead to his being the Mets 2014 Opening Day starter. Just being an opening day starter put him in the same conversation as pitchers like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Al Leiter, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and Johan Santana. It was a special honor for a pitcher who persevered throughout his career.

Unfortuantely, Gee would have injury issues in 2014, which helped lead to the rise of Jacob deGrom. That coupled with Matt Harvey returning and Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz on the horizon made his spot tenuous going forward. With the team being unsure what he was going forward coupled with another injury, Gee’s time was all but over. Finally, Gee would be released by the Mets in June meaning Gee would miss the ride.

Gee missed the ride despite his being a mentor to young pitchers like Harvey. He missed the ride despite him being one of the building blocks who not only had to take their licks pitching in front of inferior Mets teams, but also trying to take this team back to contention. Something, he never got to experience. Instead of being bitter, he was right there with all of us rooting for that Mets team to win the World Series:

Gee was a Met through and through. For six years, he gave the Mets everything he had. He did not let two shoulder surgeries stand in his way. He rose to become an Opening Day starter, and his fingerprints were all over that 2015 team. In the end, Gee should be proud of everything he accomplished. It was a very good career, and as a fan, it was a privilege to watch him pitch every fifth day.

Best of luck in retirement Dillon Gee!

Al Leiter Making Right Decision Leaving Booth

In recent news former Mets great Al Leiter has announced he will not be returning to the YES booth for the 2019 season. With him leaving the booth, he is leaving behind a promising and good broadcast career which had begun when he was a player providing commentary during the 2003 NLCS.

During that NLCS, you could see Leiter was going to be a gifted broadcaster. He hasn’t disappointed in his time as a Yankees color commentator or as an analyst on MLB Network. Seeing his work, you knew no one was pushing him out the door, and yet Leiter has announced he is leaving.

The reason is his son, Jack, is a senior in high school, and he is committed to Vanderbilt. If Jack is anything like his father, his uncle Mark Leiter, or even his cousin also named Mark Leiter, he has a real Major League future ahead of him. If that is the case, Al Leiter is going to be in New Jersey doing work for the MLB Network, or he will be in the Bronx, or he will find himself anywhere where the Yankees travel.

That does not leave him much time to watch his son pitch during his senior season. It doesn’t give him time to give parental advice to help prepare his son for college or even the draft. It doesn’t leave enough time for him to spend time with his son because his son finds himself in places like Tennesse, whether that is for college or for an Appalachian League affiliate.

In his career, Leiter made approximately $68 million. He’s done a fine job as a broadcaster presumably earning a good salary. With his reputation and his relatively young age (53), Leiter has the chance to do this. This is all every parent wants, and Leiter has that opportunity. Good for him for taking full advantage.

When he’s ready to return, there could be a chance for him at SNY as the Mets have begun taking more of a look at the 90’s Mets team. We have seen Todd Zeile recently hired to replace Nelson Figueroa and Bob Ojeda before him. Sooner or later, we know Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling are going to leave the Mets booth.

Maybe, there will be room for a new booth with Gary, Leiter, and Mike Piazza. It would be the type of booth which could generate the same chemistry and cache with Mets fans. And who knows, maybe we will see Leiter calling games his son is pitching.

But before then, let’s hope the best for Jack Leiter and hope Al enjoys each and every minute of the ride.

Vargas, Whole Mets Team Terrible

Jason Vargas‘ last start of 2007 was a 3.1 inning effort where he allowed nine runs on 11 hits.  His first start of this season was a 3.2 inning effort where he allowed nine runs on nine hits.  Seeing that, you would only assume Vargas could only improve from there.

Seeing his start today, you would be right.  That’s the good news. The bad news is he’s still terrible.

A Nick Markakis double and Kurt Suzuki gave the Braves a 3-0 lead in the first, and they were off and rolling.

Really, at that point, the game was over.  It was.

Not only did the Braves have Julio Teheran on the mound, but the Mets had another one of their non-competitive lineups enragingly featuring Jose Reyes leading off and playing third.  To be fair, Reyes limited the damage by going 0-4 and misplaying what should have been a foul out.

To perfectly encapsulate both how this game and this series was, Teheran was 2-2 with an RBI and a sac fly.  The entire Mets offense had just two hits off of him, and those did not come until the seventh inning when the score was already 11-0.

That’s right.  11-0.

It got to that point because the Braves chased Vargas in the fifth with a Ronald Acuna and Markakis home run.  Matt Harvey would get the Mets out of the fifth inning jam, and he would pitch a perfect sixth.

Harvey’s velocity was back up to 95, and for a moment you caught yourself thinking maybe he turned the corner.  Well, he didn’t.  Not even close.  In the seventh, he allowed five runs on three hits and three walks.

After the game, you heard people like Nelson Figueroa say Harvey isn’t even a Major League pitcher anymore.  Of course, the silence on Reyes, who was terrible again, and Adrian Gonzalez, who wasn’t great again, was deafening.

Right now, there are a lot of problems with the Mets.  Fortunately, one of them isn’t Jacob deGrom, who appears to be healthy enough to make his next start.  So, there’s that.

Game Notes: The Mets entered this series without being swept or shut out all year.  They’ve now been swept and been shut out in consecutive games.

Stop Blaming Travis d’Arnaud for Everything

There is no sugar coating it.  Travis d’Arnaud has had a bad year.  Blame his shoulder.  Blame the hex the Mets have seemingly been under this year.  Blame whatever you want.  The simple fact remains d’Arnaud has had a horrible year.  You can even say he has regressed offensively.

However, behind the plate, he is the same guy he has always been.  He is still a terrific pitch framer that helps his staff by helping ensure that strikes are called strikes and by occasionally getting a ball called a strike.  He allows very few passed balls.  When there is a play at the plate, d’Arnaud is not only adept at fielding a throw, but he does a great job blocking the plate within the terms of the new rules.  As seen last night, he goes a great job in making sure he gets the tag on the runner before they have a chance to touch the plate.

He is slightly below average in throwing out base stealers when there is a pitcher on the mound that bothers holding on runners.  When the pitcher doesn’t hold runners on, like most catcher’s he virtually has no chance to throw out the base runner.  Generally speaking, he seems to call a good game, and there have never been any public complaints from any of his pitchers about his abilities behind the plate.

The reason is on the average d’Arnaud is a good defensive catcher.  While it was anticipated that d’Arnaud’s value would be in his bat, the truth is, as a major leaguer so far, his real value is as a receiver.

With all that said, it seems d’Arnaud has been the scapegoat for this entire 2016 season.  With the Mets struggling offensively, the team sought to upgrade the position by aggressively pursuing Jonathan Lucroy.  Apparently, James Loney and his 86 OPS+ wasn’t hurting the team.  When someone steals a base, it is on him.  Nevermind the fact that Rene Rivera also has a supbar caught stealing percentage (28.6%) or that Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz don’t bother holding on base runners.  On a team where no one is hitting well, he is the guy slated to hit eighth.  Seemingly, d’Arnaud has been blamed for everything.  It is a shock no one has pinned Yoenis Cespedes injuring his quad on d’Arnaud.

Even with that in mind Nelon Figueroa took blaming d’Arnaud to a new level.  After the game, Figureoa pinned part of the blame for Jacob deGrom’s poor outing on d’Arnaud.  Figueroa took issue with d’Arnaud not going out to the mound to calm down deGrom (frankly, a lost art in the game that few catchers do), and with his pitch selection saying d’Arnaud failed to call inside pitchers.  Only that’s not what happened.

According to deGrom, it was on him saying, “It’s hard to get results when you throw everything right down the middle.  That’s what it is. I’m missing down the middle and these are big-league hitters and that’s what they do.”  (New York Post).

There is no amount of pitch calling, pitch framing, or pep talks that can cure a starting pitcher who has just been completely missing his spots for two days now.  There are very fair and valid criticisms of d’Arnaud.  As noted, he doesn’t throw base runners out.  Furthermore, he is having a terrible offensive season.  That’s all on him.  However, things are going overboard with people now blaming him for other player’s poor performance.