Noah Syndergaard

Mets Fans Have Been Watching An Eclipse All Season

Right around this time, the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun bringing darkness across the country . . . or as Mets fans like to call it, the perfect euphemism for the 2017 season.

We’ve seen Noah Syndergaard go down for the season, and we are not sure when Jeurys Familia can come back.  Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler were mishandled coming back from their injuries.  Steven Matz had another injury plagued year.  We never did get to see David Wright play this season, and we do not know if we will ever get to see him play again.

With the poor season the Mets are having, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Rene Rivera, and Neil Walker have been moved and are now playing for teams with an actual shot at the postseason.  The moves didn’t bring back much, and there were rumors the Mets were more interested in salary relief than anything causing fans to go back to a dark place they resided at the inception of the Madoff scandal.

The thing is, the eclipse today will last just a brief time.  Sandy Alderson has an entire offseason to get to work.  If ownership lets him spend the money, and with a little help on the health front, the Mets dark period will last just for the 2017 season.  If it is business as usual, this isn’t an eclipse – we’re back to the Dark Ages.

Assessing The Addison Reed Trade

In assessing how the Mets fared in the Addison Reed trade, let’s start with the obvious.  The fact Sandy Alderson was able to turn Miller Diaz and Matt Koch into a great run with Reed plus Red Sox prospects Stephen Nogosek, Jamie Callahan, and Gerson Bautista was absolutely phenomenal.  No, it doesn’t rank up there with Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, and Wuilmer Becerra for R.A. Dickey, but nevertheless, it was a coup.

Still, the question remains whether Sandy got a good return for the 2017 version of Reed.

Let’s start with this.  Since joining the Mets, Reed has been one of the best and more versatile relievers in baseball.  He has deftly handed the seventh, eighth, and ninth inning.  His 142.0 innings pitched since joining the Mets is fifth in baseball, and his 2.09 ERA over that stretch is great. Intuitively, you may not believe Reed is a top reliever in baseball, but he was.  From 2016 to the present, Reed posted the sixth best fWAR in the majors (3.5).  Aside from Kenley Jansen and Andrew Miller, who we all know are otherworldly right now, Reed is as good, if not better than any reliever in baseball.

Looking over the list of potential free agents, Reed could have arguably been considered one of if not the best reliever on the free agent market.  With that being the case, it was likely worth gambling and giving him the qualifying offer putting his value at a second round pick or the equivalent.

Looking at the Mets haul, they most likely received that.  The trio of arms all throw in the upper 90s.  With respect to Nogosek and Bautista, they both have a good but inconsistent slider, and there are some control issues.  If they figure it out, and realistically speaking, they are in the right organization to do so, the Mets have two potential late inning relievers.  With Callahan, they have a near MLB ready reliever who can generate a high number of strikeouts and could be ready to help the Mets as soon as next year.  To that end, the Mets certainly did receive a second round equivalent.

Where the debate becomes dicey is when you ask the question whether the Mets could have done better.

For starters, there is no real way of knowing that.  We are not privy to the general back-and-forth between general mangers.  We also don’t know if there was a theoretical better offer the Mets rejected because they liked the players the Red Sox offered more.

We should also consider, last year, the Yankees seemingly built an entire farm system (hyperbole) by trading Miller and Aroldis Chapman.  Each trade fetched the Yankees two of their trade partners’ top five prospects.  In terms of Gleyber Torres, it got them one of the best prospects in baseball.

With Reed arguably being the top reliever on the market with at least eight teams interested, it makes you question how the Mets walk out of a deal without an organization’s top five prospect.  The counter-argument is the prices this year are not the same as they were last year.  In the end, we have no idea if this was the proverbial best trade, and the reviews on the trade have been all over the place.

Ultimately, I find the trade underwhelming, and I do question the Mets motives a bit.  If you look at their recent moves, they have all been bullpen driven.  Lucas Duda was moved for Drew Smith.  The team went out and obtained AJ Ramos.  Now, the Mets got an arguably low return for a trio of fireball throwing relievers.  I’m not so sure the Mets approached this trade deadline with the intent on rebuilding the minor league system as much as they were intent on rebuilding their bullpen.

In the end, if the Mets goal was really to build the bullpen in the trade market, they have to back that up by spending real money in the free agent market to back up their decisions.  If they don’t do this, they may not have only lost out on the possibility on maximizing their returns for the pieces they did move, they may also miss out on the 2018 postseason.

Future Starts Tonight With Chris Flexen

While many Mets fans wanted Amed Rosario or Dominic Smith to be the first major call-up of the 2017 season, with Zack Wheeler‘s potentially season ending injury, that honor is going to go to Mets right-handed pitcher Chris Flexen.

Heading into the 2017 season, Flexen was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and Mets Minors rated him the Mets 20th best prospect.  As noted in the prospect analysis, Flexen had all the tools to be a good starting pitcher.  His fastball is the mid to upper 90s.  His curveball was a devastating out pitch.  What was holding him back was the refinement of his change-up, and his delivery.

With his working with both Marc Valdes in St. Lucie and Glenn Abbott in Binghamton, he has largely address those issues.  The results have been astounding.

In 10 starts this year, Flexen is 6-1 with two complete games, a 1.76 ERA, 0.815 WHIP, and a 9.2 K/9.  For a pitcher that spent much of his professional career struggling with control he has dropped his BB/9 from 3.4 last year to 1.5 this year.  Opposing batters are hitting just .183/.217/.260 against him.  Put simply, Flexen has been a dominant starting pitcher this year who has certainly earned a call to the major leagues.

When he toes the rubber on a major league mound for the first time tonight, Flexen brings not just his big right arm, but he also brings hope in what has been an otherwise dismal 2018 season.

He brings the hope Matt Harvey did when he went from a start in 2012 to starting the 2013 All Star Game.  He brings the hope we saw when Jacob deGrom took an unexpected opportunity and became the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year.  Noah Syndergaard and his 100 MPH gave you hope the 2015 Mets could win a World Series, and he did his part being the only Mets pitcher to win a World Series Game at Citi Field.  We also had hope that hot June afternoon when Steven Matz and his grandfather become beloved figures.

All four of these pitchers turned that hope into a National League Pennant in 2015.  It has been a rough road since, but the Mets are not far away from returning to that point.  Seeing Flexen toe the rubber tonight, we can once again have hope and dream the Mets can return to the World Series.

Flexen has a big arm, and he has been dominating the minor leagues.  He is joining a pitching staff who very well know what it is like to dominate hitters.  He’s joining a pitching staff that wants to get back to that point.  If he pitches well enough tonight and for the rest of the season, he may very well be a member of that rotation in 2018.

That’s what Flexen’s start tonight is.  It’s hope.  Hope that the 2017 season was just a one year blip.  Hope the Mets have another big arm who can complete the rotation.  Hope the Mets can win the World Series as soon as next year.

Has Travis d’Arnaud Turned The Corner?

Last year was an abomination for Travis d’Arnaud.  The catcher had another injury plagued year, and he eventually lost his starting job to Rene Rivera.  Part of the reason was his manager did not trust him catching Noah Syndergaard because he could not hold on base runners.  The other part was he believed Rivera to be some sort of pitcher whisperer leading him to catch Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo when they joined the rotation.  With d’Arnaud hitting just .247/.307/.323, he didn’t exactly force his way into the lineup.

That made the 2017 season a pivotal one for d’Arnaud.

Things started out well for him. Fifteen games into the season, d’Arnaud had seemingly recaptured his 2015 hitting .270/.357/.541, and then as always seems to be the case with him an injury happened.  While following through on a throw to second base, d’Arnaud’s hand hit the bat of Aaron Altherr causing him to the leave the game.  With the Mets being the Mets, they had d’Arnaud play through the injury until he could no longer.

In the subsequent 10 games, d’Arnaud would hit .091/.167/.364.  With him obviously unable to play, the Mets finally put him on the disabled list with a bone bruise in his wrist.

When d’Arnaud came back, he struggled at the plate hitting .234/.278/.430 from the date he was activated from the disabled list into the All Star break.  Part of this was his extremely low .247 BABIP.  Now, d’Arnaud has typically always had low BABIPs with a career .273 mark entering this season.  Even in his career year in 2015, it was just .289.  Still, he was never a .247 BABIP hitter.

There may be many reasons for this.  Players tend to suffer the ill effects of hand and wrist injuries after the injuries have been deemed healed enough to play.  It’s also possible d’Arnaud suffered from Terry Collins‘ time sharing system with d’Arnaud having his pitchers and Rivera having the others.  It’s possible this prevented d’Arnaud from getting into a rhythm.  It’s also possible it was just a stretch of bad luck.

Whatever the case, d’Arnaud has been a much better player coming out of the All Star break.  Over the past nine games, d’Arnaud is hitting .333/.394/.400 with two doubles and five RBI.  Despite his not hitting for much power, he’s gotten some big RBIs.

But it’s more than just his hitting.  Recently, d’Arnaud has done more to take over the game from behind the plate.  The other day when Addison Reed was in a war of words with Home Plate Umpire Dan Iassogna, d’Arnaud stepped in, and he probably saved the closer from an ejection from a hot headed umpire.  We’ve also seen him make more mound visits to get a pitcher back in the inning and the game.

No, he’s still not doing a good job throwing out base runners going 0-3 in the second half.  In a surprising turn of events, d’Arnaud actually has poor pitch framing numbers.  Still, we know he’s been typically very good in that area, and he’s likely going to return to being good in that area again.  Just watching games, it seems like he’s getting that outside corner again.

Overall, it appears d’Arnaud is finally showing the Mets he is a complete catcher.  It’s coming at an important time as well.  The organization is in a period of transition with the team being in a position to sell at the deadline.  When you have a season like the Mets have had you have to reassess everyone . . . d’Arnaud included. If he continues to catch this well, he is going to cement his status as the Mets everyday catcher in 2018.

The caveat of course is he needs to stay healthy.  That’s always easier said that done with him.

Why Doesn’t MLB Highlight Their Stars On YouTube?

The obvious intent of Joe Buck and John Smoltz interviewing Bryce Harper and other players during the All Star Game was for Major League Baseball to better market their stars.  Other aspects of the game like the Home Run Derby certainly have accomplished that goal.

Certainly, we have seen players like Ken Griffey, Jr. reach new heights in his fame because of his exploits in the Home Run Derby.  We have seen that happen once again as the lasting image from this year’s All Star festivities was Aaron Judge winning the Home Run Derby.

You know what wasn’t accomplished from this year’s All Star Game?  Making the other stars in baseball a household name.  It begs the question whether baseball can do anything to remedy that.

In endeavoring to answer that question, there are a few caveats.  First and foremost, the public arena is much more crowded than the days when Babe Ruth or even Mickey Mantle were the most recognizable sports faces in America.  Another issue is ESPN is more dedicated to promoting the NFL and NBA than they are with promoting MLB. That has seemingly always been true of Sports Illustrated as well.

One area baseball where baseball is lagging behind is YouTube.  Consider this.  When you search for Michael Conforto, one of the bright young stars in the game who just made his first All Star team, there is no MLB sponsored video of his highlights.  The odd part is there are many of them, including his World Series heroics:

However, there is no real compilation of all the great things he has done.  Conversely, if you search for the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, here is the NBA created compilation of all of his highlights:

The NBA knows what it has in the Greek Freak, and they are more than happy to highlight it. They highlight it despite his playing for a mid-market team. They made it despite his never making it out if the first round of the NBA Playoffs. 

Conversely, Conforto is a young star in New York, who had already had a huge moment in a World Series.  Don’t think he’s big enough to merit his own highlights?  Neither is the Greek Freak in a league of LeBron, Durant, Curry, Harden, etc. 

Even if you don’t think Conforto deserves his own highlight reel, there has to be someone in baseball who does. There aren’t any. 

Not for Harper. Not for Judge. Not for Mike TroutClayton Kershaw, or Noah Syndergaard. None. 

And it’s not just one player. Who wouldn’t want to see a video of a collection of epic bat flips?  A video of Jose BautistaYoenis Cespedes, and whoever else who’s had a huge bat flip. 

Point is there’s a number of compilations for both events and players. There aren’t any by MLB on YouTube. 

When all baseball talks about is what’s wrong with the game, maybe they should start with marketing its stars.  They’re terrible at it, and they always have been. Cutting a highlight video with the highlights from their biggest stars is one of the easiest things they can do. 

Show us your best players at their best. Let us see it whenever we want, so we can be drawn to the TV to see those players pull off their next great play. 

Trading Season Has Begun

The Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox unofficially opened trading season with the blockbuster deal sending LHP Jose Quintana to the Cubs for four prospects including top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease.  The trade was another large prospect haul for the White Sox who are masterfully rebuilding their team.  The trade also addressed an area of need for the Cubs.

With the Cubs addressing a real area of need, it makes the Mets pipe-dream of acquiring the second Wild Card all that more improbable.  It could also mean the Cubs could likely be out on the Mets biggest trade assets in Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins.  With the Cubs getting that much better, it also makes you question how many of the National League teams within shouting distance of a postseason spot would be willing to now swing a deal with the Mets.

On the bright side, this is the second year in a row prices at the trade deadline have been high.  The Yankees completely turned around their farm system with the Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller trades.  The White Sox have just added two more big prospects.  Considering Sandy Alderson was able to get Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey, you can only imagine what the Mets are going to get for Reed, Blevins, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, and Curtis Granderson.

It appears the time to make a deal is now.  It’s time for teams like the Brewers to make a big deal to try to solidy their spot atop the Central.  The Diamondbacks and Rockies need to deal to fend off the Cubs as well.  The Dodgers need another piece to try to make themselves a proverbial super team.  As we know the Nationals need an entire bullpen.  Throw in a wide open American League, and the Mets have an opportunity.

The time is now for the Mets to sell.  Hopefully, they can take advantage of the this opportunity and bring back pieces that can help the Mets win in 2018.

Mets Whimper Into The Break

After the Mets pulled out a 6-4 win over the Cardinals, there was hope for the team to at least take the series and leap over one team ahead of them in the race for the second Wild Card.  As Noah Syndergaard will tell you, the Mets are the second half team.  If you wanted a glimmer of hope, here it was.

On Saturday, there was hope.  Zach Wheeler turned his season around allowing just two earned over six innings.  When Jay Bruce homered to start the seventh inning, and the Mets knocked Adam Wainwright out of the game, there was a chance.  Then Fernando Salas came into the game.  He was dreadful as usual, and the relievers that followed weren’t much better.  A one run deficit became a three run lead too much for the Mets to overcome.

From there, things fell apart.  For the first time all season, Steven Matz just didn’t have it allowing five runs over 4.1 inning.  The Mets offense could only muster three hits off of Lance Lynn.  With that, the momentum from Friday night’s victory was gone.  Quite possibly, hope for the Mets making any sort of run in the second half of the season.

Heading into the break, the Mets are 39-47 getting outscored by their opponents by 47 runs.  They are 12 games behind the Nationals in the National League East.  The team is 10.5 games behind the second Wild Card.  Worse than that, the Mets are 5-21 against teams with a winning record.

Every time you want hope, the Mets make sure to take it away.  Perhaps, it is better this way.  It is time for everyone to admit this team is going nowhere.  It is time to sell.  It is time for Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini, and Amed Rosario to show the Mets what they are capable of doing.  With them playing everyday, it is possible we can all begin to hope again.

Why Does Sandy Get A Pass on Murphy And Turner?

Ever since the Mets parted ways with Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy, it is as if the Mets former second baseman have made it a point to show the Mets why they were wrong to get rid of them.  Not only are both drastically improved players, but they also make it a point to beat up on the Mets.

Since joining the Dodgers in 2014, Turner is a .309/.381/.509 hitter who hit 27 homers and 90 RBI last season accumulating a 16.9 WAR.  His 147 wRC+ is the best in baseball in that time frame among Major League third baseman.  In his 21 regular season games against the Mets, Turner is hitting .290/.380/.551 with six doubles, four homers, and 12 RBI.

As we remember from the 2015 NLDS, he was the Dodgers offense hitting .526/.550/.842 with six doubles, and four RBI.  Fortunately for the Mets, they had Murphy, who had one the best postseason runs in Major League history.  Unfortunately, the Mets have parted ways with Murphy as well.

Since leaving the Mets, Murphy has become an MVP candidate.  In one plus seasons, Murphy has hit .342/.390/.585 with 72 doubles, seven triples, 39 homers, and 159 RBI with an 8.4 WAR.  He leads all major league second baseman in batting average, OBP, OPS, doubles, and wRC+.  Simply put, he’s the best hitting second baseman in the majors.

He’s put that on display in his games against the Mets.  In 30 games against the Mets, Murphy is hitting .388/.438/.698 with 10 doubles, a triple, eight homers, and 29 RBI.

Each and every time Turner and Murphy batter the Mets, the debate is sparked over why the Mets let both players walk in the first place.

The defenders of Sandy Alderson fall back on the position that no one could have reasonably foresaw the production from either one of these players.  In his four years with the Mets, Turner was a .265/.326/.370 hitter who was nothing more than a utility player.  Murphy was a much better hitter than Turner with the Mets hitting .288/.331/.424.  There were spurts with Murphy where he was a 2014 All Star and his 2015 postseason run, but you’d be hard pressed to argue he’d be a better hitter than Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano.

So yes, you could point to those stats and say no one could have foreseen Turner and Murphy becoming the best hitters at their position since leaving the Mets.  However, why is this is a defense of Sandy Alderson?

Isn’t Alderson tasked with identifying talented players and predicting who will improve and who will regress?  Shouldn’t it be part of his job to put coaches in place that best helps cultivate the talent on his roster?  More importantly, how could it be a General Manager whiffs on evaluating two players who were under his control?  Put another way, how is it that Sandy Alderson didn’t know what he had in Turner and Murphy?

For all the good Sandy has done, especially getting Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey, he has failed here.

We can make all the excuses we want for him, but it doesn’t change the fact he let two extremely talented players, who were with his team, slip out from under their fingers.  Even if you argue the other General Managers didn’t see this coming, those other General Managers did not have Turner and Murphy on their roster.

Worse yet, the Mets need help now at second and third base right now.  More than that, they need an answer for those positions going forward.  It’s time to stop giving Sandy a pass for his failure to see what Turner and Murphy would become.  After all, that is literally what his job is as a General Manager.

 

Different Pitchers Need Different Routines

Pitchers are built differently.  We need not look any further than R.A. Dickey who was born without a UCL.  With that in mind, why do teams and pitching coaches implement similar routines for everyone?  What works for Nolan Ryan could lead to him being able to pitch a record 27 major league seasons whereas Sandy Koufax couldn’t lift his arm after 12 years in the majors.

For a Mets rotation that has battled both season ending injuries and under-performing, the rotation has received advice from sources outside of the coaching staff to help them improve as pitchers.

Last year, Noah Syndergaard was going through a period of a dead arm where his issues with bone spurs might have been overblown.  In a four start stretch, he was 2-2 with a 5.23 ERA and a 1.548 WHIP.  The last start was particularly awful with him lasting just 4.2 inning.  The stretch would cause the Mets to hold him out of the AllStar Game.

Looking for answers, Syndergaard looked no further than Bartolo Colon for guidance.  The answer was to change how he was throwing bullpens.  As Syndergaard said, “I think I am going to take a page out of Bartolo’s playbook, he doesn’t throw bullpens, he takes it really light on his arm where every fifth day he feels as fresh as can be.”  (Kevin Kernan, New York Post).

With the new bullpen routine, Syndergaard returned to form.  He finished the season going 8-5 with a 2.65 ERA and a 1.244 WHIP.  He would pitch for the Mets in the Wild Card Game, and he would be great pitching seven brilliant shut out innings.

Like Syndergaard last year, Jacob deGrom was looking for answers.  He had consecutive outings where he couldn’t even pitch into the fifth inning.  He allowed 15 runs on 18 hits.  His respectable 3.23 ERA turned to a worrisome 4.75 ERA.  That’s when he began texting with John Smoltz.

The Mets ace came up with the idea to text Smoltz because he had overheard Smoltz talking about throwing two bullpens between starts.  The end result was a change in his routine with deGrom saying, “I talked to John Smoltz about it and he said he threw two bullpens for 10 years.  It helps me feel comfortable on the mound, keep a feel for my command.”

The routine paid immediate dividends with deGrom throwing the second complete game of his career.  He followed that up with two eight inning gems making him the first Mets pitcher since Johan Santana in 2010 to pitch eight plus innings in three consecutive games.  In the three starts, he has allowed just two earned runs on 12 hits.  He’s lowered his ERA over a full run.  He’s back to being Jacob deGrom.

Looking at it, both Syndergaard and deGrom are different pitchers with different issues.  Syndergaard found less bullpen sessions helped him whereas deGrom needed more.  It makes sense that different routines would work for different pitchers . . . for different people.  This should be a guiding principle for pitching coaches and Mets pitchers going forward.  It’s not the team’s plan that is best.  It’s the plan that fits you individually that is the way to go.

 

I Still Have Hope . . . Sandy Shouldn’t

After a sweep of the Giants in San Francisco, fans could allow themselves hope for the 2017 season again.  Yes, the Giants are a dreadful team, but there was a lot to like about the Mets in that series.  If you dig deeper, there is still things to like about this Mets team.

Jacob deGrom is in a stretch where he has gone at least eight innings in three consecutive starts.  This could be the best stretch of his career, which is certainly saying something.

Rafael Montero has now had three consecutive strong outings allowing just two earned runs over his last 14.1 inning pitched. In this stretch, he not only finally looks like a major league pitcher, he looks like a good major league pitcher.

Curtis Granderson has been the best hitting National League outfielder in the month of June (204 wRC+), and he’s been hitting .297/.408/.595 with 13 doubles, two triples, nine homers, and 23 RBI since May 1st.

Jay Bruce has been resurgent hitting .315/.358/.629 with four doubles, eight homers, and 17 RBI.  He’s on pace for his first 40 home run season and just his second 100 RBI season.

While acting unprofessional about the switch to second base in the clubhouse, Asdrubal Cabrera has been nothing but professional on the field going 7-14 in the series and playing a very good second base. 

Lucas Duda is flat out raking hitting .375/.474/.813 over the past week, and as we know when Duda gets hot like this, he can carry the team for a long stretch.  Just ask the 2015 Nationals.

Lost in all of that is Yoenis Cespedes being Cespedes, Addison Reed being a dominant closer, and Seth Lugo stabilizing the rotation.  There is even the specter of David Wright returning to the lineup.  When you combine that with the Mets schedule, this team is primed to reel off nine straight wins.

If the Mets were to win nine straight, they would be just one game under .500.  At that point, the Mets will be red hot heading to another big series in Washington.  Last time the teams played there, the Mets took two of three.  After that is a bad Cardinals team before the All Star Break.

Combine this hypothetical Mets run with a Rockies team losing six straight, and the Mets are right back in the mix with a bunch of teams hovering around .500 for a shot at the postseason.  Last year, the Mets were under .500 as late as August 19th, and they still made the postseason.  Throw in a potential Amed Rosario call up, and you really have things cooking.  Why not this year’s team?

Well, that’s easy.  The bullpen is a mess.  You have no idea when Noah Syndergaard and Neil Walker can return if they can return at all.  Jose Reyes is playing everyday.  The route to the postseason partially relies upon Montero being a good major league pitcher, and the Mets calling up Rosario.  At this point, those are two things no one should rely.

As a fan?  We should all enjoy the ride for as long as it will carry us.  As Mets fans, we have seen miracles.  We saw this team win in 1969.  We saw a team dead in the water in 1973 go all the way to game seven of the World Series.  We watched a Mookie Wilson grounder pass through Bill Buckner‘s legs.  We saw Mike Piazza homer in the first game in New York after 9/11.

As fans, we can hold out hope for the impossible.  We can dream.  Sandy doesn’t have that luxury.  He needs to look at the reality of the Mets situation and make the best moves he possibly can.  That includes trading Bruce, Duda, Granderson, and any other veteran who can get him a good return on the trade market.

That still shouldn’t stop us from dreaming.  Who knows?  Maybe Rosario, Gavin Cecchini, and Dominic Smith can led the Mets to the postseason after Sandy is done selling.