Ricky Bones

Should Jeurys Familia Return To Closer’s Role?

With each appearance, it is becoming increasingly clear the Mets can no longer trust Edwin Diaz in the closer’s role until he figures things out. This isn’t even hypothetical. This has been how the Mets have operated with him not getting one save opportunity in August.

You cannot blame the Mets with how Diaz has pitched. This is the worst he has pitched in the Majors. He has already tied a career worst with five blown saves. The 11 homers and 49 hits against him this year are also a career worst. His six losses ties a career worst. His current 5.60 ERA, 74 ERA+, 4.48 FIP, 1.467 WHIP, 9.8 H/9, 2.2 HR/9, and 3.4 BB/9 are all on pace for career worsts for what is increasingly looking like a career worst season.

As alluded to earlier, the Mets have responded to Diaz’s struggles by removing him as the full-time closer. In fact, the Mets last save opportunity, the only one in August, went to Seth Lugo. Lugo and Diaz have split the last four save opportunities.

With respect to Lugo, the natural inclination is to just make him the closer. However, by doing so, the Mets are limiting what makes him great. As evidenced on Saturday, he is someone who can come into a game and give you six big outs. During the course of the season, the Mets have deployed him anywhere from the fifth inning to the ninth inning.

Lugo’s versatility is what makes him such a big weapon out of the bullpen. By saving him for the eighth or ninth, you are severely limiting how you use your bullpen. It also leaves the Mets trusting lesser relievers in the highest leverage situations in the game. That’s not how to best deploy Lugo or to handle the bullpen.

That said, Lugo is the only reliever the Mets should trust in a big spot and/or to close games. If the Mets decide to install him as a closer, the question becomes who closes those games he’s not available because he just pitched over an inning the previous night. Seeing what we saw this weekend, maybe the answer to that question is Jeurys Familia.

Like Diaz, Familia has been having a career worst season, and we were wondering if he would ever return to form. In order to help him, the Mets went so far as to bring Ricky Bones back as the Mets bullpen coach. The thing about bringing Bones back is it is apparently working.

Since June 20, Familia has made 15 appearances. Over that stretch, Familia has had 12 scoreless appearances, and he has allowed fewer than two runs 14 times. In August, Familia has not allowed a run in five of his six appearances, and he is striking out 12.7 batters per nine. Over this stretch, batters are hitting .105/.261/.263.

He has not blown a lead since Bones rejoined the Mets staff. This is partially the result of his pitching in lower leverage situations, but it should be noted he has converted his last two hold opportunities. In a four game July stretch from July 16 – July 21, he appeared in four close games, and he allowed no runs over 2.1 innings against the Twins and Giants. He had not appeared in a pressure situation again until Sunday.

In that game, Familia struck out the side against the Nationals. It wasn’t just the results but how he performed. Familia had his swagger back, and he would even break out his old quick pitch. This was an indication Familia felt like the Familia of old. Maybe like many closers, he needs that pressure to be his best on the mound. That Familia put together perhaps the best two year stretch any Mets closer has ever had. It was a sign he may be ready to resume that role again.

Is this an overreaction to a small sample size? Absolutely. That said, the Mets are in a position where they need to be riding the hot hand, and right now, among relievers on the Mets roster with closing experience, Familia is arguably the hot hand.

If you have a game on the line, the Mets need to and should be going to Lugo. With the way he has been pitching lately, he is the best reliever in baseball. The Mets problem is they cannot keep going to Lugo time and again. It’s not possible. They need to find an answer for those nights Lugo isn’t available. With the way things are shaking out right now, Familia may just be the person who should be closing those other games.

 

Mets Significantly Improved With Brad Brach And Joe Panik

This past week the New York Mets could not bring themselves to trust Donnie Hart or Chris Mazza to close out a five run ninth inning lead against the worst team in the National League. There were two opportunities to use them, and the Mets passed each time. More than anything, this was a sign the Mets were 1-2 arms short in the bullpen and something needed to be done.

With Cody Allen, Brad Brach, and Greg Holland available, the Mets opted to sign Brach, who was arguably the best choice of the three.

Yes, Brach has walked an inordinate amount of batters this year. Part of that is the fact Willson Contreras has been one of the wort pitch framers in all of baseball with a -8.5 FRAA. This follows a year in which he was a -15.4 FRAA. Yes, Wilson Ramos has been bad behind the dish, but his -7.1 FRAA is still an improvement. With Ramos being better and Tomas Nido being a good framer, Brach will be getting some help on that front.

More than the walks, Brach still has the ability to get batters out. He has struck out 10.6 per nine which is is best mark since his 2016 All Star season. As noted by Baseball Savant, there are issues like barrels and exit velocity, but there are other factors like his fastball velocity and spin rate which provide hope.

On the hope front, it should be noted Brach had a very similar season last year with his struggling with the Orioles. He was moved to the Braves as the trade deadline, and he turned things back on after the trade. In his 27 games for the Braves, he was 1-2 with a 1.52 ERA, 1.310 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, and an 8.4 K/9.

Overall, by career ERA, August has historically Brach’s second best month of the season. If that proves true, and his career worst .375 BABIP stabilize (.291 career BABIP), things are really looking up for Brach, and that is before he gets to make adjustments working with Mickey Callaway, Phil Regan, and Ricky Bones.

At a minimum, Brach is another arm to the equation, and he is likely one who will be used unlike Mazza, who is still on the roster, or Hart, who was optioned to Syracuse. Unlike those other two relievers, Brach has Major League success, and with that comes some hope for upside.

The other player the Mets added is Joe Panik, who fills a need a second base with Robinson Cano likely done for the season with a torn hamstring.

Now, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Panik has not been good this year. In fact, this is the worst season of his career by any measure. He has a career worst batting average, SLG, OPS, OPS+, wRC+, and WAR. With his having a -0.4 WAR and a 69 wRC+, you can understand the Giants trading for Scooter Gennett and releasing Panik.

Even with Panik not being good enough for a Giants team who held onto Madison Bumgarner with the hopes of getting a Wild Card spot in Bruce Bochy‘s last season, it does not mean Panik is not an upgrade over what the Mets currently have.

The Mets current second base options are worse than Panik at the plate. Adeiny Hechavarria (62 wRC+) and Luis Guillorme (2 wRC+) have been worse at the plate. You could argue putting Jeff McNeil at second base is a better move, but Juan Lagares (40 wRC+) and Aaron Altherr (-33 wRC+) are probably even worse options than Hechavarria, Guillorme, or Panik.

Arguably, you get more defense at second with Hechavarria (1 DRS) and Guillorme (1 DRS), but Panik is no slouch. He is a former Gold Glove winner, and he has a 0 DRS. Ultimately, when you take the combination of the defense and the bat, Panik is a steadier presence at second.

It should also be noted like with Brach, Panik is historically very good in August with his career triple slash line being better in August than any other month. While it has been just five games, that has proven true so far this year. Overall, Panik finishes seasons well, and the Mets need someone who can finish this season well at second to help propel them into the postseason.

Ultimately, bringing Brach and Panik back home on the roster makes the Mets a significantly improved team. That’s the case even with Brach and Panik not being very good players this year. In some ways, you can treat this as an indictment of the Mets. However, it’s not about that. Right now, the only thing we should care about is the Mets improving. With Brach and Panik, the Mets are improved. With them being improved, they’re in a better position to make the postseason.

Chris Flexen and Eric Hanhold Among Five Relievers Mets Should Consider Calling Up

For most the season, the Mets have been cycling through relievers trying to find the right fit for the last spot in the bullpen. Their inability to find the right fit has cost them a few games in what has been a very critical stretch of the season.

Chris Mazza couldn’t hold down a lead in San Francisco. Tyler Bashlor put a winnable game out of reach in Pittsburgh. That’s just two recent games, and there are countless others. As a result of different relievers failing, the Mets continue to cycle through them trying to find the right fit. Part of this process is the Mets having traded away Wilmer Font and releasing Hector Santiago. The team has also designated five different relievers for assignment. Still, there are some interesting options available.

Chris Flexen has made the transition to the bullpen this year after having struggled as a starter. In his brief five game stint as a pure reliever in the Mets bullpen, Flexen allowed two runs on four hits in 6.1 innings pitched. After one poor outing against the Braves, he was sent back down to Triple-A.

Since being sent down to Syracuse, Flexen has had a 6.94 ERA in 11 appearances, but six of those appearances were scoreless. Perhaps more important that the results is Flexen’s control. The pitcher who has always had issues with control threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes resulting in his striking out struck out 12 (9.2 K/9) with just one walk in 11.2 inning pitched. If Flexen is able to sustain this level of control, he could be a real improvement in the bullpen.

Looking deeper at the 40 man roster, Eric Hanhold has had a 1.47 ERA since June 20. Over that stretch, he is 2-0 with two saves, and he is holding opposing batters to a .203/.282/.313 batting line. This recent run led to his being promoted again to Triple-A Syracuse. His second stint in Syracuse is going better than his first with him allowing just one earned over 4.0 innings.

In terms of his stuff, Matt Eddy of Baseball America said Hanhold “has a potent power fastball-slider mix that could play in a high-leverage role.” For Hanhold, he doesn’t need to be that yet. Rather, the Mets just need another reliable arm, and he certainly has the stuff to fulfill that role.

Like Flexen and Hanhold, Brooks Pounders has had success for the Mets at the Major League level. In his seven appearances for the Mets in June, he was 1-0 with a 6.14 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and a 6.1 K/9. Looking deeper into those appearances, Pounders had six scoreless appearances.

His lone blow-up was his June 24 appearance against the Phillies. Notably, four of the five runs he allowed was in his second inning of work. Part of the focus on that appearance should include his rebounding three days later against the same Phillies team with a scoreless appearance. Looking at that, you could make the argument he should be recalled now. The argument against that is his struggles in Syracuse once he was sent down. In 10 appearances since his demotion, he has a 7.82 ERA allowing batters to hit .310/.410/.528 off of him.

Looking beyond the 40 man roster, there are some choices, but each of those options has their own limitations. The Mets are also further hampered by the fact Ryley Gilliam is on the injured list since July 12.

Perhaps the top option from players not on the 40 man roster is Paul Sewald. Sewald was on the 40 man roster earlier this year, and he pitched well in his four appearances in the Majors this year. In his 38 appearances for Syracuse, Sewald is 3-3 with a 3.61 ERA, 1.437 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and an 8.7 K/9. Overall, in terms of Sewald, he is not the most exciting of choices. However, it should be noted he has shown a knack at the Major League level to be a good long man who can both eat up innings and keep the Mets in games. Given the other Mets relievers failures on that front, Sewald’s ability should not be discounted.

The other reliever not on the 40 man roster who stands out is Steve Villines. This year, Villines has dominated Double-A with a 1.11 ERA in 22 appearances. However, he has struggled in Triple-A Syracuse with a 6.75 ERA, 1.938 WHIP, and a 1.50 K/BB in 13 appearances.

Two things to keep in mind with Villines. First, the sidewinder has fared well against right-handed batters limiting them to a .245/.286/.309 batting line. However, he has struggled against left-handed batters with them hitting .253/.371/.437 batting line. With those splits, you could see the Mets benefiting from pairing him with Luis Avilan much like the 2006 Mets did with Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano.

The one caution the Mets should have with Villines is his walk rate has increased and strikeout rate has decreased as he has progressed to each level of the minors. With the aforementioned 1.50 K/BB in Syracuse, it should give the Mets pause before promoting him to the Majors in the middle of a chase for the Wild Card.

Overall, it would appear the Mets best options at the moment are Flexen or Hanhold. That is at least the case while Jacob Rhame is on the Injured List. In the end, it may just be the case the Mets need to actually pick a reliever and let them work closely with Mickey Callaway, Phil Regan, and Ricky Bones to figure things out at the Major League level to permit them an opportunity improve and contribute at the Major League level.

20/20 Hindsight: Mets Look Like The Arnold Schwarzenegger Twin

The Mets had a two game set against the Twins as they continued their nine game road trip where they hoped to possibly bring themselves back into the Wild Card race:

1. Amed Rosario is playing the best baseball of his MLB career. Not only has he been red hot in July, but he has also played to a 2 DRS at short since the All Star Break. It’s a small sample size for sure, but it’s all a very encouraging sign.

2. Another good sign from the middle infield is Robinson Cano hitting again. His July numbers are reminiscent of the Cano of old, and like we saw on Tuesday, even when he’s not hitting, he can still drive in a run with an out.

3. Michael Conforto seems to have shaken off the effects of his concussion earlier in the year. In addition to his hitting like Conforto again, he made a terrific play in center field to rob Nelson Cruz of an extra base hit.

4. People calling Conforto overrated or a bust absolutely know nothing about baseball. It should be noted before his concussion, Conforto was hitting ..271/.406/.521 and in the 39 games after leading into the break he hit .217/.309/.420. We should be highlighting with Jason Bay and Ryan Church the Mets have a putrid history of dealing with players with concussions and not how a player struggles after suffering one.

5. Steven Matz‘s final line looked much better than how he pitched. He was hit hard by the Twins, and he was really lucky to allow just two earned over four. Still, it’s a positive step from where he was a month ago, so the hope is he can build off of it. Note, the use of the word hope and not expect.

6. Like Matz, Edwin Diaz has been hit really hard of late, and he is escaping trouble. While he converted that save on Tuesday, that was far too much of a high wire act, and it’s questionable how long the Mets can hang with these 20+ pitch innings and his walking the tightrope.

7. Even with Diaz allowing lasers, the bullpen has been MUCH better of late. After a 7.53 bullpen ERA in June, the team has a 3.78 July bullpen ERA which is tied for 10th best in the majors. This is partially the result of the Mets leaning on Seth Lugo perhaps more than they should and the return of Justin Wilson from the IL.

8. It looks like Ricky Bones helped fixed Jeurys Familia. He had two big and important appearances. We also saw him throwing that 99 MPH sinker again. Maybe this was all just mechanical with him, and that may or may not have been attributable to the shoulder issues. In any event, Familia finally looks like he is back on track.

9. We only get small snapshots of teams in Interleague Play, especially in two game sets, but it’s surprising to see this Twins team being atop the AL Central. Is this the result of the AL depth being that bad, or was this just a bad series? In any event, you take a two game sweep against a good team.

10. That six run inning against the Twins was huge. It took what could have been a tightrope walk with a bullpen leaned on heavily a bit of late, and it allowed the Mets to go to Chris Mazza to eat up two innings. That is a huge development which cannot be undersold.

11. While Dominic Smith hit the go-ahead pinch hit three run homer, it was Pete Alonso‘s 474 foot blast anyone could talk about. Certainly, that’s all Steve Gelbs wanted to talk about with Smith in the postgame. That and his striking out against a position player. To that end, why does everyone find Gelbs so charming? I don’t get it.

12. Gary Discarcina not sending Rosario to go try to get that inside-the-park homer was no fun at all.

13. It is really surprising the Mets would catch Wilson Ramos in a day game after a night game given his injury history and the fact the Mets were about to get on a flight to go to San Francisco after the game. You have to wonder how much the wear and tear here will linger.

14. Mets need to watch their usage of Lugo. As the pressure has ratcheted up a bit, they keep going to the whip there. When they did that with Robert Gsellman earlier in the year, they lost him. Really, at some point, the Mets need to learn this lesson before they lose a key piece.

15. Right now, you should feel good about the Mets. Whether we should feel good a week from now will depend on how they play.

16. With a 0.2 WAR, Wilmer Font was the best performing player Brodie Van Wagenen obtained via trade, and he was designated for assignment and traded to the Blue Jays for cash considerations. This is both hilarious and a fine example of how completely inept Van Wagenen has been as the Mets General Manager.

17. Mets fans seem to want to defend the team on designating Travis d’Arnaud for assignment much like how they defend the team’s decisions on Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, Hansel Robles, Collin McHugh, and others. Really, at what point do fans stop defending the team and just start asking why the Jeff Wilpon led team continues to make poor assessments and decisions like these?

18. Zack Wheeler getting hurt pretty much means the Mets need to hold onto him and offer him a qualifying offer because it’s doubtful the Mets are going to get a return commensurate with the comp pick they would receive if Wheeler rejected the offer and signed elsewhere.

19. People need to stop making luxury tax threshold excuses for the Mets for their building a team in 2020. Remember, that includes $15 million of David Wright‘s contract which is covered by insurance and has been settled by the Mets. Another $29.5 million is from Yoenis Cespedes who has part of his contract covered by insurance. Finally, $12 million of Jacob deGrom‘s $25 million is deferred. The Mets can and should go over the luxury tax threshold next year if they really want to compete.

20. Now that this series is over, the Mets play 20 straight games against teams with a losing record. After that, they have three against the Phillies, who currently hold the second Wild Card spot. If you have hopes the Mets can make a run, there it is.

Jeff Wilpon Needs To Speak About What’s Going On With His Mets

The New York Mets are five games under .500, which is the lowest point they’ve been at any point this season. As with most teams under .500, everything seems in disarray. This is a pattern for the Mets franchise which exists even in good times. Still, things have been at a higher level of dysfunction lately.

Mickey Callaway didn’t take kindly to what appeared to be an innocuous comment from Newsday’s Tim Healey. The frustration coming from a tough loss, having to answer difficult questions, or whatever else is related to being the Mets manager came flying out. Callaway finally snapped and directed it at Healey, which he shouldn’t have done.

Things were heightened when Jason Vargas purportedly to knock out Healey, and he needed to be restrained by Carlos Gomez and an injured Noah Syndergaard.

This was an embarrassing course of events which were made all the more difficult when Callaway had to speak with reporters three times before getting the words which people wanted to hear from him out. As bad as you may want to characterize what Callaway did or did not say, it’s nowhere near are terse and sarcastic as what Vargas had to offer:

It should be noted here Callaway was at least man enough to speak with Healey personally and offer an apology. Nowhere was it reported Vargas did the same. Despite that, both were not suspended and were fined $10,000.

Of course, with this being the Mets, that’s not enough. During the game, we were reminded just how bad a job Brodie Van Wagenen has done as the General Manager. Jay Bruce would hit a pinch hit home run against Brooks Pounders, a scrap heap guy Van Wagenen had to obtain to try to piece together what was an incomplete bullpen to begin the year. That homer essentially put the game away for good.

In that game, there would be 20 runs scored and 34 hits. The only position player in either starting lineup not to register a hit? Robinson Cano. Cano was 0-for-5 dropping his stat line to .223/.270/.361. So far, he has a -0.8 WAR in year one of a five year $100 million obligation to the 36 year old second baseman.

At the same time, we have seen Edwin Diaz have the worst year of his career while Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn are progressing well in the Mariners system. According to MLB Pipeline, Kelenic is the 24th best prospect in all of baseball, and Dunn is the 67th best.

That means if Van Wagenen did not make the trade, right now, the Mets would have five top 100 prospects (Andres Gimenez, Ronny Mauricio, Anthony Kay) with more on the horizon. That means the Mets farm system would have been the envy of everyone, and the team could have sold REAL hope for an under .500 fourth place team.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mike Puma of the New York Post wrote an article alleging Van Wagenen called the Mets to instruct Callaway to remove Jacob deGrom from a game. The reporting has been confirmed many times over with the allegations going much further than this being an isolated event. On the topic, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post had this to say:

I asked the question to Brodie Van Wagenen this way, a few hours before the Mets would prove to be a splendid tonic for the reeling Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in serving as 13-7 patsies, a few minutes after he feigned ignorance at a subtler version of the inquiry:

“Do you tell Mickey what to do?”

*  *  *  *  *

So I asked. And this is what Van Wagenen said: “This organization is about teamwork and collaboration and the ability to trust the manager on an everyday basis.”

This is what he didn’t say: “No.”

It wouldn’t be until after the game Van Wagenen would seek to deny the reports. When he did, he would come across as less than convincing.

This is all coming off the heels of the team scapegoating both Dave Eiland and Chuck Hernandez while replacing them with an 82 year old Phil Regan and their bringing back Ricky Bones less than a year after he was removed from the position. We’ve also seen Travis d’Arnaud and Keon Broxton scapegoated this year.

On top of all of this, Brandon Nimmo went from neck pain we shouldn’t worry too much about to a bulging disc he tried to play through (both in the majors and in a rehab stint) to being shut down. Jed Lowrie has yet to play this season. Overall, the handling of the medical situations has continued to be inept, and the offseason acquisitions have mostly been a disaster.

At this point, no one has any credibility, and people have long since stopped wanting to hear what Callaway and Van Wagenen have to say.

The Mets have been embarrassed by the actions of his manager and fifth starter. There’s a potential scandal brewing with the General Manager allegedly violating MLB rules. There’s the continued problems with handling injuries, and the payroll remains an issue. Fans are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the team, and they’re staying away from the ballpark. Overall, the team is five games under .500, and they are closer to last place than the division or a Wild Card.

This is the exact time Jeff Wilpon needs to speak with the media. He needs to show everyone the team is not dysfunctional. He needs to support his embattled General Manager and manager. He needs to provide a vision for the future; one which can get the fans reengaged. In the end, this team is run by Jeff Wilpon, and he is the one who has to be accountable for the decisions made.

Speaking now is what a true leader would do. When put that way, we shouldn’t be holding our breath waiting for him to be accountable for the decisions made by him and the people he put in charge.

Phil Regan’s And Ricky Bones Job Now Tenuous

Before the game last night, the Mets fired pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez because somehow they were not able to make a bullpen full of names like Drew Gagnon, Tim Peterson, Jacob Rhame, Hector Santiago, and whatever else Triple to Four-A relievers Brodie Van Wagenen supplied to create a viable bullpen.

This meant Phil Regan was once again a Major League pitching coach, and we saw the return of Ricky Bones as the bullpen coach. Their first duty was to make Walker Lockett a viable starter in a game against the Chicago Cubs. It worked for exactly two innings.

Entering the bottom of the third, the Mets had a 3-0 lead. The first run came when Carlos Gomez killed a rally by grounding into a double play with the bases loaded and no outs. The other two came against another epic Pete Alonso homer. It would prove to not be nearly enough.

In the bottom of the third, the only out Lockett would get was on a sacrifice bunt by the opposing pitcher Tyler Chatwood. It was an ugly six run inning which included five hits, two walks, and just further ugly play behind the plate by Wilson Ramos with a passed ball and wild pitch. At that point, it was 6-3 Cubs with the Mets having no real shot at a comeback.

The final score was 7-4 because Javier Baez homered off Robert Gsellman in the seventh, and Todd Frazier homered in the ninth off Adbert Alzolay. Speaking of Alzolay for a second, he was absolutely electric when he piggybacked this start allowing just that homer to Frazier while walking two and striking out five.

When you looked at these teams, you saw the Cubs as the team with a stable organization who was willing to spend and had a stable plan. When the Cubs needed to win a World Series, they hired Theo Epstein and not a former agent who was way in over his head. This is how you get the Cubs winning 90+ games every year, and you have the Mets falling apart since 2015.

Game Notes: New pitching coach Phil Regan is 82 years old. To put in perspective how old he is, he pitched against Ted Williams, and he was teammates with Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax and Al Kaline. Another interesting note is he was part of the 1969 Cubs team who lost the division to the Miracle Mets.

Late Dom Smith Should Now Lose First Base Competition

When Mickey Callawaybecame the new manager of the Mets, every player got a bit of a clean slate. Sure, the front office as well as holdovers like Ricky Bones and Glenn Sherlock could probably Callaway with pertinent information, but at the end of the day, Callaway was going to meet each player, see their work and preparation, and then he could make his own determination about a player.

This was really important for a young player like Dominic Smith.

There is no doubt Smith is talented, but he has shown some maturity issues. Despite the team stressing his physique to him, he put on 20 pounds or so during the season. That was after he had reported to Spring Training last year in terrific shape.

When he did get the call-up last year, as reported by Abbey Mastracco of nj.com, he had been late to the park on more than one occasion. This led to veteran players “reprimanding” him for his behavior.

This was all part of a difficult first experience in the Majors which saw Smith hit .198/.262/.395 in 49 games. In total, he had a -1.2 WAR.

If there was anyone who needed a fresh start, it was Smith. Initially, he made the most of it by losing more than 30 pounds before the start of Spring Training. He reported to Spring Training early. He was doing all the right things.

He was having the type of Spring where he earned a chance to show the Mets he deserved at least a long look this Spring. He was starting to give the Mets to at least consider having him be the Opening Day first basemen. Whether as a reward for his dedication or not, he was going to get a chance right away with his being named as the first baseman in the Mets first Spring Training game.

Smith would be late to the ballpark before the first game.

THE FIRST GAME!

Fair or not, this was a player who had to prove to the Mets he was dedicated and mature enough to be a Major Leaguer, and the first chance he gets, he fails to show up on time.

He left Callaway no choice but to bench him. That left Smith watching on as five time All Star and a former teammate of CallawayAdrian Gonzalezget a couple of at-bats as the DH. He also looked on as Peter Alonso take his place in the lineup.

Smith watched the player taking his spot on the Opening Day roster, and he watched the prospect who has begun breathing down his neck as the Mets first baseman of the future.

Smith knew he had an uphill climb to surpass Gonzalez. He had to know Alonso has been making a name for himself. It shouldn’t be lost on Smith that while the organization has concerns about his power, Alonso has it in spades.

Despite knowing all of this, Smith failed to show up on time to the first game of Spring Training. With that, he’s shown he’s not yet mature enough to be entrusted with the first base job. Not yet.

And that right there is why he’s already lost the first base competition.

Mets Pitching Coach List Should Include Ruben Niebla

Now that Mickey Callaway was named as the 21st manager in Mets history, both he and the Mets now begin the process of building a coaching staff around him. That process includes hiring a new pitching coach to replace Dan Warthen.

So far, we have heard the Mets are considering a number of names including Dave Righetti, Dave Eiland, and Chris Bosio.  Other candidates who were considered were Mike Maddux and Jim Hickey, who have taken jobs elsewhere, and Ricky Bones, who is rumored to be joining Alex Cora‘s staff in Boston.

The Mets have certainly compiled an impressive list.  However, one name is missing from that list whom the Mets should consider – Ruben Niebla.

In 2013, Callaway and Niebla would swap roles for the Indians. With Callaway being promoted to become the Major League pitching coach, Niebla would become the minor league pitching coordinator after serving as the Indians interim pitching coach. As a tandem, the two have helped build the impressive Indians pitching staff.

While Callaway has earned notoriety for the development of the staff, Niebla has done his part with a staff that includes Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

With respect to Kluber, Niebla is the one who was pinpointed for taking the pitcher to the next level. The moment began when Niebla one day said to Kluber, “We want you to try throwing a two-seamer.” (Washington Post).

From that point forward, Kluber’s stock rose, and he’s now a perennial Cy Young contender. That moment began when Niebla not only made the suggestion, but also showed Kluber his preferred grip.

In fact, if you look at the Indians staff, many throw Niebla’s two seamer. That two seamer has helped the Indians post the best team ERA in the majors.

If this pitch is truly responsible for part of the success of these pitchers, we may soon hear the Niebla two seamer in the same breath of the “Warthen Slider.”  For that to happen, Niebla needs a chance.

As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Niebla has drawn interest in a major league coaching position. While the Mets have not been linked to Niebla, they very well might soon be with the hiring of Callaway.

Certainly, there’s already a level of report between Callaway and Niebla. The question is whether it’s enough for Callaway to want to bring him aboard. It’s also a question if the Mets want to give him that job.

It also should not be discounted that the Indians may be interested in Niebla too. Certainly, he and bullpen coach Jason Bere should be in the mix with John Farrell to replace Callaway.

Overall, it seems like Niebla may very well get a job as a pitching coach this offseason. With the Mets hiring Callaway, presumably in large part due to his work with Indians pitchers, the Mets should take a long look at the coach who helped Callaway make those pitchers so successful.

Editor’s Note: This was first published on MMO

Time to Get Warthen Some Help

The Mets hired Kevin Long as their hitting coach to help a team that wasn’t hitting. Subsequently, they hired Pat Roessler as the assistant hitting coach. Roessler was hired because of his previous relationship with Long. So far, they’ve worked extremely well together. 

Long and Roessler work hand-in-hand to help the Mets batters. For example, they worked in tandem to help Lucas Duda hit lefties last year. It’s helpful to have another voice to bounce ideas of of when trying to help a hitter. When your message isn’t getting through, it’s helpful to have another voice to help deliver the same message. Having both coaches this allows Long to watch video between innings to see both his pitcher’s mechanics and how the Mets’ batters are getting pitched. It also allows Long to delegate Roessler to work with the pitchers on their hitting. 

Perhaps it’s time the Mets add an assistant pitching coach to the staff. 

This is no slight against Dan Warthen.  He is in charge of what is the best pitching staff in baseball. He has not shown anything to lead you to believe his message isn’t getting through or that he should be replaced. With that said, wouldn’t it be beneficial for Warthen to have an assistant coach he trusts and feels comfortable working with help with the pitching staff?

Let’s take Matt Harvey‘s start on Saturday. For the first 4.1 innings, he dominated. Then the wheels came off. For his part, Harvey believes he’s struggled with his command since the season began.  As reported by Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, Warthen believes it was as simple as Harvey falling into bad habits in a pressure filled inning:

“You get into a pressure situation, you do fall back into bad habits,” Warthen said.  “Essentially, that’s what happened today. This has been Matt’s biggest bugaboo since I’ve had him.” 

There are two important things to note here. First, Warthen knows the problem and the solution. Second, Warthen doesn’t know quite how to get Harvey to stop falling into the trap. Quite possibly, this is where a second voice could come into play. 

One thing that can’t be discounted is perhaps Harvey was just lucky for the first 4.1 innings. For a player who averages 96+ MPH with his fastball, he was sitting at 94 MPH against the Indians. This is a player who averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine coming into the season. This year he’s at 4.7, and his season high was the four he had against the Indians. It’s possible the mechanical quirk might’ve been perceptible to an assistant coach watching video in the clubhouse as opposed to a pitching coach watching from the dugout. 

Now, the Mets do have a bullpen coach in Ricky Bones. However, he can only help so much. The bullpen coach primarily works with relievers and spends the game in the bullpen. Before and after games, he can be a sounding board for Warthen and/or another voice to help a struggling pitcher if needed. With that said, Bones job as the bullpen coach prevents him from running into the clubhouse to watch video of a pitcher’s last half inning to see the pitcher’s mechanics and his batters are approaching their at bats. 

That job would best be done by an assistant pitching coach. 

There’s another factor to keep in mind. Warthen is a 63 year old pitching coach with bad hips. He missed some time last year after being brought to the hospital with an accelerated heartbeat. No one knows how much longer he will want to or be able to stay on as the Mets pitching coach. As the organization clearly thinks very highly of Warthen, wouldn’t it make sense for him to groom his successor?  

It’s time for the Mets to add an assistant pitching coach.