Betty's No Good Clothes Shop And Pancake House
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
  It's like Willie Randolph never left

Prior to about 4 PM today, I was not too worried about the Mets. Yes, they've gotten off to a slow start. But David Wright isn't going to strike out in a third of his at bats for the whole season. Oliver Perez is going to get his ERA under nine at some point. Getting a bunch of runners on base will eventually lead to a lot of runs being scored. But now I'm wondering if any of that matters given that the team's manager is clearly out of his mind.

Down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the bullpen having stolen another win from Johan Santana, the Met offense didn't give up. They loaded the bases. Sure, it took two walks and a hit by pitch, but they loaded the bases. With two outs, loaded bases and a one-run deficit, Ramon Castro was scheduled to bat. Castro had two hits in the game already and a career's worth of evidence that he is a decent hitter. Still, Jerry Manuel decided to pinch hit for Castro. Did he bring in the team leader in home runs, Carlos Delgado, to face Matt Lindstrom and his 100 MPH fastball? Or maybe the owner of a .433 OBP on the season, Luis Castillo? No, he had Omir Santos, who had been out in the bullpen warming up pitchers all day, run down to the dugout to hit for Castro.

Omir Santos has had a hot week. That hot week has included zero walks and a .280 OBP, but still. He's had a few hits and a grand slam. He's looked good. He's also spent eight years in the minor leagues, amassing a career OPS of .651. Omir Santos is not a great hitter. He is not better Ramon Castro. He is not the kind of guy who's likely to spend the whole day squatting in the bullpen and then come in and rope a game-winning single against a flamethrower like Lindstrom.

The idea to choose lesser players over Castro isn't a new one for the Mets and it didn't start with Jerry Manuel. But pinch hitting for him with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with another catcher on a day when he already has two hits is among the most baffling instances this side of Paul Lo Duca's entire 2007 season. Manuel's explanation is that Santos's "shorter swing" would give him a better shot against the hard-throwing Lindstrom. Yeah, I guess Castro's never had any success against any other hard throwers.

Now, a 9-12 record isn't the end of the world. And all of this could be forgotten if the Mets win two or three games in Philadelphia this weekend. But in the early going, Jerry Manuel's ability to determine who his best players are and allocate playing time accordingly is not inspiring a lot of confidence.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
  2009 Mets Preview: The Pitchers

The 2008 Mets' pitching and defense weren't as superlative as the offense, but they still bested the league average by allowing 4.41 runs per game (the average was 4.63). The team's 103 ERA+ ranked sixth in the league. This year's starting staff is basically the same as the group that did a solid job last year, aside from perhaps some improvement in the fifth starter role. The bullpen, however, has been almost completely remodeled and this could be the piece that puts the Mets over the top in the NL East.

Johan Santana
2008: 16-7, 2.54 ERA, 234.1 IP, 206 K, 63 BB

A starting pitcher can't do much more than lead the league in both ERA and innings pitched as Santana did in 2008. A bullpen that coughed up seven leads after he left probably cost him the Cy Young Award, but he was at least one of the three best pitchers in the league. The fact that he did all this while posting the lowest strikeout rate of his career is a bit puzzling and troubling and I don't really expect him to post another ERA under three, but I have little doubt that he'll fill the role of ace admirably once again.

Mike Pelfrey
2008: 13-11, 3.72 ERA, 200.2 IP, 110 K, 64 BB

Pelfrey is another starter whose record doesn't reflect how valuable he was in 2008. It was a breakthrough year for the former first round pick. His strikeout totals don't look too impressive but he and his sinker do a great job keeping the ball in the park as he allowed just twelve home runs all year. He may never match Santana's low ERA, but the twenty-five year old Pelfrey could be very valuable for years to come if he repeats last season's quality and durability.

John Maine
2008: 10-8, 4.18 ERA, 140 IP, 122 K, 67 BB

Maine lost significant time in 2008 to a bone spur in his right shoulder, but surgery has apparently taken care of the problem. He has yet to give the Mets a full, healthy season, which has contributed some to the team's September troubles. But when he does take the mound in good health he is a solid mid-rotation starter. He will only turn twenty-eight this year and doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his arm, having pitched his first full major league season in 2007. There is certainly a chance that he will put it all together for 200 innings and if he does that, the Mets' could have a rather formidable rotation.

Oliver Perez
2008: 10-7, 4.22 ERA, 194 IP, 180 K, 105 BB

I could probably just fill this space with a picture of myself shrugging my shoulders and looking confused. I like Oliver Perez and am glad he's back, but he can be quite maddening at times. At the very least I am pretty confident he'll pitch a good number of innings and strike out a bunch of people. Beyond that, who knows? Last year he led the majors in walks and he has been pretty awful in both the World Baseball Classic and Spring Training. On the other hand, he pitched better under pitching coach Dan Warthen last year than he had under Rick Peterson in the first half. In 2009 he will probably be the Met most likely to walk seven batters in an inning but also among the top two most likely to throw a no-hitter.

Livan Hernandez
2008 with the Twins and Rockies: 13-11, 6.05 ERA, 180 IP, 67 K, 43 BB

Well, one thing the Mets didn't have last year was a fifth starter who could reliably go out and pitch for six or seven innings without getting completely annihilated. So now they have that. Hernandez will do what he does, eat up a lot of innings while giving his team the chance to win 7-5. Hopefully Jonathan Niese will get on a roll at AAA at some point and save us from this.

That brings us to the bullpen. The only relievers who played a significant role in 2008 and are returning in 2009 are Pedro Feliciano and Brian Stokes. Feliciano somehow lost the ability to retire right-handed hitters in 2008, but he still did a good job against lefties and will likely do the same this year. Stokes had a solid year and should be okay in low leverage situations this year.

Bobby Parnell pitched a few innings in the majors last year but should have a bigger role this year. I was never too impressed with his numbers as a starter in the minors, but as a hard-throwing reliever, he may find his niche. Darren O'Day and Sean Green are a couple of newly acquired righties who should look pretty good by virtue of not being Aaron Heilman or Scott Schoeneweis.

And then there's the big two. JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez could give the Mets the best eighth and ninth inning combination in the league. The only question, aside from how to split up the proceeds from 70s buddy cop movie-themed "K-Rod and Putz" merchandise, is Putz's health. If he is recovered from the elbow troubles that bothered him last season, he could be the best reliever in the Mets' 'pen. Rodriguez won't save 62 games for the Mets, but he should give them the most reliable closer they've had in years.

All of this adds up to a team that should once again be very competitive in the National League East. The Phillies and Braves both have good teams, so I don't expect the Mets to have an easy road to the playoffs, but I feel good about this team. Last year, my official prediction was 95 wins. The Mets fell six short. But I am undeterred.

Offical prediction: 93 wins
Saturday, April 04, 2009
  2009 Mets Preview: The Hitters

Throughout the offseason a number of people have talked about the Mets' need to add a bat. But really, the fact that they scored five runs in the last three games of the season doesn't change the fact that the Mets had a great offense last year. The 2008 Mets tied for second in the National League in runs scored with 799, 4.93 per game, and ranked third in the league with an OPS+ of 100. And everyone who was any good last year is back this year. True, Luis Castillo and Brian Schneider are also back. But most of the important offensive players are young enough to be counted on to keep up their recent production. I certainly wouldn't have minded if the Mets had added a second baseman who can hit the ball more than 150 feet through the air, but this is not enough to doom the bats to mediocrity.

2008 NL average: .255/.328/.387
2008 Mets average: .249/324/.378

The 2009 Mets have the same crew of backstops as the 2008 team: one guy who can't hit and one guy who can't stay healthy. And even that was good enough to be about league average last year. Brian Schneider hit a little better than he had the previous couple of years while Ramon Castro saw his slugging percentage drop more than 100 points from his big 2007. Now, I wouldn't be shocked if Schneider slugged .300 or Castro came down with Ebola virus, but I think the more likely result is another adequate season from this position. Given the rarity of guys who could theoretically hit a home run on the Met bench, I would also like to see Jerry Manuel use Castro as a pinch hitter late in games once in a while, but I won't get my hopes up.

First Base
2008 NL: .277/.359/.479
2008 Mets: .271/.348/.497

Carlos Delgado is one of the big questions of 2009 given his age and the ridiculousness of his 2008 second half. But as you can see from the overall averages, first base was not a huge plus for the Mets in 2008, due in large part to Delgado's awful start. A thirty-seven year old Delgado may not be able to slug .606 like he did in the second half of last year, but he was so good in that second half that he can fall off somewhat and still be a very useful hitter. I would bet on him getting the 31 home runs he needs to reach 500 and if he does that, I think the Mets will have done well at this position.

Second Base
2008 NL: .271/.338/.408
2008 Mets: .258/.339/.338

So, even in his apparent postmortem state, Luis Castillo can draw a walk or two. You'd think that at some point pitchers would realize that Castillo hitting the ball is not a bad outcome for them and just throw it down the middle, but apparently they haven't yet. Of course, none of this matters because according to the talk out of Spring Training, Castillo is in The Best Shape Of His Life. I mean, I don't know how Met fans can hear that and still be worried. The fact that the Mets didn't bother to sign a decent backup at this position further supports the conclusion that Castillo is gonig to have a big year. Everyone should just calm down.

Third Base
2008 NL: .265/.335/.441
2008 Mets: .302/.390/.531

David Wright is only twenty-six! The only question is whether this will be the year he gets that elusive MVP award.

2008 NL: .276/.334/.404
2008 Mets: .292/.353/.466

Jose Reyes is only twenty-five! Okay, it would be nice if Reyes could keep up his tremendous production all the way through September at some point and finding a backup better than Alex Cora to give him a rest every once in a while might help with that. But really, with a left side of the infield like this, it's easy to understand why the Mets would want to just sit back and watch.

Left Field
2008 NL: .271/.350/.453
2008 Mets: .273/.334/.396

This is a position where the Mets are taking a pretty big chance in 2009. But, as you can see from last year's stats, there's not much place to go but up. Daniel Murphy's stats prior to last season do not look like those a future major league left fielder, but he hit over .300 with a good number of walks in both Binghamton and New York last year. It's reasonable to be wary that this might be a fluke, but watching Murphy last year and seeing his approach, which had him seeing 4.25 pitches per plate appearance, has me pretty optimistic. I don't expect he'll hit for a lot of power like a prototypical left fielder and his defense is still a work in progress, but I think he can put up a high on base percentage with enough doubles to keep the slugging respectable. At the start of Spring Training there was talk of platooning Murphy, but at this point Jerry Manuel seems to have fallen hard for the kid. Seriously, I think I saw him writing "Jerry Murphy" over and over in the margins of his notebook during a recent press conference.

Center Field
2008 NL: .267/.334/.426
2008 Mets: .283/.373/.486

Carlos Beltran: great center fielder or the greatest center fielder? No one in the NL is in either his league or the same ballpark. All signs point to him having another great all around offensive year and winning another Gold Glove (the deserved kind, not the Nate McLouth kind). Anyone who is unsatisfied with what the Mets are getting for their $119 million is not paying attention.

Right Field
2008 NL: .271/.344/.444
2008 Mets: .283/.347/.423

If Ryan Church could hit for a full season like he did for the first two months of last season, the Mets would really have something. But that's unrealistic. After his concussion problems last year and the way he failed to hit in the second half, it's hard to expect much from him. I do think he'll at least play good defense for as long as he's in the lineup. But with Fernando Tatis and now Gary Sheffield on the roster, the Mets have a few chances to get more offense out of this position than they did last year.

If Church does stay healthy and productive, the Mets might have the best bench they've had in a few years, at least offensively. Tatis's .267/.369/.484 line last year was pretty surprising, but he's only thirty-four. If he can get regular work backing up all four corners, he could be a big contributor again. Sheffield may not have much left, but for the league minimum, I am glad Omar Minaya gave him a shot to try to prove otherwise. Those two along with Castro could give the Mets solid power off the bench. Jeremy Reed should provide a little outfield defense once in a while. And Alex Cora can probably stand at second base or shortstop occasionally without too much trouble.

Altogether, this looks like one of the top few offenses in the league to me. There's no way to know how Citi Field will play, but if it's no more offense-dampening than Shea, I think this team should score in the neighborhood of eight hundred runs again. If they can save about fifteen of those for the final weekend, all the better.
Disseminating descriptions and accounts of New York Mets games without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball or the New York Mets since 2003.

Location: Hatboro, Pennsylvania, United States
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