Wednesday, February 11, 2015

N.Y. Mets: Trucking Six Years of Baggage Down I-95

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Loaded up and truckin' on southbound I-95

2015: Pre-Season
Pitchers/Catchers - Feb. 19
Position Players Due - Feb. 24
1st Full Squad Workout - Feb. 26
Grapefruit League Opener - Mar. 4

NEW YORK METS: The past 6 years have been trying times in Flushing.  So were the 6 years following the infamous Tom Seaver trade.  I've lived through both periods.  As Yogi once said, it's been like deja-vu all over again.

The Resurrection That Was: 1984

Over the last 6 years, the Mets have averaged 75.5 victories per season.  Their worse mark came in 2009 when they posted a 70-92 record.  Last season, they tied their best mark over that span with a 79-83 record.  That's a net improvement of 9 games, or, a gain of 1.8 victories per season.

Earlier this winter, Sandy Alderson expressed his belief the Mets can improve by 10 games this upcoming season and reach 89 victories.  That's a more realistic expectation than last winter's desire to win 90 games only because several young players gained valuable experience, and hopefully other key players have sufficiently healed.

Even I will admit the upcoming 2015 season finally brings with it realistic expectations for competitiveness after a long deconstruction, and reconstruction period undertaken by Sandy Alderson.  I would argue the rebuilding is still ongoing, but most have had it with excuses, double talk, broken promises, and particularly, finances.

There's a sense the Mets are close.  Close to what is still debatable, but, fans want wins.

To that regard, there's a small measure of good news.

With just 2 more victories last season, the Mets could have reached the elusive .500 plateau for the first time since 2008.  With just slightly better play against the Nationals and/or Giants, that could have been achieved.  Or, instead of blowing 22 saves last season, they could have limited themselves to just 20 blown saves, or this, or that.  Otherwise, the Mets posted a .500 record against the rest of the National League.

The Mets finished 17 games behind the Nationals in the N.L. East last season, while the Giants and Pirates earned Wild Cards with 88 victories.

I would rather the Mets put their minds and efforts towards achieving a .500 record first, but it seems 89 victories is indeed key for a shot at post-season play.

Within Mets history, there's precedent for such a turnaround.

It took Frank Cashen 4 seasons, between 1980 through 1983, to build the Mets into a 90-win competitor in year five.  Frank Cashen benefited from players left behind by Joe McDonald, that he either utilized or traded to improve the team.

Sandy Alderson has likewise spent the last 4 seasons, between 2011 and 2014, rebuilding the Mets, and is now heading into season five.  Like Cashen, Sandy Alderson is benefiting from players left behind by Omar Minaya, by either utilizing them, or trading some in an effort to improve the team.

The Mets won 69 games in 1983, then took a major step forward in 1984 with 90 victories.  We're only asking for half of that in 2015.

Compared to the Mets present situation, the '84 team was defensively superior up the middle with Mike Fitzgerald behind the plate, Jose Oquendo and Wally Backman at middle infield, and with Mookie Wilson in center.  Keith Hernandez had no equal at first, Darryl Strawberry sported the league's best arm in right, and Hubie Brooks was a very good third baseman.  If anyone, George Foster was the lone weak link in left.

Foster more than made up for any defensive shortcomings with his bat.  The middle of the '84 line-up featured Keith Hernandez (.311, 15 HR, 94 RBI), Darryl Strawberry (26 HR, 97 RBI), Hubie Brooks (.283, 16 HR, 73 RBI), and at 34-years old, George Foster turned in 24 HR and 86 RBI.  Between Mookie Wilson and Wally Backman, that team also had effective table setters.

On the mound, 19-year old Dwight Gooden turned in an historic ROY performance with a 17-9 record, 2.60 ERA, and rookie record 276 strikeouts.  He was complimented by Ron Darling, Walt Terrell, and an emerging Sid Fernandez whom combined on a 29-27 record.

In the bullpen, Jesse Orosco was 10-6 with a 2.59 ERA and 31 saves.  Doug Sisk posted a 2.02 ERA and saved another 15 games.

Defense: Edge 1984
Offense: Edge 1984
Pitching: Edge 2015

How does all this translate with regards to the 2015 season?

2014 N.L. Fielding Ranking:
Fielding Average - 12th
Stolen Base% - 13th
Passed Balls - 4th most

2014 N.L. Offensive Ranking:
R - 8th
HR - 9th
Avg. - 13th
OBP - 9th
SLG - 12th

2014 N.L. Pitching Ranking:
Avg. Against - 8th
WHiP - 10th
Walks - 3rd most
ERA - 6th
Saves - 9th

DEFENSE: Passed Balls, A Gold Glove, and Cross Your Fingers.

The Mets ranked 12th in the N.L. in overall defense.  They are particularly flawed up the middle.   While center fielder Juan Lagares won his first gold glove award, the team is debilitated in three other key positions.  

It's easier to hide one defensive liability than it is two; naturally.  Despite Daniel Murphy's overall improvement these last few seasons, he is still an inadequate second baseman.  Now the Mets intend on adding defensively challenged Wilmer Flores to the mix at shortstop.  The Mets turned the second most double-plays last season.  I learned back in the 1970's, teams that usually lead the league in DPs are generally sub .500 teams.  This combination screams trouble, which a young pitching staff such as that of the Mets could find discouraging.

However, this should be a short term problem.  The Mets are near prepared to transition away from Murphy from within.  Unless traded during the season, the Mets have made it clear they will let him walk as a free agent.  I'm sure the Mets would be willing to package Wilmer Flores in a trade as well, if it suits their needs.  Shortstop will remain a major point of contention unless Flores' bat sufficiently mutes the naysayers, or, because the Mets lack a readily available prospect to fill the position, they acquire an off-campus solution.

Behind the plate, the kid gloves are off.  As a receiver, Travis d'Arnaud frames pitches very well, and Met pitchers generally say they like working with him.  However, the Mets were 13th worst at throwing out would be base-stealers, and allowed the 4th most passed balls.  Travis d'Arnaud led the N.L. with 12 passed balls.  To his credit, he was a considerably improved player after being recalled from a demotion to Las Vegas.  This season, however, Travis d'Arnaud, 26, has too much competition behind him to risk a step backwards.  Kevin Plawecki's MLB debut is imminent.

OFFENSE: Now Bordering Insanity.

In a 12 team circuit, the 1984 Mets finished their season ranked 6th in runs, HR, Avg., and slugging.   In a 15 team circuit, the 2014 Mets finished 13th in average, 12th in slugging, 9th in HR, and 8th in runs.  Here's the twist: the '84 Mets scored 652 runs, and allowed 676, while last year's Mets scored 629, and allowed 618.

The Mets are potentially heading into the 2015 season with the same general line-up as they have the last two seasons.  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of what?


The only off-season enhancement Sandy Alderson has made to the offense was signing Michael Cuddyer.  We know what he's done in his 14-year MLB career.  We just do not know what he brings to the Mets.  Aren't we just banking on him being the next George Foster, Jerry Hairston, or Marlon Byrd?  His addition is an improvement over Eric Young, for sure, but he's hardly enough to make the Mets even a middle of the pack offense (as they became in 1984).

The Mets true fortunes lie with David Wright having a vintage Wright season, Curtis Granderson increasing his productivity under his old batting coach, and with Lucas Duda's, Travis d'Arnaud's, and Juan Lagares' continued improvement at the plate.  Then obviously, Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores will have to provide considerably better bats than gloves.

Juan Lagares is most likely going to begin the season at the top of the line-up.  In 172 plate appearances leading-off, he double slashed .276/.329, with 9 stolen bases.  For now, that's the best the Mets can do, unless, if in their attempts to improve 2B and SS they acquire someone more suitable at the top of the line-up.

PITCHING: A Call To Arms.

This is where I believe today's Mets are ahead of the 1984 Mets; in their depth of rotation.  The Mets have a growing potential to form one of the most formidable starting rotations in baseball (at least by season's end).

Between Batman and Thor, they're starting to read like Marvel heroes.

The Dark Knight of Gotham; the Real Deal; or, as this blog named him, the Time Bandit; Matt Harvey is back.  How close he'll be to the one we remember prior to surgery remains to be seen.  He's a big lift nonetheless; akin to a big off-season acquisition.  As he goes, the Mets will go.  He has the potential to make up 10 games all by himself, but he will be pitching the upcoming season with limits.  This is slowly turning into a wait and see situation.  For the moment, Matt Harvey is scheduled to pitch the home opener on April 13th.

Moving forward, the onus is now on Zack Wheeler to take another step forward, and for 2014 ROY Jacob deGrom to validate himself.

Soon joining Harvey, Wheeler, and deGrom, is a mix that will potentially include Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, with Steven Matz hot on their trail.  Once the Mets get service time and Super-2 hang-ups out of the way, the door will open for any one of their arrivals.

Until then. the Mets otherwise enter the regular season well fortified with Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee.  It would seem with all this starting pitching, the team should be able to steer clear of any prolonged losing streaks.  That said, the Mets are looking to deal some of this depth, most notably, Dillon Gee or Jon Niese (or both).

After suffering many hardships, the bullpen is now a team strength.

Final Pitch: Looking Like a Lost Cause.

Even the 1984 Mets were still 2 seasons away from a championship, which means it took Frank Cashen 7 years to get there.

Just saying...

There's also the matter of the field manager.  In 1984, Frank Cashen promoted Davey Johnson to replace George Bamberger/Frank Howard, and become the new field manager of the Mets.  Johnson was familiar, and enjoyed minor league success with many of the young players on the roster and worked well with the veterans.  With Mel Stottlemyer as pitching coach, Johnson guided the Mets five 90-win seasons before getting let go early in 1990.

Many Mets fans, including myself, have clamored long and loudly for Sandy Alderson to replace manager Terry Collins with Wally Backman (and pitching coach Frank Viola) to no avail.  The upcoming season could be distinctly similar to 1984 in this respect: Wally Backman would be the absolute right move and have the absolute right affect on these players, with whom he's enjoyed minor league success on numerous levels.

I feel the usefulness of Terry Collins has passed, and do not necessarily believe he is owed an opportunity to win with this team.

The 2015 Mets, and the future of the Mets, depends on much more bold and definitive decision making on the general manager's part, but first he needs a stronger commitment from ownership. Until those guys step up their efforts, the Mets will continue competing against themselves.

They're merely a condition.  So despite them, there's still a good feeling heading into Spring Training.


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