Mets Merized Online » John Bernhardt Thu, 24 Apr 2014 22:00:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Restoring Trust and My Night at Citi Field Sun, 20 Apr 2014 23:50:34 +0000 Minor tweaks of the nutritional program are not the answer. Changing the eating schedule so the players have more time to digest their food will bring no measurable change in outcomes. The Mets failure to win games at Citi Field is a hot topic as we move towards the end of first month of a new season, and the Mets continue to under perform at their home ball park and over perform playing games on the road.

bartolo colonI visited Citi Field for the first time this season last night. The Mets and the Braves put on a baseball show that was definitely entertaining, and although ultimately disappointing, almost bordered on being fun. Yet, it was not the baseball game itself, but the mood of the Met faithful I found most fascinating. It’s mid April and hope does not spring eternal at Citi Field.

Reduced ticket prices taking some fans back to price levels found at Shea Stadium one-half century ago assured a good sized crowd. The Mets had just returned from a very successful 9 game road trip. Yet, a burned and maligned Met fan base was fidgety and impatient, in no mood for watching ‘the same old, same old’ on the greens of Citi Field.

Fan cynicism was everywhere at Citi Field last night. It wrapped itself around you shortly after the first pitch and squeezed tighter and tighter as the game unfolded. Met fans are clearly not as excited about their team as management might want us to believe. The Met faithful appeared suspicious and wary, no longer willing to be sold a bag of goods or willing to allow for more time. By the comments and reactions of the Met crowd it’s obvious few Met fans have adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude to the season with few jumping on the 90-win bandwagon.

The loud and skeptical mood of Met fans last night, the prevalent ‘buyers beware’ attitude that almost emanated everywhere around the stadium, got me wondering if that disposition might have something to do with the Mets poor play at Citi Field.

Ego is definitely a huge part of a professional athletes profile. Athletes who attain professional status represent a tiny fraction of those who at one time aspired to reach such lofty plateaus. Even so, no matter how hardened and tough the outer veneer of a professional athlete, internally, like everyone else, athletes care about their image.

In the world of psychology, self-handicapping refers to human behaviors intended to keep performance failure from damaging one’s image or self-esteem. Studies have shown that athletes, especially male athlete,s are often prone to self-handicapping to protect the sense of competence they have worked so hard over time to maintain.

When people self-handicap, they employ strategies or create obstacles and excuses to explain performance failures diverting attention to external factors outside their area of control rather than seeking answers by looking internally at things they can control. The effects of self-handicapping can be large and small and are found in almost all environments where people are expected to perform. In baseball terms, excuses like the size of the park, wind currents, or, perhaps, the eating and digestive habits of a team can be pointed to as causes of poor performance, rather than the skill levels of the players assembled on the field or the basic execution of those players when playing baseball.

The athletic playing field is an ideal setting to cultivate self-handicapping behaviors. Embarrassment, the fear of failure, demonstrating incompetence in public or facing unrealistic expectations are all associated with the self-handicapping.

Those factors are a fact of life playing professional sports in New York City. TRADE ‘EM ALL was the New York Daily headline greeting the Mets after the locals were one-hit in the opener of the current Citi Field series against Atlanta. That after completing a three game sweep in Arizona. Talk about pressure.

Twenty-four hour sports talk radio slices and dices individual player and team performance on a daily basis. It’s a fact, that staying positive is associated with improved work performance, and it takes work to stay positive when things aren’t going well for a professional sports team in New York.

That fact is magnified for the Mets and their fans playing in a city with a baseball market shared by the Yankees. Comparing yourself with others is proven to have a negative affect on performance helping create a huge reservoir of pressure when expectations rise and losing becomes even more of a disappointment.

And, it’s possible the whole affair can become a vicious cycle, the Met baseball team performing well below expectations, the local fan base becoming more and more frustrated and cynical amping up the pressure to perform, thus increasing the public ridicule and negativity associated with team performance. Anxiety and fear of failure builds increasing the self-handicapping effects thus almost setting up conditions conducive to future failures.

lucas dudaThe affect on an athlete are subtle but powerful just the same. They may manifest in the presence of aches or pains that might not appear on a highly successful team, of waning motivation or effort, of trying to hard which sometimes results in unanticipated mental error or fatigue. Could that be a part of a runner on third with no outs who runs on an infield groundout as Lucas Duda did in last nights game?

Could that be the cause to Ruben Tejada, who represented the tying run at the time, failing to advance from first base to scoring position at second, when the ball skipped past the catcher allowing Chris Young to advance from second base to third? I’m not sure, but Met fans who regularly follow the team know the team they watch on the road plays crisper baseball, is fundamentally more sound, and seems more energized and motivated than the team they watch at Citi Field.

Why? Could it be that once removed from playing baseball under the magnifying media lens of NYC, the Met players relax and thrive and perform more to their baseball abilities?

It was Buddha who said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises from our thoughts.” It would have been difficult for the Met players to have missed the negative vibes that bubbled in Citi Field last night. It was almost as if everyone in the ballpark was on edge, anticipating the exact moment the hammer would fall on their Mets. Amd, that includes the author of this post.

Some will accuse me of blaming Met fans for the team’s dismal performance at Citi Field. That’s not the case at all. After baseball expectations soared in Flushing from 2006 through 2008, the Mets went into free fall. For several years after, fans have given their trust in believing things were slowly and carefully turning around.

The aura of cynicism I felt last night at Citi Field just means the open season of blind faith is over, and Met fans are not willing to simply jump back into the trust-mode again. Met fans have the right to be skeptical. Trust in the Mets baseball operation must be earned.

How? Obviously, its imperative the Mets become competitive providing resources to field a playoff contending baseball operation. Our current levels of spending ranks near the bottom third of major league baseball, less player payroll this year than last, less last year then the year before. The size of a team’s payroll does not guarantee World Series success but it dramatically improves the chances the team you cheer for will compete for post season play. That’s part of building trust, especially in a market that asks fans to pay to watch that baseball at level’s that compete for tops in the game.

When Jose Valverde delivered the three-run home run pitch to Justin Upton last night it was stunning to see the mass exodus at Citi Field. Fans flooded the aisles hustling to escape the action on the field with almost more energy than the players demonstrated to play the game on the diamond. In no time flat, at least eighty percent of the fans in the stadium had vanished. There was simply no belief a Met rally was possible, even though the home team would battle back and almost tie the game.

As the fans were fleeing, my buddy leaned over and said to me, “You know, you could accept a home run shot like that if one of the kids had thrown the ball. It’s tough to take when it comes from Valverde.” That’s all part of the trust void. Over and over, we have read and relished and been assured that the arms were coming, that change was on the way. Yet, when roster decisions are made it seems “experienced,” “done it before” become organizational code words. Met fans know better. That’s not part of maintaining trust.

And, finally there is basic baseball execution. There was the snafu with the runner vacating third with no outs on an infield ground ball, the runner at first failing to advance on a passed ball when a lead runner on second moved to third, the ball tapped in front of the plate where the pitcher, ignoring umpire signals, thought the ball had hit the batter’s foot and was foul thus didn’t move to field the ball, then, when he did, rushed and threw the ball away allowing two runs, the bunt that went through Valverde’s legs in the fateful ninth, a wild pitch or passed ball that plated a run from third.

Baseball execution was horrid last night leveling trust we’re getting the best out of the players we do have available on our roster, no matter what their ability levels. And then the offense or lack thereof and the manager’s disclaimers that talk of a prevailing offensive philosophy is overblown. A catcher on our baseball team attended the game. Late in the game he leaned over and said to me, “I can play for the Mets. I’ve got pretty good defense but no offense, but that doesn’t seem to matter much.”

Later when the ball went between Valverde’s legs he quipped, “Major league baseball.” Major league execution it was not. Attention to detail and flawless mental execution of the game, too, would build trust.

1969, 1973, 1986, 2000, and even 2006 remind me Met fans are positive by nature, baseball fans yearning to throw their full support behind the team they love. The current fan perception of the Met team has come through several seasons of pain, several seasons of putting the heart ahead of the head of willingness to extend hope with little return. Met fans are tired, eager but not totally willing to get back in the game. Regaining trust is a difficult task, but it has been done before and can be done again. I have a hunch that when management provides reason for fans to trust, the wins will start piling up again at Citi Field.

Presented By Diehards

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Gary, Keith and Ron: Those Voices In Our Heads Sun, 30 Mar 2014 14:53:52 +0000 gary keith ron sny

The Mets may not lead the league in many baseball categories, but they do excel in one area. The voices of the Mets SNY broadcast team; Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling, are the cream of the crop. All three were on top of their game in Steve Serby’s Q&A in the Sunday New York Post. Darling was also talking Met baseball this morning on WFAN.

Darling was asked to comment about Sandy Alderson’s 90-win dictate. The Met announcer indicated he didn’t believe Alderson’s quip was meant for public consumption and deftly sidestepped the question this way, “More importantly, if you’re playing .500 baseball by September 1, you’re going to play meaningful baseball in September. I mean really that’s all you have to do under the two-wild card system.”

Darling went on to point out the Mets played .500 ball over the final 100 games in 2013. What the Mets need to do, according to Darling, is to somehow turn that equation around and play .500 ball this season over the first 100 games of the season.

In another part of the interview, Darling was asked about the battle for the 5th spot in the Mets starting rotation, and the Mets decision to send Daisuke Matsuzaka to Triple-A Las Vegas. According to Matsuzaka that decision was purely a business decision. Darling went on to say that if the Mets brought their best pitching options north out of spring training, both Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero would be on the pitching staff.

For me, somehow Darling’s two points mesh about as well as a teenager with a dictionary. If it’s imperative for the Mets to play .500 baseball during the first 100 games of the season, it follows that it might be imperative to have your best roster available from the first day of the season.

I’ve said it before wins and losses in April have equal value with wins in losses in September. A team seriously hoping to play .500 baseball has their eye on the ball from day one. I fully understand the business ramifications that come with keeping the young kids on the roster and starting their service clocks before you have too. That’s exactly why so many organizations are moving to sign their talented young players to extensions while they are still under team control.

Darling didn’t pull punches when asked about Terry Collins’s churning outfield dilemma. “I think their outfield defense is so superior to last year. If you think your strength is gonna be your starting pitching, the defense is so important, and I just feel that Juan Lagares every single day he plays, does something to help your team. I just cannot envision him not in the lineup. Every day he makes a catch that saves two runs.”

Hernandez, too, raved about Lagares. “Juan Lagares is just off the charts. I haven’t seen anybody cover ground like him, and have a strong arm that’s accurate. He’s got the cannon for an arm, and he doesn’t miss cutoff men, he’s accurate. He can play the hell out of centerfield.”

Darling voiced support for Ike Davis as the Met first baseman. Darling recounted visiting Texas and reading a local newspaper about a first baseman that simply never lived up to his potential, a guy who was somewhat difficult to coach and willful. The Rangers decided to give up on that guy shipping him to Baltimore. That guy, Chris Davis, has hit 109 home runs for the Orioles in the last two seasons. Even so, Cohen and Darling both agree Ike will have a short leash if he can’t get cooking during the opening month of the season.

None of the Mets broadcast team seemed to think the Matt Harvey controversy was much of an issue. “Who cares where he rehabs? It’s a total non-story, who cares?” Cohen said in response to the question.

Darling was somewhat tongue in cheek saying that “baseball players, athletes in general, are usually told something and they just do it. And Harvey decided he wasn’t going to do it.” (chuckle)

Hernandez believes that the Mets team coming north this for tomorrow’s opener is a better edition than the one that arrived at Citi Field a year ago. The former Mets first base great believes the Mets are an above .500 team and will be disappointed if they can’t reach that level.

Let’s Go Mets!

Chill out guys and stop looking so bored.

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How Does Chris Young Fit the Mets Plan? Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:27:12 +0000 chris young

The Chris Young signing is what I call a Hot Stove Head-Scratcher. Try as I might to understand the move, signing Young to a contract worth more than $7 million dollars simply doesn’t make sense.

My litmus test for a free agent signing involves two basic questions. First, is there a reasonable expectation the free agent signed can help solidify a field position or a role on the pitching staff in the upcoming season?

Second, if the first question is answered affirmatively, will the signed free agent play an important future role on your baseball team? A good free agent signing gets a yes to both queries.

Now consider the signing of Chris Young. Analyzing Chris Young’s career curve the downward trajectory makes it difficult to predict Young will solidify an outfield position at Citi Field this summer. It’s been seven years since Young blasted over 30 home runs in a baseball season, four since his HR total topped 25 and he did those playing in a bandbox.

Young’s batting average and on-base-percentage have slipped dramatically since 2010. One argument explaining the downward offensive direction of Young’s career is that the outfielder has not been a day-to-day player in a major league outfield. The fact Young was part of a platoon last season, was more the consequence of diminished outputs as a regular than an organizational strategy to employ a platoon.

For a moment, let’s assume Young returns to his one time prowess and hits 25 home runs and knocks home 90 plus RBI’s at Citi Field this summer. Even with such impressive outputs, Young will not play an important future role for the Mets. Young will become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. A blazing bounce back season will drive his value beyond what the Mets are willing to commit. And, if Young’s current downward spiral continues, the Mets will simply cut him loose at the end of the year. Even under the best of circumstances, it is highly unlikely Chris Young will play for the Mets in 2015.

All that, and the fact the time Young spends on the baseball diamond steals valuable innings from future Met outfield star Juan Lagares, makes signing Young a real head scratcher. Lagares is still developing as a hitter and is part of a promising Mets future.

I’ve heard Ron Darling refer to Lagares yesterday as en ‘eyeball player’ – the type of player you simply can’t take your eyeballs off of when he’s on a baseball field. The ‘eyeball player’ label is especially the case when Lagares patrols centerfield for the Mets. Lagares’ incredible outfield play had one baseball analysis website calling him the 65th highest valued position player in the major leagues. Why wouldn’t you want this guy seeing as much time in the batting order as possible?

Kevin Burkhardt also said yesterday that if Juan Lagares wasn’t playing everyday you really have to start questioning the decision-making process behind that. “He saves the team a run almost every game.”

By the way, Darling’s ‘eyeball player’ label describes two other outfielders in the Mets system; Matt den Decker and Cesar Puello. Both future Met outfielders are having great Springs and command your full attention. That makes the Chris Young signing even more confusing.

Finally, signing Young at over $7 million dollars for a single year, took valuable resources off the board, resources that could have been used to shore up our roster at shortstop, a position our own management publicly confirmed needed an upgrade at the start of the Hot Stove season.

Agree or disagree?

(Photo: Brad Barr, USATSI)

Presented By Diehards

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Mets Pitching Prospects Strutting Their Stuff Mon, 10 Mar 2014 14:55:14 +0000 Jeff Roberson Associated Press  steven matz

It’s nothing more than a glimpse of hope, a promise that the talk of better days ahead might just be more reality than simply talk. They have only thrown an inning here and an inning there over the Mets first ten spring training games, but collectively the young pitching prospects the Mets have compiled in Port St. Lucie are leaving Met fans shaking their heads with wonder.

To date twelve Met pitchers flash perfect 0.00 ERA’s and ten pitchers have WHIP’s of 1.00 or less. Jacob deGrom has been all about making a good first impression with the Mets. In three games he has pitched 6 innings averaging a strikeout per inning.

Since day one Zack Wheeler has indicated he would love to be the Opening Day pitcher . So far Wheeler has provided solid evidence for that argument throwing two scoreless three inning outings and matching deGrom’s strikeout average.

Noted for his pinpoint command, Rafael Montero has been spot on over his first four innings facing major league batters with a speck of a WHIP at 0.25, only slightly besting a big righthanded kid hoping to win a spot in the Met bullpen, Jeurys Familia with a WHIP of 0.33.

Then there is Steven Matz, with his rebuilt left arm, firing fastballs in the mid 90’s and looking like he’s simply having a blast on the mound. Matz has only appeared twice so far this spring, one inning each time, but the kid has already chalked up 5 strikeouts.

And, of course, the ground seems to tremble every time the ‘Thunder God’ steps on the diamond in St. Lucie. His numbers might not match those of the aforementioned but his inaugural appearances with the Mets have been a media sensation. With expectations soaring skyward, Noah Syndergaard has arrived.

This list in not all inclusive. Vic Black has nasty stuff when he gets it over the plate. Jeff Walters shows glimpses of why people in Binghamton were so excited last season when Pedro Lopez handed him the ball to close games for the B-Mets. And, Joel Carreno is acting like he would at least like to be considered as part of the Met pitching conversation.

Everyone knows spring training can be relaxed and casual. The numbers a pitcher puts in the books can be short lived, casual, almost fleeting. Experienced pitchers are not generally concerned with actual outputs, toying with their stuff by adding a new pitch or tinkering with their mechanics.

Yet, every time a pitcher is handed the ball his purpose on the mound is to get batters out without allowing runs to cross the plate. Against that standard, the Met cadre of young arms in St. Lucie has been tantalizing, an alluring blend of baseball slight-of-hand that entices this beguiled Met fan to awaken each morning with only one baseball thought on my mind, ‘What young Met arm will be handed the ball and asked to pitch today?’

addicted to mets button

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Willie Randolph Says Better Days Are Coming for the Mets Sat, 08 Mar 2014 12:00:39 +0000 willie randolph 2

Twenty men have sat in the Met managerial hot seat. Some have served as momentary stopgaps, Mike Cubbage for only seven games. None survived long enough to rival the longest surviving managers of the modern game, guys like Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa. In fact, none wore the Met orange and blue for more than seven seasons. And, only five of the twenty; Davey Johnson, Gil Hodges, Bobby Valentine, Willie Randolph and Bud Harrelson won more games than they lost commandeering the Mets.

On Friday afternoon, Willie Randolph was a radio guest on WFAN. Randolph is working at the Yankee camp in Tampa and shared his perspectives about the changing face of the team in pinstripes, a team and franchise in transition.

Invariably, the discussion turned to whether or not Willie would like to manage again some day. Of course, that meant the subject included Randolph’s time as manager of the Mets.

The radio team tossed Randolph a gopher ball providing Willie the opportunity to slam his former team when it was suggested that the Mets certainly haven’t found a winning stride since management forced his departure. Willie was too classy to take the bait.

Randolph spoke fondly of his opportunity to manage the Mets. He voiced pride in the work he and his staff accomplished in changing the culture around the Mets, and felt the Mets were taking strides forward when he was at the helm.

Willie reported he follows the Mets each and every day to keep tabs on the performance of ‘his boy,’ David Wright. Like everyone else, Randolph is impressed with the stable of young Met pitchers and predicts if his former team can keep those young power pitchers healthy there will be better days ahead for his former team.

Randolph is hoping to get another shot to lead a major league baseball team from the dugout. Willie took time to discuss the importance of sabermetrics in a modern day baseball manager’s approach. He worried that some might have a perception that he’s an old school guy who doesn’t understand or appreciate the value of sabermetrics in modern baseball noting that’s simply not the case.

Here’s hoping Willie gets the chance he’s looking for. I always appreciated the class Willie brought to the Mets during his short stay as our skipper and his understanding of what it takes for a franchise to win. Willie’s departure and the way it was handled were an embarrassment at the time. Against that backdrop it was reassuring to hear Willie talking with excitement about the positive possibilities of our current Met team and it’s future.

Winningest Met Managers

Manager           Won - Lost  Pct.
Davey Johnson     595 - 417   .588
Gil Hodges        339 - 279   .549
Willie Randolph   302 - 253   .544
Bobby Valentine   536 - 467   .534
Bud Harrelson     145 - 129   .529
Yogi Berra        292 - 296   .497
Roy McMillan       26 - 27    .491
Jerry Manuel      204 - 213   .489
Joe Frazier       101 - 106   .488

Presented By Diehards

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The Wonder Of Spring Training Thu, 06 Mar 2014 17:36:36 +0000 Part of the wonder of spring training are the brief glimpses we get of young prospects who might signal better days ahead for Met fans. The young Met pitching prospects have created a buzz around the Met camp that is refreshing. In fact, much of the recent NYC sports radio baseball banter has the big city talking Viking, not Minnesota, but Thor.

With all that attention on the Met pitching prospects, I’m hoping the spring provides a snapshot look at some of the young Met prospects who man positions on the baseball field. A small taste of major league play this spring could be a huge motivator for some of these guys. And, so far, so good for these Met youngsters.

Reportedly, 2011 first rounder Brandon Nimmo is basking in the aura of his first major league spring training. Nimmo has been received well in the Met clubhouse and is soaking in everything he can about outfield play from guys like Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. The impact of his first spring with the varsity club has been awesome for Nimmo, so fine he can’t imagine the excitement he’ll feel when he finally gets his call to Flushing during the regular season. And, Nimmo is off to a good start with 2 hits in his first 4 plate chances this spring.

cesar puelloCesar Puello is anxious this spring for a chance to prove that his exploits in Binghamton last summer were the real deal. Puello’s blend of speed and power could be a rare treat for Met fans. The toolsy outfielder has banged a pair of doubles in his first five at bats, and even more importantly, has yet to strike out.

With all the attention thrown Noah Syndergaard’s way it’s easy to forget the big right-handed pitcher was a secondary piece in the R.A. Dickey swap. It was Toronto’s young catcher Travis d’Arnaud the Mets really coveted. Much is expected of d’Arnaud, this season. In his brief stay in the big leagues last fall, he earned high grades for his backstop skills behind the dish, but low marks for his offensive prowess, so Met fans will be watching every at-bat of the young catcher this spring. To date, d’Arnaud has batted 7 times with 3 hits, one a double, and no strikeouts.

Can Matt den Decker continue the pattern he has established at every level of professional baseball he’s played? In the past, denDecker has been a late bloomer at each level up the minor league chain, struggling mighty at the plate during his first exposure and then settling in nicely his second time around. Will that pattern continue into the major leagues, with the astute outfield wizard eventually figuring it out in the batter’s box? Met fans fell in love with den Decker’s circus like outfield dramatics last spring at this time and have to be curious about what the future holds for him.

I, for one, hope catcher Juan Centeno gets a fair audition this spring. Centeno brings an impressive catching skill set to camp, backstop skills that should make him a valued major league piece someday. In the minor leagues, Centeno has been a pesky contact hitter, a tough kid to strike out, hitting batting .318, .285, and .301 in his last three seasons. Will a spring in Port St. Lucie help determine how ready Centeno might be to help out? For me, it’s more important this spring that the Mets get a good look at Centeno in camp this spring than even Kevin Plawecki.

With so much debate centered on who will play short this summer, it would probably make sense to get Wilfredo Tovar some time on the baseball diamond in the middle infield. Tovar, a gritty little shortstop, rarely hits the radar on most Met fans’ screens overshadowed in the Tejada/Drew debate or by the hype surrounding Wilmer Flores. Tovar has demonstrated a top-tier glove in the minors, something that should not be discounted in a pitching rich organization. Although Tovar lacks power at the plate, he’s tough to strikeout and had solid numbers (.299/.359/.421) during the second half of the season in Binghamton last year.

Of course, Met fans were spellbound last summer with the incredible defensive theatrics Juan Lagares brought to the outfield. Larages dazzled with his defensive play earning respect all around baseball circles for the value he adds with his defensive outfield play. But, can Lagares hit well enough to satisfy Met brass and secure his starting position in centerfield? That’s one of the big story lines this spring in Met land. To date, Lagares has three hits in eight at bats but has fanned three times.

Everybody loves the underdog stories. Anthony Seratelli the 30-year old minor league journeyman who has never cracked a major league infield and is hoping to catch on as a utility infielder this spring for the Mets is the lead story in that category. So far Seratelli has appeared overmatched at the plate with 1-hit in 10 tries and 4 strikeouts.

Some Met fans might be wondering “Who is this guy Eric Campbell?” An eighth round 2008 draft pick out of Boston College, Campbell has climbed through the Met minor league playing thirdbase, firstbase, and leftfield. Campbell, the MVP of the 2012 Eastern League All-Star game, was the B-Met Offensive Player of the Year that season batting .297 with 9 HR’s and 50 RBI’s.

Quietly, Campbell batted .314 with a flashy .435 on-base-percentage in 341 at bats last season in Las Vegas. In six minor league seasons, Campbell’s OBP is .376, something that is sure to have drawn attention in the Met front office. The 6’2” outfielder is hitting
.375 in his first 8 spring at bats.

Danny Muno, a Met infield prospect, is also getting a look in camp this spring. Muno is a tough kid, an old school baseball guy, who grinds out at bats and draws almost as many base-on-balls as he does strike outs. Over three minor league seasons, the switch hitting Muno has walked 185 times against 189 strikeouts hitting .283 with a .404 OBP. And, the second base prospect has some pop in his bat hitting 9 HR’s with 27 doubles and driving home 67 runs last summer in Binghamton. Muno has one hit and has drawn two base-on-balls in 5 plate appearances so far.

For the most part, spring training is about making impressions for many of the Met position prospects. Most of the roster decisions for position players have already been made. But, the promise each spring’s baseball season brings is not limited to the win total hopes Met fans have for their major league squad. It’s the hopes each prospect brings to camp, the opportunity to turn some heads, make an impression, and introduce themselves to Met fans that provides an equally compelling story. That’s all part of the fun this spring in St. Lucie.

Presented By Diehards

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Davis and Duda Competition Promises To Be A Big Story Line This Spring Sun, 02 Mar 2014 00:57:44 +0000 If their first appearance out of the gates is an indicator, the 2014 Grapefruit Circuit could be a lot of fun for New York Met fans. Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom whet the appetites of the ‘Flushing Faithful’ with scintillating, tantalizing pitching performances, both retiring the minimum six batters in two innings of work, and both spotting their pitches with laser-like efficiency. The performances of Montero and deGrom raise the anticipation in seeing Jenrry Mejia, Zack Wheeler, Jack Leathersich, any and all young Met power arms.

In addition, many Met fans got a first glimpse of the combustible energy Cesar Puello brings to the field, the rare combination of speed and power, and the inevitable highs and lows he brings to the park each day. Add Travis d’Arnaud, Juan Lagares and the new Met outfielders, and it’s pick your story line for Met fans.

USATSI Brad Barr lucas duda ike davis

Perhaps the most fascinating story line of them all is the first base position battle between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. Davis and Duda came out firing in the opener stoking up interest in a competition sure to hold the attention of Met fans this spring. Duda followed that up with a mammoth home run in Saturday’s contest.

The reaction of the Port St. Lucie Grapefruit League fans seemed to indicate they are already taking sides in the ‘reality show like‘ first base competition. There was a buzz in the Stadium at Tradition Field when Ike Davis stepped to the plate, the crowd clearly signaling to the Met first baseman they have not given up on his potential to become a New York City baseball star. When Davis blasted his monstrous homerun in the Mets first game of the Spring, he was given a rare standing ovation by the Port St. Lucie crowd.

Not to be outdone, Duda, too, was on his game, hitting the ball hard in two of three at bats, scorching the first two balls he hit to the outfield, one a double, only a diving outfield catch preventing a second extra base hit.

Like it or not, this spring’s first base competition promises to captivate scores of Met fans, with the Flushing faithful taking sides with hero and villain designations unwittingly assigned. Like the 1961 M & M battle of long ball Yankee excellence with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris vying to break Babe Ruth’s homerun record that ignited the fascination of the baseball world, on a minuscule scale far from baseball excellence, the D & D Met’s first base competition in Florida promises to elicit passionate discussion and debate, at least amongst Met fans. It should be a lot of fun.

The good news is both Davis and Duda appear centered and focused and ready to do battle. There are noticeable changes in the stance and hand position Davis brings to the plate, and Duda appears trimmer and more honed, perhaps a tad quicker to the ball. And, remarkably, the new Duda seems relaxed and confident chatting with the press. Met fans have to hope the competition brings out the best of both first base candidates.

My suspicions are management will only carry one of these guys north in April. The way I see it, the Met brass picked a first base winner last fall when they publicly announced their intention to trade Davis over the winter. To their credit, the Mets held on to Davis when they didn’t receive an offer with the return value they believe Davis should demand. If Davis rakes this spring, look for the Mets to restart trade talks in hopes his improved plate performance will bring a suitable trading suitor.

It’s a slippery slope. If Davis gets hot, and the Mets trade him away, and Ike hits as he did or better over his first three seasons for his new team, Met fans will be unforgiving for shipping him away in favor of Duda. That’s the backdrop that makes this spring’s first base reality show a high rating Mets baseball event.

(Photo by Brad Barr, USATSI)

Presented By Diehards

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Ike Davis and Athletes Being Athletes Mon, 24 Feb 2014 14:42:57 +0000 ike davis cage 2

Before the furor grows over the Ike Davis revelation that he played almost the entire season last year with an oblique injury, Met fans should slow down and consider what that fact means relative to Davis’s current standing on the team. I expect Davis will be roundly criticized for not disclosing the injury. In fact, it was not Davis’s intention to disclose his physical limitations at all. He only affirmed the injury when other sources, aware of his physical issue spilled the beans.

Playing hurt is old school baseball, expected baseball behavior of past generations, but something that seems almost alien against modern standards when a toenail can keep a player off the field for a month. As proof of that fact here’s Walter Bingham writing about Mickey Mantle in Sports Illustrated in 1962.

“It was nothing less than a cold and ruthless gamble. Faced with a losing streak and the distasteful prospect of not winning the pennant for a change, the New York Yankees rushed the most valuable property in baseball back into action last week and ran the risk of losing him forever.

Mickey Mantle’s legs had not yet healed, as anyone could see. He limped when he walked and staggered when he swung. He ran stiff-legged and he was unable, or afraid, to make turns. He was not, in short, ready.

The front office denied that it had ordered Mickey’s early return, insisting that Mantle had made the decision himself (and ignoring the fact that most ballplayers—and particularly Mantle—will always insist that they are ready to play, even flat on their backs), but it was undeniable that the Yankee brass had permitted Mantle to play before he had fully recovered. It was a decision made out of desperation.”

Bingham was right then and his words ring true now – most ballplayers of that era, ignoring their physical reality when facing injury, insisted they were ready to play, when in fact they were not. The same egos that helped drive an athlete to commit the time and dedication required of acquiring the skills needed to play a professional sport, often skew reality when evaluating physical limitations when playing hurt. No one challenged Willis Reed’s loyalty to his team when he pulled himself on the basketball court dragging one leg behind him to play in a Game Seven championship game for the New York Mets.

Now, before you have my head, in no way am I implying Ike’s playing through oblique issues matched the heroic former deeds of guys like Mickey Mantle and Willis Reed. I’m simply making the point, a point every high school or youth sports coach inherently understands; when facing a sports injury an athlete will almost always minimize the injury and attempt to play hurt.

Rather than throw ice water on Ike for not being a team player using the fact he played injured as another reason to dump him, stop and take consider what the injury may have meant to his performance last season and to the possibility of a dramatic uptick on the baseball diamond this summer.

In a Sunday column he wrote for the Daily News addressing the Braves signing their homegrown talent to long term contracts, sports columnist Bill Madden makes an interesting point about Atlanta’s willingness to sign an emerging Freddie Freeman to a big money multi year deal. Here’s what Madden says. “The bigger picture here for baseball is the vanishing 25-30 homer hitter and the accompanying law of supply and demand. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there were only 30 hitters in baseball last year with 25 or more home runs, which was the lowest total since 1992. There were 65 in 2001, the height of the steroids era, and 55 as recently as 2009, three years after baseball began testing for amphetamines.”

Ike Davis is one year, a year we now learn he played with oblique issues, removed from hitting 32 home runs. The news of Davis playing hurt, regardless of how foolish that was on Ike’s part, doesn’t minimize what it means relative to Ike’s potential to hit the long ball.

Rather than add fuel to the fire that the Mets should be racing Ike for the exit doors, Ike’s admission of having played hurt should slow down such conjecture and put caution and reason into play when evaluating his future as a Met.

Was withholding medical information that he was suffering from oblique issues last season an informed smart move for Ike Davis? Of course not. In holding back his physical limitations, Ike seriously limited his playing capacity, thus placing his career in jeopardy. That fact does not minimize the fact that Ike Davis had and still has power potential, an incredibly shrinking asset in the modern game of baseball, something that should not be minimized because Ike let his ego get ahead of his reason and played hurt. In fact, news of Ike’s physical woes, not supplied willingly by Ike as an excuse, could help explain his horrid batting performance making it even more important Met brass slow down and take a wide angled, long-term look at what Ike could mean to the future of the Mets.

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Reliever Adam Kolarek Could Make A Good Impression Mon, 24 Feb 2014 13:00:11 +0000 adam-kolarek

He’s a dark horse of sorts at the Mets spring training complex in Port St. Lucie. With so much attention fixed on young Met pitching guns, a list that includes Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom, and Cory Mazzoni, this tall left-handed relief specialist doesn’t command much hype. Yet, don’t be surprised if by the end of the Met’s Florida camp, if 24-year old Adam Kolarek has turned the heads of Met fans.

Quietly, Kolarek has built an impressive pitching resume in the Mets minor leagues. With each year, and at every level he pitches, the 6’3,” 215-pound lefty keeps getting better. Note Kolarek’s ERA totals pitching in four seasons in the minors for the Mets; 3.13, 2.85, 2.70, 2.28. Kolarek was brilliant out of the pen last season in Binghamton throwing in 44 games covering 63.0 innings, with a 1.71 ERA, while fanning 63 batters and walking only 22. Kolarek only allowed 47 hits in 2013 and only 3 of his pitches left the park.

Several factors might contribute to Kolarek’s steady progress and upward trend as he marches through the Mets system. Baseball is part of Kolarek’s DNA. Kolarek grew up with the game. Adam’s Dad, Frank was a catcher in the Oakland A’s system from 1976-1982 and currently works as a scout for the Baltimore Orioles. “When I was a kid, I didn’t feel like I had to be forced to go outside. I’d hurry up to get home from school just to meet back up and play before the sun went down.”

Frank Kolarek has been and continues to be a baseball mentor to his son. “As a catcher he learned physically and mentally on how to attack hitters with certain pitches in certain counts, and that’s something I never take for granted,” Kolarek told David Smith in an on-line interview earlier in his career. Father and son continue to analyze hitters and dissect each of Adam’s outings on the mound.

Kolarek should be comfortable getting the call to enter a game from the bullpen. Unlike many young prospects, he entered professional baseball as a relief specialist. Kolarek pitched out of the pen for the University of Maryland before signing to pitch for the Mets meaning the lefty has profited from a season-by-season refinement of the nuances that come with relief pitching.

And, finally the even-keeled Kolarek seems to have a temperament well suited for relief pitching success. The young Met pitching prospect understands the value of preparation, sets performance goals and works meticulously to realize them.

A low 90’s fastball that reaches 93 mph, moves away from left-handed batters, and has late sink is Kolarek’s go to pitch. Yet, Kolarek cites the improvements he’s made with his slider and change-up for his career best 2013 season. “The biggest difference has been my slider and change-up have made my fastball better, because I’m able to throw sliders and change-ups when I’m behind in the count. I’ve kind of been pitching backwards,” Adam told Craig Clary of the Baltimore Sun at the close of the 2013 season.

It’s just might be plausible that Kolarek’s backwards pitching consistency might help the Mets finally begin moving forward. The fact Kolarek retires right-handed batters as well or even better than lefties, makes the Met lefty and intriguing bullpen option, a guy who can do more than simply be asked to get a single out against a left-handed batter. Eastern League right handed batters hit less than .200 against Kolarek in 2013.

Even more compelling is that fact that the teams where Kolarek has pitched have all make the post season; in 2010 for the Brooklyn Cyclones of the NY/Penn League, in 2011 for the Savannah Sand Gnats of the Gulf Coast League, in 2012 for Port St. Lucie of the Florida State League and last summer for the B-Mets in the Eastern League. Kolarek’s record as a ‘lucky charm’ might be reason enough to keep him in the Met pen this summer.

Kolarek has experience as both a closer and setup man. The lefty led Port St. Lucie with 18 saves in 2012 before acting as a bridge to B-Met record setting closer Jeff Walters last year. Kolarek was a mid and post season St. Lucie Met All-Star and the Mets Organization All-Star in 2012.

Met fans have grown up learning to cheer for the underdog. In some ways we see a bit of ourselves in the passion we direct at the Mets. There’s a place in most Met fans that can relate to the plight of the underdog. After watching Pedro Lopez summon Adam Kolarek from the bullpen and hand him the baseball many times last summer in Binghamton, I’ve grown to admire and trust this kid’s work on the mound. I’ll be cheering loud should Kolarek beat the odds and get Sandy Alderson’s call to join the Met roster in Flushing this year.

(Photo courtesy of Baltimore Sun)

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Talkin’ Baseball: A Brilliant Infield Duo That Never Was Sun, 23 Feb 2014 14:51:57 +0000 Scores of Met fans may have missed it. The New York Post ran a Sunday piece by Joel Sherman called “A Decade of A-Rod.” Most baseball fans have had more than their fill of Alex Rodriguez, especially Met fans tired of A-Rod’s front and back page coverage in the New York Dailies.

alex rodriguez a-rod

In the piece, Sherman spends a lot of time dissecting all the events that played into A-Rod becoming a Yankee. The Red Sox came within a whisker of signing Rodriguez. It wasn’t until Yankee third baseman and post season star Aaron Boone tore his ACL playing off-season baseball that the Yankees were in on bringing A-Rod to the Bronx. As is their habit, the Bronx Bombers were all in.

Rodriguez, a Met fan when he was growing up, hoped his people could swing a deal where he would land in Flushing. As things turned out, A-Rod would be coming to New York only to the other part of town.

As a Met fan, the piece that interested me the most indirectly involved the Mets. First, as part of the deal between the Yankees and Rangers, the Yanks gave up Alfonso Soriano and a pinstripe prospect from a list of five. That list included pitcher Ramon Ramirez, outfielders Rudy Guillen and Bronson Sardinha, shortstop Joaquin Arias and second baseman Robinson Cano. The Rangers chose Arias.

Stop and think what may have happened in Texas had they chosen Cano. The reports the Rangers had on a young Cano were that the future Yankee second baseman was talented but moody, so the club decided to move in another direction.

Arias has played in parts of six major league seasons, three with the Rangers, one split between the Rangers with a cup of coffee with the Mets and the last two with the San Francisco Giants. In just over 800 at bats Arias has a major league batting average of

With the deal complete, Sherman reports the Rangers and the Mets engaged in serious discussions about moving Soriano. The Mets wanted Soriano and were willing to part with their shortstop, Jose Reyes, to get him. Texas owner Tom Hicks vetoed the proposed deal fearing a fan revolt in Texas should he move Soriano immediately after relinquishing Rodriguez.

If the Rangers had selected Cano rather than Arias, and had Hicks not nixed the trade with the Mets, the Rangers would have fielded a double play combination of Jose Reyes at shortstop and Robinson Cano at second base. Now that’s enough to make your head spin.


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Anthony Seratelli Has A Shot To Make Big League Team Fri, 21 Feb 2014 21:20:03 +0000 Photo: NY Post, Anthony J. Causi

Photo: NY Post, Anthony J. Causi

Ken Davidoff has a column in Friday’s post that will leave “Negative Nellie” Met fans howling. Davidoff features a utility infielder, a local kid from New Jersey, who signed a minor league contract with the Mets over the winter, was invited to camp, and as Davidoff sees it, has a legitimate chance to make the team coming north in April.

This could be baseball’s “feel good” story of the 2014 season. His name is Anthony Seratelli. He’s a scrappy, 31-year old infielder who has been fighting for recognition and respect on the baseball diamond since he first wore a glove.

Seratelli was cut from his Old Bridge High School baseball team as a freshman. Overlooked by college recruiter’s everywhere, Seratelli walked on the the field at Seton Hall and made the team. The pattern of overlooks and disappointments continued when Seratelli attracted no major league notice during the draft.

But, Seratelli loves the game of baseball, and his uneven path finding his way up baseball’s ladder steeled him to take nothing for granted and to search for alternative means to prove he could play.

That alternative path saw Seratelli spending a year formally out of the game after graduating from college before playing in 2006 for the Windy City ThunderBolts of the Frontier League. Seratelli’s play in an open tryout at the Kansas City Royals complex caught the eyes of some Royal personnel and at long last, on his 24th birthday, the persistent infielder signed his first contract to play professionally.

Nothing has come easy for Seratelli over seven years in the Royals system. Slowly and painstakingly, the gritty Seratelli has moved up through the system from Rookie-level ball in the Pioneer League all the way to Triple-A in Omaha where he played in 2012 and 2013. As Davidoff aptly put it, Seratelli was too good a player to cut loose but not quite good enough to earn a spot on the 40-man roster.

“I’ve been beaten down. I just keep trying to get there,” Seratelli told Davidoff.

This winter, the Mets were one of two teams (Tampa Bay was the other) to inquire about Seratelli’s services. With the Mets fluid shortstop situation, Seratelli liked his odds of turning heads in Port St. Lucie when Terry Collins indicated the team would like to give him a look at shortstop during spring training.

Both Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson have mentioned his name at spring training camp, a sign that Collins is true to his word. Alderson noted the Met brass likes Seratelli’s profile.

Seratelli has several assets the Mets like. He’s a switch hitter with the versatility that is a valued commodity in a utility player. In trying to do everything possible to catch on with a team, he has equipped himself to play every infield position as well as both corner outfield spots. Davidoff notes Seratelli’s plate discipline as proven by the .276/.372/.418 numbers he’s posted in over 3,200 minor league plate appearances. And, Seratelli runs the bases well swiping 184 bags at an impressive 80.7 success rate.

“I’m very proud of my on-base-percentage. I feel it gets overlooked a lot,” Seratelli told Davidoff. “But, its been brought up quite a bit here, which I’m happy about. I know that the Mets are high on that. I hope that makes me help the team.”

Last season it was Scott Rice who charmed New York baseball fans with a grit an determination that saw him finally make his major league debut after pitching for 14 years in the minor leagues. Rice’s rises to Flushing drew howls from the skeptics, but the lanky lefty won over most Met fans with his impressive outputs out of the bullpen.

Rice’s story line differs from Seratelli. Rice entered professional baseball as a highly regarded first round draft pick in 1999 but injuries and bad luck slowed his progress. At no point in his baseball career has Seratelli drawn the raves and attention that Scott Rice once enjoyed. It’s the iron will, the stubborn perseverance, and the refusal to give up on a dream that links the two determined Mets.

bleed orange & blue  button

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Colon’s Presence Can Have A Positive Effect On Young Arms Tue, 18 Feb 2014 12:00:36 +0000 Mets fans who lived through the 1969 miracle know for a fact that pitching wins championships. The ’69 Mets were one of the best examples of a crummy hitting team leaning heavily on team pitching to earn October baseball grandeur. That edition of Mets had the lowest team OPS of any team to ever win the fall classic.

Not much could be said for the Met offense in 1969. Tommie Agee led the team in HR’s and RBI’s that year hitting 26 round trippers and knocking in just 76 runs. Cleon Jones had a record setting batting average but only three Met batters would hit even 10 home runs.

It was on the pitching mound were the Mets excelled. A star studded pitching staff led by Cy Young award winning Tom Seaver and his buddy Jerry Koosman, they were the linchpins of the Mets success.

Nobody is projecting the 2014 New York Mets to win a World Series championship. In fact when they stare in their crystal balls most noted baseball prognosticators predict the current edition of Mets will win games at or slightly below the 2013 season totals.

Even so, any buzz around the Mets this year involves pitching. The Mets have built a cadre of young arms that are nearing the time for their unveiling. That fact has caught the attention of many in the baseball world.

bartolo colon

With all the attention directed at the young Mets pitching some baseball analysts are suggesting the addition of Bartolo Colon to the Met pitching staff serve dual purposes. There is little doubt, Sandy Alderson is hoping Colon can serve as a bridge to fill the wide chasm left in the starting rotation with the loss of Matt Harvey. Buy some are suggesting Colon can also model for young Met pitchers the important role that pounding the strike zone plays in pitching success.

Jarred Cosart, a 23-year old pitching prospect of the Houston Astros took note of Colon’s pitching approach. Cosart described Colon’s pitching strategy this way to the Sporting News. “Every time we faced Oakland, he’s basically got four different fastballs. He’s got a straight one, he’s got one that sinks, one that cuts, and one that’s basically invisible, like a BP fastball. Instead of preparing for fastball, curveball, slider, you’re basically looking at four different fastballs, and he probably threw 75 percent of his pitches as fastballs. It goes to show what a guy with good command can do, because, not just against us, but every team he faces, he’s going to give his team a chance.”

Outstanding command and pitchability were Colon’s calling cards in Oakland in 2013. The veteran righthander’s fastball is his signature pitch, a pitch Colon can move in different ways and place wherever he wants, inside or outside, up or down. The Mets hope Colon’s approach facing major league hitters, the game plan he takes to the mound, can provide tutelage for their young pitchers and demonstrate it’s not just the power in your arm but how you manage that power that equates as pitching success.

“I don’t know much about the team,” Colón told The Star-Ledger. “But I just want to go in there and help win games and help the young pitchers whenever and however possible.”

Certainly, Colon’s pitching approach could have an effect on one rising Met pitching star, Rafael Montero. Montero’s business like pitching style in some ways mirrors the points Cosart made describing Colon. Here’s how Matty Eddy of Baseball America describes Montero…

“Montero’s work ethic and mound presence stand out as much as his stuff. With long arms and loose limbs, he pounds the zone with fastballs, change-ups and sliders delivered from a three-quarters arm slot. Montero sits in the low 90’s, works the black on both sides of the plate and keeps enough in reserve to touch 96 in a pinch.”

Some are concerned with Montero’s lack of size, his poor frame, imperfect pitching mechanics, and high effort deliveries to home plate. Doug Thorburn, who specializes in pitcher’s mechanics, analyzed Montero this way in Baseball Prospectus:

“I think Montero’s mechanics are a big problem. The blatant over-the-top might overcome the height restrictions of his size, but his delivery is definitely not built for a big workload. Beside I would prefer that a pitcher have extension at release point rather than downhill plane (which is overrated) and such egregious spine tilt robs Montero of that extension.”

Concerns similar to those expressed by Thorburn have been voiced regarding Colon over his long career, a point that may not be lost on Montero. Adding Colon to the staff buys the Mets time to be more patient with their young pitchers allowing young guns like Montero, Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom additional time to groom their mechanics and pitching approach at the highest levels of the minor leagues.

Speaking of deGrom, Eddy spoke glowingly of the young Met prospect in part because of the tremendous progress the Met righthander has made in a short span of time. deGrom is a shortstop turned pitcher who only began pitching during his junior year in college when he became the closer at Stetson University. deGrom as been on the fast track moving up the ladder of the Met minor league system quickly. Here’s Eddy’s take on the Met prospect. “deGrom succeeds by pounding the zone and showing a clean arm motion and bulldog mentality. He threw nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes last season, though he would benefit from expanding the zone and getting batters to chase when he gets ahead in the count. He sits at 92-94 mph with plus sinking life, and he can rear back for 98 when he needs it.”

Another young Met arm fighting to join the conversation this spring is Jeurys Familia. The 6’4,” 230 pound Dominican has a power arm and will be battling to grab a spot in the Met bullpen. Familia, with a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and has been know to reach triple digits, too, could benefit from watching Colon command the strike zone. The big righthander is a pitcher with an arsenal that could find major league success if his pitch location and a pitching approach ever match his pitching stuff.

Here’s how Bernie Pleskoff sums up Familia for “There is a great deal of mechanical inconsistency in Familia’s delivery. He has to smooth out the motion, using less effort with repeated clean finishes in his arm action to find rhythm. Clearing his delivery, finding the fringes and corners of the strike zone with consistency, finishing his pitches and adding a pitch to his arsenal seems like a laundry list of flaws to correct. For smaller pitchers with less arm strength and not as much intensity, it might be a tall order. The task is less daunting because Familia has shown he can be reliable and overpowering. He just needs to be more consistent.”

The Mets have to hope Familia takes note of the mound consistency of the old pro Colon. If he does, Familia could take a giant step toward becoming an asset in the Met bullpen this year.

Although the Mets signed Bartolo Colon to fill the huge gap left by the loss of Matt Harvey, should the residual effect of Colon’s pitching blueprint on the mound speed the development of even one young Met pitching prospect, Colon’s signing would include added pay value, a bonus indeed.

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Predicting Mets Success Through Rose Colored Glases Sat, 15 Feb 2014 19:14:37 +0000 To every baseball fan, no matter what team they root for, four simple words are a clarion call; “pitcher’s and catcher’s report.” We’ve waited for longer than we care to remember through biting cold and winter storm after winter storm, but it’s finally here. The annual pilgrimages to Florida and Arizona are underway, and, so, too, another baseball season.

Spring training is a magical time when baseball fans recapture their little kid dreams and reconnect with the charm of the ‘grand old game.’ It’s a time of optimism, new beginnings, and fresh starts, a signal of a soon to arrive spring and our first hope of summer.

Spring training turns every baseball fan into a seer, staring into their crystal ball to predict how well their team will perform once the real season begins. Some see only the pessimist’s side of that proverbial half-filled glass. Everything they say or do is somehow the end of the world. For other fans, if you have hope you have everything. That’s sometimes even more true for Met fans. I for one feel there is little danger of developing eyestrain by looking at the bring side of things.

There has not been too much optimism reviewing early projections from baseball sages regarding the prospects of the 2014 edition of Mets. I’ve read several preseason analyses that almost read as mirror images of last seasons spring training scrutiny of the Boys From Flushing. Most baseball experts have the Mets third or fourth in the NL East with no more wins and often a few less victories than the 2013 Mets.

That’s why I loved ESPN’s Mark Simon’s buoyant, upbeat piece on the Mets. Simon framed his column around an unusual basic premise, “If you make the assumption that everything turns out right for the New York Mets, what’s the best case scenario for the Amazins?”

Bad things can be good if you look on the bright side. Simon took the 74-88 win/loss record (bad) of last season’s Mets and flip-flopped the number to 88-74 (good) for his best case scenario for the upcoming season. Next, Simon applied the science of baseball’s advanced statistics to his premise that finds the Mets reaching such lofty levels. Met players would need to combine for about 36 wins above replacement. Finally, Simon added meat to his story line by detailing how that 36 WAR mark might be attained.

Check out his basic premises.

1. David Wright plays like an MVP and stays healthy.

It makes sense that real Met improvement of this sort could not occur without a huge year from the Mets best offensive player. That’s especially the case, when the Met roster as it’s constructed is not expected to be an offensive steamroller. In fact, according to Simon when this year’s Mets step in the batter’s box it could get painful to watch. Low batting averages and high strike out rates will be the norm. That means the Mets MUST GET MVP-LIKE PRODUCTION out of their best hitter, David Wright. Simon’s game plan calls for 7-WAR production from the Met third baseman.

2. Bounce Back Years

Simon’s hopeful blueprint is dependent on at least three Mets having bounce back seasons in 2014. In fact, Simon feels bounce back performances are prerequisites for even a .500 season. The improved performance must come from a group that includes Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Curtis Granderson, and Chris Young. Although Simon is open to any combination of WAR production that equals Wright’s 7, here’s how he projects it might happen.

In 2012, Ruben Tejada was a 2.0 WAR shortstop. Simon’s bounce back has Tejada putting together a 1.5 WAR season in 2014, something that seems possible. From 2005 to 2012 Curtis Granderson averaged an impressive 4.3 WAR. Simon’s plan sees Granderson coming in with a 3.0 WAR this summer. Simon’s lofty projections are also dependent on a solid season from Chris Young. Young was a 5-WAR in 2010 and 2011. To reach Simon’s best case possibility, half his previous WAR output would do the trick with Young at 2.5. No WAR value was given to either Davis or Duda in Simon’s example.

3. Zack Wheeler Finds His Groove

Much of Simon’s rosy possibilities involve the Met pitching staff, especially the starting rotation. First and foremost, comes Zack Wheeler. Simon cites his ESPN colleague Buster Olney’s choice of Wheeler one of baseball’s linchpin players for 2014.

Wheeler showed promise in his big league debut, but was hampered by command issues. According to Simon four respectable projection systems foretell a 2014 season for Wheeler with an ERA between 3.50 and 4.12. Those aren’t the numbers of a pitching staff linchpin or WAR horse. But, as Simon, points out, Wheeler’s projections are remarkably close to those assigned by the projection systems last spring to Matt Harvey. Simon’s reasons if Wheeler can give just 80 percent of Harvey’s 2013 output, that will add a very needed 4-WAR this season.

4. Rafael Montero – Rookie of the Year Candidate

All indications point to the Mets giving Rafael Montero a shot to be in the rotation at some point in the year. Simon’s Met win/loss flip-flop would like to see Montero’s name in the rotation sooner rather than later. Simon is impressed with Montero’s minor league stats and in the best of all worlds has the Met rookie throwing 150 big league innings, compiling 12 wins and a 3.00 ERA. Those types of numbers would mean a 3.0-WAR rating for the young Met pitcher.

5. Bullpen Comes Together

It’s difficult for any team to win 85+ games without an effective bullpen. That includes the Mets. Met fans are enticed with the idea of a Met pen loaded with young Met power arms. So, too, is Simon. His best case scenario finds a healthy and productive closer in Bobby Parnell, an improving 8th inning set-up man in Vic Black, solid supporting roles for Carlos Torres and Kyle Farnsworth and mix and match contributions from the rest of the pen.

Simon is not saying these projections and his 88-74 Met win/loss possibility is his prediction of how the Mets will do in 2014. He simply understands going into spring training every team is enveloped in hope and has a best case scenario. Should everything come up smelling roses, Simon’s piece outlines what it might look like for the New York Mets. Simon ends his piece asking Met fans whether they buy his best-case-possibility and the piece includes a poll to this query: How many games can the Mets hope to win this season?

85 or more – You gotta believe!
81 or more
Between 75 and 80
Between 70 and 75
Fewer than 70 – You gotta bereave!

Where would you place the 2014 Mets?

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Sporting News Mets Projections Fri, 31 Jan 2014 18:00:14 +0000 ike davis david wright

The start of spring training has fantasy baseball enthusiasts pouring over magazines and scouring the internet for the latest baseball data to help make winning draft selections. Today, I made my first reading of the Sporting News BASEBALL Fantasy Source.

Just for fun, I decided to dedicate my first reading to the Mets. Were there any tidbits I could glean about the Metropolitans and how did the blue and orange fare in the Sporting News projections?

Met second baseman, Daniel Murphy drew the most speculation. In a segment on offensive splits Murphy was cited for his elevated batting average when playing in day games. Since 2011, Murphy has maintained an incredible .340 batting average when playing day games. Murphy had the second highest value, $20, behind Matt Carpenter’s, $23, for National League second baseman.

And, Murphy was the focus of a Bust or Trust segment where Sporting News highlighted one player at each position who enjoyed a banner season in 2013, then predicted whether fantasy owners expectinging a repeat performance would realize Bust or Trust. Murphy’s record setting year and his .307 batting average after the All-Star break were listed as positives. The fact the Met second baseman plays in a light hitting park (Citi Field was rated #26 in terms of hitting friendliness) where he hit only .263 last year was considered a negative. The prediction was that Murphy will continue to hit for average this year but his power numbers and stolen base production are unlikely to repeat themselves thus earning a BUST rating.

Travis d’Arnaud was listed as one of baseball’s Top Spring Arrival’s for the upcoming season. D’Arnaud’s slow start with the Mets last fall did not discourage the Sporting News oracles who summarized the young Met catcher has the tools and bat speed to be an above average hitter with 20+ home run power in the major leagues. Improving pitch selection and staying healthy were cited as d’Arnaud’s biggest challenges.

Met pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard is included in a list of minor league stars who should contribute next season. Sporting News likes Syndergaard’s dominant fastball and feel the effectiveness of his off speed pitches will determine how soon he makes an impact in the majors.

Lucas-DudaA section on homerun frequency per number of at bats for players who did not play every day included Lucas Duda. HR frequency is cited as an important stat for fantasy owners making late round selections still on the lookout for power production. Fantasy owners were advised to pay attention to the individual situations of the guys on the list. The reasoning was should their at bats increase, which could be the case for Duda if he becomes the Met’s starting first baseman, their power numbers could increase, also. Duda hit a home run in every 21.2 at bats last season.

As is his habit, David Wright was the highest valued third baseman in the National League with a $32 price tag. Wright was projected to hit .295 with 20 HR’s and 92 RBI’s this summer including 90 runs and 15 stolen bases.

Curtis Granderson ($26) missed the National League’s top ten outfield list placed one slot behind at number 11. Sporting News projects 34 HR’s and 92 RBI’s for the Grandy Man.

Sporting News puts Eric Young Jr. in centerfield at Citi Field this summer and has him leading off in the Met lineup. EYJ has an $18 value and is predicted to pilfer 52 stolen bases. Juan Lagares was never mentioned and Chris Young is found at the bottom of the NL outfield list with a $3 dollar value.

Met closer Bobby Parnell earns the biggest money value of Met pitchers at $8. Met starters Jon Niese ($6) and Bartolo Colon ($3) are positioned near and at the bottom of the NL starting pitching list. Colon is considered the Mets #5 starter behind, Niese, Wheeler, Gee, and Mejia. Vic Black and Gonzalez German were tabbed as the Met set-up men.

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Phil Regan: A Mets Pitching Asset Thu, 30 Jan 2014 14:37:19 +0000 phil reganA cadre of young Met pitching prospects has Met fans dreaming better days are coming to Citi Field. In recent years the young arms have come in waves and if only a few can stick it shouldn’t be long before the Mets are relevant again.

When you read about the Mets youthful pitching corp, one thing almost always surfaces, one thing held in common by all the aspiring Met pitchers; universal respect and acclaim for Port St. Lucie pitching coach, Phil Regan.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. The soon to be 77 year old Regan has been blessed with both longevity in years, years with plenty of energy and life.

Phil Regan’s baseball career in long, unique, and varied. For 13 seasons, Regan pitched in the major leagues. During his playing days, Regan starred on the mound in both the starting rotation and in the bullpen, an added asset when working with young pitching prospects. A starter his first six major league seasons, Regan pitched nearly 200 innings and started 27 times for the Tigers when he won 15 games in 1963. Regan won 36 games and lost 25 for the Tigers over a three year stretch from 1961 through the 1963 campaign.

After a trade to the Dodgers in 1966, Regan was shifted to the bullpen where he went 14-1 with a 1.62 ERA and led the National League in saves. Regan made the ’66 All-Star team and was the Comeback Player of the Year. Dodger great Sandy Koufax nicknamed Regan “The Vulture” due to his uncanny ability to swoop into a game in the late innings with the Dodgers tied or trailing and come away with a victory.

The Dodger right-hander split the 1968 season between the Dodgers and Cubs winning 12 games as the NL saves leader for the second time. Regan won 12 games and saved 17 as the Cubs battled the Mets for the National League pennant in 1969.

After retiring from the MLB, Regan went on to coach the baseball program at Grand Valley State College for 9 seasons, his teams winning 176 games and losing 153. He served as a pitching coach for both the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs and managed the Baltimore Orioles for one season. Regan was also the pitching coach for team USA in the 2000 Olympics.

Regan’s rich baseball history is not lost on the Met prospects he works with in Port St. Lucie. In interviews, Met prospects on the rise almost always identify Regan’s experience as something that has had a profound impact on their pitching progress.

He’s amazing. He has lots of baseball experience, and he knows little tweaks here and there that have helped me so much,” is how Cory Mazzoni described it, acclaim repeated in some context by almost every emerging Met pitcher.

Regan’s magic working with young pitchers seems to come from his ability to communicate and a willingness to work one-on-one with his pupils for as long as they desire. Many speak effusively about Regan’s help with the mental side of pitching, with his ability to help his students erase self-doubt and build confidence.

One convincing testimony came from a former Met prospect Scott Shaw. Battling the disappointment and trauma that comes with a demotion from Double-A back to High Single-A, Shaw said, “If there’s a positive of being sent back down a level its getting together to work with Phil Regan again.” Under trying circumstances, that’s high praise indeed.

Part of Regan’s program are daily meeting with his pitchers and catchers to discuss the hitting habits of the batter’s on the opposing team. Working together Regan and his young battery mates formulate a game plan then massage it with adjustments along the way.

To my way of thinking, it was the Mets good fortune when Phil Regan swooped into Port St. Lucie and took the reins of their High Single-A pitching destiny. Regan’s baseball wisdom, courageous patience, and propensity to help young pitchers develop a mental approach on the mound are the perfect mix for young students. Phil Regan is a sage pitching mentor, the perfect teacher to help young Met prospects climb the minor league ladder toward Citi Field.

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A Promise Kept And A Call To Action Thu, 23 Jan 2014 13:46:33 +0000 drew

It’s a signing waiting to happen. After months of posturing, months of Hot Stove positioning, the coals are getting warm and spring training will soon begin. As of yet, no major league team has signed Stephen Drew to play shortstop for the 2014 season.

Will they sign him or will they pass? Speculation has raged on both sides of that issue in Mets World all winter long. I must admit, I never really connected emotionally to either side of this Great Mets Debate. Undoubtedly, I was impressed with the defensive play of Stephen Drew during this fall’s baseball post-season. Yet, Drew’s injury history was a concern and whether or not the Mets front office’s reluctance to sign on the dotted line was a bargaining ploy, a financial decision, or organizational doubt about the baseball value Drew would bring to the team’s roster, I could understand their hesitancy in pulling the trigger to make the move.

With February around the corner, we’ve reached the decision point. I think the Mets should sign Stephen Drew.

This off-season has been a chance for the Mets to reconnect with their fan base. Over the past three years, legions of loyal Met fans have felt betrayed. There were real reasons the Mets have not been a player in winter’s Hot Stove competition in recent years, have not ‘wheeled and dealed’ like they had during the days of Omar Minaya.

That matters little to many Met fans, fans that live and die for the orange and blue. A minor league overhaul and rebuild may have put down a foundation for a brighter Met future, but there was little recent evidence on the diamond at Citi Field. Many Met fans could only see a team that was standing pat year after year without making any serious investments intended to improve the product on the Citi Field diamond.

Signing Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon, and Chris Young have tempered the ill will somewhat. The off-season signings have teased Met fans into hoping that perhaps a new dawn is breaking over Flushing. Met fans want to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The renewed trust is shaky with Met fans desperately needing to feel a new age has begun.

It’s the fragile hopes of the Met hopeful that make me believe signing Stephen Drew is a necessity. A Drew signing would signal to Met fans that their team really is headed in the right direction with a front office truly committed to winning, and winning now. Signing Drew would be medicine to strengthen the psyche of the other players on the Mets roster and, of course, throngs of Met fans as well.

It is hard to argue Stephen Drew would not be an upgrade at shortstop over Ruben Tejada both at the plate and in the field. In an injury shortened year, Drew knocked home 67 RBI’s last season, almost double Tejada’s career high total of 36. Drew would bring the Mets lineup some added pop, an offensive asset we still desperately lack at this time. In defining the difference Drew could make in the lineup, take a moment to consider who you would rather see batting second or even eighth this summer.

Defensively, Drew is also an upgrade over Tejada as well. Probably the most alarming part of Tejada’s 2013 season was his regression fielding his position at short. I was stunned by his shoddy defensive play and glove work early in the season last year. I kept saying to myself, “It’s early. He’ll shake it off. I know he’s a much better defensive shortstop than this.” But, shake it off he didn’t.

Defense is a lifeline on a team built around pitching. It’s one of the reasons, if it’s Duda or Davis, the Mets have to go with Davis at first base. Adding Drew at shortstop will vastly improve the Mets defense, adding confidence to the egos of every pitcher on the staff. His defensive numbers last season for Boston were impressive and ranked among the top five in most defensive metrics.

Of course, I would not endorse signing Drew for more than two seasons. It is being widely reported that Drew would most likely take a one or two year deal with any team at this stage. Drew has to be concerned by his inability to sign on with a major league team. His agent Scott Boras has been working feverishly behind the scenes trying to polish Drew’s assets to find a suitor, but to no avail. It’s down to teams and Drew can either play shortstop every day for the Mets or become a super infield back-up infielder. I’d wager he’d choose the Mets so he can build up his value and get a second shot at free agency in a year or two.

A two-year deal would also allow the Mets adequate time to evaluate exactly how their top shortstop prospect Gavin Cecchini develops. The Mets picked Cecchini 12th overall in the 2012 MLB draft because they believed he had the baseball makeup and instincts to become their major league shortstop of the future. At this point, it’s doubtful that two more years of minor league play will hinder his major league debut. It should also be adequate time for Mets brass to evaluate the future roles of all the other young shortstops in the pipeline who are equally as promising.

Finally, the Mets should have the money to spend. That has been the message all along this Winter. This has been their promise, a promise three years in the making. Even with last month’s free agent pickups, for the third consecutive baseball season, the Mets projected payroll is expected to dip again if the season started today. Met fans are savvy. They understand that high cost rosters are not guarantees of on the field success. But, they also appreciate the idea that investing on your roster for the right players improves the odds and increases the likelihood of winning.

In Stephen Drew, the Mets will have an above average stopgap at shortstop, and an offensive and defensive upgrade that signals to their players and fans that the expectation of our team to compete in 2014 is more than simply words. It’s action.

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A Yankee Lesson For Nimmo, Cecchini and Some Mets Fans Tue, 21 Jan 2014 17:58:29 +0000 Jeter

A good friend of mine recently sent her only child, a son, off to college. I remember those times as heart wrenching moments when each of my three children left the nest. To occupy my mind, I would usually wrap myself around some kind of project. That may have been my friend’s strategy, too.

Knowing that I love reading about baseball, especially autobiographies, she appeared with a stack of sports books that she and her son had read over the years. Cleaning out the house is sometimes a good mind occupying project.

I got the chance to read “The Life You Imagine, Life Lessons For Achieving Your Dreams.” That’s a tome from the pen of Derek Jeter written in 2000 during the earlier years of his career.

As a Met fan and a contributor to Metsmerized and, I have read several threads over the last two years on many a Mets site, where people almost bayonet the Met front office for their first round draft selections of Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini. When both logged rather modest statistics during their first full season of baseball with identical .248 batting averages the howls were harsh and loud.

Imagine what the reaction may have been had either Met prospect brought home Derek Jeter’s stats during his first professional year. Moving directly from high school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as a 17-year old kid, Jeter was overwhelmed by his start in professional baseball. Jeter laughs at his naivety when he remembers his request to the Yankees to delay his professional baseball start for a week so he could spend July 4th at home with his parents and girlfriend, a request the Yankees politely nixed.

Jeter was miserable that first summer. USA’s top high school baseball player in the country and the Yankees number one draft pick had batted .557 in his senior year at Kalamazoo High with 7 HR’s and had struck out only 1 time the entire season. Jeter’s professional baseball debut came during a doubleheader where he went 0-7 and struck out 5 times. It took Jeter 15- at bats before he would register his first professional hit. The future Yankee great hit .202 that first year in Class-A for Tampa in the Rookie League.

Jeter was overmatched and depressed. He talks about doubting his lifetime dream of becoming a Yankee for the first time, of crying himself to sleep at night, and running up telephone bills back home to his Mom, Dad and girlfriend, of between $300 and $400 dollars a month. That was tough to do in those days.

Luckily, Jeter had a strong support network. His Dad reminded him over and over again that Chipper Jones had only hit .229 during his first year in the minor leagues. The Yankees didn’t dwell on his statistics, identifying characteristics of his batting approach that they liked and emphasizing those instead.

Jeter’s batting stabilized some during his second minor league season when he batted .295 with 5 HR’s and 71 RBI’s, not quite the mark of Kevin Plawecki, but a huge upgrade indeed. But, during his second campaign, Jeter’s defense was a mess. The future Yankee Hall of Famer made 56 errors for Class-A Greensboro.

Could you imagine the ruckus if Cecchini (who has committed 13 errors in his first two seasons) had comparable shortstop fielding stats. My ears would still be ringing.

Once again, Derek’s Dad was supportive reminding his son that Mickey Mantle totaled over 50 errors as a shortstop during his second minor league year. The Yankees rushed Gene Michael, the “Stick.” to Greensboro to counsel and work with Jeter and signed him up for the summer Instructional League to focus only on defense. Jeter was a designated shortstop who only played defense in games after 3 hours of morning skill drill work, 24/7. The young shortstop received one-to-one tutelage from Brian Butterfield the only student for Butterfield that summer.

Nimmo and Cecchini

Let’s make this perfectly clear. In no way am I suggesting or even hinting that I think Brandon Nimmo or Gavin Cecchini is going to become a Derek Jeter. I’m only pointing out that like it was for Jeter, two years in the minor leagues is not sufficient to determine the value of a baseball prospect.

Like Jeter, as a professional baseball team’s number one draft pick, both Nimmo and Cecchini have played the game at the highest plateaus at the amateur level. That’s still no guarantee of major league baseball success. Only with time and patience will the answer of whether or not the two Met prospects contribute as major leaguers will become more clear.

That said, it often leaves me shaking my head when I read some comments here and elsewhere that almost sound like some Met fans are hoping Nimmo and Cecchini fail just so they can hammer the front office some more. Whether you are happy with a front office draft selection or not, it makes sense that every Met fan should hope these entry level prospects do well. God knows we could use the help.

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Potential Deals For Ike Davis Are Still Out There Tue, 21 Jan 2014 14:32:30 +0000 Bleacher Report’s lead writer Jason Martinez put together an interesting piece speculating the top potential trade packages the Mets still might pursue to move Ike Davis. Recently, comments from the front office insinuate the search to find Davis a new home might be over. That may be true, but it’s equally possible Sandy Alderson’s comments are simply subterfuge intended to make it appear the Mets have lost interest in moving Davis thus reigniting the pursuit of the Met first baseman from interested parties.

Mets Ike Davis Baseball

The Baltimore Orioles had hoped to boost their offensive output this winter with Davis an intriguing possibility. The Orioles already have major league baseball’s leading HR hitter in Chris Davis at first, but the use of the DH would allow the O’s to utilize a two-Davis starting lineup if they could make a deal with the Mets.

Alderson was willing to move Davis if he could receive 20-year old pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez in return. Rodriguez, a 6’2,” 200 pound left-hander has loads of poise and a calm pitching demeanor that helped secure a rating as the second best ranked prospect in the Orioles system. However, Baltimore refused to part with their future pitching gem.

Martinez speculates the Mets and the Orioles might still dance if Alderson would consider substituting right-handed pitcher Zach Britton for the young Rodriguez. A candidate for the fifth5 rotation slot for the Orioles, Britton sits on the bubble, out of options and needing to clear waivers should he not make the Orioles 25-man roster. Britton broke into the majors in 2011 starting 28 games for the Orioles. The 26-year old is a sinker ball pitcher who has been troubled the last two seasons with injuries and an up and down performance. As Martinez notes, young starters with five years of team control are very difficult to find.

A glut of young pitching arms in Houston could create the conditions for a Davis trade if the Mets had interest in Alex White. White, once a highly regarded pitching prospect for Cleveland, was moved by the Indians in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade with Colorado. As many pitchers do, White struggled with Colorado’s thin air and was moved to the Astros. The Astros raved about the stuff the North Carolina grad brings to the mound and consider him a top pitching prospect.

Should the Mets bite on White, it would have to be a move targeting the future. Nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, White is hopeful he might contend for a spot in the Astros rotation this spring, but recently admitted at this point he is not yet 100 percent ready to go.

White is 25 years old and was the 15th overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. The young right-hander uses a six pitch repertoire that includes a fastball-splitter-slider-sinker combination. Nobody argues that White doesn’t have major league stuff, it’s consistency that has been his albatross. Martinez predicts White would be a relatively low cost arbitration gamble in 2015 and would be under team control through 2017.

Martinez, next, moves us back to a possible trade partner in the Milwaukee Brewers. Every Met fan knows the Brewers were interested in Davis, and the Mets and Milwaukee were in serious trade discussions earlier in the winter. The Mets wanted Brewer pitching prospect Tyler Thornburg, but the Brewers refused to part with their young pitching gem.

A speedy rise through Milwaukee’s minor league system saw the 25-year old righty reach the big leagues going 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA in four end-of-season starts last summer. Interestingly, Thornburg’s 2013 season was a roller coaster ride. He went 8-1 at the Double-A level before being called up to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League where he went 0-9 with a 5.79 ERA in 15 starts before being summoned to the big leagues.

So, if Thornburg is untouchable, who might the Mets might exchange with the Brewers for Ike Davis? Taylor Jungmann, a former first round draft pick, 12th overall, might execute the trade. Jungmann has not been stellar so far at the professional level going a combined 21-16 with a 3.91 ERA over two minor league seasons shared between High-A ball and Double-A ball in Huntsville, going 10-10 with 4.32 ERA in his latest assignment. But, a high 90’s fastball out of college and a hard breaking curve made Jungmann one of baseball’s most promising young pitchers not too long ago which might be enough to entice the Mets to make the move.

Martinez concludes his speculation linking the possibility of the Mets shipping Davis to the Pirates where Ike would platoon at first with Gaby Sanchez. According to Martinez, the Bucs could possibly throw two different options at the Mets to get their attention.

Pittsburgh’s Stolmy Pimentel is out of options and a likely candidate to be joining the Pirates pen in 2014. That move could make Pirate reliever Jeanmar Gomez available. Gomez threw 80 inning out of the Pirate pen last summer going 3-0 with a 3.35 ERA. The big righthander came from the Cleveland organization. Vastly improved pitching location and the ability to keep the ball down in the zone helped Gomez to the best season of his career in 2013.

Martinez speculates the Mets might also move Davis in return for Pittsburgh minor league outfielder Barrett Barnes. Barnes the 45th pick in the 2012 draft, is a toolsy centerfielder with quick hands, good power and above-average speed who put together two solid minor league seasons to start his professional career.

A bevy of Pirate outfield prospects make it possible the Pirates would be willing to move the 22-year old Barnes.

On my part, I’m hoping the Mets remain firm and Sandy either hooks a top flight prospect, one of his original targets, or we keep Ike Davis at first base. I haven’t lost faith in Ike and have a hunch he’ll put together a decent season in 2014. Even so, if the Mets are committed to moving Ike Davis before the start of a new season, it was interesting to read Jason Martinez’s possible avenues Sandy Alderson might consider when making a trade.

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Featured Post: I’d Rather Have Syndergaard Sun, 12 Jan 2014 15:26:21 +0000 pineda

Speculation is the fuel that stokes the Hot Stove fires. As the fires of speculation simmer in Met land, sometimes during the off-season it’s easy for Met fans to forget there’s another major league baseball team sharing NYC with pinstriped baseball fans surmising what baseball in 2014 will look like in the Bronx.

Recently, those predictions have seen the name of Yankee prospect Michael Pineda reemerge on the pages of the NYC dailies or on baseball blogs. With the Yankees shedding big bucks to bring in position playing upgrades that include Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, attention has turned to Yankee pitching. That’s when Pineda’s name resurfaced.

In a conversation with the Star Ledger, Yankee minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson indicated Pineda should be ready to make a case for a spot in the Yankees 2014 starting rotation. Paterson feels Pineda has completed his recovery from the torn labrum he suffered in 2012 and the former American League all-star can pitch again in the majors. “I was very happy with everything he did, so I certainly see him being able to do that,” Paterson told the Star Ledger.

After returning to the mound last summer, Pineda threw 10 games in the minors posting a 3.32 earned run average while striking out a batter in each of the 40.2 innings he threw. That output caught the attention of Yankee GM Brian Cashman who says Pineda will be given the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot in the spring.

All that Michael Pineda speculation leaves me smiling. You see, on a sunny day on the first day of July last summer, I sat behind home plate to watch Pineda pitch. The recovering Yankee was pitching for Trenton’s Double-A Thunder. The game was Pineda’s second starting assignment for the Thunder with optimism running high for Yankee fans after the big righthander threw six shutout innings in his first start for Trenton.

On the mound for the Binghamton Mets was none other than Noah Syndergaard making this pitching showdown between the top starting prospects of each of New York’s major league franchises a must see Sunday afternoon baseball treat.

Things got off to a shaky start for B-Met fans when Trenton left fielder Ramon Flores lifted a Syndergaard fastball over the left field wall for a lead-off homerun. But, the unflappable Syndergaard settled in nicely to turn in a dazzling effort on the hill.

The B-Mets more than made up the difference of the Flores shot in their half of the first. With one man out and a runner on base, Cesar Puello stepped to the plate waving his bat in the air. Puello muscled a long homerun to put Binghamton on top, 2-1.

But, it was the pitcher’s I had really come to see. Both young hurlers make imposing figures on the pitching mound. Pineda is a giant standing 6’7” tall and weighing a beefy 260 pounds. And, Syndergaard is no slouch giving up only one inch and 20 pounds to the Yankee prospect. Sitting directly behind home plate I got the full effect of what it feels like to have these baseball giants falling forward off the mound and firing bullets.

Pineda, with a fastball a few ticks lower on the radar than the mid to high range 90’s he fired before his injury, struggled with command. The Trenton behemoth was all over the lot. He simply couldn’t find the strike zone. A frustrated Pineda lasted only three innings, surrendering a second gopher ball to B-Met Richard Lucas and surrendering 4 hits and 4 earned runs.

But, it was Pineda’s lack of control that had to be disheartening to Yankee fans. The big righty walked four batters and hit one. Pineda faced 17 hitters in his 3 innings of work throwing 67 pitches with more balls (35) than strikes (32).

In contrast, after the Flores lead-off homer, Syndergaard shined. Thor was overpowering over five innings chalking up nine strikeouts, a season high at that point of Thor’s 2013 campaign.

Syndergaard walked only 2 of the 22 batters he faced and allowed four hits, two of the infield variety. In fact, back-to-back infield singles, compounded by a Syndergaard throwing error left Trenton runners on second and third with no one out in the visitor’s third. Thor worked out of the jam without surrendering a run.

The future Met fireballer threw 93 pitches, his final pitch a 98 m.p.h. fastball for his ninth K. Syndergaard threw 67 strikes with only 26 offerings out of the zone.

Syndergaard left the game with a 4-1 lead, but Trenton rallied to tie the game with three runs in the top of the sixth off the B-Met bullpen. Binghamton would eventually secure a 5-4 victory.

I treated my brother, a huge Yankee fan to the game, and he came away shaking his head in awe at Syndergaard. The previous season, we saw a Zack Wheeler start against Trenton on me, a game where Wheeler, like Syndergaard, yielded a first inning long ball, and was then, pretty much, not hittable. Needless to say, my Yankee loving brother thinks the Mets have the making of a pretty decent rotation in the years to come. On that point, two baseball loving brothers can agree.

(Photo MiLB)

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A Defense Of Mike Piazza Wed, 08 Jan 2014 12:00:58 +0000 Dan Haefeli, writing for the Rising Apple, builds a strong case debunking the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the head of Mike Piazza suspecting the former Met catching great of using steroids over his career.

Piazza, baseball’s all time home run hitting catcher, failed to accrue the votes needed to be elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in last year’s vote. Preliminary projections indicate that Piazza’s vote totals in this year’s balloting may not reach his totals from the previous year.

mike piazza

Met fans are familiar with the arguments Piazza’s detractors use connecting the slugging catcher with steroid use. They reason that Piazza, a big, muscular catcher, played during a time when all the big sluggers were juiced; Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Giambi. The list goes on. Some allege that throughout his career, Piazza suffered with back acne, a symptom sometimes associated with steroid use. In their conception of the baseball world, Piazza had to be juiced, right? Wrong!

Haefeli contends that it would be hard to argue against Piazza’s batting prowess. He reports the former Met slugger ranks 45th (.237) in isolated power and 47th (427) in home runs and his .308 batting average ranks 55th, numbers that are impressive for any major leaguer but astounding for a catcher.

To debunk the suspicions of Piazza detractors, Haefeli dissects Piazza’s ISO numbers and then compares his findings with the ISO’s of other baseball sluggers known to have used steroids.

As Haefeli explains, ISO is calculated by subtracting slugging percentage from batting average and thus measures total bases beyond first per at-bat. Hitting values give singles 0, doubles 1, triples 2 and home runs 3. By adding the totals for a batter’s hits then dividing by at-bats you have a number that projects a batter’s power. Haefeli claimed the MLB, non-pitcher, average at around .160 far below Piazza’s career totals.

Rather than compare ISO career totals, Haefeli graphs Piazza’s power numbers season-by-season over his career, eliminating the 1992 season when he only amassed 79 plate appearances. The result: a fairly smooth, clear career arc. Haefeli’s ISO graph for Piazza showed gradual and steady year-by-year improvement building into a solid career prime, then dropping steadily once age and wear and tear spiraled his career into decline.

Haefeli anticipates the arguments some might make when investigating Piazza’s power stats. For example, how can Piazza defenders explain a steep decline during his age 33 season when his ISO dropped from .264 to .197, the very year after androstenedione was banned by baseball?
Here’s Haefeli’s explanation. That was the year of Piazza’s grueling groin tear, a serious injury that most expected would keep him sidelined for the season. At the time of the injury, Piazza’s ISO was a healthy .280, exactly where you might expect it to be relative to his career numbers to that date. But, Piazza, did return in late summer, and his performance was far from Piazza like dragging down his season ISO totals. It’s important to note Piazza only played in 68 games that season.

Mike Piazza (32)

The following season when Piazza was relatively healthy, the pattern repeated itself. Piazza was Piazza during the first half of the season .297/.388/.506 with 16 HR’s, but a tired slugger’s number’s paled in comparison during the second half of the season – .200/.305/.310 with only 4 homers.

He also presented a logical explanation for Piazza’s bounce back season in 2005 when at 36, after a consistent pattern of power decline, Piazza rebounded. Trying to protect their aging slugger, the Mets dramatically decreased Piazza’s workload and as his workdays went down his power production went up. In 75 first half games, Piazza’s ISO only reached .169. His second half number soared to .272, but Piazza played in only 38 games.

Haefeli’s argument is that Piazza’s career ISO arc looks exactly like what you might expect of a baseball slugging catcher, gradual and steady improvement that stayed constant until too many games behind the plate and a career-altering groin injury sent the ISO graph line on a downward path.

In my opinion, Haefeli’s argument was most compelling when he graphed the season-by-season profiles of baseball’s proven steroid sluggers using a different color for each power hitter. Haefeli’s chart included both Piazza’s ISO season-by-season chart, and for reference purposes David Wright’s, and Craig Biggio’s too. Unlike the gentle peaks and valleys of Piazza, Biggio, and to some extent Wright’s ISO’s, the arcs of guys like Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, etc. were marked by drastically spiked highs and lows.

The visual contrast was overwhelming. Haefeli’s chart represented 31 baseball seasons with ISO’s above .300 – none recorded by Mike Piazza. Piazza’s graph was devoid of the wild, dramatic swings of the steroid using masher’s of his day.

With only soft assumptions and no hard evidence to indict Mike Piazza for steroid use, Haefeli contends baseball writer’s should use hard evidence, baseball statistics like his isolated power analysis, to make sense of Piazza’s incredible career. Those numbers present a compelling defense that concludes that it was not steroids but a unique ability to hit a baseball that was the deciding factor in Mike Piazza’s baseball success.

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