Today is the Mets first Spring Training game. Nothing goes better with baseball than beer. Today’s beer of the game is Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing.
Hazy New England Style IPAs are all the rage these days. Drinkers have an insatiable appetite for them, much like our appetite for Mets baseball, starting today!
It pours a nice golden, or perhaps ORANGE, color. It’s definitely got some haze but it’s not as opaque as some other beers in the style.
It smells of fruit. Fresh and bright. Lots of light colored citrus aroma, like oranges and lemons.
These IPAs are fruit forward, and this one has lots of those juicy notes and citrusy flavors like orange and grapefruit, which is perfect for Florida. It’s got a nice pillowy mouthfeel, and goes down real easy. There’s just a hint of some malt sweetness which provides a base and some traditional IPA piney bitterness that balances it all out. No harsh edges anywhere.
I could drink this all game, though at 6.7% I probably shouldn’t. Much like the Mets, this one’s a crowd pleaser.
Most of the Mets starters were injured last season, and have a history of injury. You know this. I know this. Sandy Alderson knows this. Sandy added Jason Vargas. He’s a pitcher that pitched well for half a season last year after he missed time due to injury in the years prior. Turns out most pitchers have an injury history, and trying to figure out which ones will be injured next year is a fool’s errand.
I would’ve gone after Yu Darvish. If you think you need another pitcher, get the best one. That’s not to say Darvish is without flaws or concerns, or that he best represents the guy you still want on the roster in 2022, but he’s certainly more polished than Jason Vargas.
The Mets pitching depth is deep though. They’ve got 9 or 10 guys of various quality on the roster right now even if some of them, like Rafael Montero, aren’t filling us with a ton of confidence. The Mets season was derailed mainly by pitcher injuries last year, and 2018 again hinges on that health. Can these pitchers stay healthy? Are they more risky than someone who’s been more of a workhorse in recent memory?
Is there such thing as a healthy pitcher? There’s a common thought that all pitchers have some form of elbow damage, as the very act of pitching is damaging to a human arm. A healthy pitcher is just a pitcher that’s hasn’t yet gotten hurt enough to not be effective. This led me to ask myself, how many pitchers that stayed healthy in 2016 also stayed healthy in 2017?
Not very many. There were 73 pitchers that qualified for the ERA title in 2016. 33, or about 45%, of them also qualified in 2017. That’s not a great conversion rate, and it gets worse if you bump up the minimum from about 163IP to 180. 37%, 17 in 46, of those pitchers also pitched 180 in 2017. Of course this includes two pitcher deaths, which is typically outside the scope of arm injuries, but even if you drop those guys it’s still only 39%.
That’s just one year though. Let’s look at the three years prior to 2017 to try to rule out random fluke injuries that may skew the sample. Was the general health of a pitcher between 2014-2016 predictive of health in 2017? There were 123 qualifying pitchers for those three years, but only 50 of them qualified in 2017, so not particularly comforting.
The shocking conclusion here is that pitchers get hurt. A lot. There’s very little reliable way to predict which pitchers will make it through the entire season, or which will end up being ineffective due to nagging injuries that don’t land them on the DL but still keep them from being their best.
There are some guys that have been reliable, but you never really know if next year will be the year they’re not. Max Scherzer has been reliable for years and years but last year he did experience some hamstring pain, and some neck pain. He still pitched 200 of the best innings of his life, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that those were the first cracks of an aging pitcher who’s led the league in innings pitched for a while.
The Mets pitchers were injured. They’re starting 2018 with no restrictions and are ready to pitch, and they have a lot of talent in those arms. It’s almost a given that they won’t stay that way for long, but the Mets have made coaching and medical changes aimed at keeping them healthy, and that very well may be the better gamble over acquiring other pitchers that have been healthier in recent history.
Todd Frazier rounds out the Mets offense and helps solidify them as legitimate contenders in both the NL East and the National League at large. This will be the fourth consecutive season that the Mets will be seriously considered among the top teams in baseball.
We’ll look back on that 11 day winning streak in early 2015 as the start of this stretch of Mets teams. Last year got derailed pretty early, but some better health and some better luck and now some better players will make the Mets in 2018 a team to pay attention to.
Todd Frazier isn’t a super star, but he’s posted good BB% rates the past two years and can hit for power. He’ll be a solid presence in the lineup and if his BABIP comes back up to career norms he could even have a great season. He also plays excellent defense, something that will make the Mets 2018 infield markedly different than 2017 where they basically punted defense.
It also creates a lineup that might have zero holes, giving opposing pitchers no respite. Rosario was a highly regarded prospect, so there’s hope that his first full season will be a good one. The same goes for Dominic Smith, who might still get more seasoning in AAA if Adrian Gonzalez has anything left to contribute. If he doesn’t, we’ll see Smith sooner than later. The rest of the guys should contribute in various degrees, and hopefully Conforto comes back early and Cespedes stays healthy for some really dangerous middle of the order production.
There are plenty of health questions, maybe even more health questions than most teams have, but the Mets have done a lot to try to mitigate injuries in their revamping of some of the training staff and Mickey Callaway. They’ve built in some depth, and hopefully all that pays off for a successful 2018. It’s going to be fun.
The Mets need another starting infielder, and probably at second base. There have been various options discussed, and some of them are even intriguing, but the more I look at it the more it feels like Neil Walker is the best choice for the Mets.
Unless the Mets are going to pull off a Brian Dozier trade, something they might not have the right prospects/pieces for, Neil Walker is actually one of the better second basemen. His wRC+ of 114 was 8th best last year of second basemen with at least 400 PA, behind guys mostly unavailable. He moves up to 6th if you include 2016. His defense has been solid and he’s got an excellent walk rate which is something the Mets need to mix in to balance against players like Flores, Rosario, Lagares and d’Arnaud who have a poor BB%. This is also an argument for getting Brandon Nimmo plenty of playing time, but let’s save that for another time. He also doesn’t require the Mets to expend any prospect resources to acquire him.
Of course, health is one of the concerns. He’s 29th in plate appearances among second basemen over the last two years, and you’d like a little more than that. Though he was still 11th most valuable according to fWAR, so even if he’s going to get a DL trip or two, you’re still getting your money’s worth, especially if you have competent backups that can hold down the fort, like Wilmer Flores. All players are somewhat of an injury risk, and it’s hard to say Walker would be more prone to one in 2018 than any of the other options the Mets might pursue. It’s possibly that these are signs that Walker’s body is breaking down with age, but it’s also possible they’re outliers and he’ll play 140 or more in 2018. Since he’s been here, the Mets have a good idea about his physical shape and medical records.
Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors predicted two years, twenty million for Walker, which is only a smidge above what the Mets paid for him last year. The banter from Heyman, et al, is that he’s looking for a four year deal, but there might not actually be a market for that. Even at three years for 10-12 per Walker is probably a good sign for the Mets, somewhere he’s already played and been comfortable and successful.
There are a few teams looking for a second basemen, but not a ton, and no one seems to be beating down Walker’s door at the moment. He’s not a sexy pick for the Mets, as there seems to to be some reluctance to return parts of the same 2017 team that underperformed, but Walker was a part of the successful 2016 club as well, and he’s definitely one of the better players for a position the Mets have a clear need at.
The Mets are not “back” in the race. They’re not relevant again and the ship is not righted. They beat up on a bad team, but they also managed to drop a winnable game in the mix.
Still, those wins count. This is a three game winning streak, and the road to actually climbing back into things is in front of them. The Nationals come to town next week for four crucial games, in which the Mets almost have to win at least three of, but first they get three against the talented but slumping Chicago Cubs. The World Champions.
It’s a crucial test. If they can win the same amount against the Cubs as the Nationals win against the Braves, and then take three of four head to head, they move to seven games back. That’s not great, and even 5-2 would still have them two games under .500, but it’s something. It’s prolonged progress chipping away at the Nationals’ division lead.
They’d still be up against the wall, but if they can prove that can and will play better than their chief rival, there’s reason to re-ignite some hope for this team after all.
This is a different Opening Day than we’re used to. Two seasons in the playoffs has the season kicking off with anticipation in a way not seen since 2001. There’s heavy expectations on this team, and while we’re all thrilled Mets baseball is back and the games count, it’s in a “Let’s get on with it” way, as we await the summer to see how the team looks, and what needs to be done to win the division. Opening Day is always one of the highlights of a Mets season, and maybe sometimes it’s one of the best, but this year it’s going to be little more than a footnote.
Even though it’s going to be silly for a while yet, scoreboard watching is going to begin real early. In 2015 the Mets shocked the Nationals who were falling apart. Last year they kept it close for a while and still managed to make the playoffs as well. This year is a full-on battle. Each team knows the other is serious, capable, and dangerous. We’re going to get rotations being lined up to face each other. DL stints and roster moves made with upcoming Nationals series in mind.
The Mets and Nationals square off for six games in the second half of April. In a way this is a practice Opening Day, because everything really gets started April 21st when the Nats arrive at Citi Field.
So enjoy your tailgates, settle into your seats. Flip on your tv or radio and listen to Gary, Keith, Ron, Howie and Josh. Let’s get this season started, because it’s going to a fun ride.
There is value to what happens on the baseball field in Spring Training, but most of that is not in the results of the games or the at-bats. We need to stop getting worked up about the preseason stats.
Health and mobility are big ones. How the defenders are handling the mechanics of turning double-plays, preparing for throws home on sac-flies, rounding the bases while running, or getting good jumps when stealing. How guys look trying out new positions, new swings. Is a player being more selective at the plate, swinging at better pitches, or laying off ones he struck out on last year?
These things are different for everyone, and often tie into perceived faults from the year before. If the team felt a defender was taking bad routes to fly balls in the outfield last year, they’re going to be paying special attention to that this spring. If a team felt a player needed to be more selective at the plate, they might be paying more attention to when he swings this Spring, regardless of what happens after he does. These things, more than how many hits he gets off pitchers that may or may not be throwing the way they’d be throwing in a competitive MLB game, are the things teams are looking at.
It’s easy to get excited because Michael Conforto has some hits against lefties, or that Travis d’Arnaud is driving the ball, but ultimately these things are not indicators for 2017 MLB success. The Mets destroyed the Marlins in a game on Thursday, but many of the pitchers they hit were 28 year old guys with little to no major league experience. This is poor competition even if they were at their peak point in the season.
Players hit nothing during March and suddenly start the season 11/25 with 3 HR. Players also drive the ball all over Florida and start the season in a slump. The actual MLB season is such a different animal than practice games in Spring Training when everyone’s working on different things with different goals that it’s a hopeless task to try to figure out what any of it means for the regular season. This is especially true early in March when even the best pitchers are pretty rusty and the percentage of minor leaguers participating is higher.
So let’s just calm down on the over-analyzing of these games. Let’s just let everyone get in their reps and stay healthy and we can reevaluate in April.
David Wright is not throwing in public this Spring Training. Various different beat reporters are reporting that when he ‘throws’ it’s behind closed doors, and have begun to wonder why. Could the Mets be bamboozling us? Is he not really throwing? Can he not throw? Maybe he doesn’t even have a right arm. Maybe that’s not even really David Wright!
Isn’t it obvious? He’s had robotic parts grafted onto his arm to help with the throws from third. He’s testing out and perfecting the motion of it so it looks human, and allowing the skin to properly heal over the metal so it’s not obvious. They’ve floated various vague excuses about college games and not letting the media see rusty David Wright, but the truth is not so much rust as oil, as in making sure the robotic parts are working well and doing any software updates that need to happen on his new arm.
Additionally, the Mets don’t want MLB to get wind of it. Cyborgs in MLB are not something that’s been discussed yet, and the Mets don’t want their star third baseman tied up in legal debates about what is, and is not, human. Sources familiar with this sort of quandary say that the Mets hope to casually add cyborg rules into the next CBA, hoping to have Wright slide under the radar until then.
Dr. Robert Watkins is the one that performed the surgery on Wright’s neck. At least, that’s what we’re told. The building in which Watkins operates is also home to an ‘electronics store’, and a little investigation into that store leads to connections to the government and the defense department. It’s pretty clear that David Wright has new cutting edge technology built into his body by government scientists. Captain America has always been a government super soldier, and that moniker has never been more fitting for Wright.
I reached out to the company, but they’ve been unresponsive to inquiries on this, which is definitely fishy.
It will probably take him some time to fully calibrate the new tech, but don’t be surprised if Wright is a leading MVP candidate by the summer time. Years from now we’ll look back on this moment as groundbreaking in Human-Cyborg relations. It’s why Terry Collins’ new nickname is 3PO.
Dan Warthen and the Mets have come out with a plan to have the starting rotation ease into the Spring and not really start gearing up until about March 5th. This is an injury prevention and workload reduction philosophy that’s geared towards keeping them healthy all season, but I’m concerned.
My main concern is that skimping on the prep work is never the right way to train. To be ready for physical activity the most important thing to do is physical activity. You practice. You stretch. You don’t amp up the activity to new levels until you’ve hit the target below it. In the ‘30s the coaches had Babe Ruth basically not use his legs at all during Spring Training in the hopes that they’d be stronger for the season, which is obviously ridiculous, and didn’t work. Spring Training these days is specifically this long in order for the pitchers to really stretch themselves out in time for the season.
This isn’t different than the Mets philosophy the last few season though. Warthen said that the goal is to have each of them at least get to 90 pitches once before the season and that’s roughly how it’s gone in the past.
This regiment only leads to those pitchers going into games in April still need to ramp up and stretch out their arms to the 100-110 pitches they’ll average during the season. It’s a long season and care needs to be taken, but I bet it’d be better to take that next step in the warm Florida sun rather than cold New York nights. April games count too, but often times managers are still feeling out the relievers they can trust this year, and purposely cutting off a couple dozen innings from your starters in favor of random relievers is not in anyone’s best interest.
There’s not a lot of convincing data that this method, or any method, is going to keep pitchers healthy and effective. I’d rather see them get stretched out a little faster, and taper more in the summer months or when they show signs of fatigue before the all hands on deck month of September. The Mets pitchers haven’t been healthier than anyone else over the years either. There’s a bit of catch-22 in all of this. The rotation doesn’t have anyone that has thrown 200 innings, but is that because the Mets are so afraid of them throwing too many innings and getting hurt or because they’ve been hurt and fatigued from throwing too many innings?
Maybe this will protect the pitchers’ arms, or maybe it’s needlessly protective. They might get hurt anyway, but hopefully this means the plan is for them to be healthy, able, and not up against any pitching restrictions when it comes to September and the playoffs. If we can avoid more Scott Boras innings limit drama, we’ll all be better off.
There’s a lot of talk about what the Mets should or shouldn’t be doing this offseason. Relievers are a popular request. That makes sense as no team ever has enough relievers and with a possible suspension to Familia, the Mets could certainly benefit from another quality arm or two.
Still, it’s January and relievers are volatile. The top relievers from one year are sometimes complete unknowns the year before, and guys fall off cliffs fast. Relievers get so few innings that sometimes the stats can be misleading as the samples size is small. We’ve all seen the Mets give significant deals to relievers only to have them be sub-par, whereas random minor league deals turn out big dividends.
So, where did last year’s playoff teams get their best relievers, by fWAR? All these teams, which include the Mets, were in the position the Mets are in right now–trying to find the final pieces for a championship. So did they go out and sign high price relievers, promote from within, make trades, 3D print them or get them from Earth 2?
Allen was a little off in 2016, giving up a lot more home runs than usual, but was still reliable.
Red Sox Craig Kimbrel
They grabbed Kimbrel last offseason, 11/31/2015, from the Padres.
Kimbrel had a sizable contract through 2017 with a 2018 option so this fits the ‘pay for a big name’ model, and the Red Sox gave up quite a few prospects for this as well. Kimbrel was still very good, but his ERA rose, as did his walk rate. His ground ball percentage dropped. Was it worth the expense? Hard to say.
7/9/2016 trade with Arizona.
Over the full season, Ziegler was better than Kimbrel. The Red Sox used him and let him walk in free agency, where he went to Miami.
Basically a prospect they brought up through their system.
Rule 5 pick from Giants last offseason.
Biagini was mostly an unexceptional AA guy the previous year but the Blue Jays must have saw something they could work with. They got good value from him despite a sub-par strikeout rate.
7/26/16 trade with Mariners.
Benoit was garbage with Seattle and the Blue Jays got him for Drew Storen, who was garbage with the Blue Jays. Storen pitched alright with the Mariners, but Benoit was amazing for the Jays before getting hurt just before the playoffs. He pitched 23.2 innings and allowed one run. One. Benoit has been a good reliever for a while, but he did turn 39 on the day of this trade so it’s easy to see where he might just have been done, instead he was key in getting the Blue Jays to the postseason. The Phillies signed him for a one year and nearly eight million after the season.
Brach is a pre-Free Agent. He was pretty good in previous years but really stepped up last year.
Rangers Matt Bush
Signed to Minor league deal on 12/18/2015
Bush is a unique case as personal issues and jail time kept him away from the game after being drafted in 2004. The Rangers gave him a chance, and he started in the minors, succeeded, and was promoted.
7/31/2015 with Marlins
2015 deadline deal and 2016 closer for the Rangers. 2017 is his first arbitration year.
Giants Derek Law
Major League debut in 2016, and he pitched well.
Signed off waivers from Pirates in April 2013
Giants grabbed Strickland in 2013 after the Pirates gave up on the 24 year old in AA, sent him down a level, and managed to turn him into a useful pitcher.
Dodgers Kenley Jansen
Jansen has been a solid Dodgers reliever for years. They just re-signed him to a long 5/$80 deal with an opt-out.
1/19/16 for 4mm off first year of relief.
Back end rotation guy turned reliever with the Royals and Pirates in 2015 got a $4 million dollar deal with the Dodgers and pitched pretty well as he now strikes out a lot more batters. He remains unsigned for 2017.
11/20/2014 trade with Rays
Came over with Joel Peralta. Wasn’t great in 2015 but improved for 2016. Had surgery this offseason but he’s still pre-arb.
Nationals Shawn Kelley
3 year deal signed on 12/11/2015
Kelley’s one of the few free agent signings on this list. He’s on a relatively inexpensive 3/$15 deal that has already paid off through a successful 2016 with the Nats. He had a career high K/9 rate as well as a career low BB/9, though hitting the zone that much seems to have led to a few more home runs.
7/30/16 trade with Pirates
Melancon pitched really well for the Nationals down the stretch and then left for the Giants and a 4/$62 deal.
Perusing this list leads to the conclusion that it’s hard to determine who your best reliever is going to be in an upcoming season. Many teams acquired a great reliever sometime between the end of the last season and the trade deadline, but it was rarely a heralded free agent.
It seem just as likely that you’ll find a quality reliever as a throw-in for a trade, as a flyer on the waiver wire, or simply in your own minor league system. It could be a minor league free agent that you had no real expectations of. Additionally, plenty of the major league free agent relievers signed did not end up pitching in the playoffs or even pitch that well. Antonio Bastardo, Joakim Soria, Tony Sipp, Tyler Clippard to name a few.
So there’s every chance that the Mets minor league signings of Ben Rowen and Cory Burns could pay dividends. We certainly shouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. Sandy Alderson has been pretty active over the playoff seasons with moving smaller pieces around and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more relievers show up by the time the season really gets going. Or maybe the Mets starters all stay healthy and someone like Wheeler or Lugo gets some quality time in as a reliever.