Optimistic goals for the rest of the season

You can compare 2013 to 1973 all you want, but the only real similarities are that it’s 40 years later. The Mets miracle run in ’73 got a lot of help from the rest of the teams in the division; something that’s not happening this year. Right now the Braves are too far ahead for the division so that’s out. There are only three teams that they’d need to beat out for the Wild Card, but while the Nationals are catchable, they’d need the Diamondbacks to go 24-25 and the Reds to top that with 19-29 just to force a tie and that’s only if the Mets were able to able to go 30-20 to get to 82 wins.


Those things aren’t impossible, but they’re so unlikely it’s not something you can even dare hope for in early August. So what should we hope for?


Second place isn’t much, but it’s a step up over the last couple of seasons. If the Mets can finish strong, and there’s no reason to think they can’t, they can stay ahead of the Phillies and catch the Nationals who are only two wins ahead. It won’t be easy, as both teams do have some talent and equal ability to finish strong, but it’s something to shoot for. Any measure of improvement in the standings is a good sign.


Getting to .500 is another possible goal. They’d need to go 29-21 to do so. They’re 28-22 over their last 50 games, so that’s certainly doable too. Especially if Ike Davis continues to hit, and the rotation continues to dominate like it has. I think this is a bigger goal than just getting second place, because it says more about the Mets and less about the rest of the division.  It also won’t happen if the Mets have a bad week or two where things fall apart, but perhaps the Mets of May, of Rick Ankiel and Collin Cowgill, are behind us.


Development. It’s clear the Mets have been evaluating guys all year, and while keeping Omar Quintanilla up instead of Ruben Tejeda makes little sense, the time they’re giving players like Eric Young Jr and Juan Lagares to really showcase what they can do is telling. Zack Wheeler is here now and starting to settle in, and Jenrry Mejia has looked good too. Jon Niese will return this weekend to prove that he can pitch with the slight tear in his shoulder and it’s creating a log-jam that necessitates a 6-man rotation. Travis d’Arnaud was just promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas and will probably make his Major League debut before too much longer. Wilmer Flores and Josh Satin are getting some playing time to prove they’re big league players.


Indeed the future is bright. The playoffs aren’t a realistic possibility this year, but have patience because things are certainly looking up.



Spin It: The Bullpen Can Be Good

Welcome to the inaugural #spinit post, where I try to be cloyingly positive about reader-submitted topics. To submit a topic for me to ‘spin’, tweet (And follow) me @Ceetar with the hashtag #spinit or email me at ceetar@ceetar.com.


It’d be easy to simply reference the blind nut principle with bullpens; sooner or later these relievers are going to have good years, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The Mets bullpen has the potential to be pretty good in 2013, and certainly ‘decent’ is a low bar.


Bobby Parnell is a good reliever. He was their best reliever last year, and he throws hard. That’s a start. The Mets have a handful of fringe type prospects and young pitchers that can throw some that they can mix and match in the bullpen. Guys like Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, Elvin Ramirez and  even Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia.


The Mets did fill their bullpen with some signings as well. Brandon Lyon is usually pretty good. He can certainly help.


LaTroy Hawkins is 40 years old, but he’s been pretty reliable as a pitcher over the years. He put up a decent year last year after an awesome one for the Brewers in 2011. If he has anything less in the tank, he should be good for some innings.


Pedro Feliciano re-signed with the Mets. He’s always been an excellent lefty reliever, and if he’s sufficiently recovered from the woes associated with being a Yankee, he could definitely be an asset.


Another pickup to keep an eye on is Greg Burke. Burke made some mechanic adjustments that led to a really terrific year for the Orioles AAA team. He throws side-arm now, and can hopefully use his newfound delivery to get some big outs for the Mets in 2013.


Bullpens are so often a crap shoot, but with the young arms and the potential of some of the other guys, there’s a good chance it can be a strength for the Mets in 2013. This is without mentioning Frank Francisco as a bounce back candidate. He really under-performed his peripherals last season, so perhaps this year he has a less volatile year and locks down his innings.

A Thought On Mets Payroll

Look, no one has any idea what the payroll is going to be.  Sandy Alderson has clearly stated they haven’t finalized numbers yet, and that he’s prepared for a number of different options.


It’s Sandy Alderson’s third year, and he’s going to start feeling some pressure to not just point this team in the right direction, but actually get them to take a step or two.  The Wilpons have always seemed willing to invest in a plan that makes the Mets better.  They haven’t exactly shied away from spending money in the past, and the recent drop was in part due to plummeting revenues as well as financial messes.  These last couple of years are obvious exceptions to the willingness to spend money, but they DID invest more money by buying minority shares.  This was always the plan, and it stands to reason that if needed the Wilpons could manage at least a slightly higher payroll if need be.  Maybe that’s not the case, but it’s really impossible to say as we’re not privy to that information.


Combine those two and I suspect Sandy Alderson will pitch a plan with a slightly higher payroll, depending on if he can acquire the pieces he’s targeting, and that the Wilpons will approve that.  Alderson will be selling it as a probable way to make the Mets better, which will also increase revenue if it works out.  This isn’t to say the Mets payroll definitely increases; If the players Alderson wants that would increase payroll are not available, for any number of reasons, he’s not obligated to raise the payroll just because he has the green light.  Which is part of the reason he’s not going to tell us what the target numbers are.  (Another part being it hurts his negotiating position with free agents if they know exactly how much money he has to spend)


It actually makes sense to spend a little in 2013.  Barring Johan Santana returning to Cy Young form, or Jason Bay making a run at the MVP, both players come off the books after next seasons freeing up a lot of money.  It’s probably reckless to spend it all at once, and there’s no guarantee that there will be enough quality players the Mets need to acquire available to spend it.  Spend a little bit above budget in 2013 with the expectation that it’ll come down again in 2014 with all the money coming off the payroll.  While the Mets have a lot of money owed next year, they’ve got virtually none of it committed to future years.  Spending a little this off season is not going to create a logjam of contracts or leave the Mets unable to get out from under a pile of unproductive players.


The Mets need to get better, and Sandy Alderson has suggested that the roster won’t look the same regardless of what the budget is.  It’s probably more set than it seems.  The infield and starting pitching look pretty good, and the bench is certainly passable with guys like Hairston and Baxter and even Turner and Cedeno.  Whatever does happen with the budget, we can probably count on Sandy Alderson doing everything he can to make this team much better next year.

Ike Davis Has Been Really Good

Ike Davis had barely a full seasons worth of games under his belt before he missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury.  For someone that inexperienced maybe it’s not surprising he got off to such a poor start.  His second half has been amazin’ though, so it definitely gives you hope for next year.


Across the first third of the season Ike Davis was playing very badly.  He’d had a hot streak to end April and a couple of good games in a row to end May, but they didn’t last long.  On June 8th he finished the day batting .158.  This would represent the low point for Ike Davis on the season, and perhaps in his entire career.  If you recall this was during the time period that more and more of the fans and media were calling for Davis to be sent down to the minors.  The Mets had given him a vote of confidence to stave off the endless questions about demoting him, but even that was starting to wear off.


Then he had a nine game hitting streak including six RBI against the Rays, two home runs, and seven walks.  He did not have another multi-strikeout game again, something he’d been doing frequently, until a June 25th game against the Cubs in which he was fanned twice.  However, he also homered in that game for the Mets only run.


Since the start of that streak on June 9th (through September first when I’m writing this), Ike Davis has been awesome.  Specifically he’s been smashing the baseball as hard as anyone in the game.   He’s hitting .270/.336/.573 in those 71 games.  If he’d put up that slugging percentage for the entire year, he’d be 6th in all of baseball.   Granted this is picking and choosing endpoints, but 71 games is nearly half a season and represents a sizable chunk of Davis’ major league career.   He’s hit 20 home runs in those games, something that equates to 46 home runs over a full 162.   You’d like to see him walk a bit more, especially since as teams catch on that he’s hitting the ball as well as any slugger in the game the pitchers are going to make further adjustments to avoid giving him hittable pitches.  If he can lay off these pitches he’ll end up with more walks.  Hopefully it doesn’t take him two months to re-adjust next time.

Give Me Factual Arguments, Not Boasts About Being Right

With over a month left of baseball it feels like a lot of people have already made up their minds about what the Mets should do.  Not only with the rest of the season and who gets playing time, but what they should do in the offseason and who should be the front runners for spots in 2013.  There is a lot of time to worry about the offseason, and the remaining games will still tell a lot about the Mets.  If we’re going to get a real sense of what’s going on this offseason, it’s important to pay attention to these next 39 games in addition to the ones we’ve already seen.


It’s so easy to jump the gun in today’s society of instant-reaction.  We’re in such a rush to be first to a topic, or to be correct in analysis, that we often run roughshod over facts and data to shout to the world that we told it so.   The Mets record sinks, or rises, to what we thought it would be and we’re quick to point out that it’s what we expected.  We’re silent two weeks ago when Andres Torres was hitting the ball and had a league average OPS+, but now riding a pretty bad slump we’re quick to call for Sandy Alderson to non-tender him in the offseason, despite the possibility that he could hit .350 the rest of the season and have very respectable numbers.


This week’s storyline is that the Mets have quit playing hard, even though there are still 39 games left.  They could go a rather pedestrian 21-18 and still finish better than last year.   The Mets fundamentals have been sloppy all season.  They’ve failed to advance on the bases, they’ve made bad throwing decisions, taken bad at-bats, and let balls fall in front of them that they got a bad jump on.  Simply put, they’re not real good in the field.  Them continuing to do these things is not indicative of effort but of talent.   On top of that, the other teams have learned that the Mets won’t throw them out at home.   That know they can expect the balls to drop in and be ready to take the extra base.  The scouting reports suggest that Josh Thole is not going to nab them at second if they get a good jump.  In the second half of the season teams take advantages of the weaknesses they saw in other teams in the first half while trying to patch their own.  The Mets failure to do this was a reflection of the talent level, roster depth, and injury, not one of how much they respect their manager.  Despite being four games over .500 on July 29th last year, the Mets fell to eight games under on August 23rd in less than a month and still played .500 baseball from that point forward.


The problem here is that the current state of the Mets is how they’re going to be perceived until the 2013 season starts.   Excepting the true die-hards most fans (and the media that’s going to be writing season recaps stories and season preview stories next year) will be refocusing some or all of their attention to other things.  There are plenty of pennant races going on elsewhere, the traditional television schedule starts up soon with new shows, the NFL starts it’s schedule pretty soon and kids go back to school and life moves on, leaving the Mets to play out the string with very little true analysis of what’s going on.  Even if the Mets win 22 of their last 39 games, they’ll be remembered as having gone into a tailspin in the second half.  Ike Davis, who’s had a good second half, could get his on base percentage over .300 and that’ll be quite an accomplishment, but his season will be remembered for the horrible start and when people look at his overall stat line, it won’t reflect the hard work he’s put in.  When everyone else around him was struggling to make second half adjustments, Davis did and the results are there if you look for them.


There is no prize for predicting how events were going to turn out in sports or how individual players would perform.  More important is thinking about why things turned out that way, what could have been done to fix it, and what are some of the ideas to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  “I told you Jason Bay sucked” is not analysis, and following it up with “Andres Torres sucks too, non-tender him” does not carry more weight because you were right about Jason Bay.


Here’s a piece of advice going forward:  Try making a coherent argument against what you believe.  If you think Ruben Tejada is a solid contributor for 2013, look up his baseball-reference page and try to come up with an argument for why the Mets should look elsewhere for a shortstop.   Then read your argument and see if it sounds believable.  If it doesn’t you probably aren’t making a thorough enough argument, because in baseball it’s pretty easy to make a case for the success or failure of most players.  It’s a game of percentages and probabilities.  Even perennial All-Stars have negative things to look at and pitfalls to worry about, but the chances that the things in the positive column happen are way more likely than the negative.  With other players the chances are smaller.   Ruben Tejada’s batting average on balls in play is pretty high, he’s walking less than less year and striking out more.  Those are all notable things and the chances are high that that some of his hits he’s been getting will stop finding holes and become outs.  That argument is, probably, out-weighed by the high line drive percentage and the increase in doubles.  It’s easy to look at both pieces of information and conclude that you think the chances are better that he’ll continue seeing the ball well and hit it hard for more doubles, but without the context of the batting average on balls in play and walk rate, it’s hard to guess what will happen the next time Tejada has a little slump.


With so much information and so many stats out there, it can be pretty easy to find something that supports your preconceived notion of what you think of a certain player or team.  It’s important to stop worrying about trying to prove what you think and try to get a truer sense of what’s actually going on.  Because nothing’s more believable than a well-reasoned factual argument.

The Re-Sign Ronny Cedeno Campaign

Everyone knows about Kelly Shoppach and Scott Hairston and how they both could help the Mets next year if they’re re-signed, but Ronny Cedeno is not getting enough love.


Ronny Cedeno is the backup middle infielder and has gotten 140 plate appearances this season.  He’d probably have more if he hadn’t had a brief DL stint.  He’s got an .822 OPS with a .367 OBP.   Of Mets with 100 at-bats, he’s 3rd in OBP behind David Wright and Mike Baxter, and Scott Hairston overtakes him in OPS due to his awesome slugging.   Ignoring the obvious problem of having three part time players out-performing most of the regulars, Ronny Cedeno would be a really useful player for the Mets next year.


He’ll only be 30 next year and plays the middle infield positions pretty well.  He hits right-handed which is useful for the Mets if they continue to have a pretty lefty-heavy team.   He’s not really a stolen base guy (hasn’t attempted one all year) but he’s not slow.  He’s not really a power guy, but you can live with that from the backup in the middle infield, and he does have three in limited time this season.


Certainly he’s having a career year, and it’s been so few at-bats that it’s hard to rule out it being anything but luck, but he has increased his walk rate by over 4% to a very good 10.7% and raised his extra base hit percentage.  This seems to reflect the not swinging at bad pitches and waiting for ‘your pitch’ that has been Dave Hudgen’s philosophy.  His swing percentages are down, also suggesting he’s laying off balls and unhittable pitches.   So perhaps he really has learned something in New York, even if his .455 slugging percentage is probably unrealistic.


Given the option of believing Cedeno has made progress at the plate versus looking for another guy to fill that role that we hope can contribute, I’d definitely like to keep Ronny here next year.

On Wishing Johan Santana into the Cornfield

The talk lately has been whether or not the Mets should shut down Johan Santana for the season.  He’s been mostly ineffective lately, and there is a growing concern that he’s hit a wall with all the rehab and work he’s put in to be healthy this season.  No matter what you or I think, the Mets and Santana have a lot more knowledge of the situation than we do.  There is probably no clear and obvious answer here even for the Mets, and especially not for people outside the situation, which includes the media.  The media are writers and reporters, not doctors.  They’re as unqualified to speak on the right course of action as they were to speak on the state of the Mets finances.  Take their info on how Santana is feeling and what the Mets are saying about it, but their prescribed course of action is not necessarily the best one.


Personally I’d err on the side of keeping him pitching.  At least until he throws a good game or two.  This is all presuming that there isn’t some unseen or unreported injury, but recovering from a serious injury to perform at the top level of your craft is hard, tenuous work.  Throughout his life Johan Santana’s arm has been what’s separated him from his peers, it’s what makes him special.  To have that arm give out on you so seriously can be crushing.  I imagine that feeling has been in the back of Johan’s mind all season.  The same is true of any injury; if you hurt your foot even days after you feel no pain you still often step tenuously because you expect it to hurt.  Johan Santana has all the same doubts floating through his head that we do about the durability of his shoulder and whether he’s the same pitcher.  So on that note, I think it’s valuable for him to get through this period the same way any pitcher wants to get through the valleys inherent in every season.  It’s important for him to dismiss the doubts that his shoulder is failing him and allow it not to be the undercurrent of every outing he has next spring.  Reaffirm that hard work will get him where he needs to go, and then shut him down.


I do think there could be some value in getting Johan Santana an extra week or two off this offseason by shutting him down in September once he’s hopefully bounced back from this stretch.  The Mets might like to get a start or two out of prospects like Colin McHugh or Jeurys Familia and Santana’s spot would be one way to do that. After all Johan Santana has given us as fans, particularly the no-hitter, it’d be nice to see him go out this year on a high note.

The Second Half Swoons

So why the second half swoons? What has befallen this Mets team that’s kept them from playing as good baseball as they played the first half?  Why does this seem to be a theme, year to year?


I wrote about the Mets margin of error a month ago, and they haven’t played much better since.  I think this plays in to the second half; when it’s time to make adjustments and tweaks for the second half, the Mets haven’t done so.  Part of this is lack of depth for sure, the Mets in recent years haven’t had enough players to cover injuries, sometimes guys having strong starts don’t adjust when the league starts adjusting to what they’re doing.


The Mets were playing the line between winning and losing so close that a couple of adjustments, injuries, or slumps ended up ruining their season.  Such as when David Wright stopped hitting for two, or when Dillon Gee went down.  I think Gee’s blood clot in the shoulder may have been more demoralizing than people think.  It’s one thing when a teammates hurts himself giving it his all on the field, but to come up with a sudden medical malady?  I could see how that could jar you out of the competitive nature of a game when life interjects.  Nieuwenhuis stopped hitting, Duda struggled and even Davis didn’t ride out the hot streak long enough to make up for his bad April and May.


The Mets played very well in June, but I might make the case that they underperformed.  They had one of the best pitching staffs in June, with R.A. Dickey doing historic things, and managed to lose a couple of games they probably should’ve won.  The bullpen was not horrible in June either.   Perhaps if they’d gone into the All-Star Break a couple of games better they would’ve come out of it with a different attitude and focus and maybe would’ve fared differently.  Maybe not.


It seems clear to me that the good teams made adjustments and the Mets either didn’t have the talent, ability, or preparation to make counter adjustments.  They got hit with good teams coming out of the break and ended up getting knocked out.   Some of it’s injury and depth.   Kirk Nieuwenhuis is a good example of this.  Perhaps if Andres Torres has stayed healthy, Kirk would’ve come up in July instead and he’d have added an offensive jolt at that time instead of tailing off.  The Mets had no other outfielders to call up as Jason Bay, Nieuwenhuis, and Lucas Duda struggled.  They had no counter-attack.  They had options in the bullpen, but those options ended up being almost as ineffective as the guys they replaced.


The Mets had some talent, but it turned out that more of the flaws caught up with them than talent shining through.  With just one or two players having a little big more impact, it feels like the Mets might have weathered the storm.  Having the Kirk Nieuwenhuis of April and May over the Jason Bay of July and August almost seems like it might have been the difference between the 77 win Mets and the 87 win Mets.   This is definitely over-simplifying it, but perhaps the Mets are only a couple of adjustments away from being consistently good.  It’s certainly going to be an interesting offseason to see what adjustments the Mets end up making.  There’s a lot of baseball still to be watched this season, and some of these guys may be playing for a job next year.

The Bridge Between Hope and Elimination

There are often two extremes to any situation.  One side will tell you the Mets playoff hopes are over, while the other might say they live on until the Mets are mathematically eliminated or at least further than 7 out with 17 to play.   Right now we’re bridging the gap between the two in a murky cloud where the Mets try to grasp at the last tendrils of hope before they flutter away.


53 games to play is a lot of games left in front of the Mets on the season.  With that many games left the Mets are still chasing a number of wins more than a Wild Card leading team.  After all, the team that’s leading today might not be the team that wins, meaning you’re not quite as far behind as it looks.  It wouldn’t even take a collapse to drop the number needed to qualify for the postseason to 88 wins, just a less than awesome second half by a couple of teams.  Currently the team occupying the low end of the playoff spectrum in the National League is the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 93 win pace, followed by the Cardinals with an 89 win pace.  There isn’t enough hope to bet on, but perhaps there is just enough to fill a dream.


The Pirates have not had a winning record since 1992, as pretty much everyone is aware of these days.  The Pirates have long been held up as the example of the team you’re supposed to beat on the schedule.  The Pirates have not won a postseason series since 1979, which was before I was born.  Is it impossible that a Pirates team that won less games than the Mets last year falters a little in the second half? Andrew McCutchen may be the best player in baseball this year, but can he sustain this incredible pace all the way to the end and if he doesn’t can the Pirates  compensate for the drop in offense?  Look at the Mets since David Wright stopped batting .350.


It’s worth taking a moment out from my point here to suggest you take the opportunity to watch McCutchen if you have a chance.  He’s having an amazing year.


Even if 88 wins is the mark the Mets need to get to, they’d need to play to a 35-18 record the rest of the way.   That’s quite a record, but it’s not an insurmountable one.  It would require some very good baseball, quality baseball that the Mets have no sustained for that length of time all year, but it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world if it happened.  The schedule works in their favor too, as they’ll be able to affect the wins and losses of some of the teams they’re chasing, including the Braves, Pirates, and Cardinals.


Time however, is not on the Mets side.  If they’re going to make a run it has to be now.  The last remnants of hope lurking in the recesses of the Mets season will be cleaned out and packed away for next year of the Mets don’t start a serious winning streak over the next week or two.   Winning road trips or home stands are no longer enough.  They need to win series and mix in a sweep or two.  Until then, the Mets exist in this murky state where you know they can get back into the hunt but you can’t quite see the path they’d have to take to get there.

Pictures/Fashion From Last Night’s Game

The Council of Fashion Designers of America were at Citi Field yesterday to debut their new Mets collaboration.


The line, which features a variety of jerseys, Henley shirts, trail jackets, tanks and t-shirts by the likes of Billy Reid, Yigal Azrouël, Rogan Gregory for Loomstate, Scott Haan and Jeff Halmos for Shipley Halmos, will be sold exclusively at Citi Field from July 24, and is available now for special pre-order at online concept store Edition01.com.


If you’re looking for something different in the area of Mets apparel, this might be a way to go.  I’m not really into fashion myself, and would probably stick with something from The 7 Line, but some of this was interesting looking.


<click below for more pictures, including game/Mets stuff>

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