Quantcast

Spring Training

2011 Mets Might Be Better Than You Think

Jose-reyes-and-david-wright 
 

When you bring up the topic of the 2011 Mets,most baseball experts say they are a .500 team at best and were even picked to finish last in the NL East in some circles.  I say stop the insanity--they were pretty much a .500 team last year without some of their core parts and with a new manager, you have at least give Terry Collins a chance to put his stamp on this team.  Sandy Alderson has assembled a very impressive roster in the front office whose baseball acumen might very real re-define the "mission statement" of the team.

The team does have question marks and will reside in a division that houses some of the best pitching in the sport.  The strategy to stay put, evaluate what you have, and wait until you have more economic flexibility is a sound one which should not be surprising knowing what a solid baseball man the new GM is.  And my sense is there is serious talent on this roster--I mean All-Star caliber talent like Wright, Reyes, Bay, Beltran and K-Rod and budding stars like Angel Pagan and Ike Davis.  This team will hit plenty even in spacious CitiField and so the 2 big questions will be: Is there be enough starting pitching and who is the bridge to K-Rod?

One scout told me, "If Young does for them what Dickey did last year, they will be OK especially if Pelfrey duplicates 2010 and Santana returns for the second half.  They will hit and they are pretty solid defensively."  The 8th inning question is a tough one but not an uncommon issue around the league--that is why the Yankees paid so much for Rafael Soriano.  So, the rotation is the rub here and more specficially, how they perform on the road where the Mets lost in walk-off fashion too numerous times to mention a year ago. 

Many experts pinned that on the bullpen but you could make the argument that an anemic offense put the team in those positions due to the loss of injured players.  And then there is the question of in-game managing.  It is no secret that I was very critical of Jerry Manuel and the way he handled this team but let me be very clear--I personally liked him alot and always said that I'd want him to manage my son in high school or college but at this level, I think he misstepped quite a bit.

 Terry Collins will do a better job of communicating roles to the players and will do less tinkering with the lineup.  This is a group that needs that and needs to play with passion.  My sense is that Jerry sometimes tried to think too much "out of the box" when a simple approach would have served the team better.  Trying to bat Jose Reyes not once but twice indicated to me his stubborness clouded his judgement and in the 2009 season his opposite field hitting drill proved counter productive especially with his big power hitters.

When I look at this team its pretty simple, Reyes is the catalyst, Wright is your fulcrum, Beltran when healthy is your best all around player and Jason Bay, aside from last year has been an RBI machine.  Pagan and Davis are great complimentary pieces and so what will decide the Mets fate is health and starting pitching.

Which makes them very similar to a handful of NL teams aside from the Giants and Phils.  Lets remember the Mets were 10 games over .500 midway through the season last year before that fateful West Coast trip after the break which for all intents and purposes, ended their season.  With a little luck, (which they are overdue to receive) they just might surprise the naysayers.


Spring Training Stats - Don't Be Fooled

The great Vin Scully once said, "Stats can sometimes be like a drunk leaning on a lamppost. They are used more for support than illumination.” Yet, we hang on to the stats we see in spring training as a hidden treasure that will somehow help us to explain how players will perform in the regular season. If the truth be told, that is a dangerous and slippery slope.

It has been well-documented that the New York Mets' starting rotation has put up horrible numbers in Florida, and the critics of the Mets' pitching staff point that out as evidence the 2010 season will look amazingly like the 2009 season. What has been swept under the rug is, high ERAs are rather commonplace in spring training. How commonplace, you say? Well, check out some of these 2010 spring training numbers.

CC Sabathia: 7.23
AJ Burnett: 5.12
Adam Wainwright: 6.14
Justin Verlander: 5.48
Cris Carpenter: 5.40
Tim Linecum: 6.94
Jake Peavy: 6.55
Josh Johnson: 5.82
Dan Haren: 5.25

Add in two pitchers Met fans were clamoring for in the off-season: Ben Sheets, 11.20, and Jason Marquis, 9.15.

Those numbers jump out on you, don’t they? But they shouldn’t, because it's spring training, and pitchers are working on things, recovering from injuries and rounding into shape. Do we really think that the above list which is filled with No. 1 and No. 2 starters has their teams concerned? Of course not, but spring training stats have us all believing the 2010 Mets' staff will flat-out stink.

Now, don’t get me wrong -- Pelfrey, Perez and Maine have a lot to prove, but when I hear people poking holes in the left arm of Johan Santana, I think of the drunk at the lamppost that Scully was referring to in his famous quip. You would think Santana has built up enough equity so that he would be a given, especially considering the fact that earlier in his career he experienced the same exact surgery and won the AL Cy Young Award the very next season.

Yet, people are still holding on to to spring training stats like they are precious commodities. My only reaction to that is: can you tell me what pitcher had the best ERA in spring training last year? You cannot without the help of the ESPN.com stat page, and there is a reason for that: The games don’t count. Never have and never will. You know how I know that? The 1962 Mets, who went 40-120, went a very respectable 12-15 in their initial spring training.

You know when Mike Pelfrey had his best spring -- 2007 -- he proceeded to lose his first seven decisions in the regular season. You know when Jeff Francoeur had his worst spring trainings, he compiled over 100 RBIs each year with the Atlanta Braves. I grew up watching Tom Seaver having uneven spring trainings and that worked out pretty good. I watched Mike Piazza have so-so spring trainings and that worked out OK as well.

Remember what you see in March is not always what you see in April, and vice versa. Yet every year experts hang their hats on meaningless exhibition games. Some people never learn.

Santana Says "We Will Be Ready"

Mets
The last week of spring training has not exactly painted a rosy picture for the 2010 Mets. Injured players will be missing from the lineup and the team seems to have as many question marks as any team in the National League with starting pitching heading the laundry list of issues. The resident ace of the Met staff, Johan Santana, sees it very differently and vows things will be different in 2010 for the Mets and their fans.

"I know we had a horrible season last year but everyone should realize injuries played a large role in that and the whole rotation is feeling good," says Santana.

Still, the spring training numbers contradict his confidence as every starting pitcher was for the most part ineffective in Florida.

As a consequence, the expectations outside the team are very low as most experts are picking the Mets no higher than third place in the NL East. That does not seem to bother the Mets' talented southpaw,

“Predictions are predictions and we could care less what the media thinks about us. I am being honest here and I do not mean to sound impolite but we have good players and good pitchers on this staff. We know it is not going to be easy but if we all do our jobs, we will be just fine.”

There is no question Santana will do his job because he is still recognized as the top southpaw in the league but the question remains what happens when he is not pitching. The trio of Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine have spotty pitching resumes and especially in the case of Oliver Perez, many experts feel he lacks maturity and focus. In light of these deficiencies, Johan Santana has spent more time with Perez than ever before, counseling and mentoring the enigmatic southpaw.

“Ollie needs to understand he can become more consistent because he has great stuff," says Santana, “but he must not change who he is. Ollie is at his best when he is passionate and aggressive and I feel he needs to combine that personality with adjustments he made in the offseason.” Santana may have hit on a key point here because the radar gun has consistently graded Ollie Perez at 91-92 MPH in his bullpen sessions, yet he downshifts to about 88 mph in games. My theory here is that Ollie has become so cognizant of the fact that he needs to throw strikes that he is actually aiming the ball rather than throwing it which keeps his walk totals down but has made his pitches much more hittable.

Two days ago, Oliver Perez spent an extended session on one of the back fields in Port St. Lucie with Santana and pitching coach Dan Warthen and it appeared that Santana was doing all the talking. They did not even allow Perez to throw a ball as the Met ace talked to him about two things: his footwork around the rubber and his follow through on the mound.

After the session, Santana did not want to talk much about it and neither did Warthen but Ollie said, “I worked on some things out there about my follow-through and I know I have to pitch better. I really respect Johan and he gave me some real good advice.”

Whether or not Ollie will benefit from these sessions remains to be seen but it actually speaks more to the resolve of Santana than anything else. “I came here to win a championship and now two years have passed and I have not even pitched in a postseason game.” says the Met ace, “and that needs to change this year. And it is not just my responsibility to be prepared on the days I pitch. I have to help the other guys in this rotation any way I can.”

This is a Met clubhouse that many people say is crying for leadership and the critics are correct about that. It is very hard for a non-everyday player to provide that leadership but I have seen people like Tom Seaver, Curt Schilling, Al Leiter and Tom Glavine provide it for their teams. Santana has the personality very similar to the aforementioned quartet of pitchers and is making every effort to pull the other Met pitchers along with him. The only question is will they listen and in turn, will they perform?

Tough Times Ahead for Manuel

Jeff Wilpon made it crystal clear after a horrible 2009 season when he demanded better things from both Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya - and the Met manager will be the first of the two on the hot seat if the Mets get off to a poor start. The team plays 16 of its first 22 at Citi Field, which puts even more urgency on the team's performance in the opening weeks of the season.

And Manuel won't exactly have all his bullets in his holster when the Mets take the field on Opening Day. Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Kelvim Escobar and Daniel Murphy will all be on the sidelines. A horrible spring training report card for all of the Met starting pitchers hasn't helped either. In fact, Manuel saw enough in spring training to make him re-arrange his rotation in the first week of the season pushing Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez to the back end of the rotation.

"We need to get off to a good start but what we need more is consistency and so to merely focus on a good start is not enough," said Manuel. That's true, but a poor start could put Manuel in the eye of the storm. Ownership feels a $125 million payroll should be enough to, at the very least, compete for a playoff spot. The prevailing notion inside the organization is the talent is here to win and the way Manuel handles communication issues inside the clubhouse will be closely scrutinized.

There were times that a few eyebrows were raised when Manuel conducted his post-game media sessions -- especially when it came to handling issues about players that were in his doghouse. More specifically, his handling of the Ryan Church situation created a fractured relationship. And that was not the only issue. On numerous occasions he backpedaled on comments he had made the night before and such re-clarification of comments became an everyday occurrence. These issues got swept under the rug as the injuries mounted and the Met season went down the chute.

Without Reyes for the first week and without Beltran for at least the first month of the season, Manuel must get heavy contributions from David Wright and Jason Bay to carry the offensive load, especially since the Met rotation seems to be so razor thin.

It will be a slippery slope for Manuel if the Mets are sitting at 10-12 after 22 games especially considering the organization has surrounded the Met manager with a plethora of internal managerial replacements. And that is assuming Bobby Valentine does not somehow work himself into the mix.

Ordinarily, knee jerk reactions to April records do not happen in the sport of baseball. But after a 70-92 season following a year in which the Mets coughed up a playoff spot on the final day for the second straight year has made the Met fan base a testy group that may want the manager's scalp if things in 2010 start out badly.

And they may get their wish if the planets line up against Manuel, because ownership does not want to go through another season like last year.

Feliciano Now In The Mix For 8th Inning Role

 

Saed Hindash/US Presswire

Port St. Lucie -- Being around Jerry Manuel for the past 2 seasons, has been a roller coaster ride. He consistently throws things out there in his post-game press conferences that make headlines but sometimes make little sense. It is never dull and always interesting but you wonder how the players in his clubhouse feel about his "public brainstorming" so to speak.

We have all heard it before--for 2 straight years he has pontificated about batting Jose Reyes third, he claimed last year Daniel Murphy was a better hitter versus southpaws than Ryan Church and he has talked about John Maine moving to the bullpen on 3 separate occasions. But this one is a little bit different because I do believe the manager is serious this time--and he better be.

Why? Pedro Feliciano has been a good soldier for some time and has answered the bell showing durability and reliability in a bullpen that is in dire need of those 2 qualities. He is filthy against left handed hitters but right handed hitters get a real good look at him. He is trying to perfect a cutter that can help disarm tough hitters from that side of the plate but that pitch is very much a work in progress. Aside from all that, Feliciano has been too good a Met to just be paying him lip service here and I certainly hope that is not what Jerry Manuel is doing.

But there is a bigger issue here and that is the valuable right arm of Jenrry Mejia who should actually be sent to the minors to further develop that arm for a future in the starting rotation. I do understand that he has shown the ability to get hitters out as a reliever but unless he is going to be used as an 8th inning set-up man, it is pointless to put him on the Opening Day roster. Your crown jewel should never--I repeat never--interrupt his development to be a middle reliever and it seems that is where he is heading with the youngster. That would be as silly as putting Ike Davis on the bench getting 6 at bats a week when he should be getting 20-25 at bats.

So, this brings us back to the issue of Feliciano. Let's assume for the case of argument, that Pedro gets the job done but the Mets are without a left handed specialist which is essential in a division that houses Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, Brian McCann, Nate McClouth, and Adam Dunn. It will leave a gaping hole in a bullpen that will be asked to get left handed hitters out on a regular basis as early as the 6th or 7th inning.

That's the biggest reason this move would make no sense--you are plugging up one hole(assuming Feliciano can be a "crossover guy" as Jerry likes to put it) by leaving a gaping hole in another place in the bullpen. My other issue is why experiment with this in the final days of spring training? It reminds me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Harrison Ford says, "I am making this up as I go along."

That lack of vision may make a entertaining movie but does not really work in the real world of baseball when you are a manager looking to keep your job. Then again, this could be Manuel's way of giving the beat reporters something to chew on during a slow news day. We have all seen that plate-spinning act before.


Pelfrey very confident about Mets pitching staff

 

Port St. Lucie, Florida-- After a horrible 2009 season, Mike Pelfrey spent most of the winter doing 2 things--shedding 20 pounds in hopes of having more endurance in games and spending countless hours of soul searching in hopes he can rebound from the worst year of his professional career.

"I talked to a bunch of people and I decided it was time for a mental makeover from the standpoint of not letting too many things inside my head aside from executing pitches. Too many times last year, my focus was not where it should have been and that's part of the maturing process," says Pelfrey. Part of that development included having courage to throw secondary pitches which he has done liberally here in spring training. Now, the results have been less than desirable but it is important for him to fine tune those pitches in game situations.

" If I can not try these pitches in a spring training game then I will never use them when it counts", comments Pelfrey, "and I see my splitter and my cutter getting better each time out. And lets face it that is what spring training is for." Pelfrey also mentioned his 2007 Spring Training was his best ever and all he did that year was lose his first 7 decisions once the season started.

The big Met righthander makes a solid point here because spring training stats should be taken with a huge grain of salt and in previous years, he may have hung his hat on a good spring. Still, after his 2009 season, Met fans are putting him under the microscope this spring and he has been mediocre at best. But that too is part of his mental transformation as the old Pelfrey might have let that bother him and it would have affected the way he approached his craft.

"I read the papers and hear the talk on the airwaves and I know people wanted us to be replaced but I have to laugh because this is the same staff that most people picked to win it all and it is just one year later and more importantly, Oliver and Maine are healthy. So I expect us all to rebound,"says Pelfrey. Omar Minaya is certainly hoping that will be the case because he decided to go with his 3 incumbent hurlers rather than overpaying for "B level pitching" like Joel Pinhiero or Randy Wolf.

One major league scout when asked about which of the three had the best chance to rebound did not hesitate when he said, "Pelfrey because he not only has good stuff but he has the ability to pitch deep in games which could help their tenuous situation with a bridge to Francisco Rodriguez." Late in 2008, Met manager Jerry Manuel concurred with that notion when he said,"Pelfrey is a guy who can pitch complete games because of his ability to get out of innings with a double play and so I see him as a 125 pitch a game guy rather than most of today's hurlers who tap out at 110 pitches."

That would be a welcome sight for the Mets since a return to the Mike Pelfrey of 2008 could be a clear signal that the 2010 summer will be much different than the inaugural 2009 CitiField season. And nobody will remember Pelfrey's inconsistent numbers in spring training or his 7 home run allowed in just a tad over 10 innings pitched down here in Florida. It might also provide Jerry Manuel with some much needed job security.


Pelfrey very confident about Mets pitching staff

 

 

Port St. Lucie, Florida-- After a horrible 2009 season, Mike Pelfrey spent most of the winter doing 2 things--shedding 20 pounds in hopes of having more endurance in games and spending countless hours of soul searching in hopes he can rebound from the worst year of his professional career.

"I talked to a bunch of people and I decided it was time for a mental makeover from the standpoint of not letting too many things inside my head aside from executing pitches. Too many times last year, my focus was not where it should have been and that's part of the maturing process," says Pelfrey. Part of that development included having courage to throw secondary pitches which he has done liberally here in spring training. Now, the results have been less than desirable but it is important for him to fine tune those pitches in game situations.

" If I can not try these pitches in a spring training game then I will never use them when it counts", comments Pelfrey, "and I see my splitter and my cutter getting better each time out. And lets face it that is what spring training is for." Pelfrey also mentioned his 2007 Spring Training was his best ever and all he did that year was lose his first 7 decisions once the season started.

The big Met righthander makes a solid point here because spring training stats should be taken with a huge grain of salt and in previous years, he may have hung his hat on a good spring. Still, after his 2009 season, Met fans are putting him under the microscope this spring and he has been mediocre at best. But that too is part of his mental transformation as the old Pelfrey might have let that bother him and it would have affected the way he approached his craft.

"I read the papers and hear the talk on the airwaves and I know people wanted us to be replaced but I have to laugh because this is the same staff that most people picked to win it all and it is just one year later and more importantly, Oliver and Maine are healthy. So I expect us all to rebound,"says Pelfrey. Omar Minaya is certainly hoping that will be the case because he decided to go with his 3 incumbent hurlers rather than overpaying for "B level pitching" like Joel Pinhiero or Randy Wolf.

One major league scout when asked about which of the three had the best chance to rebound did not hesitate when he said, "Pelfrey because he not only has good stuff but he has the ability to pitch deep in games which could help their tenuous situation with a bridge to Francisco Rodriguez." Late in 2008, Met manager Jerry Manuel concurred with that notion when he said,"Pelfrey is a guy who can pitch complete games because of his ability to get out of innings with a double play and so I see him as a 125 pitch a game guy rather than most of today's hurlers who tap out at 110 pitches."

That would be a welcome sight for the Mets since a return to the Mike Pelfrey of 2008 could be a clear signal that the 2010 summer will be much different than the inaugural 2009 CitiField season. And nobody will remember Pelfrey's inconsistent numbers in spring training or his 7 home run allowed in just a tad over 10 innings pitched down here in Florida. It might also provide Jerry Manuel with some much needed job security.


Reyes Set To Resume Baseball Activities

 

Port St Lucie, Florida -- The Mets have come to expect the worst when they get medical updates but when Omar Minaya got the call this morning that Jose Reyes can return to baseball activities it brought a smile to the face of the embattled Met general manager.

The thyroid levels have returned to normal for the Met shortstop and so Jose Reyes can now continue preparing for the 2010 season. But can he squeeze all of his work into 10 days in order to be ready for Opening Day? "I do not want to rule out Opening Day but we have to just wait and see. The good news is Jose came into camp in outstanding physical shape and we will see when he gets here tomorrow on how to proceed," said Minaya.

Jerry Manuel had stated when Reyes got shut down, that he would need to see him in about 10 spring training games in order to be confident he could be in the lineup on Opening Day. After today, the Mets have 11 spring training games on the schedule and Manuel would be hard pressed to be able to reach that magic number of 10.

There is more to consider here because Reyes is coming off surgery and although he rehabbed at a fever pitch in the off-season, you might want to ramp him up slowly since he has been inactive for a couple of weeks. The pressure on the Mets will be enormous to get one of their injured stars back on the field on Opening Day as a symbol to their fans but they must weigh that with what is best long-term.

Omar Minaya must give careful consideration to what is at stake here. Opening Day is one game out of a 162 game schedule and it would not be prudent to rush Reyes through the next 10 days. I am sure the Met shortstop will be heavily campaigning to be at his customary position on April 5th but he is too valuable a commodity to rush him for the sake of selling a few extra tickets.

How valuable is Reyes? Well, when news surfaced about his return to baseball activities, Angel Pagan said, "Really that is great news for us and bad news for the rest of the NL East." That illustrates how important Reyes is to the success of the 2010 season. Both Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel must be cognizant of that fact when deciding his Opening Day fate.


A Great Day For Reyes

 

 

Port St. Lucie, Florida -- For Jose Reyes, the last few weeks have been torture because he was ordered not to do anything unless of course you think sitting on your couch and watching movies is something. So, when the doctors finally cleared him to resume baseball activities today, he felt like a kid in a candy store.

It did not matter that it was a simple day of running drills that included fielding grounders and about 10 minutes of light hitting. All that mattered to Reyes is that he was back on a baseball field playing the game he loves even though he looked spent when the 90 minute workout has concluded. "All I did for the past few weeks was watch movies and sit on the couch and I really missed playing. It was tough because I worked so hard in the off-season and then this other thing (thyroid) happened but now it is all behind me," said Reyes after his first day back in Port St. Lucie.

While talking to Reyes, I got the sense that he has really matured in the past 12 months and being away from the game can do that to a player. I particularly noticed it when he was asked if he would be ready by Opening Day. "I think we just have to wait and see," said Reyes,"because I need to be in there for the whole season and as important as Opening Day is, I have to do what is best for the team." On the surface, it just seems like a politically correct answer but for Reyes it is very revealing. The younger Reyes might have indicated that wild horses could not prevent him returning on Opening Day but experience has taught the Met shortstop to think more big picture.

Reyes also indicated that he will still be tested on a weekly basis to monitor his thyroid levels and that adjustments to his diet did the trick. "I have to eat a lot of chicken and rice now and seafood is out which is tough because I love seafood," said Reyes.

The short term plan for Reyes is to continue a daily work out regimen for the next few days and then possibly play in an exhibition game this Monday which would leave him with 5 or 6 games of pre-season action to see if Opening Day is a possibility. And if he is in Jerry Manuel's lineup, it appears it will be in his customary leadoff spot. The consensus in the Met locker room is that spot is where Reyes should have been all along anyway. Jeff Francoeur agrees, " I speak from experience when I tell you that the pressure Jose Reyes exerts on an opponent from the lead off position is enormous. If he got on base in that first inning, you had to just expect you would be down 1-0."

That is the single biggest thing the Mets offense lacked in 2009 once Reyes was forced to the sidelines. And today was a day in which the Mets inched one step closer to reclaiming it and with it, the swagger that the team is in desperate need of obtaining. So much has been written about Reyes being too demonstrative when the Mets were rolling but the point everyone missed when they criticized his passion, is the Mets were indeed rolling when he was dancing. Given everything that has happened to him in the last 12 months, I am sure the Mets can not wait for the newest dance step from Reyes because that will mean he is playing and producing.