At the end of spring training, it began to appear to even some of the most optimistic of us that perhaps we were being delusional regarding the starting pitching. Every realistic starting candidate had a pretty awful spring. Sure, spring stats often are not a harbinger of what is to come when the games start counting, but still, the way everyone was getting shelled that last week in Florida was pretty hard to watch.
Johan is Johan, as we all know, and apparently Big Pelf was indeed working on that magical new pitch, and not at all concerning himself with the scoreboard. Maine was shaky, poor, and filled with excuses, Ollie was just plain awful, and Niese was OK. The latter three very much lived up to what their springs foreshadowed.
So what has happened? Omar was roundly pilloried for signing a Dickey with horrid career stats. Most people greeted the Takahashi signing with a yawn. It may be too early for definitive judgments, but Dickey and Taka appear at this point to be masterful and inexpensive replacements who thus far have been superior to Maine and Ollie, whose unfunny duet routine has very possibly seen its last performance on the orange and blue stage. Dickey indeed could be a late-blooming Wakefield, and Takahashi seems to have the stuff and the mental makeup to possibly be a very successful starter.
Score two for Don Omar.
The signings of Barajas and Blanco were greeted by many of the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity with the usual nonsense: Latinos! Over the hill! Bums! Blah blah blah. Not really noticed by many was the concept that these are two good players.
Barajas, while not exactly Johnny Bench, has always been a very good defensive catcher and a productive hitter with power, and combine that with some serious clutch RBIs, and you have a very pleasantly productive presence behind the plate.
Blanco is also a decent hitter, and came with an excellent reputation with pitchers. The Padre hurlers apparently did not want to see him go, and the Nabobs just could not get their minds around the fact that spending a bit for a guy like Blanco to be the number two, when he was let go by SD entirely for monetary reasons, is precisely the type of move one wants in a big market club.
Score two more for the Don.
Jason Bay has yet to amass power numbers as he has in the past, but he has been, overall, a very good all-around player. Even when not at his best, he is still hitting and getting on base, he never stops hustling, he is a very smart player, and least surprisingly of all, he is a very good outfielder.
Perhaps it is an I-told-you-so moment, but this can teach us all something about newfangled stats created by armchair experts, who, as pointed out by Jeff Francouer and Raul Ibanez, never played the game, and cannot be entirely trusted to judge its players. All over the media we read how Bay was a poor outfielder, and â€œdefensively challengedâ€â€”largely due to reading UZR and similar numbers.
Some of us did try to point out that left field in Fenway, as memorably demonstrated by Lastings Milledge, is not Americaâ€™s easiest outfield spot. In addition, left at Fenway has been patrolled over the years by Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Mike Greenwell, and Manny Ramirez. Not Gold Glovers all, but also not a bad lineage for a position.
Some also tried to point out that in Bayâ€™s 199 games in LF in Fenway, he had 20 assists and 1 error. Yes, one. Which is now almost a two-year-old error. He did not make an error last year and has yet to make one this year. How many balls have we watched Bay not get to which we think he should have? Has there been one?
So next time we are told that someone who has pretty darn good conventional defensive stats is actually a bad fielder, and the evidence given is a very new, very flawed, very amateur, and often very silly stat which can be quite useless for small samples and especially so for certain ballparks and certain situations, we need to investigate the playerâ€™s whole statistical profile before giving the UZR crew credit which, in this case, they most comically do not deserve.
There is a lot of season left, and the Mets are always pumped for the Yankees and the Phillies. Indeed, maybe the Phils just are not quite the offensive juggernaut when they donâ€™t know what pitch is coming. Still, what was achieved in the last series was monumental. And the repeated comparisons to the 1969 staff really just cannot be bad either.
Citi Field is evolving into a huge home field advantage for the Mets. For all the complaining about us not hitting homers and all of the outrageous nonsense targeted at David Wright, championships are won from the mound. Met history has always been based on pitching leading the way, and the improved pitching combined with players finally getting adjusted to Citi can make the squad among baseballâ€™s very best at home.
Letting Ike Davis have a month in AAA and bringing him up first, letting the rest of the Junior Core quietly develop together, handling Mejia with kid gloves, getting Mike Jacobs out of the lineup, getting Ollie and Maine out of the rotation, trying to move Jose to 3rd then moving him back to leadoff, finally finding a good lineup after much experimentation and sticking with itâ€”all of this must be recognized as excellent baseball management by those of us who were beginning to lose faith after the Marlins series.
The team has been playing crisper ball, not making the mental errors of the recent past, hitting behind the runner, picking up the RBI with men on 3rd, and making things happen up and down the lineup.
And the bullpen, the one area of the team which most of us agreed would be a strength, has largely been exactly that.
The rest of this season is going to be a showcase for what is to come. This team has a very bright future, regardless of what the rest of 2010 brings, and regardless of whether or not the Wilpons spend big in the offseason.
The veteran talent is there, the hustle is there, and the youngsters are there. Beltranâ€™s absence may indeed be a blessing. Pagan may in fact be a fine player. The team succeeding without Beltran can only make it even better if Carlos does in fact decide to play this year. At this point, the feeling here is ambivalence. Maine and Ollie are the past, and so is Beltran. There is virtually zero chance that he will sign again with the Mets for another huge deal, and winning without Carlos while shedding our dependency on him and the eternal wait for his return can only make the future even brighter.
How beautiful would it be if Pagan plays well all year and FMart recovers, has a great summer, and tears it up next spring? A 1986-Met-style 3-man platoon in CF and RF for 2011? Wouldnâ€™t you like to be a fly on the wall of Scott Borasâ€™ subterranean Hades home when he hears Omar announce this one-year experiment next spring?
Refusing to allow Pedro to try to finish the 9th last night was, to this writer, another example of how we are saddled with a second-rate manager. There are no guarantees, but Feliciano has been so good for so long, why not just give him a chance?
Regardless, the intense adversity the team faced when 4-8 and after the Marlinsâ€™ sweep very possibly has strengthened them as a group and maybe helped them develop an us-against-the-world mentality, which may have toughened them in a seriously valuable way.
Letâ€™s see how this six game trip goes. It says here that the future is bright even if we go 0-6. But should we go 4-2 or better, even this temporarily disgusted fan for 37 years will be back on the bandwagon of Catatonic Optimism and planning costly improvements to the Official Float of the Parade of Partial Positiviality.