Despite the near-universal negativity regarding the Mets’ hopes for success in 2012, this writer is very excited for the new season.
In just eight days, it all begins again. Another 6 month marathon where we basically become family with a group of athlete-strangers. Taking them into our homes, hearts, and minds on a nearly daily basis every day for more than half of the year; should we play those mythical “meaningful September games,” hell, maybe even longer!
As many of my wiser colleagues have reminded us, spring stats don’t mean much; this really is usually true.
However, there have indeed been some very positive occurrences in Metland this spring with Lucas Duda and Johan Santana being at the head of the list.
Duda, unlike many of the players we hope against hope for, actually had a pretty sterling minor league record. Improved at every level; struck out a little less after each promotion and had excellent OBPs everywhere. Nice power with a good amount of HR and lots of doubles. Last year his constantly improving eye at the MLB level was eye-opening and his play this spring has continued to be at a high level; the opposite field HRs-especially off of Strasburg-were very impressive. Were it not for our other hopeful star of the future in Ike and our horrid Minaya albatross in left in Bay, Duda would be where he belongs at either first or in left. The feeling here is that he will supplant the overmatched and over-the-hill Jason Bay in left by opening day 2013 at the latest.
Johan Santana was not the last piece of Omar’s puzzle, but when healthy he has been a fantastic Met. His overall numbers this spring have not been off the charts, but as all of us—including Johan—know, all that mattered this spring was the ability to throw many pitches each outing with his left arm remaining attached to his left shoulder. As this has basically occurred, and he has not competed with Mike Pelfrey for the coveted Oliver Perez Most Awful Pitcher Award, everyone should remain hopeful. Should Johan simply be able to give us 25 starts and pitch to a sub-4.00 ERA, it probably will mean at least an extra 6—8 wins for this club.
The rest of the team? The rotation—with a healthy Santana—has the potential to actually be the strength of this team. This would count on Dickey at least continuing what he has done the last two years, and Niese and Gee doing no worse than what they have done at the MLB level. Should any or all of these three regress, we could be in for some trouble. But on the other hand, should one or two of them improve significantly along with a healthy Johan, the rotation could possibly be above average, which would be a major victory. The feeling here is that Dickey will indeed continue his fine Met career and that Niese might finally finish a season in a strong fashion, at least in part thanks to his new Proboscis by Beltran. Gee might be a mentally tough youngster, but his arsenal is not a deep one. Pelfrey? What can be said? He has a slight HoJo every-other-year thing going; let’s hope we see more of 2010 in 2012 than 2011.
The offense did indeed finish 6th in the league in runs, on the strength of dramatically improved plate discipline. Excellent team OBP overcame the lack of power to produce those runs. Without Reyes and Beltran, and with Bay and Wright possibly in permanent decline, the team will need major production from Ike and Duda to continue to score at such a nice rate. The feeling here is that Duda and Murph will produce nicely, Bay will continue his mediocrity, Wright will be somewhere closer to 2010 than to 2007-2008, Ike will be something like 2010 but no better, and the rest of the offense (Thole, Tejada, Torres) will produce modestly. Overall, 6th in runs again would be fine but may be difficult to do with the weakness leading off, at the bottom of the order, and wherever Bay hits.
The bullpen is where the true disaster may once again reside. People often have short memories, and while KRod may have been overpaid and overaggressive, he was indeed a good closer. Francisco and Rauch are career mediocrities. They are not terrible but they are not very good either. Francisco has two partial seasons as closer; Rauch three. Francisco saved 25 of 29 in 2009 and Rauch was 21 for 25 in 2010. Other than that, they’ve never had a season without blowing about 20% or more of their save opportunities. Braden Looper blew just under 20% of his saves as a Met. For their careers, Francisco has blown 30% of all save chances, while Rauch has blown about 32%. KRod has a rate of blowing about 15%; 16% as a Met. Heath Bell blows about 16% of his chances.
There are many reasons why neither Rauch nor Francisco has ever been a full-time closer, and why Rauch is on his fourth team in three years; Francisco his third. Were they 6th or 7th inning guys behind a great closer and a fine setup man, they could be very valuable bullpen pieces. But expecting either of these guys to be able to come into NY and handle the pressure-packed position of closer and all of a sudden vastly increase their career save success rate is beyond being “optimistic.” It’s just plain unrealistic. We saw what happened to the 2011 pen when Parnell tried to close. Unfortunately we may see a very similar horror show in the late innings in 2012; this space sees the bullpen as the true Achilles heel of the 2012 Mets.
Regardless, better days surely are ahead. Among Wheeler, Harvey, Familia and Mejia there MUST be 1-2 serious MLB arms, right? Sandy must see some Canseco or McGwire in Nimmo, no? After another 1-2 drafts, surely Alderson and his braintrust are going to have us stocked for the future. Right? Now that Fred has Madoff behind him and all of these new investors and with the Dodger sale increasing the Mets’ worth by the minute, payroll surely will rise and without the feckless Minaya here to throw it all at aging DL denizens, contention is certainly around the corner. Isn’t it?
Who knows. Maybe those who have been calling the Phils old and finished for five years will finally be right. Maybe the Braves’ choke was more of a sign of things to come than an anomaly. Maybe the Nats’ youngsters will turn out not be like Davey Johnson’s Met group after all. And maybe Ozzie explodes into expletives earlier than expected if Johnson and Reyes get hurt and Hanley blows another gasket after loafing for a ball down the line. And maybe Duda hits 40 dingers, Murph hits .350 with only 30 errors, Ike is an all-star, Wright recovers, Johan wins 15 while Dickey and Niese do too, and the team somehow wins its most games since 2008.
Of course, 80 wins would accomplish that feat. And truthfully, from this vantage point, 80-81 wins would be an admirable step for this crew to take on the road to recovery from the Minaya Reign of Error as they boldly navigate a future which will hopefully be much brighter than the recent past.