Is it really our fourth season? Wow. We hope that, along with the Mets, we are getting better. One of our favorite features is the mid-season report card. Without further ado and with a promise of no homer grade inflation, let’s see how the orange and blue have acquitted themselves thus far in a very surprising and enjoyable first half of 2012. We respectfully ask the reader to remember that part of the grades here take into account expectations, injury issues, and overall improvement or lack thereof.
R.A. Dickey – A: One bad start and a couple of so-so ones are all that keeps this from being an A+. The Mets’ resident Renaissance Man enters the break with a 12-1 record, 123 K, a 2.40 ERA and a phenomenal 0.93 WHIP. Ace numbers, Cy Young numbers, top-of-the-rotation numbers, and numbers which show that this charitable, kind, introspective family man has reached a level few believed he could. He has indeed been good since becoming a Met, but his mastery of the knuckler has elevated him to a status in 2012 that he truly deserves.
David Wright – A: Not much here to dislike in 2012. A few less errors and a few more HR and this is an A+; perhaps it should be anyway. Wright has-as some expected-completely recovered from the beaning, his back injury, and whatever else may have greatly diminished his game the last two years. Wright is hitting everything pitchers offer, to all fields, and is smashing doubles to somewhat compensate for the slight HR decrease. But overall, the BA, the OBP, and the dramatic decrease in Ks and increase in BB from recent years all combine with the improved fielding to make Wright a top MVP contender thus far. In addition, all of this makes it utterly necessary for the team to at the very least begin quietly approaching Wright to start setting the framework for a long-term deal (if they have not already).
Johan Santana – B+: His recovery alone is worth a huge amount, but the overall performance has been inspiring. Yes, there have been a few clunkers, but Johan has also permanently etched himself into the heart of every Met fan with the no-hitter against the Cards. The way it happened-with Wainwright, Beltran, and Molina all playing parts-seemed like a cosmic event which tied so much of the last 6 years of Met history together while forever slaying the 50-year-old “XXXX games without a no-hitter” dragon. Several mediocre starts, but overall very good stats. Johan worked his way back, and is not the fireballer he once was, but still maintains the heart of an ace, along with the guile of a brilliant pitcher, which combined with his work ethic makes him very valuable; he is beginning a new phase in his career, one which has been truly impressive thus far.
Jonathon Niese – B: Some poor games, but overall, aside from HR allowed, Niese is at or near career-bests in just about every stat. He has faded the last couple of seasons, so there is reason for caution before expecting this to continue, but there is also hope that this may be the year where Niese wins 15 with a 3.50 ERA or better. He certainly has the stuff, and he sure has a nice collection of veteran mentors here. In some ways, he is an absolutely huge key to this staff and this team-the Mets have serious number 1 and 2 starters this year, and if Niese has in fact arrived for good, the Mets’ top three are a trio to be reckoned with and which could potentially do serious damage in a playoff series. Playoffs? Playoffs?!?!
Ruben Tejada – B: The grade might be higher was it not for the injury time, but he is again playing very well, and much better than most expected. Continues to impress with maturity and plate discipline along with an impressively serious demeanor. Tejada is also a hustling, smooth, reliable fielder. His play has made the loss of Reyes far easier to take, and as a 22-year-old who continues to improve, he may be the Mets’ SS for years to come.
Chris Young – B: Has not been spectacular, but also has yet to allow more than three runs in a game. Just six starts, but as seems to be his way, he keeps the team in the game every time out. The grade is a solid B due to other factors, primarily featuring his health-he has already started more games than he did the last two years, and should he continue to average 6 IP with a decent ERA and WHIP as the team’s number 4 starter, he will be a key factor in keeping this team in the playoff hunt.
Bobby Parnell – B: Continues to tease with his velocity and obvious potential. Has been better this year, as despite the decrease in Ks, hits are down and walks are way down. Seems to be learning how to harness his ability and locate pitches better, and seems to be maturing, but these things have been being said about Parnell probably since about his sophomore year in college. Remains too good and too hard of a thrower to give up on, especially for a financially strapped team with a terrible bullpen. Francisco will probably have the closer job returned to him, but it will again be Parnell’s should FF falter. The team and fans clearly have a vivid image of Parnell as lights-out closer for years, but it remains to be seen if this will ever come to pass. Still though, a valuable guy to have.
Tim Byrdak – B: Not a great pitcher, but his success in his assigned role and his durability give him the B. Excellent against lefties, able to pitch often, and good K and WHIP numbers make him a nice arm to have.
Daniel Murphy – B-: Definitely this team’s lightning rod for emotion. Murph Nation loves to believe that this is a star hitting machine, which he simply has not been this year. He is a good to very good singles and doubles hitter, and that is absolutely all he is. Yes, great attitude and work ethic, clearly wants to play every day and will work hard to play anywhere, but as a slow player with little HR power, no position, and mediocre defense at best, he remains a serious question mark unless he can re-establish the ability to consistently hit well over .300.
Lucas Duda – B-: Similar to Murphy in the sense that he is a one-tool player, and that tool is dramatically overrated by a significant percentage of the fan base. He can hit some HR, but has 26 HR in 773 MLB PA. Sure, some power hitters develop slowly, but pitchers seem to have figured out how to get him to chase the outside pitch and low breaking stuff, and while he is still drawing some walks, the dramatic increase in Ks is not a good sign. Also like Murphy, he is a slow, lumbering, atrocious fielder, whose lack of skill is more evident than stats may show, as he often misjudges balls; his arm also is lacking despite its strength, as he has five OF assists now in 144 MLB games. Duda is 26 and Murph is 27, so it is somewhat difficult to see these two becoming much more than they currently are. Grade is somewhat aided by the fact that he has been playing out of position this year, which is not his fault.
Scott Hairston – B-: Maybe deserves a solid B, but while his SLG is excellent, his BA is mediocre and his OBP is awful. A good bench player without a doubt, but one whose effectiveness clearly decreases very quickly when he is used too much.
Jordany Valdespin – B-: Power, speed, and versatility have made him a welcome addition to the team. An exciting, confident young player who clearly feels that he belongs, he does need to show more patience at the plate as well as the ability to competently field a position before cementing his place in the majors.
Frank Francisco: B-: This is perhaps the toughest grade to assess. He is 18-for-21 in saves, which is good both cumulatively and pct.-wise. He really has not been nearly as bad as some less reasonable fans believe. He has had a couple of multi-game bad stretches, but had saved 9 of his last 10 chances and allowed two runs in his last 14.1 IP spanning 14 games before going on the DL. It is not his fault that he was given the closer spot for a high-profile team after never having a job like this before, spending his career in TEX and TOR and rarely being a full-time closer. He has not been an all-star but he has been at least as good as could be reasonably expected overall.
Dillon Gee – C+: Perhaps a shade of grade inflation here, due to the overall picture. He is the team’s number 5, and has been quite good for that role. Walks are down and Ks are up, and it does seem as though his arsenal of pitches is improving. Never a star in the high minors, Gee has performed better than expected in the bigs, and really is a good arm to have; if the team can field five better starters, it will be doing quite well for itself, but if not, Dillon Gee is a really good fifth starter, capable of throwing very good games along with the occasional bad one.
Justin Turner – C+: Versatility and ability to get some key hits help give him this grade while poor fielding skills help keep it from being higher. This is clearly a bench player, but a good one to have. Seems to be a well-liked member of the team, will take his glove anywhere in the field willingly, and is a nice bat to have on the bench.
Ike Davis – C: Has improved enough to warrant a C, with a bullet. Has been moving up the charts offensively, and despite the absolutely horrible slump, is on pace for about 23 HR and 92 RBI, which, overall, are right about what should have been expected. The overall offensive picture has been disappointing though, with a decrease in BB and an increase in K, and the continued whiny attitude towards umps which he must grow out of. His defense remains stellar, so this fact combined with his power does make him a valuable player despite the terrible BA and OBP. As Ike missed so much of last year and also has the Valley Fever issue, he does deserve some sort of partial mulligan for 2012. His recent offensive recovery has been impressive, and he remains a big part of the Met future.
Josh Thole – C: Really just a solid and utterly unspectacular player, but does seem very serious and mature, and is a decent hitter who gets on base acceptably for a catcher. Is not a big liability on defense, but is not particularly good either. The Mets’ lack of a good backup to play 1-2 games a week is part of the issue here, as if Nickeas was a better player, the catching position would be much stronger overall.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis – C: Has slowed down quite a bit, and pitchers seem to have figured out how to strike him out at an alarming rate. Clearly has skills and some power, is a good defensive outfielder with some speed, but the overall picture remains murky as each month this year has seen a significant drop in BA and OBP. Definitely a young player to watch, but the key will be if he is able to adjust to the adjustments the league has clearly made in its approach to him at the plate.
Ronny Cedeno – C: About what was expected as a utility player; a few more walks than expected, but nothing too spectacular here.
Jon Rauch – C: Like Francisco, should not be blamed for being thrust into a role beyond what his career suggested for him. He’s not a great setup man anymore than FF is a great closer. Started off the year very well, has been up and down since then, but overall his numbers-much like his career-have been decent but decidedly unspectacular. Just as Francisco would probably be a very good 8th or co-8th inning guy behind a great closer, Rauch would be a nice piece to have to just pitch in the 6th or 7th behind some better relievers.
Andres Torres – C-: Pretty much exactly what was expected by anyone who has watched his career. A fast player who is a good fielder, but very mediocre across the board offensively, and an utterly powerless nearly automatic out as a righty batter. Hard to imagine him being anything but a part-time player if he is even in the picture for 2013. Baserunning mistakes help remind fans of his similarities to the player he replaced.
Ramon Ramirez – C-: Maybe the team’s biggest disappointment. Expected to fill a big bullpen role, has been inconsistent and nothing like the very good-to-excellent reliever he had been for most of the last four years. As many point out, relievers often have roller coaster careers, and while it is hard to say whether he will be back, this seems like a pitcher who perhaps has not been 100% physically and could be a prime candidate for a major rebound in 2013.
Miguel Batista – D+: Really just not very good any longer. Definitely versatile and willing to do whatever is asked of him, but a borderline last man on the staff, his only real value being the ability to spot start as well as relieve, which has had value for a team with terrible starting pitching depth which has been illustrated by Hefner and Schwinden. Not someone who should even be considered for 2013.
Jason Bay – D: This writer is simply tired of this player. The concussions have been terrible and clearly the result of hustling, and while the hope is that Bay recovers fully and quickly, the hope is also that the team will do the right thing when he returns, and play him only against LHP. Bay has been a horrific disaster, the biggest bird in Minaya’s flock of albatrosses, and his offense has steadily declined each year. He was awful in 2010 before the first concussion and has gotten much worse since then. He has been horrible this year when he has played. Let him play against lefties only, and should the team have a brighter OF picture somehow next spring, Bay can be a backup and a PH or go the route of Castillo and Ollie.
Mike Nickeas – D: Like Francisco and Rauch, it simply is not this player’s fault that due to team issues (financial in this case) he has been put in a position he is not capable of fulfilling very well. Mike Nickeas has not been a competent hitter above AA ball, and he just does not belong in the majors on a contending team. His defense is not bad, but he has lots of passed balls, does not throw out runners stealing, and overall his defense is definitely not close to being good enough to warrant his playing time. The poster boy for Wilpon-finance-dictated roster moves, Nickeas surely will not be a part of this team going forward.
Mike Baxter, Omar Quintanilla, Vinny Rottino, Rob Johnson, Jeremy Hefner, Manny Acosta – Incompletes: Some nice depth here provided by Baxter, Quintanilla, and Johnson. Really not much to get excited about or consider a part of the future here aside from Baxter’s potential as a very productive and versatile bench player.
Terry Collins – A: No doubt about this one at all. Not an A+ yet, as we must see how the second half plays out. But Terry Collins has pretty much proved his detractors wrong. His intensity remains, but surely has mellowed with age and experience. The feeling here is that this manager, while perhaps not being a revolutionary strategist or a master sabermetrician, has absolutely maximized this team’s talents. He has every player believing in themselves and the team. He has the group ready to play every day, and ready to fight until out 27, which is a nice change from the days of Jerry Manuel. He uses everyone on his roster, he rests and spot-starts players in a manner designed to not only maximize everyone’s ability to succeed, but also to continue to foster a sense of a true 25-man team. Some constantly complain about lineups and bullpen use, but this is misguided-this is not the 1986 roster here. We don’t have HoJo, Mazz, Kevin Mitchell, and Danny Heep on the bench and a loaded bullpen. The team is terribly thin, with backups and minor league call-ups regularly receiving playing time due to injuries. Regardless of the DL visits and the bad stretches, the word “resilient” is THE word to describe this team, and a big part of this is the manager. The team lost Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Francisco Rodriguez and has somehow improved; the feeling here is that much of this team’s success can be attributed to the excellent job done by Terry Collins.
Sandy Alderson – B-: Really cannot give him better than that. His hands clearly are somewhat ties by Wilpon financial issues, which cannot be debated when one looks at the historic payroll decrease. But still, the bullpen was the one place a lot of money and time was spent to improve, and while Francisco has been what could be reasonably expected, Rauch has been mediocre and Ramirez has been a major disappointment. While payroll surely helped make the Nickeas decision, it is disappointing that the team could not do better. Yet, Alderson hired Collins, which, along with the acquisition of Wheeler for Beltran, was among his very best moves. The disaster state Omar Minaya left the team in, combined with the heavily publicized Wilpon financial issues, have helped to give Alderson basically a 2-year honeymoon. But this clearly is over at the end of 2012, whatever ultimately happens this year. Madoff is settled, the Wilpons have taken in many millions from new investors, and this offseason (indeed, maybe even this trade deadline) the team simply must spend more and spend more wisely. No one will demand a return to the Minaya way of ignoring depth while seeking to overpay as many big-name free agents as possible, but we must see Alderson acquire another bat and 1-2 solid bullpen arms at the very least. Should he fail to do this, the natives-who are largely thrilled with 2012 thus far after the last three years-surely will not continue to be this patient overall.
Overall – B+: Things remain very much in flux as the team has yet to show that it will not be performing the NY Mets 6th Annual Summer Collapse. Yes, 2007 and 2008 were different, but they sure collapsed. And in 2009 and 2010 we can thank our bespectacled giggler-in-chief for helping to set the tone for advanced apathy. Last year there were injuries and the team was forced by finances to trade Beltran and KRod, but again, midsummer hope gave way to meaningful September games for Met opponents sometimes, but not for the Mets. This team does indeed seem very different, and has Collins’ intense attitude. Recent games continue to show an ability and willingness to fight to the last out, and all year after each really bad 3-4 game stretch, the team has come right back. Lose 2 of 3 to the Cubs, win 3 of 4 in LA. Get swept by the Yanks and Reds, but mix in sweeps of the Rays and Orioles. It has been like that all year. The team started 4-0 and has not been below .500 all season. They remain in the middle of the WC race, led by excellent starting pitching and MVP candidate David Wright. The second half starts out with another brutal stretch of 20 games, and this period will very possibly show us a lot about what this team can really ultimately be expected to be. The very difficult 22-game stretch which started June 1 ended with an 11-11 record even after the first three games were wins; to start the second half the Mets go to ATL and WASH, then host LAD and WASH, then go to AZ and SF. Going .500 in this period is essential, and 11 or 12 wins will again move the team forward and closer to those elusive, magnificent, largely mythological “meaningful September games.”
Regardless, this team has given every reasonable fan three-plus months of very good baseball, with the constant effort beginning to lessen the sting of the last few awful years of disappointment. Overall the weaknesses in the bullpen and on defense may prevent them from obtaining one of the two wild card berths, but as long as they continue playing hard every day, we owe them our support. Let’s see Wright and Dickey continue to rehabilitate the Met image on the national level tomorrow night, and then let’s go beat the Braves a few more times this weekend.