Eric Young and the story of the 2013 Mets

When I was a boy, I read every sports book I could get my hands on. I read more than my share of disposable biographies on baseball players and rooted for the hero of the story, regardless of what team he played on. It wasn’t unusual for me to read a book about a player who played in, for example, the 1965 World Series with the Twins and cheer relentlessly for that player and team to win it all. And then a week later read a biography on a Dodger player from that era and cheer just as hard for LA to win the same series.

I love narrative storytelling and I do not pretend otherwise.

What I’m not such a big fan of is when people use narrative as analysis. If a veteran team wins the World Series, it’s because they’ve been there before and knew how to handle the moment. If a young team wins the World Series, it’s because they didn’t realize the pressure of the moment. That’s but one example – you could undoubtedly think of many, many other instances when this type of stuff is passed off as pearls of wisdom.

These narratives are twisted to fit the moment. It’s not that they are 100% false – rather it’s an after-the-fact attempt to give mystical powers to things that likely played tangential parts to the ultimate outcome. Maybe it made no difference that the winning team had a bunch of veterans. Perhaps it was three players who posted a 1.500 OPS that was the deciding factor. Maybe it wasn’t kids who didn’t realize the significance of the moment but rather two pitchers who combined to throw 30 scoreless innings.

And maybe in addition to talented players performing well, it can also be a guy enjoying good or bad fortune at a key time.

Gary Carter’s legend includes starting the winning rally in Game 6 because he didn’t want to be the guy to make the last out in the World Series. Contrast that to Carlos Beltran getting called out on strikes to end the 2006 NLCS. Some people believe that Carter willed himself to succeed in a position where Beltran just didn’t want it enough. That’s ridiculous.

There’s no doubt that Carter didn’t want to make the last out. But if he had this mystical power – why didn’t he use it all of the time? If he could will himself a hit on demand, why didn’t he use it in Game 5 of the 1988 NLCS when he came to the plate as the tying run with two outs? Why didn’t he get a hit against the Cardinals in October of 1985 with two outs and two runners in scoring position in a game that if the Mets had won, would have put them in a tie for first place?

Carter getting a hit with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning in 1986 was not a reflection of his character, no matter what people might try to tell you, just like him making key outs in the other two big situations above did not reveal anything about him, either.

While it might be great storytelling to pretend otherwise, it’s lousy analysis.

This brings us to today and the legend of Eric Young Jr. When the Mets picked up Young, they were 13 games under .500 for the season. Since then, he’s played in all 21 games and the Mets are 13-8. I have heard from more than one fan that Young’s addition has been the driving force behind the team’s recent success and that he brings much-needed emotion to the team.

Young’s addition came shortly after the demotion of Ike Davis to the minors. Davis had a .500 OPS before being sent to Triple-A. The Mets replaced Davis with Jordany Valdespin, who put up a .261 OPS in his six games as a starter. Two days later Young is playing everyday and he puts up a .766 OPS in his first 20 games.

If you ever saw Davis react after a strikeout, it’s clear he plays with some emotion. If you’ve ever seen Valdespin, well, do anything on a baseball field, it’s obvious he plays with a lot of emotion. So, what’s special about Young’s emotion?

It reminds me of a line attributed to football coach Bobby Bowden, who when asked about the importance of emotion in football, allegedly responded: “No one’s more emotional than my wife and she can’t play football worth a darn.”

Young has been a catalyst. He’s gotten on base in 20 of the 21 games he’s played for the Mets and he’s scored 14 runs and driven in 10 more in that span. He’s an MLB-quality player enjoying a nice hot streak. It happened to Justin Turner in 2011, it happened to Kirk Nieuwenhuis in 2012 and now it’s happening to Young.

Turner had a .914 OPS over a 20-game stretch in 2011. He’s a lifetime .673 OPS player. Nieuwenhuis had an .861 OPS over a 22-game stretch in 2012. He’s a lifetime .684 OPS hitter in the majors. And now Young is doing his version of this same thing. He has a lifetime .681 OPS.

It’s possible that at age 28 Young is going to enjoy his best season ever in the majors. He’s in the prime of his career, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise if he exceeded his lifetime numbers to this point over the rest of the 2013 season. But if he does so, it will not be because of his “emotion” on the field, unless he suddenly took some type of PED emotion pills.

A sinkhole in the lineup (Davis/Valdespin) was replaced with league-average production. The same thing happened at shortstop. The Mets gave their starting catcher not hitting his weight some days off and that has paid off, too. The starters are giving innings and the bullpen isn’t imploding on a daily basis. There’s a lot of moving parts to explain how the Mets have gone from a terrible team to one that is playing above .500 over the past three weeks.

It’s actually a really good story all on its own. It doesn’t need any embellishment or myth-making to be worthwhile. In fact, I’d argue the exact opposite was true, that claiming Young’s emotion has played a key role in the team’s strong play detracts from what is already a pretty gripping tale. The real storyline is how the Mets have overcome both a roster low on talent due to ownership’s financial problems and the daily managerial blunders to play at a .619 winning percentage.

The Mets have 74 games remaining in the 2013 season. If they continue to play at that .619 percentage, they’ll finish the year 46-28 for a final record of 86-76. That probably wouldn’t be enough to make the playoffs but I would argue that not only would that be a story worth writing, it would be one that all Mets fans, even impressionable kids, would enjoy reading.

27 comments for “Eric Young and the story of the 2013 Mets

  1. July 11, 2013 at 1:27 am

    The Mets just weren’t a very cohesive team. Addition by subtraction helps too. Why not add that since Duda is on the DL the outfield defense is so much better. Novel idea for the day. Have players play their normal positions every day and guess what happens? Their instincts take over and their production goes up. The team wins despite an inept manager. Can you imagine how much better this team would perform if they had a decent manager who knew how to run a bull pen and put his players in the best possible position to succeed?

    • AJ
      July 11, 2013 at 11:46 am

      The other night (Tuesday, I think), during the tv broadcast of the Mets-Giants game, Keith Hernandez gave Terry Collins a ringing endorsement. I can’t quote verbatim what he said, but the gist of it was that Collins has made all the right moves and Collins’ fighting spirit is behind the improvement visible on the field. Which prompted this thought in my mind – perhaps if the Mets put up a strong second half, achieving the .500 plateau or even going a few games over that, it might well be seen as a validation of the team’s management. Improved play on the part of the Mets could lead to contract extensions for Collins and Dan Warthen!

      Now what do you hope for?

      • July 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        Yes, I noticed Gary and Keith talking about how the Mets are taking on Collins’ attitude. I don’t want to simply dismiss that out of hand because I do believe the team has not packed it in, despite being 15 games under .500 at one point. I do think the manager should get some credit for that.

        However, that credit does not and should not outweigh all of the guano-crazy things he’s done this year.

        • Name
          July 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm

          Was wondering… how often does it happen where a managers plays out his contract fully and then the team simply does not resign him (call it pseduo-firing)?
          Because it seems like most manager changes are made via firing, taking on another job, or retiring. Maybe it’s not as rare as i think it is but I don’t really seem to recall any recently.

          • July 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm

            I know of no database with that information.

            But if we look at the Mets and their 15 previous full-time managers, this is what we see:

            Hodges passed away
            Stengel retired due to broken hip
            Bamberger and Westrum resigned
            The remaining 11 were fired.

            Not one was, for lack of a better phrase, simply allowed to leave as a free agent. But hey, someone’s gotta be first!

            • AJ
              July 11, 2013 at 3:23 pm

              Maybe they’ll “kick him upstairs” to some off-field management position. If the current surge turns out to be just a brief aberration and the team’s play ultimately regresses to what it was, maybe they give him the chance to “retire” at the end of the season. In any case, Terry Collins has done a heavy duty stint of water carrying for the Mets organization for the past two and a half years and I can’t see them unceremoniously giving him the boot. And I don’t think they should, either.

              Although I often question his moves, I don’t have the same strong opinion against Collins that I read from numerous commentators here and elsewhere. I’m pretty sure upper management does not think that badly of him either. That’s why I wonder what they’ll do about the coach situation if the Mets finish strongly this season.

              • Name
                July 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm

                My man… if you can watch the games and stomach the mind-boggling moves he makes… you are truly a tough man.

  2. Dan Stack
    July 11, 2013 at 4:17 am

    Good point. When I first wrote about Young, I really thought we got a steal in this trade and he has been a godsend from the day he stepped on the field for the Mets.
    When it comes to baseball, its all about results. I’m just loving the way the team is playing right now.

    • Jerry Grote
      July 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

      True dat! You have to love what you are watching right now.

      Scoring 21 runs in three games against the WC SF pitching staff and sweeping on the LC? What a glorious day to be a Mets fan!

  3. holmer
    July 11, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Good post. Would have been a great post had you not thrown the unnecessary, and I believe unwarranted, shot at Terry Collins.

  4. blastingzone
    July 11, 2013 at 6:22 am

    Holmer what manager have you been watching? The mets are playing better because of the players
    and the manager has nothing to do with it? Peter’s right Collins is Inept and I cant wait till
    next year when the mets hire a real manager! Young has sparked this team because of his play
    and because of his speed at the top of the lineup which the mets haven’t had since Reyes!
    The mets need to watch out this weekend for the trap because Pitt is really good and the mets
    have to be careful of a let down!!

    • NormE
      July 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      Blasting Zone, I agree that Collins is inept, but what makes you think that the next hire will be “a real manager?”. How is TC any more or less inept than Jerry Manuel or Willie Randolph? If I recall, isn’t Alderson from the school that believes that managers are interchangeable and not very important? Then, mix in the input from the Wilpon’s prodigy and the chance of “a real manager” diminishes even more so.

  5. Metsense
    July 11, 2013 at 8:09 am

    During the last 30 days the Mets starting pitching is 3rd in ERA, relievers are 4th and overall the staff is 3rd. Batting the Mets team wRC+ is a an average 7th place 99 over the same period.
    Unfortunately I couldn’t get a 30 day metric for fielding but an eye can surely see that Young’s foul ball catch yesterday would never have been made by Duda, that Q is fielding better than the 2013 version of Tejada, and that Lagares is covering a lot of ground in center.
    Conclusion: good pitching, above average defense, and average hitting will win games at a playoff contention level.

    Young may not be the solution, but at 28,he might be blossoming with expanded playing time. At the least, he does bring the pedigree of a solid 4th OF and a nice fit going into 2014. Imagine if they had signed Bourne.

  6. July 11, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Pitching and defense with clutch hitting wins playoff games. Give Sandy credit for continually looking to build even with the limited funds that are available to him. What happens after the All-Star when the commissioners office hands down suspensions should provide the Mets with some excellent opportunity to continue improving for 2014.

  7. July 11, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Spot on, Brian. People focus so much on psychology and the will to win, but the fact is, you have to be a good ballplayer too.

  8. Jerry Grote
    July 11, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Good post Brian. Arguing about “sparkplugs” winds up with conversations about Super Joe. There’s no “clutch”, no “lift”. EYJ has meant an upgrade over Lucas Duda defensively, an upgrade over whatever the heck we had leading off.

    Players evolve, become better. Last year when he lead off for the Rockies he put up 336/384/474. He really didn’t get that chance again this year until he came to us, and its exciting to see what he might mean to this team. If he can consistently provide a .370 OBP at leadoff, some speed and adequate defense … well, there really isn’t anyone in this organization capable of doing that. A N Y O N E.

    Now if we could only find a CF that could catch the ball and not completely suck at the plate, or a 1B that was league average or better … where could players like *that* be found?

    • July 11, 2013 at 11:17 am

      I’d suggest we have our league average or better 1B – but he’s currently on the DL. The CF, well I don’t know where he is. I do wonder why Lagares’ playing time has shrunk recently. There’s absolutely no reason not to play a guy when he’s in the middle of a good stretch.

      EY Jr. has been an upgrade at leadoff but the advanced numbers simply do not love his work in the OF. With the Mets he has a (-5) DRS in the outfield and a (-2) UZR. His UZR/150 in the OF this year checks in at a (-24.6). For comparison, Duda had a UZR/150 in the OF of (-29.4). While that’s an upgrade, it’s not nearly to the extent that a lot of people make it out to be.

      • Jerry Grote
        July 12, 2013 at 6:20 am

        If we’re going to be looking at UZRs/150 and talking about the 1B of the future in the same post …

        Then batting Ike Davis in the late innings of a game against a LHP with Josh Satin on the bench becomes even less “defensible”. (yes … small sample …)

    • Name
      July 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Agree with most of your point on EY, and i know he is a huge upgrade defnesively over Duda, but I have to say i’m a little disappointed. I thought he was a better fielder, and what I’ve seen is slightly below average at best(or maybe my view is biased because he’s playing next to Lagares who catches everything). He doesn’t seem to take great route to the balls and isnt very good at timing leaping catches. Defensive metrics aren’t very high on him either. But i guess that’s just overexpectation because if he could field, hit, and run all very wel the Rockies never would have given up on him.

      • July 11, 2013 at 11:28 am

        The thing that everyone seems to forget is that Young is not an outfielder – he’s a second baseman who converted to the OF. From 2004 to 2009, he played 527 games at 2B and 16 games in the OF. Yet our manager is surprised when he puts him at 2B and he knows how to handle himself there…

  9. Michael von Graevenitz
    July 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Baseball, as you know, is a game of peaks and valleys. I’m not saying anything that is new. Look at the average baseball season and a team can look like world beaters one week, and the next week they can’t get out of their own way. Players are the same way. The difference between a playoff contender and an alsoran, is keeping the valleys to a minimum. With EY, he happens to be going through a nice stretch since changing teams. It would be nice if he would stay hot. 86 wins would be sweet, but the dog days are coming, David Wright and Marlon Byrd are due for one of their valleys and unless someone sreps up, Byrd will probably be traded anyway if the Mets stumble aftwr the ASG. I am enjoying this sttetch but wait til next year.

  10. July 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Hey AJ I am so happy I’m not drinking the same Kool-aid as you. The Mets are winning in spite of their manager. Let me see. Matt Harvey has a blister and has thrown 107 pitches. So let’s put him out there for another inning even though the manager knew that their star pitcher was on an inning count for the year. You don’t have to be a baseball expert to realize that TC’s methods just don’t make sense. Where’s the logic for letting Harvey go out there?

  11. July 12, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Hey AJ. When was the last time Terry Collins managed a major league team before he was signed by the Mets? He’s a caretaker and an affordable one at that. Why does management owe him a debt of gratitude? it’s the other way around. I just don’t see him as the right manager to take the Mets to the next level.

  12. AJ
    July 12, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Hey Peter, relax. It’s understood you don’t care for Terry Collins as a manager, and I’m not a big fan of his, either. My point was, he was given a thankless job – being manager of a poorly run, disorganized, dispirited team during a time of difficult transition – and he’s manned up to it about as well as anyone could have. I think the Mets’ upper level management appreciates him for that service. I was just wondering how a strong second half for the team would affect the decision about who will be managing next season. That’s all.

    You ask about his last time being a manager. Consider the fact that he WAS a Major League manager before, and he was given the job again. Consider that he has spent his adult life working in baseball at the professional level. Now consider your own level of experience in professional baseball. Whatever you might think of him, Collins has succeeded at the highest level of baseball in the world and you (I’m guessing here) haven’t.

    You have an opinion; good for you. You’ve exercised your right to freedom of speech and voiced it on a public forum. That’s great, just don’t confuse that with thinking you must be right and any differing opinion needs to be attacked and beaten down.

    • Jerry Grote
      July 12, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      a well-written response, right up to the point where you felt the need to add the last sentence or two.

      A regrettable mistake and unnecessary.

      Well … the best we can hope for out of a situation like this … is to have Hefner go lights out on the Pirates. Wins make everyone more sociable.

  13. July 12, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Whoever the Mets were going to hire when Sandy Alderson became GM was not was not going to be in an enviable position. I think we can all agree on that. It was going to take several years to rebuild the farm system and clean house including all the bad contracts that were inherited from the previous regime. The Mets are neither bad or good. They are a work in progress. But we as Met fans do believe that the team is getting better and with the additional windfall from the new television contract that the team will be more inclined to pursue a quality free agent who can help this team over the hump and into the playoffs.

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