Chris Young: Hit Home Runs and We’ll be Alright

Chris Young2Chris Young‘s overall numbers don’t paint a rosy picture. His dropped flyball in the bottom of the 14th inning in Friday night’s 6-5 loss to the Phillies will not endear him to Mets’ faithful either.

Life for Young has not been so great in his first year with the Mets.

A meager .205/.290/.368 slash line has many Mets’ fans down on Young. With Curtis Granderson already a drain when it comes to having a player on the team with weak contact skills in the lineup, the Mets unfortunately have another one in the lineup in Young. You add them together with Ruben Tejada and Travis d’Arnaud, the Mets basically four regulars who are hovering around the Mendoza line.

If you got that many many weak hitters, you’re going to have to make up for it in power. From their pasts, we know that both Granderson and Young are both capable of hitting 20+ home runs a year.

Young, who went deep of Phillies’ starter David Buchanan on Thursday night, has to hit for power if he wants to stay in the lineup and contribute. We all knew this about Young, who came to the Mets in the offseason for a one-year, $7.25 million-dollar deal. Looking back on it now, and with the power of hindsight, maybe the Mets moved too quickly to scoop up Young. You see, a player who was signed for a similar amount ($8 million for one year), Nelson Cruz, has been absolutely killing it, while leading the league in home runs and in second in RBI’s (49). At the time the Mets signed Young, Cruz though was holding out for a lot more money and years and there was no telling where the market was heading in November. Safe to say, the Orioles got themselves a bargain.

There is no use in crying over spilled milk, though. You have to move on and hope that Young can hit for some semblance of power, or else his job-regardless of the contract he was signed to-will be in jeopardy.

Young is probably lucky that his other namesake, Eric Young Jr. is on the disabled list. If Young Jr. was around, Chris Young would be skating on thin ice for extended playing time. It seems that Juan Lagares is back to regular playing time and Granderson, short of an epic disaster, will continue to be trotted out every day.

As it is, Young is losing time to Bobby Abreu, who go the start in right on Friday night in Philadelphia, while Granderson shifted to left field.

Simply put, Young has to get his power stroke going. He has hit as many as 32 in one year (2007) and has averaged 20.2 home runs a year ever since that breakout year. Power and perhaps a good bit of speed is Young’s saving grace. It’s time we see it put to good use.

So, if the Mets want to get any investment on Young, it behooves him to get his power stroke going or this may go down as another wasted signing, even if it was only for a year.

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Will the eventual return of Chris Young become an issue?

Chris YoungAs it stands right now, the Mets have themselves a nice outfield that is producing in many different ways.

With free-agent acquisition Curtis Granderson in right, uber-defensive specialist Juan Lagares in center and the speedy Eric Young Jr. in left field, the Mets have a quick, athletic and dynamic outfield. However, Chris Young—the odd man out in this equation—was not signed in the offseason (for a one-year deal worth $7.25 million) to rot on the bench.

Young has reported to Las Vegas after playing in two games at extended spring training. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on April 18.

So what does Terry Collins do when Young is ready to return to the lineup in roughly a week?

Some of the attributes that make Granderson, Young Jr. and Lagares special is their speed, versatility and defensive ability. That is where Young can make a name for himself as well. Let’s not forget why the Mets signed him the first place.

Young has had his share of issues in the past. He has been marred by injuries and is not the greatest contact hitter. He has not hit over .240 since 2010. But, he does have some decent pop; he averaged nearly 20 HR’s home runs between 2007 and 2010. He also is an asset on the basepaths, having accumulated 122 stolen bases in nine seasons.

Each of the aforementioned starting outfielders brings a different niche to the table, though,  and each has a strong case for consistent playing time.

Let’s examine them one by one.

Curtis Granderson

For all his warts (K rate and paltry OBP), Granderson was signed for his ability to hit the long ball and stabilize the clubhouse. Considering he hit 202 home runs in the seven years prior to last year’s injury-shortened season and signed a lucrative four-year deal, he won’t get pushed out of the outfield rotation.

Eric Young Jr.

Young Jr., who was last year’s NL stolen base champ, has started to find his groove of late and is coming off his finest performance of the year in the Mets 6-4 win over the Braves on Thursday night, in which he went 3-5 with a triple, four runs and three stolen bases. If he can get on base at a consistent clip at the top of the order, the Mets will be better off for it. Young Jr. is a bonafide sparkplug and if he can maintain a reasonable OPB, he will be a much valuable asset.

Juan Lagares

The one who has benefited the most while Young has been sidelined is Lagares.

Lagares has once again taken like a fish to water in centerfield, showing off his great range and being one of the game’s most gifted defensive players. It has not been all about defense with Lagares either. He has been quite the revelation at the plate, sporting a very impressive .303/.351/.515 slash line (prior to Friday night’s game) in 33 at-bats. Maybe he won’t keep it up, but you have to keep riding with him, given for what he provides you out on the field.

So, despite him signing a nice deal in the offseason, Young may find himself on the outside looking in when he is eligible to come back.

This is certainly a good problem for Collins to have. To have four exciting, athletically gifted and defensive minded outfielders to move in and out of the lineup will only be beneficial for the Mets. Not to mention, Collins has to also work in Andrew Brown, especially against lefties.

If these players are all committed and on the same page, playing time amongst them should be the least of their problems. These things tend to fix themselves out in the long run.

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It is time to end the Chris Young era in New York

Tuesday night the Mets scored more runs (9) than they had in their previous five games (8). They pounded out 14 hits, including multi-hit games from five of their first six hitters in the lineup. They had two homers and came back from 4-1 and 5-4 deficits. They also received 5.2 scoreless innings from their bullpen. They beat the hated Phillies, bringing their record against Philadelphia to 9-4 for the season.

This seemed like a game from the first half of the season, not one of the depressing outings that have been far too frequent here in the second half. I feel like a heel for not being more optimistic during a three-game winning streak but the biggest take away for me from last night’s game is that Chris Young should not throw another pitch for the Mets.

Young allowed 5 ER in 4.1 IP last night. In his last 10 games he has a 5.37 ERA, having allowed 33 ER in his last 55.1 IP. He now has a 4.64 ERA for the season and his xFIP checks in at 5.55, the worst mark in baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 70 innings.

Fortunately for Young, the Mets battled back to get him a no-decision in yesterday’s game. Otherwise his awful performance would have been the story of the night. If you were trying to explain baseball to someone and wanted an example of what *not* to do with a pitch, Young’s 87 mph fastball, belt high in the middle of the plate to Chase Utley would make a perfect instructional gif.

When the Mets needed a boost in June, Young came up big, as he posted a 3.30 ERA in five starts that month. We should acknowledge the role he played in the Mets’ strong play the first half of the season. But it’s the second half of the year now, Young has been terrible, he’s unlikely to be back in 2013 and with rosters expanding, the Mets should replace him in the rotation with someone who can contribute next year.

For September, the Mets have Dickey, Niese, Harvey, Hefner and McHugh. If they want to stick with a six-man rotation for Niese’s sake, they can promote Jenrry Mejia, show him they are serious about him being a starter and let him get some starts under his belt in the majors. Despite getting knocked around in his last outing, Mejia has a 1.94 ERA in nine games as a starter this year in the minors.

It made sense for the Mets to re-sign Young last year for rotational depth. But it is unlikely that same urgency will be around next year. In addition to the six pitchers mentioned above, the Mets will also have Gee and Santana and no one will be surprised if Zack Wheeler gets a mid-year promotion in 2013 like Harvey did this year. That’s enough depth.

Besides, it made sense for Young to re-sign with the Mets this season because he was recovering from injury and this way he was able to stay with the doctors and program under which he started his rehab. This year Young has been healthy and he figures to want an MLB slot right from Opening Day.

It all adds up to Young being elsewhere in 2013. A starter throughout his career, it makes little sense to stick him in the pen the final month of the season, especially coming off his shoulder woes.

The Mets should fabricate an injury for Young and let him go home. He gave the team 85.1 IP this year, the most he has pitched since 2008. It was a mutually beneficial relationship for Young and the Mets in 2012. The pitcher was able to complete his rehab and proved he could get MLB batters out. The club got much-needed innings in the middle of the season and a quality individual for the clubhouse.

Yet nothing lasts forever and it is time for the two to part ways. Mets fans should be grateful for what Young gave the club in 2012. We should hope he finds numerous clubs willing to sign him for 2013 and that he comes away with a nice fat contract. Finally, the Mets have better options right now for starting pitching and we should hope he never throws another pitch for the Mets in his career.

The crazy and unlikely success of Chris Young

I am glad that Chris Young is back in the rotation for the Mets; however, I am not quite sure exactly why. Obviously, he is an upgrade on Chris Schwinden. But if you go down and list his pros and cons, there are an awful lot of things to be concerned about with Young.

He’s injury prone, his fastball doesn’t light up the radar guns, he gives up a ton of fly balls, he has unsustainable walk and home runs rates and his strikeouts have fallen off a cliff.

But in brief parts of two seasons with the Mets, Young has a 2.38 ERA and a 1.248 WHIP. Of course we are dealing with tiny sample sizes; yet, it is still interesting how different his 2011 and 2012 seasons have been so far. So, in addition to the concerns listed above, we’re still not sure exactly what to expect when Young takes the mound. Here are his numbers with the Mets:

  IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP
2011 24.0 8.25 4.13 1.13 1.88 3.88 4.73
2012 17.2 4.08 2.55 0.00 3.06 2.99 5.92
Total 41.2 6.55 3.46 0.65 2.38 3.46  

In 2011, he succeeded thanks to a high strikeout rate, a low BABIP (.155) and an ultra-high strand rate (96.0%). In 2012, he’s succeeding thanks to a low walk rate and the fact that he has yet to allow a home run.

A normal home run rate is to give up a homer for every 10 fly balls. Batters have hit 36 fly balls this year versus Young and have yet to hit one over the fence. Young appears to have an ability to exceed a normal HR rate. Lifetime, his HR/FB rate is 7.8%. Given that rate and his 2012 fly balls allowed, Young should have given up three homers so far (2.808) this year.

Normally, we like to look at xFIP, which normalizes a pitcher’s home run rate. But for a pitcher like Young, with a history of posting better than average HR/FB rates, we are likely better off looking at FIP, which just uses his actual HR rate. While his xFIP is nearly three full runs worse than his ERA, Young’s FIP is actually slightly better.

Young is likely to regress in both HR allowed and BB surrendered. But hopefully he will compensate by having a reduced BABIP. His current mark in the category (.353) is 101 point higher than his lifetime .252 mark.

Still, I can’t help but think that Young will need to improve on his strikeout rate going forward. There are seven qualified pitchers on the FanGraphs leaderboards with a K/9 under 5.0 for the season. They are a combined 30-38 with a 4.54 ERA in 549.2 IP.

That’s good production for a fifth starter, yet considerably worse than what Young has given the Mets in his brief time. Would Mets fans be happy if Young stabilized at those numbers?

It’s impossible to answer that question without knowing how many innings Young ends up throwing in 2012. It seems like the answer is a lot different if Young finished with a 4.54 ERA in 50 IP or 150 IP. So, how likely is Young to finish with 100+ innings this year?

Young has not exceeded 100 IP since 2008, when he had 102.2 innings. If you had to wager, smart money would be on him falling short of 100 IP. Knowing that, we probably would not be happy if he regressed to a 4.54 ERA.

So, Mets fans have to pull for Young, hope he stays healthy and that he can defy the odds of those with poor strikeout rates. We have to hope he can continue to post better than normal walk rates and that he continues to be ultra-stingy with his gopher balls.

It seems crazy and unlikely but in a year where Johan Santana broke the team’s no-hitter drought and R.A. Dickey has evolved into the best pitcher in baseball – why can’t Young do something unheard of, too?

Jenrry Mejia and Chris Young both eyeing Mets’ rotation vacancy

Port St. Lucie has been the home to some exciting developments in 2012: The resurgence of Wilmer Flores, Corey Vaughn and Cesar Puello, the developing power of Daniel Muno and the great pitching of Chase Huchingson and Adam Koralek.  Most recently Port St. Lucie witnessed the first rehab starts of, prospect pitcher, Jenrry Mejia, and, voted most likely to be injured by August, Chris Young.

On Thursday May 9th: Jenrry Mejia went out and threw 5 innings of work.  He gave up 4 hits, 2 ER, walked 2 and only struck out 1, but it was nice to see him healthy.  You might recall that Mejia was pitching in AAA Buffalo in 2011 when he injured himself and required Tommy John surgery.  His start puts him slightly ahead of the schedule I had set for him, but I would bet on Mejia joining Harvey and Familia by Mid-June.

When he does get rolling there is still plenty of debate about his future role for the team.  Some people maintain that his mechanics and size aren’t sustainable for a starting pitcher (ala Pedro Martinez) and that he’s destined to be a reliever.  Others point to his success as a starter in AA and AAA (there are flaws but he still had success) and don’t want Mejia wasted as an RP when he might be a front-end starter.  Personally: I would have Mejia start in 2012.  We should see who among Harvey, Familia, Mejia, Wheeler, McHugh, Gorski and whoever else might be ready to compete for the rotation.  If Mejia isn’t good as a starter in 2012… he’s a closer for AAA to start 2013.

On Friday May 10th: Chris Young threw 5 masterful innings of work.  He gave up 5 hits, 0 Runs, 2 Walks and struck out 4.  Young and Mejia are not in the same boat.  As soon as Chris Young proves his arm is up to speed and he can go 100 pitches, he’s in the rotation.  Met fans can’t expect too much from Young, who seems to always pitch well… but never stay on the mound too long.  If Young can bridge the gap to Harvey or Familia being ready at the end of the year to get their feet wet… it’s all we could have ever hoped for.

On the side of all this is another… less attractive option.  D.J. Carrasco is in AAA and he’s actually pitched alright.  He needs to build up some stamina… but if the options remain Schwinden, Hefner and Batista for too long… Carasco isn’t exactly a terrible 4th option.  Here is hoping that Chris Young is ready before the Mets need to consider it.

Chris Young: A risk worth taking (again)?

As I’m sure you’re all aware of by now, the Mets resigned pitcher Chris Young to a minor league deal earlier this week. While signing Young will always come with a great dealk of risk, the reward could possibly outweigh the risk here. (Yet once again.)

Considering the rotation is full of question marks, signing Young was done to bolster depth with the hope that Young can get past his surgically repaired shoulder (a torn anterior capsule in his shoulder- the same injury Johan Santana is recovering from) and contribute something. Of course, even something is a lot to hope for.

Young is the textbook definition of injury-prone.

Young has only made 40 starts in the last four seasons due to an assortment of injuries. Last year for the Mets, Young made only four starts, but those outings showed promise. In those four starts in which he pitched 24 innings, Young allowed only five earned five runs on 12 hits and 11 walks. Even more impressive was the fact that Young struck out 22 batters.

Talent has never been the issue with Young. It’s just been about staying healthy. Young and GM Sandy Alderson have had a history together and for whatever reason, Alderson has a reasonable amount of trust in Young.

It’s not at all likely that when and if Young comes back this season that he’ll contribute all that much (or at least be counted on to). But considering the dearth of pitching options available (outside of a real expensive option like a Roy Oswalt), Young seemed like a logical option to gamble on.

If the Mets can’t rely on the five starters ticked for the rotation (Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese) then they will be in some trouble. If that were to happen the Mets would then have to rely on Young (when he would be healthy enough to pitch), Miguel Batista and Chris Schwinden.

The Mets’ front office is almost certainly not going to rely on any of its young arms like a Matt Harvey or Jeurys Familia to help with depth. The Mets’ brass realizes Harvey and Familia (not to mention Zack Wheeler) both need seasoning and rushing them up to the majors would be a hindrance on their growth.

Granted he is able to throw, and even if he is not 100 percent, Young still is more of an upgrade over the likes of Schwinden and Batista. Young has shown in the past that his stuff, while not electric, is albeit deceiving. Batista has proven nothing more than being a stopgap option while the upside with Schwinden is very limited.

With many thinking this season will be a lost cause, the signing of Young makes sense as he should serve as a great placeholder before the Mets think about turning the reins over to the likes of Harvey and Familia.

As long as the Mets can stay relatively healthy for the first month or so, then Young could become a valuable asset when he is ready to start pitching again. With not a lot of risk riding on the Mets this year, they were more within their bounds to take another chance on Young.

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Revisiting the decision to sign Chris Young

News hit Monday that Chris Young “essentially” has the same shoulder injury that Johan Santana suffered. This means his 2011 season is likely over. Everyone knew that Young was a huge injury risk but we certainly hoped he would throw more than 24 IP before he was shut down for the season.

The Mets’ financial situation forced them to shop in the bargain basement rack of free agent pitchers. Their best bet was to sign a risk-reward guy. Young certainly fit the high-risk part of the equation. He had combined for just 96 IP the past two years and had never thrown more than 179.1 IP in any season in his career.

At the time of the signing, I wondered just how much of a high-reward guy Young actually was. I did not think that the reward he was likely to give was worth the risk that he carried. Young’s results in Spring Training and in his four games with the Mets showed that the reward was greater than I had anticipated. Perhaps better than any other similarly-priced free agent available. But likely the risk was even greater, too.

I’ll let others talk about how the Mets replace Young going forward. I want to look back at the decision to sign Young and look at the alternatives that may have been available to Sandy Alderson and the Mets.

It appears there were a dozen free agent pitchers in the bargain basement section this offseason that the Mets might have picked instead of Young. Here are the pitchers, what they signed for and their IP and ERA both last year and this year to date. Most of these pitchers also had bonuses in their contracts. So did Young. All dollar figures are in millions

Name Contract 2010 IP 2010 ERA 2011 IP 2011 ERA
Dave Bush 1 year/$1 174.1 4.54 16.1 2.20
Bruce Chen 1 year/$2 140.1 4.17 42.2 3.59
Kevin Correia 2 years/$8 145.0 5.40 46.1 2.91
Jeff Francis 1 year/$2 104.1 5.00 46.0 5.09
Freddy Garcia 1 year/$1.5 157.0 4.64 25.0 2.88
Jon Garland 1 year/$5 200.0 3.47 32.0 3.66
Vicente Padilla 1 year /$2 95.0 4.07 7.0 2.57
Brad Penny 1 year/$3 55.2 3.23 49.0 4.78
Jeremy Bonderman Unsigned 171.0 5.53
Doug Davis Minor League 38.1 7.51 6.2 0.00
Kevin Millwood Unsigned 190.2 5.10
Jeff Suppan Minor League 70.1 3.84 32.1 5.29

So, how should we rate Sandy Alderson on his decision to sign Young? I think the Mets needed a pitcher to get through the All-Star break, or the expected return for Santana. Young did not profile as an especially good choice to last. Nine pitchers on the above list threw 100 or more innings last year and another threw 95.

As mentioned earlier, Young threw 96 IP the past two years combined, with only 20 of those coming last year. All 12 of the pitches listed above threw more innings last year than Young and all 12 had topped Young’s career-best in innings, too.

But while we established the risk involved in signing Young, we have not talked much about the reward side of the equation. Surely Young jumps ahead of some of the names listed above simply due to his greater upside. But how much reward did the Mets need? Would they have been better off with a player likely to be a bit below league average but likely to give them innings?

Considering that the Mets were taking on another pitcher rebounding from injury in Chris Capuano, I believe Alderson should have gone for a safer pick here. In the preseason I mentioned Bonderman and Francis as guys that would fit this bill. Bush would have been a reasonable choice, too. If those pitchers did not offer enough upside for your tastes, Penny had more of that and had less risk than Young.

No one should be surprised that Young failed to deliver needed innings for the Mets. Alderson swung for the fences with this move and came up predictably empty. The Mets’ new general manager has made a bunch of positive moves for the club but we cannot pretend that this was not an avoidable mistake. When evaluating this move, we simply cannot be swayed by the three strong outings he gave the club and wonder what might have been had he stayed healthy.

Simply, there was little evidence to suggest that he would stay on the field.

Mets need Chris Young to avoid gopher ball

Chris Young takes the hill for the Mets tonight as they try to salvage the last game of the three-game series against the Phillies and end their six-game road trip with a .500 record. Young has made three starts for the Mets and was dominant in his first two and not so hot in his last one, his first time back since landing on the disabled list with an injured biceps.

The big question is if now that Young has gotten a start under his wings if he’ll go back to the guy that the Mets saw in Spring Training and the first two starts of the regular season. In 25 innings of Grapefruit League play, Young had a 1.78 ERA and he followed that up with a 1.46 ERA in his first two starts of the 2011 season. Additionally, the strikeouts which were down in Spring Training were back during the regular season, as Young fanned 12 batters in his first 12.1 IP.

But in his first start back from the DL, Young gave up 3 ER in 4.2 IP. But the thing that really makes you snap to and pay attention is that all three runs came on solo home runs. There were three main concerns surrounding Young heading into the season. The most important was if he could stay healthy. The other two were concerns about his strikeout rate and his home runs allowed.

The concern about HR is directly the result of Young being an extreme fly ball pitcher. Lifetime, Young has a 53.3 FB% and a GB/FB rate of 0.53. Here’s how the other four starters for the 2011 Mets performed lifetime in those categories:

Capuano – FB% 39.9, GB/FB 1.10
Dickey – FB% 33.5, GB/FB 1.40
Niese – FB% 31.6, GB/FB 1.53
Pelfrey – FB% 30.9, GB/FB 1.59

Many felt that Citi Field would help out Young, that fly balls there would be less likely to result in HR. After all, Mets and their opponents hit 110 HR in Citi Field last year while on the road the Mets and their opponents combined for 153 HR.

But so far in 2011, in 13 games the Mets and their opponents have hit 28 HR in Citi Field compared to 24 HR in 14 road games.

That’s bad enough but it can be attributed to a small sample size. Another small sample size working against Young right now is his fly ball rate. We’ve already seen that Young’s fly ball rate is 13.4 percent higher than any other starter on the Mets. This year, Young has taken this lead and added to it significantly. His 2011 FB% sits at an astounding 72.7 percent, which easily leads the majors for pitchers with at least 10 IP. The next closest SP is Daisuke Matsuzaka with a 56.6 percent mark.

Young had a fairly normal for him GB/FB split of 6/8 in his first start. But in his last two outings, he has posted 29 fly balls and 3 ground balls. The remarkable thing is not that he allowed 3 HR in his last start, but that he had not allowed a HR before his last outing. The average rate is to allow a HR somewhere in the neighborhood of around every 10 fly balls (down from the recent past, which was closer to 11).

Young’s current HR/FB rate of 9.4 is right around average. It explains how his xFIP (4.84) is nearly identical to his FIP (4.91), as FIP does not normalize for HR rate. Both of them are significantly worse than his actual ERA of 2.65, not a good sign for Young going forward.

Tonight will be a big test for Young. He squares off against the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, a notorious HR park. In the first two games of the series, the two teams have combined to hit 5 HR, despite a dominating effort from Roy Halladay. Can Young keep the ball in the park and duplicate his success from earlier in the year? Or will we see another multi-HR game like in his last outing?

For Mets fans who’ve been on a roller coaster ride that saw the team lose 12 out of 14 games, then rip off six straight wins and who now have seen three straight setbacks, it’s important for Young to be like he was in his first two starts.

Of course, we wouldn’t mind seeing a weather report indicating that the wind was blowing in tonight, either.

Full Count: Mets Pitching Report Week 1

A week into the season the Mets starting rotation has been a case of going one step forward and two steps back.

The Mets have gotten tremendous efforts from Jonathon Niese, R.A. Dickey and Chris Young. However, their so-called ace Mike Pelfrey has turned a feel-good story into one of concern.

On Wednesday night, Pelfrey was atrocious.

Against the Phillies, Pelfrey was pulled after pitching only two-plus innings and allowing seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and one walk.

Pelfrey looked rattled and scared. Perhaps Pelfrey is uncomfortable feeling like he has to carry the weight of the staff. He looks lost.

There is still plenty of time, and there is no need to hit the panic button. But there is definitely a need to hit the “concern” button with Pelfrey.

Lets look on the bright side though.

Niese, Dickey and Young were solid in their starts, and have given confidence to a team in desperate need of it.

Niese was first to get things in motion.

Coming off an opening day loss to the Marlins, the Mets were in need of a wake-up call and got that in the effort Niese produced. He pitched seven strong innings and limited the Marlins to two runs on for hits and only one walk. While he did not earn the win, Niese kept the Mets in the game and would have won if not for a blown save by Francisco Rodriguez.

Up next was Dickey. Dickey just continued to do what he did all last year.

Dickey still has his doubters and he seems hellbent on proving them wrong. Against the Marlins on Sunday, Dickey pitched six innings while allowing five hits and three walks. Surprisingly, Dickey struck out seven batters.

With the momentum of a two-game winning streak and capturing a rare road series, Chris Young was next on tap.

Young was faced with the task of going head-to-toe with a member of the Phillies’ vaunted rotation and one of their “four aces” in Cole Hamels. Young more than held up his end of the bargain and won in his first start with the Mets.

Young pitched in and out of jams while completing 5.1 innings pitched. He did give up five hits and four walks, but he did strikeout seven batters. Young looked comfortable out there. There may be some bumps along the road as he battles back from all those injuries, but Young has a world of potential and experience.

After all the woes the Mets suffered away from Citi Field last year, to start the year 3-2 on the road is something to be proud of. The effort of the staff, sans Pelfrey, is a good reason why.

The law of averages suggest Pelfrey will bounce back. He better.

If the Mets are to contend this year, Pelfrey will have to step up. Hopefully the Mets also get a boost from Chris Capuano, who will make his Met debut on Saturday.

In the meantime it’s refreshing to see the other so-called question marks on the staff bust out of the gate trying to prove the critics wrong.

Mets-Phils outcome to depend on home runs

The Mets and Phillies get ready to face off for the first time in 2011 when they play a three-game set in Philadelphia starting Tuesday. While Jose Reyes, David Wright, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins all return for this year’s rivalry, both teams sport quite a different look from the squads that took the field in 2007. Unlike previous editions, this year’s Mets team does not have any easy outs in the lineup. And while the back end of the rotation for the Phillies used to be a big question mark, this year’s team has four aces and a #3 SP.

The opening game of the series features an interesting matchup between Cole Hamels and Chris Young. Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in baseball the past four-plus years but the Mets have been his personal Kryptonite. He has a 2-8 lifetime record against the Mets, including an 0-4 mark last year. Hamels has not pitched bad against New York. Last year he had four losses despite allowing just 10 runs.

On the other side of the ledger is Young, who is coming off a tremendous Spring where he allowed just 5 ER in 25.1 IP for a 1.78 ERA. In many ways Young will go a long way in determining how well the Mets do in 2011. Can he stay healthy and pitch in 150 or more innings? And if he is able to stay healthy, can he continue his strong pitching, which dates back to last September with the Padres. After coming off the DL, Young made three starts and gave up 2 ER in 14 IP.

One thing to watch for in this game is the long ball. In 2009, the Phillies led the National League with 224 HR and last year they finished fifth in the league with 166. This year, missing Chase Utley and Jayson Werth from their lineup, they have just 2 HR. Can Philadelphia recapture its home run abilities with Young, an extreme fly ball pitcher on the mound?

Last year the Mets did quite well in keeping the Phillies in the park. Mets pitchers allowed just 13 HR to the Phillies in 18 games. For a comparison, Philadelphia batters smacked 25 HR in 18 games against the Nationals.

When the Phillies hit a HR last year versus the Mets, they were 6-2. When the Mets kept the Phillies in the ballpark, Philadelphia was just 3-7. If the Mets have serious designs on competing with the Phillies, the task is to stay away from the gopher ball.

The Phillies have captured the past four National League East titles so the perception among many is they are the Mets’ biggest rivals. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s also another perception, that the Phillies have owned the Mets in the past four years and that is simply not true.

From 2007-2010, the Phillies have won 371 games while the Mets have 326 victories. In head-to-head games, the Mets are 32-40 against the Phillies. Everyone remembers the disastrous head-to-head matchups down the stretch in 2007, but the Mets were 11-7 against the Phillies in 2008 and were 9-9 last year.

Essentially the on-field results between the Mets and Phillies the past four years is right about where you would expect it to be given the overall record of the two teams. Here’s hoping the Mets can dominate the series with the Phillies this season and use these games as a springboard towards a playoff berth.

Predictions for the 2011 Mets

My first go round at Opening Day predictions at Mets360 did not go so well. So, I could go one of several ways:

A. Try to make “easy” predictions to make me look good in hindsight.
B. Make off the wall assertions and when one of them came true, trumpet the fact that I picked it.
C. Repeat last year’s idea of being a combination of realistic/optimistic and hope for better results.

I’m going for the third path. So, here are my 2011 predictions for the Mets:

1. Josh Thole hits at least 7 HR, which bests Felix Millan’s single-season best.
2. Ike Davis reaches 85 RBIs.
3. David Wright’s K% drops at least five points from last year’s 27.4% mark. Assuming last year’s AB total of 587, that would mean 131 (or fewer) strikeouts rather than 161.
4. Jose Reyes establishes a career-best in OBP, besting his .358 mark in 2008.
5. Angel Pagan finishes in the top 10 among full-time CF in SLG%
6. Carlos Beltran becomes the first Mets RF to play (at least) 110 games and put up (at least) a 110 OPS+ since Bobby Bonilla in 1993.
7. Mike Pelfrey pitches 200 innings for the third time in four years.
8. R.A. Dickey has an ERA of 3.75 or lower, which is lower than all of the projection systems at FanGraphs predict.
9. Jonathon Niese will top Johan’s Santana’s 17 Quality Starts from a year ago.
10. Chris Capuano makes 25 starts.
11. Chris Young has a K/9 below 6.00 compared to his 7.82 career average.
12. Francisco Rodriguez saves 35 games.
13. Blaine Boyer does not end the year with the club.
14. RHB post an OPS of at least .900 versus Tim Byrdak, who makes us long for Feliciano and even Schoeneweis.
15. The Mets will score at least 20 more runs with the bases loaded than the 97 they had last year.
What are your predictions for the 2011 season?

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With Opening Day for the Mets falling on April Fools Day, we’re playing it straight this year at Mets360. But click here if you want to see last year’s April 1st entry.

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Top 10 Spring Training stories for Mets

After four months without MLB, Spring Training is always a welcome sight. Even though the teams never have full lineups, the pitchers rarely throw at peak form and managers make moves they never would during the season – we can’t help but to look at the stats and look at things that jump out. There are always going to be people struggling and people exceeding expectations. But sometimes the surprising thing is who is doing what – and to what extent.

With that in mind, here are my Top 10 surprises in Spring Training for the Mets.

10. Tim Byrdak with 2 Saves
In 343 games in the majors, Byrdak has 3 Saves and a 4.35 ERA. While it’s surprising that he has yet to give up an earned run this Spring, it’s only 6.1 IP. Last year with the Astros he had an 11.1 scoreless innings streak and a 14.0 streak. But if you had given us five guesses before Spring Training started about who would lead the club in Saves in late March few, if any, would have said Byrdak.

9. Fernando Martinez and his .364/.481/.591 line
When the Mets signed Martinez as a 16-year old, he was a five-tool talent and everybody’s expectations were through the roof. Now after an injury-marred minor league career, most people have written him off as a starter, much less an impact major league player. So, while it was only 22 ABs, it was still very nice to see Martinez put up sparkling slash numbers.

8. Kirk Nieuwenhuis gets 32 ABs despite .094 AVG
One of the most useful things to see in Spring Training is who gets a lot of ABs. Those are the guys that the club wants to see play, usually because they are competing for a roster/starting spot. But when a minor leaguer gets that much time, it’s a clear example that the club thinks highly of him. Nieuwenhuis benefits from being a CF but that doesn’t explain this much playing time with so little production. I had him rated fifth in my top prospects ranking and it’s clear the Mets are high on him, too.

7. Taylor Buchholz approaches 2009-10 innings total
Elbow surgery, along with a back injury that landed him on the DL last year, limited Buchholz to just 12 IP the past two seasons. This Spring, Buchholz has logged 11 IP, the top total of any reliever on the staff. And to make things even better, he has yet to allow a run. Buchholz has been fortunate, as he has allowed 15 baserunners in those 11 innings, but his health and performance have been good to see.

6. Daniel Murphy not locking up 2B job despite .811 OPS
Murphy has picked up right where he left off offensively despite missing most of the 2010 season. With only Jonathon Niese being likely to deliver big ground ball numbers to the right side of the infield, it should be an easy decision to install Murphy as the regular at second base and look to replace him defensively in the late innings with a slim lead. After all, an .811 OPS would tie for the sixth-best mark among second basemen in the majors last year. After scoring just 656 runs last year, which ranked 13th in the 16-team NL, the Mets should look for offense wherever they can get it.

5. Reserve outfield production
Not many people were enthusiastic when the Mets signed Jerry Hairston and Willie Harris for backup outfield spots. Hairston had a .652 OPS in 2010 while Harris was nearly as bad with a .653 mark. But in 78 Spring ABs, the duo has combined for 28 H, 9 2B, 1 3B and 4 HR. They also have 14 R and 11 RBIs.

4. Rule 5 picks struggling
Most people expected that Brad Emaus and Pedro Beato had good shots to make the roster. But Emaus got off to a terrible start before finally getting some hits the past few days. Beato has gone the opposite route, starting off strong but really sputtering later in the Spring. Emaus still has a chance to make the team because of support for his game in the front office. But Beato seems like a long shot. And cynics will point out that the owners will recoup $50,000 if they return both players.

3. Luis Hernandez named front runner by NY Post
Although the line is blurring, mainstream outlets (yes, even the Post) still have stronger editorial standards than independent blogs. So it was a huge deal when Mike Puma’s story broke that Terry Collins wanted Hernandez to be the starter at 2B. While the Mets have termed the story premature, there seems no doubt that Collins was impressed by what he saw from Hernandez last season. It will likely come down to Emaus or Hernandez at second base and it will be interesting to see if the manager wins out over the front office. I’m rooting for the front office.

2. The return of Jason Isringhausen
Another thing no one saw coming was the signing of Isringhausen, who inked a minor league deal on February 15th. After back-to-back years with elbow surgeries, it seemed like his career was over. But Isringhausen is seemingly back at full strength and has survived pitching on back-to-back days. He’s now the leading contender to be the team’s primary setup man and is hands down the feel-good story of the Spring.

1. The domination by Chris Young
I was not in favor of the Young signing. He had pitched just 96 innings the past two years due to shoulder surgery. Even when he was healthy, Young never topped 179.1 IP in a major league season. His last good year came in 2007 and there were serious questions about his velocity. Yet somehow this Spring, Young leads the team’s starters with a 1.33 ERA in a team-high 20.1 IP. He’s been touched by the gopher ball and still has a sub-par strikeout rate (3.98 K/9) but it’s hard to argue with the results, including six shutout innings this weekend.