The 2011 Mets: Ride The Rollercoaster

You would think that after 40 years of watching the Mets’ brand of baseball, I’d be used to it by now.

I was about six-years-old when I finally kind of caught on to what this “base-ball” thingy was. Since then, I’ve seen some seasons where it’s been awful from Jump Street: 1974, 1977 through ’79 (OY!!!!), 1993 and 2003, in particular. Gloriously, I’ve also seen seasons take off and soar right from the beginning: 1986, 1988, 2000 and 2006. Like anything else, it’s those few in the middle which become most interesting. These are seasons in which a six-month narrative is played out day-by-day. These are the years where you dare not take your eyes away from the screen for fear of missing something brand new or a quick glimpse of the future. A year like this may or may not involve a pennant race, but there’s something about it which will hold our interest anyway: Dave Kingman’s home runs in 1976, perhaps, or David Wright’s debut in 2004. For the years that do involve contention, there are also sub-plots that emerge: if Darryl Strawberry hadn’t injured his thumb in ’85, or if Dave Augustine’s ball had actually cleared the wall and not bounded right to Cleon Jones in ’73, these stories may have had different endings. These are the best, in the humble opinion of your intrepid columnist. There is nothing better for a fan than when a single play can either define or alter the entire structure of a season.


The only trouble with that, though, is that you never know when that play might be. It can come on at any time, at the whims of fate, destiny, skill, karma or the baseball gods. That’s why we have to keep watching, that’s why we have to ride the rollercoaster. This season so far has been quite the fun little ride in its own right. We’ve had revelations (Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee), resurrections (Carlos Beltran, Chris Capuano), eruptions (Terry Collins during the Citi Field leg of the Pittsburgh home-and-home), consternation (Jason Bay) and above and apart from everyone and everything else, Jose Reyes. How’s it gonna end? Probably around .500 give-or-take. But getting there – as they say – is half the fun.

Besides, you really shouldn’t get off a rollercoaster in the middle, anyway.

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Mets Minors: Updated Top 10 list

With the Mets seemingly on the verge of a salary purge over the next few months and going to have to rely on the farm system more over the next several years, let’s look at an updated top-10 prospect list for the embattled organization.

The farm system lacks top-end talent and depth. Injuries this season have thwarted the progress of top pitcher Jenrry Mejia, infielders Zach Lutz and Reese Havens and outfielders Darrell Ceciliani and Fernando Martinez, who hasn’t been able to stay healthy or reach his potential. Havens has just returned from his latest injury, but he has to be considered more suspect than prospect at this point.

Slow starts have also impacted outfielders Cesar Puello and Lucas Duda, third baseman Aderlin Rodriguez and pitchers Brad Holt, Robert Carson and Kyle Allen. The Mets don’t have a legitimate catching prospect in the system, and, if Wilmer Flores moves from shortstop, the organization doesn’t have a legit everyday prospect in the middle of the infield, just several utility types: Havens, Justin Turner, Michael Fisher, Josh Satin, Jordany Valdespin and Robbie Shields.

On the positive side, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia have established themselves as top prospects, Kirk Nieuwenhuis has shown he’s an everyday player in the big leagues and youngster Cory Vaughn continues to hit. Class AA first baseman Allan Dykstra has been a pleasant surprise along with Class A center fielder Matt den Dekker.

“Sleeper” pitchers include AAA hurlers Chris Schwinden and recently-promoted Dale Thayer, high Class A lefthander Darin Gorski and low Class A righthander Gregory Peavey.

Below are the top-10 prospects in the Mets’ organization. Qualifications: Fewer than 100 plate appearances or 50 innings pitched in the major leagues prior to this season.

1. Matt Harvey

Other than two shaky outings, Harvey has been sensational in his pro debut season, and with the injury to Mejia, he has taken over the top spot on the mound.

The 2010 first-round pick from North Carolina is 6-2, with a 2.50 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his first 10 starts. He’s allowed 45 hits and 18 walks in 54 innings with 62 strikeouts. The righthander has allowed no earned runs in seven of his 10 outings.

Harvey’s got the heat, command, pedigree, projectable body and offspeed stuff to be a staff ace.

2. Kirk Nieuwenhuis

There is very little doubt Nieuwenhuis will find himself playing regularly in New York once the financially strapped Mets start dumping salary.

Nieuwenhuis began the season with a 16-game hitting streak and has showed signs of making adjustments. The 23-year-old is batting .302/.407/.521 after a .225 average in 30 games for Buffalo last season. He has 15 doubles, two triples, six homers, 14 RBI, 29 walks and five steals in 47 games.

Nieuwenhuis is making strides against fellow lefthanders – .235 but 11 walks in 51 AB – but still needs to cut down on his strikeouts – 51 in 169 at-bats – and is batting just .182 with runners in scoring position. The center fielder is the only player in the International League to play in every game, and he is getting time in right field as well.

3. Wilmer Flores
Although Flores will probably outgrow shortstop, the 6-foot-3 righthanded batter is a potential hitting machine.

A recent slump has dropped his average to .267/.305/.381with 11 doubles, four homers and 35 RBI in the pitcher-friendly Class A Florida State League, but he has just 10 walks in 202 at-bats. But Flores won’t turn 20 until August and is playing against players 22 to 24 years of age.

His range is suspect at shortstop, so third base or a corner outfield spot probably awaits, but Flores has committed just six errors in 50 games.

4. Cory Vaughn

Vaughn is looking like the complete offensive package at low Class-A Savannah, batting .335/.466/.483 in 50 games with 14 doubles, four homers and 26 RBI.

The just turned 22-year-old also has 31 walks and 43 strikeouts in 176 at-bats, and he has stolen eight bases. Vaughn was a New York- Penn League All-Star last season and posted a .953 OPS so look for the righthanded hitter to move on to St. Lucie for the second half of the season.

5. Jenrry Mejia

Mejia unquestionably has the biggest upside of any Mets hurler with a “plus-plus” fastball that could either front a rotation or close out a game at the back. But the 21-year-old has just lost a second straight year of development when he blew out his elbow in late April after going 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in five starts.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Mejia now faces a long rehabilitation stint – nine to 12 months. Prior to the season, Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen questioned whether Mejia and his all-out delivery would hold up as a starter.

6. Jeurys Familia

Along with Harvey, the 21-year-old Familia has been the best pitcher in the organization this season.

Familia is 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in four starts for offensively-challenged Binghamton after going 1-1 with a 1.49 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP at St. Lucie.

The 6-foot-3 righthander with a mid-90s heater is no doubt the best one-win hurler in the minors, allowing 39 hits and 17 walks with 57 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. An off-the-charts improvement in command is the biggest reason Familia has been able to bounce back from 5.58 ERA at St. Lucie a season ago.

7. Pedro Beato

The 24-year-old has been a pleasant surprise in the middle of the bullpen.

Beato began the season without allowing an earned run in his first 12 outings covering 18 2/3 innings. Only Oakland reliever Brad Ziegler’s career-opening streak of 38 innings in 2008 is longer to start a career than Beato’s since 2000. The Brooklyn product yielded just nine hits, three walks and four unearned runs during that span with 11 strikeouts.

A bout with elbow tendinitis landed the Rule V pick from the Baltimore Orioles on the DL the first three weeks of May, and the righthander has been tagged for seven runs and eight hits in four innings over his last four outings.

The 6-6 Beato was a mediocre starter his first four years in the minors before switching to the pen, posting a 2.11 ERA and 16 saves at Class AA Bowie last season, walking 19 and striking out 50 in 60 innings. He doesn’t have overpowering heat and his offspeed pitches are still developing.

8. Matt Den Dekker

Already a major league-ready center fielder, Den Dekker has impressed the brass with a .315/.359/.502 out of the leadoff spot for St. Lucie.

The 23-year-old can run as his 16 doubles, eight triples and nine steals would indicate, and he’s added two homers and 27 RBI in 49 games. The 2010 fifth-rounder from the Univeristy of Florida is batting .328 against fellow lefthanders but will need to improve upon his 13/46 BB/SO ratio over 203 at-bats to play every day.

9. Dillon Gee

Does anybody believe in Dillon Gee yet?

Nobody did after the velocity-challenged righthander went 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in five major league starts last season, but Gee is 5-0 with 3.83 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 10 games – seven starts – for New York this season.

His lack of velocity and past results suggest the 25-year-old may be using smoke and mirrors, but its time Gee gets the props he deserves.

10. Cesar Puello

The 20-year-old is a “tools” player who is more potential than productivity at this point, but scouts can’t ignore his 6-3, 200-pound athletic frame, outstanding speed and power potential.

The Dominican is struggling against more-seasoned players in the Florida State League, batting .234/.288/.328 with two homers, 11 RBI and 10 steals in 46 games. His nine walks and 43 strikeouts in 192 at-bats will have to improve.

*****

Here is our preseason Top 10

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Dillon Gee has been great but can he keep it up?

OK, how many of you out there thought that Dillon Gee could be this good? I see a few hands raised. Ordinarily, I might be inclined to call BS on that but Gee had many vocal backers this Spring so I’ll cut you some slack. But did you really think he was going to be 5-0 good? To me, that has to be the biggest surprise of 2011 for the Mets.

Of course, Gee hasn’t really been “5-0 good” but he’s given the team a chance to win on most nights and there’s really not more that you can ask of a pitcher. Because of the injury risks surrounding Chris Capuano and Chris Young, I expected Gee to get a shot to pitch meaningful innings for the 2011 Mets; I just never imagined that at the end of May we could make a case for him being the staff’s best pitcher.

How has that happened? Well, let’s review where Gee was in 2010 just so we can appreciate even more the job he’s done this season. Gee’s 2009 ended early due to a strained right shoulder. Rest and rehab were used rather than surgery and Gee came back to pitch the entire season in 2010. In 28 games at Triple-A, Gee was 13-8 with a 4.96 ERA. He had a 9.20 K/9 and a 4.02 K/BB ratios, both excellent.

He made five starts in September for the Mets and was the opposite of his minor league numbers. Gee had a strong ERA (2.18) but his peripherals suggested a much weaker pitcher, as he had a 4.20 FIP and a 5.00 xFIP. Basically, Gee was very lucky in his stint with the Mets last year. He had a .225 BABIP, an 80.7 strand rate and a 4.7 HR/FB. All three of those marks were significantly better than what we would expect a major leaguer to produce.

So, how is Gee doing in those three markers in 2011? His BABIP is up from a year ago, but still way below average at .241 after 47 IP. His strand rate is essentially average at 69.3 while his HR/FB rate has nearly doubled (but still below average) at 8.0 percent. Given this information, I would have expected Gee to have an ERA in the 4.50-4.75 range but instead he is at 3.83 for the season.

So, how is he doing it?

Gee has made great strides both in his K-rate and walk-rate. Last year with the Mets he had a 1.13 K/BB ratio and this year he has nearly doubled that with a 2.06 mark. That’s amazing progress, an improvement that I would not have thought possible.

His K-rate last year was 4.64, a mark which I expected him to improve upon this year. But he wildly exceeded my expectations by not only getting up to six, but currently having a 7.09 K/9 rate. And he also cut his walks by a significant amount, going from a 4.09 BB/9 in 2010 to a 3.45 mark this season.

You hear people blabber on about the virtues of “pitch to contact” all of the time. But you want your pitchers to amass strikeouts. Just ask Rays fans about how Wade Davis’ decision to “pitch to contact” is working out. Gee does not yet have enough innings to qualify on the FanGraphs leaderboards, but if he did his 7.09 K/9 would rank in the top half of pitchers, just outside the top 50.

Last night Gee had 8 Ks and 0 BB in 7.0 IP.

Now the question is: Can he keep it up? Gee had good-to-strong strikeout numbers in the minors. He has a deep repertoire but he does not have an overpowering fastball. In fact, you could call his fastball underwhelming. His average fastball velocity this year is 89.4, right in line with last year’s 89.1 average. That’s Joe Saunders and J.A. Happ territory. Most people whose fastball is under 90 are crafty lefties, knuckleballers and unsuccessful righties.

The righties whose fastball averages below 90 mph and who are successful usually have a very strong secondary pitch. Trevor Cahill, Jair Jurrjens, Shaun Marcum and Kyle McClellan all have plus pitches with their change-up. Dan Haren and Ian Kennedy both have a strong cutter and breaking ball to frustrate hitters.

Gee’s changeup has been effective, with a Pitch Type Value of 0.87 but his other non-fastball pitches have been below average. His slider checks in at -0.75 while his curve is currently at -1.40. Gee is doing most of his damage with his fastball, which seems unlikely to continue going forward without another plus pitch that hitters have to fear.

Right now, Gee’s ERA is perfectly in line with his peripherals. He has a 3.83 ERA, a 3.93 FIP and a 4.04 xFIP. Going forward one wonders if Gee can continue to get this many strikeouts with his repertoire. His BABIP is likely to increase going forward. And if he allows more batters to hit the ball, the results could be ugly.

Just ask Wade Davis what happens when you allow more contact.

Like all fans, the results that Gee is giving the Mets in 2011 thrill me. I always love to be wrong when a player performs better than I expected. But it’s hard to look at Gee’s numbers and expect that he will continue to pitch and win like an ace. If Gee ends the year with an ERA less than half a run *higher* than it is now, I think his season will be a success. That would give him an ERA in the neighborhood of 4.30 for the year.

Last year, five qualified pitchers had ERAs between 4.22 and 4.30 and they combined for a 56-57 record. Only one of those finished with a record above .500 and that was Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA. This year Cecil’s in the minors after he allowed 16 ER in 21 IP.

What do you expect Gee’s record to be at the end of the year?

*****

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Mets turn to Dillon Gee to stop the bleeding

The Mets called up Dillon Gee to start today’s series finale against the Braves. To make room on the roster for Gee, the Mets once again designated Pat Misch for assignment. There had been speculation that they would send down Ryota Igarashi instead as the counter move. But Igarashi has yet to give up a run in four appearances while Misch gave up a run in two innings yesterday.

Or maybe since Misch already cleared waivers once this year the Mets figured he could do it again.

Either way, Gee comes up to make the start. He becomes the seventh Mets pitcher to start a game in 2011. Back in February, when many were calling for Gee to be in the rotation to start the season over Chris Capuano, I said that he was best used as rotation depth, one of the guys the team should count on to be their 6th through 10th SP. And given the injury concerns around Capuano and Chris Young he would still get a chance to get a good number of starts in 2011.

Last year R.A. Dickey (26 starts), Hisanori Takahashi (12), Misch (6), Gee (5) and Jenrry Mejia (3) all made multiple starts for the Mets despite not being in the Opening Day rotation, due to the implosions of John Maine and Oliver Perez along with the late-season injury to Johan Santana. With no ace in the rotation, plus injury risks Capuano and Young, the potential for 40+ starts for pitchers 6-10 existed once again for the Mets.

It is a little disappointing that Gee gets his chance the third week in April, but it’s hardly a shock. He has already made two starts this year in Triple-A, getting bombed in one (4.2 IP, 7 R) and doing well in the other (7 IP, 1 R). His ERA stands at 4.63, similar to last year’s 4.96 ERA at Buffalo in 161.1 IP.

Gee had success last year in the majors, but his 2.18 ERA was deceiving, as he had a 5.00 xFIP. Right now, the Mets could use the results Gee gave them last year, whether they are achieved through luck or skill. At the very least, they need innings, as the bullpen was asked to provide 7.1 IP yesterday, not counting the 3.2 delivered by D.J. Carrasco in an emergency start.

So, Gee comes up with the chance to impress people and win additional starts, even when Young returns from the disabled list. Gee should get two starts before Young, whose stint was backdated to April 11th, returns from the DL. If Gee turns in two strong starts, manager Terry Collins would think long and hard about getting him additional work, given how lousy the rest of the team’s starters have been most of the year.

While it’s not the way that Gee (or his vocal supporters) imagined 2011 working out back in February, he’s getting the chance to pitch meaningful games for the Mets in April. The club desperately needs a win to end its current 7-game losing streak. Gee would do well to impress the doubters by coming up with a strong effort in the house of horrors known as Turner Field.

Since the Braves’ current home park opened in 1997, the Mets are 38-80 (.322) after dropping their first two games in Turner Field here in 2011. In 2006-07, the Mets were 11-7 in Turner Field. Outside of those two seasons, they are 27-73 (.270) in Atlanta. What exactly was wrong with Fulton County Stadium again?

Back in March, Doug Parker pointed out that the word Gee is an interjection. The Mets really need Gee to live up to his name and interject some life into the team today. Hopefully tomorrow the headline writers for the city’s papers can have some fun and write, “Gee that was a strong start.”

Mets Card of the Week: 2011 Topps Diamond Dillon Gee

2011 TOPPS DIAMOND DILLON GEE

After my previous Mets misadventures with the new Topps set, I resolved to give it another go.

And my luck improved– I pulled this sparkly, shiny, spangly card of Dillon Gee.

It was so shiny, sparkly, and spangly that I could only say one thing upon pulling it: “Gee.”

You know, there’s a good chance that Dillon Gee might one day end up on my top 20 list of all-time favorite Mets’ player names.

Dude’s an interjection, after all. A mild one sure, but an interjection nonetheless.

Here’s my list as it stands now:

20. Harry Parker
19. Pumpsie Green
18. Royce Ring
17. Esix Snead
16. Jerry Cram
15. Skip Lockwood
14. Benny Ayala
13. Tobi Stoner
12. Brent Strom
11. Don Hahn
10. Mookie Wilson
9. Duffy Dyer
8. Choo Choo Coleman
7. Brent Gaff
6. Nino Espinosa
5. Mackey Sasser
4. Amos Otis
3. Marv Throneberry
2. Buzz Capra
1. Cleon Jones

*****

Here is the complete Card of the Week archive, which you can also access by clicking on the gray menu bar above the headline and below the masthead anywhere on the site.

*****

Why Capuano should start over Gee

The famous saying is that the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. One thing in baseball that approaches this level of certainty is if you have a pitcher capable of being an effective starter, you are insane if you pitch him out of the bullpen instead. I’m reminded of this axiom as people call for Chris Capuano to be a reliever rather than a starter in 2011.

Why is it insane for a pitcher to be used as a reliever if he can be a competent starter? It is extremely difficult for a pitcher to be more valuable in 75 IP than he can be in 175 IP, no matter how high leverage those 75 innings are. Let’s look at the 2010 Mets. Here are the fWAR for the four starters who had at least 100 IP and the top members of the bullpen:

Santana – 3.5
Pelfrey – 2.9
Dickey – 2.9
Niese – 1.9
Rodriguez – 1.4
Takahashi – 1.3
Feliciano – 0.8
Parnell – 0.7

Hisanori Takahashi’s numbers are from his relief appearances only. Those might lead one to believe that an effective reliever over an entire season can be more valuable. Last year the best RP in the majors by this metric was Carlos Marmol, who had a 3.1 fWAR. Compare that to the top starters – there were 46 starters with a fWAR greater than that last season.

Should the Cubs use Marmol as a starter? It is unclear if he has the stamina to go six or more innings on a regular basis in 2011. He has not pitched more than 100 innings since 2005 and at this point in his career it is questionable if he could handle a starter’s workload.

Which brings us to Capuano. Terry Collins is on record as saying that Capuano needs to prove he is healthy before he is officially in the running for a rotation slot. That seems innocent enough, especially given that Capuano has pitched all of 66 innings in the majors the past three seasons. I do find it curious that the same logic is not applied to Chris Young, who has pitched 96 innings the past two seasons and only 20 of those last year.

There seems to be two somewhat logical explanations for placing higher barriers of entry to a rotation slot for Capuano than Young. First, Capuano has 23 relief appearances in the majors to his credit, including 15 last season. Young has none. More importantly, Capuano is a lefty and he could fill the void created by the departure of Pedro Feliciano.

Another factor often mentioned is that Capuano can get ground balls. Since ground balls are good, why you would want the guy who can induce ground balls to have fewer chances to do so does not make any sense to me, so it does not raise to the level of “somewhat logical.”

Last year with the Brewers, Capuano made nine starts. He got knocked around in two of his first three starts, which were not consecutive. But once he got on a regular rotation, Capuano was very effective. Here are his numbers in September, when he was exclusively a starter and did not have his turn skipped:

6 G, 34 IP, 31 H, 11 ER, 11 R, 10 BB, 21 Ks, 4 HR, 2.91 ERA

He went six or more innings in four of his six games in this stretch. He seemed capable of carrying a starter’s workload in September of last year. Unless there is an undisclosed arm injury, why assume that he is unable of doing the same after an offseason of rest and more time removed from his surgery? And I would like to think that Sandy Alderson did his due diligence and that Capuano has no lingering arm issues.

And who would the Mets use as a starter if Capuano opens the year in the bullpen? Dillon Gee is the pitcher most often mentioned. Gee came up and did a very nice job for the Mets last September. In five games he was 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA.

But Gee’s results with the Mets were more due to luck than good pitching. He posted that line after Triple-A batters knocked him around to a 4.96 ERA in 161.1 IP. In the majors, his ERA was due to the fact that he had an 80.7 strand rate (average is around 70%), a .225 BABIP (average around .300) and a HR/FB rate of 4.7 (average around 11%). If we look at the ERA estimators, Gee had a 4.20 FIP and a 5.19 xFIP last year.

Realistically, Gee was much closer to a 5.00 ERA pitcher last year than a 2.00 ERA during his time in the majors. If he pitches substantial innings for the Mets in 2011, no one should be surprised when his ERA is near 5 and not the sparkling rate it was in 2010.

To be fair, Capuano’s numbers in September were misleading, too. His FIP for the month was 4.26 and his xFIP was 4.49 – both worse than his actual ERA.

So, assuming both Capuano and Gee are healthy and ready to go – why prefer one over the other? There are several reasons. First, Capuano has a major league track record while Gee does not. Capuano has made 125 starts in the majors compared to five for Gee. And Capuano came back last year and put up peripherals right in line with what he’s done previously in the majors. Here are his lifetime marks and 2010 rates for three main categories

2010 Lifetime
K/9 7.36 7.40
BB/9 2.86 3.02
HR/9 1.23 1.27

In his time in the majors last year, Capuano was essentially the same pitcher he has always been, the same pitcher who was able to put up an 18-win season in 2005.

Meanwhile, Gee struggled with his peripherals in the majors. Gee generally had very strong K and BB numbers in the minors but in the majors he had a 4.64 K/9 and a 4.09 BB/9. It’s hard to thrive in the majors with a BB rate that high, especially without a dominating K rate. Gee certainly can improve upon both of those numbers, but he simply is not going to be the dominating strikeout pitcher he was in the minors.

Gee has a deep repertoire but he is not an overpowering pitcher. I could see him adding a full strikeout to his 2010 numbers but I believe it is highly unlikely he could top a 6.0 K/9 in the majors. Without a blazing fastball or any other pitch that generates big numbers of swings and misses, he is not going to match his 9.20 K/9 that he had in Buffalo last year.

Finally, Capuano should see a boost in his numbers moving to Citi Field. Miller Park was the sixth-best HR park in the majors last year, according to the ESPN Park Factors, while Citi Field ranked 27th. Capuano had a 1.4 HR/9 in home games last year and a 0.9 mark in road games. He had a 4.10 ERA at home and a 3.77 mark on the road. Capuano has pitched in hitter-friendly parks in Arizona and Milwaukee throughout his career and should benefit from being in a pitcher’s park for the first time.

Ultimately, Capuano has better stuff and a better track record than Gee and that is why I want to see him in the rotation. However, no one knows how many innings Capuano and Young are going to be able to contribute for the Mets in 2011. I expect that Gee will still get a chance to make numerous starts for the Mets, even if he opens the year in the bullpen or in Triple-A.

All teams need more than five starters and Gee is a very nice hurler to have in the 6-10 group of pitchers for a major league team. There is no doubt that he is an asset to the club and a feather in the cap of the scouting department which made him a 21st-round pick in the 2007 Draft.

But Capuano is a better pitcher. And if the Mets take a better pitcher and put him in the bullpen, that’s a mistake I would not anticipate from the new front office. I look forward to seeing Capuano start games for the Mets in April this season.

Do the Mets need a long reliever?

When trying to figure out the makeup of the relievers on the staff, does it make sense for the Mets to have someone who can regularly pitch multiple innings in case a starter gets knocked out early? If the answer to that question is yes, that helps Dillon Gee and Pat Misch in their quests to make the Opening Day roster.

Last year, a Mets reliever pitched more than two innings in an appearance 22 times. However, most of the guys who did that are no longer on the club. Raul Valdes led the way with nine such appearances, while Hisanori Takahashi had five. Fernando Nieve (3), Elmer Dessens (1) and Tobi Stoner (1) are the other pitchers no longer around who had extended outings out of the pen.

Only Francisco Rodriguez, Manny Acosta and Oliver Perez, with one extended outing each, have a chance to return to the Mets bullpen in 2011.

The expectation is that with neither John Maine nor Perez in the starting rotation, the Mets will have fewer bullpen-killing outings from their starters this year. The flip side of that is with Chris Capuano and Chris Young coming back from major injuries, there is still a chance for a starter to go down on a regular basis and having someone who won’t blink if asked to pitch multiple innings is still a worthwhile thing for the Mets.

It’s likely that Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell and D.J. Carrasco have bullpen slots locked up. And it is almost unthinkable for a bullpen not to have a LOOGY in 2011. That leaves three slots remaining and multiple relievers vying for those positions, including Acosta, Pedro Beato, Taylor Buchholz, Gee and Misch.

Most assume that Buchholz has a slot. If Beato is impressive during Spring Training, he really forces the issue, as he is a Rule 5 pick who has to be offered back to Baltimore if he does not make the roster. In that case, Acosta, Gee and Misch are fighting for the final spot. Acosta went three innings in one appearance last year and could technically fill the long reliever role.

But what if Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins decide a long man is a necessity, a position to be filled first rather than last? Then they choose between Gee and Misch, with Acosta, Buchholz and Beato fighting with the long-man loser (and perhaps other LOOGY candidates) for the final two positions in the pen.

One other factor to consider is that Carrasco is also capable of going extended innings, having done so five times last year. Even Buchholz went 2.2 IP in one of his nine outings last season. Could the combination of Acosta, Buchholz and Carrasco be enough to forego a long man?

My guess is that the Mets will be flexible with having a long man in the bullpen. If Beato shows enough to merit a roster spot, they will do without a traditional long man. But if the Rule 5 pick is not worth keeping, they will opt for Misch instead. The veteran lefty being out of options has two advantages over the righty Gee, who can be sent down to Triple-A to continue working as a starter.

Only one thing is certain: Those that start the season in the minors are likely to make it to Citi at some point during the season. Last year the Mets used 20 pitchers and only four of those pitched exclusively as a starter. In 2010, the Mets bullpen had 182.1 IP thrown by relievers who were not on the Opening Day roster.

Manny Acosta and the bullpen competition

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, the Mets seem set with the people they will bring to Spring Training to compete for jobs. There should be plenty of competition for a slot in the bullpen, as there should be no fewer than nine relievers vying for the final four spots. Earlier in the offseason, I thought Manny Acosta was likely to wind up with a place on the Opening Day roster. Let’s see if that’s still the case.

First, we know that three spots in the bullpen are set with Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell and D.J. Carrasco. All three of those are righties, so it is a reasonable guess to assume that the Mets would prefer one of the final four spots to be filled by a lefty. Here are the nine main contenders for the bullpen jobs, along with some stats from 2010. I used major league data whenever possible.

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Name L/R Avg FB SwStr% K/9 K/BB
Manny Acosta Right 94.1 9.6 9.53 2.33
Pedro Beato Right low 90s Unknown 7.54 2.63
Taylor Buchholz Right 89.0 10.2 6.75 1.50
Tim Byrdak Left 88.9 9.8 6.75 1.45
Dillon Gee Right 89.1 7.9 4.64 1.13
Pat Misch Left 85.7 7.7 5.5 5.75
Mike O’Connor Left 85.0 7.0 8.92 4.12
Oliver Perez Left 88.0 7.1 7.19 0.88
Taylor Tankersley Left 87.4 8.2 5.25 1.0

Acosta’s advantages are that he throws the hardest of our remaining candidates. He has the top fastball velocity and the most strikeouts. Acosta also is among the leaders in Swinging Strike percentage and K/BB. And while he is a righty, Acosta limited lefties to a .473 OPS last year.

Beato’s numbers are from Double-A, with an approximation on his fastball velocity. When he was in junior college, Beato regularly threw in the 90s and could dial it up to 96. His velocity had dropped his first few years in the minors, but reports had him throwing harder last year, his first in the bullpen. A Rule 5 selection, Beato has to make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to the Orioles.

Buchholz is not overpowering but he gets a lot of swings out of the strike zone, plus swings and misses, thanks to his curve ball and changeup. The Mets gave Buchholz a major league deal, one that includes a $400,000 bonus if he makes the Opening Day roster and is not on the DL.

Byrdak has not officially signed but I included his numbers here, anyway. If the Mets agree to terms with the 37-year old, he is more of a traditional LOOGY, a guy to bring on to face a tough lefty and get him out of the game if a righty steps into the box. In his nine-year career in the majors, Byrdak has limited lefties to a .677 OPS but righties smack him around to an .886 tune.

Gee is still in the mix for a starting job, but with the signing of Young, his best bet to make the team is probably as a reliever. Without having to pace himself, he probably could throw a little bit harder than the numbers above show, which are limited to his time in the majors last year.

Misch is in the same boat as Gee, perhaps slightly better situated because he throws lefty and is out of options. While he is a southpaw, Misch enjoys no platoon advantage, as lefties in the majors have an .804 OPS against him, compared to a .768 mark for righties.

O’Connor pitched very well at Buffalo last year. The K/9 and K/BB numbers above were taken from his time in Triple-A in 2010. The other numbers were from his major league trial with the Nationals in 2008 and probably are not a good reflection of his current talent level. O’Connor is now a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, but is a good bet to make it to the majors during the 2011 season.

Perez comes to camp with a chance to win a spot in the bullpen but virtually no one expects him to be with the club when it begins the regular season.

Tankersley is signed to a minor league deal but the lefty has a good shot to make the team. Tankersley is recovering from elbow surgery which kept him out of baseball during the 2009 season. Last year in Triple-A, he limited lefties to a .118 AVG and when he was promoted to the Marlins, LHB had a .200/.286/.433 line in 35 PA.

We know that Spring Training stats are meaningless but the Mets will probably make some bullpen decisions this year based on what the above pitchers do in Florida. Acosta and Misch are out of options, Beato is a Rule 5 guy and Buchholz gets extra money if he makes the team. I still like Acosta to make the team, but a strong Spring showing would certainly help his cause.

Innings projections for the 2011 Mets

With the signing of Chris Young, the Mets rotation appears to be set in 2011. Young was not my first choice for a bargain-basement pitcher, but at least if I squint real hard I can imagine him being a useful pitcher this season, which is more than I can say for Kevin Millwood.

Now, we are left to wonder what the Mets can get from each member of their rotation. Last year’s staff overachieved, in part due to the dimensions of Citi Field. The pitching staff in general, and the rotation in particular, is not likely to reproduce 2010’s numbers. Just missing Johan Santana is bad enough but the fact that there are question marks, whether due to injuries or other factors, for each of the five players likely to begin the year in the rotation has fans holding their collective breaths.

First, let’s look at what the starting rotation gave the club last year.

Rk W L W-L% ERA GS IP ▾ H HR BB IBB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
1 Mike Pelfrey 15 9 .625 3.68 33 203.0 212 12 67 5 113 1.374 5.0 1.69
2 Johan Santana 11 9 .550 2.98 29 199.0 179 16 55 2 144 1.176 6.5 2.62
3 Jonathon Niese 9 10 .474 4.20 30 173.2 192 20 62 3 148 1.463 7.7 2.39
4 R.A. Dickey 11 9 .550 2.86 26 173.1 165 13 41 3 103 1.188 5.3 2.51
5 Hisanori Takahashi 4 4 .500 5.01 12 64.2 73 11 21 0 54 1.454 7.5 2.57
6 John Maine 1 3 .250 6.13 9 39.2 47 8 25 1 39 1.815 8.8 1.56
7 Pat Misch 0 4 .000 4.28 6 33.2 39 4 4 1 21 1.277 5.6 5.25
8 Oliver Perez 0 3 .000 5.94 7 33.1 36 5 28 1 27 1.920 7.3 0.96
9 Dillon Gee 2 2 .500 2.18 5 33.0 25 2 15 2 17 1.212 4.6 1.13
10 Jenrry Mejia 0 2 .000 7.94 3 11.1 17 1 4 1 5 1.853 4.0 1.25
11 Raul Valdes 0 0 1.69 1 5.1 3 1 4 0 5 1.313 8.4 1.25
12 Fernando Nieve 0 1 .000 22.50 1 2.0 3 2 3 0 5 3.000 22.5 1.67
Team Total 53 56 .486 3.80 162 972.0 991 95 329 19 681 1.358 6.3 2.07
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2011.

The Mets got 26 or more starts from four pitchers last year. We already know Santana will not pitch that much in 2011. What are the odds that either Capuano or Young can shoulder that load? Can Pelfrey avoid the stretches where he looks sub-replacement level? Can Dickey continue to throw that many strikes? Can the 24-year-old Niese survive the jump in innings, from 120 to 179.2, which make him a Verducci candidate?

Last year the Mets used 12 SP. We can figure on the above five, along with Santana (hopefully), Gee and Misch will make starts during the year. Plus it’s not unrealistic to expect Mejia to come up and make a start or two in September. Will those nine be enough for 162 games and 972 IP that the team’s starters gave in 2010?

Here are my guesses:

Dickey – 215
Pelfrey – 200
Niese – 150
Capuano – 150
Young – 90
Santana – 75
Gee – 50
Misch – 20
Mejia – 15

If Dickey and Pelfrey can go 30+ starts each, this rotation has a chance. The above numbers add up to 965 IP and none of the totals seem crazy to me. Perhaps no Mets starter reaches the IP totals projected above, but would you chomp at the bit to go to Vegas to bet against any one of them? Capuano is probably the most optimistic one – he threw just 66 IP in 2010.

The big question is if Capuano, Young, Santana and Gee can combine for roughly 350 IP, or what Niese and Dickey gave the club in 2010. I have them for 365.

It’s exceptionally rare for a pitching staff to use just five or six starters for an entire season. We know this year’s Mets staff will not be one of those. Sandy Alderson chose Capuano and Young to bring in this season. We should judge him by how well those two pitchers perform, both in innings and quality they deliver, along with what other pitchers in similar situations (and similar dollar amounts) did for other teams in 2011.

Sizing up the Mets’ 2011 Opening Day roster

While there are several jobs up in the air, the Opening Day roster is starting to take shape for the Mets. There are 17 positions which seem set and another four which seem likely. And the remaining four are possibly already on the team, it is just a matter of which direction Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson choose to go.

The definites
Pelfrey, Dickey, Niese, Capuano, Rodriguez, Parnell, Buchholz, Carrasco, Thole, Paulino, Davis, Wright, Reyes, Hu, Bay, Beltran, Pagan

The likely
Gee, Acosta, Murphy, Evans

For lack of a better option, Dillon Gee seems to be the club’s fifth starter. There also remains the possibility he becomes a long man/swing guy if the Mets sign another starter before the start of Spring Training.

Manny Acosta had 42 strikeouts in 39.2 IP for the Mets last year and a 2.95 ERA. He is not yet eligible for arbitration and seems like a good, low-cost reliever. One thing working in his favor is his success last year versus LHB, who posted a .163/.217/.256 mark, albeit in just 46 PA.

Daniel Murphy might be the starting second baseman on Opening Day. Even if he does not win the job, his ability to play multiple positions (he played third base in the minors and left field and first base for the Mets) seems like an obvious asset, unless the Mets want him to go to the minors to concentrate on playing second on a daily basis.

Nick Evans should benefit from the shift in management, having, for whatever reason, seemingly fallen out of favor with Manuel/Minaya. Evans’ ability to play first base, along with both corner outfield spots, seems to give him a leg up. Also, being a righty bat with some sock helps Evans’ chances.

That leaves two bullpen spots, a second baseman and one other reserve position, likely an outfielder, up for grabs. It makes sense that the two Rule 5 guys – Pedro Beato and Brad Emaus – get a long look to fill a reliever spot and the second base job.

Next, the question is if the Mets hold onto Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo because of their contracts or if they are willing to eat part of all of their salaries in trades/releases. If the Mets do get rid of Perez, how important is having a lefty in the bullpen? Southpaw Mike O’Connor was unimpressive in two short stints with the Nationals, but had 70 Ks in 70.2 IP in Buffalo last year with a 2.67 ERA. Pat Misch is a lefty but has displayed little ability to be a LOOGY. But he does have the ability to pitch multiple innings as a reliever and should not be discounted.

If Emaus makes it, it seems unlikely that Castillo will also be on the team. Justin Turner probably needs Emaus to fall flat and another team to show interest in Castillo to have a shot, especially since he can be sent to the minors without risk.

That leaves the outfield. Ordinarily, Lucas Duda would be an asset as a power lefty bat off the bench, but he is likely better served to get regular ABs in Triple-A. Plus, he looked stretched as a left fielder and the Mets probably want this reserve to be a good defensive outfielder. Jason Pridie could fill the bill, although there is a chance the Mets bring in a veteran who is willing to sign on the cheap. Recently, MLB Trade Rumors indicated Scott Podsednik might be an option here.

My guess is that both Rule 5 guys make the roster and both salary guys are elsewhere. O’Connor gets the other relief spot and Pridie is the final guy for Opening Day. If this is indeed the Opening Day roster, their will be just six players returning from the 2010 Opening Day roster (Niese, Pelfrey, Rodriguez, Wright, Bay and Pagan). There were 11 returnees on the 2010 roster and 13 on the 2009 Opening Day one.

Mets 2011 Top 10 Prospects

One of the reasons cited for getting rid of Omar Minaya was that he did not build a strong farm system. Last year, six players who made my top prospect list contributed to the Mets and no longer have rookie eligibility. This includes Jenrry Mejia and Fernando Martinez, both who lost their rookie status because they accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster.

So, it is actually surprising the overall shape of the system. There’s not much at the very top, but there is a lot of depth, a lot of players who could eventually reach the majors. At this time last year, few would have guessed that Mejia, Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada would have used up their eligibility. If those three were still rookies and had turned in strong 2010 seasons in the minors (not an unreasonable assumption), the outlook of the Mets’ farm system would be completely different right now.

As is, there are some hitters who may top out as reserves but who still have time to develop into useful regulars. The top pitchers now in the system are Matt Harvey and Steven Matz; unfortunately, neither one of them has thrown a pitch in professional baseball and ranking them is extremely problematic.

Only four players return from last year’s list. There may only be four people from the 2011 list who show up on the 2012 list, too. But unlike last year, when everyone graduated to the Mets or lost their eligibility, next year’s list might have a lot of turnover just because there are 15-17 people who can make an argument to be on the list right now. With another year of data and scouting reports, people who missed the list this time could easily take a step forward.

10. Reese Havens, 2B, Hi-A/Double-A, .338/.400/.662 in 75 PA

This is Havens’ line in Double-A, where he actually played more than he did in Single-A. And this illustrates both the potential and the problem with Havens. He has an impact bat at second base. But he can’t stay healthy. As Mets fans have seen with Martinez, staying healthy is at least partially a skill. Havens has been injured in each of his three years with the Mets. Most people have Havens ranked higher than this in the system. He’s this low here because until he stays healthy he’s more suspect than prospect. He could be number one on this list next year. Or he could fall off completely.

9. Lucas Duda, OF/1B, Double-A/Triple-A/Majors, .314/.389/.610 in 298 PA

This is Duda’s line in Triple-A, when he had 42 XBH, including 17 HR. Duda saw extensive playing time with the Mets in September. He couldn’t buy a base hit his first two weeks in the majors. But in his final 55 PA, he put up a .314/.345/.647 line with 9 XBH and 4 HR. Duda has big-time power. The issue is: Where is he going to play? He played LF with the Mets in September, but that position is manned by Jason Bay. His best position is 1B, but Davis has a leg up there. Potentially, RF could be his home, but Duda was already stretched defensively in LF. In his brief action in the majors, he was below average in both range and arm. Again, Duda is a player that most others rank higher. My problem is that I just don’t see where he fits on the Mets.

8. Dillon Gee, SP, Triple-A, Majors, 13-8, 4.96 ERA, 165 Ks in 161.1 IP

Last year Gee made my list ahead of Brad Holt and Jeurys Familia. The rationale was that he had less upside but was more likely to pitch in the majors. Right now, Gee is the Mets’ fourth starter. Whether he’s in the rotation on Opening Day or not, Gee is likely to pitch again in the majors in 2011. His stuff is not good enough to be a guy to make 30 starts a year. But he could make it as a swing man or a bullpen arm.

7. Matt Harvey, SP, UNC, 8-3, 3.09 ERA, 102 Ks in 96 IP

The seventh overall pick in the 2010 Draft, Harvey had one of the best fastballs in the draft. The question is if he has anything else. Some compare him to Mike Pelfrey, but Pelfrey had better control than Harvey in college. In an ordinary year, Harvey would probably not make this list. But he clearly has upside, and unlike Matz, is not coming off surgery. We should get a better reading on Harvey after this year and I expect he’ll move up on the list.

6. Darrell Ceciliani, OF, New York-Penn League, .351/.410/.531 in 303 PA

A fourth-round pick in the 2009 Draft out of a Junior College in Washington, Ceciliani rebounded from a poor year in his professional debut in the APPY to put up a very fine last year, especially for a center fielder. In addition to winning the batting title, Ceciliani had 33 XBH in 271 ABs, which broke down to 19 doubles, 12 triples and 2 homers. If he can stay in center field, Ceciliani has a chance. He has little power and not much arm, so he needs to stay in center in order to be a starter. He’s a long way from the majors but he has legitimate tools. We’ll find out how legitimate when he plays in full-season ball this year.

5. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF, Double-A/Triple-A, .289/.337/.510 in 433 PA

This is Nieuwenhuis’ line in Double-A. He struggled in 30 games in Triple-A but it was still a successful season for the former small college star. Nieuwenhuis was leading the Eastern League with 53 XBH when he was promoted. The big issue is if, like Ceciliani, he can stay in center. Last year I compared him to Nate McLouth, a guy stretched to play CF, but one capable of putting up a 20-20 line. There are doubts about Nieuwenhuis because of his NAIA pedigree. But he’s gotten better as he’s moved up the ladder and I’m going to believe in him until he gives me a reason not to.

4. Cesar Puello, OF, South Atlantic League, .292/.375/.359 in 469 PA

The Dominican native was signed by the Mets in 2007. Last year was his third season playing in this country but he was only 19, one of just five teenagers in the SAL. Unlike many Latin players, Puello is willing to take a walk, with 32 BB in 404 AB,. Puello also had 22 HBP, following up on a season where he was hit 14 times in short-season ball. He also has plus speed, as he stole 45 bases in 55 attempts. Puello hit just 1 HR last year, but he draws praise for his approach at the plate and scouts predict he will hit 20 HR by the time he matures.

Despite his speed, Puello is a right fielder. On production, Nieuwenhuis is the better prospect right now. But Puello has a higher ceiling. It is a coin flip for me which one to rank higher and I am tempted to flip the coin again and put Nieuwenhuis in this spot. Ultimately, Puello gets the nod. He should advance to the Florida State League next year, a tough league for youngsters to hit home runs. Puello may not show much improvement in power next season but let’s see if his plate discipline holds at the higher level.

3. Aderlin Rodriguez, 3B, Rookie/Low-A, .312/.352/.556 in 267 PA

This is Rodriguez’ line in the Appalachian League. He got a late call-up to the SAL, where he played in eight games. While he is a year behind Puello, and with only eight games of full-season ball to his credit, Rodriguez is ranked higher due to greater power production and potential, along with his chance to stick in the infield. Rodriguez bounced back from a wrist injury in 2009 to put up 13 HR in 250 ABs in the APPY, which ranked third in the league.

The Dominican native shows a strong arm at the hot corner, but scouts worry about every other defensive tool for Rodriguez. He may have to move to first base but should have the bat for the position. There have been whispers about his work ethic, which is a concern, but let’s see if they follow him to full-season ball before we give them too much weight.

2. Cory Vaughn, OF, New York-Penn League, .307/.396/.557 in 313 PA.

The Mets’ fourth-round pick in the 2010 Draft out of San Diego State, Vaughn is the son of former MLB star Greg Vaughn. The younger Vaughn had a big year in the NYP, hitting for both average and power (14 HR) while also showing the speed to steal 12 bases. While a rookie league, the NYP is the natural spot for many college players and first-round picks. Under the old Mets regime, Vaughn would likely have opened 2011 in Double-A. Now, he’s likely headed to the Hi-A Florida State League, instead.

Vaughn has Type I juvenile diabetes, a condition he has had since he was 11. He tests himself multiple times during a game. So far the condition has not been a hindrance in any way in his baseball development. Vaughn has benefitted from being around the game his entire life. He was in the clubhouse when was his father was in San Diego and a teammate of current SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. He was also a bat boy later on when his father was in Tampa Bay.

Some doubt Vaughn as he did not impress in the Cape Cod League and never hit a lot of HR at SDSU, either. But Vaughn’s showing in the NYP should silence some of the critics. If he again hits for average and power in 2011, expect to see Vaughn’s name on MLB top prospect lists this time next year. But right now this is probably the highest ranking you will see for Vaughn anywhere.

1. Wilmer Flores, SS, Low-A/Hi-A, .278/.342/.433 in 307 PA

These are the numbers for Flores in the South Atlantic League, where he played the first half of 2010. He hit for a better average (.300) in the Florida State League, but with less OBP and SLG. Flores improved upon 2009’s dismal numbers in the SAL but his top prospect status is still built more upon age, as he was 18 for most of last season, than on production.

While listed as a SS, few expect he will play that position in the majors. Flores has good hands, but does not have the range of an MLB-quality shortstop. His likely home is third base. But wherever he winds up defensively, Flores’ value will come from his bat. The Venezuelan native makes good contact (77 Ks in 554 ABs in 2010) and hits the ball to all fields.

Flores is likely to start the year in the FSL, with a mid-year promotion to Double-A. Not many people are capable of playing in the high minors while still a teenager. It is easy to get down on Flores, as his production has yet to match his hype. But no one should be surprised once he starts to put up big numbers. Nor should they be shocked if that happens in 2011.

Honorable Mention/Names to Remember

Holt, Familia, Matz, Jordany Valdespin, Mark Cohoon, Zach Lutz, Robert Carson, Matt den Dekker, Jefry Marte, Juan Urbina, Vicente Lupo, Elvis Sanchez.

2010 Top Prospects
2009 Top Prospects

Christmas wishes for the 2011 Mets

The Mets have already had their team Christmas party but they must have decided this year not to exchange gifts. Now, you may be wondering what millionaires give as gifts or what millionaires want to receive as gifts. I cannot answer that question. But I can tell you what players on the Mets really need. So, with Christmas right around the corner, I’d like to hand out my presents.

Jason Bay – A home run on Opening Day. Last offseason everyone was worried about Wright’s lost home run power and the bomb he hit on Opening Day propelled him to 29 homers in 2010.

Pedro Beato – A spot in the Mets’ bullpen. This is a great story waiting to happen, the guy the Mets let get away who switches roles and winds back with his hometown team. Now it just needs a happy ending.

Carlos Beltran – A season of 650 PA in which he hits like he did at the end of last season. In his final 160 PA, Beltran hit .295/.369/.504 which is close to what he did in 2007-08.

Luis Castillo – A trade out of town. There’s still good baseball left in Castillo’s body, but Mets fans are so down on him that, much like with Kaz Matsui, it’s likely not to be in New York. After Matsui left the Mets, he posted an .896 OPS the rest of 2006, after opening with a .505 mark with New York. It’s easy to see the same thing happening with Castillo.

Ike Davis – A copy of The Fielding Bible. Any player who advanced fielding metrics rank so highly should understand what makes him good defensively. Hint: It’s not fielding percentage. The last thing we need is to develop another guy like Joe Morgan, who seems clueless as to what it was that made him great.

R.A. Dickey – Continued success throwing strikes.

Dillon Gee – Two free agent starting pitching signings. While I root for Gee, who gets the most out of his stuff, odds are stacked against him succeeding as a starting pitcher over a full season. He is a great guy to have as pitching depth, a guy to make 10 starts a year. Counting on him for more than that is just inviting trouble. Sure, he had a 2.18 ERA last year. Gee also had a 5.19 xFIP. It’s reminiscent of Fernando Nieve, who had a 2.95 ERA in 2009 but a 5.41 xFIP. Nieve posted a 6.00 ERA in 2010.

Daniel Murphy – No defensive gaffes in Spring Training. Murphy can be a nice asset offensively at second base and the possibility for an exciting platoon with Rule 5 selection Brad Emaus exists if both can hack it defensively.

Jonathon Niese – A normal year in LOB%. Last year Niese had three months with a strand rate over 79, including July when it was a whopping 98 percent. Conversely, he had three months below 63, including September when it was 54.1 percent. His July ERA was 2.48 and it was 7.11 in September.

Angel Pagan – A set position. Last year Pagan played all three outfield spots and batted in all nine slots in the order. It would be nice if Terry Collins brought some stability to Pagan’s life.

Bobby Parnell – A pitch to throw to lefties. Last year RHB had a .614 OPS against Parnell while LHB had an .806 mark. If only our pitching coach had a track record of adding to his troops’ arsenal.

Ronny Paulino – Contentment in a platoon role. Paulino is on record as saying he wants to be a full-time catcher and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to play everyday. But a Thole-Paulino platoon has the makings of one of the best offensive tandems in baseball.

Mike Pelfrey – As many starts in Citi Field as the Mets can manage. The past two seasons, Pelfrey has the following home/road splits:

H: 16-8, 3.24 ERA, 5.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
R: 9-13, 5.84 ERA, 4.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Oliver Perez – An early release. Sandy Alderson wants to give him a shot in Spring Training. May he pitch so poorly that the Mets release him in time for him to hook on with another club, preferably one in the National League East.

Jose Reyes – Better strike zone judgment. In 2004, 62.1 percent of the pitches thrown to Reyes were in the strike zone. Last year that number was down to 44.6 percent as pitchers knew they could get him to chase pitches. His O-Swing% was a career-high 32.1 percent last year.

Francisco Rodriguez – A “boo” holiday from the fans. Rodriguez pitched well before everything came crashing down last year. Now fans seem more interested in him not reaching his vesting option than they do in having him successfully close out games. While Rodriguez is far from the only player capable of finishing games, Mets fans would do well to remember what it was like down the stretch in 2008 after Billy Wagner was hurt.

Johan Santana – A calendar year without surgery.

Josh Thole – A quick start to the season. Last year he had a .172/.242/.259 line in April. With a new backup catcher who wants to be a full-timer, a hot start for Thole could ensure optimal usage for both players.

David Wright – A hitting coach that makes him stand close to the plate. Maybe he can’t stop swinging at high fastballs or low curves but at least this way he can reach the outside strike. May he and Dave Hudgens get off to a good start together.

Terry Collins – What he needs is 150 games from Bay, Beltran and Reyes. Of course, it would be nice to see him run a tighter, smarter ship than Jerry Manuel did.

Sandy Alderson – The courage to make the right deal at the trading deadline. Perhaps it’s pulling the trigger on a potential Beltran deal. Hopefully it’s to acquire a starting pitcher to bolster the rotation for a playoff run. But since Omar Minaya seemingly never made a key mid-season deal, may Alderson trump his predecessor in this area, too.

*****

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all the readers of Mets360. Thanks for checking us out throughout the year and hopefully 2011 will be better than what we’ve experienced the past few years.