End of season report card for the Mets

For a season that opened up with hope, and which was carried to the All-Star break, the Mets once again flamed out and disappointed their fans and had their second consecutive losing season (79-83).

Change is now on the horizon as GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel were given their pink slips on Monday.

While this may be an exercise in futility, let’s look at the 2010 New York Mets and grade their performances on the field.

Catcher:
Josh Thole: B
With Rod Barajas breaking camp as the starting catcher, not much was expected of Thole this year. But when Thole was called up on June 24, he impressed the franchise with his ability to hit in the clutch and get on base. With the team fading from the playoff picture, Barajas was squeezed out and eventually traded to the Dodgers. Thole was given the starting job all to himself. He hit a few bumps down the stretch but hit .277/.356/.366.

Henry Blanco C+
As a backup catcher, you know what you are going to get from Blanco: good game-calling and sound defense. For the most part, Blanco did his job.

First Base:
Ike Davis: B
Davis arrived in late April and provided a spark with his pop and defense. He struggled in the middle months, before hitting well down the stretch. Davis needs to cut down on his strikeouts, but is a player Met faithful could rally around.

Mike Hessman D-
The power-hitting minor league journeyman was only good for one home run this year. He was lost at the plate en route to a .127 average.

Second Base:
Ruben Tejada: C
If Tejada wasn’t so impressive with his glove, his grade would have been much worse. Tejada, who had a fine September, will have to hit for a higher average if he wants to be the everyday second baseman for the Mets next year.

Luis Castillo: F
Castillo has officially worn out his welcome in New York. His numbers were atrocious (.234/.336/.267), and he has a history of injuries. Don’t expect Castillo back next year.

Shortstop:
Jose Reyes: B
Reyes had an up and down season while battling an oblique injury for most of the summer. In stretches, Reyes was unstoppable, but his inconsistency was maddening. It was refreshing to see him finish out the season. Hopefully a new coach can propel his game to new heights.

Third Base:
David Wright: A-
Wright had a renaissance season by rediscovering his power stroke (29 HR’s this year as compared to the 10 he had on 2009 while knocking in more than 100 runs). However, Wright’s propensity for striking out and falling into prolonged cold streaks, put a damper on an otherwise resurgent season.

Outfield:
Angel Pagan: A
Not much was expected of Pagan going into the year, but he far exceeded expectations by hitting .290 with11 HR’s and 69 RBI’s. Pagan was a terror on the base paths, stealing a team-high 37 bases. Pagan was also dynamite in the field and displayed his versatility by playing all outfield positions.

Carlos Beltran: C
Beltran had a rocky beginning coming back from the disabled list in July. He was worthless as the Mets made their second-half swoon, but did show promise that he still does have some life left in his bat as he surged towards the finish. Beltran, who missed the last six days of the season with a minor knee injury, hit .321 in September to go along with five home runs and 13 RBI’s. He’ll likely be back with the Mets next year, but could become trade bait if the team falls out of contention.

Jason Bay: D
Bay was a bust from the word go. You don’t like to see his year end the way it did with a season-ending concussion, but he was not what the Mets paid for. He ended his season with .263 average to go with a pathetic six home runs and 47 RBI’s in 348 AB’s. Hopefully he can recapture his power next year, much the same way Wright did.

Chris Carter: C-
You gotta love Carter’s will and determination, but he is nothing more than a bench player with a limited ceiling.

Lucas Duda: C-
Duda is a prospect who does possess some pop. He struggled mightily once he was called up going 1-33, but did finish strong with four home runs in his last 15 games. His role for next season is not known.

Nick Evans: B-
Evans is another role player who did well for the Mets in the final month, and was the only Met hitter to hit above .300 (albeit in 36 AB’s). Evans will challenge for a roster spot next year.

Jesus Feliciano: C-
Feliciano was yet another Met who was good in stretches, but not one for consistency.

Starting Pitchers:
Johan Santana: B
Prior to Santana’s shoulder problems, he was once again a bright spot in the rotation with 11 wins to go with a 2.98 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Santana will battle for you every time he starts. Hopefully, he battles back from rehab and gets back to the Mets ASAP.

Mike Pelfrey: B+
Despite hitting a rough spot in the middle of the season in which Pelfrey had a 7.35 ERA in ten starts, which not so accidentally coincided with the Mets summer swoon, he rebounded to have a career year. Pelfrey had 15 wins to go with a respectable 3.66 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. The question going into next year is which Mike Pelfrey will show up?

R.A. Dickey: A+
What superlatives are left to describe Dickey’s phenomenal season? This was a pitcher who was left for dead and all he did was win 11 games to go with a sparkling 2.84 ERA. His knuckleball kept hitters off-balance all season. Can he carry it over to next season?

Jon Niese: B-
Niese had a fine rookie season, but hit a wall going down the stretch. Niese won nine games and had decent peripheral stats (4.20 ERA, 148 strikeouts). Niese will be counted on to step up next season.

Dillon Gee and Pat Misch: INC.
Gee was fantastic down the stretch, going 2-2 in his five starts and throwing a quality start in each game. Gee will battle for a rotation spot next spring. With the way he pitched in September there is no reason he can’t at least contend for the fifth spot.
Misch was also an adequate addition to the staff. In his six starts, Misch got little run support and lost four games while picking up no wins. He’ll have a tough time cracking the rotation next year.

Oliver Perez: F
Is there a worse grade than F? If so, Perez should have it. His ineffectiveness, wildness, and stubbornness to accept a minor league assignment destroyed club morale and spirit. There is no comprehensible way that Perez should be back in any capacity.

John Maine: D-
I don’t know what was worse, Maine’s troublesome injuries or his mis-communication with management about them. His future with the team is cloudy right now.

Bullpen:
Francisco Rodriguez: F
This grade is inherent solely on his off-the-field shenanigans. K-Rod embarrassed the club when he assaulted his girlfriend’s father after a game at Citi Field. K-Rod would injure his hand in the fracas and be out for the season

Hisanori Takahashi: B+
Takahashi was a jack of all trades pitching for the Mets. He was admirable as a starter, but was at his best when he pitched out of the pen. Takahashi even closed games, nailing down eight of eight save opportunities.

Bobby Parnell: B-
Prior to being shut down with inflammation in his elbow, Parnell was starting to capitalize on his potential. Parnell used his live jumping fastball to intimidate hitters. As with any young pitcher, he needs to get more consistent.

Pedro Feliciano: B
For the most part, Feliciano did his job. Feliciano is a workhorse that feasts on opposing lefties.

Elmer Dessens: B
Dessens was another pitcher to seemingly come out of nowhere and impress the club with his ability to eat innings and keep opposing teams off the scoreboard. While appearing in 53 games, Dessens had an impressive 2.29 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.

Ryota Igarashi: D-
Igarashi was pitching well in April prior to a groin injury, but once he came back he was never the same. Igarashi finished the season with an unhealthy 7.12 ERA

Manny Acosta: B-
Acosta was solid in his middle-relief role, but was used in a lot of mop-up duty.

Fernando Nieve: C-
Nieve got off to a good start, but was overused and got designated for assignment in late July.

Raul Valdes: C
Valdes was good in stretches as well, but he was another guy who did not pitch much in pressure situations.

Jenrry Mejia: C+
Mejia should have never started in the bullpen this year. He should have been sent down to the minors to fine tune his career as a starter. Mejia was not awful in the pen, and the hope is he can contend for a rotation spot next year.

Why Mets should haw with Gee

In his fifth start in the majors, Dillon Gee hurled his fifth straight Quality Start (QS), although he came away with a loss Thursday night against the Brewers. Gee threw 6 IP and gave up 2 ER. Here are his numbers for each start for the Mets:

7.0 IP 1 ER
6.0 IP 0 ER
7.0 IP 3 ER
7.0 IP 2 ER
6.0 IP 2 ER

That’s 8 ER in 33 IP for a sparkling 2.18 ERA for Gee.

I like Quality Starts because it shows a pitcher who gives his team a chance to win. There are critics who dismiss the stat because a pitcher can qualify for a QS with a 4.50 ERA if they just meet the minimum qualification. This is true, although it happens far less often than people think.

This year there have been 2,525 QS through games of September 29 and only 219 of those were of the 6 IP, 3 ER variety, which works out to 8.67 percent. Back in the early 90s, David R. Smith took eight years worth of data (1984-1991) and found that only 5.7 percent of QS fit the minimum requirements.

If we take those 2,525 QS, we see that pitchers this year combined for a 1380-472 record (.745) with a 1.98 ERA. Furthermore, in 17,407 IP our pitchers have 4,604 BB and 13,324 Ks. That works out to a 6.89 K/9, 2.38 BB/9 and a 2.89 K/BB ratio.

So, how does Gee measure up?

He has a 2-2 record (.500) with a 2.18 ERA. He has 15 BB and 17 Ks in 33 IP for a 4.64 K/9, a 4.09 BB/9 and a 1.13 K/BB ratio.

Gee’s strikeout and walk numbers hardly seem elite and they fall far short of the combined numbers of those who have hurled QS this year. The bottom line is that while the QS are impressive, they do not tell the entire story.

If we look at Gee’s ERA estimators, we see that his poor strikeout and walk numbers do not come close to matching his actual ERA. He has a 4.32 FIP and a 5.03 xFIP, which should be sobering numbers for anyone counting on Gee to hold down a rotation slot for the 2011 Mets.

I like Gee. I had him ranked as the team’s number 10 prospect (ahead of both Brad Holt and Jeurys Familia) heading into this year. But the Mets should not be counting on him to fill a rotation slot for 2011. Gee should be rotation depth in Buffalo, ready to be a fill-in if one of the starters in the majors goes down with an injury.

Anyone who doubts this should remember Fernando Nieve. In 2009, Nieve had 4 QS in 7 starts and a 2.95 ERA overall. But his FIP was 4.90 and his xFIP was 5.41 in 2009. This year (albeit in relief), Nieve posted a 6.00 ERA, one much closer to his 2009 estimators than his 2009 ERA. Expect Gee to do likewise in 2011.

Mets botched it with Nieve

The Mets designated Fernando Nieve for assignment. It was the right move to make, as Nieve was not getting the job done as a reliever and the Mets needed someone who actually had a chance to provide some relief when he entered the game. But Nieve is a nice case study in what is wrong with the Jerry Manuel-Omar Minaya Mets.

The team made a nice pickup when it grabbed Nieve off waivers prior to the start of the 2009 season. He always had a live arm but injury problems had partially derailed his career. It was a perfect low-risk, high-reward move.

And Nieve had a very successful season for the Mets in 2009, first in Triple-A and then in the majors. However, anyone who looked at Nieve’s statistical profile in his eight games with the Mets in 2009 saw a pitcher who was not ready to contribute in the majors. While he had an impressive 2.95 ERA for the Mets last year, his FIP was 4.90 and his xFIP was 5.41 – indications that his success was more the product of good fortune than it was actual good pitching.

Nieve’s problem in the majors was a 4.66 BB/9. There are very few pitchers who can survive, much less thrive, in the majors who allow that many free passes. Among 107 pitchers with enough innings to qualify, the highest BB/9 ratio this year is 4.51 and only four pitchers had a ratio of 4.20 or greater. You just cannot put that many runners on base and expect good things to happen in the majors in the long haul.

The easy solution was to have Nieve open the year in the minors, working on his control. He had done a decent job in Buffalo in 2009, with a 3.70 BB/9, but it was not so good that he could not have benefitted from additional experience in Triple-A.

But here is where the shortcomings of the Manuel-Minaya team came to the forefront. Nieve appeared in 17 games for the Mets organization in 2009 and 15 of those were as a starting pitcher, including seven of eight (the last seven) games in the majors. So, the Mets brain trust decided it was in their best interest for Nieve to make the team out of Spring Training as a reliever.

And then Manuel decided it was a good idea to pitch him as often as possible. Nieve appeared in 26 of the team’s first 44 games, a pace that would have resulted in 96 games over a full season. He made another relief appearance four days later. Then he was thrust into a spot start three days after that. After he was predictably lousy in the start, Manuel lost confidence in him and he appeared in just 12 games in the following eight weeks.

One of the hallmarks of a good manager is putting his players in a position to succeed. Manuel put Nieve in a role in which he barely performed a season ago, pitched him at a rate that would have made him the team’s all-time leader in games for a pitcher, then with little warning and less time to prepare asked him to move back to a starter and finally let him rot for two months before the DFA. Manuel did not put Nieve in a position to succeed. Instead, Manuel acted as if he had a reason to see Nieve fail, as he consistently put him in non-favorable positions.

Because Jenrry Mejia is one of the club’s top prospects, much of the venom received by Jerry Manuel over his handling of the pitching staff has been directed towards how he handled the 20-year old. But Manuel’s usage of Nieve deserves just as much scorn. Nieve may not have as high of a ceiling as Mejia, but he was also a pitcher who could conceivably contribute to the Mets as a starter and now that chance appears remote.

Nieve should have opened the year in Triple-A, as a starter. He could have worked on his command and potentially have been in line for starting roles that opened up when John Maine and Oliver Perez went on the DL. Now the club risks losing him altogether, as Nieve now has to pass through waivers before he can go to the minors. Having him open the year on the major league roster helped cause the loss of Nelson Figueroa. The Mets may end up losing two major league caliber pitchers because of the way they handled Nieve this season. This is not the way a good team operates.

It is impossible for us to say who deserves more of the blame here. Who fought more for the inclusion of Nieve on the roster as a reliever? My gut tells me that was Manuel’s call. It certainly was Manuel who decided how to use him once he was on the roster. But Minaya deserves blame here, too. He should have been able to forecast how this would play out and refused to let Nieve open the year as a reliever in the majors.

Maybe Nieve never would have been able to get his walk rate under control. After all, he had a 4.71 BB/9 in 42 IP this year. But perhaps if the Mets had nurtured him, rather than throwing him to the wolves by forcing him into impossible situations, Nieve would have made improvements and been a real contributor in the years ahead. Now we are left to wonder what might have been with a pitcher who had a mid-90s fastball and three other pitches.

It is another reminder why Manuel should not be the manager of the team.

Sink or Swim Time for the Mets

Prior to Wednesday night’s game at Arizona, the Mets players held a 15-minute team meeting to address their recent struggles and map out a plan to rectify their losing ways.

The meeting may help out in the long run, but after a grueling 14-inning affair on Wednesday night the Mets were swept by the lowly Diamondbacks in heartbreaking fashion. Wednesday’s defeat was the Mets 11th walk-off loss. This west-coast road trip is amounting to be a disaster. The Mets have lost six of seven games to start off the second half.

When will this end? When is enough, enough?

Hand it to utility man Alex Cora for showing some guts in calling out some reporters on Tuesday night. It was first believed that Cora was calling out his teammates for laughing after a loss, but Cora was showing anger at reporters and media who were laughing and enjoying themselves too much. Cora has had enough of the ‘aw shucks whatever’ attitude that has been festering in the Mets locker room.

The Mets players have to be held accountable and have to realize the urgency of the season at this point. I assume that was the tone of the meeting. Too bad the immediate result was another tough loss.

For a moment in Wednesday’s game it looked liked some of that spunk was back for the Mets. With the Mets trailing 3-2 in the 6th inning, Rod Barajas belted a game tying home run to snap out of his own slump and give the team some life. From there the bullpen stepped up for seven scoreless innings, with Oliver Perez of all people even getting out of jams, but could not go any further after Fernando Nieve gave up two big hits in the 14th to lose the game.

The guts the Mets showed late in the game was refreshing, but this is a team that is struggling mightily to score runs and something must be done.

As Brian Joura pointed out in Wednesday’s post, maybe it is time the Mets look to get some offense before the trading deadline. Somebody needs to light a fire under the team. It may be drastic, but desperate times call for desperate measure and maybe just maybe the Mets should look into firing Howard Johnson.

There is just no life in the Mets bats right now and a change, any change, might be necessary. I love Johnson, and he is a Met legend, but change for the sake of change might be the way to go.

I am not suggesting that they definitely should dump HoJo, but someone needs to be held accountable. Looking at the way Jason Bay, Ike Davis and Rod Barajas are swinging lately is like watching a train wreck.
I have already stated numerous times how the Mets need some pitching, and still do, but I agree some changes or tweaks have to be made on offense in order to save this apparently sinking ship.

Maybe it’s just the west coast that is not agreeing with the Mets and all they need is some home cooking. However, do remember when the Mets come home on Monday they will open against baseball’s hottest team in the St. Louis Cardinals (currently on an eight-game winning streak).

It’s sink or swim time for the Mets, and the team must treat the Dodger series as being thrown a life preserver, with winning two games being a must. One win against the Dodgers would be very disheartening. Getting swept by the Dodgers might as well be considered catastrophic.

Snakebit in Arizona

The New York Mets (49-44) played more like a they were the team 20 games under .500, not the Arizona Diamondbacks (35-58), who whacked the Mets 13-2 in Monday’s series opener.

With the Atlanta Braves (54-38) off Monday, the Mets dropped 5 1/2 back in the National League East. The Philadelphia Phillies (48-44) lost 8-4 to the St. Louis Cardinals, dropping them six games back.

The Mets are now 1-4 on the current road trip and 19-28 this season on the road.

New York Mets @ Arizona Diamondbacks … recap and boxscore

Post Game Notes:

Mike Pelfrey (10-5, 4.01) lasted 1 1/3 innings, allowing six earned runs and seven hits (74 pitches/46 strikes). Pelfrey is 0-3 in his last four starts. Since June 25, Pelfrey has combined to pitch 14 2/3 innings, allowing 21 earned runs and 40 hits. His ERA is 12.89 in his last four starts.

Raul Valdes pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief, allowing two hits and no runs. Fernando Nieve pitched two innings and was pounded for five runs and five hits, including a three-run home run by Mark Reynolds. Elmer Dessens pitched one inning of scoreless relief. Pedro Feliciano allowed two runs and four hits in one inning.

David Wright went 2-for-3 with a double. He was removed in the seventh inning with the Mets trailing by 10 runs.

Luis Castillo singled in his first at-bat since being placed on the disabled list on June 5. He was 2-for-4 with a run scored in the game.

Jose Reyes was back in the Mets starting lineup. He collected two hits, including a double and an RBI.

Carlos Beltran went 1-for-4 with a single. He left two runners in scoring position in the fifth inning. Beltran is 5-for-16 (.313) in five starts since returning from disabled list.

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Mets Report Card

The All-Star break is upon us and it’s natural to look forward. The Mets at 48-40, four games back of the Atlanta Braves in the NL and one game behind in the wild card race.

Below is a list of Mets players with a grade given to each hitter and pitcher on how they have played so far in the 2010 season. Not a whole lot was expected from the Mets, but they have been relatively healthy this season and they are playing with more confidence and cohesiveness.

All grades are relative to their impact on the lineup and the expectations placed upon them. Hence, you will see a player who is obviously not as talented as some others, but get better grades.

Rod Barajas — Catcher: Grade B –
Barajas was one of the main reasons the Mets dug themselves out of a 4-8 hole and got hot toward the end of April and into early May, which turned their season around. Barajas, came up with clutch hit after clutch hit, even hitting a walk-off home run on May 7. Barajas surged out of the gate with 11 HR’s in the first 52 games. However, Barajas has struggled mightily in June and July, with his last home run being hit on May 31. He has been somewhat of a liability lately as Mets manger Jerry Manuel has been given a lot of time to prospect Josh Thole.

Henry Blanco — Catcher: Grade B+
You can’t get much more value for a backup catcher than what Blanco has provided. Pitchers are really comfortable with Blanco behind the plate and his defense is above average. He has thrown out 47 percent of base runners as well. He has even ht a walk-off home run.

Josh Thole — Catcher: Grade Incomplete
I would love to give Thole a high grade here because of his gaudy numbers (.529 AVG and five RBI’s in 20 games). However, Thole only has 17 AB’s and his role with the team has not been permanently defined. Thole still has a future with the Mets though.

Ike Davis — First Baseman: Grade B
Davis, who didn’t even make the club out of spring training, was brought up in late April and has re-energized the club with his pop and glove. He has been a mainstay at the position after Fernando Tatis and Mike Jacobs proved to be incapable of holding down the fort. Prior to going 2-3 on Sunday with his 11th home run, Davis had been struggling as his average has dropped to .258. There is no shame in that for the young rookie. His future seems bright with the Mets, considering the Mets never thought of trading him in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.

Ruben Tejada — Second Baseman: Grade C+
This is a hard grade to give, but there are two sides to the grade. His defense would be an A while his offense would be a D. The rookie has looked overmatched at the plate, but on the field he has looked like a seasoned vet. There is a lot of learning for the 20-year-old to absorb, and there is no telling how much better he can get

Luis Castillo — Second Baseman: Grade D+
Castillo, who is always an injury risk, is someone the Mets simply cannot count on anymore. He does possess the ability to get on base, but he can’t stay healthy. At his age, Castillo’s lack of pop, declining speed and range at second are proving to be detrimental to the team. Management will have a tough time demoting Tejada when Castillo is ready to return.

Alex Cora — Second Basemen/Shortstop: Grade C
Cora is a great clubhouse leader with great baseball acumen. Cora is a fine role player but his numbers (.222 AVG, 0 HR’s, and 20 RBI’s) are not that great. It is his intangibles that even get him the C grade.

Jose Reyes — Shortstop: Grade B
Let’s hope the lingering oblique injury is something that can go away with the break because Reyes needs to heal up and get back to what he does best: get on base and wreck havoc. Reyes, who also missed the first week of the season, took a while to heat up but in June he was looking like the Reyes of old. It is only injuries that are holding Reyes back.

Fernando Tatis — First Baseman/Infield Reserve: Grade D
Tatis, who was recently put on the DL, has taken a step back from his last couple of years with the Mets. With Davis firmly entrenched at first base, Tatis’ only role is a righty off the bench with some pop and he has been a disappointment on that front (.185 AVG, 2 HR’s).

David Wright — Third Baseman: Grade A+
What more needs to be said? Wright is back after a dismal 2009 season and is in the discussion for the NL MVP with a .314 AVG, 14 HR’s and a NL leading 65 RBI’s. Wright is back to being an All-Star and one you can most definitely count on in the second half.

Jason Bay — Left Field: Grade C
Bay was supposed to be the answer to the Mets problems with the long balls after hitting 36 of them with the Red Sox last year, but he has a measly six thus far this season. Bay has had some trouble adjusting to the Mets lineup and has not come through in the clutch. His number are not terrible, but they are not on par with the elite in baseball and he was paid as if he was one of the elite outfielders in the game. Bay can still make amends and has been known to be a streaky hitter. Let’s hope that streak will pick up in the dog days of the summer.

Angel Pagan — Center Field: Grade A+
Pagan has not only met the meager expectations placed upon him in the pre-season, he has thoroughly exceeded them. When Carlos Beltran returns this week, it will not be Pagan who will do the sitting and that is the testament to the year he has had. Pagan, who is 5th in the national league in hitting at .315, has been the most consistent and clutch hitter on the team. He has been a gem on the base paths and his range in centerfield is second to none. It’s scary to think how the Mets would be if Pagan wasn’t so good in the first half.

Jeff Francoeur — Right Field: Grade C
Francoeur is another player whose grade is different based upon his offense and defense. At the plate, Francoeur has been mediocre (.253 AVG 8 HR’s, 42 RBI’s) and has gone into a funk as we hit the break. However, there is no denying how much his arm has meant to the team. No one runs on Francoeur and there is no telling how many runs he saves with his powerful arm. With the return of Beltran this week and the emergence of Pagan, it will be Francoeur who will sit the most in the outfield.

Chris Carter — Outfield: Grade C+
Carter, nicknamed “The Animal,” has given the team a spark on many occasions, even delivering a game winning hit in his first at bat with the team on May 11 vs. the Nationals. But Carter has his flaws and is just a reserve for a reason.

Johan Santana — Starting Pitcher: Grade B+
If it wasn’t for his recent hot streak, the Mets might be sinking into the abyss. The Mets won two games last week and both were Santana starts. That should indicate his value. Santana, coming off elbow surgery, took a while to get back into a groove. Santana is usually known for being a second half pitcher and the Mets hope that trend continues.

Mike Pelfrey — Starting Pitcher: Grade B
Earlier in the season Pelfrey was pitching like an ace, a lock for the All-Star team, but in his last five starts or so, Pelfrey has been pitching with what has been described as a “dead arm.” Hate to say it, but Pelfrey has been awful lately and some Met fans have their concerns. There is the hope he regains the confidence he had to start the season with the All-Star break being the best remedy.

Jon Niese — Starting Pitcher: Grade B
Niese has been a revelation this year. After returning from the disabled list on June 5, Niese has come back on a tear and has gone 5-0 upon his return. With his performance this year, Niese has proven to be a reliable back end starter and the one the Mets will continue to rely on for years.

R.A. Dickey — Starting Pitcher: Grade A
Where did this guy come from? In a year where Oliver Perez and John Maine’s injuries and ineffectiveness have cramped the Mets staff, Dickey has been a breath of fresh air. Dickey’s knuckleball has kept hitters guessing and has been a rock in the rotation with a 6-2 record and 2.77 ERA. The question is, can he keep it up?

Hisanori Takahashi — Starting Pitcher: Grade B
Takahashi is another pitcher filling in well since the demise of Perez and Maine. Takahashi, who started in the bullpen, has filled in admirably but has had a rough go of it lately. The Mets bumped him from the rotation this past week, but once the season resumes, Takahashi will be back on the mound with the starting staff. He has a lot of value in the bullpen, but will remain in the rotation unless the Mets make a trade for a starter.

Bobby Parnell — Relief Pitcher: Grade B+
Parnell has been all you could have asked for when he was called up in June. Parnell has a jumping fastball and he may have cemented himself as the primary set up guy for the Mets with his recent pitching.

Elmer Dessens — Relief Pitcher: Grade B+
Dessens for the most part has done a great job. He gets results on substance and not flash. His numbers (1.47 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) indicate that he is a vital member of the bullpen.

Pedro Feliciano — Relief Pitcher: Grade B
Feliciano is another solid vet who keeps getting the job done. He is no longer just a lefty specialist as Manuel sometimes leans on him late in games despite having to face some tough righties. Feliciano has proven to be consistent and expect that to carry into the second half.

Ryota Igarashi — Relief Pitcher: Grade D+
Ever since his injury in April, Igarashi has been up and down, but mostly down. If Feliciano is the model of consistency, Igarashi is the antithesis. Igarashi was just sent down to the minors to iron out his problems.

Fernando Nieve — Relief Pitcher: Grade C
Nieve has had a truly roller coaster season alternating some stellar performances with some obvious stinkers. Nieve, much like Igarashi, has been anything but consistent. It’s hard to be harsh on Nieve though as he was clearly overused in the beginning of the season.

Francisco Rodriguez — Relief Pitcher (Closer): Grade B
Rodriguez has been solid if unspectacular this season. He has had some bad blown saves and has served up a few too many hanging curveballs. But his other numbers (21 saves, 2.45 ERA and 1.27 WHIP) suggest that he is still one of the better closers in the games.

Jerry Manuel — Manager: Grade B
As a manager you usually take too much credit when you win and too much blame when you lose. That statement fits Manuel to a T. Generally, the players like playing for him and after the team was in a 4-8 hole, there were concerns that Manuel could lose his job. But the ship has been righted and to some degree that is because of Manuel and not in spite of.

Other players either injured, sent down to the minors, have played sparingly or have been mitigated disasters will not receive a grade and they include:

Frank Catalanotto, Gary Matthews Jr., Oliver Perez, John Maine, Mike Jacobs, Tobi Stoner, Raul Valdes, Manny Acosta, Jesus Feliciano, Jenrry Mejia, Nick Evans and Sean Green.

Mets rally falls short

The New York Mets (46-37) rallied from a 7-1 deficit, responding to the Cincinnati Reds six-run fifth inning with five runs of their own, but the rally fell short as the Reds held off the Mets 8-6.

Mets manager Jerry Manuel was thrown out of the game in the fifth inning, after the umpiring crew reversed a call. With the scored tied at one, the bases loaded and a 2-2 count on Scott Rolen, Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey threw an inside pitch that was originally ruled strike three by homeplate umpire Jerry Meals, who ruled Rolen tipped the pitch.

After the umpires convened, they changed the ruling to a hit-by-pitch, causing Rod Barajas to explode. Manuel intervened, argued and thrown out. 

The Mets are now 28-13 at Citi Field. The Atlanta Braves lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-1. The Phillies are now four games behind the Braves, while the Mets remain two game out in the National League East.

Cincinnati Reds @ New York Mets … recap and boxscore

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Post Game Notes:

Mike Pelfrey (10-3, 3.39) could not get through the fifth inning, allowing seven runs, nine hits and a home run in his start.

Raul Valdes returned to the Mets today and he recorded the final out of the fifth inning. Fernando Nieve, who hasn’t appeared since last Monday in San Juan against the Florida Marlins, pitched three innings in relief, surrending a home run to Joey Votto (his second of the game). Nieve also struck out the side in the seventh inning.

Pedro Feliciano made his 48th appearance of the season, pitching a scoreless inning in the ninth.

David Wright has 11 multi-hit games in his last 14 starts. Wright added two more hits with a triple and two runs.

Angel Pagan went 2-for-5, hitting his fifth home run of the season off Travis Wood in the fifth inning.

Alex Cora went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI.

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Post Game Quotes:

Crew chief Dale Scott (on umpires call):

“The easy call would have been to keep it the same, but we’re not looking for the easy call, we’re looking to get it right. In this case, it was the correct call — not the popular call, but the correct one.”

Mike Pelfrey (on his performance):

“For the first time in over a year, I let my emotions get the best of me,” Pelfrey said. “It wasn’t very good on my part.”
Jerry Manuel (on Pelfrey):
“He was somewhat frustrated. He thought a previous pitch was a strike and I think after that point, he kind of lost it there.”

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Mets need shot in the arm

Are the Mets a contender? As of Tuesday they are exactly .500 and only three-and-one-half games back in the National League East.

I’ll say this, they are definitely not out of contention.

The Mets have another month to see where they stand as we head towards the trading deadline.

There is no reason for me to tell you that this is a flawed team. The Mets can certainly add a player or two. However, upon closer inspection, the team may only need relief in the form of pitching.

Let’s examine the lineup:

At catcher you have the duo of Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco. At once what was once considered a weakness is now a strength. Barajas provides the pop and Blanco offers great defense behind the plate. I don’t see a need for an upgrade there. In fact, Barajas is likely going to be an All-Star this season. He has ben more than advertised and the Mets now look good for not overspending for the Giants Bengie Molina.

First Base: After Daniel Murphy went down with an injury at the end of spring training, the Mets scrambled to field a competent first baseman and settled on journeyman Mike Jacobs. But Jacobs failed miserably and the Mets finally made the call to bring up Ike Davis, who is the future at that position. Davis, with his pop and defense, has taken off with the job and will have the position locked up for the foreseeable future.

Second Base: Luis Castillo. Sure, there is tread on the tires, but he is solid and gets on base at a good clip. Perhaps, in exchange for hitting, you can start Murphy sometimes at second when he returns.

On the left side of the infield: Jose Reyes and David Wright. They are cornerstones and while they may struggle at times, you have to stick with them. They both have a good enough track record to know you can count on them in the long run.

In the outfield, for the most part, everyone has done their jobs and there is no dire need of an upgrade.

Jason Bay was the big acquisition in the off-season and is starting to heat up. Anything you get from the long anticipated return of Carlos Beltran would be gravy, as the temporary replacement of Angel Pagan has been a relatively great surprise. You also got Jeff Francoeur, who is what he is, a free-swinging slugger with tendencies for being streaky. Between Bay, Beltran, Pagan and Francoeur you have a suitable outfield rotation.

Perhaps you can rent a power hitting lefty to solidify the bench, but expect Murphy to get his at-bats somewhere and you would still have Alex Cora, Blanco, and Chris Carter on the bench. If you want to say goodbye to Fernando Tatis and Gary Matthews Jr., I will not shed a tear, but it has to come at a cheap price.

Now we get to the pitching. This is certainly the area in need of an upgrade.

As we saw on Monday night, the patchwork staff can only go so far. Hisanori Takahashi was exposed and the bullpen had a major meltdown in the 18-6 drubbing at the hands of the usually light-hitting San Diego Padres.

If the Mets are in contention by July and if some major pitchers are available, Omar Minaya has to upgrade this staff. The names being tossed around as possibly being available are the Astros Roy Oswalt, the Mariners Cliff Lee and the Orioles Kevin Millwood.

You got the horses in Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, that’s for sure. After that you got Takahashi, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, John Maine and for whoever is filling in for him.

Let’s just forget about trying to do anything with Oliver Perez. Perez is not worth the space I am writing on here. If I’m Minaya and Perez doesn’t want to go to the minors, I just may have to cut my losses and release him. Perez is simply rotting in the pen.

Despite a poor start Monday night, Takahashi can be a serviceable fourth or fifth starter. You can’t downplay the significance he had in 12 shutout innings vs. the Yankees and Phillies prior to the San Diego start.

And then there is Dickey and Maine. While Dickey has been pitching well, can his knuckleball ways keep up for a whole year? If anything, he can serve as at least a good long man in the pen. With Maine, it all has to do with health and his velocity. If he comes back refreshed, great, but if he can’t get his velocity up after his return you have to move on.

I expect Niese can come back and provide efficient innings upon his return. No need to panic.

Regardless, the Mets simply cannot carry on as a consistent winning team with the staff as it is. This affects the bullpen as well.

Who is the long man? Is it Raul Valdes? Will it again be Takahashi? What exact roles do Ryota Igarashi, Fernando Nieve, and Jenrry Mejia have with this team? Nieve has been overworked and Mejia is still wet behind the ears to expect consistency with him.

Minaya must know what he is dealing with when it comes to the staff. There are pieces in the Mets organization that can get a deal done. I don’t think the names like Mejia, Ruben Tejada, and when healthy, Fernando Martinez are not immovable objects.

If the Mets can package the likes of those youngsters to get a Lee or an Oswalt, than Minaya should pull the trigger. If anything, put a nice offer to get a stabilizing vet like Millwood on your team who won’t cost as much when it comes to prospects. This team needs a clear-cut number 3 pitcher and it’s just not on this team. Niese, Takahashi, Dickey, and when healthy, Maine can be decent back end starters.

If Minaya doesn’t make a move to bolster the staff as a whole, also perhaps going after a bullpen arm, then this will not be a team playing for anything in September.

Serenity for me, wisdom and courage for Minaya

“Serenity Now!”

This was the mantra of Frank Costanza, a phrase he said to keep his blood pressure down. The problem, of course, was that Frank would scream the phrase at the top of his lungs. And that is pretty much my reaction with Jerry Manuel’s bullpen deployment.

There may not be a baseball fan alive who is thrilled with the way his team’s manager handles his bullpen. But I would gladly settle for way south of thrilled. My goal is to be blasé about the bullpen. I just do not want to be abhorred, like I am currently.

The wrong relievers broke camp in Spring Training, players were put into odd roles, pitchers were overused to an extreme extent and closer Francisco Rodriguez has not been used in anything resembling an optimal matter.

Other than that it’s been great.

Because of the makeup of the Mets’ rotation, the bullpen has to be prepared to deliver three innings each and every night. Therefore, it would be nice to have several members of the bullpen ready to go multiple innings at a time and a few that could pitch consecutive nights. Here is the bullpen that started the season for the Mets:

Rodriguez – closer who only pitches an inning at a time but guy who could go back to back.

Pedro Feliciano – lefty setup man who could go back to back.
Ryota Igarashi – I was unsure on Opening Day what he could reasonably give. The hope was that he could develop into the “one inning, back to back” type who would take over the 8th inning.
Sean Green – righty setup man who could go back to back.
Jenrry Mejia – Manuel wanted him to be the 8th inning guy.
Fernando Nieve – A starter last year, figured to be multi-inning guy.
Hisnaori Takahashi – A starter in Japan, figured to be multi-inning guy.

I thought that Mejia and Nieve both should have been in the minors working as starters, with Pat Misch and Nelson Figueroa in the bullpen in the majors, available to go multiple innings. I would have preferred Kiko Calero, Elmer Dessens or Bobby Parnell over Green. But Green did okay after a terrible start to 2009, so I was willing to give Manuel a pass for this one.

Green and Igarashi went on the disabled list, replaced by Manny Acosta and Raul Valdes. Manuel’s bullpen became:

Rodriguez – closer
Feliciano – use every night if possible
Nieve – use every night if possible
Mejia – use in low leverage or any clutch situation where Feliciano or Nieve had already been used.
Parra – use after Mejia.
Takahashi – long man
Valdes – long man

Feliciano wants to be a cross over reliever but he is really best utilized against tough lefties in high leverage situations. He’s not a LOOGY like old pal Scott Schoeneweis, he is not someone that needs to be replaced once any righty batter steps into the box, but he is not someone who should be thrown into the game with three righty batters scheduled to hit, either.

The Mets have played 18 games so far in May and Feliciano has pitched in 11 of them. He has two losses and a blown save this month. Batters have a .394/.429/.545 line against him in May. There is a price to pay in using a pitcher every night, even if it is just for a batter or two.

At least with Feliciano, it is understandable why Manuel uses him like he does. But it is insane to do that with Nieve, a converted starter who made just two relief appearances all of last year. Nieve has appeared in 10 games in May (after 14 in April), has an 8.31 ERA and batters have a .998 OPS against him this month. He is walking guys and giving up HR at an unacceptable level.

Nieve came in and did a nice job as a starter in 2009, even if he did have a great deal of good fortune. His ERA for the Mets last year was 2.95 but his xFIP was 5.41. Still, there was a lot to like with what he did last year. He had much better control in the minors and if he could refine that control, it looked like he could be a very nice #3/4 starting pitcher. Instead, Manuel made him a reliever, enjoyed some short term success with him and is now paying the price. And what is his ERA right now? It is almost identical to last year’s xFIP at 5.40. No pitcher can succeed in the majors with a 5.82 BB/9. Nieve needs to be working on his command in the minors, as a starter.

The injury to Igarashi came at a most inopportune time, as Manuel was finally developing faith in him. If Igarashi had been available, perhaps neither Feliciano nor Nieve would have been overworked to the degree that they have been. But Manuel left himself few other options with his refusal to use Acosta in any key situations unless he had no other options and his insistence on keeping an unqualified Mejia in the bullpen.

Manuel gambled that Mejia could handle the demands of being a short reliever. That gamble failed. He could have salvaged the situation by making Mejia a long man, getting him some much needed innings in a low-pressure situation. Mejia has pitched more than an inning in just three of his 19 appearances this year. In those three games, he has gone 5.2 IP, given up 4 H, 0 ER, 4 BB and 4 Ks. Rumors are that Mejia to the minors is imminent, with a switch back to the rotation. Let’s hope that’s true.

Rodriguez is used in the manner that most managers use their closer. There is nothing specific to argue with Manuel on this one, even if the club would be better off if he came into the game earlier. Rodriguez would not have to pitch more than an inning in those roles – he could still be a one-inning guy. But he would not rack up saves this way and it would open Manuel up to more second guessing. There is zero chance this will happen, even if it is better than the current setup.

So, what’s the solution?

Send Mejia and Nieve to the minors. If Acosta cannot be trusted to pitch in a key spot, send him down and get someone up who can. Dessens has a 2.25 ERA in Triple-A, with 3 BB and 17 Ks in 16 IP. Misch has a 3.30 ERA and a 3:1 SO/BB ratio, albeit as a starter. Hope that Igarashi can come back and be effective. Limit the usage of Feliciano. Give Valdes more chances in higher leverage situations. Use Rodriguez before the ninth inning if the game is on the line.

The bottom line is that there are things that can be done, things that need to be tried, because the bullpen as currently constructed and utilized is not the answer.

The Mets’ pitching is not great but with a little finesse it could produce better results. The question is if Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen are the right guys to lead the necessary overhaul. Manuel makes decisions without regard to long-term implications. This is why we get guys in the majors who belong in the minors. In a purely selfish way it makes sense, because in the long run, Manuel will be fired. But when the short-term moves blow up, and there is no long-term planning, what’s left?

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and
the wisdom to know the difference.”

Sir Francis of Assisi could have been talking about the Mets. Now it is up to Omar Minaya to contemplate serenity, courage and wisdom with Manuel. I can tell him from first-hand experience that my pleas for serenity in regards to Manuel have not paid off in tangible results. Here is wishing Minaya wisdom and courage before the season is lost for good.

Fire Manuel and pick someone with a little fire who knows how to run a bullpen. Even in 2002, Bobby Valentine got good work out of every reliever who pitched significant innings for him. Six relievers appeared in 30 or more games and five of them had ERAs under 3. The worst one of the group was Scott Strickland, who had a 3.59 ERA in 68 games. Will any reliever on the 2010 Mets besides (potentially) Rodriguez work that much and finish with an ERA that low?

It’s time to admit a mistake from earlier in the decade and bring back Valentine as manager.

Manuel's bullpen decisions

During the middle of Spring Training, if you asked 10 different people to predict who would be in the Mets’ bullpen on Opening Day, you might have gotten 10 different answers. Manager Jerry Manuel did not go for either the popular or conventional way when he constructed his bullpen. Manuel opted to look elsewhere besides Nelson Figueroa, Pat Misch and Bobby Parnell, who each had some success for him in 2009.

Francisco Rodriguez and Pedro Feliciano were givens for the bullpen but a case could have been made for keeping numerous relievers besides the ones Manuel chose – Jenrry Mejia, Fernando Nieve, Ryota Igarashi, Hisanori Takahashi and Sean Green. The big concern was which reliever was going to step up and be the main bridge to Rodriguez in the eighth inning.

There was talk about Mejia eventually filling that role, while Feliciano actively campaigned for the job. Igarashi had just worked his way into the position when he landed on the disabled list. By that time Nieve had become a favorite of Manuel’s and the club opted for Manny Acosta, no threat to be used in a high-leverage situation if it could be avoided, to replace Igarashi.

Currently, Manuel mixes and matches Feliciano and Nieve in key spots prior to brining in Rodriguez. Acosta and Mejia are used in low pressure situations if at all possible, while Raul Valdes (called up when Green went on the DL) and Takahashi are the long men or used in shorter spurts when Manuel looks to give one of the other relievers a day off.

It seems like no one is happy with the way Manuel has handled the bullpen, but it is hard to argue with the group’s success so far in the 2010 season. After Wednesday’s loss by Rodriguez, the Mets relievers are 9-8 with a 2.67 ERA in 124.2 IP,

Still, did Manuel assemble the best bullpen for the 2010 Mets and were his personnel decisions in the best interests of the club’s long-term needs?

So much has been made of the Mejia situation that everything else gets lost in the shuffle. But did Manuel make the right choices in making relievers out of Nieve and Takahashi while cutting Figueroa, Misch and Parnell? Each of those latter three players filled starter and reliever roles for the 2009 Mets and were potentially more useful for the major league roster than Green, Mejia and Nieve.

As mentioned earlier, Rodriguez and Feliciano were locks for the bullpen. Igarashi’s contract probably clinched his spot even before he threw a pitch in Spring Training. A fair question would be if Manuel was left unconvinced that Igarashi could be his eighth inning guy after he saw him first hand in Florida or did he intentionally downplay Igarashi in order to justify keeping Mejia? Everyone says Spring Training stats are meaningless but Igarashi did not set the world on fire in his first exposure to hitters in this country. He had a 7.90 ERA with 10 BB and 8 Ks in 13.2 IP in Grapefruit League action.

Takahashi also was likely to make the team. He was nominally in the running for the fifth starter’s job but ended up in the bullpen as a long man. Since a bad outing against the Cubs on April 21, Takahashi has been extremely effective for the Mets. In his last eight games, he has a 1.80 ERA, with 2 BB and 20 Ks in 15 IP.

Keeping Takahashi as the long man apparently left no room for either Figueroa or Misch. The Phillies claimed Figueroa off waivers and he has pitched decently, with a 4.30 ERA in six games, including one start. Misch has been a starter at Triple-A and has been nothing special, with a 4.15 ERA in six games. He does have a noticeable home/road split, with a 5.87 ERA in three home games and a 2.79 ERA in three road games, all Quality Starts.

Many people were surprised that Green made the 25-man roster while Parnell was shipped out. Fans cringed when Green was brought into the game while Parnell at least had success early and late last year for the Mets. Green appeared to be a guy who could only pitch to RHB while Parnell at least showed flashes of being a good reliever against all hitters. But when in doubt, look at the money. Green avoided arbitration and had a deal just under $1 million. Parnell had a major league minimum salary.

With Green on the DL most of the year, we have been unable to see if could build on the end of 2009, when he posted a 3.15 ERA and gave up just 2 HR in his final 54.1 IP. But what we have seen of Parnell in Triple-A has not been encouraging. He has a 4.76 ERA in 11 games as a reliever. While he has 15 Ks in 17 IP, he also has allowed 13 BB.

Manuel seems to have made the right call in sending down Parnell and keeping Takahashi as the long man over Figueroa and Misch. But would one of those guys have been a better choice than either Mejia or Nieve?

Mejia belongs in the minors as a starter. That is a position with which most people agree. However, I think the same thing should be said about Nieve. Last year in the minors, Nieve showed very good peripherals in nine games split between Double and Triple-A. He had 42 Ks and 16 BB in 42.2 IP. In the majors, his peripherals were not nearly so good, he allowed 19 BB in 36.2 IP, but he had a nice 2.95 ERA.

It was a pretty successful year for Nieve last year and 15 of his 17 appearances were as a starter. In my opinion it was too soon to give up on him as a starting pitcher. Nieve should have been starting every five days in Buffalo, working on his command and waiting for an injury at the major league level for another chance at a rotation slot. Instead, he is a short reliever that Manuel has the Mets broadcasters calling “Nightly Nieve” with his league-leading 21 appearances.

If Manuel had Mejia in Double-A and Nieve in Triple-A as starters, he could have opened the season with both Figueroa and Misch in the bullpen. And if the eighth-inning role was really a concern, he could have easily kept either Kiko Calero or Elmer Dessens, both major league veterans who were in Spring Training, rather than the two unproven youngsters.

While there has been some outcry about Mejia, generally most fans have given Manuel a pass on this issue because he and Nieve have been effective. But while their ERAs look good, their peripherals suggest that those results carry a lot of good fortune. Mejia has a 2.35 ERA but a 4.63 xFIP, while Nieve’s numbers are 3.32 and 5.02, respectively. As a comparison, Takahashi has a 2.74 ERA and a 3.17 xFIP.

So, while Mejia and Nieve have produced good results in the bullpen for the 2010 Mets, I think both of them are pitching above their heads and would be better served working as starters in the minors. There has already been a cost, as keeping both of them meant cutting ties with Figueroa, a popular player who is now helping the first-place Phillies. The real cost comes if neither of them ever starts another game for the Mets.

Therefore Manuel gets kudos from me for his decision on Parnell and Takahashi and jeers for his decisions with Mejia and Nieve. That makes Manuel’s record .500 in the bullpen by my scorecard. In his career with the Mets, Manuel is 143-146 (.495) so a .500 record sounds about right. And I would prefer that a .500 manager not be allowed to turn two interesting starting pitchers into bullpen fodder.

Mets overwork Nieve

Something did not seem right about last night’s rain-shortened win against the Braves. Yes, it was odd to see the Mets sweep the Braves after dropping 13 of 18 games to them last season. But what was really unusual was that the bullpen threw just one pitch. The Mets lead the majors with 67 calls to the bullpen this year. And no pitcher is being worked harder than Fernando Nieve.

So far this season, Nieve has appeared in 12 games and is on pace to pitch 102 times, which would shatter the club’s single-season record for appearances, set last year by Pedro Feliciano, when he appeared in 88 games. Mike Marshall holds the all-time record for most games by a pitcher in a season with 106 back in 1974. Marshall won the Cy Young Award that season, as he won 15 games and saved 21 more, as he logged 208.1 innings for the National League champion Dodgers.

Of course, Marshall was a veteran, in his seventh season in the majors. He had appeared in 308 games in the majors prior to 1974, all but 13 of those coming in relief. Marshall had appeared in 92 games the season before and was well prepared for the rigors of pitching nearly every day.

Meanwhile, Nieve has appeared in 59 games in the majors prior to this season. Last year, between the majors and the minors, Nieve pitched in 17 games, 15 of those as a starter. His 2009 season ended early due to a strained quad muscle. After pitching in 40 games with the Astros in 2006, Nieve had Tommy John surgery on his elbow the following season. Between 2007 and 2008, Nieve pitched a total of 103.2 innings, with all but 10.2 of those coming in the minors.

If you were to pick a pitcher that was ill-suited to pitch in 100 games in the majors, you would have to try hard to come up with a worse pick than Nieve. Sure, Jenrry Mejia would be worse, since he has never pitched in the majors before and is not used to being a reliever at all. I guess that is why Jerry Manuel has him on a pace to appear in just 77 games.

Hopefully when the weather warms up, the Mets’ starters will pitch deeper into games, allowing Manuel to avoid burning out his bullpen by June 1st. But even if the starters do not improve much in this respect, Manuel has to be more judicious in his use of Nieve.

If you want a cautionary tale for Nieve look no further than Aaron Heilman, who did not have the injury history of Nieve and also was more accustomed to pitching out of the pen. Still that did not help him carry the burden of being used so often.

A starter throughout his professional career, Heilman transitioned to the bullpen in 2005 and was a very effective reliever in both 2006 and 2007 for the Mets. But after appearing in 155 games over that two-year span, including 81 games in the latter season, Heilman fell apart. His walk rate collapsed, both his hit and HR rate went up and his ERA ballooned from 3.03 to 5.21. Heilman was essentially booed out of town.

At least Heilman gave the Mets three good years as a set-up man. One can make the heartless argument that it is worth shredding the arm of a mediocre starter to get three good seasons of relief. But Manuel seems bent on not even getting the three good seasons before blowing out the arm. And there is still the question if Nieve could be more than a mediocre starter. Last year in the minors, he had 42 Ks and 16 BBs in 42.2 IP. Yes, his K/BB of 1.21 in the majors was poor but perhaps further time in the rotation could have improved those numbers.

But that ship has apparently sailed. While the Mets could have used Nelson Figueroa or Pat Misch as bullpen arms on the big league club while Nieve further honed his craft as a starter in the minors, Manuel opted to make him a reliever. And what production has he received?

Nieve has a 4.66 ERA, one that is being propped up by not allowing a single home run so far this season. His xFIP checks in at 5.83. Nieve’s walk rate is even worse this year for the Mets than it was in 2009, as he has a 6.52 BB/9. He has done well with a 7.45 K/9 but overall Nieve has not been close to a lights-out option out of the pen, despite Manuel’s seeming insistence to use him every game.

Manuel and Omar Minaya are making a bunch of gambles this year in an effort to save their jobs. They are gambling that a stint in the majors as a reliever at age 20 will not retard the growth of Mejia, their top pitching prospect. They are gambling that Ike Davis needed only 275 PA above A-ball to be ready to star in the majors.

And they are gambling that Nieve had no future as a starter and that he can handle a workload that puts him on pace to become just the second pitcher in major league history to appear in over 100 games in a season.

Through the first three weeks of the season, none of these gambles have blown up in the team’s face, which is something, I guess. It remains to be seen if the same thing can be said by the end of the year. What we do know is that winners write the history books. If Manuel’s bets pay off and the Mets make the playoffs, he will be viewed as a hero by the masses.

But odds are that all three of these moves will not pay off. And even if they bear fruit in 2010, it does not mean it was the correct thing for the long-term health of the franchise. While it is true that sometimes long shots pay off, no one survives for long by consistently making bad bets.

Good luck Nieve, you will need it.

Long Distance Relationships?

What is everyone’s favorite new game?

Bash the Mets starting rotation. John Maine can’t go more than five innings. Oliver Perez is the most inconsistent pitcher in the history of the game.

But just how accurate are these statements? Are these just ramblings of trolls or legitimate complaints of true blue Met fans?

Just two games into the season it is still too early to accurately answer these questions. But what is interesting is how the Kings of Queens are carrying several relievers who can be considered swingmen.

Most Mets fans are not criticizing Johan Santana, but the other four appear to be fair game. No. 2 starter Maine, for example, gets condemned for having no stamina. Maine did not help his own cause with his 93-pitch performance in just five innings. But unlike many other 29-year-old starters, he just does not have a long history to draw from. Maine has thrown 546 innings in five years and a cup of coffee – including 191 innings in 2007, 140 in 2008 and 81.1 in 2009. He underwent rotator cuff surgery two years ago and spent most of last year recovering.

The next pitcher on the list is Mike Pelfrey. Just 26-years-old, Pelfrey has thrown 479 innings in 82 games during three years and a cup of coffee. His ERA has been over 5.00 all four years, except for 2008 when it fell to 3.72 while he tossed 200.2 innings. Last year Pelfrey may have fell victim to the Verducci Effect. Named after Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci’s logic, which suggests that pitchers under the age of 25 who have 30-inning increases year over year tend to underperform.

No. 4 starter Jon Niese is actually a legitimate question mark. Just 24-years-old, Niese has thrown only 39 innings of major league ball through eight games. He was poised to become a mainstay in last year’s rotation before tearing his right hamstring in just his fifth appearance. He tossed more than 100 innings in most of his five minor league seasons, averaging 111.2 innings each year.

On the other hand, final starting pitcher Perez seems to attract the most questions. The same age as Maine, Perez has tossed 1,065.1 innings in 189 games, primarily because San Diego and Pittsburgh rushed him into the majors. He has never thrown more than 200 innings in a season, but did break the 190-inning mark twice. He performed well in 2007 and 2008 – sporting a 3.56 ERA and 4.22 ERA, respectively – in 177 and 194 innings, respectively. Right leg injuries hampered his 2009 season.

In retrospect, Niese looks like he suffered a fluke injury and should become a reliable major league starter. Pelfrey needs to prove he can handle the additional workload while keeping runners from scoring. Maine shows potential to be a dominant pitcher, if he can stay healthy and throw more innings each year. Perez shows flashes of ace-like stuff, but has never consistently put it together.

Waiting in the bullpen, three relief pitchers appear to have the ability to throw more than just an inning at a time. Fernando Nieve is a perfect example of this. Nieve has thrown 145 innings in his career, spreading from 2006 through 2010. The 27-year-old suffered elbow injuries that necessitated Tommy John surgery. He boasts a four-seem fastball, slider and change-up, along with the chutzpah to challenge anyone. Medical conditions affecting his stamina and his ability to relieve cost him a starting job, but he should be on the short list to spot start if need be.

Hisanori Takahashi is a more unusual case. The 34-year-old was a starter in Japan, finishing 2009 with a 2.94 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 144 innings through 25 games. Takahashi boasts a screwball with sinking action, two-seam fastball in the high 80s, slider and curveball. However, he never threw more than 122 innings in more than half of his 10 years of Japanese ball, and NPB Tracker founder Patrick Newman said Takahashi would be better suited as a reliever in American ball.

Finally we come to the strange case of Jenrry Mejia. Mets management upset a large contingent of fans by calling up the 19-year-old starter after just two years of minor league experience to fill a short-term role in the bullpen. Mejia threw 94.2 innings in 19 games between High-A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. He collected a 1.97 ERA in Port St. Lucie, but allowed a 4.47 ERA in Binghamton. Mejia’s got a plus mid-90s fastball with great movement, as well as a curveball and change-up still being refined.

The New York Mets carried seven pitchers in the bullpen to start the 2010 season and almost half are capable of starting in a pinch. Then again, Takahashi is known for getting righties out and Mejia captured attention with his electric stuff in the minors and Spring Training. Without answers from management or observing more games being played, it’s not apparent what rolls Nieve, Takahashi and Mejia fill.