Should the Mets have extended Francisco Rodriguez?

One of the main goals of the 2011 Mets was to make sure that Francisco Rodriguez’ $17.5 million option did not vest for 2012. The option would kick in once Rodriguez finished 55 games. Manager Terry Collins utilized Rodriguez like any other manager would use his closer and by the All-Star break, Rodriguez had finished 34 games and was well on his way to having his 2012 salary guaranteed.

But GM Sandy Alderson was able to trade Rodriguez to the Brewers for two warm bodies, thus saving his owners at least $14 million, as K-Rod had a $3.5 million buyout. The Mets used Jason Isringhausen as their closer until he reached his 300th lifetime save and then they turned over the position to Bobby Parnell, who proved not ready for prime time. Manny Acosta also got some chances down the stretch but it became clear that the Mets would have to look outside the organization for their 2012 closer.

Alderson stated that he wanted to bring in two guys with closing experience, thus giving the team a deeper all-around bullpen plus the security if the main option did not come thru that the Mets had someone else on the roster ready to step in and be better than Parnell was down the stretch of 2011.

In the offseason, Alderson spent what little money he had available on the bullpen. He signed Frank Francisco ($6 million in 2012) and Jon Rauch ($3.5 million) and traded for Ramon Ramirez ($1.65 million). Mission accomplished, I guess. However, as the team is currently constructed, it has neither a true backup shortstop nor center fielder. But with the Mets record in the health department, we should feel confident that both Ruben Tejada and Andres Torres will log 150 games in 2012, right?

Currently, most fans are questioning if the Mets should have spent what money they did have on the bullpen, instead of on a starting pitcher or a catcher. I think that’s a reasonable question. I think you can take it one step further and ask if the Mets should have found a way to bring back Rodriguez.

To replace Rodriguez, the Mets spent $11.15 million on the three above-named pitchers. And there’s no guarantee that any of them can hold down the ninth inning for an extended basis. Let’s look at them individually.

Francisco – Heads into Spring Training with the inside track for the closer’s job. Last year he had 17 saves and two years before that he had a career-high 25 saves. In his final 22 games last year, Francisco was lights-out, with a 1.17 ERA and he limited batters to a .520 OPS over his final 23 IP and 87 batters faced. But in his first 32 games of 2011, Francisco had a 5.53 ERA and opponents had an .861 OPS over 27.2 IP and 131 batters faced.

Rauch – There’s nothing in his 2011 line to inspire any confidence at all in his ability to be a closer. He had a 4.85 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP, a 1.90 HR/9 and his 6.23 K/9 was his lowest mark since his second year in the league in 2004. His average fastball velocity went from 92.0 in 2008 to 89.5 last year. And if you think he was done in by his home park, you would be mistaken. Thanks to a .229 BABIP allowed, he posted a 3.62 ERA at home with a .652 OPS against at the Rogers Centre while on the road those numbers were a 6.20 ERA and a .947 OPS against.

Ramirez – Despite pulling down the least amount of money, Ramirez had easily the best year of the trio in 2011. He had a 2.62 ERA, a 1.165 WHIP and a stingy 0.39 HR/9 mark. However, Ramirez had just four saves last year and has eight in six seasons in the majors. He’s the only one who doesn’t come covered in the mythical closer’s dust. It certainly looks like he should be able to get the job done but he has almost no track record in the position.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez has had just one poor year in his career in the majors, and if you look closer, it was actually half of a bad year. In his first season with the Mets, Rodriguez was 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA and a 1.164 WHIP in the first half of the season. After the break, he posted a 1-5 record with a 5.52 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP.

K-Rod rebounded with a fine year in 2010, with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.151 WHIP and while his ratios tailed off in the first half of 2011, he still converted 23 of 26 save chances and had a respectable 3.16 ERA. His numbers were even better after the trade to Milwaukee, although his 1.86 ERA and 1.138 WHIP did come primarily in non-save chances.

Are the Mets better off hoping that Francisco’s ending to 2011 (1.17 ERA) is more indicative of his true talent level than his beginning of the year (5.53 ERA) was than they would have been to work out a deal with Rodriguez? After the trade to Milwaukee, Rodriguez and the Brewers worked out a $500,000 deal to void the vesting option in his contract. Did the Mets try something similar?

It’s easy to dismiss wondering if the Mets would have been better off with Rodriguez by mentioning the financial straits the owners are in and the fact that Rodriguez would have cost nearly $6 million more than the trio signed to replace him. But that’s assuming the Mets would not have been able to work out an extension with Rodriguez at a smaller annual value.

Alderson used creativity to bring in three relievers to handle the late innings of ballgames for the 2012 Mets. In a way, it’s eerily similar to what Omar Minaya did in 2009 and we know how that one worked out. I just wonder if Alderson’s creativity would have been better served extending Rodriguez.

Would you rather have the trio of relievers the Mets have now or Rodriguez on a 3-year $36 million deal? Clearly, Alderson is comfortable spending roughly $12 million on the back end of the pen. Perhaps Alderson did try (although if he did – no ballpark terms, much less a firm dollar offer has been made public) and Rodriguez and his agent rejected that overture. If so, I still have one question:

If we couldn’t afford Rodriguez or Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes, then why spend $3.5 million on Rauch, a guy on the wrong side of 30 who was sub-replacement level last year?

Mets’ Season Can Still Be Called A Success

I’m a fan. I’d like to think I’m a realistic, objective fan, but I know I border on being a fanboy. The Mets are my team and I root for them come hell or low wins. They say love is blind and in the world of the fanboy, it’s also deaf and dumb. I teeter back and forth between the two. In a perfect world, I’d be celebrating a virtually unbroken string of success and pennants. I would be able to start preparing for the post-season sometime shortly after the All-Star break. Then I shake my head vigorously and realize that that sort of thing only happens across town.

Do I get mad when they do something stupid? Of course. Do I rail when fundamental mistakes on the field are made? Certainly. It’s not like the Mets can do no wrong. I see the flaws. If they weren’t patently obvious from watching this team day by day, I am reminded of them ad nauseumby the MSM – no homers, not enough pitching, weak bullpen, crazy ballpark. The owners have no money and are about to lose more in a civil lawsuit. Whatever useful players they have right now, they won’t be able to pay them next year, so it will never get any better.

That’s a nice, convenient narrative for the MSM to follow. The articles practically write themselves, don’t they? I can get it, seeing as they have history on their side: the prior GM/manager combo was inarticulate and inept. They could always be counted on to do the wrong thing, and then compound the error via miscommunication. Even with the new front-office regime, the narrative has still been expected to play out by the fans and the media.

As George Gershwin so memorably told us, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

In his first six months at the helm Sandy Alderson has already earned his Houdini wings. He jettisoned Frankie Rodriguez and that ridiculous, stifling, hamstringing vest option – not to mention whatever residual off-the-field baggage might remain from last season. He turned Carlos Beltran – supremely talented, still marvelous, but aging and with slightly brittle knees — into an elite pitching prospect. Well done.

As necessary – and bordering on brilliant — as these moves might have been, the MSM is heralding them the death knell for the 2011 season. It ain’t necessarily so.

As I write this, the Mets find themselves at 54-51, fresh off a road sweep of the Cincinnati Reds. Setting aside the current standings, I figure the winner of the Wild Card will need 90 wins to reach that little slice of Nirvana. Since that dreadful 5-13 start, the Mets have gone 49-38. 11 games over .500. For 90 wins, the Mets only need to go 36-21 in their final 57 games. Fifteen games over .500.

It’s possible. It’s doable. Is it realistic? Ask the fanboy…

Jason Bay < Francoeur and it's time for him to go

In his last 13 games, Jason Bay is 5-45 for a .111 AVG. Normally we would dismiss this as a slump. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to write off the entire tenure of Bay with the Mets. Since joining the club as a free agent following the 2009 season, Bay has a .246/.332/.366 line. That’s a .698 OPS and a 93 OPS+ mark in 708 PA.

Let’s make a comparison to one of my least favorite Mets ever. Jeff Francoeur had a similar number of PA with New York and was essentially run out of town for his poor production. In his career with the Mets, Francoeur had a .268/.311/.423 slash line. That works out to a .734 OPS and a 97 OPS+ in 755 PA.

In their time with the Mets, Francoeur has been the better offensive player.

That’s a really unpleasant thought to ponder. There was no shortage of vitriol coming from this corner (and many others) about how the Mets wasted $5 million on Francoeur when it was quite clear that he wasn’t any good. The Mets rectified that mistake by sending Francoeur out of town, making him a problem of the Texas Rangers.

So, how should we view Bay and what should be done going forward? Unlike Francoeur, Bay had a track record of being a fine offensive player. However, there were signs available that this wasn’t a great deal back when the Mets inked him to the big contract. The projection system ZiPS was very pessimistic on how Bay would perform over the life of his new deal. Here’s part of a Q&A I did with ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski prior to the 2010 season:

ZiPS likes Jason Bay well enough in 2010 but then projects a sharp playing time decrease the following year and a sharp drop in production. What causes that type of projection from a guy who has been pretty consistent in four of the past five seasons?

DS: He’s not the type of player that ages well and already, more of his offensive value has been tied up in home runs. Fenway kind of masked this somewhat by hiding the decline in Bay’s non-homer hitting. One-trick ponies don’t age well.

That projection turned out to be optimistic in hindsight as injuries have kept Bay from playing full time and even when he has been on the field, he’s been nowhere near his previously established offensive levels. Bay’s non-HR hitting has been lousy and his homer production has been nothing special for a middle infielder, much less a guy paid to hit balls out of the park.

There have been 31 different left fielders to amass 650 or more PA since the start of the 2010 season. Bay’s .698 OPS ranks 26th. In that same span, his 12 HR is only marginally better at 25th. His fWAR is 1.9, which places 23rd.

There is simply no way to sugar coat things in this situation. Bay has been awful and there’s very little indication that things are going to get better any time in the future. Coming into this season, Bay’s age-based comps at Baseball-Reference was filled with players like Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mitchell and Bobby Higginson who were essentially done as productive players in their early 30s.

And while there were some players like David Justice and Jim Edmonds who were still productive in their mid-30s, Bay’s 2011 season ensures that they will not show up as his comps heading into 2012.

Mets fans do not have to look too far to think of another OFer who stopped being productive. Kevin McReynolds was an MVP candidate as a 28-year old (he finished 3rd). Two years later he was still a productive hitter with a 121 OPS+. McReynolds had a 93 OPS+ as a 33-year old and his final season in the majors came a year later.

Bay is 32 and he has a 78 OPS+ this year.

Then there is the matter of his contract. Bay is pulling down $16 million this year and he is owed that much the following two seasons, as well. He has a $17 million club option for 2014, with a $3 million buyout. However, Bay’s option vests with 600 PA in 2013 or 500 PA in both 2012 and 2013. At the bare minimum, the Mets owe Bay $35 million after this year and it could easily be $49 million.

The combination of his production with the Mets, his age-based comps and his future contractual obligations leads in one direction – barring a tremendous turnaround in the remainder of the 2011 season, the Mets should actively shop Bay and be willing to pick up the majority of his contract to get any salary relief they can.

In 226 PA with the Mets, Lucas Duda has a .745 OPS and a 104 OPS+. He’s been better than Bay and is still at an age where he could conceivably improve. It’s possible the Mets could better their club by playing Duda over Bay, the uncertainty due to the fact that Bay’s been a good defender in his time with the Mets while Duda has impressed no one with his glove work.

Much like with Francisco Rodriguez this season, one of the goals of 2013 will undoubtedly be to make sure that Bay’s option does not vest. The Mets should do everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. And I do mean everything. If they are unable to trade him while assuming 80% of his contract either this offseason or next, they should release him outright.

Despite the huge difference in innings played, Rodriguez provided more value to the Mets during his career in Queens than Bay has. Rodriguez “earned” $8.4 million in 2010-11 with the Mets while Bay “earned” $7.8 million, according to FanGraphs.

The Mets could get that same production (likely better) from Duda at a minimum wage the next few years. It costs virtually nothing to switch them out in 2012 and it will save $14 million (less whatever Duda makes) in 2014.

Records on eating salary are sketchy, but it is believed that the most money a club has ever been responsible for is the $22 million that was remaining on Russ Ortiz’ deal when he was released by the Diamondbacks in 2006. Ortiz was picked up by the Orioles in 2006 and bounced around in the majors until 2010.

In 2005, Ortiz posted a -0.4 fWAR for the D’Backs, meaning he was worse than a replacement player. Before being released by Arizona in 2006, he put up a 0.0 fWAR, meaning he was a replacement player. In his career after the Diamondbacks, Ortiz put up a combined -0.1 fWAR over parts of four seasons.

The decision to release him was the right one. Ortiz would have been no better and likely worse than a Triple-A pitcher the D’Backs could have paid minimum wage. It’s bad enough to pay an exorbitant amount of money – there’s no sense compounding the problem by getting terrible production, too.

And that’s where the Mets are at with Bay right now. He may not be replacement-player bad like Ortiz was. But he’s been awful and the Mets have a suitable alternative ready to step in with Duda. Of course, Duda may be viewed by the club as the replacement for Carlos Beltran. If that’s the case, the Mets should use some of the savings from Beltran’s contract coming off the books to find a corner OF that can put up a 100 OPS+ to replace Bay.

Before any wiseguys chime in that Francoeur has a 114 OPS+ this season and the Mets should get him for 2012, I would like to point out that in his last 62 games, Francoeur has a .247/.295/.385 line, numbers remarkably consistent with what he did with the Mets in 2010. He had a .683 OPS with the Mets last year and a .680 OPS in his last 264 PA. That’s still “production” to be replaced, not acquired.

Is Carlos Beltran next to be traded?

We’re all thinking it.

With the Mets trading combustible closer Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) on Wednesday to the Milwaukee Brewers in an obvious salary dump, Mets’ fans are probably waiting for the other shoe to drop. The shoe in this case would be Carlos Beltran.

So, are the Mets on the verge of trading their All-Star right fielder?

Naysayers of the K-Rod deal will invariably think a fire sale is imminent. Many critics will think, well, if you trade K-Rod you have no intentions of putting the best possible team on the field.

Not so fast.

Let’s all gather our collective breaths and think about this deal for a second.

The move to trade K-Rod had to happen. K-Rod was on the cusp of having his 2012 $17.5 million vesting option kick in, as he was well on his way to surpassing the 55 games completed threshold. The Mets showed some shrewd business sense in this deal, and come hell or high water, they were going to dump K-Rod on a team. If it was Wednesday or the last day of the trade deadline, a deal was going to be done if there was a buyer. It just so happened they pounced on the first deal Milwaukee offered. The two players to be named in this deal are inconsequential.

I don’t necessarily think the Mets are giving up. The Mets wanted to be free of this contract and not have it hang over the club as a black cloud any longer. Besides, it’s time we see what closer-in-waiting Bobby Parnell can bring to the table (if the Mets go that route).

But enough about K-Rod. Let’s discuss the other most talked about trade chip on the Mets in Beltran.

As it stands, the Mets are 46-45 and 7.5 games out of the Wild Card. They are on the brink of being of being a non-factor in the race for the playoffs. This weekend’s series with the Phillies may loom large if they are to remain a playoff contender or not.

I believe the Mets have every intention to maximize all they can get out of Beltran while seeing if the team can tread enough water until the calvary is supposed to return (Jose Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis). The hope here is that the Mets can stay within that five games back range. But, if the Mets find themselves 10 or so games back in the next two weeks or so, it could be bye-bye Beltran.

At the end of the day, Sandy Alderson is making the moves that fit his ideologies and long term visions. K-Rod was NEVER part of those plans. Beltran, on the other hand, was always a wait and see project.

Beltran has shown a great deal of game in the final year of his contract. He was named an All-Star after batting .285 on the season to go with 13 home runs and 58 RBI’s (both team highs).

He has been an inspiration to the team with his play this year. Beltran has stayed healthy and has been the backbone to the Mets success this year. But if the Mets just continue to be a so-so .500 team (which many of us figured them to be in the first place), then it may make the most sense to deal Beltran.

However, with the way Terry Collins has managed this team, the Mets have proven that they will  go down swinging. And until it seems hopeless that the season is a lost cause, Beltran will be a part of the Mets. You know, if the Mets had the idea of already throwing in the towel, I think they could have worked out a deal with the Giants (who have shown interest in him) this past weekend.

For now, Beltran is a Met trying to make the playoffs. Let’s hope that can be said again in September.

Francisco Rodriguez deal signifies the end of an era

Early this morning the Mets got out from a big 2012 contractual obligation by trading Francisco Rodriguez and cash to the Milwaukee Brewers for two players to be named later. The cash they sent will essentially cover the remainder of Rodriguez’ 2011 contract. The Brewers will be responsible for either Rodriguez’ 2012 salary or his buyout. With John Axford as their closer, it is doubtful that Rodriguez will close games for Milwaukee, making it unlikely that he will finish 55 games and automatically vest his option year.

On the surface, it may appear that the Mets are giving up on the 2011 season with this trade. But instead we should view this deal as something that had to be done. The Mets could have used Rodriguez more carefully this year and only use him to close games in save situations, making it unlikely for the option to vest. Instead, they chose to use him more liberally than that and if he had stayed with the Mets he certainly would have reached 55 games finished, barring injury.

The Mets figure to use a co-closer approach, with Jason Isringhausen and Bobby Parnell taking over the save chances. Isringhausen has been more effective this year when he gets a day or more of rest between appearances. That’s a tough spot for a closer. But Parnell is more of a wild card in performance. He’s been pitching great since his recall but was anything but that early in the season.

Regardless of how the Mets carry on in the closer’s role for the rest of the season, one thing is certain:

It’s the end of an era.

Now, it may not be an era that we will recall fondly, but there’s little doubt that Rodriguez’ time in Queens marks the distinct front end of a certain time period. Hopefully, it will mark the back end, too. The Mets were coming off back-to-back late-season fades before they signed Rodriguez and they certainly would have made the playoffs in 2008 if Billy Wagner had not gotten hurt and the bullpen blew a bunch of saves in his absence.

There was no doubt the Mets needed to add a closer in time for the 2009 season and Rodriguez was the best one on the market. However, there were several available closers and then GM Omar Minaya was able to sign Rodriguez to (what at the time) was viewed a s a bargain contract for a guy coming off a season in which he set the single-season saves record.

The three years prior to Rodriguez joining the Mets, the club made the postseason once and was eliminated on the final day the other two seasons. However, once Rodriguez joined the team it was like he brought a black cat into the clubhouse. The Mets were done in by injuries the entire time that Rodriguez suited up for the club.

During Rodriguez’ tenure, the Mets only had their full lineup the first five weeks of the 2009 season. In that span they went 17-13 (.567) and were in first place in the East. Then Carlos Delgado got hurt and nearly every other player joined him on the DL at some point or another. Last year, the Mets were counting on Daniel Muprhy to be their starting first baseman and he ended up missing the entire season. This year Johan Santana has been sidelined since Day 1 and has been joined by Jason Bay, Chris Young, Angel Pagan, Ike Davis, David Wright and Jose Reyes, among others.

And despite all of those injuries, the Mets are a game over .500 and within distance of the Wild Card. Part of the reason they remained in the hunt was the performance of Rodriguez, who has been a reliable closer in 2011.

It will be sad to see someone else besides Rodriguez close games for the Mets the rest of the way. But it was a trade that had to be made. It would have been crippling to have Rodriguez on the 2012 Mets to the tune of $17.5 million. It would have hurt to have had to pay him $3.5 million to go away. Hopefully that money will be used to bring back Reyes. It would be nice if Isringhausen/Parnell proves able to handle the closer’s job for 2012.

But now that Rodriguez is gone, hopefully the injury curse that has ravaged the team the past two-and-a-half years will be lifted. And if the Mets could ever go back to fielding their expected starting squad, the team would be back in pennant contention.

And that will be K-Rod’s legacy with the club. The 2009 to mid-July 2011 Mets — Rodriguez and the injuries era.

Speculating possible Mets All-Stars

With all the talk in Mets land being dominated by the voice and opinion of embattled owner Fred Wilpon, let’s take a diversion and talk about what’s happening on the field.

While the ire of Wilpon’s angst can be understood, the targets he took shots at coincidentally might turn out to be All-Stars this year.

Excluding fan voting, I have come to the conclusion that the Mets should definitely field two players on the NL squad in the “Midsummer Classic,” and possibly a third.

If you haven’t already guessed, the locks would be Jose Reyes and Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod). Reyes and K-Rod have been marvelous in their return to form this season, and they rank very favorably amongst their peers.

Reyes leads NL shortstops in hits (66), runs (29), stolen bases (17), triples (6) and is second in batting average (.316). Reyes will get competition from burgeoning star Starlin Castro and from the slugging Troy Tulowitzki.

While Castro is a budding star, Reyes is way better with his glove and should have the seniority edge.

As for Tulowitzki, while he does lead all shortstops in home runs (11) and RBI’s (29), he does just sport a .244 bating average.

For the complete package, Reyes deserves to be the starting shortstop. He will be on the squad nonetheless.

As for K-Rod, hardly anyone compares to him this year.

K-Rod has only one blown save this year thus far (in his first chance). The only pitchers to not blow a save with a minimum of ten attempts are ironically ex-Met and the once forgotten J. J. Putz (14 for 14) and the surprising Joel Hanrahan (13 for 13) of the Pittsburgh Pirates (he might just be their lone representative).

There have been many good performances by closers in the NL this year including Leo Nunez (18 for 19), Craig Kimbrel (14 of 18) and of course the mainstays in Brian Wilson (13 of 15) and Heath Bell (10 for 11).

While some of these aforementioned closers have been perfect or have accumulated more saves, all fall way short of the microscopic ERA K-Rod has registered.

K-Rod has a sterling and minuscule 0.76 ERA in 23.2 innings pitched. The only closer who pitches regularly who comes somewhat close is National’s closer Drew Storen (1.48), who is a whopping 72 points behind K-Rod.

Sure, K-Rod walks the tightrope seemingly each game while putting too many runners on base, but he rises above it and always gets the key outs.

Another possible All-Star could very well be Carlos Beltran.

Beltran has an outside shot at the squad since he leads NL outfielders in doubles (15), is ninth in total bases (86) and is among the top ten in slugging percentage (.548) and OPS (.930).

Ike Davis had a shot at being named an All-Star, but his time on the DL makes his quest for inclusion seem far-fetched.

Conspicuously missing among all these candidates is David Wright. You know, the non-superstar who has been on the NL All Star team for the last five years.

And unlike Davis, Wright wouldn’t have made it, regardless of injury. I won’t delve into Wright’s numbers as they have been disturbing and well-chronicled.

Again, this is excluding fan voting. Who know how many votes Wright will get from the fans.

Don’t get me started on that. Letting the fans vote has become a tiresome and tacky way to determine the game’s best players. Any way you slice it, there is no way Wright deserves to be an All-Star this year.

With his back problems and ineffectiveness, I’m actually hoping the fans don’t vote him in so he can use the break for rest and clear his conscious. However, perusing the list of candidates at the Hot Corner in the NL, Wright may very well be selected.

There are hardly any sexy choices to pick from. Placido Polanco definitely deserves the nod, but does his name register with the casual fan? The only other possibility could be Chipper Jones, who might get the sentimental vote.

So in summary, the Mets could have up to three to four All Stars, depending on what happens in June and with fan voting.

With what Wilpon recently said, it’s also conceivable all these guys could be gone by the time the 2012 All-Star comes around. By that time, the Mets could have only one and guaranteed representative. Maybe that’s when Davis makes the squad.

If that doesn’t get you excited, hey at least the Mets will likely host the 2013 All Star game. Here’s hoping Davis is around to see that.

Mets gellin’ over last 15 games

It has been a tale of two seasons for the Mets so far in 2011. The sharpest breaking point for this is the return of Jason Bay, although it is an oversimplification to say that Bay is the cause of everything. But while Bay was on the disabled list, the Mets were 5-13. Since his return, the Mets are 10-5. Also, two of their losses since Bay returned happened while Bay was out on maternity leave. So, the Mets are actually 10-3 in games Bay played this season.

In the first 18 games, the Mets scored 72 runs, an average of 4.0 runs per game. In the last 15, the Mets have scored 69 runs, an average of 4.6 runs per game. On the other side of the coin, the Mets allowed 98 runs in their first 15 (6.5 rpg) and only 50 in their last 15 (3.3 rpg). So, while the offense has improved a noticeable amount, by far the biggest difference has come on the pitching side of things.

I have already pointed out how the bullpen stabilized once Sandy Alderson moved decisively to rid the team of some underperforming parts. Francisco Rodriguez has done his usual masterful job of walking the tightrope. He’s allowed 26 baserunners in 15.1 IP, yet has a 1.17 ERA with 9 saves in 10 save opportunities.

Terry Collins has done a good job of getting to Rodriguez with a combination of relievers. Right now bullpen health seems a bigger concern than bullpen performance for the Mets. Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato are currently on the disabled list while many fear it’s only a matter of time until Jason Isringhausen and/or Taylor Buchholz joins them.

For the time being, let’s assume that the pitchers will stay healthy and keep the Mets in most games. Can the offense do its share? Can the Mets consistently put up 4-5 runs per game and win at a .667 clip the rest of the season? Let’s look at the last 15 games and see what we find. I’ll list the date, the opposing starter and how many runs the Mets scored in the entire game

4/21 – Happ – 9 runs
4/22 – Saunders – 4 runs
4/23 – Enright – 6 runs
4/24 – Galarraga – 8 runs
4/26 – Zimmermann – 6 runs
4/27 – Gorzelanny – 6 runs
4/28 – Livan – 3 runs
4/29 – Worley – 3 runs
4/30 – Halladay – 1 run
5/1 – Lee – 2 runs
5/3 – Vogelsong – 6 runs
5/4 – Lincecum – 0 runs
5/5 – J. Sanchez – 5 runs
5/6 – Kuroda – 6 runs
5/7 – Garland – 4 runs

Ten times, the Mets have scored four or more runs while they were held to three or fewer five times. Of those five games, three were pitched by Cy Young-caliber pitchers (Halladay, Lee, Lincecum), one by a crafty veteran (L. Hernandez) and only one by a pitcher that they should feel bad about not scoring more runs against (Worley).

While the Mets have yet to explode against a top-tier starter, they have beaten some credible pitchers (Zimmermann, Sanchez, Kuroda) and when the opposition throws out a bottom-feeder, they have reacted appropriately by scoring a lot of runs.

Early in the year, the Mets were getting little to no production from three spots in the lineup – LF, CF and 2B. Bay has brought some production to LF. Jason Pridie has done the same for CF, as has Daniel Murphy and 2B. Those three have combined to hit .257 (36-140), which does not sound like much until your realize that the guys they replaced were hitting a combined .177 (41-231).

The Mets have gotten outstanding production from Carlos Beltran (.923 OPS), Ike Davis (.952 OPS) and Jose Reyes (.875 OPS). Now instead of a stars and scrubs lineup, the Mets are able to put out a hitter at each position, meaning there are no easy outs anywhere in the lineup for the opposing hurler.

There’s no shame in getting shut down by Halladay or Lincecum. That the Mets’ offense struggled against those pitchers is no surprise. But what fans should be optimistic is how the team has hit against the non-Superman division of National League pitchers.

In the last 15 games, the Mets have a Pythagorean record of 10-5, exactly what their overall record is. The pitching is doing its part, as is the hitting. They looked like a second-division club the first three weeks of the season but have looked like a Wild Card contender since then.

Despite the horrendous start, the Mets are still in position to finish above .500 with their current lineup.

Revamped Mets pen leads to 5-game win streak

One of the keys to Tuesday’s victory over the Nationals was the work of the bullpen. Mets relievers went 4.1 IP and allowed 1 ER and picked up both the win (Ryota Igarashi) and the save (Francisco Rodriguez). Considered by some to be the weak point of the team, the bullpen has been an asset since Sandy Alderson made a couple of early tweaks and SP started going a bit deeper into games, last night aside.

In 2010, National League relievers posted a 3.97 ERA. The Mets’ bullpen finished fifth in the league with a 3.59 mark. But the team had to rework its bullpen in the offseason. This year’s Opening Day roster did not feature six of the top eight relievers from a year ago, as measured by appearances. Only Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell were back from the strong group the Mets assembled in 2010.

Impressive Spring Training performances led to the inclusion of setup man Blaine Boyer and Tim Byrdak on the Opening Day roster. After camp opened, Alderson said that the bullpen decisions were going to be made on a combination of Spring results and previous history. Unfortunately, the previous history of both Boyer and Byrdak left a lot to be desired.

The first 10 games of the season, Boyer and Byrdak combined to allow 12 ER in 10.1 IP. After a particularly bad performance by Boyer, in which he allowed four runs in extra innings to pick up the loss, Alderson moved swiftly to correct a mistake and removed the guy with a 10.80 ERA. Byrdak had a 9.82 ERA at the time but managed to hold onto his spot.

Alderson later made other moves, as he placed Parnell on the disabled list and sent D.J. Carrasco to the minors. The latter move was particularly interesting, as Alderson gave Carrasco a two-year contract in the offseason. But after he allowed 6 ER in his previous 5.2 IP, it was hard to argue with the decision to send him to Buffalo. Interestingly, Carrasco will work as a starter in Triple-A. Carrasco has indicated a desire to start, but it is unclear if the move is to honor that request or to simply get him more innings to work out his early troubles.

Regardless of the reasons behind the early transactions, the end result has been a good one for the Mets. In the last 10 games, Mets relievers have posted 28 IP and allowed just 8 ER for a 2.57 ERA. The team has also played its best ball of the year in this stretch, as they are 6-4 and are currently riding a 5-game winning streak. In the winning streak, the relievers have gone 13.1 IP and allowed just 2 ER (1.35 ERA).

A new pecking order has been established in the pen. Rodriguez is still the closer, but Jason Isringhausen has ascended into the eighth-inning role, taking over for the injured and ineffective Parnell. Taylor Buchholz (1.38 ERA in 13 IP) and Pedro Beato (0.00 ERA in 11 IP) are the main bridges to the veterans at the back of the bullpen.

Dillon Gee is now a reliever on the club and Terry Collins plans to use him as a short guy, rather than using him as a mop-up man. It remains to be seen how Gee will react in this role. But he has pitched well as a starter for the Mets, giving hope that he can be an option in the seventh inning of close games and give rest to Beato and Buchholz.

Strong results over the past 10 days have lowered the bullpen’s ERA to 3.84 for the season. While there are health concerns surrounding Isringhausen and Buchholz, who combined for just 20 IP the past two seasons due to injuries, right now the bullpen has defined roles and pitchers performing at high levels. If the Mets have a lead after six innings, they have a good shot to nail down the win.

Very few fans are satisfied either with their middle relievers or how their manager uses his bullpen. Mets fans have to look no further back than to this time last year, when we were complaining bitterly about Jerry Manuel’s daily usage of Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Nieve, along with the inclusion of top prospect Jenrry Mejia in the pen.

Now, thanks to the decisive moves of Alderson, Mets fans find themselves in unaccustomed territory. As long as our relievers stay healthy (and don’t’ have to pitch 4.1 IP on a regular basis), our bullpen is well-suited to protect leads at the end of the game.

But we still don’t want to see Byrdak versus a RHB in a close game.

Francisco Rodriguez on his batting approach

“I knew I wasn’t going to strike out looking,” Francisco Rodriguez said of his plate appearance.

“He had some good swings,” Ike Davis said. “You could tell he was inexperienced at the plate, but he wasn’t scared.”

Saturday Rodriguez had his first at-bat in his 10-year major league career. He struck out swinging.

Source: New York Post

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Mets get save; no game finished for Rodriguez

Two games into the season, the Francisco Rodriguez games-finished watch is officially underway.

Saturday night,Rodriguez was brought in to close out a 3-2 game but gave up a run and the game went into extra innings. The Mets put up three runs in the top of the 10th and Rodriguez was the eighth batter of the inning. Manager Terry Collins sent up Scott Hairston to pinch hit and for the second time in two games, Hairston struck out with a runner in scoring position.

Under normal circumstances, no one would bat an eye over what happened. Rodriguez threw 27 pitches, or close to two innings worth, and there was no reason to subject the closer to a 40-pitch outing in his first game of the regular season.

But there is now doubt. Was Rodriguez removed to keep a game finished from appearing in his stat line? In case you have been living under a rock, Rodriguez’ $17.5 million option becomes vested if he finishes 55 games this year. That’s too much money to pay a closer in the best of times and let’s just say that the Mets owners are much closer to the French aristocracy in “A Tale of Two Cities” than they are to England.

Blaine Boyer came on and recorded the save, just the second of his major league career. Fortunately, Boyer had a 3-run cushion so when he gave up a run like Rodriguez did – it didn’t matter.

One of the most entertaining things in an extremely good ballgame was watching how Collins handled the final inning. Boyer was not exuding confidence with his stuff and when lefty-hitting Scott Cousins came to bat as the tying run, Collins sprung out of the dugout to bring in the lefty Byrdak.

Either Collins suddenly remembered or one of his coaches reminded him that the Marlins still had power bat Mike Stanton on the bench. Now, Stanton didn’t start as he tweaked his hamstring. No one knows for sure how serious Stanton is injured, but Collins made the (correct) call that bringing in Byrdak to face a righty, even a potentially one-legged righty, with the game on the line was perhaps not the best way to win the game.

Boyer induced a grounder to short to end the game.

So, the Mets under Collins have their first win. A strong pitching performance from Jonathaon Niese, a good day at the plate by both Josh Thole and David Wright and a save and game finished by a pitcher other than Rodriguez. Most fans will call that a win-win-win.

Perhaps just as importantly, the first discretionary usage of Rodriguez to close a game came to pass without any controversy.

Predictions for the 2011 Mets

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

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

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

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

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

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Ready to give K-Rod a fresh start

With Opening Day upon us, it’s time for new beginnings and fresh slates.

Mets’ fans know this all too well, as hope springs eternal with each opening day. It’s always a time to put the past behind you, while turning over a new leaf.

I know that it must seem difficult to remain optimistic, and keep up a positive outlook coming off the 2011 season. Then there was the Madoff scandal. And with the recent news of Jason Bay’s injury, it only seems to get worse.

However, it’s time for all of us to hit the restart button.

Perhaps no one on the Mets wants to do this more than closer Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod). After getting into an altercation with his then girlfriends’ father in the Mets clubhouse last summer, K-Rod injured his thumb and was out for the rest of the season.

What followed was an ugly dose of vitriol heaped upon K-Rod from Met fans. It was a public relations nightmare K-Rod couldn’t have possibly won. Not that he had any right to.

Heck, even I had enough. I wanted all the bad karma removed from the clubhouse. I didn’t want the stench of this fiasco to linger.

He had to man up and be accountable, and by all accounts he has done just that.

I believe in second chances. I also adhere to the rule that you don’t let good things go to waste.

We all have to remember that K-Rod was having a stellar year before last year’s dust-up. K-Rod had converted 25 of 30 saves last year while sporting his best ERA (2.20) and WHIP (1.15) since 2006.

It’s not like he wasn’t earning his keep like his other hated brethren (i.e., Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo). He was productive and dependable. Albeit he did rattle some nerves with his ability to get in and out of jams.

When you have a questionable starting rotation, you at least need a good bullpen, specifically a dominating closer. Like him or not, K-Rod is a dominating closer. You don’t beat the season record for saves in a season on luck. When K-Rod is on his game, he is one the leagues top five closers.

K-Rod came to Spring Training in the right frame of mind and also in the best shape in his life. He has been sterling in camp; yielding no runs over 10 2/3 innings pitched while striking out 13 and allowing four walks. This is no time to be hating on K-Rod.

Where it can become tricky is with his vesting option for 2012.

There is a stipulation in K-Rod’s contract that calls for a $17.5 million vesting option for 2012 if K-Rod pitches in more than 55 games for the year.

This could get dicey.

While, of course, the Mets want to be competitive and give their closer as many chances to shut the door on teams, they also don’t want a bloated contract on the books for 2012 if they can avoid it.

But what about days when K-Rod just needs to get some work in after sitting out in blowouts? What about tie games in the 9th inning on the road? How do you balance this act, while trying to remain fiscally sound and keeping the payroll at bay?

Aside from last year, K-Rod has pitched in more than 55 games in the previous seven years. Outside of an injury, if K-Rod doesn’t pitch in 55 games or more, it would look really fishy. Why would the Mets want to go down that road with K-Rod and possibly the player’s union?

You know what? If K-Rod is appearing in that many games, it could only mean the Mets are doing a lot of winning. That’s what we are all here for: to see our team win.

To see a breakdown on why it would be a good idea if K-Rod’s option vests, read Brian Joura’s February article.

So, with that said, let’s hit the restart button and give K-Rod the benefit of the doubt and hope that he is past his anger management issues. On the field, he could just very well be the Mets most important player this year.

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

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