Murphy’s Law rears ugly head again

While it may not have been as damaging as the injuries that piled up last season for the Mets, Daniel Murphy’s season-ending injury will certainly have ramifications with the roster in to the summer.

Murphy was perhaps days away from being recalled before he again was involved in another freak accident. On Wednesday night in Buffalo, while playing second base of all places, Murphy suffered an MCL tear of his right knee after an opposing player slid into him in an awkward manner. Previously, Murphy suffered a right knee sprain in the final week of spring training and was working his way back into shape. Yet another setback in a maddening season filled with its highs and lows.

Murphy was not going to be an everyday starter when he eventually would have been recalled since Ike Davis has taken over that position, but this injury still stings.

The Mets lack punch off the bench and Murphy’s bat could have come in handy for the stretch run. While in the minors, Murphy was trying to get work in at second base, while also playing first and the outfield, and possibly fill in for the oft-injured Luis Castillo, but that point is moot now.

So do the Mets now try to get a second baseman off the trade market? As of now, if Castillo does go on the DL, the plan is for the Mets to recall prospect Ruben Tejada and place him on the bench while Alex Cora plays second base.

That affects the bench now. If Murphy and Castillo are on the shelf, you have to go with Gary Matthews, Fernando Tatis, Chris Carter, Henry Blanco and Tejada.

Is that enough?

Matthews has been nothing short of a disappointment and Tatis is nothing to get too warmed up about. Blanco is what he is, a defensive back-up catcher. Everyone in Mets nation loves “The Animal” Carter, but can he sustain it? He’s great off the bench. However, with the Mets now without Murphy, the team sure could use a utility hitter with pop.

Here’s a name that is sure to conjure some memories — Ty Wigginton.

You know that Baltimore would be willing to ship him off knowing they have no plans for him being with the team long term. Wigginton earlier in the week confessed that he loved his time in New York, but would not get worked up in trade talks.

Wigginton has proved he still has plenty of pop left in his bat (13 home runs) and would be embraced back in New York. Ideally, you would like a lefty bat with power (Russell Branyan?), but if Wigginton and stabilizing pitcher Kevin Millwood could come to New York cheap, I don’t see the possible downside?

Time to promote Chris Carter

The bench for the Mets is comprised of Henry Blanco, Frank Catalanotto, Alex Cora, Gary Matthews and Fernando Tatis. Blanco and Cora are fixtures, there as much for their ability to play key defensive positions as anything they do with their bats. The other three players need to produce more offense to justify their spots on the major league roster.

Tatis is off to a dismal start, with a .222/.282/.389 line after 40 PA. But Tatis has two things going for him that help negate his poor start at the plate. First, over the past two seasons, he has put up a .289/.352/.458 line for the Mets over 685 PA. He has shown manager Jerry Manuel what he is capable of doing at the plate. Also, Tatis can play virtually anywhere on the field and serves as the team’s emergency catcher. So, while the club expects more offense out of Tatis, his place on the bench is every bit as secure as Blanco and Cora’s.

However, with the other two bench players on the roster, the time has come for the Mets to make at least one and possibly two moves to upgrade the talent available on hand for Manuel.

Matthews was brought in during the offseason because of his ability to play center field. Much was made of the move at the time because of Matthews’ contract. But the Angels are picking up the vast majority of the money owed Matthews, with the Mets responsible for about a million per season over the next two years. So far this year, Matthews has a .143/.234/.190 line in 47 PA. In 12 games as a sub, Matthews has one hit in 13 ABs for an .077 average and is 0-9 as a pinch-hitter. With RISP, he is 1-14.

With offense as dismal as that, Matthews better provide Gold Glove type defense in center field. UZR likes what it has seen of Matthews this season, as he has an 11.3 UZR/150 in center field, with most of that value coming from his throwing arm. But John Dewan’s system is less impressed. It has Matthews at -2 Defensive Runs Saved.

If Matthews’ defense is as good as UZR thinks in this very small sample, the Mets could justify keeping him on if they had another hitter on the bench to use as their primary lefty bat. Right now that is Catalanotto, who is no one’s idea of a big bat. Even in the best of times, Catalanotto was a contact hitter without much extra-base power.

This season Catlanotto has a .167/.200/.208 line in 25 PA. One could argue that he has not had enough at-bats to determine if he is still a worthwhile major league player. But the fact of the matter is that Catalanotto has played just two games in the field this year. His main job is to hit and he is simply not doing that. While Tatis and Matthews at least give the club defensive options, Catalanotto serves in the role once filled by guys like Julio Franco and Rusty Staub – bat.

It is deflating as a fan to see Manuel send up Tatis as a pinch-hitter and then once the opposing manager makes a pitching change to bring in a tough RHP have Manuel respond by sending Catalanotto to the plate.

It makes things even harder to stomach when the Mets have an in-house solution raking at Triple-A. In 109 ABs for Buffalo, lefty Chris Carter has a .339/.395/.615 line. The MLE calculator at Minor League Splits translates that to a .289/.327/.503 line in the majors for the Mets. Forget the actual results – just the possibility of an extra-base hit makes Carter a more attractive option than what the team currently has for LHB off the bench.

The knock on Carter is that he does not have a defensive position. But if Catalanotto can be on the team and play the field just twice in the first 30 games, just how important is a defensive position for the role in which Carter would play? Carter has served as DH in 11 games this season for Buffalo. But he has also played LF six times, RF six times and first base five times.

While Catalanotto once was an infielder capable of playing both 2B and 3B, he has played 1B and LF in his two games for the Mets. He has not played 3B since 2001 and has played all of three games at 2B, for a total of seven innings, since 2002.

Yes, Catalanotto has more defensive value than Carter. But that value is miniscule to begin with and is wiped out completely by the role Manuel gives him on the team. And even if he receives full value for his defensive, uh let’s call it potential, Carter’s advantage with the bat runs circles around him anyway.

In Sunday’s game, Brian Wilson was on the mound in the late innings throwing 97 mph fastballs. If the Mets wanted to counter with a lefty bat off the bench, would you rather see Catalanotto, Matthews or Carter hop off the bench? Catalanotto did come up against Wilson in the eighth inning. He struck out on three pitches. Matthews came up earlier in the game and struck out on four pitches.

This is not about one game. Rather this is about the complete lack of production from lefty hitters off the bench for the Mets so far this season. The 2010 Mets are a flawed team but one that has a chance to compete for a playoff spot in a National League with few (if any) elite teams. And the Mets are making things harder than they have to be with their bench as it is currently constructed. The Mets have just three hits this season from their lefty pinch-hitters, which is unacceptable.

Call up Chris Carter and make him the team’s primary LHB off the bench.

Bad Luck With RISP

One day after going 1-12 with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP), the Mets had a much better time of it Thursday, going 4-14. Still, production with RISP has been one of the trouble spots for the Mets early in the 2010 season. After nine games, the team has a .554 OPS with RISP.

How bad is that? The National League average for OPS in RISP is .807. The Mets rank 15th out of 16 teams, 92 points behind the 14th place Washington Nationals. The only team the Mets edge out is the woeful Houston Astros, who have a .529 OPS.

Here are the top six players for the Mets in terms of PA with RISP and what they have done:

Name	                PA	 AVG	OBP	SLG
Jeff Francoeur	        16	.200	.438	.300
Jason Bay	        12	.182	.250	.182
Gary Matthews	        12	.000	.250	.000
Rod Barajas	        11	.333	.273	.444
Fernando Tatis	        11	.222	.364	.222
Alex Cora	        10	.111	.200	.111

The first thing that jumps out is that David Wright is nowhere to be seen in this chart. Ideally, the lineup is situated so that the team’s best hitter comes up with RISP but with Jose Reyes missing time early and still working his way back into shape, the top of the order for the Mets has not been very good.

The next thing to stand out is reason #512 why Gary Matthews should be on the bench. I suppose it is nice that the Mets are keeping their promise to a veteran and giving him a chance to compete for a starting position. But as I have stated earlier, if the choice is between a guy we know is no good (Matthews) and a guy who may or may not be good (Angel Pagan) – always, always, always go with the guy who at least has a chance to be good.

Bay and to a lesser extent Tatis struggling has been a problem. Francoeur has not done as well in these situations as he has done overall, but to suggest that a guy with a .438 OBP is a problem is not a stance I am willing to take. Barajas is right where you would expect him to be in OBP and SLG (maybe a tad high on the SLG end) and Cora is not far from where one would expect.

Right now the Mets are below average in runs scoring. Hopefully once Reyes gets back to 100 percent and Beltran rejoins the lineup next month, things will improve on that end. And the team has a chance to really make a move with just a little better luck with RISP.

Why do I call it luck? Because the NL BABIP with RISP (or National League Batting Average on Balls in Play with Runners in Scoring Position, for those who prefer English) is .291, essentially the same as the .300 BABIP overall this season. The Mets BABIP with RISP is .217, which is simply not going to last over an entire season. Last year the NL overall BABIP was .299 and with RISP it was .292. The lowest BABIP for RISP for a team in 2009 was .275, while the Mets hit .309 for the year.

So, contrary to what some may think, there is no great skill to hitting with RISP. Generally, players hit better with runners on base than they do overall (NL batters have a .762 OPS overall this year compared to a .799 OPS with runners on base and the .807 mark with RISP mentioned earlier). Essentially, the key to having a good offense is to get runners on base. The Mets are currently tied for seventh with 171 PA with runners on base.

As bad as things have been the first two weeks of the season, the offense, when viewed in terms of getting runners on base, shows signs of being above average. Additionally, the early returns on the bullpen are good. Right now the fate of the season rests with the starting pitching.

And a little better luck with RISP.