Mets idea to move Beato to SP has no chance to work

No matter where you look, there is no shortage of bad ideas in the world. The United States decided it was a good idea to give weapons to Mexican drug gangs. Tom Selleck turned down the role of Indiana Jones. And who can forget New Coke? The Mets, who have many entries in this field, are well on their way of adding another. Rumors abound that the Mets are going to try Pedro Beato as a starting pitcher.

Now to be fair, sometimes there’s a good reason for a bad idea. Selleck turned down the role because it would conflict with the filming of his top 10 TV show Magnum P.I., after all. But what reason do the Mets have for trying Beato as a starting pitcher? Last night the Mets announcers talked about Beato’s repertoire and noted that as a reliever he didn’t have the chance to even utilize his changeup.

I want to take this moment to point out that in his last 34 IP, Beato has a 6.35 ERA. I would like to think that if Dan Warthen is aware of the fact that Beato has a pitch in his arsenal that he’s not using, now would be a fine time to dust it off and try it out because nothing that he *is* using is working. Yet Beato still is deployed in higher leverage situations than Manny Acosta

Like most relievers, Beato was initially a starter and he was moved to the bullpen because he could not hack it in the rotation. For Beato, this conversion happened in 2009, after he consistently put up ERAs in the 4-5 range in the low minors. In parts of two seasons at Hi-A, Beato had a 5.16 ERA in 39 starts. He gave no indication of being a successful starting pitcher in the minors.

The Orioles moved him to the bullpen and he had a strong year in Double-A, as he went 4-0 and posted a 2.11 ERA in 43 games covering 59.2 IP before a late call-up to Triple-A, where he had a scoreless outing of 1.2 IP. And then the Mets scooped him up in the offseason in the Rule 5 Draft.

Beato was lights out before going on the disabled list in the beginning of May. Since his return, batters have knocked him around as if Crash Davis was telling them what the pitch is before Beato throws the ball. And now the Mets think it would be a good time to experiment with him being a starter?

This idea is crazy. It has as much chance of working out successfully as moving Lucas Duda to shortstop or batting Mike Pelfrey third for the rest of his career. When a player struggles in a role, it is not a wise idea to move him to a more difficult role to get him out of his funk. That’s a recipe for disaster.

The funny thing is that the Mets saw the perfect model for a reliever-to-starter switch last night. The Padres started Corey Luebke who began the year in their bullpen. Luebke had been a successful starting pitcher in the minors but there was no room for him in the starting rotation so he made the team as a reliever. In 29 games as a reliever, Luebke limited batters to a .183 AVG and had 43 Ks in 39 IP. When Wade LeBlanc self-combusted they moved Luebke to the rotation and he has been a fine starting pitcher.

The Oriole Way under Earl Weaver was to break a starting pitcher into the majors by using him first as a relief pitcher. Doyle Alexander, Mike Flanagan, Wayne Garland, Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor are some of the pitchers who cut their teeth in the bullpen for Weaver in the 1970s.

But the Beato situation bears nothing in common with either Luebke or Weaver and the Orioles. Instead it smacks of desperation, like New Coke. Warthen and the Mets should focus on what they can do to get Beato pitching like he did the first month of the season when he was a vital part of the bullpen.

How many people can you name in MLB history who were moved to the bullpen in Double-A, destroyed as a reliever in the majors (and let’s face it, hitters are teeing off on Beato right now) and reinvented as a successful starting pitcher? Perhaps there are some and I’m blanking on them – feel free to list them in the comments section.

Until that list starts flooding in from the readers, I’m going to consider moving Beato to the rotation the baseball equivalent of banging one’s head against the wall. Both are activities that will require a lot of effort, produce no meaningful results and likely to wind up in an injury.

Will Jason Isringhausen be the Mets’ closer in 2012?

One night after picking up the win, Jason Isringhausen came on Tuesday night to retire the side in order and pick up his sixth save of the season. Since taking over as the primary closer after the trade of Francisco Rodriguez, Isringhausen has appeared in 11 games with a 2-2 record, a 4.50 ERA and one blown save. It’s not overwhelming production, so the question remains: Can Isringhausen close for the 2012 Mets?

Right now, there is no easy decision on who anchors the Mets bullpen next season. Bobby Parnell has the velocity for the job but appears less ready than Isringhausen. Pedro Beato has not been the same pitcher since coming back from the DL. Pre-injury Beato had a 0.00 ERA over 17 IP with 3 BB and 10 Ks. Post-injury Beato has a 6.00 ERA over 30 IP with 17 BB and 17 Ks. No one else currently on the roster merits consideration for the closer’s job.

Isringhausen had two bad outings in back-to-back nights against the Marlins (2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER) in the beginning of August but otherwise has been solid in his brief stint as closer for the Mets. He’s shown the ability to pitch on back-to-back nights (doing it successfully three times here in the second half), has averaged 11.25 K/9 and a 3.0 BB/9 and has limited opposing batters to a .219 AVG.

While he no longer has the overpowering stuff of his days with the A’s and Cardinals, Isringhausen knows how to pitch and he works both sides of the plate effectively. He has some trouble versus LHB, who have an .834 OPS against him thanks to 4 HR in 65 ABs. It will be worth to see if the gopher balls versus lefties is a fluke or something that continues until the end of the season.

Sandy Alderson was able to get out from the money owed Rodriguez in 2012. Now he has to find a closer for next year’s club. With the Mets still unlikely to spend a ton of money in free agency, it’s doubtful that Alderson would spend a lot of his available budget on a closer. Which means that a closer from within is a likely scenario.

It seemed unreal when Isringhausen received an invitation to Spring Training this year. But he has proven to be a valuable addition to the club. Now the Mets have 47 more games to decide if they want to bring Isringhausen back for a repeat performance and if his full-time role next year will be as closer.

Besides a Quality Bullpen, Mets Lack Presence

“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

A four-run lead headed to the bottom of the eighth is supposed to be safe. To paraphrase Howie Rose, I was putting this one in the books before the eighth was over. But we know the narrative these past two weeks, don’t we? This bullpen stinks and no lead is safe until the 27th out. Yes, I know Pedro Beato and Jason Isringhausen were horrid last night (6/8). Yes, leadoff walks to geriatrics the likes of Craig Counsell are inexcusable. No, Dale Thayer has no business in a Major League ballpark, unless he possesses a ticket. I get all that. There might be a bigger, less tangible problem out there.

Angel Pagan batted fourth last night. For real. Not a typo.

Where the Mets have been playing some pretty decent baseball of late, there’s still a chasm in the middle of the order that has nothing to do with the talent level of the players per se. Angel Pagan is a good ballplayer, who has had some great moments. He is a valuable asset for the Mets, one which – as was seen earlier in the year – is sorely missed when it’s not around. But when you think “cleanup hitter,” does the name “Angel Pagan” immediately leap to mind? Does the guy in the other dugout whine, “Oh crap: how do we pitch to Pagan?” The sad part is, with the lineup as presently constituted – taking into account DL denizens David Wright and Ike Davis – he was their best option last night.

But this has nothing to do with the players who are missing, really, because neither of them is the type of player that gives a team a mental advantage in a ballgame either. Wright is a terrific hitter, who opposing pitchers know they can K with some semi-regularity. Davis is more of a Keith Hernandez, line-drive kinda guy. And of course there’s Jose Reyes, who is living up to his rep as TMEPIB (“The Most Exciting Player In Baseball”) right now. No. The Mets don’t have a Prince Fielder, an Albert Pujols, a Chipper Jones (as much as it galls me to speak that name in this context), a Ryan Howard, a Darryl Strawberry or a Mike Piazza. Not even a Troy Tulowitzki. There isn’t anyone on this squad right now who can put sweat on the upper lip of a pitcher they way those guys can/could.

Is there anyone on the horizon in the organization who can fit that bill? Maybe new draftee Brandon Nimmo…in 2016.

Oy.

Mets Minors: Updated Top 10 list

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Matt Harvey

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

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

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

2. Kirk Nieuwenhuis

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Cory Vaughn

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

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

5. Jenrry Mejia

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

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

6. Jeurys Familia

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

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

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

7. Pedro Beato

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

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

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

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

8. Matt Den Dekker

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

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

9. Dillon Gee

Does anybody believe in Dillon Gee yet?

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

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

10. Cesar Puello

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

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

*****

Here is our preseason Top 10

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Is Pedro Beato the Mets’ future closer?

Generally a pitcher is never as good as he looks on his best days nor as poor as he looks in his worst outings. That being said, Pedro Beato looked outstanding Saturday night. He faced five batters in 1.2 IP and did not allow a ball out of the infield, as he got four groundball outs and a strikeout and looked in complete command.

The outing made me wonder: Is Beato the Mets’ future closer?

People prefer closers to be hard throwers and Beato can bring the heat, as his average fastball velocity is 93.9 mph according to TexasLeaguers.com. But he is by no means a one-trick pony, as Beato also throws a sinker, slider and curve. He is very consistent with his release point (see below) and he throws any of his pitches at any time in the count.



In that way, he’s similar to another Rule 5 pick, closer Joakim Soria. Two days after he was selected in the Rule 5 Draft, Soria pitched a no-hitter in Winter Ball. While most closers have one or two pitches, Soria has a starter’s repertoire and we see some of that same thing from Beato, who was a starter until the 2010 season.

The comparison falls apart when we look at strikeout rate. Despite struggling this year, Soria has a lifetime 9.67 K/9 while Beato checks in with a 5.30 K/9.

But the results this year from Beato have been nothing short of amazing. He’s yet to give up an earned run in 18.2 IP and he has an impressive 3.67 K/BB ratio, a number even more special when you consider his strikeout rate is at best ordinary. Additionally, he has yet to allow an inherited runner to score, although Terry Collins has done his best to protect him from those situations, as he has inherited just two runners this year.

While Tim Byrdak and Taylor Buchholz have some huge L/R splits, Beato has displayed very little of that in his outings this year. RHB have a .428 OPS against him while LHB check in with a .333 mark.

Of course, any pitcher with a 0.00 ERA is outperforming his peripherals and Beato has a 3.38 xFIP, which is still a solid number. There’s also the matter of the four unearned runs he’s allowed. His RA of 1.93 is still very impressive, if not the all zeroes of his current ERA.

He gets grounders (46.9 GB%) and batters are not squaring up his pitches, as he has just a 14.3 LD%. It all adds up to a wonderful performance from a pitcher that not many knew what to expect from when the season began.

It also leads to the idea that if Francisco Rodriguez does not meet his vesting option that Beato could be an option for closer in 2012. While Jason Isringhausen is the eighth-inning man, he’s also 38-year old and an injury risk. Buchholz would be in the conversation but one would think that his struggles against LHB would keep him from being the team’s closer. Plus, Beato is under team control for years while Buchholz is a free agent following this season.

Right now we get to see Beato being a dominating reliever if the sixth and seventh innings. Just don’t be surprised if he has a much more valuable role on the Mets in 2012. Regardless of his future role, if he finishes the season without imploding, Beato will easily become the most successful Rule 5 pick in team history, a position currently vacant. Click here for a list of the Mets’ Rule 5 picks.

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.

The A-B-C guide to the Mets bullpen

It’s often said that having too many good players is a nice problem to have. Judging strictly by Spring Training results, that is exactly the dilemma the Mets have in figuring out who makes their bullpen. Through games of Sunday, the Mets have three relievers who have not allowed an earned run, one with an ERA under 1.00 and two with marks under 2.00 ERA. Only the three with a scoreless ERA are guaranteed spots on the team.

Let’s examine two pitchers seemingly on the bubble, although one seems more likely to make the squad. Which one would you prefer?

Pitcher A – 8 games, 10.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 5 BB, 9 Ks
Pitcher B – 10 games, 11.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 10 H, 4 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 5 Ks

Pitcher A turns 30 this May and has 153.2 IP in the majors under his belt. Last year he was 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA and had 42 Ks in 39.2 IP in the National League.

Pitcher B turned 24 in the offseason. He has yet to pitch a game in the majors. Last year he was 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA and had 50 Ks in 59.2 IP in Double-A.

Both pitchers are likely to be lost to other teams if the Mets try to send them to the minors. So, which one would you pick?

Pitcher A is Manny Acosta while Pitcher B is Pedro Beato. Acosta is clearly having the better Spring and he has a major league track record while Beato does not. But speculation is that Beato has a better shot of making the club than Acosta.

We know Francisco Rodriguez is the closer. Tim Byrdak is the LOOGY while D.J. Carrasco is the long man. That leaves four spots up for grabs. Taylor Buchholz has yet to give up a run this Spring. Blaine Boyer has a 0.90 ERA. Bobby Parnell is thought to be the closer of the future. Jason Isringhausen has a 1.29 ERA and is thought to be on the team if his elbow is sound.

Parnell has had the worst Spring of any of the candidates and with an option remaining it makes sense to send him to the minors. But some in the organization want him in the majors learning from Rodriguez and Isringhausen.

Boyer has a 4.63 lifetime ERA in 227.1 IP in the majors but because of his strong Spring, many think he should make the club. Last year he had 29 BB and 29 Ks in 57 IP with the Braves. General manager Sandy Alderson has talked about taking a player’s entire career into account when making roster decisions and if that is the case than Boyer will not make the club. He has very limited upside.

With the information available as we head into the last week of Spring Training, I would set the bullpen as Rodriguez, Isringhausen, Acosta, Beato, Buchholz, Byrdak and Carrasco.

Parnell gets to work on his consistency in the minors while Boyer and Pat Misch move on to other organizations. Both of those guys are welcome to join Triple-A Buffalo if they are not overwhelmed with other offers.

Top 10 Spring Training stories for Mets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Bobby Parnell’s roster spot in jeopardy?

This time last year, few expected Bobby Parnell to open the year with Triple-A, figuring he had a bullpen spot locked up. But a poor Spring led to an assignment to Buffalo, where he spent the first two-and-a-half months of the year. Could it be déjà vu all over again for Parnell here in 2011?

Once again, most people have written Parnell’s name onto the major league roster. He figures to be the team’s eighth inning man and primary setup man to Francisco Rodriguez. Plus, with the Mets likely to be careful about the usage of Rodriguez this year, Parnell figured to be the most likely pitcher to benefit, picking up some saves and games finished in lieu of Rodriguez.

Basically, Parnell was in this position almost by default. Yes, he could reach 100 mph on the radar gun but that was seemingly his main claim to the job. Well, that and the fact that there was no one else with closing experience. But now there is.

Jason Isringhausen has come out of nowhere and now has to be viewed as a legitimate threat to not only Parnell and his eighth-inning role, but also his spot on the roster. We know Rodriguez will be on the team. We figure that D.J. Carrasco also has a spot locked up, by virtue of the two-year contract he signed this offseason. It’s a reasonable guess that the Mets will employ both a LOOGY and a long man, meaning that four bullpen spots are locked up.

Taylor Buchholz also signed as a free agent this year with a major league contract. Manny Acosta had a similar ERA and better WHIP last year than Parnell and is out of options. Pedro Beato is a Rule 5 guy and would have to be offered back to Baltimore if he does not make the roster. Throw in Isringhausen and Parnell and it’s now a very crowded bullpen situation.

If Isringhausen is all the way back in his comeback from elbow surgery, he could fill the role of eighth inning man and be the backup closer for Rodriguez. While no one else had closer dust sprinkled on their resume, Isringhausen has 293 lifetime Saves. That could add up to big trouble for Parnell.

Because let’s face it, Parnell is a glorified ROOGY at this point in his career. Last year LHB had a .327/.364/.442 mark against him. It’s great that he can throw so hard and get lots of strikeouts. Those are extremely important for a short reliever. But it’s also important to be able to get out anyone who steps to the plate. Do you really want Parnell facing Ibanez, much less Howard or Utley if the game is on the line in the eighth inning?

If Isringhausen is productive, it seems likely that he will make the team. That makes five bullpen spots locked up for Opening Day. That would leave Parnell in with Acosta, Beato and Buchholz fighting for the last two spots.

So, Parnell cannot repeat his mistake from last year, thinking he has the team made in Spring Training. He has to go out and get results. He gave up four hits and a run in his first outing, which covered two innings. That outing is not horrible, but Parnell needs to improve if he wants to be with the major league club in Florida for Opening Day, rather than waiting a week to open against the Syracuse Chiefs with the Bisons again.

Talking Mets and ZiPS with Dan Szymborski

Fans tend to be either overly optimistic or pessimistic. That is why it is important to look at unbiased, systematic approaches to projections. One of the best sets available are the ZiPS projections from ESPN Insider and Baseball Think Factory Editor-in-Chief Dan Szymborski. Recently Szymborski, an Orioles fan, agreed to a Q&A about his projections and feelings regarding the Mets. Here are this year’s ZiPS projections for the Mets

Can you explain in basic terms how the ZiPS projection system works?

DS: The simplest way I can describe it is: ZiPS uses the last 4 years to establish a baseline for a player from their performance and from predictive models for things like BABIP. It then applies a regression model and calculates probabilities for age-related changes based on large groups of similar players from MLB histories. ZiPS uses the recent past for a player and tries to find similar players at roughly the same age.

Last year coming off the concussion and a down power season, ZiPS projected a .200 ISO for David Wright. Then after he rebounded with a .220 ISO in 2010, the system has him for a .199 ISO this year. Does ZiPS see Wright in the decline portion of his career already?

DS:He’s certainly not in a steep decline phase of his career, but he’s unlikely to take any steps forward at this point – he’s essentially a finished product. The lower ISO projection is partially the result of ZiPS projecting a lower level of offense than it did going into 2010. If ZiPS had more specific knowledge about the 2010 level of offense and more park data, it would’ve had him about a .190 for 2010 rather than .200 and missed by a little bit more.

The Carlos Beltran projection does not inspire confidence. Do fans have any reason to be optimistic he can beat this based on what he did in his final 160 PA (.295/.369/.504), which matches nicely what he did in 2008, his last full season? (.284/.376/.500)

DS:Injuries are always an X factor for projection systems as they always throw a monkeywrench into the works. It’s a problem for people making non-statistical projections as well. With no two injuries being exactly the same and people healing at different rates, we’re likely to have pretty large error bars for injured players for the forseeable futures.

What are your impressions of the Jose Reyes forecast? Do you think he could maintain this rate production if he played in 150 or more games?

DS:I don’t see any reason he couldn’t maintain that level of play. Reyes is probably a good player for the Mets to lock up now given that quite a bit of his decline from pre-09 numbers is league offense-related. At this point, he’s actually probably a bit underrated.

The Jason Bay projection has him with an .804 OPS, which is lower than the other four projections over at FanGraphs. Does it surprise you or give you pause if ZiPS has the highest or lowest projection? Any idea on the historical nature of how ZiPS does in these “extreme” cases?

DS:ZiPS has a mechanism that estimates the probability that a player was injured the previous year, based on changes in playing time and surprisingly large decline in performance (you can do a decent job picking out obvious injury seasons this way). There’s a small injury penalty, but it’s generally fairly conservative. However, ZiPS was lower on Jason Bay than the others last year, too, so it’s not surprising to see it still likes him less.

ZiPS has just a 25-point difference in OPS between our starting first baseman (Ike Davis) and a guy who is hoping to win the 2B job in Spring Training (Daniel Murphy). What does this say about the Mets in general and Davis and Murphy in particular?

DS:Well, Murphy’s not all that bad a hitter, just not as good as Davis. That they are experimenting with Murphy at second is a good sign regarding the new braintrust. Simply put, there was little chance that Murphy will contribute more than Davis at first, so you might as well see what he could do at a position at which he could theoretically help the team. I think in general, teams don’t really experiment enough with their lesser players; if there’s something out there that can improve the chances of a player contributing from, say, 10% to 15%, there’s usually little reason to not try it if it can be done in the minors.

Last year’s Angel Pagan projection was very good (predicted .335 OBP, .446 SLG compared to actual .340/.425) for a player who not many had a good handle on. This year’s forecast shows almost equally likely chances to be excellent (28%), very good (25%), average (26%) and below average (21% combining fair and poor). Why the confusion now that we have a full year of MLB data on him?

DS:Not all uncertainty is simply due to lack of sample size. He’s a league-average outfielder about to hit 30 and decline phases for that type of player is quite erratic.

Mike Pelfrey grades out as essentially a league average pitcher. Is there any reason for fans to hope he can take a step forward or is this just who he is as a player?

DS:There’s still an opportunity for him to improve with his splitter. Learning a pitch at the MLB level isn’t that easy. Even if he doesn’t, he’s a reasonable #2/3 guy and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

What is your best prediction for the combined IP total for Chris Capuano, Dillon Gee, Johan Santana and Chris Young? Can the Mets expect to get the equivalent of two SP worth of innings from this foursome?

DS:Somewhere between 0 and 600. If anyone in the world could predict with any degree of accuracy how pitchers will recover from serious injury, they’d be living in a gigantic mansion in the Alps, sipping ambrosia from gold chalices. Given my status as a thousandaire with a garage full of spiders, I don’t think I’ve cracked that code yet.

I don’t know about Santana’s innings but I expect him to recover pretty well on a performance basis. As long as his fastball can get back up to 87-88 post-injury, I think his circle change will be effective enough to get him good numbers.

As an Orioles fan, what’s your take on the Pedro Beato forecast? Do you think he’ll make the Mets out of Spring Training and if not will Baltimore work out a deal so the Mets can keep him or demand him back?

DS:I actually think it’s likely to be dead-on (famous last words, there). Beato has a lot of potential and can keep the ball down, but as well as he pitched in relief, he wasn’t really that dominating in the minors and there’s a difference between AA and the majors. Still, the Mets are in a position in which that projection at the back of the bullpen really doesn’t hurt them all that much.

Last year we were going to wager a real Coke on Daniel Murphy’s SLG percentage. This year can we do it on Francisco Rodriguez beating his projected BB/9 (4.3) and ERA (3.14), assuming he pitches at least 50 innings? More importantly, will he finish 55 games?

DS:As long as it’s Coke and not Pepsi, I’m in. Given the ultimate unknown of a thumb injury, I’ll take the pessimistic side. I still think he’s an excellent pitcher, but again, injuries are tricky.

*****

I’d like to thank Dan for taking time out to do this. Last week, the two of us did a podcast where we talked about some of these questions and others facing the Mets.

Here is last year’s ZiPS article

Do the Mets need a long reliever?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to expect from Mets’ newest pitching additions

The unanimous feeling amongst Mets fans this offseason was that the franchise needed to acquire more arms to compete, especially with the loss of ace Johan Santana, who will most likely be out for half the year with a shoulder injury. Many Mets fans were upset that the team stood idle while divisional-rival Philadelphia snatched the biggest prize on the market in Cliff Lee.

However, new General Manager Sandy Alderson has preached financial responsibility and has mostly scoured the scrap heap to find hidden gems. So, will the addition of Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Taylor Buchholz, D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Tankersley, Pedro Beato, Mike O’Connor and Tim Byrdak turn into the Mets’ treasure, or rightfully some other team’s trash?

The Mets, while working with a tight budget, bypassed on some of the bigger free-agent arms (notably Lee) and avoided making any trades (Matt Garza, etc.) while trying to keep payroll flexible for 2012, when they can be actively aggressive. So, this ragtag collection will have to do for now.

Let’s breakdown what each can bring to the table:

Chris Young: If there is a jewel in the group it would be Young. Young has battled many injuries in his past, most recently a shoulder injury, and the former all-star will look for a new beginning in Queens. While he is losing speed off his fastball, Young is crafty and his flyball-pitching ways can lead to success at Citi Field, much like it did at Petco Park. At this point, it’s fair to expect an injury. Hopefully he can give the Mets more than 100+ innings.

Chris Capuano: Capuano is another ex-All-Star who is trying to recapture past glory. Tommy John surgery had him miss all of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. However, in 2010, while pitching in 24 games (nine starts), Capuano had an effective run down the stretch finishing with a respectable 3.95 ERA and 1.30 WHIP to go along with 54 strikeouts in 62 innings. The cavernous gaps of Citi Field can only help him as well, as he looks like a decent replacement to fill Hisanori Takahashi’s old role.

D.J. Carrasco: The well-traveled set up man comes to the Mets after a successful season with both the Pirates and the Diamondbacks last season. Carrasco has shown the ability to pitch well against both lefties and righties, and he eats up a lot of innings too. Carrasco will compete with Bobby Parnell to be the team’s primary set-up man.

Taylor Buchholz: Buchholz is another decent low-risk/high-reward type pitcher to gamble on. Buchholz is another Tommy John survivor who could bounce back. He is not overpowering, but he once was the prominent set-up man in Colorado back in 2008. He is no lock to make the roster, but odds are he finds a spot.

Taylor Tankersley: Tankersley is a lefty-specialist who missed all of 2009 with a stress fracture in his elbow. The 2004 first round draft pick has not made good on his talent, and will have to prove something in spring training. Tankersley was only signed to a minor league deal, so the chances of him making the opening day roster looks slim at this point.

Pedro Beato: Beato, a Rule 5 Draft selection, has to make the roster or else be sent back to the Orioles. Beato is a hard throwing righty with a lot of upside. Like most of the other additions, a lot depends on how Beato does in spring training. If not for anything else, Beato is a local product out of Brooklyn.

Mike O’Connor: O’Connor is a lefty specialist without much of a ceiling. O’Connor will have to battle the likes of Tankersley and Byrdak for the role as the team’s LOOGY. O’Connor has posted mediocre numbers while pitching in the majors with Washington (5.47 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). Consider O’Connor an extreme long-shot to make the roster.

Tim Byrdak: Byrdak is the most recent signee. Byrdak is in the driver’s seat to be this year’s LOOGY. Left-handed batters hit .210 against him last year. While with the Astros last year, Byrdak had a 2-2 record with a 3.49 ERA. Byrdak has enough veteran moxie to replace Pedro Feliciano.

As it stands right now, Young and Capuano are likely to start off in the rotation, while the rest (sans Carrasco-who is a lock) will fight it out to make the bullpen. Read here to see Brian Joura’s take on how the bullpen might shake out.

While these new additions will not produce a buzz in Queens-and subsequently put butts in seats- they are projects that could turn into fools’ gold. All Alderson wanted was flexibility for next year’s payroll and he got in this group.