Top 10 ways Mets have frustrated followers

It has been another frustrating season for the New York Mets and their fans.

The Mets spent eight days in last place early in the season and last led the National League East on April 30. Their offense totally collapsed in July, they couldn’t get a big hit when needed and key pitchers slumped at inopportune times.

Below I explore the 10 most frustrating topics for the 2010 New York Mets. Stats are through Tuesday.

1. Inability to hit and score in the second half

During the Jul. 6-Sept.1 period in which New York went 18-31 and dropped from two games back to 13 back, it endured four separate streaks of between three and seven games of scoring three runs or less (3,4,4,7). New York endured only two 3-game streaks prior to the break.

New York averaged 2.84 runs and hit .178 with RISP, .143 with two outs in RISP and .161 (5-for-31) with the bases loaded. The Mets entered the period batting .284/ .231/.208 in those situations.

Culprits with runners in scoring position

Wright, 5-for-39

Davis, 6-for-35

Pagan, 10-for-35

Reyes, 8-for-31

Barajas, 0-for-6

Francouer, 4-for-34

Castillo, 4-for-22

Bay, 2-for-7

Note: Wright was 30-for-91 with runners in scoring position prior to that stretch; Pagan 24-for-64 and Barajas 16-for-56.

2. Dysfunctional front office

There has to be a disconnect somewhere when injured stars Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes and management continually have breakdowns in communication over injuries, return dates, etc. And it happened again this season more than once.

Who is running the show?  The Wilpons?  Minaya?  Nobody seems to know, resulting in the Mets’ front office becoming a laughing stock.  Questionable long-term investments in Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, among others have helped the Mets’ decide to fly Minaya coach on airflights.  Minaya and Manuel seem to be dead men walking at this point.

The front office took hits for not being able to effectively handle the Perez mess at the most crucial time of the season and endured ridicule over the Francisco Rodriguez abuse situation and revelations of his past bad behavior.  And they couldn’t seem to pull the trigger on deadline trades that could have helped the club.

Manuel doesn’t escape scrutiny, blowing out Fernando Nieve, who pitched 20 times by May 9, and stagnating top pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia’s development by adding him to the bullpen Opening Day instead of having him pitch every fifth day in the minor leagues.  Manuel lacked the presence and fire to get the most out of mercurial shortstop Jose Reyes and others, insisted on playing Jeff Francoeur and batting Luis Castillo and Ruben Tejada at the top of the order.

3. Jason Bay power outage

Boston GM Theo Epstein was ripped when he wouldn’t ante-up for Bay in the offseason, but whose laughing now?

Bay, who signed for four years and $66 million, hit .259 with a career-low .402 slugging percentage to go with a .749 OBA – second lowest in his career – with six homers and 47 RBI in 95 games before a concussion ended his season.

Among players with 400 plate appearances and a .400 slugging, Bay has the seventh lowest HR percentage (1.72) this season and by far the lowest among players who at one time hit 30 homers.

Bay hit two homers in his last 33 games (both in same game) and hit .170 with a .443 OPS in his final 14 games when the Mets were going through a July power drought.  He had a 6.72 HR percentage last season in Boston with 36 blasts.

One positive note for Bay-lovers.  The 32-year-old posted a.830 OPS at Citi Field.

4. Mike Pelfrey slump

I think everybody in Mets nation has bought into Pelfrey as a solid starting pitcher.  He’s the 10th right-hander in franchise history to post 15 wins, and Pelfrey started 2010 great and is finishing strong.  Unfortunately, however, most fans are fixated on Pelfrey’s slump, which happened to coincide with New York’s offensive woes in July and August.

And it was bad. After starting 10-2 with a 2.71 ERA, Pelfrey went 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in seven starts from June 30-Aug. 4, getting tagged for 62 hits and 16 walks in 30 innings.

It was too late for the Mets by the time the 2005 first-rounder turned it around, going 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA in his last nine starts.

5. Second base production – or lack thereof

Check out these OPS numbers:  Luis Castillo, .606, Alex Cora, .543, Ruben Tejada, .561.  Among players with 169 TPA, Cora is third worst, Tejada 9th and Castillo, 15th.  The trio has combined for one homer, 50 RBI and 67 runs in 686 plate appearances.

Among major league second basemen, the Mets rank last in OPS (.583) and homers (1) and 29th in average (.222) and doubles (19).

With the Mets second basemen mostly batting second, New York ranks 29th in the majors in OPS (.652), batting (.246) and homers (4) from the No. 2 spot.

6. David Wright slump

When the Mets needed a lift most from their best player, Wright couldn’t deliver.

Wright was third in the NL in RBI with 64 in 82 games on July 1, batting .317 with a .941 OPS.

When New York went 18-31 from July 7- Sept 1, Wright hit .242/.710 OPS and 22 RBI.  He was 5-for-39 with runners in scoring position and endured skids of 3-for-27, 2-for-33 and 1-for-15 during that period.  He has added a 5-for-39 skid in September.

Wright is a few strikeouts shy of  Tommie Agee and Dave Kingman’s franchise record of 156 strikeouts.

7. Rod Barajas disappearing after great start

Of his 12 homers, Rod Barajas had three multiple-homer games and belted game-winning homers in the ninth inning on May 4 & 7.

Barajas hit .269 with an .844 OPS in his first 41 games through May 31 with 11 homers and 30 RBI.  He hit .163 with a .444 OPS in his last 33 games with a homer and four RBI.  He had one RBI in June.

In 2009 at Toronto, Barajas was batting .311 with a 823 OPS and 34 RBI in his first 44 games before finishing the last 91 games with .194 average, .598 OPS and 48 RBI.

Can Josh Thole take over full time?  Thole had four RBI in his first nine at-bats, but just nine in his last 162 at-bats.  He is batting .241 with a .564 OPS in September with two RBI in 54 at-bats.

8. The struggles of Pedro Feliciano

It’s hard to quibble with a man who is leading the NL in appearances for the third straight season and could have joined Paul Quantrill as the only pitchers in history with four straight 80-appearance seasons if he only had pitched in two more games in 2007.  But Feliciano has allowed 12 more hits and nine more walks in the same amount of innings this season as last.

Again, during the Mets’ biggest offensive swoon, Feliciano came up small.  In 26 games from June 29 to August 31, the 33-year-old was 1-4 with a 6.06 ERA and 27 hits and 10 walks allowed in 16 1/3 innings.

Overall this season, Feliciano has been hit at a .351 clip by right-handers (.285 career), .328 on the road (.263) and .303 with runners in scoring position (.226).  Only a great September run (2 runs, 5 hits in 12 IP) has given Mets fans hope that he hasn’t used up his effectiveness for 2011.

His OPS by days rest increased with days off:

.579 with no days;

.660 with one day;

.817 with two days;

.967 with three days;

1.750 with five days

.984 with six days.

9. Oliver Perez and John Maine

If New York was going to contend, it needed two of the three pitchers among Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine to come through.

For the most part, Pelfrey took care of business, but Perez and Maine didn’t.  Even before Maine got hurt, he didn’t pitch well. He was 1-3, 6.13 ERA and a 1.815 WHIP in nine starts.

Perez was even worse.  After a solid 2008 campaign and signing a 3-year/$36 million contract, Perez is 3-8 with a 6.75 ERA and 1.964 WHIP in 30 games.  After a knee injury shut him down last season, Perez was 0-4 with a 6.65 ERA this season and completely killed club morale by refusing an assignment to Class AAA.

10. Opening with Gary Matthews Jr. in CF

Jerry Manuel had Matthews in center field over Angel Pagan on Opening Day.

Matthews was less than underwhelming, batting .190 with a .507 OPS in 65 plate appearances. He drove in just one of the 50 batters he had on base – a 2 percent ratio that is the second worst in the major leagues this season behind only Ryan Langerhans (4/61; .164).

2010 Mets Dopplegangers

One of the difficult things when analyzing the Mets offense this year is to separate the names from the numbers they have actually produced. Sure, yesterday’s lineup had Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright in it but is it accurate to consider the performance the Mets are receiving from these players in 2010 to what our mind thinks of when it hears Beltran or Reyes or Wright?

So, in order to help separate performance from reputation, I took the players position, games played level and OPS+ and used the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com to come up with a somewhat similar player in team history to substitute in for comparison purposes. So, here are the Mets’ leaders by position with a substitute from the team’s past.

Catcher
Rod Barajas – 267 PA, 80 OPS+, .225/.263/.414
2003 Vance Wilson – 292 PA, 75 OPS+, .243/.293/.373

First Base
Ike Davis – 522 PA, 115 OPS+, .263/.349/.449
1995 Rico Brogna – 540 PA, 119 OPS+, .289/.342/.485

Second Base
Luis Castillo – 295 PA, 67 OPS+, .235/.338/.267
2005 Miguel Cairo – 367 PA, 64 OPS+, .251/.296/.324

Third Base
David Wright – 593 PA, 130 OPS+, .289/.361/.498
1987 Howard Johnson – 645 PA, 133 OPS+, .265/.364/.504

Shortstop
Jose Reyes – 524 PA, 101 OPS+, .286/.322/.427
2004 Kaz Matsui – 509 PA, 88 OPS+ .272/.331/.396

Left Field
Jason Bay – 401 PA, 103 OPS+, .259/.347/.402
2001 Benny Agbayani – 339 PA, 101 OPS+, .277/.364/.399

Center Field
Angel Pagan – 556 PA, 109 OPS+, .289/.342/.432
1986 Mookie Wilson – 415 PA, 115 OPS+ .289/.345/.430

Right Field
Jeff Francoeur – 449 PA, 79 OPS+, .237/.293/.369
2002 Jeromy Burnitz – 550 PA, 80 OPS+, .215/.311/.365

Bench
Carlos Beltran – 207 PA, 92 OPS+, .236/.338/.368
1997 Brian McRae – 162 PA, 92 OPS+, .248/.317/.414

Ruben Tejada – 201 PA, 44 OPS+, .188/.281/.241
1968 Phil Linz – 275 PA, 45 OPS+, .209/.243/.236

Alex Cora – 187 PA, 48 OPS+, .207/.265/.278
1963 Al Moran – 370 PA, 47 OPS+, .193/.274/.230

Josh Thole – 167 PA, 108 OPS+, .297/.377/.385
1963 Jesse Gonder – 134 PA, 110 OPS+, .302/.328/.405

Chris Carter – 155 PA, 86 OPS+, .259/.316/.371
1999 Matt Franco – 161, 88 OPS+, .235/.366/.364

The hardest position was shortstop, as the Mets have not had anyone play a significant number of games and record an OPS+ of 100 or more except for Reyes. There were players who were closer than Matsui to him in OPS+, but they did not have close to the SB or HR that Matsui did.

The comparison that surprised me the most was finding Agbayani show up for Bay. Most Mets fans have a soft place in their heart for Agbayani but few would go that far with Bay. And the most troubling one is to see Gonder show up for Thole. Gonder played 131 games the following season and had a 99 OPS+ as a 28-year old and then never had more than 174 PA the rest of his career.

This was a sobering exercise. To think that this year’s hitters are akin to Phil Linz, Kat Matsui and Rico Brogna is not anything Mets fans want to hear. For my own sanity, I’ll go back to thinking of them as Beltran, Reyes and Wright.

Barajas on comeback trail – now what?

On Thursday, Rod Barajas began his rehab assignment from a strained oblique in the Gulf Coast League (while hitting a three-run home run) and once he is fully healthy to return to the Mets the team will have a difficult decision.

Will the Mets again roster three catchers and have Barajas, Josh Thole and Henry Blanco coexist? Or will they send the future in Thole back to Buffalo? Or will they release Blanco, or Barajas himself?

My feeling is that they will initially have all three on the roster when Barajas comes back, but soon after they will make a decision based upon on how the season is progressing.

While the Mets have broken fans hearts time and time again this year, and amid unflattering off-the field issues popping up (K-Rod’s assault issue with his father-in-law and Johan Santana’s pending civil suit against a woman who claimed he raped her), the Mets are not quite out of it.

It’s hard to fathom, but there is still a lot of baseball to be played and the Mets can make a push, with the operative word being can. If the Mets can make a push, and if Barajas, once activated, can give this team a lift he’ll stick around. His overall numbers are still mediocre (.227 AVG, 12 HR’s and 34 RBI’s) but don’t forget the fact that he carried the team in April and May delivering many clutch hits. Maybe he has one or two good months left in him.

However, by the time Barajas can come back, and they will take it slowly with the way Thole is playing, the Mets will most likely be out of it. If the season is a lost cause and the playoffs are far beyond reach, then I expect the Mets to either try and trade Barajas through waivers or outright release him after giving him a shot to see how he plays after the injury.

Blanco is really not in danger of losing his job as he is a true backup and a good defensive catcher who the staff feels comfortable with.

Thole has impressed the Mets with his hitting approach and sports a nifty .325 AVG and .417 OBP. Thole is certainly the future at catcher and, barring unforeseen circumstances in the off-season, will be the everyday catcher in 2011.

So, if the season goes south with the Mets out of it by the time Barajas is ready to contribute then there is absolutely no need to keep him on the roster as he will certainly not be with the team in 2011.

I like Barajas, who doesn’t? He’s a very likeable guy who plays hard and is a good clubhouse influence. My heart says the Mets will have something to play for and Barajas can have an impact, but my head says the Mets will be out of it and thus it’s time to go with Thole full-time.

Extra painful

The New York Mets (50-48) dropped a 3-2 decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine on a 13th inning walk off home run by James Loney off Oliver Perez (0-4, 6.15). 

It was the Mets 12th walk-off loss of the season. They are now 20-32 on the road and 2-8 on the road trip. The series and the 11-game West Coast trip ends Sunday afternoon.

The Philadelphia Phillies move 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mets in the National League East, beating the Colorado Rockies 10-2.

New York Mets @ Los Angeles Dodgers … recap and boxscore

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Post Game Notes:

Mike Pelfrey (10-5, 4.00) pitched five innings, allowing two runs and six hits (82 pitches/56 strikes).

Rod Barajas left the game in the sixth inning with a strained oblique muscle. He initially aggravated the back muscle, fouling off a 1-1 pitch in the third inning. Barajas was 1-for-3 with a game-tying RBI single in the sixth inning. He also struck out with the bases loaded in the third inning.

Jason Bay had two more hits. Jose Reyes added two hits. The Mets were 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 runners on base.

Raul Valdes pitched two scoreless innings in relief, allowing one hit, two strike outs and one walk. He was pulled after walking the leadoff hitter in the eighth inning.

Manny Acosta made his first appearance since May 21. He was recalled Friday, after Fernando Nieve was designated for assignment. Acosta threw three pitches, struck out Matt Kemp and was relieved. Pedro Feliciano followed, throwing five pitches and recorded two big outs.

Bobby Parnell continues to shine. He pitched two more scoreless innings, striking out two and lowering his season ERA to 1.02.

Elmer Dessens pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing one hit and recording one strike out. He was relieved in the bottom of the 12th by Oliver Perez, making his first appearance since May 31 against the San Diego Padres. Perez induced Andre Either to pop up behind home plate, intentionally walked Rafael Furcal and got Jamey Carroll to ground into a force at second.

###

Post Game Quotes:

Oliver Perez (on giving up the game-winning home run): “It was one mistake. I wanted to throw one down on the corner, but I missed up and he hit it well. Everybody can make mistakes. Today I was the guy who lost the game.”

Jerry Manuel (on Mike Pelfrey): “He’s got to establish that fastball. That’s what I really want to see. That’s what I need to see.”

//

Sink or Swim Time for the Mets

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

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

When will this end? When is enough, enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mets Report Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mets catching options

The Mets spent most of the season trying to sign free agent catcher Bengie Molina. I pointed out here, here and here why this was a bad idea. If you are too lazy to click on the links the main take away point is that catchers age in dog years and the top catchers in terms of HR and RBIs dropped off significantly from their age 34 season to age 35. Molina hit 20 HR and drove in 80 runs as a 34-year old in 2009.

The top 10 catchers in HR and RBIs at age 34 averaged 22.8 HR and 84.2 RBIs. Those same catchers (minus Molina, whose 2010 numbers are not final) averaged 13.8 HR and 59.6 RBIs as 35-year olds. So, how is our pal Molina doing this year? He has 3 HR and 17 RBIs in 55 games played. He is on pace to finish well below average for his 34-year-old peer group. And to top it all off, he has thrown out just 20 percent (10-50) of opposing runners who tried to steal.

Instead, the Mets ended up with Rod Barajas, who got off to a magical start with the bat. After a two-homer game on May 7th, Barajas had a .598 slugging percentage and had 9 HR in 82 ABs.

While Barajas got off to a great start at the plate, Josh Thole, my choice to begin the year as the Mets’ starting catcher, could not hit water if he fell off a boat. In the month of April, Thole had a .172/.242/.259 line. It appeared that the Mets had hit a home run all the way around with their decision at catcher. Molina was no good, Barajas was hitting a HR in nearly one out of every nine ABs and Thole looked overmatched at Triple-A.

But things were not as rosy as they seemed one month into the season. True, Molina continued to be not good but regression hit for both Barajas and Thole. After his 29-game hot streak at the start of the year, Barajas has appeared in 32 games (29 starts) and has a .252/.283/.383 line in his last 113 PA and has hit just 2 HR. Last year, Barajas had a .226/.258/.403 line. So, his OBP-AVG and SLG-AVG marks are not far from where they were in 2009.

Since May 8th, Barajas has an OBP .031 higher than his AVG and a SLG .131 higher than his AVG. In 2009, his marks were .032 and .177 higher, respectively. Right now, Barajas is hitting for a little better AVG and less power, but overall very similar to what he did in 2009. The surprise with Barajas is what he did at the beginning of the year, not what he’s done the last six weeks.

Contrast that with Thole. After hitting over .300 the past two seasons in the minors, it was a big shock to see him struggling so much the first month of the season. As you might expect, Thole was having a hard time with his BABIP. For the first month of the season, his BABIP was .213 compared to a .328 lifetime mark in the category.

But in the two months since then, Thole has returned to his normal ways at the plate. In his last 30 games, Thole is batting .347 (34-98). The big surprise is that he is actually delivering some extra-base hits. After hitting just 1 HR and notching 32 XBH in 384 ABs in the minors last year, Thole has 2 HR and 22 XBH in 156 ABs so far in 2010. He carries a .455 SLG and a .173 ISO compared to .422 and a .094 ISO last season.

Soon, the cries are going to go out to re-sign Barajas, possibly even to a multi-year contract. But before you get on that bandwagon remember that the hitter we have seen the last six weeks is the real Barajas, not the power hitter who opened the season. And also, remember the big dropoff among catchers from their age 34 to age 35 season. Because this year Barajas is in his age 34 season.

Thole does not appear to have taken any step forward with his defense this year, as he has already allowed 6 PB and has thrown out just 16% of opposing baserunners. If R.A. Dickey remains on the club, Henry Blanco (or whoever the backup catcher may be) would probably have to be his personal catcher. But there is virtually no way that Barajas’ defensive edge can make up for Thole’s edge in OBP, which would be at least a 50-point edge and likely closer to 100. For 2010, Barajas has a .275 OBP, right in line with his .283 lifetime mark. Thole has a .360 OBP in Triple-A.

And while it should not mean much to a big-market team like the Mets, not spending on Barajas should free money for elsewhere on the team. Bottom line, I hope the Mets open with a Thole-Blanco catching tandem in 2010.

For another take on Barajas, check out John Strubel’s piece posted just 30 minutes earlier here on the site. You can view that here.

Blanco lives up to reputation

Omar Minaya took a lot of heat this offseason for not doing more in the free agent market. And what moves he did make were criticized, whether it was giving too many years to Jason Bay, too much money to Alex Cora or signing too many backup catchers. But catcher Henry Blanco has lived up to his defensive reputation and is well on his way to becoming a key acquisition for the Mets.

The 38-year-old Blanco was coming off perhaps his finest offensive season last year, when he posted an OPS+ of 96 as the backup catcher in San Diego. But the majority of Blanco’s value has always been on the defensive side of things. Last year he ranked as the seventh-best defensive catcher in baseball according to Devil Fingers, in a system which acts like a counting stat, in that it does not adjust for playing time.

Blanco was Greg Maddux’ personal catcher when he was with the Braves in 2002 and 2003 and he also caught the Hall of Famer in 2005 and 2006 with the Cubs. Starting Chicago backstop Michael Barrett also caught Maddux those latter two seasons, but Maddux pitched much better with Blanco behind the plate. In 2006, Maddux allowed batters a .778 OPS with Barrett behind the plate, compared to a .715 mark with Blanco. In 2005 the numbers were .773 and .673, respectively.

So far this season, Blanco has caught four games and the Mets’ record in those contests is 3-1. Of course, it helps that Blanco has caught two of Mike Pelfrey’s three starts, but perhaps Blanco deserves part of the credit for Pelfrey’s hot start. Rod Barajas caught Pelfrey in his first start, when he allowed two runs in six innings pitched and had a 1.33 WHIP. With Blanco behind the plate, Pelfrey has yet to give up a run in 15 innings and has a 0.87 WHIP.

In 34 innings with Blanco behind the plate, Mets pitchers have allowed a .524 OPS to opposing hitters and have posted a 1.32 ERA, even with Blanco catching an Oliver Perez start. With Barajas those numbers are .752 and 3.90 in 101 innings.

Obviously, these numbers are very small samples. Also, Blanco has yet to catch John Maine (or Johan Santana). And even under the best of circumstances, catcher’s ERA is a flawed statistic. But granting that these numbers are not predictive and we take them knowing their limitations, they are still very impressive.

Even taking Pelfrey out of the equation, the other Mets pitchers have a 2.37 ERA with Blanco behind the dish. Seven Mets relievers (not counting Pelfrey) have combined to post a .186 batting average against with Blanco catching. With Barajas, relievers (again minus Pelfrey) have a .200 batting average against, but also all four HR allowed.

It is a good thing that Blanco is a defensive asset, since he is off to a 1-12 start with the bat.

But fans should hope that Blanco continues to catch Pelfrey, since their work together has been so impressive. And perhaps Jerry Manuel can work the occasional start for Blanco when Perez and Maine are on the mound, too. Those two pitcher could definitely benefit from working with a defensive-minded receiver like Blanco.

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.

Why it's silly to offer Bengie Molina a multi-year deal

A look at free agent catcher Bengie Molina who seemingly heads the Mets’ shopping list this December. The Mets have identified Molina as one of their top offseason targets. This makes no sense to me. Nevertheless, I will go ahead and identify his strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths: Good home run power for a catcher and the Mets believe he is a good handler of pitchers.

Weaknesses: Everything else.

You may think that is snark but really, there is very little reason to think that Molina is a full-time catcher, much less one deserving of a multi-year contract plus a vesting option, which is what is allegedly being offered to him by New York.

The two most important offensive numbers are OBP and SLG. Molina has a .285 OBP and a .442 SLG mark. Among catchers last year with at least 300 ABs, he placed 26th in OBP and ninth in SLG. Last year Molina hit 12 of his 20 HR at home, not an outlandish split. But if we look at the rest of his splits, we see some really ugly numbers.

H – .309/.324/.532
R – .225/.250/.360

Now, you cannot just assume that a player’s road numbers are his true talent level but how can you look at those road numbers and identify this player as one worthy of having on a roster, much less one to target as a starter, much less one to give a multi-year contract to?

Did I mention that Molina will be 35 next season?

Molina’s 20 HR last year is tied for the sixth-highest mark all time for 34-year-old catchers. Here is the Top 10 along with how many HR they hit as a 34 and 35-year old.

Player 34 35
Terry Steinbach 35 12
Elston Howard 28 15
Lance Parrish 24 19
Jorge Posada 23 20
Sherm Lollar 22 7
Bengie Molina 20 ??
Roy Campanella 20 13
Walker Cooper 20 14
Yogi Berra 19 15
Jeff Reed 17 9

Not one player on this list either exceeded or matched his HR total in the following year. Since most of Molina’s offensive value derives from his HR ability, what happens to him if like Steinbach or Lollar, he hits only one-third as many HR as a 35-year old? It would not be accurate to say his value would crater, as that would imply that it was currently at a worthwhile level. Instead, let’s say that it would cause his value to sink even lower beneath Ramon Castro, the catcher the Mets found so lacking last year they virtually gave him away.

The Mets believe that Molina is an asset behind the plate and would do a better job of handling a pitching staff than Omir Santos did last season. There has never been a study that has proven that catchers have an ability to influence a pitching staff to any great degree. Now, that is not the same thing as saying that no ability exists, but it is pretty close.

With things that we can quantify, we find that the 2009 version of Molina was an awful defensive catcher. Devil Fingers at Driveline Mechanics did a detailed post breaking down catchers and had Molina’s defense last year worth -3.4 runs (newly-signed Henry Blanco was worth 5.7 runs).

But let’s ignore the above evidence for a minute. Instead, let’s assume that Molina was a valuable catcher last year (which he was not), is likely to maintain that value going forward (catchers typically age in dog years) and is a lock to play 130 games next season (only 25 catchers in MLB history have caught 130 or more games at age 35 or above).

Instead, let’s look to see who the Mets’ competition for Molina is. Here are the other 29 teams and their options at catcher for 2010:

PHI – Carlos Ruiz/Brian Schneider
ATL – Brian McCann
WAS – Jesus Flores/I-Rod
FLA – John Baker

STL – Yadier Molina
CHC – Geovany Soto
MIL – Greg Zaun
CIN – Ramon Hernandez
HOU – Quintero/Towles
PIT – Ryan Doumit

LAD – Russell Martin
COL – Chris Iannetta
SF – ?/Buster Posey
SD – Nick Hundley
ARI – Miguel Montero/Chris Snyder

NYY – Jorge Posada/Jesus Montero
BOS – Victor Martinez
BAL – Matt Wieters
TAM – Kelly Shoppach
TOR – ??

MIN – Joe Mauer
CHW – AJ Pierzynski/Tyler Flowers
DET – Gerald Laird
CLV – Carlos Santana
KC – Jason Kendall

LAA – Jeff Mathis/Mike Napoli
TEX – Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Taylor Teagarden
OAK – Kurt Suzuki
SEA – Rob Johnson

Besides the Mets, we have San Francisco and Toronto as the only teams definitely looking for a starting catcher. The Indians and the Mariners might be in the market, perhaps even the Padres. Let’s take a look at each of those teams and see how Molina would fit there.

Giants – They might welcome Molina back on a one-year deal but it seems unlikely.
Blue Jays – They cut ties to Rod Barajas, making them the most likely Molina suitor
Indians – Santana is their future, might be interested in a one-year deal, but might not have money to afford Molina, either.
Mariners – Their GM is too smart to give Molina a contract
Padres – Unlikely to offer Molina anywhere near the dollars he is demanding

Basically, it comes down to Toronto. The Mets and Blue Jays are looking for a starting catcher. So far this offseason Kendall, Rodriguez and Schneider have all received two-year contracts, so conventional wisdom says that Molina will want at least a two and probably a three-year deal.

Wouldn’t a prudent strategy for the Mets in regards to Molina to tell him to get an offer and come back to them? Why should they bid against themselves? Toronto may be in the market for a starting catcher, but this is also the same team that decided to give away Alex Rios for free, just to be rid of his contract. This is not a team rolling around in money to give away to a 35-year-old catcher.

Let’s also forget that Josh Thole is likely to provide more value in 2010 than Molina at around 1/20 of the cost. Instead, let’s say that the Mets have to sign a free agent catcher. In addition to Molina and Barajas, John Buck is also on the market. I will list the stats for those three catchers. Tell me which one you would prefer

Player A — .226/.258/.403
Player B — .247/.299/.484
Player C — .265/.285/.442

Those players are listed in alphabetical order, meaning Molina is Player C. It’s easy to prefer him to Barajas (Player A) but would you really feel cheated if you wound up with Buck instead?

Now let’s take the defensive numbers from Devil Fingers. We already have seen Molina at a whopping -3.4 runs, which ranked 102 out of 114 catchers in the study. Barajas ranked 11th overall at 4.2 runs while Buck did even worse than Molina, finishing at 106 with a -4.8 score.

If we add (subtract) these run totals from the WAR listed at FanGraphs (which currently does not include any adjustment for catchers’ defense) we get the following numbers:

Molina: 1.4
Barajas: 1.2
Buck: 0.4

Now, we have to take into account that Molina will be 35 and wants a multi-year deal. Barajas will be 34 and Buck will be 29 and the latter two have made no multi-year demands, quite probably due to the fact they recognize they will be lucky to get any contract offer at all.

So, even if the Mets tell Molina to shop around and come back to them once he has an offer, and he is so put off by that he ends up signing with Toronto just out of spite, the Mets then sign Barajas to a one-year deal for less money and end up better off because of it.

The Molina fascination by the Mets may be the low point in the tenure of general manager Omar Minaya. But Minaya has been linked to many rumors that had him chasing old, overpriced veterans (remember how he was going to give a huge contract to Sammy Sosa?). So perhaps we need to see Molina actually sign a contract before getting too worked up about things.

But make no mistake – Molina is not very good, he has the real possibility of falling off significantly from what he did manage to produce in 2009 and there is no reason whatsoever to offer him a multi-year deal.