Should the Mets re-sign Ronny Paulino?

Catching has not been one of the Mets’ strengths this season. When Sandy Alderson signed Ronny Paulino in the offseason, it appeared to be a very good move, as he seemed an ideal platoon mate for Josh Thole. A Thole-Paulino combo looked liked it could give the Mets above-average production for a minimum investment.

However, neither Thole nor Paulino had the season that could have been expected. Since Thole is younger, cheaper, hits lefty, catches the knuckleball pitcher and came up through the farm system, it seems likely that he will be back. However, Ronny Paulino’s status is much less clear.

The Mets signed Paulino to a one-year contract after he was non-tendered by the Marlins following the 2010 season. As Chris pointed out last week, Paulino is not a free agent following the year. Instead, he is arbitration-eligible. So, should the Mets look to re-sign Paulino or copy what Florida did last year when they walked away from the veteran catcher?

Paulino came to the Mets with a reputation as a lefty masher. In 531 PA versus LHP, Paulino had a .338/.390/.491 line for a .881 OPS. This year in 97 PA versus southpaws, Paulino has a .294/.365/.365 slash line. His ISO versus lefties has dropped from .153 to .071 as he has just six extra-base hits, all doubles, in 85 ABs versus portsiders.

A .730 OPS is not horrible by any means. But when you’re expecting a mark near .900, it’s hard not to be disappointed by what the club has received from Paulino.

Of course defense is also a big part of the equation. Paulino did not have a reputation as a great defensive backstop, but he was thought to be at least average behind the plate. In 485.0 innings defensively this year, Paulino has a -4.0 DRS, which is not good. Mets pitchers have a 4.40 ERA with Paulino catching (4.18 with Thole) and he’s thrown out just 21 percent of opposing baserunners, after eliminating 31 percent of would-be base stealers in both 2010 and 2009.

The Mets gave Paulino a $1.35 million contract for 2011, plus incentives for games started which he will not reach. According to FanGraphs, Paulino has been worth $1.8 million this year but it’s important to remember that value comes with a questionable defensive component, as the only defensive adjustment for catchers in fWAR is Stolen Base Runs Saved.

While there’s probably a further adjustment downward for Paulino’s value this year, he has essentially been worth the contract he was given. But unless he is willing to sign for a similar amount to what he made last year, should Alderson look to bring him back? Do the Mets need more of a Henry Blanco-type tutor for Thole defensively?

The benefits of a defensive-first catcher are obvious for the pitching staff but less so for the other catcher he is allegedly tutoring. Besides, that’s why you have coaches. My feeling is that Paulino’s return will be based more on how Alderson & company view Mike Nickeas rather than the opportunity to add this year’s version of Blanco.

Nickeas appeared to the naked eye to be the best defensive catcher the Mets had this year. He also had a .539 OPS. Will the Mets value Nickeas’ defense to the point where they are willing to sacrifice a spot in the batting order on the days he catches? Or will they gamble on a return to form, both offensively and defensively for Paulino? Or will the monetary defense between Nickeas and Paulino make the decision for the Mets?

It’s just one of a dozen different themes to follow in the offseason.

How will Terry Collins deploy his catchers in 2nd half?

Last year at the All-Star break the Mets were 48-40 and in second place in the NL East. They were a game behind the Dodgers in the Wild Card race. But they started the second half of the season going 2-9 and never recovered. This year the picture at the All-Star break is not nearly as rosy, as the Mets are 46-45 and are in third place in the NL East and 7.5 back in the Wild Card.

The Mets open the second half with a three-game set against the Phillies. It’s hard to imagine a worse way to start, as the Phillies have the best record in baseball and the Mets are just 3-6 against their rival. But last year’s start to the second half looked good, as the Mets started off against two teams with a combined 81-96 record. New York went 1-6 against those two clubs.

One thing in the Mets’ favor is that they avoid both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, along with the injured Roy Oswalt in this series. While they do have to go up against Cole Hamels, the Mets have done well historically against the 2008 World Series MVP. Hamels is just 3-9 lifetime against the Mets in 15 starts, with a 4.22 ERA.

One thing that will be interesting is to see how manager Terry Collins handles his catchers in this series. Recently, Collins has been playing them both equally and not in a strict platoon. Both catchers have been hitting well and have developed a rapport with at least one pitcher in the rotation. Mike Pelfrey has pitched better since being teamed with Ronny Paulino while Jonathon Niese has done likewise with Josh Thole.

Here’s how the Mets’ primary two catchers have fared this season when matched with the five starters:

Chris Capuano
RP — .286/.338/.407
JT — .254/.316/.429

R.A. Dickey
RP — .259/.308/.411
JT — .256/.325/.385

Dillon Gee
RP — .254/.342/.373
JT — .214/.294/.327

Jonathon Niese
RP — .316/.350/.434
JT — .259/.325/.386

Mike Pelfrey
RP — .237/.282/.411
JT — .256/.325/.385

Collins has been trying to pair Paulino with Pelfrey and Thole with Niese. But against the Phillies both catchers would have the platoon disadvantage, as Niese squares off against Hamels and Pelfrey goes up against the righty Kyle Kendrick. Will Collins play Thole against the LHP to keep him with Niese? There’s an increase of 83 points in OPS when Paulino catches Niese.

Two things stand out when looking at these pitcher-catcher pairings besides the Niese and Pelfrey matchups which we’ve already discussed. First, while Thole is often paired with Dickey, there appears to be very little difference in the results if Paulino catches him. With Thole as his catcher, Dickey limits opposing batters to a .710 OPS. With Paulino as his catcher, Dickey has a .719 OPS against.

The other thing is that there is a big difference with Gee. When Paulino catches him, Gee allows a .715 OPS but when Thole is behind the plate, it’s a .621 OPS allowed. All of these pitcher-catcher splits are small samples and in regards to Gee, it could be a chicken-egg thing. Gee has struggled in his last four starts and Paulino has been behind the plate in three of those. Has Gee struggled because of Paulino or has Paulino simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Collins has generally made a lot of good decisions as manager and it will be interesting to see how he handles his catchers going forward. Let’s see if he will give up the platoon advantage to have Thole catch Niese and if he will try to pair Thole and Gee more often in the second half.

Josh Thole outhits Ronny Paulino in last six weeks

Manager Terry Collins has given more playing time recently to Ronny Paulino, essentially splitting time equally behind the plate between Paulino and Josh Thole for the last six weeks. Before the season started, I suggested that the duo would make an ideal platoon team, with Thole getting the majority of the ABs due to being a lefty hitter. But Collins seems to be simply splitting the at-bats, with Paulino getting starts against RHP, but not when Dickey is pitching.

It’s hard to argue with getting Paulino more playing time. He is batting .333 overall and in his last 25 games, he’s batting .346 with an .818 OPS. There’s only one problem here. Over that same time span, Thole has been better. This gets obscured because Thole got off to a terrible start, and his full season numbers look underwhelming, but in the last six weeks, Thole has been better than Paulino.

Here are their stats since May 24th, when Paulino broke out of 1-14 slump with a 2-for-4 game.

RP – .346/.361/.457 for an .818 OPS in 84 PA
JT – .329/.430/.438 for an .869 OPS in 86 PA

Thole has an .869 OPS in this span, 51 points higher than Paulino. Paulino holds the edge in AVG but that’s due to his .391 BABIP in that span. Thole’s BABIP is .348, which is elevated, but much closer to a sustainable mark. Also, Thole has a huge edge in OBP. Plus, when we compare their ISO, we see that Paulino is not making up much ground with his slugging. Paulino’s ISO (SLG-AVG) is .111 while Thole has a .109 ISO.

There is an old joke about the guy who has an ugly scarecrow in the front yard of his suburban house. When his neighbor asks him why, he replies, “It’s to keep the elephants away.” When his neighbor tells him that’s ridiculous because there’s no elephants anywhere close, the man exclaims, “See, it works!”

Some people may claim that Thole is doing better because he cannot handle being the primary catcher. When Paulino’s playing time went up, so did Thole’s average. But that’s the “scarecrow to keep the elephants away” argument.

Thole had a .247 BABIP before May 25th. Thole may not be a great defender. He may not ever hit for much power. But no one doubts that he is a major league hitter. And quite simply, major league hitters with little power do not carry a .247 BABIP over an entire season. Thole was due to start hitting and the fact that it happened when Paulino got hot is merely a coincidence.

If we look back to last year, we see that Thole got off to a horrible start in the minors. At Triple-A Buffalo, Thole posted a .172/.242/.259 line in April. There’s more evidence that Thole is simply a slow starter than there is that he cannot handle the full-time catching duties.

But it is hard to argue with success. So long as Paulino is producing, there’s little reason to change the status quo. However, we can see from last year what happens when Paulino carries a heavy load over an extended period of time.

In his first 74 games, Paulino had a .313/.351/.432 line and nobody on the Marlins was missing the injured John Baker. But in his next 37 games covering 139 PA, Paulino had a .177/.252/.234 slash line and looked wore down before his PED suspension ended his season.

I still think that Thole and Paulino should platoon. Thole gets the majority of the ABs and the charitably-listed 250-pound Paulino stays fresh and ready to mash LHP and Mariano Rivera. But even if you prefer Paulino to get more playing time, please remember that Thole has been the better hitter the past six weeks.

Who Are These Mets?

Four games, 52 runs scored, 69 hits, only three of which were home runs – all hit in a single game and two of those were grand slams.

As Casey Stengel meant to tell us all those many years ago, “The Mets are amazin’.”
Every cylinder of the offense is firing, the pitchers are unfettered by miniscule leads or any kind of deficits, the bullpen is getting rest, the dugout is happy and the sun is shining brighter. It’s been awhile since a stretch like this – five years, to be exact – and I’d forgotten what the feeling is like. The true orange ‘n’ blue in me doesn’t want to trust it, can scarcely believe what I’m seeing. Right now, there’s a pride in this team among its fans which has been missing since 2006. In 2007, there was five-and-a-half months of hubris/entitlement/arrogance and by the end of September…well, seven up with seventeen to play. 2008 was a miniature version of the year before – with the character flaws remaining entrenched. 2009 and 2010 was a deadly mix of bad luck and bad management. The fan base was flattened, the club ridiculed, the ownership in tatters. Enter Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, J. P. Ricciardi and Terry Collins. Even in the face of injuries to two of their major offensive cogs, the 2011 edition seems to have pulled together in a way that those previous squads wouldn’t or couldn’t.

We as fans are starting to salivate, thinking of the day when David Wright returns from his broken back – and what a metaphor that is – and Ike Davis’s dented shinbone appears less catastrophic, but for now, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Jason Bay and a bunch of guys named “Joe” are shooting line drives through any hole available. The names are Angel Pagan, Daniel Murphy, Ronny Paulino – a former Met antagonist in the gold and black of the Pirates – Ruben Tejada, Justin Turner and Jason Pridie. This band of merry men has taken wins from the defending American League champions and the leaders of the American League Central and given the fans thrills they weren’t expecting until 2013 or so. It’s beyond fun.

Now, this could all turn to dust at any minute, just as it arose from nowhere – the baseball gods giveth, the baseball gods taketh away: just ask the Florida Marlins. By the end of August, we fans could be left with no Beltran, no Reyes, no Francisco Rodriguez and only a few more wins than we have right now: in 2010 at this point in the season, the Mets were 44-34 before they basically went oh-for-July. We could still end up looking longingly at 2013.

But for now, I’m going to savor the play of Carlos, Jose and the other guys.

(PS – Since David Einhorn dropped his deuce on the Wilpons on May 26, the Mets have gone 18-14. I’m just sayin’…)

Will Paulino cut into Thole’s playing time?

While Ronny Paulino will not make you forget about Mike Piazza, he could possibly make it easier for you to dismiss Josh Thole and his slow start.

Paulino has come back from the DL with authority.

Although it’s a very small sample size, the club likes what it sees in Paulino. Paulino is 7-13 thus far and is hitting righties just as well as lefties (he is 3-4 against lefties and 4-9 against righties).

Paulino has even delivered in the clutch.

In the 14th inning in a game none of us will likely ever forget (obviously in reference to the news of Osama bin Laden being captured and killed breaking during the game), Paulino delivered the game-winning RBI with a double off the Phillies’ Kyle Kendrick. This was a game the Mets had to have. Mind you this was Paulino’s first ever game as a Met, and he introduced himself to Mets’ faithful with a career high five hits.

Paulino has now started two games (one against a righty in Tim Lincecum). Paulino was also expected to start in Thursday’s game vs. the Giants (naturally against lefty Jonathan Sanchez).

It was a long and arduous road for Paulino to finally play for the Mets.

First there was a 50-game suspension he had to serve for violating MLB’s drug program. Then there were visa issues prior to camp. A bout with anemia and an oblique strain had him miss the opening month as well.

But now that he is back and swinging a hot bat, Paulino is cutting into Thole’s time behind the plate. So, just how much playing time does Paulino get over Thole going forward?

Is this eventually going to morph into a righty/lefty platoon as we thought all along? Or is one catcher going to emerge, and could that catcher eventually be Paulino?

Obviously the Mets see Thole as the catcher of the future, but right now Terry Collins is riding the hot hand in Paulino. Thole has struggled mightily of late as his bating average has dropped to .253, with his OBP now a meek .308. Thole has only three extra base hits in 83 at-bats with eight RBI’s.

Playing time at catcher could depend a lot on how the Mets play as a team in the coming weeks.

With not much on the line at the end of last year, Thole got extended playing time in favor of grizzled vets like Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco. Thole played well enough that the Mets traded away Barajas.

Paulino was signed in the off-season to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million. The Mets don’t have a lot invested in Paulino, considering he is a .276 career hitter. So, it’s not like they got to play him.

At this point, whoever is playing better will simply get more playing time.

But with the Mets in a hole right now and six games below .500 (8.5 games back of the Phillies), it makes enough sense to ride the hot hand in Paulino.

As for Thole, just chalk it up to growing pains. He is adjusting and learning the game while pitchers around the league are exploiting his weaknesses. Another point to consider is Thole isn’t exactly lighting it up on defense and his arm has teams running at will on him (he has only thrown out four of 26 baserunners)

Eventually Thole should right the ship and make Paulino the back-up catcher the Mets envisioned him being in the first place. For now, enjoy Ronny mania!

Mets’ Thole and Paulino could be elite catching duo

The Mets’ catching situation in 2011 is potentially a team strength, but that fact has been all but lost given all of the hoopla around the ownership situation plus speculation how the big guns will do. Before we look at what the Mets might get from Josh Thole and Ronny Paulino this year, let’s look at what all teams got from the catching spot in 2010.

Rk PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
1 ATL 689 579 81 158 37 2 22 98 5 3 93 122 .273 .380 .458 .838 265
2 PHI 631 545 71 154 36 2 15 76 0 1 76 93 .283 .377 .439 .815 239
3 CIN 649 567 65 168 34 1 13 91 12 5 63 84 .296 .375 .429 .804 243
4 MIN 678 602 86 179 46 2 10 76 1 3 59 80 .297 .364 .430 .795 259
5 BOS 692 630 82 172 39 0 27 95 1 0 55 100 .273 .330 .463 .793 292
6 CHC 628 548 70 141 36 1 19 75 1 1 74 148 .257 .343 .431 .774 236
7 NYY 648 545 66 144 32 4 13 80 4 2 78 104 .264 .364 .409 .773 223
8 SFG 672 609 79 167 28 2 21 76 0 2 47 93 .274 .333 .430 .764 262
9 TOR 621 579 71 154 29 0 27 80 1 0 23 146 .266 .304 .456 .760 264
10 ARI 655 574 66 141 35 2 20 80 1 1 73 157 .246 .332 .418 .750 240
11 CHW 652 603 65 165 33 0 18 79 5 4 30 72 .274 .314 .418 .732 252
12 COL 661 594 77 146 23 7 21 81 8 4 56 173 .246 .314 .414 .728 246
13 SDP 658 588 63 153 31 2 14 75 7 10 56 131 .260 .325 .391 .716 230
14 LAD 648 559 64 144 23 0 10 56 6 2 72 107 .258 .348 .352 .701 197
15 BAL 639 571 51 144 27 2 10 65 1 1 59 114 .252 .321 .359 .680 205
16 STL 656 586 45 154 22 0 10 80 7 4 49 72 .263 .327 .352 .679 206
17 MIL 658 586 59 139 28 1 15 66 5 2 61 99 .237 .311 .365 .676 214
18 LAA 592 542 59 120 27 3 20 68 6 1 34 162 .221 .274 .393 .667 213
19 NYM 627 572 56 136 23 1 17 56 2 0 41 91 .238 .294 .371 .665 212
20 CLE 612 525 67 114 36 0 11 59 10 1 72 113 .217 .315 .349 .663 183
21 PIT 634 564 48 123 22 1 17 62 1 0 59 118 .218 .300 .351 .651 198
22 OAK 678 615 68 142 22 2 16 82 4 2 47 90 .231 .295 .351 .646 216
23 TBR 653 559 74 122 25 2 10 54 3 1 75 115 .218 .319 .324 .643 181
24 WSN 642 605 46 154 30 1 9 71 2 3 25 99 .255 .285 .352 .637 213
25 FLA 647 585 52 132 33 3 9 58 2 0 52 137 .226 .289 .338 .628 198
26 KCR 675 605 52 157 29 0 1 61 14 8 46 74 .260 .316 .312 .628 189
27 DET 622 557 51 124 24 0 12 55 5 3 52 119 .223 .294 .330 .624 184
28 TEX 631 546 52 116 16 1 13 59 1 2 52 113 .212 .288 .317 .605 173
29 HOU 593 551 47 121 22 1 9 39 3 4 35 122 .220 .269 .312 .582 172
30 SEA 599 541 50 109 25 0 10 42 1 2 43 146 .201 .263 .303 .566 164
TOT 19340 17232 1883 4293 873 43 439 2095 119 72 1657 3394 .249 .319 .381 .701 6569
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/13/2011.

The average works out to 645 PA with a .249/.319/.381 slash line. Last year the Mets were below average across the board with the production from their catchers. Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco combined for 407 PA of lousy performance. The only silver lining was that Barajas combined all of his positive production in the first five weeks of the season.

Barajas was sold to the Dodgers last season and the Mets cut ties with Henry Blanco after the year was over. Thole performed well in his first extended shot in the majors last year and the club brought on Paulino as a free agent. Allegedly, it is an open competition between the two for the starting job. However, the two seemed destined for a platoon situation and their splits suggest it could be an ideal match. Here are their career numbers:

Thole versus RHP – .309/.382/.401
Paulino vs. LHP — .338/.390/.491

All enthusiasm should be tempered by the fact that Thole has just 246 PA in the majors versus righties while Paulino has but 531 versus lefties. But for the sake of argument, let’s say the above numbers are accurate representations of their true talent and are also what they will deliver in 2011. What could the Mets get from the catching position this season?

Let’s assume that the Mets get last year’s MLB average of 645 PA from their catchers and that Thole gets 2/3 of those and Paulino gets the remainder. That works out to 430 PA for Thole and 215 for Paulino. Since Thole has 246 lifetime PA versus RHP, let’s multiply his numbers by 1.7 to get him up to 430 PA. Likewise, since Paulino has lifetime PA versus LHP, let’s multiply his numbers by 0.4 to get him down to 215 PA. Here’s what their respective lines would look like:

PA Hits 2B 3B HR BB K AVG OBP SLG
Thole 430 114 12 3 5 44 43 .309 .382 .401
Blanco 215 66 10 0 6 16 27 .338 .390 .491
Total 645 180 22 3 11 60 70 .311 .383 .417

An .800 OPS would have been the fourth-best mark for any team in MLB last year, trailing just the Braves, Phillies and the Reds. The Mets will be paying roughly $1.75 million for their catchers this season, with Paulino getting $1.35 and Thole getting somewhere around minimum wage. By contrast, the Braves will pay over $8 million to McCann and Ross; the Phillies will pay $4.25 million to Ruiz and Schneider and the Reds will pay roughly $3.5 million for Hernandez and Hanigan.

Obviously, other catchers besides Thole and Paulino will get PAs this year for the Mets. Paulino opens the year on the suspended list so Mike Nickeas is likely to catch at least one game in that span. But it is not out of the question for the team’s catchers to have an OPS near .800 this season, compared to the .665 they received from the position in 2010. How many teams have the realistic potential for an increase of 135 points of OPS from any position?

Among full-time catchers last year, John Buck had the closes OPS to what we might expect from the Mets’ duo, with an .802 mark. According to FanGraphs, Buck had a 2.9 WAR. The three primary catchers for the Mets last year combined for a 2.1 WAR. The Mets could be looking at an additional win just from their catchers this season if all goes according to plan.

So, while a lot of things this season for the Mets revolve around players staying healthy and getting back to former elite levels, all the Mets need is for their two catchers to hit their career averages. If they do that, the club will receive terrific production at a cut-rate cost. It is possible that the Mets will receive top-5 production from their catchers while paying bottom-5 dollars for the position.

Mets should embrace platooning in 2011

After avoiding platoons for most of the past few seasons, the Mets could be moving back to this strategy in 2011, with potential platoon situations at both catcher and second base. With the LaRussification of bullpen usage, platoons have fallen out of favor throughout the majors in recent years, as spots that would go to platoon bats when teams carried 10 pitchers now go instead to sixth and seventh relievers.

Most people expect the Mets to go with a platoon at catcher, where Josh Thole has a lifetime .309/.382/.401 mark versus RHP in the majors and newly-acquired Ronny Paulino has a .338/.390/.491 career mark against southpaws. If these two can match these totals in 2011, the Mets could have one of the most productive catching tandems in baseball.

But what has gotten less attention is the possibility for a similar situation at second base. Daniel Murphy’s career numbers against righties – .282/.340/.436 – could team quite nicely with either Luis Castillo (.292/.361/.417) or Brad Emaus (currently sporting a .448 split in the Dominican Winter League) getting the at-bats versus lefties for an effective offensive duo.

The Mets have a long history of platooning. Casey Stengel, the team’s first manager, is generally credited with bringing platooning back to the majors in the late 1940s, after the practice had essentially been abandoned. Platooning has roots back to the early 1900s. Historian Bill James credits the 1906 Tigers as having the first platoon, with three people sharing the catching position.

When Stengel managed the Mets, he ran several platoons, including one at first base. Gil Hodges had great success as a part-timer in 1962, as he batted .390/.446/.712 in 65 PA versus southpaws. So, it is little surprise that Hodges used platoons extensively when he became Mets manager.

In the World Championship year of 1969, Hodges tinkered extensively with his lineups. By the end of the season, he was platooning at three infield positions. First base had Donn Clendenon and Ed Kranepool alternating; second base had Al Weiss and Ken Boswell splitting at-bats and third base saw either Ed Charles or Wayne Garrett in the lineup depending upon the pitcher.

The common perception is that Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda platooned during the season but a look at the game logs does not support this. Shamsky missed all of April with a back injury and did not make his first start until May 13th. He was generally in the lineup for the rest of the season, although he saw time in both left field and right field and even saw a handful of games at first base. Swoboda was essentially the regular RF in September.

Shamsky and Swoboda did platoon in the World Series, with Shamsky’s only start coming in Game Three against RHP Jim Palmer. Shamsky’s .863 OPS during the season was the second-highest mark on the club, yet he had fewer ABs in World Series than Jerry Koosman.

The 1986 Mets also platooned, with Wally Backman and Tim Teufel sharing time at second base. By the end of the season, Kevin Mitchell was a semi-regular versus LHP and Mookie Wilson also saw considerable time versus southpaws.

Fans of the 2011 club should embrace the Thole-Paulino platoon. We should also be open to a time share at second base. While platooning has not been a staple of recent editions of the team, the Mets have had great success with the strategy throughout their history.

Christmas wishes for the 2011 Mets

The Mets have already had their team Christmas party but they must have decided this year not to exchange gifts. Now, you may be wondering what millionaires give as gifts or what millionaires want to receive as gifts. I cannot answer that question. But I can tell you what players on the Mets really need. So, with Christmas right around the corner, I’d like to hand out my presents.

Jason Bay – A home run on Opening Day. Last offseason everyone was worried about Wright’s lost home run power and the bomb he hit on Opening Day propelled him to 29 homers in 2010.

Pedro Beato – A spot in the Mets’ bullpen. This is a great story waiting to happen, the guy the Mets let get away who switches roles and winds back with his hometown team. Now it just needs a happy ending.

Carlos Beltran – A season of 650 PA in which he hits like he did at the end of last season. In his final 160 PA, Beltran hit .295/.369/.504 which is close to what he did in 2007-08.

Luis Castillo – A trade out of town. There’s still good baseball left in Castillo’s body, but Mets fans are so down on him that, much like with Kaz Matsui, it’s likely not to be in New York. After Matsui left the Mets, he posted an .896 OPS the rest of 2006, after opening with a .505 mark with New York. It’s easy to see the same thing happening with Castillo.

Ike Davis – A copy of The Fielding Bible. Any player who advanced fielding metrics rank so highly should understand what makes him good defensively. Hint: It’s not fielding percentage. The last thing we need is to develop another guy like Joe Morgan, who seems clueless as to what it was that made him great.

R.A. Dickey – Continued success throwing strikes.

Dillon Gee – Two free agent starting pitching signings. While I root for Gee, who gets the most out of his stuff, odds are stacked against him succeeding as a starting pitcher over a full season. He is a great guy to have as pitching depth, a guy to make 10 starts a year. Counting on him for more than that is just inviting trouble. Sure, he had a 2.18 ERA last year. Gee also had a 5.19 xFIP. It’s reminiscent of Fernando Nieve, who had a 2.95 ERA in 2009 but a 5.41 xFIP. Nieve posted a 6.00 ERA in 2010.

Daniel Murphy – No defensive gaffes in Spring Training. Murphy can be a nice asset offensively at second base and the possibility for an exciting platoon with Rule 5 selection Brad Emaus exists if both can hack it defensively.

Jonathon Niese – A normal year in LOB%. Last year Niese had three months with a strand rate over 79, including July when it was a whopping 98 percent. Conversely, he had three months below 63, including September when it was 54.1 percent. His July ERA was 2.48 and it was 7.11 in September.

Angel Pagan – A set position. Last year Pagan played all three outfield spots and batted in all nine slots in the order. It would be nice if Terry Collins brought some stability to Pagan’s life.

Bobby Parnell – A pitch to throw to lefties. Last year RHB had a .614 OPS against Parnell while LHB had an .806 mark. If only our pitching coach had a track record of adding to his troops’ arsenal.

Ronny Paulino – Contentment in a platoon role. Paulino is on record as saying he wants to be a full-time catcher and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to play everyday. But a Thole-Paulino platoon has the makings of one of the best offensive tandems in baseball.

Mike Pelfrey – As many starts in Citi Field as the Mets can manage. The past two seasons, Pelfrey has the following home/road splits:

H: 16-8, 3.24 ERA, 5.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
R: 9-13, 5.84 ERA, 4.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Oliver Perez – An early release. Sandy Alderson wants to give him a shot in Spring Training. May he pitch so poorly that the Mets release him in time for him to hook on with another club, preferably one in the National League East.

Jose Reyes – Better strike zone judgment. In 2004, 62.1 percent of the pitches thrown to Reyes were in the strike zone. Last year that number was down to 44.6 percent as pitchers knew they could get him to chase pitches. His O-Swing% was a career-high 32.1 percent last year.

Francisco Rodriguez – A “boo” holiday from the fans. Rodriguez pitched well before everything came crashing down last year. Now fans seem more interested in him not reaching his vesting option than they do in having him successfully close out games. While Rodriguez is far from the only player capable of finishing games, Mets fans would do well to remember what it was like down the stretch in 2008 after Billy Wagner was hurt.

Johan Santana – A calendar year without surgery.

Josh Thole – A quick start to the season. Last year he had a .172/.242/.259 line in April. With a new backup catcher who wants to be a full-timer, a hot start for Thole could ensure optimal usage for both players.

David Wright – A hitting coach that makes him stand close to the plate. Maybe he can’t stop swinging at high fastballs or low curves but at least this way he can reach the outside strike. May he and Dave Hudgens get off to a good start together.

Terry Collins – What he needs is 150 games from Bay, Beltran and Reyes. Of course, it would be nice to see him run a tighter, smarter ship than Jerry Manuel did.

Sandy Alderson – The courage to make the right deal at the trading deadline. Perhaps it’s pulling the trigger on a potential Beltran deal. Hopefully it’s to acquire a starting pitcher to bolster the rotation for a playoff run. But since Omar Minaya seemingly never made a key mid-season deal, may Alderson trump his predecessor in this area, too.

*****

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all the readers of Mets360. Thanks for checking us out throughout the year and hopefully 2011 will be better than what we’ve experienced the past few years.

Alderson’s first moves make sense, not headlines

Prior to the Winter Meetings, general manager Sandy Alderson promised he would come home with some new players. Tuesday, he kept that promise by signing free agents Ronny Paulino and D.J. Carrasco. Paulino is a righty-hitting catcher while Carrasco is a rubber-armed reliever and both players do a nice job of filling roles on the 2011 Mets.

First off, Paulino is big. He is one of the few major league players I have actually stood next to and my first reaction was: Who is this guy? Paulino is listed at 6’3, 250 pounds and he is every bit that size, perhaps even a little bigger. Which brings us to the fact that Paulino will not be eligible until the second week of the 2011 season because he was suspended last August for using a banned substance.

The first thing people think of when they hear “suspended for a banned substance” is steroids. The first thing players say when the suspension hits is that it was some substance besides steroids. In Paulino’s case, he claimed he was using a diet pill that contained a banned substance. That claim at least seems possible and I trust that the Mets’ front office did their due diligence on this subject.

It would be hard to come up with a player who was more unlike current Mets catcher Josh Thole. Paulino is a righty with the ability to hit the ball out of any park. Thole is a lefty who chokes up on the bat and gets on base at a very nice rate for a catcher. They should complement each other very nicely. It’s possible new manager Terry Collins will adapt a strict platoon at catcher. Here are their lifetime stats with the platoon advantage:

Thole versus RHP – .309/.382/.401
Paulino vs. LHP – .338/.390/.491

It’s easy to read too much into these numbers, as Thole has compiled these in just 246 PA while Paulino has but 531 under his belt. But if they are able to do this for a full year, with Thole logging 400 PA and Paulino grabbing 200 – they could potentially put up a combined .315/.385/.435 line as the team’s catcher. A combined .820 OPS would give the Mets one of the best offensive catching tandems around, all for less than $2 million.

If Paulino comes back and approximates the player he has been previously, no sure thing given the suspension, this could be a fantastic signing. Even if the worst happens and Paulino’s offense disappears when he comes back, the Mets are only obligated for one season. It’s hard to imagine the Mets doing better with their backup catcher.

Meanwhile, Carrasco gives the team an experienced arm in the bullpen. Given that the Mets have only two relievers – Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell – as definites in the 2011 pen, this was a needed addition.

While not the lefty that many fans wanted to see for the bullpen, Carrasco does offer durability and the option for Collins to use him in back-to-back games. Last year Carrasco appeared in 63 games and made back-to-back appearances 12 times.

And while the righty Carrasco fares better against RHB he is not awful against lefties. Last year he limited LHB to a .260/.333/.375 line and for his career lefties have a .789 OPS against Carrasco. He is not someone to bring in to face Ryan Howard, but at least he does not turn the average lefty batter into Josh Hamilton, as some righties do.

Carrasco throws virtually every pitch in the book, with his cutter being his top weapon. He’s not overpowering, but he gets hitters to chase balls out of the strike zone. Carrasco had a career-best 7.47 K/9 last year. His main problem is control. He has a career 3.74 BB/9 and last year it was 3.91. If he can keep the walks under control, Carrasco will be an asset in middle relief. The Mets signed him to a two-year deal for $2.5 million or less money than Pedro Feliciano made last year.

So, as expected Alderson made two low-cost moves and as expected these moves on the surface seem to address specific needs. Not only did he sign a backup catcher, he got one that fit well with Thole. Not only did he get a reliever, he got one that could potentially get LHB out on a regular basis and limit the club’s need for a LOOGY.

These are not sexy moves like signing one of the top free agents on the market. Instead these are moves that barely register with the average fan. Welcome to the 2010-11 offseason. While these may be yawn-inducing during the cold winter months, they are the types of moves that could pay big dividends during the regular season. And even if they blow up, neither player will hamstring the club long-term.