What’s the breaking point for cutting the cord on Ruben Tejada?

A few weeks back I penned a column lauding the decent start Ruben Tejada was off to. And as if it was a foreshadowing of things to come, Tejada has now gone into a miserable slump and is once again losing time to backup Omar Quintanilla.

Tejada is now sporting a paltry .200/.324/.217 slash line to go with just one extra base hit and four RBI’s.

Yuck.

So, with Tejada slipping back into oblivion, it begs the question once again: how much longer can the Mets get by with him as their starting shortstop?

At some point the logical conclusion is to finally cut bait with Tejada and admit failure and move on to a new plan. When you combine all his troubles of last year and the inauspicious start he is off to this year, sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade and part ways.

Maybe this is the time to finally dial Scott Boras and inquire about Stephen Drew and relent while coming to some sort of compromise. If this is a game of chicken, maybe it’s time for Sandy Alderson to blink first because status quo is just not cutting it.

What ails Tejada is perhaps the same thing that ailed long-time embattled ex-first baseman Ike Davis. That being, he was never really comfortable with the club knowing that he was not particularly wanted on top of  all the negativity surrounding him. Tejada is not exactly in an environment to succeed.

It seems very unlikely that Tejada is capable of turning his career around in New York, at least not up to the Mets’ standards. At this point it seems inconceivable that Tejada will ever approach hitting the way he did in 2012, when he hit .288.

Tejada will probably be nothing more than a weak hitting middle infielder who’s capable of making the occasional nice defensive play (to his credit he’s made some sensational plays in the field thus far). He is what he is, though. His upside is clearly limited with the Mets.

So, Mets’ management, maybe you should cave in and make a call to either Boras about Drew or inquire about Didi Gregorius in Arizona or perhaps Nick Franklin in Seattle.  Because, it just doesn’t seem Tejada will ever recapture some of his early-career promise.

If you can say goodbye to Davis, certainly you can say goodbye to Tejada.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Ruben Tejada making most of his opportunity

Although he ended the Mets furious rally against Craig Kimbrel and the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night with a strikeout, it’s time we put aside our prejudices and  applaud Ruben Tejada for providing solid play at shortstop out of the gate.

Sure, Tejada is no world beater, but who said he had to be? It’s not like he’s been awful to start the season.

After Wednesday night’s o-fer, Tejada is now batting .240 to go along with a solid .345 OBP and meager .280 slugging percentage. Again, nothing earth shattering, but not abysmal either.

All offseason and into the spring, the Mets searched far and wide and made their intentions known that they were in the market for a new shortstop for 2014. It couldn’t have been more obvious. They courted Jhonny Peralta hard, but he went on to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals. They have also been involved in talks with the Arizona Diamondbacks (for either Didi Gregorius or Chris Owings) and the Seattle Mariners (for either Brad Miller or moreover Nick Franklin) regarding their surplus at the shortstop position.

The Mets have even kept tabs on free agent Stephen Drew, but he unfathomably is still unsigned.

Alas, noting came to fruition in the offseason and for a matter of speaking, the Mets were basically stuck with Tejada. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, yet that is where the Mets and Tejada stand today.

A lot of people in the Mets organization have bee put off by Tejada’s perceived lack of hustle and determination to get better. Many believe his work ethic is second rate and that he rarely plays the game with the passion you want from a shortstop.

With all the people (including fans) that don’t want him being the Mets shortstop, Tejada is not playing all that bad in the face or major adversity. He’s been ok at the bottom of the lineup and is playing solid defense in the field.

When you’re basically persona non grata, it’s hard to do your job and do so effectively. But credit Tejada for making the most of his opportunity this season.

That said, how much time does Tejada have left with the Mets?

If Tejada ever goes into a prolonged slump (as he’s destined to do), those clamoring for a new shortstop will consume Queens. Writers will write about it, bloggers will blog about it and fans will make their presence known on social media that Tejada is not cutting it. They will make it tough on Tejada—as if it hasn’t been bad enough—to succeed in New York.

Will Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson cave into pressure and ultimately sign Drew or reengage in talks with the Diamondbacks and the Mariners?

That remains to be seen.

The consensus opinion, though, is that Tejada is not long for the Mets and maybe a spit is indeed in the future. But for the time being, Tejada is making the most of a sticky situation and not being a complete mes out on the field.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

What will Ruben Tejada’s role with the Mets be?

tejadaWhile he is not lighting the world on fire in Las Vegas, eventually Ruben Tejada will be called backed up to the majors when rosters expand in September. From there, what kind of role can we expect of Tejada once he arrives?

Obviously, nothing should be handed to Tejada, as he has been horrible from the get go this season. He has struggled mightily in both Las Vegas and in the majors. With the Mets, Tejada has posted a measly .209/.267/.262  slash line, while in Vegas, it isn’t that much better: .267/ .267/.262

However, do the Mets really consider current shortstop Omar Quintanilla part of the future? Probably not. It actually is a position the Mets will probably want to upgrade in the offseason, as both Tejada and Quintanilla are clearly not cutting it, at least from an offensive perspective.

So, with both players struggling, and with no other great options in the minors, it seems at the very least that Terry Collins should go with a platoon.

While Collins has expressed his love for Quintanilla on many occasions, it’s not like Quintanilla is thriving in this spot, as he too has a weak .225/.311./.293 slash line. Is Quintanilla’s defense that much better, that when Tejada comes up, Tejada should still sit the majority of games?

Chew on this. Quintanilla is 32, while Tejada is 23.

With that said, why should a guy (Quintanilla), who is only doing marginally better than what Tejada did earlier in the year—and is nine years older—being given this much preference?

Again, Tejada may not be the future either, and he does have to earn his playing time. But given the fact that Tejada is much younger, he should at least be a given a fair chance at playing time in September. This way it will give the Mets a better grasp on whether or not Tejada can be part of the Mets’ future.

Quintanilla should be commended for giving this team a spark when he was initially called up, as he was clearly a better option at the time over Tejada, but whatever luster there was, it has since worn off.

September should be the time Tejada is given one, final hard look to see if he can be the Mets starting shortstop for 2014. If he fails, then it’s clear the Mets have to look outside the organization for help.

Ruben Tejada: Another struggling Met that needs a fire lit under him

Yeah, yeah, let’s talk about yet another struggling Mets’ regular.

We have already discussed the struggles of Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and John Buck, so it’s time we focus on another staple of the Mets’ lineup in Ruben Tejada.

In the early parts of the season, it was Tejada’s defense that had some fans nervous, but since May and perhaps with the temperature rising, Tejada’s glove has been steady ever since. No, we’re here to talk about his offense.

Just like Davis, Tejada has been a shell of his former self.

For the last couple of years, Tejada proved to be a steady bat. While he is no world beater, Tejada was more than adequate,  hitting .289 last year and a .284 in 2011. Tejada was also solid at getting on base, as he had a .360 on base percentage last year and a .333 mark in 2011.

However, just like most of the Mets, Tejada is immersed in a prolonged slump to start the 2013 season—even going all the way back to the beginning of spring training. Thus far, Tejada is only spotting a measly .217/.287/.280 slash line with just nine doubles and 10 RBI’s (Side note, it’s quite sad that Tejada has more RBI’s than Davis).

A problem for Tejada is his dip in line drive percentage.

Tejada is not hitting line drives at the rate he was in the last couple of years. In his first three years in the majors, Tejada incrementally boosted his line drive rates from 22 percent in his rookie year to a healthy 27 percent last year. This year Tejada’s line drive rate has dipped to just 20 percent. It seems Tejada is getting under the ball and flying out way too much (this particularly gets under the skin of Keith Hernandez). His .254 BABIP is also not doing him any favors either.

The thing with Tejada is that it is very hard to sit him due to the lack of options behind him. In fact, the Mets don’t really have a suitable backup to play shortstop, as Justin Turner can only play there in a pinch.

So this begs the question, when do the Mets make a play to call up Omar Quintanilla from Las Vegas?

I’d say it’s time that Quintanilla gets the call for the sole purpose of lighting a fire under Tejada. The message being that if Tejada doesn’t get his act in gear, he may see more time on the bench. Even on his own merits, Quintanilla is worthy of being recalled. Quintanilla is a solid stop-gap shortstop with a good glove who did enjoy some moderate success with the club last year.

Of course, Quintanilla is not the future at short for the Mets. But for the time being, a message has to be sent to Tejada. He has to start playing like he did the last two years or he could be looking at a reduced role.

Ruben Tejada’s struggles in the field are troubling

While we were worried about his hitting in Spring Training, the last thing we thought we’d have to worry about from Ruben Tejada was his defense.

Well, after an abysmal start defensively, Tejada (six errors thus far) is causing a lot of headaches for a Mets’ team with little margin for error. Tejada has been the poster boy for bad defense by the Mets. In their first 13 games, the Mets have committed 10 errors-seventh most in the majors. The Mets have also the seventh worst fielding percentage (.973) while possessing the fifth worst UZR (-5.1). And all this is with Daniel Murphy at second base! And no, you can’t blame him anymore!

The most stirring display of shoddy defense from Tejada was in Tuesday’s second game of a doubleheader in Colorado. In the eighth inning with the Mets up 8-6 with runners on second and third and two outs, the Rockies’ Michael Cuddyer hit a routine bouncer to Tejada. It should have been an easy 6-3 ground out, but instead Tejada sailed the throw past Ike Davis and as a result, the two tying runs scored and predictably the Rockies would win in extra innings.

As like any other Mets’ fan, I too am puzzled as to why Tejada is struggling this much. Sure, you can blame some of the recent mishaps to the cold weather the Mets have been playing in, but Tejada is better than that.

For a team that is relying on many contact pitchers (save Matt Harvey), the defense has to be above-average and thus far it has been nothing short of pathetic. They say you are only as strong defensively as you are up the middle. Who knew Tejada would be the liability in this instance?

Mets’ manager Terry Collins stresses fundamentals and with him not getting any reliance from Tejada on this front, when will Collins send a message and sit Tejada?

You see that’s the problem. With Omar Quintanilla in Las Vegas, the Mets really don’t have a suitable back-up shortstop, with Justin Turner only available to help out in a pinch. So, with all of Tejada’s struggles, when do we see Quintanilla get recalled from Vegas? If I’m a betting man (and no, this is not a joke as to where Quintanilla calls home right now), I surmise it will be sooner rather than later.

Some message has to be sent, as the Mets can’t be getting this kind of defensive production from Tejada or the Mets could sink faster than the Titanic. With the Mets off to a decent enough start, why jeopardize it even more with continuously bad defense?

Tejada has proven to be a reliable and trusted defender before and once the weather cooperates, Tejada should settle into a groove. For the time being, though, fundamentals are important and Tejada is turning a blind eye to it.

Tejada has to slow the game down, concentrate and not be so hasty on the field. Eventually, Tejada should turn it around.

Are Ruben Tejada’s spring struggles a reason for concern?

After going 0-3 in the Mets’ 6-2 exhibition win over the Houston Astros on Wednesday night, Ruben Tejada is now batting .080 in Spring Training while also struggling to make consistent contact.

At what first was a promising start when he hit a home run off the Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg in early preseason action, Tejada has taken a nosedive ever since. Tejada’s spring slash line is an unsightly and forgettable .080/.193/.160. At least Tejada is making contact when he gets out, as he has struck out only eight times in 50 at-bats. Still the results have been ugly.

So, with the mantra that Spring Training (specifically spring training stats) means nothing, are we making too much about nothing?

Well, yes and no.

As long as Tejada’s gets this slump out of his system and takes a different approach at the plate when the games count for real, then yes, these awful stats can be brushed aside. However, if this funk continues we could be looking at a potential serious problem.

As has been noted before and especially in our series projections, Tejada does well when he hits line drives, but so far this spring Tejada is putting too many fly balls and ground balls in play. Is he trying to hit for power? For Tejada to get back into his comfort zone, he has to spray line drives to all parts of the field. It’s obvious that Tejada is not going to be much of a power hitter and without a good set of wheels to work with Tejada has to make good, consistent contact to be a valuable part of the offense.

Hopefully, Tejada gets back to basics and returns to the form he displayed in 2012. After replacing Mets’ legend Jose Reyes, Tejada did a great job transitioning as the Mets’ new shortstop. Tejada had a career year en route to posting a more than respectable .288/.333/.351 slash line.

With less pressure on him this year and apparently in better shape (remember Tejada only appeared in 114 games last year); Tejada should feel more at ease at the plate this season. But, again, the thing with Tejada is he relies on so many line drives for hits. The fluctuation of good line drive rates from year to year can be very volatile.

So while you can brush this off as just a spring tune-up, if Tejada does get off to a slow start then we can be looking at a regression for Tejada. That’s something no Mets’ fans want to hear.

The baseball skills of Ruben Tejada and Jordany Valdespin

I ain’t an athlete lady, I’m a ballplayer.”

That’s the famous quote from John Kruk, after a woman questioned his conditioning after seeing him drinking beer and smoking cigarettes at a restaurant during Spring Training one year. Kruk’s listed height and weight over at Baseball-Reference is 5’10, 170. The former is likely right, the latter likely off somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 pounds by the time he retired.

I thought of that Kruk quote Sunday, when Ruben Tejada was thrown out stealing by about five feet, despite getting a good jump on the pitch and the opposing catcher double-clutching before making the throw. Unlike Kruk, Tejada is 5’11, 185 pounds and looks like a traditional cut athlete, one who we would assume was a fast runner.

In this Olympic year, if Tejada and Jordany Valdespin competed one-on-one in a decathlon, I have little doubt that Valdespin would smoke him. It would not surprise me in the slightest if Valdespin would win all 10 events.

Valdespin’s an athlete while Tejada’s a baseball player.

Tejada’s not fast and he has little over-the-fence power. In 810 ABs in the majors, Tejada has 2 HR. Meanwhile, in 127 ABs this year, Valdespin has 7 HR. He also has 5 SB in 133 PA, compared to 1 SB in 289 PA for Tejada.

But what Tejada lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in baseball ability. Let’s see how these two compare in baseball skills:

Strike Zone Judgment – Tejada’s BB/K rate is 3X better (.36 to .12)
Zone Contact Percentage – Not only is Tejada better at recognizing balls and strikes, he’s better at hitting strikes, with a 92.6 Z-Contact rate compared to 84.2 for Valdespin. Tejada’s also better at hitting pitches out of the strike zone, with a 67.8 O-Contact rate compared to 65.4 for Valdespin.
Line Drive Percentage – Once you hit the ball, the best outcome is a line drive, which results in a hit nearly 72 percent of the time this year in the National League. Tejada has a LD% of 30.7 compared to a 10.6 rate from Valdespin.
Fielding – Valdespin has a (-6 DRS) in 204.2 innings in the field, which is not good. A full season is somewhere around 1,200 innings, meaning at his current rate, Valdespin would cost his team around 3.5 wins on defense alone. In 547 innings at SS, Tejada has a 0 DRS, meaning he’s an average fielder for the position.

Of course, Valdespin is hurt here by his athleticism, as it means he’s playing out of position in the outfield. Let’s compare Valdespin at 2B and SS to Tejada at those same positions in 2010 and 2011, when he bounced back and forth between the two spots. Valdespin is a (-4) in 74.1 innings in the middle infield while Tejada was a (-2) in 609.2 innings in 2010 and he posted a 0 DRS in 810.1 innings in 2011.

Perhaps the sample size is too small to accurately judge Valdespin. But if the 2013 Mets have both players in the starting lineup, there’s absolutely no doubt that Tejada would play the tougher defensive position of shortstop, while Valdespin would be either at 2B or CF.

*****

Valdespin has excelled as a PH this year, with a .259/.333/.815 line, thanks to 5 HR in 27 ABs as a pinch-hitter. But as a starter, he has a .261/.278/.375 line in 91 PA. This is who he is. The PH performance was magical and a lot of fun to see the rookie take veteran closers deep. But if I was asked to sum up those exploits in two words, I would use “exciting” and “unsustainable.” Just because they were exciting does not mean we should take that as his baseline level of performance. We are seeing first hand pitchers exploiting his weaknesses once they face him on a regular basis.

The baseball season is a grind, which rewards reliability and exposes weaknesses. In his brief career, Tejada has proven the ability to take close pitches, go deep in counts, hit line drives and play a solid MLB shortstop. Valdespin has displayed a flair for the dramatic with several exciting homers as a pinch-hitter. He’s not embarrassed himself in CF and the OF is probably his best chance for playing time with the Mets.

At age 24, Valdespin looks like he belongs in the majors, in one role or another. At age 22, Tejada looks like an MLB SS capable of hitting in either of the top spots in the order. Putting on my Carnac the Magnificent hat, in five years it’s easy to see Tejada challenging for an All-Star berth. In five years Valdespin will be hoping that Dayton Moore still believes in his tools enough to give him another shot.

But that’s pure speculation on my part. Let’s watch Valdespin get MLB experience and see if he can adjust to how pitchers are trying to get him out. Let’s see if he can learn some patience at the plate. Let’s see if he can develop into a good bunter to take advantage of his speed. Let’s see if he can learn how to play the outfield. Let’s see if this athlete can become a ballplayer.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy Tejada for the player he already is. And I would like to invite Terry Collins to do the same thing. There is no need to bust Tejada’s chops for not arriving *early* to Spring Training and there’s no reason to get on his case about stealing more bases, either.

Just remember, Tejada’s a ballplayer, not an athlete.

“Little” guys Tejada, Cedeno and Torres making “big” contributions

Although small in stature, Ruben Tejada (5-11, 187), Ronny Cedeno (6-0, 190) and Andres Torres (5-9, 198) have all been making some big contributions of late and have played a key part in the Mets winning five out of their last nine games (after the team dropped 12 out of their last 13).

These diminutive, yet important sparkplugs have given the Mets a shot in the arm of late and their presence in the lineup has come at a good time, as some of the Mets’ big sluggers have been playing inconsistent of late (I’m looking at you Ike Davis).

The following are the key stats for Tejada, Cedeno and Torres in their last ten games:

Tejada: 15-45 with 1 home run, 1 double, 3 runs and 1 RBI.
Cedeno: 9-24 with 1 home run, 4 doubles, 10 RBI’s and 1 run scored.
Torres: 10-28 with 1 triple, 1 double, 1 RBI, 5 runs scored and 1 stolen base.

Tejada and Torres are providing their spark at the top of the order and are giving players like David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis and Scott Hairston ample opportunities for RBI’s. Meanwhile, Cedeno is biding his time while platooning with Daniel Murphy.

While Tejada has been good from the get-go, Torres and Cedeno have had their ups and downs during the season, but they are finally delivering on their talents. Plus, all three have had to battle back from injuries, as all three at one point or another have been on the DL.

For a Mets’ team that has been carried by David Wright and their starting pitching, it is great to see some of the “little” guys chipping in.

Tejada has done a marvelous job filling the giant shoes left by the departure of Jose Reyes and is doing everything that was expected of him and more. With a .319/.363/.389 line, Tejada is playing within his strengths and is firmly establishing himself as the Mets’ starting shortstop for the foreseeable future.

Torres, who was acquired with Ramon Ramirez for Angel Pagan in the offseason, got off to a rocky start. Of course, this was exacerbated by his trip to the DL after his first day with the Mets. However, Torres is now finding his groove.

Although not a great hitter from the left side, but when he hits from the right side, Torres is terror on lefties. Torres sports a .311/.436/.433 line as a righty compared to a .188/.292/.248 line as a lefty.

For a team with a very lefty-laden lineup, Torres (to go along with Tejada) at the top of the order vs. lefties is a key component for success.

Lastly, Cedeno is starting to earn his keep and has now raised his batting average to a healthy .291 and his on-base percentage to an impressive.361. It was always Cedeno’s glove that made him standout, but lately he is swinging a hot bat.

While the lumbering big boppers will garner the attention most of the time, it’s time we paid some credit to this thriving “little” trio.

While “chicks dig the long ball” (and Tejada, Cedeno and Torres’ combined four home runs will not win many fans over), they also do say women appreciate all the “little” things in life.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

With Ruben Tejada the line drives just keep on coming

Ruben Tejada was on a roll the first five weeks of the season, with a .305/.362/.400 line before he went down with an injury. There was some concern that he would not be the force he was early in the year when he finally made it back on the active roster, but Tejada has put those fears to rest by picking up right where he left off. In eight games since being activated, Tejada has an .807 OPS.

In case you didn’t see it – because if you saw it you wouldn’t forget it – Tejada was running down to first base and did a face plant into the ground. At first it seemed that he left the game because of a head injury, as he landed on his chin/jaw. But it turned out to be a strained quad that landed him on the disabled list. Tejada ended up missing 44 games.

Shortstop became a revolving door for the Mets with Tejada on the DL. The team used five different players in his absence, including David Wright for a few innings. Backups Ronny Cedeno and Justin Turner both landed on the DL after Tejada but the Mets were able to stay afloat, going 24-20 with Tejada sidelined.

Tejada made his first start back in the final game of the Yankees series and returned with a flourish, delivering two hits and two RBIs. He proceeded to take the collar in back-to-back games as the team played uninspired ball against the last-place Cubs in the first two games of the three-game set. But Tejada has been on fire since then, going 10-22 in his last five starts.

A quick look at the stat sheet shows Tejada with zero home runs this year. But it would be erroneous to think of him as a weak hitter. Instead, he hits hard grounders and stings line drives to all parts of the field. It would be a mistake to tinker with Tejada’s approach at the plate. Yet it would not be hard to imagine him becoming a double-digit HR guy if he spent an offseason in the weight room and tried to turn on every pitch.

Fans should be thrilled with the hitter Tejada already is. The best batted-ball outcome for a batter is a line drive, as line drives end up hits somewhere around 70 percent of the time. Last year Tejada posted a 25.7 LD%, which is a great mark for a hitter. The Mets as a team had the third-best LD% in the majors last year and Tejada’s 25.7 percent mark was tops on the team.

Many people thought that mark was unsustainable and that Tejada’s line drives would fall off considerably in 2012. It’s the main reason few thought Tejada would be able to reproduce 2011’s .331 BABIP or .284 AVG. But in 155 PA this year, Tejada has a 29.4 LD%, the seventh-highest mark among hitters in MLB with at least 100 PA this season.

While fans should love the results when Tejada hits the ball, there is some concern about his plate discipline in 2012. Last year he had a 0.70 BB/K ratio, with 35 walks and 50 strikeouts. But so far this season that mark has been cut in half. Tejada has 10 BB and 29 Ks for a 0.34 ratio. However, since returning from the DL, Tejada has cut down significantly on his strikeouts.

For the season, Tejada has an 18.7 K% up from 13.3 a year ago. But in his last eight games he has fanned just five times in 38 PA, for a 13.2 K%. Before hitting the DL, Tejada whiffed 24 times in 117 PA for a 20.5 K%.

Inevitably, Tejada will be compared to his predecessor. There was much hand-wringing when the Mets let Jose Reyes leave via free agency. Reyes was coming off a terrific season in 2011, marred only by a few DL stints. So far in 2012, Reyes has not missed significant time but has been nowhere near productive as he was last year.

Let’s run a quick chart, comparing Tejada to Reyes and that other NY shortstop – Derek Jeter:

  Games PA AVG OBP SLG fWAR
Jeter 76 357 .299 .349 .402 0.9
Reyes 77 350 .269 .345 .382 1.4
Tejada 35 155 .317 .370 .403 1.1

In about 45 percent of the playing time as Jeter and Reyes, Tejada is more than holding his own with his more expensive position-mates. WAR sees Tejada’s defensive edge virtually equaling out the playing-time edge of the veterans. By the end of the year, it’s possible that Tejada will have a higher fWAR than both Jeter and Reyes. How many of you saw that one coming?

So keep doing what you are doing, Tejada. Making the plays in the field and hitting line drives makes you a valuable player. And a few years down the road it will make you a very wealthy man, too. Then you can really be compared to Jeter and Reyes.

Thole, Tejada and Bay can’t come back soon enough

As the Mets sit at 26-21, they are admirably exceeding expectations and staying afloat the standings in the cutthroat NL East.

However, if they want to keep it up, they are going to need to ramp up their offense and the return of Josh Thole (concussion), Ruben Tejada (quad strain) and Jason Bay (fractured ribs) can’t come soon enough.

Did you see the lineup the Mets trotted out for Thursday’s game? When you have to play the likes of Vinny Rottino, Rob Johnson, Ronny Cedeno and Scott Hairston more than you should, eventually it will catch up with you.

Prior to the season, almost everyone and their grandmother said that the Mets would go as far as their pitching could take them as most were confident in the offense. Well, almost two months into the season it has been the pitching that is carrying the Mets, as the Mets work through their offensive struggles.

As of May 25, the Mets were eighth in the NL in runs scored despite being fifth in batting average. Their main problem, however, has been their lack of power, as the Mets sit just second to last in the NL in home runs. Of course this is mainly attributed to the starts that Ike Davis and Lucas Duda (at least from a power perspective) are off to. Saturday’s three home run outing is a step in the right direction.

The return of Thole, Tejada and Bay will lessen the load for guys like David Wright, who is carrying the club right now with his fantastic start. The aforementioned trio are in the early stages of their rehabilitation, and should be back within the next few weeks. Therefore, it is imperative that the Mets capitalize on this 11-game homestand and hold their ground in the standings.

After their homestand is done, the schedule will get mighty difficult with trips to Washington and interleague road games at the Yankees and the Rays on the horizon. It would be good if the Mets could get back any, if not all, of the injured players for that road trip.

While it’s admirable the contributions that guys like Cedeno and Hairston give this club, there is a reason they are bench players.

While Bay can be boom or bust, Thole and Tejada were off to fine starts.

You might have forgotten, but prior to their injuries, Thole had a .284/.356/.370 slash line, whereas Tejada had a .305/.342/.400 slash line. As the Mets have found out, that is hard to replace.

How many more four-hit shutouts can we get from Johan Santana?

The Mets are getting by being competitive in close games, but as everyone has pointed out ad nauseum, they are a dreadful 27th in run differential. Most suggest that discrepancy will catch up with the Mets, thus making the return of Thole, Tejada and Bay crucial to the Mets’ future success.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Can Ruben Tejada maintain his strong start?

There’s nothing like a trip to Denver to get a batter out of a slump. Ruben Tejada headed into a three-game set against the Rockies in the midst of a 6-37 slump with 11 strikeouts. But the thin air and the Rockies’ pitching staff helped him to a 10-16 series and now after 21 games, Tejada has a .770 OPS, the 10th-best mark among MLB shortstops.

Many people figured the Mets were doomed when they lost Jose Reyes to free agency. Clearly that’s not been true, as the team is 13-9 and would claim the second Wild Card if the season ended Sunday. Additionally, Tejada has been better than Reyes so far here in the early going. Reyes has a .596 OPS and a -0.4 fWAR while Tejada has a 0.6 fWAR.

A few people even suggested that the Mets should chase Jimmy Rollins if they lost Reyes to free agency. The Phillies shortstop, who signed a 3-year, $33 million contract with a vesting option for a fourth season, has been even worse than Reyes so far in 2012. He has a .524 OPS.

So, Mets fans didn’t get the shortstop they wanted but they have to be thrilled with the production they are getting from their 22 year old, homegrown player. Now the question is if he can keep it up, especially now that there are no more trips to Colorado on the schedule.

Tejada played very well once he assumed a full-time position last year, especially given his age. However, the projection systems coming into the season were not overly impressed. The Bill James forecast, usually the most optimistic one, called for Tejada to have a .665 OPS in 2012. For whatever reason, that was the least optimistic forecast among the five systems on FanGraphs, but even the most bullish projection had Tejada at a .710 OPS.

Why were the forecasters not bigger Tejada backers? While the youngster finished with a .696 OPS last year for the Mets, he was not particularly impressive in his two stints at Triple-A, where he posted just a .670 OPS, including a .667 mark last year in 231 PA. As much as we as fans might not want to take that into consideration, it has to be factored in for the systematic projection models.

So, how has Tejada exceeded the forecaster expectations? We need to look no further than his .382 BABIP. One of the warning signs around Tejada last year was his .331 BABIP, an elevated mark compared to the .296 NL average. Three of the five forecasts for this year had him within a few points of .300 in BABIP, while the other two checked in at .315 and .333 in the category.

If you were going to create a ballplayer to exceed his BABIP, you would create a high-contact hitter with good speed and a high percentage of line drives. Tejada is not a speedster, but he does not strike out often and he is an excellent line drive hitter. Tejada’s 28.8 LD% is tied for the 14th-highest mark in MLB this season.

Still, while we might expect Tejada to exceed a “normal” .300 BABIP, .382 is likely an unsustainable mark. FanGraphs’ xBABIP calculator spits out a .320 mark based on his batted ball profile so far in 2012, an indication of what his numbers support.

It is easy to get carried away looking at splits based on a month’s worth of data, but recognizing that, it should be pointed out that Tejada has some extreme L/R splits here in the early going.

vs RHP – .686 OPS, .300 BABIP in 52 PA
vs LHP – 1.053 OPS, .591 BABIP in 30 PA

Tejada showed no special skills hitting southpaws last year, as he had a .704 OPS and a .309 BABIP versus lefties in 2011.

So, we shouldn’t expect a .770 OPS going forward from Tejada. However ZiPS, which forecasted a .668 OPS from Tejada before the year started, has already updated its projection to a .693 mark based on what he has done so far this year. While that still represents a decline from last year’s .696 mark, we should not dismiss a projected 25-point improvement based on one-month’s worth of data.

Many worried how Tejada would handle taking over for Reyes as the club’s everyday shortstop. Here in April the early conclusion is that he passed with flying colors. While Tejada is unlikely to keep up his current pace, ZiPS projects him to match his rate stats from a year ago over the entire season.

Last September, I wrote about Tejada’s quietly outstanding season. In that piece I compared him to other middle infielders in MLB history to produce strong numbers at such a young age. The list was made up mostly of very good players, with the occasional Mike Caruso and Alfredo Griffin thrown in for good measure.

If Tejada can duplicate his 2011 performance over an entire season in 2012, he will separate himself from the Caruso and Griffin types and position himself to move closer to the Joe Tinker and Alan Trammell portion of the list.

Tejada showing potential at leadoff

After Andres Torres went down with a strained calf on Opening Day, Ruben Tejada was called upon to take his spot atop the order and all he has done is produce just like a top flight leadoff hitter should.

After seven games, Tejada is now 8-23 (8-25 overall) batting out of the leadoff spot and is sporting a sterling .414 on base percentage.

It was Tejada who started things off on Friday night against the Phillies. Against Cliff Lee, Tejada set the tone for the night, leading off the game with a double with Daniel Murphy knocking him in one batter later. From there, the Mets would go on to put enough runs on the board and beat the Phillies 5-2 in the first game of a key intra-divisional series.

While he’ll remind no one of Jose Reyes, Tejada is carving out quite a niche for himself.

Tejada has looked very comfortable at the plate and seems to have confidence in himself while letting the game come to him. You would think he might be pressing given the pressure he was faced with while trying to fill the void left by Reyes. After all, not only was Tejada replacing Reyes at short, but now he is replacing him at the top of the order. Tejada has not let anything faze him and has done everything in stride.

Although not blessed with great home run power, Tejada is certainly showing great gap power and now has an impressive five doubles on the year. That is good for first in the league (tied with the Rockies’ Michael Cuddyer). Astoundingly, Tejada ranks fourth in the league among shortstops in OPS (.934) ahead of such luminaries as Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins and the aforementioned Reyes. While of course this is an extremely small sample size, just the mere fact that Tejada is playing above expectations is refreshing and certainly a major reason why the Mets have started off hot.

A lot of people had their doubts about Tejada, and admittedly I was one of them. However, he certainly has a calmness to him and Tejada is certainly more than an ample replacement for Reyes.

He won’t charm the masses and bring a palpable sense of excitement to Citi Field the way that Reyes did, but Tejada is a grinder who will work his tail off to become a complete player.

We should appreciate what Tejada is: a burgeoning shortstop with good defensive skills and developing bat skills with growth for major improvement (remember, he is only 23 years old), while not focusing on what he isn’t: Jose Reyes.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon