Jan. 24.10: Let’s big-picture this.

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

In 2006, the Mets finished 97-65, winning the National League East by 12 games. It would be fair to say that is when the window was open at its widest for this core of Mets. And, we’re talking David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. While that core has remained largely productive, the rest of the team, in particular it’s pitching, has not.

The strength of the 2006 team was arguably its bullpen, which picked up the slack for a consistent, but hardly spectacular rotation.

Despite signing Billy Wagner, at the time an All-Star caliber closer, Omar Minaya let two significant keys to that pen, Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford, get away. The Mets have been struggling to get a bullpen chemistry since. An argument can be made the chemistry started to fizzle with the decline of Aaron Heilman, who was so good in 2006 save that pitch to Yadier Molina.

Even so, the team started strong in 2007, taking a 34-18 record into June. Would we all agree that 2006 and the first two months of 2007 was when the Mets’ star burned its brightest?

They finished 54-56 the rest of the way in 2007, including a collapse in which they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. Much of the downward spiral was traced to a bullpen bridge that could not get to Wagner.

Since June 1, 2007, the Mets are 20 games below .500 – including another collapse in 2008 – and the refrain was the same after each season: The pitching is the problem. The 2008 team, by the way, blew 29 save opportunities.

It’s a double-edged sword: The bullpen is overworked and ineffective. But, the reason it is overworked is because the Mets aren’t getting quality innings from their starters.

For those who think I’m being too negative, those are the numbers.

I realize 2009 was a unique season because of injuries, but even under the assumption the core offensive players return to form this season, there remains largely the same pitching staff. Never mind the team’s hot start one-third into the last season, more representative of their performance was the remaining two-thirds.

Getting Johan Santana was a significant gesture of improvement, but he makes 34 starts a year. The pennant is won or lost in the remaining 128 games, and this is where the Mets are weak and have not improved.

Even Santana is a partial question as he’s coming off surgery. The team says he’ll be ready, but said the same thing about John Maine. Maine’s durability, along with his presence, are questions. We don’t know what we’ll get from Oliver Perez inning to inning, much less game to game. And, Mike Pelfrey has regressed. And, well, there is no fifth starter, yet.

Yes, Jason Bay will improve the offense, but in reality aren’t we subbing his numbers for that of a healthy Delgado? And, there’s another hole with the loss of Beltran. So, just how much better is the offense, really? And, what if Wright doesn’t regain his power stroke? Can we say for sure Reyes is back?

Bottom line: We can’t say the core is back to normal or will get that way.

In that case, it falls again on the pitching, which is the same pitching that failed miserably the last two-and-a-half seasons.

15 thoughts on “Jan. 24.10: Let’s big-picture this.

  1. Ahh, there’s so much to work with here.

    “Window was open at its widest”: So, the window was open widest was when Wright and Reyes were both 23, Beltran was 29 and the average age of their four top starters was 37?

    “The strength of the 2006 team was arguably its bullpen, which picked up the slack for a consistent, but hardly spectacular rotation”: I think the strength of all three teams from 2006-2008 was the offense, which finished third, fourth and second, respectively, in the NL in runs scored. And while their pitching declined to middle of the pack during 2007 and 2008, their offense carried them to within one game of the division title each year. The Met offense, built around Wright, Reyes and Beltran, has been the strength of this team during this period.

    “Much of the downward spiral was traced to a bullpen bridge that could not get to Wagner”: If that’s your argument, then you shouldn’t be pissing all over Maine and Perez, each of whom won 15 games in 2007. Certainly, your current questions should be about the health of these two starters, rather than with tagging them with colorful nicknames.

    “Since June 1, 2007, the Mets are 20 games below .500″: I love the way you added 2009 to this discussion. Remind me again, how did they do in 2009?

    “But even under the assumption the core offensive players return to form this season, there remains largely the same pitching staff”: And what would this translate to — losing the division by one game after a September collapse? As bad as you want to make out the formulae for the 2007 and 2008 teams, both came within a game of winning the division. Would it be great to upgrade certain positions and win the division going away? Sure. But let’s not act like that pitching staff wasn’t enough to get it done — unless you want to place the blame solely and directly on them.

    “Never mind the team’s hot start one-third into the last season, more representative of their performance was the remaining two-thirds”: Yes, that’s right. What was representative of the team was how they performed with Wilson Valdez, Daniel Murphy, Omir Santos, Cory Sullivan, Elmer Dessens and Pat Misch. Right. That’s representative of the Mets. That’s their $140-million payroll featuring elite players in the prime of their careers.

    “We can’t say the core is back to normal or will get that way. In that case, it falls again on the pitching”: I actually agree with you here. It’s about the core of Wright, Reyes and Beltran. If these guys are healthy and performing, then the pitching becomes a secondary issue; if not, then the pitching isn’t strong enough to carry the team. In short, it’s about the offense, not the pitching.

    “which is the same pitching that failed miserably the last two-and-a-half seasons”: The pitching failed miserably in 2007 when Maine and Perez each won 15? In 2008 when Santana won 16 and Pelfrey seemed to establish himself as a legitimate #2? The pitching that failed miserably when the team lost out on the division by one game?

  2. 1)

    I agree that the mets offense in terms of numbers can lead you to believe that they are very strong. however a consistent criticism on this board has been the inability in key situations to pick up the runner in scoring position.

    yes, the offense was a key component to the team in 2006/7/8. However as is quoted ad nauseum by baseball people every day, championships are won by pitching and defense.

    I am not arguing that offense is irrelevant. if the injured come back healthy as you say it will make for a winning ballclub. however, without a dramatically better staff they will not win. which in my definition means having a legit shot at the nl championship let alone the world series.

    will you agree that this rotation as constituted weeks from spring training is not league avg? if you look at the pen, we do not have duaner sanchez to shut down the other team before we get to the closer.

    also without both jose and carlos playing every day i do not consider this an above avg defensive team.

  3. i saw an interview on sny with doc and straw.

    they mentioned that the team was arrogant and that others’ hated them. that they were in each others’ faces and if you couldn’t take it you didnt belong on the team.

    my impression of this team is that it is soft. from 2006 when piazza was thrown at by clemens and no one rushed the mound to smaller instances where the pitchers did not throw at the other team after their player was brushed back.

    they were asked to give advice to a young player. the response was you have to have heart. you have to work and make it your passion. i think that is why i like murphy and franceour. murphy improves. there are reports of him working hard on his swing and in left field and obviously at first. jeff played hurt after he ripped up his thumb. same with cora. i know everyone has their pain threshold, but these players have shown by their actions that they want to play. i dont know if murphy will end up as a starter in the league or if jeff can play the way he did early in his career. but i like their attitude and it seemed to be missing from this team. esp in 2007 and 2008 when they tanked and did not fight at the end of the season.

  4. 1. JD, Tiffany makes some good points. As you stated 2009 was an abberation. So why count it? Also the truer measure of that team was when they were mostly healthy, not the 2nd 2/3s when everybody went down. I see you are predicting the Mets to finish fourth this year. We shall see. I remember your bay prediction as well. Im betting both predictions will turn out the same.

  5. (3) I would argue that different teams are constructed in different ways. The Phils, for example, have won three straight division titles with a pitching staff that ranked 13th, 4th and 6th, respectively in ERA in the NL.

    As for a legitimate shot at winning, did the Mets have that in 2007 and 2008, when they lost the division by one game on the final weekend of the season? If your answer is yes, then the offense-first formula of those teams can’t be dismissed. (It certainly can’t be dismissed when talking about the Phils.)

    I don’t know how to define a league-average rotation. Baseball Reference provides ERA+ which tells us whether a pitcher is better than league average, but doesn’t segregate the data by starter vs. reliever. So, in other words, the average ERA for the entire league could be, say, 4.20, but that might reflect 3.50 for relievers and 4.90 for starters; it’s a composite irrespective of the different roles.

    That said, if you look at 2007 and 2008, the Mets rotation boasted three starters above league-average (Perez, Maine, El Duque) while the Phils’ rotation had two (Hamels and Kendrick). In 2008, the Mets’ rotation had four starters above league-average (Santana, Maine, Perez, Pelfrey) while the Phils had three (Hamels, Moyer, Blanton). As such, it’s hard to make a compelling argument that a starting rotation is the make-or-break factor for a division title.

  6. (5) The other convenient omission when characterizing the Mets as a .500 team since early 2007 is how they played under Manuel in 2008: 55-38 for a .591 winning percentage. But I’m sure the other 69 games that season were more representative of their ability, right?

  7. 4. Dave, Could you imagine a player getting beaned like that on a team with straw on it. He would have been out of the dugout so fast nobody could have stopped him. Since nobody charged when Wright got beaned, I dont see much heart from this team either. I dont think its just the Mets. The players are making too much money now to take a risk. There arent nearly as many brawls as there used to be.

  8. Ray (8): The game is just different now. Money is the big reason. Pitchers don’t know how to throw inside and hitters are too sensitive to the inside fastball.-JD

  9. I see on metsblog that Delgados days as a full time first baseman is apparently over. Goodbye Carlos, you big bat will be missed. And now I leave you to prepare for the Jets game. J E T S !!!

  10. Tiffany (7): I’m sure there was a stretch in which they went 7-0 or better. Why not use that as a sampling? I used a wide range as a sample and my main argument is they didn’t pitch well in that stretch.-JD

  11. (11) A wide range when they had approximately $75 million on the DL and were playing the likes of Wilson Valdez, Omir Santos, Elmer Dessens and Pat Misch — and you call that “representative” of the Mets?

    I stand by my original comment: You’re being negative for the sake of being negative.

  12. 6

    “As for a legitimate shot at winning, did the Mets have that in 2007 and 2008″ my answer is no. my definistion is a legit show at winning the nl. could they have gotten in both those years? sure. but i was writing every other day in sep 2007 that the team was toast. they have no heart and had no pitching. as great as you think the offense was, they could not sniff a 500 record in sep 2007 which would have gotten them to the post season. they lost because of pitching.

    I am done with this argument as you are convinced this team is built to win.

    I think this team is doomed to it’s fate of the last 3 years.

    I think that regardless of how fantastic the offense may be or not, the fact that their pitching sucks – esp the starting rotation where none with the name not Johan can get you into the seventh let alone finish a game – and that the defense is not at least very good will doom this team to its fate.

  13. The ’07 and ’08 collpases were a direct result of the total failure of the GM to find a relief pitcher or two to bolster a pen that was short on talent and too long on innings pitched. In ’06 when he had a very strong bullpen the GM panicked when Sanchez went down on July 31 and he brought in a washed up Hernandez when he didn’t need one at the expense of a solid right fielder. The team faltered down the stretch, was mediocre in September, and there was less offense and far less defense in right field down the stretch with Milledge and the first bad Sean or is Shawn or is it Shon or is Shawon Green to join the Mets.
    Going into ’09 many said the Mets needed another big bat to compete. We’ll never know because of the injuries but if you look at the team on paper now as opposed to day one of ’09 this team is at best equal on offense and definitely not as strong on the pitching end as there is nobody with the hype of Putz to set up and nobody who has faith without prayer of the abilities of starters 2 thru 5.