Feb 21

Looking At Mets’ Leadoff Situation

The primary objective for the New York Mets in their quest for a leadoff hitter is the combination of speed, base-running ability and on-base percentage.

Eric Young has the first two, but manager Terry Collins wants him to improve his on-base percentage. Young’s career on-base percentage is .325, and Collins is thinking of at least 25 more points.

YOUNG: Should bunt more.

YOUNG: Should bunt more.

“Ideally, you’d wish he’d have a .350 on-base,’’ Collins said earlier this week. “I don’t know if he’s going to, but you hope he does.

“All I know is what an impact this guy made on our team when we got him. He got some big hits, made some great plays defensively in the outfield. And when he got on, exciting things happened and we scored runs.

“So we’re certainly going to focus a lot on trying to get Eric to bunt a little bit more, maybe be a little more selective at the plate.’’

Even at .350, that pales compared to Rickey Henderson (.401) and Pete Rose (.375), two of the greatest leadoff hitters in history.

The Mets want Young to improve his walks-to-strikeouts ratio, which was a poor 35-67 last season in only 418 plate appearances and to bunt more.

With his speed, if Young averaged one bunt hit a week, that would be 26 additional for the season. Give Young 26 more hits over the same number of at-bats last year and his average would have been .320.

Collins prefers Young in the leadoff role over Daniel Murphy (lacks speed), Chris Young or Juan Lagares (low on-base percentage and too many strikeouts), or Ruben Tejada (low on-base percentage).

 

Feb 20

Strikeouts Do Matter For Mets

After writing about the high strikeout rates of Ike Davis, Chris Young and Lucas Duda, I received a question asking why my concern over strikeouts, with the reader saying, “there’s no difference between a strikeout and a soft grounder to second.’’

He couldn’t be more wrong.

First, a strikeout is a non-productive out, but much more can happen on a grounder to second, especially with less than two outs.

A grounder to second, or anywhere in the infield, or a fly ball, has the potential to create something positive while nothing can be generated from a strikeout unless the ball gets by the catcher. And, unless R.A. Dickey is pitching, how often does that happen?

A runner can score on a grounder to second. He can’t on a strikeout.

Also, with a soft grounder to second, there’s a chance the ball could get through for a hit or the fielder could muff it for an error. Either way, it leads to a base runner and potential run, or if there’s a runner on second or third, it could generate a run.

See the difference?

In addition, a grounder can advance a runner into scoring position.

When I once asked Davis about his propensity for striking out, he said, “I am a home run hitter. I like to hit home runs. Strikeouts are part of it.’’

Until he changes that attitude, he’ll never be a viable hitter.

I realize times have changed, but to me one of the most incredible statistics in history is that during his 13-year career, Joe DiMaggio hit 361 home runs, but only struck out 369 times.

Arguably, that might be more impressive than his 56-game hitting streak.

Carrying it a step further, last year the Mets struck out 1,384 times, or 8.5 times a game. Translated, they went a third of the game without making contact.

Still wonder why I think it’s a big deal?

Feb 20

Mets List: Top Ten Prospects

At least four of the New York Mets’ top ten prospects according to Baseball Prospectus are expected to play for the organization this season.

Baseball Prospectus, a website dealing with minor league prospects, to nobody’s surprise lists first pitcher Noah Syndergaard, whom manager Terry Collins said has a “hook from hell,’’ referring to the curveball to complement his 97 mph., fastball.

Here’s the list and their chances of playing for the Mets this season:

RHP Noah Syndergaard: As a Super Two, the Mets don’t foresee bringing up Syndergaard before June. Until then the Mets will use Daisuke Matsuzaka and/or John Lannan as the fifth starter.

C Travis d’Arnaud: Injuries derailed his opportunity last year. He goes into the season as the projected starter. The early returns were good on him defensively, but he needs to show something at the plate.

INF Wilmer Flores: He showed flashes of being able to hit, but the Mets must find a position for him. Manager Terry Collins left open the possibility of playing him at shortstop, but said he’ll likely open the season on the minor league level to get at-bats.

RHP Rafael Montero: As with Syndergaard, don’t expect to see him before June.

SS Amed Rosario: Was in the rookie year in 2013, and will be in Class A this season. He’s still at least three years away.

1B Dominic Smith: Last year’s first-round draft pick played for two Mets’ Rookie League teams last year and is expected to start the season in Single A. If he hits for the power expected of him, he could finish in Double A.

OF Cesar Puello: Is the Mets’ top outfield prospect outside of Juan Lagares. He hit .326 last year at Double A Binghamton and is expected to be in Triple A this season.

C Kevin Plawecki: Some scouts say he might have a higher upside than d’Arnaud. He’ll start the season in Double A.

CF Brandon Nimmo: One of Sandy Alderson’s draft picks. Hit .273 last season at Single A, which doesn’t warrant an immediate promotion.

RHP Marcos Molina: Has a 1.25 WHIP in two seasons of Rookie League ball. Could start there again or possibly in Single A.

Note: Each Thursday I plan to post a Mets’ related list.

 

 

Feb 19

Trade Market Still Open For Ike Davis

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson could be getting a second chance to trade first baseman Ike Davis.

The Mets didn’t want to go into spring training with the Davis-Lucas Duda logjam at first. However, their steep asking price coupled with their openness, if not eagerness, to trade Davis worked against them.

DAVIS: Still on the block.

DAVIS: Still on the block.

They appeared to favor Duda because of his better on-base percentage matched against horrific first-halves by Davis in 2012 and 2013. Davis’ 32 homers in 2012 seemed more and more fluke-like to Alderson.

Consequently, he tap-danced around their failure to trade Davis by saying he didn’t mind the open competition. Davis, from his perspective, said he was “in a bit of shock,’’ to still be with the Mets.

As spring training progresses teams with unsettled situations at first base will likely call the Mets about Davis, who’ll make a reasonable $3.5 million this year.

Reportedly, two of the original teams interested in Davis – Pittsburgh and Baltimore – are monitoring the Mets about Davis.

After losing lefty-hitting Justin Morneau in the off-season, the Pirates are considering a platoon of Davis with right-handed hitter Gaby Sanchez.

The Orioles meanwhile, are considering Nelson Cruz and Kendry Morales; both were made qualifying offers from Texas and Seattle, respectively, and would cost a compensatory draft pick.

The Orioles, who just lost the 17th overall pick in June’s draft for signing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez from Cleveland, would not have to surrender a pick to the Mets if they signed Davis.

Alderson misjudged the market over the winter. With a second opportunity, he can’t afford a repeat, especially after making it known he wanted to trade Davis.

 MORE LATER TODAY

Feb 19

Judging Sandy Alderson’s Tenure With Mets

Sandy Alderson said he’d like to stay on as general manager of the New York Mets for another two or three years.

In judging Alderson’s first three years, we must first understand why he was hired, and it wasn’t to build a winning team – at least not initially.

Alderson might have had the Mets in the playoffs had he thrown good money after bad, as the franchise was doing since the end of the 2007 season when they bid against themselves to sign Johan Santana.

ALDERSON: How would you judge Alderson?

ALDERSON: How would you judge Alderson?

Alderson’s objective was to put the Mets in position to win by changing their economic structure, which meant first stripping the team of its cumbersome, unproductive contracts.

It began by getting out from under the contracts of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, which meant eating salary, but counteracting that by not bringing in more payroll.

Next Francisco Rodriguez had to go, which happened in a trade to Milwaukee. Then Alderson had to buy out Jason Bay and wait for Santana’s contract to expire.

With over $75 million off the books and the Wilpons getting a favorable ruling in the Madoff scandal, Alderson could slowly rebuild the Mets.

There are three ways to build a team: trades, free agency and the draft. Let’s look at how Alderson has fared in these categories.

TRADES:  Alderson has completed four significant trades with the Mets, beginning with sending Francisco Rodriguez to Milwaukee in 2011 for pitching prospects Adrian Rosario and Danny Herrera. Neither prospect has amounted to much, but the key was getting out from under Rodriguez’s contract, which would have been $17.5 million in 2012 or a $3.5 million buyout.

The Mets tired of Rodriguez’s high-wire act on the mound and explosive personality off the field, which included assaulting his fiancé and her father, the latter inside Citi Field.

Alderson’s second big trade was to obtain pitching prospect Zack Wheeler from San Francisco for Carlos Beltran, which saved the Mets an $18.5 million option on the outfielder.

Beltran remains a productive player, but Wheeler is a key to the Mets’ pitching foundation.

Next, Alderson sent 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, whom the Mets wouldn’t be able to afford to re-sign, and catcher Josh Thole to Toronto for catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard and catcher John Buck.

Finally, after a productive first half of the 2013 season, Buck was traded to Pittsburgh for reliever Vic Black and second base prospect Dilson Herrera.

So, at the cost of three players whom the Mets would not, or did not, want to keep, they obtained Wheeler, d’Arnaud, Syndergaard, Black and Herrera, all of whom represent inexpensive building blocks.

On the negative side, Alderson has not been able to resolve the first base logjam by trading Ike Davis. There could still be time as reportedly Baltimore and Pittsburgh are still monitoring the Mets in the possibility of making a trade.

It also must be remembered it has been difficult for the Mets to trade because they want to keep their young pitching and have few other chips to deal.

FREE-AGENCY: Unquestionably, Alderson’s biggest decision was to bring back captain and centerpiece, All-Star third baseman David Wright to an eight-year, $138-million extension last winter.

His other key decision was to not bring back Jose Reyes, which was a good move in that it gave them the latitude to keep Wright. Also, Reyes is a speed player with a history of leg injuries making the likelihood of him breaking down very real.

Alderson also signed Byrd, which he parlayed into prospects, and outfielder Chris Young, which is not a popular decision.

He also spent this offseason on Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon. The outcome of those two remain to be seen.

Alderson receives criticism for the signings he did not make, such as Bronson Arroyo. Some of it is fair if one is looking at the short term. When looking at the long term it isn’t because it doesn’t take into account his initial plan, which was to restructure the Mets economically and then build them up.

However, signing reliever Frank Francisco to a two-year contract was a bust.

It can also be argued by offering Davis arbitration when they really don’t want him was a mistake. However, that can be erased if Davis is eventually traded.

DRAFTING: Matt Harvey, by the way, was drafted by Omar Minaya’s regime. It is too soon to make a call on prospects pitcher Rafael Montero, who could come up this season, outfielder Brandon Nimmo and catcher Kevin Plawkecki.

Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon said the organization’s biggest weakness is a lack of position-player prospects in the minor leagues.

Conclusion: Alderson was hired not to make the Mets immediately competitive, but to put them in position to compete within four years. That timetable was pushed back because of Harvey’s injury.

His first priority was to strip the Mets of non-productive payroll, which he accomplished. Ownership likes him, so if he wants to stay he will stay.

ON DECK: The market remains open for Ike Davis.