Nov 03

Will This Be Nieuwenhuis’ Last Chance?

Will it ever happen for Kirk Nieuwenhuis?

He’s had several chances in each of the last three years, but nothing more than 91 games or 314 plate appearances, which both came in 2012. Last year it was 61 and 130.

NIEUWENHUIS: Last chance?

NIEUWENHUIS: Last chance?

He’s never gone into the season as “the guy.’’ At 27, will he get the opportunity this year? As of now, the outfield consists of Curtis Granderson, Gold Glove candidate Juan Lagares and a left fielder to be named later.

The left fielder could be Nieuwenhuis, or Matt den Dekker or could come in a trade. He likely won’t be a free agent. Many consider den Dekker having the inside track.

Nieuwenhuis has speed and a good glove. He’s shown glimpses of what could be, but too often he fizzles and the window closes.

What he needs is the chance to stay in the line-up after the fizzle. That’s the only way the Mets will learn if they have something.

Sandy Alderson once told me the two things working against Nieuwenhuis is his on-base percentage (.315 for his career) and high propensity for striking out (169 in a career 552 plate appearances). He runs well enough to be a leadoff hitter, but doesn’t reach base enough.

Nieuwenhuis has a career 169-to-53 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, which won’t cut it as a full time player on the major league level.

He’s at the age where he won’t get many more chances. For him to start he’ll have to beat out den Dekker in spring training.

If not, it will be another year as a role player and possibly his last chance.

 

Oct 24

New Hitting Coach Long Can Help This Suggested Outfield

Let’s operate under the assumption, which isn’t hard to do, the New York Mets won’t acquire the long-ball hitting left fielder they covet. Given that, the Mets’ outfield – from left to right – should be Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker.

Lagares is a finalist for the NL Gold Glove in center field, along with Billy Hamilton and Denard Span. The award is determined by 75 percent input from managers and coaches and 25 percent by statistics.

LAGARES: Needs to hit.

LAGARES: Needs to hit.

Lagares proved this season he can field the position and steal a base, but he’s far from polished offensively, evidenced by a low on-base percentage and propensity for striking out. If he’s going to compete for the leadoff spot those two areas must be improved.

I would move Granderson from right to left – there’s your homer hitting left fielder – because it’s easier to play than right. You want a polished defender in right, which is den Dekker.

This should the full time opportunity he didn’t get last season because the Mets wasted their time with Chris Young. Yeah, I know it’s piling on.

All three could benefit from new hitting coach Kevin Long’s tutelage.

Granderson thrived under Long with the Yankees, hitting over 40 homers and driving in over 100 runs in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately, he also struck out 169 and 195 times in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Maybe Granderson will benefit with the closer fences in Citi Field, but if Long can get him to cut his strikeouts and use the whole field, he could live up to that contract. Granderson’s on-base percentages and strikeout rates were much better playing in spacious Comerica Park, giving the impression he was seduced by the Yankee Stadium bandbox.

As for Lagares, his 87-to-20 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is something he must improve because in this era teams can’t afford to carry an offensive liability no matter how good he is in the field.

Den Dekker showed he’s worthy of the opportunity based on his production over a limited 152 at-bats with a .250 average and .345 on-base percentage.

This is potentially a good outfield defensively, but if they prove they can hit, the Mets will be greatly improved.

Oct 11

Moving Fences In Not A Good Move

If we were playing one of those games where you match a word to an action, you might choose “embarrassing,’’ for the Mets’ decision to change the dimensions for the third time since Citi Field opened in 2009.

Three times in six years is a clear indication this team doesn’t have a grasp as to its desired identity.

When Citi Field opened, the Mets wanted to build on pitching, defense and speed. Even so, their first signing was Jason Bay, who turned into an $80 million bust.

When David Wright was injured, Bay floundered and Ike Davis failed to hit management moved in the fences. Bay and Davis are gone, Wright is still injured and last year’s signing Curtis Granderson came up with a mediocre year, they are moving the fences in again.

That seems counterproductive considering the Mets finally have some good, young pitching, and there’s the speedy Juan Lagares in center field. The Mets don’t have significant power outside of Lucas Duda, but there’s potential with Travis d’Arnaud.

The Mets have some speed, but traditionally lack patience and ability to hit in the clutch. Those two attributes are more important than pure power.

However, this doesn’t mean home runs can’t be hit in Citi Field. There were 130 homers hit there last season, of which 59 were hit by the Mets and 71 by the opposition.

Assuming a healthy Wright, a full season from Duda, and improvement from Granderson, d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores, it is reasonable to expect that gap to close. And, the Mets are expecting Matt Harvey’s return and the continued development from Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom.

The opposition also gets to hit, so whatever advantage gained by the Mets’ offense is neutralized by what it takes from their pitching. Moving in the fences is designed to jack up the home run numbers, but in the end that’s not what gets a team into October.

Sep 26

The Obstacle In Trading For Power

It isn’t that Daniel Murphy doesn’t have value to another team in a straight trade; it is he won’t be able to bring back much in return by himself.

With the Mets’ greatest need power; Murphy is a line-drive gap hitter with limited power. To acquire a 30-homer bat, the Mets would have to sweeten the pot considerably. That would mean dealing one of their pitchers. The Mets don’t want to trade Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, as that is their core.

The most likely pitchers they’ll offer are Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. Perhaps both. That probably won’t get it done, either.

The way I see it, to get a power bat the Mets must spend in the free-agent market or offer more in a trade. Because past history indicates they likely won’t do either, I see them hoping for bounce-back seasons from David Wright and Curtis Granderson, and improvement from Lucas Duda to get their power.

Otherwise, they’ll probably come back next season with roughly the same team.