May 14

Mets Must Explore Bullpen Options Outside Frank Francisco

As I said yesterday, a team is only as strong as its bullpen. The Mets have exceeded most expectations save one: The bullpen remains a concern. It is the Mets’ weakest link.
Frank Francisco blew his second save in three games, meaning in a perfect world they would have swept the Marlins this weekend and gone 6-0 on their road trip.. However, baseball, as we know, is an imperfect sport and the Mets certainly are an imperfect team.
In the long term Francisco will remain the closer simply because of that ridiculous two-year, $12-million contract. If a player’s own team has no interest in him, then why do the Mets give multi-year deals? Wasn’t anything learned from the Omar Minaya era?
Manager Terry Collins needs to address this sooner than later, because nothing can kill the good vibrations the Mets have emitted this spring than a leaky bullpen. Jon Rauch? Tim Brydak? Back to Bobby Parnell? Perhaps a committee?
Collins knows his personnel better than anybody, but clearly everybody can tell right now Francisco is not the answer.
“He’s the boss,” Francisco told reporters. “He can do whatever he wants. I’m here to help the team; I guess I’m not doing that. Whatever decision he makes, it’s fine with me. But I’m here to fight. Whenever I can, I’m going to try to do my best out there every time I go out.”
So far, Francisco’s best is an 8.56 ERA, with 20 hits and seven walks in 13 2/3 innings. Those numbers are positively Oliver Perez-like.
ON DECK: Mets week ahead.
May 01

David Wright, Kirk Nieuwenhius Shine in April For Mets

April is in the books and the Mets are sitting well in the National League East at 13-10.  I am first to admit I never envisioned that record for the Mets a month into the season.

When the schedule came out, I penciled in seven or eight wins, tops. However, the Mets exceeded all expectations to make me wonder just how good a summer this could be.

WRIGHT: April Player of the Month

There’s been a lot to like, so let’s touch on some of April’s high points:

PLAYING THEM TIGHT: Including last night’s loss in Houston, the Mets are 8-2 in games decided by two runs or less. That is one of the best indicators a team is heading in the right direction. A team gives itself a chance to win when the score is close. There have been few games when you feel like turning off the TV in the early innings. The Mets are making you watch, and the record shows they have been worth the wait.

WINNING THE DIVISION: The Mets lost series to Washington and the Braves, the latter on the road. However, they swept the Braves and Marlins at home and won a series in Philadelphia. The NL East hasn’t been kind to the Mets in recent seasons, but they are standing up to their division rivals in the early going of 2012.

THE WRIGHT STUFF: Despite missing several games with a fractured pinkie, David Wright is back and stroking the ball with authority. Wright has hit in the clutch and posting good numbers. I’d like for him to hit with more power, but would take the average and RBI than have him slip into bad habits swinging deep. Wright is playing at a level where the contract extension should be a given.

THOLE TAKES A STEP: At the start of the season I wondered about Josh Thole, both offensively and defensively. He’s shown improvement in both areas and the staff likes throwing to him. The Mets’ catching will longer be a concern if Thole continues at this rate.

MURPHY TAKING TO SECOND: We all knew Daniel Murphy could hit, but just as important is his comfort level at second base. Last night he went into the hole and threw back to second for the force. Both catching the ball and throw have been problems. Murphy’s defense was a significant question now being answered in the positive.

TEJADA PLUGGED THE HOLE: We all wondered how Ruben Tejada would respond replacing Jose Reyes. Tejada’s glove was never in doubt, but he’s hit better than anticipated. Before it is over Reyes might have better numbers, but Tejada has not been the weak link.

HELLO NIEUWENHUIS: Andres Torres’ calf injury gave Kirk Nieuwenhuis an opportunity and it looks like one he won’t relinquish.  Nieuwenhuis plays an aggressive center field and is confident at the plate. There’s a lot to like, such as a swagger that says he belongs.

SANTANA IS BACK: Johan Santana’s recovery from shoulder surgery was one of the spring’s leading questions, and save one bad outing, he has been stellar. Wisely, the Mets have monitored his innings and will continue to do so. All they need is to score some runs for him.

ROTATION HAS BEEN GOOD: The Mets received a serious setback when they lost Mike Pelfrey to Tommy John surgery, but Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey have been solid. The Mets need more innings from their starters to stay out of the bullpen, but mostly the innings they’ve received from Niese, Dickey and Santana have been good. Much better than expected.

SURVIVING THE STORM: How the Mets respond from Pelfrey’s injury will dictate a lot about this season. They have been a resilient team and played through injuries to Wright, Jason Bay and Torres. They’ve also compiled a winning record despite little production from Ike Davis and an erratic bullpen. The pen has its positive moments, but there have also been several head-scratchers. Frank Francisco regressed after a fast start and now is nursing a hamstring problem.

I am picking Wright as my Player of the Month. Please check out the newest poll question and share your thoughts. Thanks.

ON DECK:  The newest poll.

Apr 23

Collins Says Francisco Is Still The Closer, But For How Long?

Well it looks like manager Terry Collins had his little pow-wow with quasi-closer Frank Francisco on Sunday and two of them passed around a peace pipe resulting in Collins affirming his trust and confidence in Francisco as his closer.

“Everybody wants to hear something positive,” Collins said. “I just went to him this morning and said, ‘You’ve got to hang in there.’ He’s disappointed. He’s mad at me because I took him out, which is a common thing. It happens. I certainly don’t blame him. If I was in his shoes, I’d be mad at me, too.”

So Frankie-Frank is back on the saddle after three straight shaky outings, but believe me his leash is short and at the first hint of trouble, you saw how quickly Collins ran out and gave him the ol’ heave-ho.

Francisco was the the prize of the offseason for the New York Mets and Alderson saw fit to fill his coffers with a two year, $12 million dollar deal to be the closer – a role which he has had trouble retaining throughout his career. Before donning his Mets uniform, Francisco had amassed 18 blown saves in his 70 save opportunities. That’s an unsightly 74.2% save percentage.

In Grapefruit League play this Spring, Francisco finished with a 5.54 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in 11 appearances for the Amazins. So his recent struggles are just a continuation of what we saw last month.

2.1 IP – 6 H – 6 ER – 3 BB – 1 K

His last three outings point to trouble, and while some may say it’s only April, I’l direct you to his career 4.22 ERA in save situations which doesn’t even account for all the inherited runners he has allowed to cross the plate.

Hey look, he’s all ours now, so all we can do is hope that at 32, he can dig down inside and somehow become the closer he is being paid to be. The last thing this team needs right now is a $6 million dollar a year middle reliever.

Luckily, Jon Rauch has exceeded expectations thus far and could step in as closer if the need arises – as it did on Saturday.

Apr 21

Mets On Slippery Slope Following Another Loss

The bloom is off the Mets’ early season rose. After a quick start that included winning the first two games in last weekend’s series in Philadelphia, the Mets have lost three straight and four of their last five.

They are still over .500, but the sense this could be a different year is fading. Thirteen games is two small a picture to frame it a season, but the crispness that opened the year is gone.

Frank Francisco, who opened with three straight saves, has given up four runs in his last three appearances. Last night he walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches to lead off the tenth. Cabrera stole on a pitchout, which is almost impossible to do, and scored on a two-out single.

That’s three red flags in one inning: the leadoff walk; stealing on a pitchout shows an inability to hold runners and a lack of concentration; and the two-out hit is indicative of not putting away an inning. A successful closer doesn’t do any of those things on a consistent basis.

Francisco has good stuff, but has always been erratic in the little things, such as those mentioned above. Explains in large part why he was was available.

There’s more to be concerned with:

By definition, Jon Niese had a quality start giving up three runs in six innings, but needed 109 pitches to do so. That’s clearly working too hard. That many pitches should take him through the eighth, at least. Maybe complete-game worthy.

However, it was an upgrade from what the Mets received their two previous games from R. A. Dickey and Johan Santana. This afternoon it is Mike Pelfrey, who has been anything but calming and comforting.

The starting pitching is key to whatever success the Mets have this year and it must improve.

Offensively, Jason Bay homered and got another hit, but neither he nor Lucas Duda are hitting in the clutch. Bay struck out with runners on second and third and one out in the tenth. Both hitters are 1-for-13 with RSIP. That’s 2-for-26, which translates into a lot of runners left on base and empty innings. A lot of losses, too.

Also offensively are the continuing struggles of Ike Davis who struck out twice while going hitless five times last night. His swing gets longer and loopier by the game.

All teams are going to have night like that occasionally, but the Mets’ last four losses have exposed their flaws greatly.

I wrote several times this week how the Mets had to snap out of it to avoid a downhill slide. They are in one now.

ON DECK: Starting lineup.

Apr 19

Looking At The Numbers For The Mets, Wright And Others

We’re two weeks into the young season and I’d like to share some of my first impressions and hear yours. The Mets, despite losing three of their last four games, are among the early surprises, as are several of their players.

WRIGHT: Has reason to smile.

They are playing better than anticipated and on pace to win 93 games. I don’t believe they will sustain that, but who wouldn’t take .500 if it were guaranteed? I would because it is the next step in the franchise’s development.

Ever since I was a kid I loved the early season numbers and projections. It was fun to think of all those players breaking Roger Maris’ 61 homers, but knew nobody would come close. When it finally happened and I learned why, it wasn’t fun anymore.

For example, David Wright’s .500 average leads the majors and is one of six players hitting over .400 and 28 over .340. There won’t be a .400 hitter – and maybe never will again – and I’d be willing to bet there won’t be anybody over .340.

Both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda are on track to hit 41 homers and drive in 81 and 68 runs, respectively. They have the strength to hit that many homers, but I don’t think either has the plate presence or pitcher knowledge to do so. At least not this year. Their RBI totals are reasonable.

Wright won’t hit .500 or get the 230 hits projected of him, but I’d take the 28 homers and 108 RBI. The latter two should be worthy of a contract extension.

The Mets would gladly take those numbers from Wright, as they would Frank Francisco’s projected 41 saves.

Pitching wise, the Mets’ 3.69 ERA is sixth in the National League, which is a substantial improvement from last year. Also, their 43 walks allowed are 11th in the league, but ten of those came in one game. That needs to get better. They are second in the league with 101 strikeouts, an average of over eight a game that translates into working out of a lot of trouble.

In addition to the Mets, the surprise teams on the positive are Washington, the Dodgers, St. Louis and Baltimore. The Cardinals, minus Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa and Chris Carpenter, just keep rolling.

I thought the Nationals would be better, but not this good. They won’t keep playing at this rate, but their pitching is good enough to keep them contending. Their ERA of 1.92 is first; they are tied for seventh in fewest walks and first in strikeouts.

On the negative, the Phillies will climb in the standings, as will the Angels, Boston and the Yankees.

Individually, four players are on pace to hit over 60 homers, which isn’t supposed to happen in the new steroid-free era. One of those players is Carlos Beltran, who hasn’t made the Cardinals forget Pujols, but has softened the blow.

Speaking of Pujols, he hasn’t homered and is on pace for 54 RBI. He’s also on track for 81 strikeouts, which would be the second highest of his career. His 41 walks would be the lowest of his career.

I don’t believe the Cardinals will regret losing Pujols in the long term. Pujols is a future Hall of Famer and will eventually adjust to the American League and before it is over post impressive numbers. The Cardinals can live with that because even if Pujols plays another ten years, they would have gotten the best years of his career.

The most fun stats to project are the individual player numbers. The Dodgers’ Matt Kemp is on pace to hit .460 with a .500 on-base percentage, 287 hits, 87 homers and 224 RBI.

Incidentally, on the flip side, Jose Reyes is on track to play in 162 games (yeah, as if that will happen), hit .226 with a .276 on-base percentage, with 37 steals, 50 walks and 100 strikeouts.

Neither Kemp’s nor Reyes’ numbers will reach fruition, but on an off day it is fun to tinker with the numbers.