Oct 10

Wondering About Matt Harvey Again

It’s about Matt Harvey, so the “What If Wonder Machine,” is whirling again. Since 2012, the question the Mets have been asking is: How good can this guy be?

However, the next Tom Seaver has not even become the next Gary Gentry, who went 41-42 in four seasons with the Mets.

HARVEY: Remember when? (AP)

HARVEY: Remember when? (AP)

Harvey is 29-28 in his four-year Mets career, but because of two arm surgeries in three years, consistently poor run support and his inability to close out games, has always left us wanting more.

Harvey’s climb back to becoming an elite pitcher – he has that potential – took another step as he’s begun throwing as part of his recovery after surgery in July in treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome. It is a complicated procedure that involved removing a rib.

Posting on his Instagram account, Harvey wrote: “He’s working the mechanics.”

Harvey, currently on the 60-day disabled list, is expected to be ready for spring training.

Before the ailment sidelined him, Harvey started 17 games and went 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA and a miserable 1.47 WHIP. In 92.2 innings he gave up 111 hits and 25 walks. He started poorly, seemed to right himself, then hit the skids again.

The year 2012, when he made ten starts to begin a career full of promise. His 3-5 record could be brushed off by inexperience and a lack of run support, but what caught everybody’s attention was an overpowering fastball, a confidence that belied his years and a stunning 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.

That greatness emerged – no, make that exploded – in 26 starts in 2013 which culminated in starting the All-Star Game at Citi Field.

However, in what began a disturbing career trend, prior to the All-Star Game Harvey developed tightness in his forearm, which he initially did not disclose. He tried to pitch through it and was adamant about starting the All-Star Game.

He continued to pitch after the All-Star break, but after losing three of his last four decisions in August, the discomfort continued and he was placed on the disabled list and eventually had Tommy John surgery. Harvey missed the 2014 season and returned the following year, showing glimpses of his previous dominance and finished at 13-8.

I thought he would be hellfire this year, in fact, wrote he’d be so fueled by what happened in Game 5 of the World Series that he’d win 20 games and compete for the Cy Young Award.

It didn’t happen. After two surgeries in three years, I look at Harvey’s career with caution. He’s young enough to bounce back, but he’s had a big enough window to make one wonder.

It’s an oversimplification to say his mediocre career record is just a lack of run support. Great pitchers find a way to win and too many games have slipped away from him.

I’m asking the same question Harvey should be asking: Why?

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Oct 03

Leaving Loney Off Wild-Card Roster Would Be Mistake

There’s no doubt Mets GM Sandy Alderson is a smart guy, but there are times he thinks too damn much. Reportedly he’s doing that now by considering leaving James Loney off the wild-card playoff roster in favor of Lucas Duda.

Never mind the fairness element, that without Loney replacing Duda for 99 games, the Mets are already scattering for their off-season homes.

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off roster. (SNY)

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off. (SNY)

Clearly, Alderson, who is Sabremetrics junkie infatuated with the home run, is hoping Duda might run into a pitch against the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner Wednesday night. It could happen, but I’m betting after not playing most of the season with a back injury he will be handcuffed by Bumgarner’s nasty slider.

As lefty hitters, neither Loney (2-for-13, .154 BA/.214 OB) nor Duda (0-for-1) have a distinguished history against Bumgarner. For that matter, neither does Eric Campbell (1-for-5).

When you look at the splits, look at their career numbers against all left-handed pitchers. In 572 career at-bats against lefties, Duda is hitting .224 with 17 homers, a .659 OPS and a 200-50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Conversely, in 1,264 at-bats, Loney is hitting .251 with 20 homers, a .646 OPS and a 222-83 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Actually, if it came down to career numbers against Bumgarner, what about Kelly Johnson (7-for-20 lifetime)?

I’m not blaming manager Terry Collins should the Mets go with Duda because he’s not pulling the strings. This is Alderson’s baby. Both pay lip service to a give-and-take working relationship, but Alderson runs the show.

The Bumgarner-Noah Syndergaard match-up suggests the possibility of a low-scoring game. Alderson is gambling Duda will connect for a bomb, but the odds suggest Loney is more apt to continue an inning.

And, with runs figuring to be at a premium, Loney is the superior defensive player. He has a better glove, more range, and a better arm. Should I remind you of his throw to the plate in Game 5 of last year’s World Series? Didn’t think so.

One of the main storylines in this game will be Syndergaard’s ability to hold potential base stealers, who ran on him at will this year.

As a right-handed first baseman, it is harder for Duda to hold runners as his tag will be at the runner’s calf instead of his arm. Meanwhile, with a good move, Loney’s tag will be on the runner’s hand. If nothing else it could shorten a lead by a step.

Look, Duda might hit three homers. He could also make two errors and strike out three times. Who knows? But, for one game, with this pitching match-up, the right way to go is Loney over Duda.

If they want to take Duda over Campbell for a pinch-hit swing late in the game, fine. But, seriously, if Campbell pinch-hits, the Mets would likely be behind, and who would he bat for?

Alderson is smart, but he’s thinking too much on this one and it could bite him in the butt.

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Aug 06

Three Mets’ Storylines: Looks Bad Collins Didn’t Challenge

Another day, another head-scratching moment for the Mets. There were all those lost opportunities during the game, but the most puzzling moment came after the game’s final play when manager Terry Collins eschewed the opportunity to use his challenge.

As long as there’s a chance, and replay gave the Mets that chance, you go for it, but Collins did not. Earlier this week in dealing with the issue of perception vs. reality in the Yoenis Cespedes golf matter, Collins angrily said he didn’t care about perception and dealt in reality.

In not appealing, the perception is Collins doesn’t care – which I know isn’t true – against the reality, which he admitted that he wasn’t thinking.

BRUCE: Game ends in controversy. (AP)

BRUCE: Game ends in controversy. (AP)

The Mets finally appeared to get a hit with a runner in scoring position when Travis d’Arnaud grounded a single into right field, but Jay Bruce was thrown out at the plate to end the game when his cleat was caught in the dirt.

Once down 6-1, the Mets’ comeback fizzled at 6-5, but in this day of instant replay – when you never really know – Collins didn’t even bother to challenge the call. Replays showed Bruce was out, but clearcut replays have been reversed before, so why not?

It’s like on fourth-and-18, instead of throwing into the end zone you just take a knee.

“It was a tough way to end it,” Collins told reporters. “I thought for sure he was going to make it.”

Would Collins accept a base runner’s explanation he “thought for sure,” the ball was foul as to why he didn’t run? I don’t think so.

“That might be one of those plays where you might as well just take the chance anyway and see what happens,” Collins said. “I didn’t think about it.”

That’s a terrible thing for a manager to admit.

Bruce couldn’t say whether he was safe or out.

“I’ve seen it challenged before, but that’s not my decision,” Bruce said. “It’s a judgment call and I wasn’t part of the judgment call.”

It has been a rough season and a rough week for Collins, but that’s no excuse. Instant Replay, at least in Cespedes’ world, is a mulligan and Collins should have used it.

Not doing so, along with the Mets’ ineptitude to hit with RISP (2-for-12, 10 LOB, three double plays) was the main storyline. The others are the Mets’ fifth spot in the rotation and Zack Wheeler‘s rehab game.

TAKING THE FIFTH: For the most part, Logan Verrett has given the Mets a chance to win most of his starts in place of Matt Harvey. He didn’t Saturday night in giving up six runs in 3.2 innings. Considering how poorly the Mets’ offense has been, he gave them very little chance.

“I talked with [GM] Sandy [Alderson] about some things and we’re going to certainly look at some options,” Collins said when asked whether Verrett will stay in the rotation.

An option to replace him is Jon Niese, who pitched a scoreless 2.1 innings in relief.

WHEELER MAKES REHAB START:  With the Mets nine games behind Washington and 2.5 behind Miami, and tied with Pittsburgh for two games behind the final wild-card berth, the season is rapidly fading.

Given that, they would be foolish to wait for Wheeler’s return from the disabled list, because by the time he’s ready the season could be over. Wheeler threw 17 pitches in a rain-shortened rehab assignment with Class A St. Lucie. His fastball ranged from 90-96 mph.

Wheeler’s rehab assignment, barring a setback, will end the first week in September.

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Jul 28

Collins Lets Down Mets

Welcome back to “Panic City.” While some of us are residents, the mayor isn’t you or me, but Mets manager Terry Collins. No doubt the population could be growing after the Mets lost in agonizing and aggravating fashion for the second straight game, this time, 2-1, Thursday to the Colorado Rockies on Jeurys Familia‘s second blown save in less than 24 hours.

Of course, while it is easy to blame Familia and their chronic failure to hit with runners in scoring position, the primary culprit was Collins, whose game management wasted a brilliant effort by Jacob deGrom, who threw seven scoreless innings.

DE GROM: Mets waste his effort. (AP)

DE GROM: Mets waste his effort. (AP)

The Mets had a 1-0 lead and were poised to break the game open in the seventh when they had runners on second and third with no outs. They had ten hits, one walk, and had a runner reach on an error, so getting on base wasn’t the problem.

One would have thought they would have scored at least one run even by accident with deGrom due up. However, Collins sent up pinch-hitter Yoenis Cespedes – a temporary hitter from the previous night – despite knowing the Rockies would intentionally walk him.

“Let’s load the bases and make them get out of it,” the baseball lifer Collins told reporters. However, he must have conveniently forgotten defensive teams traditionally walk the bases full to set up a force at the plate or a double play. That strategy applies to the seventh as well as the ninth.

The force at the plate came soon enough when pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson – battling for Juan Lagares – hit a grounder to shortstop and Trevor Story‘s throw nailed Rivera. Curtis Granderson struck out on a wild swing, and Wilmer Flores popped out.

So, by batting Cespedes for deGrom, Collins lost his starter, Cespedes for a pinch-runner and Lagares. Had deGrom stayed in it would have enabled Addison Reed to close, which was the original plan.

After Familia’s blown save the previous night – in which he threw close to 30 pitches – Collins matter-of-factly said he would rest today. He didn’t because Familia told him before the game he was available. Add this to the growing list of statements Collins makes yet retreats on.

After Story singled, stole second and David Dahl walked, you knew this wasn’t going to end well. Daniel Descalso beat out a bunt in front of the plate when Rene Rivera gambled to let the ball roll foul, which it didn’t.

There’s bad luck, dumb luck and Mets’ luck, which is the worst kind. As it turned out, that would be the Rockies’ only hit of the inning. Colorado tied it on a fielder’s choice grounder and Familia’s wild pitch.

So, Collins went against his better judgment and used Familia just because the closer said he could pitch. We all know how that turned out in Game 5 of the World Series. But this time the season didn’t end.

Not yet, anyway.

 

 

Jul 08

Harvey Made Right Call On Surgery

Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey unquestionably made the right decision to undergo surgery for treatment of the thorasic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder. It was the best option for his pitching and financial future, and to the Mets for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Dr. Robert Thompson is expected to perform the procedure next week in St. Louis. The surgery, which would entail removing one of his ribs, is designed to relieve pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the space between the neck and shoulder. The increased pressure caused numbness in his arm and fingers.

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

Harvey’s options were surgery or a nerve-blocking injection, the latter being a temporary solution with surgery eventually required.

Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, whose comments last year on the pitcher’s innings limit created a stir, strongly advocated the surgery to ESPN: “The doctors clearly recommended that he have this done, mainly so that he can be ready for ’17.’

“The rehab on this is six months. Now, if there was a small window of a season, you might be able to take a shot. It’s actually Botox, which relaxes the muscles. That’s not a long-term solution. `The only way this is going to be treated appropriately –  and obviously, we don’t want to do anything to affect next year – is to get this surgically taken care of.”

That’s the understandable driving force behind the decision. This was chosen to set up Harvey for his turn at free agency. Had he chosen the injection and gotten through the season, that would be great. But, if it only lasted a few months and he had the surgery later this year, or in the offseason, or next year, all or most of 2017, could be lost. That would leave Harvey with one year to make an impression on his future suitors when he hits the free agent market after the 2018 season.

And, nobody knows how he’ll pitch coming off surgery. If you’re Harvey – not to mention the Mets or any team that would go after him – you want two years to make an impression. That’s why Harvey’s decision is a no-brainer. But, how does losing Harvey help the Mets the rest of this year?

Knowing the Mets won’t have him in the second half enables GM Sandy Alderson to freely pursue another arm before the July 31 trade deadline, even if it jacks up the asking price. That’s preferable to waiting through at least two Harvey starts before hitting the market late, which would increase the price even more.

This also allows manager Terry Collins to determine his rotation now and eliminates the inevitable questioning and excuse making after each of his starts. And, who would want to see Harvey go down for surgery in a September pennant-race game or the playoffs?

Harvey hasn’t pitched well, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts, and this ailment is an obvious explanation. Harvey frequently complained about not having his mechanics, but not having feelings in his arm and fingers could explain a change in mechanics.

However, left unanswered is why Harvey hadn’t complained about a lack of feeling before his disastrous start on Monday. Boras’ answer to that question explains both the good, and bad, about Harvey.

His bulldog approach on the mound, for example, his eight innings in Game 5 of the World Series, is to be applauded. It’s the spirit that defines an ace. That’s the good.

But, here’s the bad, as delivered by Boras.

“He’s felt this way since spring training, but he wanted to gut it out, try to do it, until finally, he’s going, ‘Look, I’m just feeling like I don’t feel the baseball the same.’ Once we heard that, I was like, ‘Maybe we have a TOS situation,’ and got him over to Dr. Thompson.”

Sounds plausible, but it underscores the increasingly, maddening, “I’ll do what I feel like” aspect that has defined Harvey’s short career. It also raises the inevitable question of what could have happened had this been discovered a month or two earlier.

If he had surgery in May or June perhaps he could have come back in late August, or September, or even the playoffs.

We’ll never know.