Jul 13

Mets Must Overhaul Pitching Protocols

 

UPDATED

The only one of the Mets starters not currently waving a health red flag is the one whose roots are not in the organization – Bartolo Colon. To be fair, Colon had health issues earlier in his career and a PED history, but he’s clean now and save a ball hit off his thumb has been fine.

Colon, at 43, has been a source of stability on the mound since joining the Mets, but his greatest contribution might be the suggestion to Noah Syndergaard, whose 23-year-old arm suddenly lost its steam, to back off his between-starts throwing.

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets' pitching problems. (Getty)

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets’ pitching problems. (Getty)

When Syndergaard told Bob Klapisch, one the most knowledgeable baseball writers I know, his arm felt “like there are parachutes attached to it,”  there was the image of swimming against the current.

Syndergaard is pitching through a bone spur in his elbow. Syndergaard experienced a sudden five-mph., drop off his fastball in his last start against the Nationals, similar to turning an oscillating fan from high to medium. Every pitch was a change-up.

Matt Harvey, who at 27, is out for the season following shoulder surgery; the second time in four years the knife cut him out of the rotation. Jacob deGrom was given a chance to be on the National League All-Star team but told manager Terry Collins he was too tired. The word he used was “beat.”

He’s only 28.

Then there’s Steven Matz. He had Tommy John surgery before he was 25, and like Syndergaard is pitching with a painful bone spur.

Finally, there’s Zack Wheeler, who at 26, also experienced Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to come off the disabled list in late June and send Colon to the bullpen. Then it was July, then after the All-Star break. Now, it is mid-August.

I’m waiting for the announcement he will not pitch this year.

Realistically, nobody expected all these guys to blossom into 20-game winners at once. However, also realistically, nobody expected them all to break down all at once, which is closer to happening than one might think.

Is this a coincidence or something deeper?

I would love to see the Mets get back to the World Series. However, I would rather they not make the playoffs, even have a losing season, if it meant seeing each of these guys healthy. For that to happen, the Mets need a serious and comprehensive plan. And remember, wishing is not a plan.

The first step is to recognize how they’ve handled things in the past. The second step is to recognize it hasn’t worked.

I’ve been on the record and will not back off saying they mishandled Harvey from the outset of his arm problems in 2013. It should be noted Harvey back then, and today contributes to his own problems.

Syndergaard won’t pitch until the Mets are in Chicago next week. They’ll ease him back in the rotation, which is a wise decision. Not so wise is their inexplicable decision not to schedule a new MRI. The Mets are going on a previous set taken several weeks before the Washington meltdown.

Just stupid.

GM Sandy Alderson said of Syndergaard and Matz their bone spurs is a matter of pain tolerance. More than once they’ve said the pitchers – the keys to the Mets’ future – couldn’t risk further injury.

Wrong answer.

There are no guarantees when it comes to injuries. The only guarantee is if you continually do something wrong and it doesn’t work, it won’t get better.

The Mets have the possibility to have a great pitching staff, but that’s all it is now – potential. It will remain potential unless the Mets do a complete overhaul in how they handle their pitchers.

From throwing between starts, to pitch counts, to days off, to dealing with pain and discomfort, to a myriad of other things, there must be a complete change. There should be uniformity in policy and procedure from the rookie league to Citi Field.

I don’t know if these Mets will develop into a staff for the ages or fizzle out like the Oakland staff under Billy Martin. Both could happen.

Something is wrong and priority one for the Mets is to find out what it is and fix it.

I don’t care about what happens this year, it’s probably too late, anyway. I care about what happens in the years to come.

 

Jul 12

What Went Wrong For Mets In First Half And Other Obstacles

On Monday I examined ten positives from the Mets’ first half. Today I look at ten things that either went wrong or must be overcome.

The Mets are tied with Miami six games behind Washington in the NL East. From injuries to poor performances, it was far from an idyllic first half.

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

It isn’t as if it all spiraled out of control, but numerous things must be overcome if the Mets are to make a second-half run:

1. HISTORY: The Mets have never reached the postseason in consecutive seasons, let alone the World Series. History has always been a tough nut to crack.

2. TEAM IDENTITY: The Mets are constructed in GM Sandy Alderson’s vision, which sometimes is no better than that of Mr. Magoo. Manager Terry Collins said Sunday “situational hitting” is the key things the Mets must improve on in the second half after repeatedly saying the season’s first three months they are a team built on power. Those are two incompatible concepts. The Mets won only five games in which they did not hit a homer. That must change.

3. RISP: This is linked to the first event. The Mets hit a paltry .213 with runners in scoring position with 180 strikeouts. The Mets average roughly eight runners left on base per game. Nearly 55 percent of the Mets’ scoring is attributable to home runs, and they only have a plus-20 run differential. Not good.

4. STRIKEOUTS: Alderson’s attraction to the new-wave statistics seemingly includes a disregard for striking out. It’s like he doesn’t care when a hitter strikes out, which is inexcusable. The Mets average 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which is just shy of three innings. The Mets are giving away three innings of potential offense, meaning there are no sacrifice flies; no chance of reaching on a hit, error or walk; and no productive outs. Curtis Granderson is on pace to strike out 144 times, followed by Yoenis Cespedes (142) and Neil Walker (122). Before they went on the disabled list, David Wright and Lucas Duda were also on pace to strikeout over 120 times. Michael Conforto was on pace to strikeout over 100 times before he was optioned to the minors. That’s Alderson’s offense, and it is not conducive to winning.

5. ROTATION PROBLEMS: The Mets’ young starting rotation was to carry this team, but Matt Harvey is lost for the year; Noah Syndergaard has a bone spur in his right elbow and enters the second half as a significant question; Jacob deGrom went ten starts without a victory; and Steven Matz has a bone spur in his left elbow, but pitched well in his last three starts. The Mets hoped to plug Bartolo Colon into the bullpen and bring up Zack Wheeler. However, Wheeler has had several setbacks and won’t be available until mid-August.

6. WRIGHT IS LOST: Wright is gone for the year following neck surgery and his career is in jeopardy. Wright has been saddled with injuries for several years. In addition to a lack of production, his salary has hamstrung the Mets in making moves.

7. OTHER INJURIES: In addition to Harvey and Wright, Duda is out indefinitely with a fracture in his lower back. The Mets enter the second half with Cespedes out with a strained quad with no timetable for his return. Granderson is playing with a strained calf and Conforto was playing with an injured wrist when he was demoted. Reliever Jim Henderson is on the disabled list with a strained right biceps.

8. WEAK BULLPEN: Outside of Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, there’s little reliability to the Mets’ bullpen. Losing Henderson and Josh Edgin hurt, and Antonio Bastardo offered nothing. Hansel Robles has been inconsistent.

9. DIVISION RECORD: The Mets are 19-22 vs. the NL East, including 4-9 against the Washington Nationals. They routed the Phillies and Braves last year, and had a winning record against Washington. Things are a lot tougher this year.

10. TOUGH ROAD AHEAD: Not only did the Mets limp into the break, but open the second half with a rugged schedule of nine games on the road, including three each in Chicago against the Cubs and three in Miami. They then come home with three against St. Louis. August brings four games with the Yankees, four at San Francisco, and three each at Detroit and St. Louis. If there isn’t a turnaround, their six games against the Nationals in September could be a moot point.

Jul 11

Top Ten First-Half Positives For Mets

As tempting as it might be to want to throw the first half of the Mets’ season into the dumpster because injuries and Daniel Murphy are forcing them in that direction, not everything has been a negative.

Since I’ve always been a beacon of positive thoughts when it comes to the Mets, I thought I’d open the break with the ten things that went right in the first half.

CESPEDES: First half Mets' MVP. (AP)

CESPEDES: First half Mets’ MVP. (AP)

1. It could be worse: That’s probably the biggest positive. They trail the Nationals by six games, but Washington also had its bumps to keep the Mets within spitting distance. From June 18-25, while the Nationals lost seven straight, the Mets won four of seven.

2. Replacing Murphy: Despite Murphy’s gaudy numbers, especially against the Mets, let’s not forget the power Neil Walker provided at second base with nine homers and 19 in April. Walker can leave after the season, but has been a reliable and productive bat.

3. Plugging the shortstop hole: Perhaps the Mets’ most important offseason acquisition has been the signing of Asdrubal Cabrera to a two-year, $18.5-million contract. Nobody expected 12 homers and 29 RBI in the first half.

4. Resiliency: One of the Mets’ most important characteristics last season was their ability to adjust on the fly, especially with all their injuries. There have been no shortage of injuries this year, but the Mets plugged with Rene Rivera (for Travis d’Arnaud), James Loney (for Lucas Duda) and Wilmer Flores (for David Wright). The Mets also inserted Logan Verrett into their rotation and added Jose Reyes and Kelly Johnson, both of whom have already paid dividends.

5. A strong closer: Jeurys Familia has been spotty at times, but converted all 31 of his save opportunities. Addison Reed has also been a reliable bridge to Familia.

6. Bringing back Cespedes: Where would the Mets be without Yoenis Cespedes? Perhaps in a double-digit hole behind the Nationals. Cespedes has 21 of the Mets’ 122 homers, but pulled out of the All-Star Game with a strained right quad. Cespedes has had several brain cramps, but the Mets are contenders because of him.

7. Jacob deGrom finding it: It was a rough start for deGrom, which included ten straight winless starts. However, he’s back in a groove, which is imperative considering the loss of Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard’s health status entering the second half. Of course, Syndergaard’s All-Star first half was a positive.

8. Bartolo Colon never losing it: The 43-year-old Colon was named as a replacement to the NL All-Star team, and it is well deserved. The plan was to move him to the bullpen when Zack Wheeler is promoted. However, that won’t be until mid-August.

9. Promising young outfielders: Michael Conforto dazzled us in April, but sputtered and was sent to the minors. However, instead of sulking he appears to have regained his stroke. When Conforto was optioned Brandon Nimmo was promoted and excited us with his enthusiasm. Manager Terry Collins doesn’t see them together in the second-half outfield, but they will be paired soon enough.

10. Battling the Central Division: Last season the Mets were swept by both the Pirates and Cubs, but this season they are 3-3 against Pittsburgh and 4-0 so far against the Cubs. And, for good measure, they won two of three in Cleveland.

 

Jul 09

Three Mets’ Storylines: Murphy Deserves This

Daniel Murphy is just piling it on the Mets now. The one-time Met turned Mets tormenter with Washington stuck it to his former team again Saturday night.

Murphy drove in four runs on three hits – including a homer; missing a second by a few feet – in a 6-1 Nationals’ rout that opened their lead over the Mets to a comfy five games in the NL East. Murphy is a big part of that lead. Had he stayed with the Mets and produced the same numbers, you can make an argument the standings could be flipped.

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

Ask GM Sandy Alderson why they are not.“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

Murphy is batting .437 with six homers and 19 RBI against the Mets. Overall, he’s hitting .349 with 16 homers and 64 RBI and if the season ended today, and it’s getting close to that feeling with the Mets, he would be a MVP frontrunner.

And, I couldn’t be happier for him. As a sportswriter, I root for good stories and Murphy is a good story. He was a great story last October, and before that was always an interesting story for the Mets.

For some reason only Alderson and the Wilpons know – but haven’t been forthcoming about – the Mets didn’t want him back, only giving him a $15.8-million token qualifying offer.

Maybe his politically-incorrect statements was the decider. Definitely, he didn’t fit Alderson’s Sabremetrics profile, which I always felt was overrated. His defense was never top drawer, but the first-place Nationals don’t seem to have a problem with his glove.

Murphy was a homegrown Met who always busted his hump for the team. He had some brain cramps, but there was never a problem with his heart.

I always liked Murphy when he played with the Mets and wanted him back, although I never believed Alderson would pull that trigger. The kicker is Murphy, after working with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, showed the power stroke last year in the second half in the playoffs he’s flashing now.

One of the things I always liked about Murphy is he’s not a chest-thumper. When asked if he’s having fun, especially in the park where he blossomed last year in the playoffs, Murphy said: “We’re playing well. [Being called a] post-season hero is humbling, but there were 25 guys over there last year.”

Last year seems like a long time ago, and with each Murphy at-bat it’s getting further away. I don’t know if the Mets can regroup and challenge Washington after the break, but I am happy to see him thriving.

Murphy deserves to be a headliner, and could be one through 2018 with the Nationals, while the player they replaced him with – Neil Walker – could walk after this season.

Murphy was the main storyline Saturday. The two others were the Mets’ continued inability to hit with RISP and how Antonio Bastardo adds nothing to the bullpen.

METS WITH RISP: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a significant issue all season. They were 0-5 with RISP and stranded seven runners. If there was a turning point in the game it came in the first when the Mets had runners on second and third with no outs and came away with only one run.

Max Scherzer, who no-hit the Mets last year and has 29 strikeouts in three starts against them this season, struck out Asdrubal Cabrera and Brandon Nimmo to get out of the inning.

“It’s an age-old story,” Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. “When you have a pitcher like [Scherzer] on the ropes early, you’d better get him.”

All season Collins said the Mets are built on power, which is not the optimum way to construct a team. Of all the telling stats about the Mets, perhaps the most significant is they have won only five games in which they did not hit a homer.

BASTARDO BOMBS OUT: Bastardo is not why they lost tonight, but continued to be a weak link in the bullpen.

Murphy took him deep tonight and also on Thursday. He has a 4.91 ERA and as simply not produced as the situational lefty.

The Mets enter the break with no shortage of needs, and a lefty in the bullpen is one of them.

 

Jul 08

Three Mets’ Storylines: More Injuries

What was that line in Bull Durham? “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And, sometimes it rains.” However, on this night for the Mets, it didn’t rain long or hard enough.

The Mets lost 3-1 Friday to the Washington Nationals, but that was just the game. On a day the Mets lost Matt Harvey to season-ending shoulder surgery they lost a lot more during the game.

SYNDERGAARD: When will we see him again? (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: When will we see him again? (AP)

I covered Harvey earlier today, so the top three Mets storylines tonight are: 1) Noah Syndergaard leaving with an arm injury, 2) Yoenis Cespedes leaving with a strained quad muscle, and 3) Jose Reyes’ reluctance to run.

SYNDERGAARD LEAVES WITH ARM INJURY: Syndergaard, who has been bothered by a bone spur in his elbow, and whom manager Terry Collins would pitch in the All-Star Game, left in the fifth inning with what the Mets called “arm fatigue.”

Collins told reporters: “He just said his arm went dead. It got tired on him. … “He tells me there’s nothing wrong. He’s just tired.”

Collins said Syndergaard will not pitch in the All-Star Game. He also said “as of now,’’ there’s no correlation between this and the bone spur.

His velocity was down and he winced with his last pitch. Doesn’t a wince denote pain? If he couldn’t feel anything in his arm, that’s not a dead arm.

“I didn’t have anything on pitches,” Syndergaard told reporters. “I knew something wasn’t right.”

Twice already this season Syndergaard complained of discomfort in his pitching elbow and underwent a MRI. He said he didn’t think a third MRI is necessary.

Wanna bet?

CESPEDES HAS QUAD INJURY: The Mets’ All-Star outfielder left after three innings with a strained right quad while chasing Daniel Murphy’s double.

Cespedes leaped to catch the carom off the wall and landed awkwardly. What the good folks at SNY didn’t say was he didn’t play the ball properly and was too close to the wall.

Collins said he might have to do without him for a couple of games, which should also put him out of the All-Star Game.

“`I’m running out of things to say and we’re running out of bodies,” said Collins, who indicated the Mets will play shorthanded for the rest of the series.

REYES DOESN’T RUN: The Mets had runners on the corners with no outs, with Reyes on first. Or, should I say, anchored on first?

He didn’t try to steal to get the tying run into scoring position. He didn’t run to stay out of the inning-ending double play.

SNY’s analysis ranged from the wet turf, to being rusty to not being confident, yet, to run. None are good explanations.

Reyes is here for his speed and provide a spark. If he’s rusty, what’s the point? The day before he was activated Collins said Reyes wasn’t ready, and several days prior to that the player said he didn’t want to come back until he was 100 percent.

Evidently he is not, despite the homer Thursday. Evidently, if the manager and player said Reyes wasn’t ready, then did management force this move just to sell a few tickets against the Marlins?