JOSH THOLE, C
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: For the second straight year, the Mets had high expectations for Josh Thole. When Thole broke in with the Mets in 2010, they liked his patience at the plate, ability to go to the opposite field and how he handled the staff. So somebody that inexperienced at the position he did remarkably well. Perhaps they overrated him as he was one of the few bright spots in a dismal season. However, he regressed in 2011, both offensively and defensively. Considering his small major league window, the Mets were counting on him to regain his plate presence, both in working the count and going the opposite way. As he developed physically, there was also the hope of him hitting for more power. Defensively, his familiarity with the staff created the hope he’d improve in calling a game. Other weaknesses included throwing out base stealers and blocking balls in the dirt.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Thole regressed this summer as he did in 2011. There were too many wasted at-bats, a lack of patience and little production. Thole hit .234 with one homer, 21 RBI, and a low .294 on-base percentage and a miniscule .584 OPS. In 104 games he had only 75 hits. He should have produced more simply by accident. He also struck out 50 times to only 27 walks. In comparison back-up catcher Kelly Shoppach homered three times with 10 RBI in 28 games with the Mets. Defensively, GM Sandy Alderson pointed to R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese as an endorsement of Thole’s game-calling, but he conveniently omitted his 18 passed balls (mostly with Dickey) and that he threw out only 17 base stealers in 74 attempts while weakness in throwing out potential base stealers for a paltry 23 percent.
LOOKING AT 2013: The Mets have a myriad of holes and catching is one of them. Shoppach contributed a little, but not to where he’s high on the Mets’ bring-back list. Because the Mets have little on the minor league level and more pressing needs, there’s not a high priority to replace Thole, who made $498,000 in 2012 and is eligible for salary arbitration. Even if Thole wins in arbitration, he won’t break the penny-conscious Mets. Perhaps more than any other Met, Thole has the most to prove. He’s been at this level for four seasons and should have shown considerably more by now. His career numbers are a .261 average, with seven homers and 87 RBI. By now he should do better than that in a single season.
NEXT: Ike Davis
FRANK FRANCISCO, RHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: The Mets thought they plugged two serious bullpen holes with the signings of Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco, both of whom pitched effectively at times for Toronto in 2011. The two combined for 107 appearances, so the Mets knew they were getting some reliability. However, obviously overlooked by the Mets were the reasons why they weren’t brought back by the Blue Jays in the first place. Francisco walked 18 and gave up seven homers in 50.2 innings. And, he did it for $4 million. Rauch gave up 11 homers in 52 innings. In Rauch, the Mets had to deal with a pitcher who didn’t pitch after Sept. 2, 2011, with a knee injury. And, he did so at the bargain rate of $3.5 million. The Blue Jays decided they could get mediocre production for less. Meanwhile, the Mets decided to give Francisco and Rauch $5.5 million and $3.5 million, respectively. For that kind of money, the Mets had a right to expect holes would be filled. With the Mets no longer sold on Bobby Parnell at the time, they envisioned Rauch in the set-up role and Francisco as the closer.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: It was hit and miss all season for both. Rauch got off to a good start going 3-0 with three holds and a 2.53 ERA in April, but was 0-4 with a 5.56 ERA in May. Rauch was strong in July and August, but was hammered in September, giving up four homers in nine innings. For the season, Rauch had a decent 1.22 WHIP, but also blew four saves and gave up seven homers. Francisco was strong at the start of the season when the Mets’ bullpen was decent, but struggled in the second half, went on the disabled list and ended the season with a strained side muscle watching Parnell close for much of September. Francisco saved 23 games, which any closer should get by accident. Francisco averaged 14.5 base runners per nine innings (10 hits and 4.5 walks), so he was always in trouble. A 5.53 ERA says the same thing.
LOOKING AT 2013: Francisco will be back simply because he is signed for $6.5 million. His is a contract the Mets would love to scuttle, but he’ll be back in the closer role. Rauch was erratic to the point where the Mets won’t be inclined to bring him back as they know they can get similar production for less money on the free-agent market.
NEXT: Josh Thole
MATT HARVEY, RHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: The expectations of Matt Harvey were minimal for this summer. The Mets’ 2010 first-round pick out of North Carolina – and the seventh choice overall – was to continue his development in the minor leagues. The best-case scenario had him continuing his development at Triple-A Buffalo and join the Mets as a September call-up, when he would make two or three starts to give the big club an idea of whether he would fit into their plans for 2013. Even when the Mets’ rotation started to crumble, the talk was he wasn’t ready and GM Sandy Alderson didn’t want to rush him to the major league level. The scouting report on the 23-year-old Harvey was he had a plus-fastball, good secondary pitches and the ability to keep his composure on the mound. At similar points in their careers, Harvey was rated ahead of Mike Pelfrey, the Mets’ first-round pick in 2005.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Harvey was 7-5 with a 3.68 ERA in 20 starts for the Bisons before the Mets promoted him in late July. Minor league hitters batted .233 against him and he had 112 strikeouts and only 48 walks in 110 innings, numbers that clearly indicated he was overpowering batters. With the Mets’ rotation in shambles, Alderson had no option but to elevate him to see what he could do on the next level. At the time, the Mets were fading and the summer was spiraling out of control. Unable or unwilling to make a midseason acquisition – take your pick – Alderson had to do something to keep the dwindling attention of Mets fans and Harvey was the answer. Harvey pitched 5.1 scoreless innings at Arizona, July 26 to win his major league debut. He struck out 11 and walked three to have Mets fans drooling about the possibilities. However, he was victimized by the Mets’ dismal offense and lost his next three starts – they gave him only four runs in those games – but there was still a lot to like about Harvey’s game, especially his willingness to challenge hitters and his walks-to-strikeouts ratio. Unlike Pelfrey, Harvey possessed a poise and calmness about him. His command was exceptional and his stuff overpowering. He seemed to get a strikeout whenever the situation demanded. Harvey finished his first year at 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He struck out 70 with 26 walks in 59 innings, and batters hit a paltry .200 with a .338 slugging percentage against him. The Mets shut him down after his Sept. 19 start against Philadelphia to conserve his arm.
LOOKING AT 2013: I don’t know if the Mets will conserve his innings next summer the way the Nationals did Stephen Strasburg. Let’s hope not, but if they are inclined to jump on that bandwagon, let’s hope they don’t yank the rug out from under him in September, but perhaps have him skip a start once a month. That would mean six starts and possibly up to 42 innings for the summer. The Mets are counting on him to be in the rotation on Opening Day and develop into a solid, consistent starter. Actually, they are counting on him to become a star. Anything less than that would be a disappointment.
NEXT: A look at the other pitchers who started games for the 2012 Mets.
MIKE PELFREY, RHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: After falling far short of the expectations of a No. 1 draft choice in 2005 – the ninth overall selection – Mike Pelfrey had what was thought to be a breakout year in 2010 when he went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA and career high 204 innings. Pelfrey did not have dominating numbers, but clearly made progressions in his approach to pitching that suggested he might become the pitcher the Mets hoped. Pelfrey finally was pitching with poise and guile. There was an undeniable composure he never displayed before and his pitch selection was far better. Hitters could no longer sit on his fastball because he was getting his secondary pitches over in fastball counts. Could Pelfrey finally become an ace? Well, no. Pelfrey regressed in 2011 going 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA. Hitters ripped him at a .286 clip with a .344 on-base percentage and crushed 21 homers. With two back-to-back polar opposite seasons, the Mets didn’t know what to expect from him for the $5.6 million they would pay.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Pelfrey started fast this year with a 2.29 ERA in three starts and resembled his 2010 performance. He pitched with composure in that window and the thought was perhaps he would take the next step. However, Pelfrey sustained an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery that finished his season. Would it also finish his Mets’ career?
LOOKING AT 2013: The cost conscious Mets, despite holes in their rotation, aren’t expected to tender Pelfrey a contract this December, even if they were to offer the maximum 20 percent cut from his $5.687 million contract. Many pitchers have rebounded from Tommy John surgery, so even if the Mets don’t bring him back there will be interest as there is no shortage of teams with pitching needs. If the Mets think they can cut him loose and bring him back at a discount, they should think again because at 28, he’s young enough to where his career isn’t over. Pelfrey is a career 50-54 with a 4.36 ERA and .284 batting average against him. Of all the statistics on his resume, his age is the one most likely to cause the Mets to take a flier on him again. Considering the potential holes in the Mets’ rotation and bullpen and inevitable need for pitching, he might be worth the gamble. If healthy, he could give the Mets close to 200 innings. With Johan Santana gone after 2013, the Mets will need a starter and there are no guarantees from Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler or Jenrry Mejia. The idea has also been floated of putting Pelfrey in the bullpen with potential of eventually becoming the closer.
NEXT: Matt Harvey