“And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.”
For the first time in recorded human history — doesn’t it just sound so much more dramatic that way? — the Mets were swept in a four game series by the Florida Marlins in Miami. They have now won just once in their past eight games, and have fallen into last place in the National League East. The Mets have perfected the bad team art of only scoring runs on the days their pitchers let up even more runs, and then not scoring when their pitchers hold down the opposition. Thanks to practice, they’ve gotten quite good at it.
So the Mets find themselves in the cellar again — earth was really dying, Keith Hernandez revealed himself a David Bowie fan, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.
The customary thing to say at moments like this is that you are never as bad as you look at your worst, and never as good as you look at your best, (and that Keith has surprisingly good taste in everything. Ziggy Stardust is indeed a great album.) I think even the most panic-ridden of Met supporters know this — that is, the not as bad as you look thing, not the David Bowie thing. Everyone knows that the Mets are not going to play .125 baseball the rest of the way, just like everyone knew the Mets weren’t going to play .909 baseball after run at the end of last month. To channel my inner Bill Parcells, “you are what your record says you are”, and the Mets look to be about a .500 team, which is what most predictors had them at coming into this season anyway. This present storm has forced them into the cellar, but they’re still just two games under .500, a record that would put the Mets in last place in only one other division, the surprisingly strong NL West. Don’t believe the rumors of earth’s demise — the season isn’t quite over yet.
But, all that being said . . . oh boy, this team is a disaster.
- Yesterday’s lineup had Alex Cora and his career OPS+ of 74 batting second and Chris Carter, a career minor leaguer with 32 major league plate appearances hitting cleanup. Both of them were batting in front of the team’s best hitter, David Wright, who was hitting fifth. Because generally you want your worst hitter hitting second, and your best fifth.
- The previous night’s lineup, the everyday group, contained three regulars with on-base percentages below .300, and five regulars with slugging percentages below .400 — and that’s not counting the pitcher, John Maine, who is 0-10 with no walks this season, good for a slash line of .000/.000/.000.
- The bench consists of a player-coach who doesn’t play so well anymore, an outfielder who doesn’t do much of anything anymore, a backup catcher, the animal, and this year’s right-handed first baseman/outfielder who the manager pretends doesn’t exist.
- The starting rotation currently has a grand total of three pitchers in it. I believe the doctor recommended number has been something closer to five for about thirty years now.
- One of the remaining three pitchers walked the first three batters he saw in his last start on all of twelve pitches, and has pitched his team to an expected winning percentage of .393 in his starts. (According to Baseball Prospectus’ underused support neutral win-loss record, SNWL, which factors out bullpen and lineup support from a pitcher’s performance.) Two of the team’s left-handers have just been eliminated, one by an aggravated hamstring injury and the other by an aggravated case of ineffectiveness.
- The bullpen is second in the majors in ERA, and eighth in strikeouts per nine innings pitched — but they are also seventh in walks allowed. This one is the disaster waiting to happen, the radon in the walls. A low ERA despite the walks is a function of putting a ton of runners on base, but then somehow managing to leave them there. The bullpen easily has the highest percentage of runners left on base in the major leagues — which, unfortunately, is something that tends to even itself out over time. It’s sort of like inviting a lot of people over for a dinner party, and then not feeding them anything but minimal appetizers. You can get away with it, but not forever.
- Two of the pitchers in the bullpen, Fernando Nieve and Pedro Feliciano, rank first and second in appearances in the major leagues. So you could say they’ve been worked quite a bit. That might not entirely be the manager’s fault though . . . what? Not entirely, just mostly. After all, his other bullpen options consist of a shaky closer who probably finds a way to walk a few batters before he closes his car door, a banished starter with no stuff or ability to throw strikes, a pitcher younger than any other pitcher in the major leagues by more than a year, someone on loan from a Mexican team named for a hot sauce, and a second-hand Brave that I always forget is on the team.
For all intents and purposes, as presently constructed, the Mets have a four man bullpen, with the other three relievers used by the manager only in garbage time. Thankfully, there has been a lot of garbage time.
- The manager has batted Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalanotto, and Chris Carter cleanup, has used Alex Cora over Luis Castillo far too much, seemingly forgets about certain players, and, as stated above, really only uses half his bullpen. He has justifiably taken to managing as if he might be tarred and feathered after a loss, and will likely be fired unless the Mets make the playoffs, a scenario that seems progressively unlikely. The Mets might as well just throw the word “interim” back in front of his title.
- The defense is still prone to the Wile E. Coyote like innings that were the trademark of the 2009 team. It’s almost as if things start to go wrong in an inning, and everyone starts to think that if they throw the ball to the base hard enough, they’ll be able to record four outs on the play. I’d like to give the Mets some of my wrinkled shirts, because it looks like they’re PRESSING! Zing, or whatever. Take my wife, please! A girl called me and told me to come over, nobody’s home. I went over — nobody was home! I’ll be here all week . . .
- The general manager is in some sort of shadowy puppet setup. He/they/SPECTRE constructed the roster and are responsible for it.
- The ownership group — who, by the way, assembled this entire cast of characters — is watching attendance plummet in their one-year-old ballpark, but blame it on the weather. Even though the weather was better this season than the last one.
- Jeff Francoeur is making a strong case to be the one left standing alone when “El Esta Aqui” stops playing in the game of outfield musical chairs upon Beltran’s limpy return.
- Jason Bay has been infected with a case of “2009 David Wright disease.”
It’s not all bad news, of course. Just mostly bad news. Mike Pelfrey and his off-speed arsenal have been a revelation. Santana has been Santana outside of two awful innings. David Wright has still been among the top hitters in the NL despite doing a breathtaking impersonation of a fan. Jose Reyes and Jason Bay are bound to figure it out again. Ike Davis has shown far more than anyone could have expected of someone with little experience above AA ball. Angel Pagan, Hisanori Tahakashi, and Pedro Feliciano have been useful role players. The catchers have been fun. And . . . uh . . . they have been the best baserunning team
in all of baseball?
But that’s sort of it. There is an impressive amount of dead weight in this organization dragging everything else down. Half the roster is Matt Damon, and the other half is Ben Affleck.
I have no idea what the solution for the organization is. Perhaps a different managerial direction could help, but that also feels like slapping a band-aid on a severed limb. It’s the obvious answer, because replacing a manger is easy, cheap, because managers don’t make much money compared to the players, and overhauls an entire branch of the organization in one move. But I’m not sure if it does all the much other than appease the fanbase. They could drop the general manager as well, but that feels messier when done in the middle of the season. Maybe they could add another Shake Shack?
I suppose they could cut loose some of the ragged roster ends and bring up a couple of minor leaguers, but I’m not sold that Jason Pridie is going to make an enormous difference — he may be better, but who knows how much. There’s not a ton of organizational rotation depth to call up. Clamoring for R.A. Dickey is one of those moves that will look funny in a year, like arguing about Daniel Murphy’s merits as a first baseman. Maybe the best idea is to just wait it out this season and hope that all or some of Jose Reyes, Jeff Francoeur, Jason Bay, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Gary Matthews Jr., and Francisco Rodriguez turn it around, or at the very least find out exactly what they have in all of them, so they can blow this whole thing up after the year.
It seems that baseball organizations are all either moving towards becoming more ordered or more chaotic. There are teams with plans, and teams just wrapping everything with duct tape. The Washington Nationals are moving towards order, and the Cubs are moving towards entropy. The Mariners were moving towards order, and then . . . well, I don’t know what happened then. The 2010 Rays have one of the best run differentials in baseball history, and most of the lineup isn’t hitting. Young pitching, defense, solid drafting, and they’re not afraid to cut away the dead weight. They have what is sometimes referred to as a “plan.”
I think at this point it’s pretty clear the Mets aren’t moving towards becoming more ordered. It looks more and more like they’re just wrapping things up in duct tape and plugging holes in the Hoover Dam with bubble gum. To many of their castles were made of sand, and things are ugly right now. I don’t know what the right answer is for them. I hope they do.
Mr. Met image via Flickr user slgckgc’s photo stream.