What the Mets must do to separate themselves from mediocrity
By Staff Writer
Mediocrity is a bad place for any baseball team to find itself. The New York Mets must separate themselves from this state. This is how they do it.
With roughly 60% of the 2019 regular season still remaining, the New York Mets have basically been spinning themselves around a hamster wheel of mediocrity. Coming into their June series with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets are hovering around the .500 mark and are not showing any strong signs of ascending to levels of greater play despite hitting a 25 game stretch where they will take on playoff-caliber teams nonstop consecutively until early July.
On the positive side, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has done a good job of assembling a roster that has much depth and versatility offensively, as putting up runs and hitting for power have not been much of a challenge for this Mets team for the majority of the regular season up to this point.
Despite recent acquisitions and young stars like Brandon Nimmo, Jed Lowrie and Robinson Cano missing significant amounts of time with injuries thus far, the Mets still find themselves around the middle of the pack in major offensive categories like hits, home runs, runs scored and RBI.
But we all know that in order to achieve playoff caliber success in the regular season, a team has to play very well in at least two of the three major categories consisting of starting pitching, offense and relief pitching. And, unfortunately for the Mets, both their relief pitching and their starting pitching have not been up to par with the other successful teams in the Major Leagues.
Coming into their June 13th to June 15th three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Mets seem to be trending upwards and in the right direction as far as their starting pitching ERA, wins, and runs given up statistics are concerned. Similar to their offense, they are ranked somewhat middle to just below the middle of the pack in starting pitcher major categories coming into their sixty-eighth game of the regular season.
However, their first 30 games of the regular season were something out of a nightmare. In that span, the Mets starting rotation gave up the 6th highest batting average to opponents in the majors as well the second most total runs allowed to opponents. Their starting rotation ERA was third worst in all of baseball during this time period at 5.42, too.
Starting star pitcher Noah Syndergaard struggled mightily in his first six starts, pitching to a 6.35 ERA. Both Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas also looked shaky in their first couple of outings, which contributed to the team’s lackluster April.
However May and half of June so far has seen the Mets starters improve on their “runs given up” and “batting average against” statistics, thus allowing them to stay in games more and not tax their bullpen as much as they were in April. If this continues, perhaps looking to go out and acquire another big name starter at the trade deadline may not seem so imperative as was once thought.
What I think the Mets really need to address if they are to catapult themselves into playoff contention in baseball is their bullpen’s ineffectiveness and their lack of quality fielding defense.
Currently, the Mets bullpen ranks as the 6th worst bullpen in MLB (tied with the Marlins). They came into Thursday’s opening series game against the Cardinals with a 5.05 ERA. Surprisingly, it was the bullpen that the Mets management and clubhouse thought would be one of their strengths coming into 2019.
Despite boasting a slick-fielding second baseman who is Hall of Fame bound and a young shortstop who was expected to be known for his solid glove and range, the Mets still rank among one of the worst fielding teams in the National League coming into their series with the Cardinals.
Their .980 fielding percentage as a team is third worst in the National League and they have committed the second most errors in the National League with 48 total. If the Mets are to go on any kind of positive run here in the second half of this season, they are going to have to clean up their fielding defense.
With a returning core of Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and Jeurys Familia to go along with the new additions of Justin Wilson and Edwin Diaz, many fans were confident that as long as the starters did their jobs for the first six innings, that our pen would lock things up on a consistent basis night after night.
Boy, were we off.
Since bringing back Jeurys Familia this season, the former closer has already blown three saves and has given up several crucial runs in high leverage eighth inning hold situations thus far for the Mets. Familia is currently sporting a 5.80 ERA and looks like a shell of the former pitcher the Mets came to rely upon from 2014 to 2018.
Robert Gsellman has also struggled mightily over the last month of this regular season. In six of his last eight appearances dating back to May 23, 2019, the Santa Monica California native has given up one or more runs in those appearances. His ERA has currently ballooned close to 5.00 as he continues to struggle with fatigue and control issues.
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Justin Wilson also hasn’t been the answer for the Mets as a southpaw reliever coming in for special situations. Wilson, who dominated left-handed hitters in both 2017 and 2018, has been on the IL with left elbow soreness and inflammation since early May. Even before this, he was showing a slow down in both velocity and control as he sported a 4.82 ERA before his injury diagnosis.
The combination of minor league arms the Mets have so far brought up to strengthen the pen has severely backfired as guys like Tyler Bashlor, Tim Peterson, Luis Avilan, Corey Oswalt and Drew Gagnon just have not gotten the job done in their relief roles either.
I believe the fielding percentage and errors committed by the Mets will improve going forward as long as Jeff McNeil can come back and play either third or second base every day. Seeing guys like J.D. Davis, Todd Frazier or Amed Rosario butcher their assigned infield positions on a daily basis has been killing any hopes of us improving our chances at making the postseason. Adeiny Hechavarria playing more time at 3B or 2B with Robinson Cano and Jed Lowrie out is also another way to sure up that infield defense without giving up much offensively.
On a positive note, as of late, Amed Rosario has also looked to have cleaned up his play at shortstop as he has been working hard and late with his fielding coaches on getting more lower quicker on ground balls hit to him. Couple this with the fact that both Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil have been putting in the extra practice to play a solid left field whenever either is put in that position is also an encouraging sign that our defense fielding may be on the uptrend.
So long as the Mets can continue to play a consistent and reliable defense at the corners and up the middle, they should be able to take some pressure off their horrific bullpen and steal a few more wins in 2019.
Despite the plethora of ineffective arms, the Mets have brought up to pitch in relief, we are seeing some young arms develop down in our Double-A and Triple-A farm systems that can be called up to stop the damage soon. Within a weeks time, it would be a good idea for Brodie Van Wagenen to call up the likes of southpaw Anthony Kay and right-hander Ryley Gilliam to see if their minor league dominance can translate to big league results. At this point, they really can’t do much worse than what we have already seen.
If I am the Mets I would also consider trading from an area of strength, like dealing my good hitting first baseman, and see if I can’t pry away Shane Greene from the Tigers or a Kirby Yates from San Diego.
Even though Dominic Smith has shown he may indeed become a decent everyday first baseman who can hit, sometimes you just have to give up talent to acquire talent in other needed areas in return.
A combination of these moves while also hoping that Justin Wilson can return off the IL and pitch effectively is what the Mets desperately need if they are going to elevate their chances of competing for the NL Wild Card.
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Here’s to hoping that this new front office regime can be as creative and resourceful at finding undervalued talent as Sandy Alderson was during his tenure here in New York.