HALFWAY TO OCTOBER
Briefly, before delving into the individuals, let's quickly look at the Mets as a team. 53-36, running away with the NL East, and enjoying a nice lead over the Cards for the league's best record. Of course with their 20-9 record in one-run games, you'd expect that record to exceed Pythagoras. And they have. But not by much, as their +69 run differential suggests a 51-38 or 52-39 record. They're about where they should be.
On the flip side, the Mets are only 11-13 since returning from the famous "9 Game Road Trip." Amazingly (even with the embarrassing losses to the Sox, Yanks & Pirates), they've outscored their opponents 126-112 over those 24 games. The culprit for the losing record over that span? 2-6 in the 8 games decided by 2 or 3 runs. They've split the one-run tilts and barely caught the advantage in blowouts. "And what does all of this mean, stathead?," ask the readers.
I have no idea.
But they've given up 4.67 earned runs per game over that stretch, and that's too damn many. But we all know the pitching staff's been shaky and I'm not covering pitching til tomorrow. Ok? Enough questions? Fine. Let's look at the O-fence, the dominant force behind the successful season we've all enjoyed to this point.
The Hitters. Damn has this O been good. Playing half the games in Shea, a bunch more in the Fish Tank and at RFK, plus a few games at Dodgers Stadium, SBC, and the blackhole-where-baseballs-go-to-die-known-as-Petco. And the result of playing in this relatively run-starved environment? Gaudy numbers all over the place. To wit: 1st in the NL in runs, slugging, doubles, and stolen bases; 2nd in home runs; tied for 4th in triples. The only area they don't dominate is the most important stat of all, OBP, where they're tied for 7th. It takes a lot to overcome an average on-base percentage. They've supplied those things.
Interestingly, away from Shea those numbers improve. In road games the Mets rank 1st in the NL in runs, slugging, homeruns, and steals, and are 3rd in doubles and 5th in triples. And the aforementioned OBP? Away from the Unfriendly Confines they leap to 3rd in the league. These guys can freakin rake:
TIER ONE -- The Elite.
The Beltranator: I know it's blasphemy to say this, with Wright/Reyes Worship reaching Great Awakening levels, but Beltran's been their best player. Although he still plays too deep in center for my liking, very little seems to fall in when he's out there. He has the Andruw Jones/Devon White/Junior-Before-he-Got-Fat, Old & Injury-Prone, Soopah-Smoove Thing going on, where he manages to glide over to every ball hit into the center field vicinity. Nothing falls in.
And with the stick? Wow. 279/388/606. Through 89 games, he's on pace to play only 142 games & compile just 522 official ABs, but with 36 2Bs, 46 HRs, 95 BBs, 22 SBs (vs. 5 CS), with 120 R and 124 RBI. He's been every bit the all star we thought we were getting last year.
The Prince of New York: Let's get a little perspective here, shall we? Young David "Derek Who?" Wright is 23. He'll be 24 after the post-season ends. He's played one full season, plus two halves. In other words, he's barely begun to crack open his career, hardly brought to bear what he's gonna dump all over National League pitching for years to come. Normally I'd say he's got just two years under his belt, exercise some prudence before you forge his bust in Cooperstown.
But he's been so good, so consistent, so quick to improve, to learn from mistakes, that it seems impossible. Except that it is possible, cause we're witnessing it. Like Dylan at 22, Lennon & McCartney at 24, let alone A-Rod & Ted Williams & Robin Yount and others who enjoyed extreme success at a young age, there's just too much to suggest a fluke, or to assume some mental breakdown.
I mean, look at Dwight Gooden. Two astounding years, and look how he turned . . .
Bad example. But Wright's not a pitcher. For all the chatter about Gooden's "troubles," the twin elements of wayyyyyy too many innings while young, plus a straight fastball that guys learned to lay off of, did him in. And with 194 wins, Goodens career was hardly the disaster we make it out to be.
So the verdict? This Wright kid's pretty good. With 316 games under his belt, he's compiled 2 seasons worth in his career so far. So, just take his numbers and divide by two, and see what he's averaging through 23 1/2 years old: 306/376/539; 589 ABs, 63 BBs, 40 2B, 2 3B, 30 HR, 99 R, 108 RBI, 15/5 in steals. To repeat: he'll be 24 after the season ends.
Oh, and this year? 316/386/575, on pace for 40 2B, 5 3B, 36 HR, 71 BB, 20 SB (with only 5 CS), with 107 R and a Met Season Record-Shattering 135 RBI. He can walk a bit more and still needs to shore up his defense. But I think we're gonan be ok at third.
And, as if he needed one more thing to add to his "I Can Get Laid Anytime I Want" Resume, the freaking kid almost won his first Home Run Derby. I hope the fathers of Pittsburg's hottest 18 & 19 year old girls don't ask them what they did last night.
El Rapido: Younger and maybe more talented than The Prince. He's the fastest guy I've ever seen on the Mets (sorry Mookie). His power stroke inceases daily. His glovework continues to be smooth and steady, and he's got an absolute cannon at short (the more I watch him, the more I realize we're in Shawon Dunston territory there).
And speaking of Shawon, Jose is leaving that free-swinging lunatic in his wake, as he continues to get more and more selective at the plate. After drawing a total of 45 walks through his first 283 games and 1190 at-bats, Rapido has strolled to first (where he hopefully declines to slide head-first) 32 times in 86 games and 370 at-bats this year. From once every 26 at-bats to once every 12 in one season. Like Wright, it's Reyes's ability to improve, to learn from past mistakes that most impresses me.
Ok, that's bullshit. His speed and skills most impress me, but you've gotta be really excited to see a young player so quick to learn and improve.
TIER TWO -- Elite Lite.
Carlos Delgado: Ok, since no one else seems willing to say it, I'll be the one. He's been good, but that's it. Not great, not excellent, not special, not really worth all the money they're paying him, nor likely to be worth Mike Jacobs and Yusmiero Petit as the years go by.
Whew. Ok, I'm ready for the attacks now. Have at me.
On a team with three guys in the Elite category, it's fine to have a solid, mature veteran in the heart of the order, at the recieving end of throws on the infield. I love when he goes to the dugout and jots down notes on pitch sequences (how do you say, "I swung under a high fastball again," in Spanish?). He seems like a good guy, and I suppose after the one millionth person says he's responsible for Beltran's resurgence, it'll become true. I don't believe it, but if everyone else does . . .
Anyway, 252/344/513 aren't elite numbers. Especially for a slow-running first baseman. I don't mind the BA, and although the SLG isn't spectacular, it's fine. But the .344 OBP, on 36 BBs in 306 ABs isn't really what I thought we'd get. Batting in front of Wright, I'd take 50 fewer points in slugging to get a 365 or 370 OBP. Prior to this season, he walked once every six at-bats. This season? Once every eight-and-a-half. Not a huge difference, but significant. And "protection" or whatever excuse folks'll come up with doesn't explain it in my book. I've watched him this year; he's been very aggressive, swinging at a lot of first pitches, showing no veteran's ability to lay of bad pitches with two strikes.
And, since his hot April ended, he's hitting just 231/309/467. But April counts, he managed to at least re-discover his power stroke in June, and he's projected to hit 25 2B, 40 HR, score 91, and drive in 102. Batting clean-up on a high scoring team, those R/RBI numbers should be higher, but at least he's not really hurting them.
TIER THREE -- Slight Leak.
Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxavierrrrrrrrr Nady: I'm not a fan. I'll come right out and say it. I didn't like the move last winter, and I don't like it now. I just don't see what Nady really gives you. He's fundamentally weak (14 BB in 223 AB; mediocre baserunner, poor fielder, swings constantly at pitches in the dirt), and he's been abominable in the clutch (197/296/311 with RISP & 147/194/235 in that situation with two outs). I'm among those that don't believe in "clutch ability," so he may improve on this as the season progresses. But that's what he's done so far.
And I have my doubts about his improvement. I'm just not convinced Nady's very intelligent. Whereas the Left Side of the Infield Boys show improvement and ability to learn despite their age, Nady continues to make the same mistakes he made in April.
At any rate, his 265/321/484 isn't bad, but I'd take Chavez's lower numbers, but better defense, hustle, and baserunning over Nady's power, given the choice. Even with his power numbers, because of injuries and poor performance in the clutch, Nady projects only to 22 HRs and 62 RBI in 406 ABs.
Paul LoDuca: Really good guy, very funny. Seems to call a good game, and his teammates like him. He's also hitting 302/343/409, on the strength of a recent hot streak. Unfortunately, he's a 34 year-old career catcher, notorious for second-half fades. His career first half numbers are 307/359/446, but after the break, he's averaged only 257/312/375 in the 5+ season before coming to Queens.
But he's the starter, he's been a positive presence, and he'll be squatting behind the dish come October. So there you have it. Now, if Willie would just drop him from the freakin two hole.
TIER FOUR -- The Wild, the Unexpected, the Incomplete, and the Frankly Unbelievable.
'Stache: Might as well just leap into it. This is the guy you've been waiting for anyway, right.
There's simply no rational way to explain this. He's a phenomenon. Let's review what we were dealing with as of late April, shall we: 36 year-old (yeah, right) former shortstop, coming off an injury-riddled season in which he hit a preposterous 170/326/265 in only 56 games following 216/287/473 in '04. 2005's .326 OBP and 2004's .473 SLG were his highest since 2001. As of May 1 of this season, he was 3-for-22 with no XBHs and no RBIs. He was still 36 years-old (yeah, right), and everyone in NY, including your's truly, was calling for his head.
He did, nonetheless, have the 'stache.
And that, I think, is the secret of his resurgence. Between Willie in the dugout and Keith "The Eternal Captain" in the booth, the Mets are a fancy 'stache team. Jose knew he was where he needed to be. So, on May 1, he stood in front of the mirror, looked at Willie lounging behind him, rubbed the 'stache for luck, and proceeded to hit like a maniac.
There's no other explanation. Still 36 years-old (yeah right), he proceeded to hit 294/347/575 with 24 R and 36 RBI in 57 games and 160 ABs. I can't see him duplicating that performance the rest of the way out (especially if he and Willie hit the rocks, or if Mephistopheles cancels the deal), but he's already earned his keep for the season.
Ramon Castro: A helluva back-up catcher. I think he's actually better than LoDuca, drawing more walks, hitting for more power, and possessing a far-stronger arm. Nevertheless, the strain of carrying such an oversized head atop his shoulders clearly takes too much energy, and he seems unable to start more than two, maybe three, games a week. We're in good hands here though. He's the best back-up catcher the Mets have ever had, and he may be the best back-up backstop in the league.
Endy Chavez: Every Met fan's favorite. Admit it. All he's done this year is run the bases like a sprinter, catch every ball hit within a quarter mile of his position in the outfield, thrown out eight baserunners (including three double plays), laid down perfect bunts all-season long, and hit 324/422/378 with runners in scoring position. For the season, he's put up 283/324/416.
Not a bad half-season of work, huh? And for his efforts? Willie plays him behind Nady, and he's had fewer than 190 plate appearences. Is he an ideal starter? No. Likely to maintain the .324 OBP? I doubt it. Good enough to earn 200+ PAs in the second half? Yup. Am I holding my breath waiting for Willie to change this? I might need oxygen.
Everlastings Milledge: Young. Unpolished. Clueless about the strike zone (4 walks in 86 at bat). Shaky at times in the field. Maybe an asshole.
But a bundle of raw talent: fast, great arm, quick bat, great "instincts," and seemingly impervious to pressure. Plus, he's as flaky as the skin on an old man's arm, which means he's too damn entertaining to continue eating his dinners at the Norfolk Applebee's. I want him back in Queens in time for the post-season roster, and he better be a starting corner outfielder next April.
Woodward & Marrero: Whatever.
Old Man Julio: Simply amazing. Stolen bases, home runs, big pinch hits, and in-the-dugout-scoldings-to-sulking-centerfielders. I'm satisfied.
The Kazzer, Victor "Man, Did I Fuck This Up" Diaz, & Anderson Hernandez: I'm gonna remember that old saw. You know, the one about saying nothing if you've got nothing good to say.
And finally, closing the hitters portion of our program . . .
Uncle Cliffy: I know people like him, and I do too. He seems like a good guy, a real "vet in the clubhouse" presence, and he hit well for a half season last year. That said, let's stop giving him credit for "helping Wright adjust to the big leagues," blah, blah, blah. I think Wright was mentally prepared to handle the rigors of the bigs the moment he emerged from the womb. (He probably told the doctor in the delivery room that "the real credit has to go to my Mom here. My birth is just a testament to the hard work she and my Dad put in 9 months ago. I'm just trying to be a good member of the team . . .").
But Floyd's 33, he's always been injury prone, and he's an average fielder, at best. And then, you need to look at what he's done this year: missed 29 games due to various injuries, and hit 249/343/416 when he's played. I'm sorry folks, I'm just the messenger. But those numbers don't cut it for a corner outfielder in his mid-thirties. Keep him on the roster, sure. But to rob Chavez of playing time now (or Milledge come autumn) so Cliffy can look tough at the plate and grimace when he fouls another one off his foot, well it makes no sense to me.
Cause it makes no sense.
But I wanna end on a positive note. So I'll say three things sure to bring a smile to your face, a warm glow to your heart, and feelings of hope as the week goes on: Reyes. Wright. And . . . Part Two of the FAMASBRA (The Pitchers!) tomorrow.
Or maybe Thursday (like Cliffy, I'm in my thirties, and back-to-back efforts take their toll).